Review by Zeb Larson
Arctic Scavengers was a game I heard a great deal about before I got a chance to play it, largely because of the articles on BGG announcing the new release. One person I know pitched it to me as “Dominion with more interaction,” a description which is at best partly accurate. In truth, the game is a combination of lots of different card games from the last few years. I like the game, though I’m not sure I’m in love with it, at least not yet. The game is intended for 3-5 players and the current release includes expansion cards, a point which I will touch on later.
Players take on the role of different tribes in a post-Ice Age world. These groups must scavenge for resources and new members in order to become more powerful, with the winner being the player with the most populous tribe. The game comes with a variety of different cards organized a la Dominion. The cards consist of different professions: scavengers, brawlers, scouts, hunter, snipers, saboteurs, group leaders, refugees and thugs. People all have a printed number value which in effect indicates how many points they are worth. Each person also has a number value assigned to specific actions; if no number is printed for an action, they cannot take it. Tools give bonuses to certain actions. For example, spears give bonuses to hunting and combat while shovels give bonuses to digging and combat. Importantly, only one tool can be used at a time by a survivor and they cannot take actions on their own. There is also a deck of “contested resources” which are superior versions of the tools and other tribe members.
Every turn, the players draw five cards from their starting deck, which consists of 4 refugees, 3 scavengers, 1 brawler, 1 shovel and 1 spear. Beginning with a starting player, each player can play tribe members to take specific actions, with each player following. These actions include drawing for additional cards, digging in the junkyard to find tools, hunting for food, and hiring mercenaries. Players can play an action once during their turn, and additional cards add bonuses to the single action. For example, if I play two scavengers to dig, I draw two cards from the junkyard and keep one, discarding the other. When digging, only one card is ever kept. Food and medicine function as currency, as each tribe member has a specific cost.
From the third round onward, the players will skirmish with each other at the end of the round to take a contested resource. The initiating player can see the resource before the fight begins. After completing their actions, players announce how many cards they are sending to fight and lay them face down. Cards with no fight value can be sent to skirmish, allowing players to bluff. Once the skirmish begins, players can tally up the value of their cards. Whoever has the highest fight claims the card, and once there are no contested resources left, the game ends.
Pretty simple? That’s what I thought. It’s easy to learn and fun, but without the expansions there’s not that much really here. Thankfully, the new edition comes with a variety of expansions that tweak the game and improve it. A couple of new classes are added, each player can take a tribal leader that confers unique abilities, there are a few new tools, gangs and then there are buildings. These buildings provide stable benefits to a player each turn. Gangs remind me of goals from Race for the Galaxy: whoever has the most of a type of card at the end of the game gets a 5 point bonus.
Overall, I liked this game. I think it has a couple of issues to keep in mind. One, it really needs the expansion. In fact, there’s little reason to play without it, and I would just go ahead and add everything all at once. The bluffing component in conflicts needs a little work. It’s possible to bluff an enemy out, but generally speaking, it’s more advantageous to commit a brawler to fight than to send him out to dig. You don’t lose anything for losing a fight, so it’s not easy to scare people away from a fight. The player interaction is generally good, especially with sniper teams, but the more the better, and I’d like to see more fleshed out in an expansion. I’m also unclear on a couple of rule issues. Sniper teams can supposedly snipe during resource collection, but it’s unclear how, as players do their actions one at a time. We played with the assumption that you can just player the sniper team at any time to take another player’s tribe member out, but we’re unclear if that actually works.
All this aside, it’s a fun game. It has some cool thematic touches, it’s not too expensive, and it has features from several card games that you might recognize. Why it’s compared to Dominion, I don’t really know, because aside from a familiar box and the buying of cards, they’re very different. Let it stand on its own.