Snow and Christmas go together like turkey and stuffing. While we’re not guaranteed a ‘white’ one come December 25th, it’s still rather nippy outside. Board games are the perfect remedy to longer, chilly evenings. And what better way to get into the spirit of the season by playing games that offer a snow and ice theme?
So, crank Wham, Slade or Mariah Carey up to eleven. Toss another log on the roaring fire. Dig out and squeeze into your favourite Christmas jumper. It’s time to take a look at six of our favourite snow-filled games!
K2 is a daring slog to the summit of the world’s most dangerous mountain. This is a hand-management game for two to five players. You control two climbers, both of whom are ascending from base-camp to the peak. They’ll earn points awarded for their efforts. Point-to-point movement is the mechanism that determine your progress.
Theme-wise, this game is on point. K2 is more than a race to reach the peak – it’s also about survival. Your two climbers – Mr. Smooth and Mrs. Squiggly, as per the shape of their salopettes – are in constant peril. The climate, as you ascend K2, is brutal. Each climber has a fluctuating health meter. If it drops below zero, they’re in major trouble. That climber has to suffer the humiliation of getting airlifted back to base-camp.
This is a form of player elimination, but it is avoidable. Snow storms impact different heights of the mountain and at varying times. Fortunate for you, there’s a weather forecast, so you can plan in advance, to an extent.
But turn order can be deadly – as you reach the apex, the paths get evermore fraught with peril. Bottlenecks begin to occur. You could become stranded, exposed to the elements. You don’t want Mr Smooth to end up without a tent or appropriate shelter when the snow hits!
The marvellous thing about K2 is that every single person I’ve played it with has reacted the same way. They feel the tension as the cold weather closes in. K2 creates extraordinary urges for players to protect their little wooden meeples.
There’s a few variants within the base game, which is great for varying game groups. The board is double-sided, with an easier and difficult side. There’s also kinder (‘summer’), or harsher (‘winter’), weather forecasts. If that wasn’t enough, there are expansions available, too. Check out K2: Broad Peak, or the newer K2: Lhotse offering.
Ice Cool (and Ice Cool 2)
In an almost polar opposite vibe to K2, Ice Cool is a lighthearted affair. This is a physical, flicking game. 3-4 players take turns to flick bottom-heavy plastic penguins around a ‘frozen’ school. The ‘board’ consists of cardboard inserts that clip together to form a sizeable 3-D arena. It looks superb on the table!
The aim is to take a route that allows your piece to pass through doorways, collecting fish as you go. Player take turns to be the chaser (the hall monitor), who tries to bump into naughty, truant penguins. The other players try to stay away from the chaser for as long as possible.
All penguins have sculpted dome bases. They’re weighted in such a manner that means they’ll wobble, glide and skitter across the surface. It’s easy to imagine they’re sliding across ice. And sometimes, running on ice is unpredictable…
Ice Cool is a children’s game. But I’ll confess, I’ve had far more fun playing it with (over-competitive) adults! Ice Cool 2 is a sequel that provides yet more classrooms, for a more modular set-up. You’ll need a large table, but if you have the space, it’s a hoot. Combined, Ice Cool (and 2) can accommodate up to eight players. It’s a prime candidate for party-game material.
The game is so entertaining to watch, players won’t even notice the time passing. This is a perfect ice-breaker to play with the in-laws this Christmas.
Hey, That’s My Fish!
Let’s stay on penguins for a moment. Hey, That’s My Fish! also features arctic birds and collecting fish. Looking at the box art, I’d forgive you for assuming this is another kids’ game. You’d be wrong, though.
Hey, That’s My Fish! is an abstract game with a modular set-up. Hexagonal pieces make up an ice floe, scattered with fish. Players have penguins sitting on this floe that, on their turn, can only move in a straight line. (So, in theory, one of six directions.) Penguins gobble up any fish on the space they end their turn. The problem is that once they leave this space, that hex melts! As a result, the floe begins to shrink…
Caution: Hey, That’s My Fish! can become a rather cut-throat affair. Penguins can – and will – get stranded! Games usually only last about 15-20 minutes, though. This fits into category of filler games, the speedy ones that make you say, ‘time for one more game?’.
We mentioned K2 earlier. Prefer lighter experiences, but still want the excitement of trekking up ice-capped mountains? Dicey Peaks is for you!
Dicey Peaks is by designer Scott Almes (the chap behind the Tiny Epic… series of games). This is a race up Yeti Mountain, but to reach the top, it has push-your-luck mechanisms. These take the form of rolling d6 dice. (They’re semi-transparent and come in lovely shades of blue… like frozen ice cubes!)
These dice don’t feature pips 1-6, though. Instead, the faces show either pickaxes, tents, yetis or avalanches. Different dice types have varying odds of rolling certain faces. Much like Roll For The Galaxy, or Dice Settlers, if you’ve played those.
