Review: Pelican Cove

IMG_1663

Length 20-30 minutes

Release Date 2013

Designer: Lauge Lachau
Artist: Alvin Madden
Publisher: SimplyFun
Category: Puzzle, Real-Time
Players: 1-5
Price: $40.00 SimplyFun.com

Pelican Cove is the United States release of the puzzle game Uluru, and a sort of “sister game” to the popular Dimension. In this real-time challenge, players must hastily arrange eight pelican pieces on their board according to a set of placement rules. It requires quick-thinking and clever problem-solving. With great production quality and the ability to modulate the difficulty to accommodate players of all skill levels, this is one of the best family games out there.

Review

I have professed my love for puzzle games before; allow me to do it again. They are the best. Ricochet Robots, Karuba, Sagrada, Dr. Eureka, SET… I could go on. I love games that tickle the brain, and one of my favorites is Dimension, which we have reviewed in the past.

After I fell in love with Dimension, I learned that designer Lauge Lachau had made another game with a similar feel to it. Naturally, I was intrigued.

Pelican Cove is a game in which players race to solve a spatial puzzle in real time. To begin the game, every player receives an individual board, along with eight plastic pelican figures in different colors.

The player boards have eight “nest” spaces, one for each bird. A main board is placed in the center, containing slots for eight cards, each corresponding to one color of pelican. Every round, a new set of cards is dealt to these slots. To illustrate:

These cards dictate the placement rules for the current round. (When a card shows a gray bird, it refers to the bird of that space’s color.) In the above example, the rules are:

  • White must be placed on one of the indicated spots
  • Black must be placed on the opposite side from orange
  • Orange must be next to red
  • Purple may be placed anywhere (this is a freebie)
  • Blue must be placed on one of the indicated spots
  • Red must follow the same rule as yellow
  • Green must be placed on the opposite side from purple
  • Yellow (and, therefore, red) must be “around the corner” from white

Players then have one sand timer’s worth of time to arrange their pelicans in such a way that they follow all the given rules. In a frenetic rush, they will be placing and moving their birds around, constantly checking their work against the cards in the middle.

When time is up, players review their own boards to make sure they have followed all the rules. Each color is considered individually, from left to right on the main board. To continue my above example, a player first asks everyone:

“Is your white pelican on one of the highlighted spaces?”

Each player then checks his or her own board. If it is, awesome! If not, he or she receives a penalty stone, basically a negative point. Next, the player asks:

“Is your black pelican opposite your orange pelican?”

And so on and so on. The round ends when all colors/birds have been evaluated. Here is an example of a completed player board:

This player followed seven out of the eight rules, but her green pelican is next to, not across from, her purple pelican. Therefore, she receives one penalty stone, as shown. Sometimes, the puzzles are impossible to solve perfectly (I believe my example may be such a puzzle), and in these cases, players should just do the best they can!

A standard game of Pelican Cove lasts six rounds, but players can easily play more or less as desired. At the end of the game, the person with the fewest penalty stones is the winner.


This game is criminally underrated, a total hidden gem. As real-time puzzle games go, Pelican Cove is great for all the same reasons as Dimension or Ricochet Robots, but it stands by itself as a unique, clever logic puzzle in its own right.

The rule cards come in five difficulties, which allow for varying levels of challenge. Players may decide to play only with cards of certain difficulties (e.g. only “1”s, “2”s, and “3”s), or they can just shuffle all the cards together and let the deck decide how tough each round will be. The game also has an optional rule where players can splay out two sets of rule cards, one easier and one harder, to accommodate groups of mixed skill levels. This is a very nice addition, and it keeps the game engaging in settings like family game night, where kids and adults are playing together. (And if you’re interested in really tickling the brain, you can also try doubling up on rule cards to make things twice as hard.)

The level 4 card shown means, “This bird may not be adjacent to or across from yellow,” and the level 5 card means, “This bird wants the opposite of whatever white wants.” They can get pretty tricky…

The production of Pelican Cove is very nice, with brightly-colored artwork and intuitive card iconography. The pelicans themselves are nicely sculpted, but color-blind players may struggle to tell them apart—it might have been helpful if they had a number printed on them to further distinguish them.

That being said, though, the gameplay is exceptional. Simply put, Pelican Cove is one of the best games of its kind. I am astounded by how much it does with such a simple rules system. The game basically boils down to: “Arrange your birds according to these rules; Ready, set, go!”, but the thought-provoking puzzles keep me coming back for more. Pelican Cove has a very low barrier to entry, so it is a great choice for new or experienced gamers.

I always say that playing board games keeps your brain sharp, and Pelican Cove is a perfect case-in-point. An intelligent design with lightning-fast play, lovely components, and tricky challenges, this game easily joins my “Favorite Puzzle Games” list. Definitely check this one out.

A review copy was provided by SimplyFun.

The Bottom Line

Pelican Cove is an absolutely fantastic puzzle game. It's baffling that it isn't more popular. A must-play for fans of logic challenges.

 

9.5

Author: Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.