Review: Swordfish – catch yourself a win

Swordfish - packaging

The coast is treacherous, where I am going with my ship today. But newcomers, who arrived this morning in the gulf, do not give me a choice. The whole open sea is dotted with polished ships, that I’ve never seen. It seems, that someone told them about our problem. We have too many around here. But I still do not like to see new faces. It’s a competition and they take part of my earnings away.

Fortunately, they are making a big noise – inexperienced young men are loudly talking among themselves and laughing – and none of them thought, that it might interfere with fish. And this is my chance. This bay is a naturally peaceful place, which could make swordfish reatreat. And this cove is great place for them. But I have to watch out for rocks, that are everywhere. I’ll show them, who is the best fisherman on the island!

Swordfish (the marlin) is name of a strategic board game from the company and its creator is a pair of authors and . They have grown it in a small Italian publishing house, which is famous for its racing games, but also for Strada Romana.

Swordfish - game is ready

Square box is wearing a stamp with year 2013, when it was published, but especially picture of title swordfish, fleeing from a fishing boat named Ghenos. Inside you will find a large game board with a map of the harbor and above all the adjacent sea, dotted with anchors and various seafaring paths.

But most important are the buoys, which not only serve as a place for fishing, but also determine, what the fish will you encounter in various areas. The little flag also provides a limit for a certain number of players, otherwise that place is locked. On each side of the board, you will find a scale – to the right is weather, round are below, phase of round on the left and around the upper half of the board is also lined victory points counter.

But the board itself will definitely not be enough to play the game. On each of the maximum six possible players are waiting two larger boards in their color. One serves to monitor loading of your boat, the second is a help desk and contains important game information in four tables – how many fish are there in the ocean in each place, how expensive is fish market on the land, but show also price for staying in port and costs for movement and management of ships.

Swordfish - game is ready

And where are the ships, you ask? You will be immediately showered with punching of those cardboard boards. This is but enough to begin wonder – everyone notices boats at first sight. They have an unusual shape with a rounded nose with a hole in it and there are 46 of them. In addition, you can expect also 130 fish – mako sharks and swordfish, which have their back printed in three different colors. There is also a wooden figures of captains and crew, dice and tokens, weather cards and trio of colorful bags.

At the beginning of the game, game board is placed in the center of the table and you domesticate it with a few cubes. One token will show the current phase, one black cube starts its journey on round counter (note that the numbers are shortcuts of months from April to November, each twice – totaling in fifteen rounds, plus one starting position) and the other is placed on a scale with weather. Beside it, you lay a deck of cards, which must be divided according to its back with 00 April on top (each round has its own card) and draw a card specifying the starting weather, marking it with cubes.

On the other hand, stacks of ships are put next to board. But you must first be divided by the value in eight stacks. Fish tokens are put in colored bags according to their back. Each bag matches the color of some of the buoys on the board and drawing from them will finally allow you to fish, just as expected.

Swordfish - game is ready

Before players will be able to go to sea, they must choose a color. From it, they get two boards, four pieces, same number of fuel and bait tokens and two round wooden tokens. One of them is put next on twenty points on victory points track, because they serves also as currency in the game. The second token is then placed to mark players order.

Now we can finally begin. Each round is divided into six stages, through which players go together and alternate inside them according to the established order. To be able to hit the water, we need crew, captain, but also the bait, fuel and most of all a ship. Buying them and anchoring in the harbor is filling of first phase of each round.

You pay for all your items with victory points. You have twenty points, you can spend at the beginning. It is essential information, that prices at ports are pretty much different. Lower you go in the board, the cheaper you hire not only the captain, but also buy fuel and bait. You can see it all clearly and concisely on your help boards.

Swordfish - game in progress

You choose ship by price, which is related to its speed, storm resistance and storage capacity for fish you catch. Cheapest costs four points, but can carry only one token with the catch. Purchased ship is immediately placed the port and you put a leased captain with lowest number (they have them printed on them) into its hole in the bow. The captain number identifies the ship on the card, where you mark its cargo. These are marked with tokens of bait and fuel and you can buy them now as well.

But it is only up to you, if you need fuel. Ships can also glide, which does not cost anything. But it is slower, because you are dependent on the whims of nature. In the second phase of the round, players move forwards with their bought ships, either between anchors or they can float from one of them to the adjacent buoy. Each step costs you one move, but at one anchor, there may simultaneously be only three ships and just one at the time may hunt fish at one buoy.

After you move, but before you proceed with hunting, there is still time to determine the weather. Thunderstorms are sudden, unexpected and overwhelming in here. But it concerns only that part of the bay, where you will find storm clouds icon. Following the discovery of new cards from the deck , you must move cube indicating weather up or down. When it reaches top numbers, you can not catch fish at some buoys. Weak ship, its crew and cargo are also at risk as a result of its low storm resistance compared to actual weather number.

