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We used to (and still do) have long discussions in my gaming group as to how much theme affects a game. Obviously theme is more evident in some games (Betrayal at House on the Hill) than others, such as Kingdoms. The mark of good theme in a game (at least to me) is a theme that makes the game rules and mechanics easier to understand. Ice Cream (Face 2 Face Games, 2004 – Joe Huber) falls into this category. Not only is the theme one that will naturally appeal to many people (how many people don’t like ice cream?), but the theme suits the game well.
I’m not sure how to even categorize Ice Cream, as it plays like no other game I have. It’s a card game, one where you try to get the most points (typical), but building ice cream cones and then fulfilling orders makes for a quick, light, yet satisfying experience. I say “light”, because there is a healthy dose of luck in the game. Yet, at the same time, players who do poorly usually have only their playing to blame. Ice Cream is a good, not great, game – but as a filler, it’s fun – and the theme fits it to a “T”.
Twelve “cone” cards are placed near the middle of the table, and two other decks are shuffled and placed next to it: the “Gallons” deck and the “Scoop” deck. Each player is dealt one gallon of ice cream, which is placed face-up in front of them. The gallons come in six different flavors: strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, black raspberry, chocolate chip, and pistachio. (I like the choice of flavors!) The youngest player goes first, and the game is ready to begin!
The game is made up of four days (rounds). Each round has four phases, starting with the ice cream deliveries. Each player is dealt one gallon card, which they secretly examine. Players may discard the card and draw a replacement, but must keep the replacement if they do so. These gallon cards are placed face down on the table.
Starting with the first player, and proceeding clockwise around the table, each player draws one scoop card (showing a scoop of one of the six flavors of ice cream) and either adds it to an existing cone (to a maximum of four scoops) or starts a new cone (a maximum of twelve cones.) Play continues until the entire scoop pile has been placed on the table, at which point the players “serve” customers.
All players reveal their hidden gallon card; and starting with the first player, each player takes a turn in which they may serve some ice cream cones. The cones with scoops in the middle of the board demonstrate the wants of the customers, and players must seek to fulfill those needs. If one or more ice cream cones can be completed by a player, they must do so on their turn (for example, if I have chocolate and vanilla gallons in front of me, and there is a cone with two chocolate scoops and one vanilla scoop on the table, I must fulfill it – or another cone that I might meet the requirements of – like a single scoop of vanilla). The player takes the scoops of ice cream, discarding the cone, and places them face down in front of the gallon card used. (Each gallon can supply many scoops).
If a player does not meet the requirements for any cone, they can either serve one that is close (all the scoops match except one), or they can draw an additional gallon card, placing it face up in front of them. If a player serves a cone that is not exact, they keep all the scoops except the one they could not serve – discarding it. After all cones have been taken (or someone cannot do anything – a rare occurrence), the round ends, and each player scores points.
First, players discard all gallon cards that served scoops this turn. Then, they score one point for each scoop they took, and one point for each duplicate “unopened” gallon card. Each player takes tiles equal to the points they’ve scored. The next day then begins, with the player with the lowest score going first. After the fourth day, the player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The whole game comes packaged in a small, thin box with attractive artwork on it. The cards are good illustrations of, well, ice cream. The ice cream looks good – especially on a hot day, and just naturally draws people to the game. The scoring tiles come in denominations of 1, 5, and 10, although I think that paper and pencil might be simpler. Either way, the game simply looks good. The scoops of ice cream are fairly easy to distinguish, although we sometimes confused the vanilla and chocolate chip.
2.) Rules: The rules, which come in several languages, come in an eight-page fold-out. I know this kind of thing is slightly easier to produce, but it’s a lot easier on players when the pages form a book. But the full-color instructions come with a lot of illustrations and several examples. This was good because I didn’t catch onto the game from simply reading the rules, and needed the examples to better understand it. However, I found the game very easy to teach, since the theme made the mechanics fairly intuitive.
3.) Theme: Some games have a theme, that while interesting to some people (Industrial Waste), aren’t about a topic that appeals to many people. But everyone loves ice cream (or almost everyone), so the game has instant appeal when I pull it out. That and the fact that the theme fits so well really help the game. Of course a gallon of ice cream can cover a lot of scoops! And the cones and how they stack, and the fact that a cone can’t have more than four scoops (because they would melt and fall off), makes perfect sense. A theme like this makes a game easy to teach.
4.) Coloretto: I saw many references to Coloretto (another light card game) on the internet; and while I see some similarities, there aren’t enough to justify only owning one game. Unless, of course, you only want one filler.
5.) Strategy: It seems to me that most of the strategy lies in the part of the game where players are placing down the scoops of ice cream. Part of this is bluffing – as players try to guess what face-down gallons the other players have, but knowing how to set up the scoops is crucial. I always try to put a few one-scoop ice cream cones down in flavors I don’t have, forcing other players to take the less lucrative cones; but sometimes I’m actually setting another player up for a four-scoop cone worth of points. When actually taking the cones, it’s usually just a simple matter of taking the cone worth the most points; but players must also try to set themselves up for the next round, and also take cones that they know the other players want. This adds a bit of “screwage” to the game that makes it fun without being overtly mean.
6.) Luck: Sometimes luck is against you. Sometimes you’ll have just a horrible selection in the ice cream gallons you draw, as well as bad luck with the scoop layout. This may turn some people off, but I found that while the game is fairly lucky sometimes, skillful play can avert much of the luck, and the best player seems to win. I would rank the game above Transamerica and even Coloretto when it comes to strategy.
7.) Fun Factor and Number of Players: While the game can handle up to five players, it seems to hit the sweet spot with three. And, since there aren’t too many good fillers for three, that’s a great thing! The game is fun because there are moments of joy when you grab a four-scoop cone that’s made just for you, and horror when you realize that instead of grabbing that four-scoop of ice-creamy goodness you must take a single scoop. And the game is over before it wears out its welcome, keeping the fun times short and sweet.
I really like Ice Cream. It isn’t the best filler I’ve ever played, but it definitely has one of the best themes for a filler I’ve seen; and it has an instant appeal when I put it on the table. Both kids and adults are attracted to the theme, and the gameplay is amusing and unusual enough that it deserves its own place in my fairly large collection. After a dinner party full of conversation and light talk, what better dessert than a round of Ice Cream?
“Real men play board games.”
Why does this game only have a 5? I picked it up super cheap a while back looking for some non standard games to introduce to our 7 year old. she loves it, and seems to grok the strategy quite well. It's a very simple game with quite a bit of room for strategy. It's not trying to be Dominion or Race for the Galaxy, but it seems like it's being rated against those. I think it accomplishes what it sets out to do rather well.