(2013 – Rio Grande Games)
In 2008, Dominion took the board game community (among many others) by storm. Winning just about every major award in 2009, including the coveted Spiel des Jahres, Dominion introduced us to the deck building genre that has since been tweaked and modified into a slew of other titles, including Thunderstone, Ascension, Core Worlds, and Legendary, just to name a few. While designer Robert K. Gabhart’s Arctic Scavengers saw a small print release in 2009 around the time of the early hype for the genre, its larger, 2nd edition, big-name publisher release had been pushed back almost 4 years until its release this past month (April 2013). Packaged now with the HQ expansion, Arctic Scavengers provides a unique take on the genre, combining the basic deck building mechanics we’ve come to expect, along with aspects of player interaction and action management that feel quite unique.
– Contested Resource board
– Junkyard board
– Contested Resource cards
– Junkyard cards
– Mercenary cards
– Initiator card
– Rule Summary board
– Engineering Schematics board (HQ Expansion)
– Storage Cover marker (HQ Expansion)
– Tribal Leader cards (HQ Expansion)
– Building cards (HQ Expansion)
– Gang cards (HQ Expansion)
– Additional Mercenary cards: Engineers & Medics (HQ Expansion)
– Additional Junkyard cards (HQ Expansion)
In Arctic Scavengers, players lead tribes composed of scattered survivors during a post-apocalyptic 2nd Ice Age. Player’s will compete for resources, hire mercenaries, and ultimately build the population of their tribe in order to survive and claim victory. A few implementations that separate Arctic Scavengers from other deck building games, such as Dominion and Ascension, is its inclusion of player interaction involving combat and bluffing. Before I get too much in the mechanics of how the game plays, I want to go over the actions available on a player’s turn and a card’s iconography.
Actions & Iconography:
On a player’s turn, they are provided a number of optional Actions that they can take, depending on the available Actions noted on the cards they play from their hand. There are 3 types of Actions that can be taken (Draw, Dig, and Hunt – listed on the left side of each card), and each type of Action may be taken once by that player each turn. Cards that list the available Action contain base ability and modifier amounts that when added to another card, can make that Action stronger.
For instance, Player A plays a Brawler and a Scavenger from his hand. He chooses to take the Dig Action with these two cards. Because each card has a Dig Action icon (pictured by a small shovel) listed with a 1, Player A can take a Dig Action with a base ability of 2. After taking this Action, he would no longer be allowed to take a Dig Action for the rest of his turn, even if he had more cards with Dig icons on them. He also could not use these particular cards for any other Actions, once they are played.
While a lot of cards in the game represent different tribe members, some of the cards represent different tools that tribe members can use. These Tool cards can not be used on their own, nor can they be combined with other tools. However, each non-Tool card (white numbers) can be combined with 1 tool (green numbers). Tool provide a modifier to particular actions based on the type of Tool card.
For instance, in the above example, if Player A had instead played a Brawler and a Scavenger with a Shovel, he could have chosen to take a Dig Action with a base ability of 2 and a +2 modifier (from the Shovel). This would allow him to take a Dig Action with a total ability of 4. Since the Shovel is attached to the Scavenger, he could have chosen to play a Tool attachment with the Brawler, but could not have attached another Tool to the Scavenger, since only 1 Tool is allowed as an attachment for each non-Tool card.
As mentioned above, there are 3 main Actions that a player can take on his turn:
1.) Draw – The Draw Action is noted by the “card” icon in the 1st slot along the left side of the card. Taking this Action will allow a player to draw a number of cards from their Draw Pile. If at any point the Draw Pile runs out, a player will reshuffle their Discard Pile to create a new Draw Pile. Cards that are drawn this way can then be played as additional Actions, though they can not be played as a Draw Action, since that Action has obviously already been used by that player, this turn.
