Freshwater Fly

1-4 players, Competitive, Fly Flingin’ Fish Frenzy

Designer: Brian Suhre

Artwork: Darryl T. Jones

Publisher: Bellwether Games

Release Year: 2019

Origin Story

This is another game that crept up on me outta nowhere. I like to think I stay on top of things in the boardgaming community and yet there are always those few games that completely avoid my radar somehow, like Freshwater Fly. Now, before we get down and dirty here I want to say that I am NOT a fisherman. I mean, I have fished in my time but I never found it relaxing or enjoyable. Quite the opposite in fact, even in Animal Crossing the fishing stresses me out. Sitting there watching that shadow of a fish peck at your lure, not knowing if it will take the bait or if it will scurry off in a rush. Perhaps I drink too much coffee for fishing? In any case, when I discovered there was a fishing boardgame, at first I dismissed it. But then I recalled what happened when the game Wingspan released as I also dismissed that one. I swore to never again just brush away a game purely because I don’t think I’ll like the theme. So I watched a couple videos on Freshwater Fly and decided to give it a shot. Read on to see what I thought about it!

Overview of Gameplay

Freshwater Fly has you taking part in (almost) all of the techniques of fishing in the comfort of your home. You will be casting out, letting the fly drift down the river, hooking a delish fish. Then you will be reeling it in and adding it to your collection. At its core Freshwater Fly is a set collection game where you will be trying to catch different fish to complete sets to ultimately score the most points than the other players. Let’s go through the phases of catching a fish from the beginning.

After the board is setup with all the fish cards emblazoned upon it and your fly color of choice picked out you will roll a handful of dice. These dice are what players will pick from on their turns and depending on how high of roll they pick, depends on how far up the river they can cast. So let’s say player one picks a die roll of 6, they can cast all the way up the river to the far end and can let the fly drift down a maximum of twice into the five and four dice areas of the river. Of course, you have to make sure there are colored tokens in each area you are fishing in that match the fly color you picked or you cannot fish there and these tokens move down the river at the end of each round to simulate the movement of the fish. So, you cast out to the six area which allows you to draw from the Strike Deck of four cards. You get one draw right when you land your fly in the river and when you drift to the next area you get two more draws and another two draws again the second time you drift. Basically since there are only four cards in this deck you are guaranteed a catch AS LONG as there is a token the same color of your fly in the spot of the river you are fishing from. That’s the CATCH so to speak hehehe.

Once you hook a fish you will take it from the board, flip it over to reveal how many VP’s its worth and place it above your player board reel in the matching color space of the fish. There are three progressively difficult fish colors: Green < Black < Gold. The further up the track the fish is, the harder they are to reel in and the more valuable they are. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s better to reel in a bunch of low vp value fish quickly OR just a few high value fish in slowly. Usually players will have an idea of what they are going for however, based on their particular player board bonus point fish. Now, once you have a fish hooked and above your player board you will still grab a numbered die from the rolled pile and utilize it to reel that critter in. Based on the number you select, that is how many spaces around the reel you will take the handle. A standard FIVE will take you one full revolution around the reel which will move your fish card one space to the left of your player board and one space closer to catching it. For the hardest fish to catch, the golds, it takes three full revolutions around the reel to catch them whereas the easiest, the greens, it only takes one revolution. Of course that’s before you add in FISH RESISTANCE.

No, the fish aren’t rising up to overthrow their supreme leaders or anything but they are resisting your pull of doom. Each fish you catch will have a resistance number on their card that you will only see once they are caught. This number is subtracted from whatever die you pick to reel them in so for example, if your fish has a resistance of two and the die you pick was a six……Then you ACTUALLY only reel it in by four. Always subtract the resistance from the die, easy peasy. Of course there are ways to negate that resistance as well as other helpful abilities scattered around your reel depending on where it stops.

Once a fish is completely reeled in, you just add it to your fishy pile to track for end game scoring. The first player to catch seven fish initiates the end game and then onward to final scoring which is a variety of things from fish caught to the different sets of fish caught to bonus card values. Whoever comes out with the most points is the winner!

Components/Game Board

Excellent across the board with this game. The board is double-sided, one side for the regular game and one side made just for solo play. The board itself is a good size, not too big, not too small and is setup very nicely with areas marked off for all the components.

Speaking of the components you have a few cardboard tokens here for the different colored fly’s you will be selecting and a couple of trackers for your player board of all nice quality. The wooden bits are for tracking the fish colors that match the fly’s in the river and those all go into a nice cloth, pull string bag that gets drawn from during the game. There is also a large wooden peg that you use to mark where you are casting to in the river.

The dice are also good quality with a nice feel and heft to them and are colored this nice marbled orange color. The cards also have a very nice feel and finish to them that exudes a premium feel. My favorite component however are the player boards. These babies are just awesome in not only quality, but game theme and mechanism. This is where your reel resides and starting out it’s just a little spinny flap, which doesn’t sound exciting. BUT once you hook a fish you will grab up the corresponding colored wooden peg off the main board and place it in your little spinny flap! This instantly transforms the subpar spinny flap into an actual reel with a newly created handle! It’s incredible. From that point forward you will utilize the colored peg as a handle to spin around the reel to catch your fish. To be perfectly honest, that little mechanism alone is what LURED hehe me into getting this game.

