If Wishes Were Fishes
Designer: Michael Adams and Peter Sarrett (2007)
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
# of Players: 2-5
Play Time: 45 min
BGG Rank/Rating: #840/6.22
Weight: Medium Light
If Wishes Were Fishes is a game that took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting much from it other than maybe a light children’s game. From my first play and continuing up to this point, however, I’ve found a significant level of depth and a whole lot of fun hiding behind the silly cartoony fish illustrations of the box and cards.
Ostensibly, players take the role of fishermen competing to earn the most money by catching certain fish and then selling them at the best price. The twist is that most of the fish are magical, and can instead grant wishes if they are released. Beneath the theme, however, this game shows itself to be a rather interesting mix of several eurogame mechanics that work well to support the theme and produce a fun and interesting play experience.
Components and Setup
The components in If Wishes Were Fishes are pretty nice. You get 70 fish cards, 75 wooden fish in 5 different colors, 4 market scoring cards, 5 wooden meeples in three different colors (the “buyers”), a colorful game board, and 30 squooshy purple worms. Everything is perfectly adequate, and the worms are completely over the top cool. My issue with the whole game is more about the artwork.
The whole graphic design of the game is oriented towards families and children. Each fish is animated to match its name, so the catfish looks like a cat, the kingfish wears a crown, and the swordfish carries a sword and shield. The art is cartoony and fun, but it sends an unfortunate message that this is a childish game that would hold no interest for adults, let alone serious gamers. Let me say this plainly – If Wishes Were Fishes is NOT a children’s game. It is a family game of complexity similar to (or even a little greater than) Ticket to Ride and maybe even the Settlers of Catan. But I’ll get into that later, so let’s go back to setting up the game.
Obviously, you set out the board, and then you place the 5 buyers randomly into different markets. The draw deck is called the “Ocean”, and is prepared by placing four cards face up in a row next to the rest of the deck. The Market Limit cards are stacked in a pile from lowest to highest value and placed near the board. Each player chooses a color and takes the matching boat card. At the beginning of the game, two fish can be stored on either side of this boat, and players will have to chance to acquire additional boats to make room for more fish. Everybody also takes all the fish markers of their color and 6 of the kick-butt worms. One fish of each color is placed on the scoring track, and you decide who’s going to go first.
Basic Gameplay (click here for complete game rules)
On a player’s turn, they have the choice between two options. They may either, 1) take a fish from the ocean, or 2) sell one fish from their boat(s).
Take a Fish From the Ocean
You may take one fish card from the ocean. The first card can be taken for free, but to choose one farther to the right, you must place a worm on every card you skip over. When you take a card, you also get any worms that have been placed on it in previous turns. You then decide what to do with the fish:
- Put It In a Boat – If you want to collect the type of fish on the card, you just put it in one of your empty boat spots. It will stay there until you sell it.
- Discard It to Use Its Wish – Instead of keeping the fish, you can discard it to use the wish pictured on the bottom of the card. I’ll cover what the wishes are in a minute.
Sell One Fish From a Boat
To sell a fish, choose one card from you boat and discard it. You then move your marker up the money track a number of spaces equal to the fish’s value, which is a base of $2 plus any bonus from having buyer meeples on that market. The single, large white meeple adds $3 to the price, the two medium-sized gray meeples add $2 to the price, and the two small, black meeples add $1 to its value. Note that Double-Fish cards (which have a picture of two fish on them and no Wish) are sold as one fish using this option, but count as two fish when sold as part of a wish (see below).
You also then place one of your fish markers into that market. If the market then has a number of fish equal to the topmost Market Limit card, the market is scored immediately, with the player having the most fish in the market getting the larger payout from the card and the second-place player getting the smaller payout. The Market Limit card is then placed on that market to show that it is full. Fish may still be sold to into a full market as before, but the fish markers are then placed into the Garbage Heap (which we usually call “the Crapper”) instead.
I usually don’t get into this sort of detail about this kind of thing, but the different wishes are pretty vital to show the different strategies available:
- Moving Buyers – Some wishes allow you to move one of the buyer meeples 1-3 spaces clockwise. With the black and gray meeples, you can also then sell all of one type of fish that you have in your boats. If it’s a white buyer card, you only get to sell one fish card.
- Spread All Buyers – When this is used, you take buyers from markets that have more than one present in them. You actually leave the highest value buyer, then move the others onto markets that do not have buyers as you choose. Finally, you then get a one-time $3 bonus to your score.
- Spoilage – You can take one fish marker from any unscored market and throw it into the garbage heap, or from the garbage heap back to its owner’s supply. You can then sell any one fish card.
- Worm Bonus – You get $1 for each worm that you currently have (including any that you obtained when you took the Worm Bonus card).
- Boat – This card is flipped over and placed next to your starting boat, and gives you an extra space to store fish. There is no limit to the number of boats that you can have.
- Sell All of One Kind of Fish – You can sell all the cards you have in your boats from one type of fish.
- Sell All of One Kind of Fish as Another Kind – You can sell all of one kind of fish in your boats as the kind of fish shown on the card. So you get paid based on the value of the pictured fish, and your fish markers will go into the market for the pictured fish.
Examples of the Boat, white Move Buyer, Sell All of One Kind of FIsh as Angelfish, and Worm Bonus wishes.
Ending the Game
The game ends when either all the Market Limit cards have been scored and placed on markets or when the Garbage Heap fills up (which holds up to 10 fish). If the Garbage Heap fills, then you evaluate the number of fish markers that each player has in it based on the topmost unused Market Limit card, except that the first and second-place players there lose that amount of money from their score. In either case, you then also evaluate the number of worms that each player has in their possession, giving an $8 bonus to the player with the most and a $4 bonus to the player with second-most. Whoever ends up with the most money wins the game!