Swordfish - game in progress

Just as you do not buy fuel for hard earned money, you can also catch bait instead of buying it. This is the first option, when fishing and includes a roll of the dice. Its result in pins improves bait inventory on your boat. The second option is to catch fish. Now we will draw from the bag of the same color as our buoy one token and decide, if you keep it or let it go. You can combine these actions (each once) or carry out only one of them three times. And all this for each of your ships anchoring at the buoy.

On the boat, you can carry only so many fish as its capacity states. Then you should return to the port, where you sell them for the price. Each port can only accept a certain number of fish in one round. Selling price also depends on the port and also size of the fish. You get victory points for them, as expected.

Now is the time for the next round, which again frees up space in ports for fish, but also changes the order of the players. Round begins with the player with the fewest points. Game ends, when you end the fifteenth round. Do not expect any reward for unsold goods, winner is the one, who is currently the richest person in the bay!

Swordfish - game in progress

Swordfish takes us to the open sea, which is theme of only a few other games. With this tantalizing topic, we have had will to forgive it some hiccups. It is a strategy game, in which you are trying to transform your initial finance by using equipment into more and more money.

Very nice theme unfortunately goes wrong with number of shortcomings. The first and important is the fact, that in this game rich players become even richer. So, whoever does the best in beginning, he usually wins, because others do not have a chance to catch up (referred to as the runaway leader problem). The only compensation is players order, when the first are more likely to get ports they need, but it is not enough.

The second problem is the first half of the game, which is quite slow. It takes very long for the game to start an economic engine, that will propel you forward and towards better ships. It is especially evident in a larger number of opponents, while two or three even might not notice it.

Swordfish - cards

Fortunately, the game has other qualities, that somewhat compensate these shortcomings. First of all, we in the newsroom like games, where victory points serve also as a currency. It’s a big whip to the players and each point spent can really change your mind. And this works nicely and gives you a really hard time.

On the board, there is brilliantly incorporated balance for different numbers of players, when they are fishing. Some places become blocked with certain numbers. It would seem, that the players playing later are left with inferior ports, but this is not true, because any number of ships can anchor anywhere. It is therefore only up to the players, which starting point do they choose. Upper part of the board also has another disadvantage, because you get less money for your catches on the market. But do not forget, these positions are closer to the most interesting red hunting grounds, where you find most valuable catches.

Swordfish - board detail

However, there is enough of the environment and particularly variation for different matches. Constantly changing weather gives you a hard time, as well as random hunting. In our games, most players preferred hunting baits on the open sea instead of complex and expensive purchase, which seems unnecessary.

The rules seem at first glance nicely structured with many examples on the right. Yet they do not provide the basic information for playing Swordfish for free. Some small things must be looked for and rules do not have enough examples, that might disperse some of the confusion in the first game.

Swordfish - ship tokens

It is a pity, that Swordfish did not made it to the finish line and stumbled at the last hurdle. Is still a good game, but with its original theme and very nice treatment, it had the chance to squeeze even further up in rankings. But you do not have to worry, that you would be drowned in the Atlantic. With playing Swordfish, you experience a lot of tense situations, and if you like games with a tight budget, then this is one of them.

DesignerPierluigi Frumusa, Davide Rizzi
ArtistGiorgio De Michele
PublisherElfinWerks, Ghenos Games
Year Published
# of Players2 - 6
User Suggested # of Players Best with 4 players
Recommended with 2 players
(2 voters)
Playing Time75
Mfg Suggested Ages14 and up
User Suggested Ages8 and up
(2 voters)
Language DependenceNo necessary in-game text
(3 voters)
CategoryEconomic, Nautical, Transportation, Travel
MechanicPick-up and Deliver, Point to Point Movement, Set Collection, Variable Phase Order, Worker Placement
FamilySports: Fishing / Angling
Primary NameSwordfish

Infos courtesy of More Infos.

Review: Swordfish – catch yourself a win
Final word
Swordfish is a tactical game from fishing environment, where you will be trying to earn a fortune by catching swordfish and mako sharks. You will have to get a ship, crew and bait and then sail on the open sea, cast an anchor at the buoy and pull out some fish out of the cloth bag. Catching swordfish is quite expensive, but you can save on fuel, if you simply go with the wind. The more you make, the better and quicker boat can you afford to buy. There is several bays waiting for you on shore, each with its specific selling and buying prices, which is rather nice, but in reality spoils the game for players. Some towns are a plain robbery to visit! Thanks to this, first half of the game is quite slow, until players raise enough money to afford more quicker boats. Ocean is unpredictable with its weather, so you can even lose your precious ship with its cargo and crew on stormy sea. Swordfish is a nice strategic game with few shortcomings, which in the end do not impede having nice fun in original fishing environment..
Reader Rating0 Votes
victory point as currency
drawing fish out of bags
different areas for catching
original components
slow economy start
large price differences among ports
luck on drawing fish
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