Arctic Scavengers is an independently printed and designed board game that combines the deck building aspect of CCGs within a controlled set of cards. Set during a period of decline for humanity, players in Arctic Scavengers are the leaders of their respective tribes, attempting to grow the largest and strongest tribe to claim resources and survive.
Appearance: As an independent, self-printed card game, Arctic Scavengers does not reach the same standards of artwork or finish quality as games produced by companies like Fantasy Flight Games or Days of Wonder. The artwork is amateurish, the box cover is pasted directly onto the cardboard box itself and the cards are wrapped in a plastic bag and taped shut. On the other hand, the rules aren’t badly written, the icons and information on the card are easy to read and everything works. Overall, I’d give Arctic Scavengers 2 out of 5 stars for appearance.
Rules / Ease of Learning: In Arctic Scavengers, players receive a set of 10 cards that are exactly similar – the starting tribes. Each turn, players can take one of five actions – Digging in the Junkyard, Drawing from their Deck, Hunting for food, Hiring new Mercenaries or Junking their existing hand. Any cards not used for any of these actions go into the ‘Scrimmage’ pile and will fight over the contested resources.
Generally, there are two major type of cards – tool cards and tribe cards. Tool cards must be used with tribe cards and each individual type of tribe card will have different specialities that aid them in the above actions. As an example, Scavengers can take any of the above actions, but do so at a 1 point while a Thug can ‘Dig’ and ‘Fight’ at ‘1’ and ‘2’ points only. He cannot Hunt or Draw cards however.
The winner is the player with the most tribe members at the end of the game which is triggered when all the contested resource cards are gone. It’s worth noting that some cards (e.g. Tribe Families) are worth more Tribe Members than others (anything from 2 to 5).
Having introduced the game to two different groups, I can safely say that it’s not a complicated game to teach to gamers. New gamers might take a few rounds to learn ad get a hang of the game, but even then, most of them get comfortable after these few rounds. And since no contested resources occur in the first few rounds, they would not be unduly harmed by this.
Gameplay: Arctic Scavengers provides solid gameplay with easy to learn rules and sufficient variation to make the game interesting. Immediately, there are a few strategic options available to players – go aggressive and slow down other players, focus on burning through your deck for numbers or focus on winning the contested resources with lots of thugs. This makes the first few games quite accessible for everyone, eve against more experienced players. In turn, more experienced players have a better understanding of the deck, the options available and timing each action.
In fact, one of the more interesting aspects of the game is that players might not necessarily care to take part in the vast majority of skirmishes. With only tribe families offering 3 to 5 tribe members, the other cards offer between zero (for items) to 3 tribe members. A player could easily gain the same number of tribe members without risk by purchasing the specific mercenary, guaranteeing an increase in their points without risk (both in the randomness of the contested resource and the chance of losing). I addition, the bluffing element is quite amusing and can make a bad hand of cards quite, quite effective, especially if you are fortunate enough to take a peek at the contested resource card that turn.
I should also mention that the theme is very well integrated into the game. The idea of hiring mercenaries with medicine and food, of contesting resources and digging through the junkyard (which gets more and more ‘junky’ as the game progresses) is very post-apocalyptic and the gameplay elements suit all these aspects well, making the game easy to pickup.
Now, on to the bad points. Luck is a major factor in the game and can seriously wreck or derail player plans. In one game, one player had all the luck and managed to get all but 3 medicine cards. This put her at quite an advantage over other players (though I should point out that she did not win). It certainly made hiring other mercenaries much more difficult for the rest of us. In addition, the luck factor can force players to go down specific strategies that they might not prefer (e.g. beefing up on Scavengers because of the lack of Hunt abilities). It sometimes felt that even if you decided to choose a specific strategy, a bad series of draws on your card could force you to make tactical decisions that could dilute that strategy (e.g. being forced to dig for items even though you’d prefer to constantly contest resources). Of course, a lot of this can be mitigated by planning what to do with your deck, but it is an element of the game design that gamers should be aware of.
Another concern I have with the game is the repeat play value. The game certainly does not have the same level of replay as for example, Dominion. Since all the cards available must be used in play, the strategies at a certain point will become quite clear and the game could become ‘stale’. Of course the game costs about 2/3rds of Dominion and an expansion is already in the works.
Lastly, let‘s tackle the most common comparison. Dominion provides more replay value, flows faster, looks prettier and feels ‘tighter’ as a game than Arctic Scavengers. On the other hand, Arctic Scavengers has more direct conflict and a more integrated and interesting theme. I would have to say that Dominion overall is a better game, but Arctic Scavengers doesn’t hold up badly to it at all.
Conclusion: Arctic Scavengers is a deck-building card game that has a well integrated and interesting theme, easy to learn rules and good gameplay. It’s artwork and presentation could have been better, but it’s not bad and rarely detracts from the actual gaemplay. If you’re looking for a more interactive, more aggressive deck building game, Arctic Scavengers should be right up your alley.