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Bluffing Board Games

Barrakuda Game Review

Ooooh, Barrakuda

Andrew Lynch discovers that the deep doesn’t guarantee depth.

Barrakuda is another entry in publisher Helvetiq’s ever-growing roster of modest games in modest boxes. 2-4 players compete as divers, racing to get eight coins into their individual safes. Six cards, representing six locations with the numbers 1-6, are put in the middle of the table in any order and configuration the group wants, so long as all the cards are orthogonally connected to the whole. A little wooden fish, the titular sphyraena, is placed on the 6. In addition to a modest amount of starting gold, each player gets six cards: the numbers 1-5, and a Barracuda.

Turns include three phases: move the divers, move the barracuda, and execute actions. Players simultaneously choose a card from their hands, reveal their cards, and move their divers to the corresponding locations. Played cards stay out on the table, in the order played, until each player either uses a location ability that allows them to pick some up, or they run out entirely.

Next, the titular barracuda moves. If nobody has played the Barracuda card, or if more than one player has played it, two dice are rolled. These determine how many spaces and in what direction the fish moves. If only one player has played the Barracuda card, they roll the movement die and choose if and in what direction to move the fish.

The barracuda is of deep inconvenience to any player unfortunate enough to end up on the same space. Said player(s) drop(s) all the money they have in their moneybag(s) and do(es)n’t get to perform either of the actions at that location.

Once the players and the barracuda have moved, players in non be-cuda’d locations get to carry out the actions listed on the cards. One action in each location is carried out by everyone who lands there. The other is reserved for the player in each location with the fewest number of played cards on the table. The actions give coins, effect cards, and allow players to move whatever money they have in their bag into their vault.

You repeat this process until somebody, anybody, for the love of god somebody please, has eight gold in their vault.

Lord Let Me Run Out of Oxygen

I loathe this game. I’ve written negative reviews before, but I don’t think I’ve ever loathed a game. It’s not just that I wasn’t particularly excited to play Barrakuda a second time, I actively avoided it. I had to be guilted into it by deadlines.

The main issue is that I find the game tedious. I do get the idea. The double-thinking and bluffing of playing location cards. Faking people out so they think you’ll zig when actually you zag. Biding your time so you can pick up the money people drop. Terrorizing your foes with a well-timed barracuda. The bones of a fun design are here, but there are no tendons or muscles.

If you ask me—by reading this, I suppose you have implicitly asked me—the decision space is too narrow. There are obvious things to do, and in the absence of doing them, well…there’s not much else to do. Kill time, I guess. Any play that would feel clever in a great game doesn’t feel like much here. You’re prolonging your own suffering. Barrakuda is that rarest and least fortunate of beasts, a 20 minute game that regularly overstays its welcome.

I would assume that my negative response is entirely personal but for one thing: I’ve played four or five games with the same adult at the table, and not a game has gone by where we haven’t had to check the manual multiple times. This is a simple game with a small set of rules, yet they are weirdly hard to keep in mind. That tells me that something is off.

Reviewing isn’t objective. Anyone who tells you it is, is lying. That said, I’ve done what I could. I’ve played Barrakuda with kids. I’ve played it with adults. It didn’t work for me in either context, nor did it seem to do much for anyone else. Might be best to live this one in the depths where you found it.

Barrakuda details

Disclosure: Meeple Mountain received a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This review is not intended to be an endorsement.

About the author

Andrew Lynch

Andrew Lynch was a very poor loser as a child. He’s working on it.

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