2.) Dig – In the central play area, there is a Draw Pile located on the Junkyard board. These cards are made up of various types of Tool cards, as well as blank “Junk” cards. When a player takes a Dig Action, he is basically using his tribe members to filter through the Junkyard in order to find supplies. For each action point dedicated to Digging, the player will draw that many cards from the Junkyard, look at them, and may choose 1 to place in his Discard Pile (though the player has the option to keep 0, if he wishes). The remaining cards are then placed face down at the bottom of the Junkyard Draw Pile. This is one way for players to gain some great Tool cards, including medicine which can be used in obtaining Mercenaries (which I’ll cover with the Hunt Action).
For instance, in the example we’ve been using, Player A played a Brawler (1 Dig point) and a Scavenger with a Shovel attached (1 Dig point, +2 Dig modifier), for a total Dig ability of 4. He then draws 4 cards from the top of the Junkyard Draw Pile and sees that he’s drawn a Junk card, a Medkit, a Net, and another Junk card. He decides that he needs to add more cards with Medicine to his deck so he decides to keep the Medkit card and places it onto his personal Discard Pile. The remaining 2 Junk cards and the Net card are then placed on the bottom of the Junkyard Draw Pile.
3.) Hunt – Below the Draw and Dig icons along the left side of a card, is the Hunt icon. Players can take this Action which (thematically) sends their tribe members out to hunt and gather food, medicine, and allies. Each action point is worth 1 food or 1 medicine, depending on the icon seen in this space. Players can then immediately use the combination of either resource to hire 1 Mercenary from the central play area. At the beginning of the game, there are 10 different Mercenaries to choose from, and the cost for each is shown in the upper right corner of the Mercenary card. Some require both food and medicine, while other only require one or the other. When a Mercenary is hired, that card is placed into the player’s Discard Pile, thus added to their player Deck for later use.
Later in the game, Player A plays 2 Scavengers and a Medkit, and chooses to take the Hunt Action. Both Scavengers provide 1 food resource each while the Medkit provides 2 medicine resource. Player A then chooses to hire the Group Leaders mercenary card from the central play area since he meets the cost of the card (2 medicine and 2 food). The Group Leaders card is modifier card that adds +2 to any Action ability it is attached to. It also has the special ability of being able to attached itself to a card that already has a tool attachment. Player A then places the Group Leaders card into his Discard Pile.
While not part of the 3 main Actions, there is a 4th icon that is listed below the Draw, Dig, and Hunt icons. This represents points that can be added for the Skirmish each round. At the end of each Round, players will be competing against one another in order to Draw the top card from the Contested Resources Draw Pile. These cards represent the best cards in the game, and once the last Contested Resource has been drawn, the game ends.
The way this works is pretty simple. At the end of each player’s turn, they may add any unused cards from their hand, and lay them face down, designating them for the Skirmish. Play then continues to the next player, where he will then take his Actions, afterwards designating any unused cards to the Skirmish as well. After all players have finished their turns, the cards designated to the Skirmish are then flipped over and the player with the highest combined Skirmish actions, wins the top Contested Resource card from the Draw Pile. Bluffing plays a big part here, as you can influence other players to use more cards for a Skirmish (once they’ve seen how many you’ve placed) than they otherwise would have placed for Actions. Planning and balancing your Actions versus points for the end-round Skirmish is quite intriguing and really adds a lot of player interaction from round to round.
For instance, Player B draws his 5 cards at the beginning of his turn and draws a Scavenger, a Brawler, a Pickaxe, a Group Leaders card, and a Medkit card. He chooses to use the Scavenger to take a Dig Action worth 1. After taking this Action, he then chooses to use the Medkit in order to take a Hunt Action, thus hiring a Hunter (costs 1 medicine) mercenary card and places it into his Discard Pile. He decides to end his turn here, and places the Brawler (2 Skirmish points), the Group Leaders (+2 modifier to Skirmish), and the Pickaxe (+1 modifier to Skirmish) and designate these cards for the end-round Skirmish.
