On a recent trip to a local board game cafe, my teenage daughter returned to the table with Inuit: The Snow Folk. Within five minutes the family were building their tribes, catching seals and invoking the shaman to protect their people. Within 45 minutes we were online purchasing the game for our own collection. Let me explain why.
What is it about a game that makes you want to pick it up off the shelf? A question that board game publishers and designers have wrestled with for years. Is it the name? The artwork? The theme? The summary of the game mechanics on the back of the box? The Inuit: The Snow Folk
box is large. With a striking image of a beautiful woman wrapped in furs and clutching an amulet. The colour scheme of pale blue and white, along with the name, say immediately that this is about the people of the icy north. Inuit literally means "people" in the language of the Inuit and that is the premise of the game.
This is a set collecting, tableau-building game. Each player is a leader of one of four Inuit tribes and the aim is to build the strongest or most successful group. You will be competing for resources, calling on the spirits of the wild, and having the odd skirmish. In real life, warfare was quite uncommon as the tribes were too busy with the harsh realities of the Arctic.
Set Up And Gameplay Inuit: The Snow Folk
is a game played at a table. Laid out in front of the players is the central area, the "Great White". This is an expanse where you place the central pool of cards. From these cards, players can collect resources, villagers, or enhance their tribe. The number of cards that you draw is dependent on the strength of your own tribe.
A player's "board" is a simple row of jobs. The tribes start with a single member of each category. Initially, your little band has a shaman. This religious priest can invoke the spirits of the wild. They bring rewards by claiming any rite or spirit cards from the "Great White". Whalers or seal catchers can hunt. You start with a single warrior who might capture other Inuit folk to claim their weapons. Your scout allows you to look ahead and to see what cards might be coming up.
On each turn, a single card is added to the central area. Players can choose to add to this with their "scout" ability. This will give a larger pool of cards to draw from. For their action, a player can draw cards into their tribe. You assign these cards tasks as hunters, warriors, scouts, shamans or even elders. Only one card type may be claimed each turn. For example, the "Great White" might contain four orcas. A player with two extra whalers could catch three for their tribe. This leaves one orca in the "Great White" for another's turn.
The game ends when the polar night falls. Points are awarded for animals caught, rites or spirits, and captured tribesmen. Players claim additional points if their tribe members have been working in another player's tribe. Conversely, any "foreign" Inuit within your tribe will count against you.
War And Peace
On the whole, the Inuit have few battles. The harsh realities of life in the Arctic Circle mean every day is a battle for existence. Only tribes with an abundance of game could afford to fight other peoples. Inuit also contains two expansion modules. These can each be added separately or played together.
For those that like some pointed animosity then eight warrior cards can be added to the draw deck. These depict a tribe that could be ripe for plunder. There are two cards for each of the four colours. If a player should draw a warrior card they have three options.
- Ignore the card and allow it to be added to the "Great White". This is now available for others to collect.
- Draw the card to their tribe as an action and form an alliance with that player. The card is placed to the right of your tribe and both players will be awarded two additional victory points during end game scoring.
- Draw the card to your tribe and declare war against that player. At the end of the game the total number of captives taken by each tribe is compared. Four points are awarded to the victor of this one on one battle.
If a particularly bellicose player is playing they might choose to battle a number of players. However, two tribes cannot be at war and at peace with each other at the same time. The newer card drawn, and a decision made, negates the former.
Land Of The Midnight Sun
The second expansion provides a series of player benefits throughout the game. These come into play at sunrise, midday and sunset. Beforehand, the players select a card to be added above the quarter, halfway and the three-quarter mark of the draw deck. Once revealed these actions remain until the next phase of the day comes into play. They might allow a player to draw additional cards, or perhaps view and rearrange the next three cards of the draw deck. Many of these advantages will be available to all players and assist play - much in the same way that long summer days give benefits to the Inuit tribes.
