Welcome to Outpost 1. Trapped inside what must be the most exposed and vulnerable scientific base known to man.You and a ragtag rabble of researchers face an ice-capped nightmare where only luck, strategy and a particularly thawed-out disposition will allow you to survive. Outpost: Siberia is published by IDW Games and designed by Daryl Andrews and John Gilmour. (With wonderful art by Ron Joseph.) It's a co-operative card game for two to six players.In most cases takes, it somewhere between 25 and 35 minutes to play. The desire to build a snowman in your front garden might take a little longer to wear off.
During the game, an intrepid group of players will be subjected to everything from dehydration to decapitation. One imagines, at least - what else could a Flying Snow Squirrel want with teeth like that? Outpost is a game with simple mechanics and easy-to-understand gameplay, but enduring the winter elements without going insane is still a gruelling challenge. Winning the game involves surviving the bitter arctic environment, overcoming a series of traumatic events, and fighting off all manner of hideously-mutated furry creatures - and it's just about as difficult as combating all three of those things in the real world.
That isn't to say the game isn't ridiculously fun; in fact the intense, fast-paced nature of play is a genuine delight, and at times it can seem that there really are malevolent wintry forces at work against you.
The deck consists of 54 cards altogether: 6 Characters, 18 Threats (that is, the big nasty monster things), and 30 Event cards which, as is the natural way of things, can either work in your favour or against you. After selecting a Character each, the players build an Expedition Deck out of the Threats and Events, balancing the number of Good and Bad Events based on the desired level of difficulty. The Expedition Deck, for a standard-length game, is built out of twelve Events and all eighteen Threats.
The mathematically-inclined will notice there are still eighteen Event cards left; this is where the intriguing double-edged mechanic of the cards comes into play. On the bottom of each card is a tool or piece of equipment that can be used against Threats, like ice-picks and axes, first aid kits and flares. This second deck is called the Outpost Deck, and represents everything the scientist-come-adventurers have on hand.
Once the game has been set up, something that only takes a couple of minutes, play begins. Players of Outpost are challenged to keep their individual Characters' health up while the contents of the Expedition Deck, generally, work to bring them down. To do this they'll need to use the equipment from the Outpost Deck wisely, balancing self-preservation with a thoughtful attack strategy. Health is marked with a token placed on your card, and each Character has a maximum of 4 - the players, too, will find that their chosen Character has a special ability which can be used in desperate situations.
Every Round consists of each player taking one Turn, in which they must draw a card from the Expedition Deck, choose to attack any threats in play (using cards drawn from the Outpost Deck), and endure the onslaught of the Threat or Event. When every player has taken their Turn, any Threats remaining in play (that is, those whose individual Health hasn't been lowered past zero by the players' attacks) inflict damage of their own. If that sounds like a lot to pack into each Round, you're absolutely right, but luckily the well-structured play order is easy enough to keep up with.
There are two possible outcomes to Outpost: Siberia. In the first, the scientists survive (all of them, mind - if the Health of just one player reaches zero, the game is lost) and the game is won. In the second, the outpost falls, and it's time for another go. Chances are, you won't win every time - but hey, where would be the fun in that?
How It Plays
As is the case with many co-operative card games, working with the other players, not against each other but against the game itself, is one of the best things about Outpost. Having said that, the subtle references to John Carpenter's The Thing (and the not-so-subtle - I'm looking at you, Infected Scientist), as well as the sheer ridiculousness of situations like simultaneously battling a Gray Wolf and an Amur Hedgehog, take a very close second and third place.
The co-operative mechanics are easy to handle once a couple of turns have been played, and there's a real sense that strategy is massively key to winning this game; not only in that deciding who plays next can have a huge effect on the cards in play and the threats extinguished, but in that it lends to a feeling that, honestly, the desperate scientists' predicament is your own. Despite the colourful, and sometimes gloriously campy, artwork, this game will drag your team across the snow-dusted plains of Hell and somehow make you wish you were really there.