Strategy and Tactics
Overall, If Wishes Were Fishes is a very tactical game, but there are still a few things to consider from a broader, strategic point of view:
You can either be liberal or conservative in your use of worms. Using them more freely means that you put more emphasis on getting the fish/wishes that you want. Hoarding them means that you have more flexibility when you see a fish/wish you really want and also have the opportunity for significant scoring both from the Worm Bonus wishes and at the end of the game. My wife tends to be conservative while I’m throwing them around all willy-nilly, and she usually beats me, so I’ll suggest that conservative is probably the way to go.
Selling Fast vs. Building Value
The other main decision is whether you want to go the route of selling as many fish as you can at lower prices or if you want to collect a few specific fish and put effort into building their value (through moving buyers around) before selling them off. From what I’ve seen, both approaches can work pretty well with two players. But with more people in the game, you’re going to have less overall control of the buyers, and I think that selling more fish is probably the way to go. Both work equally well for filling the markets and the area-majority scoring there, because while the “fast seller” will have more fish in markets, the “value seller” tends to be more picky about concentrating their fish into fewer types.
And whether you choose to adopt one of these bigger strategies or not, every turn will present a choice between a few different options. There’s a lot of evaluation and guessing about what your opponents will do to make this choice, but rarely is it so intense that people fall into analysis paralysis.
And since most of my plays have been 2-player, I also wonder if there are some other strategies that may be viable. The one I’m most interested in trying out in a 5-player game would be the “Crapper Strategy”, where you could try to end the game prematurely both by selling fish into the crapper and using Spoilage wishes to put other people’s fish there as well. In theory, you could probably out-“race” other players by taking control of ending the game on your terms and making sure that your benefit from selling the fish is going to be greater than the penalty from being in the garbage heap.
What I think…
Obviously, I like this game. It works really well as a 2-player game, but I’ve also had a lot of fun with it multi-player. But before I get into why I like it, let me give you some thoughts that Gwen, my wife, has about it.
When I first asked her why she liked If Wishes Were Fishes, she told me “because it has squooshy purple worms”, followed shortly thereafter by “and I like to call it ‘Fishy Wishy’.” I wasn’t going to let her off that easily, however, because she is an incredibly analytical and shrewd gamer (whether or not she really wants to be called a gamer), so I pressed her further to tell me more about why she enjoys the game. She said, “I always win because of my superior strategies. I take points all the time; I don’t wait until all the meeples are in the right place, I just sell fish.” Like I mentioned, she usually goes for the worm-hording, fast-selling strategies, and, as we both mentioned, she usually kicks my butt. But she also continued, “Oh, and I like sending my husband to the crapper,” because few things give her as much joy as playing a Spoilage wish and sending one of my fish from a hotly-contested market straight to the garbage heap.
But still I continued to question her, because I didn’t just want her to talk about how she played, I wanted her to tell me why she liked this game. To this, she replied, “One thing is that it has a definite end point that you can work towards.” So Gwen likes the fact that the Market Limit cards (or the garbage heap) provide a very concrete and trackable timer to the game. I pointed out to her that both of these can be manipulated as part of strategy to accelerate or potentially draw out the game, and while she acknowledged this as a possibility, it really hasn’t come up much in our games. And then in summing up the overall reasons that she likes If Wishes Were Fishes, she said “It’s not complicated, but it requires strategy. And while it’s got some luck, you can usually work with it.”
To build on what Gwen was saying, let me start by pointing out all the gamery goodness present in If Wishes Were Fishes. The Ocean card-drawing/drafting mechanic still introduces a bit of randomness to the game, but also allows some forward-planning and an element of resource management with the option of spending the “currency” of the game (worms) to acquire cards deeper into the row. There are tough decisions each turn about whether to use cards for their special power (“wishes”) or for their VP value (“selling” them). Plus, you’ve also got an element of market manipulation with the buyers and even area-control scoring with the markets. So while it can seem a bit like a Frankensteiny eurogame monster, to me, the mechanics all fit seamlessly together and even complement the theme very nicely.
But while the guts of the game are relatively complex, learning and playing the game are not really that difficult at all. On your turn, you have only one action to take, and of the many options in the game, only a constrained few are available at any one time. Even through the limited choices available on each turn, however, you can still be working towards a goal that is greater than the sum of its parts. Since there are a number of different ways to score points and at least a handful of different strategies to try out, the game has considerable replayability for a game of its weight.
So, If Wishes Were Fishes is a game with multiple paths to victory that validate a number of different strategies. But on the other hand, the luck and constrained choices on each turn make it forgiving and simple enough for families to play together. And finally, it’s all tied up in a package that is easy to teach and intuitive to understand. With or without the silly art, it’s a very solid game that can work as a gateway game or to introduce new gamers to some of the mechanics and strategies used in heavier games.
I’ve played somewhere around a dozen games of If Wishes Were Fishes so far, most of them with my wife Gwen. She rates the game between an 8 and a 9 out of ten, and it’s currently one of our top 5 or so games to play together.
• Rules: Easy to teach and get started playing, but there is still significant depth to warrant repeated play.
• Downtime: Little. Turns are short, and players can stay engaged because some forward planning is possible.
• Length: Most of our 2-player games run 30-35 minutes, but multiplayer tends to run right at the manufacturer’s predicted 45 minutes
• Player Interaction: Mostly indirect (competing for area control, second-guessing, etc.) but some direct as well (Spoilage wishes)
• Weight: Medium Light
• GamerChris’ Rating: If Wishes Were Fishes is an entertaining family-style strategy game that has intuitive mechanics based on its theme, and tends to be a lot of fun to play and explore. While it’s not always something that I would push to get to the table, I almost always want to play when others suggest it and would occasionally recommend it myself, so I give it a very positive 7.5.