Family Game Night: Ice Hoppers

Combine “race” and “ice” and “penguins” in your tag line, and me and my grand bugs are going to sit up and notice. The question is whether those are the right three descriptors for this little family night game.

I won’t make you wait any surprise reveal. Yes, those are the right three words to describe our experience with Ice Hoppers, a new family weight game from Blue Orange. It’s perfect for those gamers with wee ones as young as six — and in fact I’ve played it with some as young as four with no issues — and it looks great on the table. It’s a fun little cooperative racing game all about saving cute little penguins about to tumble off of some slowly moving ice chunks.

In Ice Hoppers, which was designed by Oussama Khelifati with art from Laurent Boissier, the game comes with two ways to play, plus I’ll throw in an extra way as lagniappe.

Before I describe the game play, I must talk about the production. I just love the three dimensional nature of the game. My grandbugs light up every time at the sight of games that shift their perspective from a flat board to something with height or structure. Turtle Splash did it with the sliding turtle rock. Big Thunder Mountain made Evie happy with the marbles tumbling down (even if Pop hated the mechanic). And now Ice Hoppers brings an ice flow sitting on top of the box. Ingenious!

Now that you know how much I love it, I should probably describe what it does well. The main game board is a dual-layered tile, basically a big cardboard icy ocean with an opening on the layered side that allows ice to be shoved through and onto the main board. The game is meant to be cooperative (more on that later), and to set it up, the players will take random snow tiles and put them around the far edge of the water. Then, four friendly penguin buddies will be placed directly on the ice flow on the opposite side of the rescue bridge, just waiting to be picked up (more on that later, too).

Players will take turns drawing an appropriately named Ice Chunk Tile randomly from a bag, and then sliding the tile onto the sea board. You know those quarter machines where you drop the quarters down? And sliding them pushes more quarters out the other side? Or did you watch us play Kabuto Sumo on our Twitch Tuesday night with Jay Bell? Then you get the idea. You’re pushing the ice chunks in so that more of them touch creating a ‘racing’ lane without knocking pieces off the board.

At that point, you’ll have the opportunity to move penguins closer to teh iceberg. They can hop to any ice chunk that touches their tile. They can even slide on the frosty, icy tiles as long as the tiles are touching and no other penguin is blocking them.

So this game is as much about the dexterity of sliding ice chunks as it is the luck in how the ice chunks will react to each other and the strategy of moving the penguins in the correct order to get more of them to slide right onto the bridge. That’s a fun combination of sills to build a game around, especially for the little gamers. But just like in the best of children’s games, it’s a fun puzzle for mom and dad or Pop and Mimi to play too.

I talked about more options and even some lagniappe, right? The box comes with an “adventure mode”. There are some extra tiles with sea lions on them. My grandbugs weren’t as interested in these, but they are younger than the intended age, I think. You play Ice Hoppers the same way as above, but this time, some of the tiles that are drawn will have Sea Lions. Land on one of them, and the players will have to shove round sea lion tokens onto the board. As you can imagine, and no matter what your eighth grader says, you cannot step onto the baby sea lions in an attempt to jump from ice chunk to ice chunk. So, I liked the adventure mode because it gave one more blocking mechanism for the game to try to defeat us.

But there’s some lagniappe. My two bugs quickly figured out that the game does not have to be played cooperatively. Instead, we each grabbed ONE penguin — and promptly named them — and then took turns trying to get OUR penguin to safety while knocking the other penguins off the board. Mean? Sure, a little. But it taught some strategy, and some spatial awareness of how differently angled tiles will react to each other.

But you don’t have to play Ice Hoppers competitively to enjoy the game. You can play it cooperatively as intended. The designer has a nice little concept that is perfect for families to enjoy. It looks like this game has a long way to geaux before it thaws and falls off of our hot shelf.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ from Board Game Gumbo

A complimentary copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

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