Box Art And Components
It was my wife and daughter whose eyes caught Inuit: The Snow Folk
and brought it to the table. A big white box with a stunning picture of a tribeswoman sets the scene so well. The cards are linen finished and the artwork is beautiful. Each tribesman is named. The designers have obviously done their research to ensure authenticity. Inuit
comes in a standard-sized box. It has enough shelf presence to compete with the likes of 7 Wonders
or similar boxes. However, this large box does contain relatively few components for its size; four folded player boards, a series of cards and a scoring pad. In this age of environmental awareness, I also wonder if this should be addressed. Ultimately publishers want to promote and sell games. They need to compete for shelf space with other titles. The same game could easily fit in a box of the size of Celestia
, for example.
The remainder of the components are sparse - but little else is needed to play Inuit. Each player board is a stiff card. There is a tribal symbol that matches the tribespeople. This certainly helps with colour recognition. The remainder of the symbols are very clear and easily understood. Also, it comes with a scoring pad of about 100 sheets. This should be plenty and last for many years.
The rules are concise and well written. The font is a little small, for those of a certain age! That said, the mechanics of each action are simple. And, after a single playthrough, the rule book was quickly surplus to requirements. The rules governing the extra expansion modules are given a couple of pages each. There are useful examples of gameplay with pictures too.
Once underway, each turn is very quick. Draw a card or cards, then take any number of cards for your tribe. Despite a few cards sitting within the "Great White", there is little analysis paralysis. Most moves can be selected easily. These are determined by previous decisions a player has made. If there is plenty of game, it makes sense to maximize your hunting opportunities.
Where thought (and perhaps a little risk) is needed, is when trying to predict what others might choose. Or if trying to prevent others from building their tribe. If a player is seen collecting a number of seal hunters, one could do the same so that it increases the competition. An alternative strategy might be to major in more valuable orca hunting, thinking that others will hunt seals. Finally, players could try to capture other tribes members before that player can even develop a seal-hunting posse.
Whatever strategy is chosen, there will always be some element of chance. The random draw of the deck to the "Great White" will always bring some randomness to any game. However, with a point salad of endgame scoring. And with bonus points also affecting final scores, Inuit has many ways to win. There is certainly not a "best" strategy. But after a few games it is clear that players need to have a flexible approach.
Thoughts On Inuit
There are some elements of Inuit: The Snow Folk
that remind me of other classic games. The development of your tribe is akin to building your wonder in 7 Wonders
. The tableau-building allows for different competing strategies. Bring in the conflict expansion and two players soon have their own mini "arms race". With the only outcome being determined once the final cards are counted.
There is an element of engine building at work. As you increase numbers in your tribe so you become stronger in certain skills. This allows you to control and take more specific cards from the "Great White". This emphasises that early decisions can determine final outcomes. With each turn, there is often a simple choice to be made. A player can easily choose the highest scoring option at that moment in time. However, short-term decisions must take into account the long-term benefits of building a more balanced tribe. This could allow a very large final score with multiple cards to be counted.
The nature of having many tribe members means that there is an inevitable need for score sheet mathematics. Each player will often collect points in every category. Many games also have a point solid approach to determine the winner- Inuit is no different.
Final Thoughts On Inuit
Despite the little gripes, my family and I enjoy a good game of Inuit. The random draw of the deck ensures fairness across the players. This also means that a single "best tested" strategy is not always going to succeed. There is interaction and gentle strategy, but it avoids the heaviness and analysis paralysis of some tableau-building games.
We tend to avoid the more aggressive conflicts, preferring the more subtle confrontation of the "Great White". There is a little "take that" in the game but it is not particularly vindictive. What is a little disturbing is the ability to use the children cards as hunters of game. Or even warrior soldiers to capture the weapons of other players tribesmen!
What the last months have shown us is that solo gaming is here to stay. Inuit predates COVID related lockdown and there is no solo mode within the current gameplay. That is not to say it is impossible, it is just that those elements are not within the current game structure. We are certainly going to keep playing Inuit: The Snow Folk
, and are grateful for the artwork that caught my daughter's eye in the first place. Without that, we would never have picked up the box.