Winter...that time of year when the nights draw in, the temperature drops and the debate begins on whether or not it’s cold enough to stick the heating on. Time to risk the annual argument with my significant other about how many jumpers I should be wearing. After donning the appropriate numbers of garments and defrosting my fingers, I retrieve from the shelf Arctic Scavengers in a vain attempt to make everything else seem warmer by comparison.
Arctic Scavengers - The Game
Arctics Scavengers is a deck building, card drafting game set in the harsh cold tundra of a world encapsulated by ice. The player will control a tribe of nomads attempting to survive in a harsh winter climate. The main aim of the game is to have the largest and most dominant tribe.
Each round, the player draws a set of five cards with values that can help them acquire new cards to add to their deck, either by recruiting new members to the tribe, offering them food and medicine, or by using tools to dig through the junkyard to find something useful in future endeavours. These new cards will be mixed into the discarded deck and redrawn to give the player additional bonuses as the game goes on.
The cards are split between People, Tools and Junk. People can provide bonuses on their own but tools will need to be attached to a Person to use them. For instance, a player might draw a single Scavenger and a set of shovels. As the Scavengers can only carry one item at a time this would be an unfortunate draw. Players familiar to deck building games such as Star Realms or Dominion will find this concept familiar. However there is a small twist which happens at the of end of every round of play.....A skirmish for Contested Resources.
When the skirmish occurs any cards that have not been played in the recruitment phase can be entered into a group combat with the other players. There is a degree of bluffing to be done here, as before the skirmish starts, you have to announce how many cards remaining in your hand are being taken into combat. You might take an elite sniper and a brawler and have a high combat score, or take only minor characters and hope the other characters fall for your bluff.
As the Contested Resource is hidden to everyone except the starting player of that round, each combat is a balance between risk and reward. Do you spend your cards and dig in the junk pile and potentially get nothing? Or do you save them for the combat and attempt to get the more rewarding Contested Resource?
The winner of that round’s skirmish is decided by the highest combat score and gets the top card in the Contested Resources pile; a stack of exclusive cards that give unique bonuses to the winning players. These can range from extra members of your tribe to new powerful crew members. Once the stack is empty the game is over the tribe with the most people is declared the winner.
The gameplay is a nice balance between set-up and combat. Early on, the players will be focused more on digging through the junkyard to get better equipment in order to fight in the skirmish. All players start with the same deck of cards and winning the first few rounds can feel a little bit like luck sometimes. But, as is with all deck builders, that can depend entirely on what you draw each round. In the late game the players hand should be considerably stronger, replacing the junk digging cards for combat-focused abilities.
I would say that the gameplay only slightly matches the theme of the game. You never feel like you are struggling to survive, more that you are fighting to succeed in being a dominant power as opposed to keeping your survivors alive. A post apocalyptic nuclear winter themed Agricola would probably match the story line better (and now I’ve just realised how much I want that), and the gameplay of Arctic Scavengers could possibly be better suited to a different theme.
Expansions & Art
These are the main concepts of the base game but it’s a good idea to include the two expansions; HQ and Recon. These two add-ons to the base game provide a lot more choice and gameplay mechanics. The HQ expansion adds buildings that the player could construct, to store items or people that they might not need right away. Recon comes with some item peeking abilities and lots more characters and abilities to change the flow of the game. Without these expansions the base game can become a bit repetitive as the range of unique cards is quite sparse.
The cards themselves are nicely presented with some great thematic art which is both consistent and beautiful. Each card has a set of values which are clear and concise and can be read easily. One of my complaints about other card games is that sometimes there is too much needless flavour text which doesn’t contribute to the gameplay, and can make deciphering the use of the card quite challenging. With each card you play you can clearly see which abilities it can perform each round without having to reach for the rule book. Likewise, the artwork tells most of the story with nice thematic illustrations giving the player a good sense of the world the game is trying to convey.
I would recommend sleeving these cards if you think you are going to be playing it a fair bit. They are standard playing cards without any special finish or lining for protection. I can imagine that after several games, some of the more popular starting cards will begin to deteriorate. The box is probably a touch oversized for what is essentially a large deck of cards, however the organisation inside is fantastic, with each set of cards getting its own vacuum moulded spacer to help speed up the setup.
Closing Comments on Arctic Scavengers
A full game of Arctic Scavengers with experienced players shouldn’t take more than an hour at tops, as the amount of Contested Resources decides how long the game should last. It’s not going to replace more serious deck-building games in your regular rotation but it’s a fun diversion with a good atmosphere.
So, whilst you and your friends are huddled together for warmth and you want a break from awkward conversation, consider cracking out this game to help fight the chilly weather.