Remember, that normally, only 1 modifier card can be attached to each base card. However, the Group Leaders card gives the special ability of allowing itself to be attached to a base card with another tool, so in this case it is allowed. At the end of the round, Player A, B, and C flip the cards they’ve designated to the Skirmish over, and Player B has the highest total with 5 Skirmish points. He then draws the top card of the Contested Resources Draw Pile and places this card into his Discard Pile.
The last icon I want to look at is by far the most important to pay attention to. Most of the non-tool base cards have a Population number, located at the bottom left corner of the card (as seen below). This is the total amount of population that this card represents to your overall Tribe number. At the end of the game, the player that wins is the one with the highest population in their Tribe, so it is extremely important to pay attention to the cards you are adding to your Deck throughout the game, and the amount of population they contribute.
As in many deck building card games, players all begin with the same starting deck of cards. In Arctic Scavengers, this deck consist of 4 Refugees, 3 Scavengers, a Brawler, a Shovel, and a Spear. You’ll notice that Refugees are allowed to take Dig and Hunt Actions, but the contribute no points to them. However, you can combine them with modifiers and they are also worth some population points.
After all players have received their starting Decks, place the remaining mercenaries into 10 separate stacks, 1 for each type of mercenary. Then shuffle and place the Contested Resource cards onto its designated board, and the Junkyard cards on its board. The 1st player also receives the Initiator card (though this won’t be used until the start of Round 3).
There are 16 total Rounds in Arctic Scavengers. During the first 2 rounds, players will not complete a Skirmish. This gives players a couple of Rounds in order to build up some of their tribe and add cards to their Deck. Starting with Round 3, the player with the Initiator card will secretly look at the top card of the Contested Resources Draw Pile. This will allow him to know what card is available during the Skirmish at the end of the Round. Play then proceeds through the following Phases:
1.) Draw Phase – Each player draws 5 cards from their Draw Pile. If the player runs out of cards before obtaining 5, he must reshuffle his Discard Pile and create a new Draw Pile, the draw the remaining cards needed to bring himself up to 5 total.
2.) Resource Gathering Phase – The start player (that with the Initiator card) will take his main Actions in order to Draw, Dig, and Hunt (gathering resources). All cards used in this way are then placed into his Discard Pile along with any cards gains from Digging or Hunting. He must then announce how unused cards he has left to place, for use in the Skirmish. Play then proceeds clockwise to all other players as they take their Actions and designate cards for the Skirmish.
3.) Skirmish Phase – Players flip over all their designated Skirmish cards and compare the totals. The winner takes the top card from the Contested Resources Draw Pile and adds it to his Discard Pile. If there is a tie among points for a Skirmish, the player with the largest population involved in the Skirmish, wins. If there is still a tie, the Contested Resource card will instead be placed into the Junkyard Draw Pile and reshuffled amongst those cards. After the Skirmish has been resolved, the player to the left of the start player will then receive the Initiator card next.
Before I get into some thoughts about the game, I wanted to briefly go over some of the additions with the included HQ expansion. Although, I normally cover expansions in separate reviews, I wanted to include this one here, since it is now included with the Rio Grande Games edition of Arctic Scavengers. I’ll briefly go over the additions.
Although the HQ expansion adds some new mercenaries (Medic and Engineers), as well as some new Tools (toolkits and rifles), the largest additions to the base game include individual Tribal Leaders, constructing buildings, and the addition of gangs.
There are 10 Tribal Leaders included with the HQ expansion, and each of these provide special abilities to the player that controls them. At the beginning of the game, each player will randomly select 2 of these Leaders and then decide between the 2 which one they will keep. The Tribal Leader’s special ability is unique to that player only and can be used throughout the game. While I won’t go over all 10 here, let’s take a look at a couple of them:
– Allows Refugees a Skirmish fight of 0 points. While this doesn’t seem like much, remember that normally, a Refugee has no Skirmish fight ability. By allowing them to have this ability, even though its base point total is 0, this means that you can now use modifier attachments onto Refugees when using them for a Skirmish. The Gangster also increases the population count of a Refugee from 1 to 2 when combining population of tied Skirmishes.