Box/Storage

The box is a good size and easily fits into a standard Kallax shelf with ease. There isn’t much of an insert inside though so you will have to bag up everything for storage. Luckily the game already comes with that cloth bag to hold all the wooden pegs and you will only need around three more bags to store everything else as there really isn’t that many components to keep track of. With this game the lack of a good storage solution doesn’t bother me just because it’s not overflowing with components. It’s still easy to setup and sort stuff out as it stands.

Visual Appeal /Theme

This is one of those rare games that I am not a fan of the theme BUT the way the theme is integrated into the mechanics of the game is just mind blowing. The way you cast out into different parts of the river by selecting a die and then can drift down the board/river to increase your odds of a catch. AND THEN the amazing hooking transformation your player board takes to the reeling in action is just incredible. This has to be one of the BEST theme/mechanic integrations I have seen in board gaming.

Visually the game looks excellent as well. Granted I’m not a huge fish buff or anything so I couldn’t tell you if these are accurate representations of the actual fish BUT I like to think they are! If I could offer up one suggestion of something that I took away from another game with an animal theme, pop some fish facts on the cards! Even though it wouldn’t add anything to the gameplay, I think it would enhance the theme even more with interesting facts about the fish you are collecting.

Rulebook

The rulebook is well written and contains all the info you will need for the most part but the organization put me off a bit. I did come away with a few questions during my first play through. The drifting mechanism was a tad confusing going in as it was tough wrapping my head around how exactly it worked. Once you realize that you are basically guaranteed a catch as long as there are colored pegs of your fly in your space then it comes clearer. Of course, it’s uncommon to ALWAYS have the colored peg you are needing back to back. The setup written for the solo mode was the most difficult time I have with the rules. It’s written in such a way to have you reference other things instead of explaining it out. So I had to flip around the book to find other sections to get an idea of what to do and then flip back to the main rules to continue.

Beyond that, the iconography was a bit of a beast as well. There are numerous parts of the game where you will need to understand the icons and all of these explanations are smashed in the appendix section of the rulebook, not at the back of the book though. They are in-between the solo rules and some solo game play pages you can print. Would have been supremely helpful to just put pictures of the icons next to their explanations on a separate help sheet. As it is there are no picture aids at all, they number each icon and then you have to find that number in the appendix to read the explanation of it. A very poor way of explaining iconography in my experience.

Player Interaction/Fun Factor

The player interaction is rather low here. Each player will be focusing on their own catches and their own personal set collection based around their unique player board as each one is slightly different for scoring. Because of this the only interaction you really ever have is someone possibly catching a fish you might have been eyeing. But even then you don’t know how many points they are worth till after you hook it so it’s not like one REALLY looks better than the other. And since the sets are different for each board, usually players will be trying to catch different stuff.

All that said, I always have a fun time playing the game even with the low player interaction, ESPECIALLY the solo mode which I’ll go into later. I’m usually not a big fan of “racing” style games which this is since the first to seven fish ends the game AND gets a couple extra vp’s as well. But, in this one it works in such a fun way. And there is still always the possibility that you can win even if you end the game with only five fish instead of seven if you really worked on your sets or caught those really fat juicy high pointer fish. Plus that reel rondel is just the coolest, I would freaking LOVE an expansion with more different player board reels that offer new and exciting spaces for the rondel.

Optimal Player Count/Replayability

Because of the low player interaction I like this game with less players. And let me tell you the solo mode that was created for this game is incredible! At two players the game runs at a decent pace back and forth with very little downtime and I had a good time playing. Anything more than that though and it started to drag especially on my turns where all I did was choose a die to move my reel. If I was reeling in and other players were casting out, the turns felt like forever.

That solo mode though. One of my ALL-TIME favorite solo modes created for a board game right here. There is a whole section written up just for this solo mode and you really don’t have to alter the rules any significant way either which makes it super easy to get into. You flip the board over and follow the picture setup for the rock card placement and mind the extra scoring the AI player will do. Other than that, it’s basically you taking turn after turn and then following through with the AI stuff. What really sets this solo mode apart from other games though is the fact that it’s a campaign and you can basically “level-up” during it. Your mission is to defeat the “Silent Angler” at each of four different locations before the end of the seventh game. So basically you need to win four games out of seven, but each location has a slightly different setup and scoring set for the AI player.

There are a few extra pages in the rulebook that I recommend just copying and printing off so you can easily write on them. Every time you complete a game you will check off some boxes of the fish you caught, sets you collected etc. Once you reach certain milestones of these you can acquire “upgrades” such as different player boards, extra points, new powers you can attain, more additions to the game board and more. These upgrades will help you along during the later areas you need to defeat as they get more and more difficult. I mean I cannot say enough good things about this solo mode. I played it once and then immediately played it three more times back to back. It plays fast and fun and if you are a solo gamer then this is one game I would FOR SURE pick up.

Positive Final Thoughts

This is one of the best games that intertwine the theme perfectly with the mechanics. The components are all good and the gameplay is fun. The solo mode alone is worth the purchase for this one! There is an app you can download to simulate the card draws for the Hooking mechanic which helps avoid a ton of shuffling four cards over and over again.

Negative Final Thoughts

The iconography takes some time to learn and the rules don’t do a very good job of organizing or explaining them visually. Not a fan of playing this one at higher player counts as player interaction is very low.

The Bottom Line

Even though I’m not a fisherman at heart this is a game that I think will appeal to so many solo players out there. The work that went into the solo mode is outstanding and it shows! The two-player game is also excellent and the way everything works flawlessly with the mechanics from the theme impresses me greatly. If you ever get the opportunity to play this one, do NOT pass it up!

The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE

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