Are you ready? Did you bring a scarf? Shovel? Snow shoes? You’re going to need them. Its a bit nippy outside.
The years is 2097 and global warming or overpopulation or the continued existence of Justin Bieber or some such equally terrible event has caused a cataclysmic climate change plunging the world into another ice age, killing 90% of the world’s population. You are a the leader of a ragtag band of survivors trying to create a life and thrive in this unforgiving, frozen wasteland once known as Earth. You are an Arctic Scavenger.
Arctic Scavengers is a deck building game, similar in form to games like Dominion or Thunderstone. The one biggest difference being that those games tend to be kind of like playing solitaire on the same table as someone else, Arctic Scavengers has you actually interacting with the other players, and in the most brutal way possible (more on that in a bit). It plays 2 to 5 players, takes only a few minutes to set up, and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. The Missus and I were able to complete the games we have played in under an hour each time. Let’s take a closer look at the components and gameplay:
Components and Art
Seeing as how this is a deck builder you can probably guess that the main components are cards. The box includes right around 200 cards used in the game but also includes a few cardboard card mats used to separate a few decks that are important that each player will be drawing from and fighting over. These are a nice touch and add a feeling of import to these decks, causing players to salivate over the possibilities held within them. The inset in the box does a good job of helping you organize all the cards for easy set up, however once are the cards are in their slots there isn’t anywhere to put the cardboard mats or rule card so they just kind of sit on top making the box not close all the way. I’m always worried after a game that the box will get pressed on and will bend all the cards, but it hasn’t happened yet. The art on the cards is fantastic, doing a wonderful job of conveying the theme. A single shovel shoved into a frozen wasteland. A Hunter stalking a polar bear with a crossbow. A scavenger prying open an automobile wreckage in hopes of finding treasure inside. A formidable field crew on patrol and alert for threat. Everyone covered in snow and looking just a little miserable. Each image seems to make the cards feel just a little cold to the touch.
Arctic Scavengers plays like most deck builders. You start with a few refugees and scavengers, a few crude tools and weapons, and use them to attract and recruit new members and mercenaries into your tribe. Once you set up all the individual decks your table should look a little something like this:
Each turn you will draw five cards from your deck and see what kind of trouble you can get into. Each card has several abilities shown on the left side of the card, giving you several actions you can take, each being done once. So now you have to decide what is most important at the moment. Do you send you tribe members out to hunt for food, thus attracting a burly brawler (alliteration!) or a dangerous group of thugs or a merciful medic (alliteration again!)?
Or do you send your people out into the wilderness to dig through the junkyard that has become the world, allowing you to draw cards equal to your combined dig power from the junkyard pile, keeping one and replacing the rest? This can provide you with much needed medicine, allowing you to recruit more powerful allies like sniper teams and scouts.
Or do you decide use the cards ability to let you draw other cards from your deck? Or…. do you hold onto your cards, marshaling your forces for THE SKIRMISH. This is Arctic Scavengers best mechanic. After each player has dug for junk or hunted for food to recruit tribe members, each player reveals the cards they have held onto and everyone adds up the combined military strength of their hand. The player with the most powerful hand gets to take the top card from the much coveted Contested Resource deck. This deck provides you with some of the most powerful and sought after cards in the game.
Not only do you really want these cards, the first player of each round gets to sneak a peak at the top card, deciding if its worth fighting for. This leads to some wonderfully dastardly bluffing as each player is eyeing the others, wondering what their holding back, and especially watching the first player since he knows what the card is. It is not uncommon to feel like a fight is hopeless since a player held back four of their five cards, so you decide to dig or hunt, only to find they they had a few nearly useless refugees and an equally useless tribe family with one single spear. Allowing them to walk away with a grenadethey will definitely blow you to smithereens with in the next few rounds.
Once all the Contested Resources are gone the game is over and the player with the biggest tribe (population value of each card is shown in the bottom left) is the winner!
But Arctic Scavengers doesn’t quit there. Included in the base game (right in the box!) is the “HQ Expansion” which is really a set of four expansion modules and some expanded abilities for some cards. The first of these modules adds Tribal Leaders which are chosen at the beginning of the game. These give your tribe some sort of special ability, sometimes making your useless refugees less useless by allowing them to help dig or hunt…
Or making them more useful in more… graphic, horrifying ways….
But watch out! Snipers can now snipe your Tribal Leader (that butcherous bastard (alliteration!)) disabling them until your use one of your tribe members to revive them.
The second module, and my favorite, adds the ability to recruit engineers, which allow you to dig through a deck of building schematics, purchasing one and building it a few turns later. These can include bunkers or pharmacies, allowing your to store cards under them for that clutch moment when you really need that extra firepower to win a skirmish, or that extra medkit to recruit a powerful ally.
However, saboteurs are now able to disable buildings, much like snipers can with Tribal Leaders. So watch it or all those beautiful hydroponic gardens (where your grow vegetables I’m sure) will get blowed up!
The last two modules add some medics to the game which can save tribe members from those pesky sniper teams, as well as a few powerful new items to the junk yard; with the final one adding some gangs that will join a certain player’s team at the end of the game (depending on who has the most buildings or tools, etc.) scoring them a much needed score boost.
Arctic Scavengers is simply the best deck builder I or the Missus have ever played. The skirmish mechanic and the poker-esque bluffing involved create tension and contention not found in any other. The gameplay is tight, with each round going quickly, but evoking a sense of dread as other player start snatching up all the precious resources you were saving up for. It encourages you to be aggressive, to get in there and fight for your tribe’s lives, and punishes you if you play it too safe. The base game could be accused of being slightly dull, with there not being a huge variety of cards on display, but the built in expansion modules, which can be added a la carte style, rectify this. They add a huge amount of variety in play styles and strategies that can be pursued, creating some real replayability. That is why I am recommending that you simple don’t look at them as expansions and just start out including them. The game is much more fun that way and not really much more complicated. My only gripe with this game is that there is not more of it (although more expansions have been announced). It is a shame that this game has not met with the success that games like Dominion have, seeing as how it is far superior. That is why The Missus and I are highly recommending that you go out a purchase this game. Even if you aren’t really big on deck builders (The Missus is not and yet she loves this game) I can guarantee that this one will hit your table often.
If you would like to watch a video review of this game made by a distinguished young English Gentleman, be sure to check this out. I highly recommend all of their reviews. They are extremely entertaining.
The Missus and I wish you all good scavenging and may your tribe family be large!