Ski Tour Biathlon is a dice drafting, race game, for two to six players designed by Tobias Olsson from Tea Time Productions. It’s a great game with some asymmetry and what’s more comes with beautiful wooden skeeples. But on top of all that, the reason we needed to take a look at it was because it has such an amazing theme. I mean, skiing and shooting, what's not to like?
So how does it play?
The track is built using the track pieces and you can decide on how long the race will be. And how many times you will stop at a shooting range and fire at the targets. This allows for varying game length and levels of complexity and will require different tactics and strategy.
Players choose a country, and take the player board, coloured dice, asymmetric, bonus wax tokens and their coloured skeeple. Now I need to stop here. The skier meeples are amazing complete with rifle strapped to their back. They illustrate just how well designed the aesthetic of the game is. The race track and the artwork on each separate track piece is really engaging with lots going on to look at providing a lovely cartoonesque presence on the table.
The turn has two phases in the first phase, all players, simultaneously, roll 1/2 of their available dice. At the start of the game this is five from ten. You place any dice rolled with a 1-4 on the grid marked out on your player board. Any five's are wild and added to the column you have the greatest set of. Sixes are placed at the top of a completed stack of four dice or placed on one of the two sprint squares that can be used later.
The second phase is the race phase. Starting with the first player you take the column of dice you want and move as many spaces as you have dice in that column. If you want to move more, you can spend a stamina token (moving one of your five tokens down a level) allowing you to pick up another columns worth of dice. This can be repeated as many times as you want. But, beware as stamina is really important later on and you don’t want to waste it unnecessarily.
In Ski Tour, you can move forwards or sideways and diagonally onto white squares. Note, when moving sideways, you cannot move back to the other side of the track. Unless you have passed another skier.
There are other ways to move. If you are directly behind a skier on their turn and they move you can follow their exact move for free. Drafting them. However, they can spend a six to sprint and leave you in their dust (snow). They could also spend one of their six wax tokens if they have a sprint token in one of the outermost spaces. The tokens are a brilliant additional providing asymmetric bonuses to each player. Not all players have the same tokens. Players choose the order they are placed under their player board and players cannot take all six at any one time. Only the two outermost tokens. This means that players, may not be able to access the token they need when they need it.
Play continues round the table. Provided that you want to go through another player to pass them you can, but the extra push requires using up more stamina, which can be costly later.
If you start your go on an uphill section you have to pay an extra dice to get moving. If you end your turn on a downhill section and behind another player you can move up to three more spaces, which in a race for the gold medal can be invaluable. So, working out just when to play your wax tokens and which column of dice to pick is vitally important.
So what about the shooting?
When you get to the rifle range you stop. On your next turn you are able to take as many shots as you have dice in the column(s) you choose. Same rules on stamina apply. But here is where the stamina becomes important. There are four possible levels of stamina and you cannot regain it at any point during the race. When you take each shot, you have five shots per range, you use the shooting dice matched to the colour of the stamina on your board for that shot. Each shot dice has different probability of a hit. The more stamina, the more likely you are to score a hit.
Once you have taken your shots, you either re-join the race if you scored 5/5 but you have to take penalty laps for missed shots. The three spaces on each penalty lap waste valuable turns and can mean you are held up and other competitors can overtake you.
Play continues until all players have crossed the finish line. First across the line, wins the race and gains the gold medal.
Ski tour Biathlon at first sight looks like a simple roll and move but it is anything but. Although you do roll dice and you do indeed move, the mechanism is not as simple. In fact, requires good strategy and tactical play to win. Collecting dice and then choosing which columns to use, managing your place in the race and how to use stamina to get a boost but then risk missing shots makes it a finely balanced game.
Choosing how to order and when to use your asymmetric wax bonuses is also a vital strategy that can mean the difference between winning and losing. I had two missed shot re-rolls which I placed at specific points on my player board ensuring they were there when I was in the shooting range. This allowed me to risk using stamina to accelerate in the race.
Ski Tour Biathlon is really is a lot of fun and the tactics needed and does mitigate much of the luck involved in a dice based game. The artwork and meeples also add so much to this game. There is plenty of player interaction. The joy and pain of drafting when a player moves or using a well-timed sprint to get away from an opponent keeps the competitive edge in the game.
If you're looking for a fun race game with some great mechanics, lovely artwork and a brilliantly novel theme. Look no further than Ski Tour Biathlon, you will absolutely love it.
So grab your rifle, strap on your skis and roll those dice. Ski and shoot your way as fast as you can to gold medal glory. Make sure you cross the finish line out of breath!