Pros: Cute game, clever design. Not terribly complicated. Fun.
Cons: Not very educational. Winning is based upon random chance, really.
My 5 year old has discovered the joy of being obnoxious. Usually such a sweet child, he's become enamored with rude noises and pranks and "jokes" that are more obnoxious than funny. When he saw a commercial for the Piranha Panic game, where vicious piranhas gobble up the players' unsuspecting fish pieces, he was delighted and desperate to give it a try. So, even though the game's concept is a bit rude & obnoxious, after bringing home a good report card and acting angelic at school my son received the game as a prize.
Piranha Panic is a simple enough concept - the object of the game is to be the first player to get all of your fishy-game pieces to the safe area. What makes the game different (and more fun) are the piranhas that will pop up and gobble down your fish pieces before they can make it to the safe zone!
What comes in the box are:
16 Marbles (4 big piranhas, 12 regular fish)
5 game board components (board itself, backdrop, marble catcher, 2 legs)
You do need to assemble the game a bit before play, but assembly is not difficult. The playing pieces are cute - the marbles are a clear plastic with a paper fish in the center. You can have up to 4 players, each with 3 colored fish-marbles apiece (the color choices are yellow, orangey-red, purple, and green).
The game board itself is definitely the star of this particular toy. It is a simple yet very clever design. The board is tilted at a slight angle with indentions to hold your marbles on the play-surface (4-indentions wide, 5 indentions long). There is a special row at the top of the board for placing the large "piranha" marbles when it is time for a piranha attack. When you pull the lever to release the piranha marbles, the large marbles drop below the play surface, and as they roll down they trigger the piranhas (which are on the underside of each play-surface intention) to spin up and "gobble" any fish-marble that was sitting that spot (dropping your fish-marble below the play-surface to land in the catch-tray below). There are pegs underneath the play surface that keep the piranha marbles from rolling down in a straight line, so you can never tell if a particular fish-marble might be safe (because the piranha-marble may roll to the side, at a diagonal, or even a zig-zag). As your fish pieces get "eaten" they roll to the bottom catch-tray, and from there you can start them up the play-surface again when it's your turn.
The manufacturer recommends this toy for children ages 5 and up. No batteries are required.
How to Play:
When your turn starts you roll the die
» If you roll a number (1 or 2) you can move one of your 3 fish-marbles the number of spaces rolled. You can "swim" forward, left, or right, but not diagonally. Fish also cannot jump over other fish (so it is possible to box some players in so that they cannot move at all)
» If you roll a blue fish, then that's the same as "lose a turn"
» If you roll a piranha, it's time for a piranha attack! You must roll the die again to determine how they will attack. If you roll the blue fish then the attack has been averted. If you roll a number, that's how many piranhas will attack. If you roll a piranha, then all 4 piranhas will attack (that's the "piranha panic!") You place the appropriate number of piranha marbles up on the top, "piranha zone" row, then pull the release lever to drop the marbles down and trigger the feeding frenzy.
The object is to have your fish "race upstream" and make it to the safe area. The first player who gets all 3 of their fish into the safe area wins!
Our Thoughts and Experiences:
My 5 year old really loves this game. In a way it's funny -- he gets so excited when it's time for the piranhas to attack, even though that isn't really something you're supposed to look forward to (since it means you might be starting over with one or more of your fish-pieces).
I do like the element of randomness -- just because I trigger a piranha attack that doesn't necessarily mean that my fish will be the ones eaten. Any fish on the board is fair game. My son, who isn't the best loser in the world, doesn't really mind all that much when his fish get eaten, because he has so much fun watching the feeding frenzies happen.
The game is lots of fun to play, and unlike some of his other games my 5 year old is willing to play by the rules. The one downside is probably that the game isn't all that educational. There's isn't a lot of strategy involved either - winning or losing is based more upon random chance than anything else (although you can use it to teach some minor strategy, such as placing the piranha marbles above rows where you don't currently have fish). It does do a good job of getting him to learn rules and follow instructions, since the piranha attack involves rolling the dice again and doing something different on a piranha-roll versus a regular-roll.
There are lots of pieces to lose, and while everything can be stored back into the original box I wish they had included a little bag of some sort for keeping all of the marbles together in the box (we ended up using a little zip-lock bag, so it wasn't that big of a deal).
My 2 year old would love to get his hands on this game too, but the marbles are too small for him and would definitely be choking hazards. He is fascinated with watching a piranha attack, however, and we do let him send the big marbles down the board to flip up the piranhas on the game board. I do wonder if the recommended "5 and up" age range is a bit high - I'm sure my son could have easily played this game at 4 or maybe even 3. I also foresee him not being quite as entertained by the game when he gets a few years older (but then little-brother can inherit it).
+) Clever, unique design
+) Easy set-up. No batteries required.
+) Keeps my 5 year old entertained
+) Game play is fairly simple, with rules that involve a few steps but are easy to remember
+) Visually and thematically different than any other game we own
-) Not terribly educational
-) Winning is essentially based upon chance, not skill or logic
-) Probably best for ages 4-7
Even though this game doesn't provide much of a mental challenge, nor is it very educational, my son really enjoys playing it so it's a winner in our house. I do think that it is really cleverly designed, with the piranhas that pop up and "devour" the unsuspecting fish. It is colorful and fun and different than any other game we have, so overall I give Piranha Panic fairly high marks.