Yura Yura Penguin
Designer: Ryoko Yabuchi
Artist: Ryoko Yabuchi
Publisher: Ryoko Yabuchi
2-6 players 10-15 minutes ages 7+ MSRP $28
Time to teach & learn: 2-3 minutes
An iceberg has melted and a whole village of penguins needs a new home! Can you stack together enough ice to build them a place to stay? The wind (or other players…) might make it wobble, so it will take a steady hand to find the right balance to place each level and find a perfect spot for each bird.
Yura Yura Penguin is a charming and clever card-based dexterity game where players build an uneven tower higher and higher, placing blocks of ice and penguins on different levels. Be the first to play all your ice cards and avoid making the tower topple to win the game.
Every part of Yura Yura Penguin greets you with a sense of artistic and whimsical beauty. The box sparkles, the rulebook has cartoon penguins to guide you through the instructions. And the pieces you play with… they practically beg you to set the game up.
There are 48 round ice cards, each one flecked with sparkly reflective bits. The cards come in three colors: white, light blue and dark blue. Each card has an icon in the center, describing it’s action. There are a few tri-colored Aurora cards which serve as wild cards and contain special icons. The back of each card has a lovely stylized illustration of ocean waves.
There are 14 cardstock icebergs. The icebergs are scored so they can be folded to form a u-shape. They are flat along their base and jagged along the top.
There are 18 jewel-like ice crystals, large translucent and faceted. They come in three colors that match the colors of the ice cards.
Last but not least are the adorable wooden penguins. The base game comes with four lovely basic birds.
I would highly encourage you to seek out the deluxe version which features 13 additional different painted penguins! These birdies are beyond cute. Each one depicts a different shape, size, or species of penguin.
You’ll find tiny white flippered penguins, banded and crested ones, ones with brush tails or yellow eyes, emperors and babies, and one giant (now extinct)!
In addition to the rulebook, there’s a wonderfully detailed booklet allowing you to get to know each species as well as general information about penguins.
To set up, spread out the ice cards face down in a rough circle to form “the sea.” Each player draws a hand of cards from the sea based on the number of people playing. A thick coaster-like start card is placed in the middle of the sea to form the foundation of the iceberg tower you’re going to build. Keep the penguins and ice crystals handy, because now you’re ready to play!
Yura Yura Penguin is a card stacking dexterity game with a dash of strategy and an emphasis on balance.
Players take turns in clockwise order, taking an action and then playing a card, creating a gloriously teetering tower of ice.
On your turn you will look at the icon on the card played prior to you. The icon shown gives you a set of instructions to follow. This is your action for the turn. Some icons make you build the tower higher. Others make you place items in the tower (an ice crystal or two, maybe even a penguin). Special icons on the tri-colored Aurora cards add an Uno element to the game, forcing you to draw cards, reverse the order of play or skip a turn.
When building higher, you stack a u-shaped iceberg card to form a new level.
Ice crystals placed in the tower are placed on the 2nd highest tier with the least number of crystals. This can be a tricky little puzzle to tease out.
Penguins placed in the tower are always placed on the 2nd highest platform.
Note you’re never adding pieces on the topmost level of the tower, always the 2nd highest level or lower.
If all the pieces have already been placed in the tower, then your job gets even more challenging. You will have to take an existing piece from the tower and move it to a higher position!
Once you have followed the instructions on the prior card, it’s time to place a card from your hand onto the tower. The new card you play must match either the color or the icon on the prior card.
So if the prior card played was dark blue with an iceberg icon, I would first place a new iceberg card on the tower and then have my choice to play a dark blue card or a card with an iceberg icon on top of the iceberg to form a new level to the tower.
The card you select is always played to the top level of the tower.
It could happen that you do not have a card that matches the color or icon of the previous card. In this case, you’ll draw a card from the sea. If that card plays, great. If not, add that card to your hand and your turn is over.
The goal in Yura Yura Penguin is to play all the cards in your hand. The first player to accomplish this wins OR… if one player causes the iceberg to break or fall the game ends immediately.
Now, let’s be serious. The joy and the fun at the heart of the game comes from building the ice tower higher and higher, only to see it come crashing down.
Each card you add to the tower can and often will make it more wobbly. And each card you play will dictate a set of instructions for the next player. As the tower starts to sway a little more, maybe you decide to play a card with a penguin icon, forcing the next player to place a wooden bird on a higher level, tipping the balance even more.
If you manage to rid yourself of all your cards to claim victory, you will probably get a polite round of applause.
BUT you’re even more likely to receive cheers and high fives from bringing the tower down. It’s a special kind of game that finds a way to celebrate defeat as much or more than victory.
What the game really builds toward is an explosion of laughter and delight as one too many cards or birds or ice crystals causes the tower to collapse in a heap.
If only a few small pieces take a tumble, or even a single card falls from the tower on your turn, you are allowed to try and recover and rebuild. But if even two cards fall free, the iceberg is considered broken, and the game ends.
The basic game offers a wonderful experience to players who are young and young at heart. The deluxe edition of Yura Yura Penguin, however, makes the game remarkable in ways that are not only about adding fancier components.
The 13 new penguin tokens change the game in dramatic and devilishly fun ways. Instead of the generic penguins, players can agree on a specific set to use for the game OR each player can select a penguin of their own to try and move up through the tower.
My personal favorite, though, adds a delicious element of brinksmanship to each penguin card played. When you are forced to place a penguin in the tower, the player prior to you gets to select any penguin from the supply for you to place!
Now you might take it easy on someone, giving them a reasonable sized penguin to add to the tower, hoping they will do the same for you later. BUT as the cards stack higher and higher, the GIANT wooden penguin always looms as a threat. And in most games it will be a matter of when and not if this chunky fellow finds a spot to roost adding even more tension and fun to see if the tower will hold.
If this was not enough, the deluxe edition includes a wooden polar bear token that adds yet another way to play. When one of two polar bear cards is added to the tower, the rules of the game change completely.
The polar bear will be placed on the top level of the ice tower and from this point forward all cards and tokens in the game are played on the top level of the tower for the rest of the game. Suddenly the tower builds out instead of up and gets very crowded! You will have to learn an entirely new set of skills to do well and keep the tower from falling.
The flexible and expandable rules provided by the deluxe edition nudge us to see the true fun of the Yura Yura Penguin comes from the many different ways we can enjoy and create a more thrilling wobbly tower.
From engaging gameplay to the look and feel of the cards and tokens, there is a quiet and remarkable artful attention to every aspect of the Yura Yura Penguin. Each of these many small decisions has an important impact on the game. Even the title helps set the scene. Yura Yura is a word in Japanese that describes the sound of something swaying in the wind and waves.
Collectively the result of these small but artful decisions is an invitation to play that is nearly impossible to refuse. There’s a fun world waiting for you inside this small box – a simple promise to make but never an easy one to fulfill.
Simple joys like this are often the best and most lasting, i think, because we can lose ourselves in them over and over, regardless of age.
That is what Yura Yura Penguin provides – an open door to Major Fun.
Written by: Stephen Conway