The Cardboard Hoard: Review of ICECOOL2
ICECOOL2 is the stand-alone sequel to the 2017 Kinderspiel des Jahres-winning dexterity game ICECOOL. Both of the innovative box-in-a-box games were designed by Brian Gomez — which is actually an alias for the development team of Egils Grasmanis, Jānis Grunte, Edgars Zaķis and Reinis Butāns — and published by Brain Games.
In order to review ICECOOL2, I actually have to nest a review of the original ICECOOL here inside of it. So if you already know how to play IC and are just curious about the changes and additions with IC2, feel free to skip further down.
IC is a dexterity game that plays two-to-four players using its clever box-in-a-box system, where the box of the game, along with smaller boxes found inside the game box, all unpack and fit together to create the three-dimensional game board, which is a series of rooms with passages between one another. The player pieces are round-bottomed, weighted, plastic penguins that resemble small weebles. Players take turns being the hall monitor penguin, with the other players being the runner penguins. The goal is for the runners to flick their penguins through the three doors with their fish tokens above them, while the hall monitor tries to catch all the runners by knocking into them. When the runners acquire fish tokens, they also get to draw fish cards that are worth victory points.
At the end of each round — which ends when one runner gets all three of their fish, or when the hall monitor catches all the other penguins — players get fish cards each ID card they have. Each fish card has between one and three points on it, with the one-point cards also each having an ice skate on them. As a consolation prize for drawing two low cards, a player who has two ice skates may use those cards to immediately take another turn at the end of one of theirs turn (and still get the point value of those cards at the end of the game).
The game ends when all the players have had a turn as the hall monitor, and each player’s fish cards — for getting fish tokens and for catching other penguins — are totaled up, with the highest scoring penguin named the victor.
So what does IC2 add to the experience? Surprisingly, although it is so similar to the original, a lot. As a stand-alone, it adds special abilities to the one-point and two-point cards, to make it less detrimental to draw poorly from the fish deck. The one-point cards still have ice skates that can be used for an extra turn, and now also have tasks that players can attempt to complete for extra points — such as jumping over a wall or passing through two doors on a single flick. A player with a pair of two-point cards will have the ability to move a fish of any color to any other door during their turn — either to make getting their fish easier, or to make it harder for their opponents to get their fish. One other difference between IC and IC2 is that the boards are enantiomorphs — or mirror images — of one another, making the game feel different by having opposite layouts.
While those minor differences do improve the base game — by making the top decking of three-point cards less important — the real fun comes from combining IC and IC2. This allows for up to eight players to play a game, as well as for multiple new layouts, and a new racing game mode. The racing mode is a fun way to streamline the flicking experience of the game, as it removes the hall passes and the fish cards, making the game a straight race, along the lines of PitchCar. It is also a great way to play with eight, as it uses teams at higher player counts.
Pros: The game is colorful, has an exceptional table presence, and is fun for all ages. It is language independent, and can be played in many modes depending on the audience. The penguin pieces are sturdy, having survived flying off the table and crashing into the floor more than once, in my case. The nesting boxes that create the board are also of high quality, and are showing little wear after many times being set up, played, and put away. There are rules for ICECOOL2 and for combining ICECOOL + ICECOOL2, and they are separated into two booklets, making it easy to find everything. Additionally, the latter booklet contains five suggested layouts for combining the two games.
Cons: There are accessibility challenges due to the physical dexterity required to play the game. Flicking is a skill, and creates a learning curve and potential skill gap to the game. But, in my experience, adults are just as likely to be uncoordinated and inept at flicking as children are. The edges of the boxes don’t always line up perfectly when creating the board, and pieces can occasionally get stuck between the doors because of that. The original comes with wooden fish tokens, while the sequel comes with plastic fish tokens, so the two sets don’t perfectly match — which I admit is a small nitpick.
If this game experience is something that sounds interesting to you, the only real question is whether you only need one of the boxes, or both. My advice would be to get IC2 first — as it has the minor improvements to the fish cards — and then, if it is well received, add on IC later for the added variability of the multiple layouts, as well as the race mode and additional four players. However, if you plan to play with more than four people right away, you’ll need both sets from the start.
These games don’t take themselves too seriously, as indicated by the adorable artwork and penguin schoolchildren theming. However, there are tournament rules for more competitive, skilled dexterity players. In the tournament rules, each card is worth one point, and there are no special abilities, removing all luck from the equation. Ironically, this mode also functions as a great way to teach and play the game with younger children.
Both ICECOOL and ICECOOL2 are great family game night games that can bring together kids, parents, extended family members, and friends, creating a lot of laughter and many stand-up-at-the-table-while-playing moments.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of ICECOOL2 from the publisher, but I purchased a copy of ICECOOL at retail.