One of the most popular genres for children’s games is the dexterity game. I am guessing that one of the reasons for this is that it is pretty easy to make a dexterity game that is simple enough for younger children to play. You basically just give players objects to stack and a board to stack them on. Today I am looking at another game from this genre the 1996 game Penguin Pile-Up. Penguin Pile-Up is a surprisingly challenging children’s dexterity game that unfortunately fails to add anything new to the genre.
How to Play Penguin Pile-Up
- Place the iceberg on top of the game base. Place the game base in the middle of the table so everyone can reach it.
- Divide the penguins evenly between the players. Return any extra penguins to the box.
- The youngest player will start the game.
Playing the Game
In Penguin Pile-Up the players will take turns placing one of their penguins on the iceberg. Penguins can be placed on any open space on the iceberg.
If all of the penguins stay in place and don’t fall off, the current player’s turn ends and play passes to the next player clockwise.
If one or more penguins fall off the iceberg while the current player is placing their penguin or right after they have placed it, the current player will take all of the penguins that fall off the iceberg and add them to the penguins that they still have to place. Play will then pass to the next player clockwise.
End of Game
The first player to play all of their penguins wins the game.
In the solo game the player tries to place all 24 penguins on the iceberg without having any fall off. The objective is to try and place as many of the penguins as possible.
My Thoughts on Penguin Pile-Up
Penguin Pile-Up is basically exactly what you would expect it to be. Honestly if you have ever played one of these stacking dexterity games you should already know what to expect from the game. Basically the players take turns stacking penguins on the iceberg. You want to place the penguins on the iceberg carefully because if any fall off you will have to add them to the rest of the penguins that you still have to place. The first player to place all of their penguins will win the game. If this sounds familiar it should as it doesn’t differ much from pretty much every other generic children’s dexterity game.
I will say that there is one thing about Penguin Pile-Up that actually kind of surprised me. For a game that was made for children (recommended to 5+) it was surprisingly more difficult than I was expecting. This comes from the fact that the iceberg is made of a material that is quite a bit more slippery than I was expecting. There are some spaces that seem to be relatively safe. There are other spaces on the board that you could be really careful placing penguins on and they will still slip off. Unless one of the safe spaces are available you need to be really careful when placing a penguin. If you place a penguin slightly wrong it will likely tip the iceberg knocking off several penguins. There is some skill to the game as those who struggle with dexterity games will likely have issues with Penguin Pile-Up.
There is quite a bit of luck to Penguin Pile-Up as well though. As I mentioned there are spaces on the iceberg that seem relatively safe where you have to be careless in order to knock off penguins. If one of these spaces are available on your turn, you will basically get a free placement. Once all of these spaces are filled up though, things become much more difficult. You can place penguins on other spaces, but you need to be very careful and also have some luck on your side.
Much of the luck in the game comes from the players who play right before you. Some players are obviously going to be better at the game than others. While it would be best if all of the players are of around the same skill level, the likelihood of that is pretty slim. Therefore the players who play after worse players are likely to have a pretty big advantage in the game. This is because whenever a player messes up they will likely knock at least a couple penguins off the iceberg. This opens up more spaces for the next player while also letting them have less penguins to have to balance on their turn. In the games we played it really felt like the game would cascade for some players. Basically all of the penguins ended up going to one or two of the players.
Other than this Penguin Pile-Up pretty much meets the expectations for a pretty generic children’s dexterity game. The game is really easy to play as all you do is place penguins on the iceberg. The game has a recommended age of 5+ which seems about right. The only reason I would maybe say that it should be a little higher would be because the game is quite a bit harder than you would expect. I see younger children really enjoying the game, but they also might struggle due to the slippery surface. Younger children may not have the patience/steady hands to place the penguins on some of the spaces without knocking off some of the penguins.
Penguin Pile-Up is also really quick to play. Now this is going to somewhat depend on the skill level of all of the players. If all of the players are of an equal skill level I could see the game taking longer because players will pass the penguins back and forth as each player will sometimes knock off some penguins. In games where there is one or two players that are better at the game though it can move really quickly. I could see games ending in five to ten minutes especially if one player is able to get rid of one penguin on each of their turns without ever knocking any off the iceberg.
At the end of the day I found Penguin Pile-Up to be a decent game that is lacking depth. You can have some fun with the game as it is somewhat fun to place the penguins on the iceberg. The gameplay becomes repetitive rather quickly though as there isn’t much to the game. The problem with the game is that you just stack penguins and that is it. There isn’t much strategy to it which basically makes every game feel the same as nothing really changes. I could see maybe playing a game or two and having some fun, but then you pretty much have to put the game away for quite some time as it otherwise will become pretty boring.
As for the components it will somewhat depend on which version of the game you are looking at. The game has had a number of different versions released over the years. This even includes two games Happy Feet: Mumble’s Tumble, and Iceberg Seals which are the same game with slightly different themes/components. For this review I played the 1998 Fundex version of the game. As for the penguins I thought they were pretty cute and durable enough. I also appreciated that the game made the iceberg somewhat slippery which made the game harder. I did have an issue with the flag though. The flag really serves no gameplay purpose. For some reason Fundex thought it was a good idea making the flag barely fit into the top of the iceberg which makes it impossible to remove after you have finished playing the game. This gets even worse as it turns out the box top can’t go down all the way with the flag attached. Therefore it is likely to snap off which is exactly what happened with my copy of the game before I purchased it. This is not a big deal as the flag really doesn’t serve any purpose in the game. I don’t know why the designers couldn’t have foreseen this issue though.
Should You Buy Penguin Pile-Up?
Penguin Pile-Up is basically exactly what you would expect it to be. The game doesn’t really differ all that much from your typical children’s dexterity game. You take turns placing penguins on the iceberg trying to get rid of all of your penguins before the other players. This is literally the entire game. This makes the game easy to learn while also playing pretty quickly. The one thing that surprised me about the game is that it was actually quite a bit more challenging than I was expecting. There appears to be some safe spaces on the board, but otherwise you really need to be careful placing penguins because the surface is quite a bit more slippery than you would expect. This is probably a welcome addition for older children and adults as it makes the game more challenging. It does add a decent amount of luck to the game though as the players that play directly before you will have a pretty big impact on how well you will do in the game. Ultimately Penguin Pile-Up is a decent game even if it can become repetitive pretty quickly.
My recommendation for Penguin Pile-Up comes down to your opinion of children’s dexterity games. If you have never really cared for the genre, there is nothing in the game that will likely change your opinion. If you have fond memories of the game though or you would like a children’s dexterity game that is more challenging than you would expect, it might be worth looking at Penguin Pile-Up.
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