Head to Head Hilarity: A Pickles to Penguins Review

by Corey Whelen
11 September 2019

2+ Players, 10 Minutes, Low Complexity, Medium Strategy

What do shampoo and corn have in common? What’s the difference between a bell pepper and a crossword? It’s not a joke, but it is the sort of hilarious parallels you’ll be drawing in one of our favourite party games ever- we’re reviewing Pickles to Penguins, the quick-thinking, picture-linking party game with fans from Albuquerque to Zanzibar!

Pickles to Penguins Box Shot with Cards
So many cards, so many connections, so little time...

Pickles to Penguin is inspired by the classic game of “Six Degrees of Separation”. The point of the game is to find indirect connections between seemingly unrelated objects and people (one of which is often Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon). Pickles to Penguins functions similarly, except that the connections are made one at a time, as fast as possible, and ideally, before someone else can draw a different connection. This is definitively a party game, which is to say the rules are simple, the game is quick, and it can seat large numbers of players- any number more than two in this case, although table space is always a limiting factor. Gameplay itself is similar to Slap Jack or Dutch Blitz; players will race to get rid of their cards as fast as possible, and without a traditional turn order, it becomes a tense game with plenty of excitement, and a not inconsiderable amount of yelling.

Pickles to Penguins Cards
YOU CAN USE A FORK TO EAT AN APPLE... kind of?

Pickles to Penguins rewards creativity and abstract thinking like few other games, and with the break-neck pace of the game, you really have to be on your toes with those skills. Each player gets a stack of 25 double-sided cards from which they draw five. Both sides of each card feature a noun- both pictured and named. You’ll see cards like “taco”, “Toronto”, and “trailer park”, to name a few. Playing one is simple, you just slap it down on one of the two piles of cards in the middle of the table, before someone can play one of their cards on it first. The trick is that when you do it, you have to state out loud a connection between the nouns. “Saturn and marbles are both spheres”, you might yell, or “giraffes and fleas can both be circus animals”. Simply play all 25 cards in your stack first to win!

Additionally, you have an opportunity to dispute the connections other players draw- but you have to be quick. If the card they played is covered by another card, you lose your chance and play continues as normal! However, if another player catches a mistake (or sometimes, a very deliberate lie…) play stops and the players discuss and vote on the connection. If they vote that the connection isn’t valid, that player gets a five-card penalty, which is easily enough to take them out of the short, five-minute rounds.

Pickles to Penguins Linking Example
A few sample connections to illustrate how the game flows

While Pickles to Penguins can get a little cut-throat (games without turns often can), rounds go by so fast that it’s difficult to hold a grudge. Mostly players are lost in thought trying to draw connections between the cards in front of them and the ones popping up constantly in the play area, taking only the briefest of pauses to shout a tenuous connection and slap a card down. With over 500 double-sided cards, (and over 125,000 possible combinations) each game is going to be unique, and cards are unlikely to ever be played with the same connection. There are also five alternate game modes to tweak the gameplay and keep things heated through multiple replays.

Overall, Pickles to Penguins is lightweight, seats a lot of players, and isn’t overly competitive. If you’re looking for a silly game that takes minutes to play, seconds to explain, and has an immeasurable replayability, Pickles to Penguins is the perfect addition to your shelf.

Also: check out the Pickles to Penguins Travel Card Game if you’re looking for quick-thinking picture linking on the go!