On the table – and in the app – the game looks deceptively simple. You just have these colorful animals that jump around the board, eating some fish (or honey). Of course, like all good board games, there is a really, really amazing bit of thinking to do while you're not distracted by the bling. In the end, this is a pure and simple strategy game that happens to look like a game for kids. Luckily, kids can enjoy the game, too. They'll rarely win, though, because the strategic player can usually shut down a "grab all of the three-fish tiles first" method of play. Going for the big points first is tempting, but it often leaves your characters stranded on a patch of the board, watching as another bee picks up a string of one- and two-drop honey hexes to end the game (once a bee/penguin is separated onto an area by itself, it will be able to pick up all of the honey/fish in that area, as long as it can make the legal moves to do so at the end of the game). The sculpted penguins in the board game are particularly fun to move around the board.
The best strategy is one that manages to cut your opponents off from sections of the board. The hexes are laid out randomly at the start of each game, and you can only move your bees onto the board where there is one honey drop. Therefore, the best places to cut off your opponents will change from game to game. Still, finding ways to partition eight or twelve tiles for your access only is always a good thing.
The biggest difference between the board game and the simple version of the app (changing birds into bees doesn't exactly qualify) is the number of creatures each player controls. In the board game, each player gets four penguins in a two-player game, three in a three-player, and just two in a four-player affair. There are also only 60 tiles in the board game version vs. 67 in the app.
Another place where the app differs from the board game is with the specialized bees. The basic bee moves and collects honey in the same way that all of the penguins collect fish in the original game. The basket bee, which is available in the normal and advanced modes and is marked with a dark bar, can pick up honey from two cells in one move, but without turning. The instructions say that the basket bee "is unable to move left or right," but this isn't quite right. It can turn in some directions (but not others) to start its turn. Exactly how the bee's possible directions are determined is beyond us (same goes for the brave bees).
The brave bees, which are allowed to jump over another bee or one empty space, ruin the game. These bees take away almost all of the strategy of cutting people off. The brave bees eliminate the need to make strategic decisions about sacrificing points now in order to control a large area of the board later. Instead, you can just use the brave bee to hop around, collecting three-point hexes. Luckily, they're only available in the "advanced" game, which means you can play without them.
The app UI is decent, but certainly not gorgeous, on the iPhone. Everything works fine, but feels cramped and tiny. There is a tweaked iPad version of Honey, which will make this sort of multi-player game a much easier experience. The game also has a tendency to crash (on the first-gen iPod touch used as a test unit), and it doesn't always save the game in progress when it does. At least games are short and sweet, so restarting isn't that big of a deal. The in-game instructions are a bit too bare-bones and the whole thing feels rushed. Here's hoping that an update will fix the UI issues and allow you to choose the number of bees each player controls to match the board game (which is balanced much better).
The real weaknesses of this app, though, are the computer opponents. The AI bots are, to say the least, terrible. How bad? Even if you play to lose, you'll probably beat them. Luckily, this is a game of perfect information and so can be played easily by up to four players (just like the board game version), using either the iPhone or the iPad. We can't recommend anything but player-vs.-player, and this makes us miss any feature where you could compete against an online opponent.
Interested in trying it out? The developer has made a few promo codes available here. First come, first served, while the game is available. We'll keep hoping for a real iPhone version of Hey, That's My Fish, but we'll break out Honey now and again until that time.