– Allows a player to play 1 Refugee card and grant any other Tribe member card +1 point to any Action. This can be a very powerful ability, especially earlier on in the game when almost half of your starting cards are made up of Refugees. You’ll most likely get to use this ability in at least the first 3-4 Rounds.
The Sergeant at Arms
– I hadn’t discussed the Saboteur’s mercenary ability earlier, but they are basically allowed to discard an opposing player’s tool card when comparing totals for a Skirmish. The Sergeant in Arms Leader makes this player immune from such action. It also has a 2nd ability which only requires this player to pay 1 Medicine to hire a Saboteur as opposed to the normal 1 Food and 1 Medicine.
Engineers & Buildings:
One of the new mercenary types, Engineers, can be used to construct new buildings that can be added to a player’s headquarters. There are 4 different types of buildings, and each provide special abilities that can be used by the owning player, throughout the game once it has been built. Let’s take a look at each type and what they do, then I’ll go over how to construct a building.
There are ways to speed up construction, however. A player may play a number of Tribe members from his hand to help with construction of the building. For each Tribe member that is played, 1 card may be removed from the building. Of course, these Tribe members cannot be used for any other purpose. The new “Toolkit” Tool card that is new with the HQ expansion has a special ability of being able to attach to the Tribe Members and help speed up construction even further. It is the only Tool modifier card that can attach to Tribe Members for this particular Action.
The last major addition with the HQ expansion is that of Gangs. Gangs are basically endgame bonuses that are awarded to players depending on conditions that have been met after the final Contested Resource card is drawn. There are 3 different Gangs in the expansion, and each one will ally with a particular player’s Tribe at the end of the game if that Tribe best meets the Gang’s needs. Each Gang will add an additional 3 Population to a Tribe’s total for endgame scoring purposes. Let’s take a look at each one:
– The Masons will ally with the player that has the most completed Buildings in their Tribe. If there is a tie amongst opposing Tribes, the tiebreaker goes to the Tribe with the most Engineers.
– The Pharmers will ally with the player that has the highest Medicine value in their Tribe. This is done by adding all the Medicine points from cards in a particular Tribe. If there is a tie amongst opposing Tribes, the tiebreaker goes to the Tribe with the most Medics.
Although the initial publication of Arctic Scavenger arrived in 2009, the deck building mechanic has not only flooded the community since, but many games have expanded on the early ideas of Dominion (2008), Thunderstone (2009), and Ascension (2010). However, Arctic Scavengers contains an interaction mechanic that is a unique feature to the genre, and one that separates itself from other titles in the genre. The inclusion of the Skirmish mechanic not only provides some direct interaction amongst players in the game, but it also adds an extra card/action management system that is quite interesting.
I’m glad that Rio Grande decided to include the HQ expansion with the base game. For those that may be interested in Arctic Scavengers, while the base game provides a quality deck building experience with some interesting mechanics, I’m not sure that it brings enough to the table with so many other deck-building games out there. ,However, when including the HQ expansion with the base game, Arctic Scavengers really shines and comes in to its own. The addition of Tribal Leaders provides each individual player with enough unique and varying strategies from game to game. Constructing buildings allows players more management and a feeling of tiered upgrading, all while still needing to save cards for a Skirmish each round. I would definitely recommend including the expansion with each play, and its nice that Rio Grande has included it at no extra cost.
All in all, Arctic Scavengers can be viewed as a classic deck building game, similar to some of the genre’s earlier releases a few years back. However, with the inclusion of bluffing and direct player interaction, the game feels unique and fresh. Combined with an interesting theme and a larger focus on action & card management, Arctic Scavengers should separate itself enough to peak the interest of fans of the deck building genre.