Each turn the player rolls dice with the aim of ascending the mountain, or resting. They have an oxygen meter that increases when they rest, but exhausts when they move. Each pickaxe you roll, you move one space. Or, if you pick tents, for each tent you roll you rest and claim that much oxygen.
If ever players roll more pickaxes than they have oxygen left, they bust. You can also bust by rolling too many tents (too lazy!), too many yetis or too many avalanches. It’s easy to see where the push-your-luck element comes into play. There are ways to risk it and roll more dice, but what if you bust?
Also, modular mountain tiles flip as the game progresses. Some are beneficial, while others are detrimental to your progress or health. The desire to land on specific tiles can also lead players towards dicing with danger. There’s constant temptation to roll more dice than is safe. It starts out simple, but as the game advances, Dicey Peaks requires more and more strategy to reach the peak!
Exit: The Game – The Polar Station
Want to avoid Monopoly-style arguments occurring over Christmas? Forget competitive, and opt for a co-operative game. One such example is the Exit: The Game series. There are many titles within this range, but the one we’re focusing on here is ‘The Polar Station’. Why? Because the setting is you and your team trapped in an icy research station! Sounds a lot like the premise of Kurt Russell and co. in John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Exit: The Game – The Polar Station is like an escape room in a box. We aren’t going to give anything away here, because, y’know, spoilers. But what we can tell you is the structure and function of the mechanisms at play.
Players start the game with a booklet of puzzles and a deck of cryptic cards. These cards are the key to everything, so try to avoid peeking at them! (We all know that Santa Claus puts cheating board gamers on the Naughty List.) As the game progresses you’ll gain access to more of them.
The game revolves – ahem – around a cardboard wheel. If you can work out the code for a particular clue, rotate the various wheels on this device. Correct? It reveals which cards you can look at next, which will help you crack the next code. Incorrect? Try again! Was there something you missed?
True to escape room format, you’re working against a ticking timer, so the pressure is on to ‘get out’ in time. (Your ‘score’ is dependent on how fast you manage to work out the codes versus the number of clues you end up requiring.)
Exit games are one-and-done ‘experiences’, exactly like an escape room, in this respect. You might need scissors or a pen, to cut or write on components! This series, by Kosmos, won the Kennerspiel des Jahres award (best ‘connoisseur’ game of the year) in 2017. It even beat Raiders of the North Sea and Terraforming Mars. High praise, indeed!
Inuit: The Snow Folk
Fancy a simplistic card-drafting and tableau-builder? You might enjoy Inuit: The Snow Folk. This is a 2019 game by publisher Board&Dice. Inuit: The Snow Folk takes place in the northern Arctic region. It’s about rival tribes surviving in the icy tundra.
Each player has a board that represents varying roles within the tribe. Some hunt whales, bears and seals. Shamans, meanwhile, speak to the spirits. Elders recruit more tribe members. Scouts allow you reveal more cards (they ‘search’ for more items).
The aim is to activate these members to claim cards from The Great White (the public face-up cards). You’ll place them in your own tableau, thus gaining a larger tribe, which can attract more and more cards.
Scoring in Inuit: The Snow Folk is set collection. There are two expansion variants in the box though, offering different gameplay. One provides a more attacky, take-that element, if that appeals. Some of the spirit cards (earned via the shaman) offer extra end-game bonuses.
Turns are snappy – games last about 30-45 minutes. The artwork by Paulina Wach is picturesque, too. Some of the brighter colours represent the spectacular aurora borealis.
Left out in the cold? Honorable mentions
Before we go, it’s worth mentioning some titles that didn’t quite make the list. I didn’t give these the cold shoulder because I didn’t like them. It’s because the theme we’re discussing here is to do with snow and ice. These games didn’t feature enough of that to make it into the Top Six. But because it’s the season of good will, I’m feeling generous…
Dead of Winter should have been on the list, right? Winter is smack-bang in the title! Problem is the emphasis here is on the word ‘dead’. When I played this, sure, I felt like I was in an episode of The Walking Dead. That’s all grand, but I forgot it was occurring among the snowy season, though. Winter is not the important factor at play, here.
Dead of Winter is a co-operative game with a potential ‘betrayer’ mechanism. The game unfolds with players spending action points to try to achieve certain tasks. The colony is struggling: you might need to search for fuel, medical supplies, or food. That means going outside, where you might get bit!
All the while, the undead hoard lay constant siege to the survivor’s HQ. Who can you trust, in such perilous times? Will morale drop to all an-time low?
Hang on, then. What about Ticket To Ride: Nordic Countries? There’s even a dude on the box who’s the spitting image of Father Christmas, with a reindeer friend!
Sure, this 2-3 player variant of Ticket To Ride is set in Scandinavia. The board is snow-capped, as expected. But nothing theme-wise makes you shiver with cold, here. There are tunnels and ferries (like in Ticket To Ride: Europe) linking the likes of Helsinki to Stockholm. This doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. Alan R. Moon provides what he does best – it’s a tight, competitive map for Ticket To Ride fans.