You know what? If the apocalypse turns Earth into a desert planet, we’re all going to be really bored. I mean, how many more variations on that setting can there be, we’ve been grinding media out of it since The Road Warrior. I wanted to know what else the Apocalypse has got and the Apocalypse turned to me and handed me a copy of Arctic Scavengers. No desert. No wacky cars. No zombies. Just you and your friends controlling gangs trying to eke out an existence in a frozen wasteland that was once a city.
This game is far more Cormac McCarthy than George Miller.
So, quick history lesson. Let’s wind our minds back to 2008. The dawn of the Board Gaming golden age has just begun and as if summoned by the winds of a new era, our new champion arrived. Donald X. Vaccarino brought us Dominion. Dominion introduced the world at large to a relatively new gameplay mechanic: the deckbuilding game. There are now approximately 3 deckbuilding games for every human alive today, but just in case you’re unsure, let me take you through the basic idea.
But wait, I hear you ask, I thought this was a review of Arctic Scavengers, not about Dominion. You’re right, it is, because despite everything I’ve just said, I don’t think you should buy Dominion. Or rather, I don’t think you should buy Dominion first. If these type of games are for you, you’ll know pretty quickly. If they are, then there’s enough of Dominion to keep you satisfied for about a million years. But Dominion is a slow, thoughtful game about building your economic engine in order to purchase more victory points. Arctic Scavengers is a game about having the biggest crew of Ice Bastards, so that you get all of the best of what’s left in this frozen wasteland. Imagine a game of Magic the Gathering where you earn the cards that you fight with in-game, gradually making your deck bigger and more powerful as a function of gameplay. This is the idea that earned Dominion the Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis awards (the board game equivalents of Cannes are German, what a surprise) and was even recommended by Mensa.
So let’s get to the most obvious addition to Dominion; Arctic Scavengers adds combat. Each turn, players will have access to a special rare resource. They can then choose, instead of spending cards to acquire other cards or equipment to keep cards back for the combat round. After taking all of their non-combat moves, players will play their combat cards, with the winner taking the rare resource. This adds an intense bluffing combat game into the already tight deck-building system.
In general the game is tighter, supplies are rarer, and new additions to your gang are always difficult choices. In combat you rarely know
exactly what you’re fighting for; will it be something that will help you or another family of refugees? Refugees provide no benefit to your gang, but score big points at the end of the game. Since you can only carry out each kind of action once per turn, there’s almost none of the big combo machines that define most deck builders. Instead, each turn is a scrabble of hard decisions, bluffs and quick scraps.
If there’s any doubt, I absolutely recommend Arctic Scavengers. Deckbuilding is rapidly becoming the mechanic du jour to sprinkle over other games, and playing one of the games built around the concept is the best way to learn it. I’ve tried a bunch so far, and of them I can honestly say Arctic Scavengers is my favourite.
If I had to make a criticism, I would say that it’s replayability depends on how much you enjoy that tension on a week to week basis. I played Arctic Scavengers pretty regularly for about a month, before dialling it back, not because it wasn’t fun but because I needed something a little more relaxing. But if you want that intensity, you’re going to struggle to find a better game for it.
Designer: Robert K. Gabhart
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Play time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Number of Players: 2-5
Complexity: Easy to Learn, Hard to Master