The artwork in itself is something to marvel at, from the simply horrific painting on the tin (a snow-matted, blood-smeared grizzly bear that perfectly captures the theme of the game) to the wonderfully popping designs on every card. The cards are separated into four categories; Characters, Threats, Good Events and, of course, Bad Events, and while the Event cards have been granted a couple of nice designs, the real stylistic highlight are the threats. It would be a shame to spoil exactly the kind of trouble you'll be getting yourself into out in the Siberian tundra, but rest assured the Frenzied Tiger isn't the most dangerous thing out there - nor the most colourful.
Indeed, some of these creatures could be genuine horror-movie material (and some have clearly been inspired by the best creature-features and urban legends) if the tone weren't lightened by brilliantly-contrasting splashes of colour and smatterings of snow that almost give the cards a shiny quality.
Having spoken about the monsters of Outpost: Siberia, it would be rude to neglect mentioning the Characters themselves. While many co-operative card games, especially those where players face up against supernatural or otherworldly threats, can give the impression that their more human assets have been ignored somewhat, or at least that the focus has been on creating chaotic situations and wildly-designed monsters to counter the often-boring protagonists.
This is hardly the case with Outpost, and those Characters have been granted some quite exquisite artwork of their own, along with snappy names that highlight their individual personalities and skillsets - their abilities, too, are rather nicely balanced, so while favourites could certainly be selected, nothing feels unfair. Except, of course, for the relentless onslaught of the Siberian Moose. That's right, it's still outside, and it still wants all your food.
Outpost is not without its flaws, although, with a rather pleasant mechanic that allows for a little tweaking, they are few and hardly impact the nature of the game. Indeed, it could be said that the almost-brutal difficulty might become disheartening, were it not for a kind of choose-your-difficulty system that allows you to balance the Good and Bad Events exactly as you like, effectively setting the game to be more or less challenging depending on just how much heartbreak you want to subject your scientist characters to. The game is certainly easier, too, if you utilise all six characters and play as a larger team, and there are few mechanics to compensate for a smaller group, making it difficult for, say, two players to win.
But, as is the case with most co-operative card games, there's a certain amount of luck involved in the shuffling of the Threat cards (of which there are no shortage, although it's definitely easy to imagine the possibility of expansions) - a team of two players might win more easily, in some cases, than a team of six. Either way, large group or small, the more challenging aspects of Outpost can often be the most intriguing, and definitely the most fun.
As well as that, it's worth noting that, if the difficulty of the game proves a little too much at first, it's fairly easy to tweak the rules and make things a little easier. For example, putting only Good Event cards into the Expedition Deck might allow those first few attempts to flow a little easier (don't worry, there'll still be plenty of danger in all the Threats out there). Your Characters have a maximum Health of 4, but you can bump this up while you're getting used to the game - don't worry, I won't tell if you don't. Among the few flaws of Outpost, this one is nice and easy to manoeuvre.
The interesting double-sided mechanic of the cards that allows them to perform roles as either Threats/Events or Equipment (your most useful tool, second only to your wits, against the monstrous icy wasteland) potentially robs us of another set of cards and by extent another run of intriguing artwork. Having said that, it's a fairly unique mechanic that not only adds to the gameplay in its own right but also ensures that play is just about as smooth and uncomplicated as it can be. Outpost does everything it can, within the confines of a fairly simple card game, to play outside the generally-established rules, sometimes twisting the mechanics to suit a new and innovative style of gameplay, and often only leaning on those rules when it steps back and reminds you in quite a friendly manner that it's been built upon the foundations of one of the most simple and well-defined types of strategy game.
Outpost: Siberia is an intense battle of strategic rationing, furry fury and a whole host of inventive situations that you never knew you'd have to worry about in the frozen wastelands. Make no mistake, the game is a challenge, but a thought-provoking and genuinely terrifying one at that. The Characters and Threats are immersive and easy to visualise, especially with that gorgeous artwork, and the random nature of the decks allows for a decent amount of replayability. While it's an easier ride with more players it deserves to be experienced on all levels.
Outpost: Amazon is also worth exploring - again, the art is well-defined and the variation on a similar theme carries a new addition to the rules that manages, even within the boundaries of a co-op adventure, to pit the players against each other and introduce a level of competitiveness. IDW's Outpost games are a delight for card players and Outpost: Siberia is certainly worth a look. That is, if you're not afraid of a slight Yeti problem...