In a world sometimes dominated by dark and adult themed games, it is nice to know that there are still some patches of sunlight left to explore. If only for a break from the Cthulhu-shaped clouds on the horizon. And if sunshine is what you are searching for, then Juicy Fruits won’t disappoint. This is a game that wears it’s bright and breezy nature on its sleeve and all over the box. The Cover art, theme and graphics are colourful, light and fun and this is a game that tries hard to be all of those things and pretty much succeeds. There is certainly little danger of any unwary hardcore Gamers being misled into purchasing Juicy Fruits for their collection of grimdark hack n slash dice chuckers.
But Juicy Fruits has more to offer than feel good vibes. Beneath the primary colour exterior there are some really clever ideas and tasty decisions which could definitely catch more casual gamers unawares. Make no mistake this is a strategy game, albeit one that looks like it may have been designed by Fisher Price. So is this enough to make Juicy Fruits one for your collection, perhaps to bring out for younger players or someone new to Euros? Well… maybe. Read on and judge for yourself.
In Juicy Fruits, 1-4 players will compete as budding Island entrepreneurs, attempting to harvest the natural fruit bounty of their own tropical paradise and convert it into fruit-based confection for locals and tourists alike. Each player has their own player board island with tiles depicting the different fruits available. Along the shores are several boats drawn at the beginning of the game and requiring different fruit cargoes to fulfil orders. As players gather fruit they remove the boats from their beaches for points while also freeing up space on their island to gain more fruit through an ingenious tile sliding system- more of which later. Players can also use fruit to purchase tiles to add to their island from a central board. Options include ice cream trucks, tourist attractions and stalls which can give points bonuses immediately or more opportunities to score points as the game progresses. Every time a tile is taken from this board, a business permit is issued. When all the permits are gone, the amount depending on player count, the game ends.
So gathering resources and converting them to points is hardly innovative and in fairness a lot of what Juicy Fruits does is fairly standard Eurogame fare. But one area which Juicy Fruits adds as an innovative twist is the way in which fruits are harvested. Each players island starts as a grid with boats along each
of it’s fours sides. In the centre are five tiles representing the five fruits in the game, Limes, bananas, pomegranates, oranges and… mangosteens. What do you mean you don’t know what a mangosteen is? Never had mangosteen crumble? Well feel free to call them plums, everyone else will. So every turn, players can harvest fruit by sliding one of these tiles on their board in one direction. For every space the tile travels, they receive one of those fruits from the central supply. If there is a tile in the way, then you can’t move any further. Throughout the game players can remove the boats from the island edges to gain small amounts of points, but more importantly, this will free up another space on the board. The more space means tiles can move more freely and therefore more fruit can be harvested. Simple but also clever and quite satisfying.
As the game progresses, players will add the additional tiles from the central board, including some that may give two types of fruit, or a bonus of plus one. There are also tiles which can be gathered which take up large areas of the board and can’t be moved, however they will give one off large bonuses. There are others which may stay on the board and give varying points during the end game scoring, such as a bonus for every beach on your player board cleared. So players need to decide between going for quick points hits but reducing their board space, or playing a longer game.
Who’s Ready For Ice Cream?
At the start of each game ,the central board is populated with randomly selected tiles so every game will vary in terms of where points can be garnered. Three of these tiles are Ice Cream trucks, each a different colours. If a player manages to obtain one of these, it allows them to use fruit harvested to produce ice creams at three different points values. All of these are highly desirable as ice creams can be produced multiple times in one turn if you have enough fruit the truck can move on the player’s board enough spaces.
Ice creams are limited in number and taking the last one will reduce the number of permits available and hasten the end of the game so timing of this is important and production of ice creams is resource heavy however the huge points bonanza they provide makes them pretty much essential to winning the game, except of course in the rare occasions when the ice cream truck tiles don’t come out at all!
