Game Night: Penguin Ultimatum

This post is part of the Game Night Blog Carnival. If you’re an RPG blogger, we’d love to have you join! You can find out more in the FAQ at the main Game Night page.

In keeping with the whole “winter” theme we’ve got going on this week, I’ve decided to talk about the game “The Penguin Ultimatum.”  It was either that or “Hey That’s My Fish!”, which I will have to review at some other time. (On a completely unrelated note, the latter game is available on the iPad, which I would highly recommend)

I picked up this little game at Origins several years ago because I played a demo of it, and had a blast playing it.  I’ve only had the chance to play it 10 or so times since, but every time I find it to be a simple and engaging game.

The premise is simple – you have four penguins, and they all demand to be entertained.  You score points by entertaining them, and you win the game by scoring the most points.  How does it all work?  In the middle of the table are one or more cards with pictures of animals entertaining.  For example, there could be a dancing sheep, a juggling polar bear, or a seal on a unicycle (don’t ask).  You also have cards in your hand.  Each of these cards has three pieces of information on it: an animal, an entertainment, and a point value.  By laying one of these cards next to an appropriate entertainer, and placing one of my penguins on it, I can potentially score some points.  For example, I may have a 4/seal/juggling card in my hand.  I could put it next to the seal on a unicycle or the juggling polar bear, and add one of my penguins to it, to potentially score 4 points.  That is, if there’s room to place my card, and if I have any penguins left.

And that’s where the strategy comes in.  You don’t score the points immediately, so you have to weigh whether it’s worth it to leave one of your four penguins on any given card.  I mean sure, I could score 4 points for that juggling polar bear, but I might be able to move the penguin to the dancing sheep, score that, and get it back in time to STILL score the polar bear points.

Then there’s an added complication: each player has a “favorite type” of entertainment.  By being in the right place at the right time, I can score bonus points for being entertained by my favorite type of show.  Even though I may score less points in the short run for unicycles, for example, I may still be gunning for a place around that seal card in order to score some bonus points.

If all this sounds a bit complicated, it’s really not.  In essence, this is just a game where you’re strategically laying cards on the table out of your hand.  The only card laying constraints are that players must lay the cards in a grid formation (no overlapping or weird orientation) and staying on the table.  Scoring points is just having one of your markers on the right card at the right time.

Some people are turned off by the whole “penguins and dancing animals” theme to the game, perhaps surmising that it’s not a “mature” enough game for them. I will agree that the artwork and theme does lend itself to a “kiddish” feel, but upon closer scrutiny, one will realize that this game can be quite strategic.  On the other hand, it’s also a great game to play with your kids precisely because of the thematic elements, and because the strategy is only there if you want it to be.  It’s easy enough for younger kids to understand, and is fun even if you don’t agonize over the “exact right place to put this card” every turn.  Bottom line: this is a fun, simple game for kids and adults alike.

Finally, if you already own this game, check out the rules for Penguin Ultimatum Solitaire posted over at Board Game Geek.

  • Game: Penguin Ultimatum
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playing time: Approx. 45 minutes
  • Game type: Strategic card laying

Edit: After writing this review, I found (to my dismay) that this game is out of print, and that its publisher is most likely no longer in business. I apologize for reviewing a game that is difficult to find.  All I can suggest is eBay.

Have you ever played this game?  What did you think of it?

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