Developing Your Fizziness Plan
On the main scoreboard is a section referred to as the Juice Factory and is recommended in the rules for an “Advanced” game. With this in play, an extra action is added each round where players can use their fruit to make fruit
based sodas and gain points accordingly. While this adds to the rules for players to remember, it’s safe to say that it is very simple to play with and the omission from the basic game further hints at the fact that Juicy Fruits is very much marketed as a family game. The juice track simply adds an extra means to garner points and is separate from the rest of the game so there isn’t really any choice to be made here, that is to say, players don’t need to choose between taking a tile or using the track, for instance so the only impact it has is using some of the players fruit stock. As such, players will most likely use the track to occasionally use up single left over fruits but will rarely be incentivised to max out on the track. There are usually far more fruitful (snigger!) ways of gaining points with your resources. One way in which this does become more profitable is if the Lemonade shack is in play. Here further points can be gained by a player depending on how far along the track they have progressed and this can definitely make spending on the track far more enticing. It’s a shame that only one of these tiles exists though, so it is often missing from the game through the random set up.
As such, the juice factory hints at the main weakness of Juicy Fruits: the lack of genuine choice around strategy. For the most part, once players have found their feet a little and played a few times, or even if they are experienced in this kind of resource management game, they will generally focus on the same strategy for building points. And the variable set up, rather than increasing the choices as I’m sure it was designed to, actually tends to limit the options more often than not.
Ice Cream Headache
As mentioned before, there are three Ice Cream Truck tiles which can be made available from the central board. This allows players to purchase ice creams of varying points values however there is only one tile of each type and these are chosen at random in the beginning. In practice this means that there could be only one of these tiles available between multiple players. The points bonus gained from these is so valuable that it is going to be very difficult to stop the player who get to this first from winning the game. Part of the issue here is that Juicy Fruits is basically a game of Multiplayer solitaire and as such, there is no real way for players to interfere with or slow each others plans. Hence once acquired, a player is able to merrily build their Ice Cream Empire with little interference from anyone else, other than a desperate race to end the game early before they can cash in their mangosteen mountain.
Games with more than one truck available to purchase are slightly more open affairs but still heavily dependent on gaining access to the ice cream. More
often than not, early rounds of Juicy Fruits tend to consist of an unsightly scramble for ice cream less akin to a tropical paradise and more in keeping with the beach at Scarborough on August Bank Holiday. But without the consolation of a Donkey Ride when the Ice cream inevitably runs out.
Juicy Fruits: Worth The Squeeze?
In a strategy game, it would be easy to think that the overall dominance of one particular tactic for scoring would be pretty damning, but actually that isn’t the case here. There are still good decisions to be made, particularly the central puzzle of when to concentrate on clearing your island and when to grab tiles from the main board. This is not as simple as it may appear at first as every tile taken from there hastens the end of the game. And every tile you put on your board, restricts the movement of tiles already on there.
But the main reason I would still play Juicy Fruits again is because what it loses in terms of strategic depth it more than make up for charm. Juicy fruits is simply a lovely game to play. The components are well made and feel great and the art work is super cute. And the inherent slide board puzzle is really engaging in a game-within-a-game way. When you get to move a tile multiple times collecting a big bunch of… mangosteen, clearing the way for another big harvest next turn. It’s deeply satisfying. Despite its weaknesses, there is usually enough going on to keep everyone engaged in the game. The lack of direct player conflict means that players are pretty much free to get on with their own little juice engine, planning turns and trying to gauge how long they have before the game ends. And the answer to that is always, not long at all-Juicy Fruits is a really quick game for a Euro. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour with very little down time between each players turn and is fairly quick to set up again, which makes it a perfect fit in the “filler game” or “Just one more for the road” category. So Juicy Fruit succeeds in its main aim then- to be fun and light and not outstay its welcome and that earns a thumbs up for me.
And if you have any younger players who you want to introduce to more strategic gaming, then you probably won’t go far wrong with Juicy Fruits. But best let them win the race for the ice cream truck though, eh?