Friday, 19 February 2010

Ice Flow

Ice Flow won some British game awards. Although I am generally not interested in race games, I decided to give it a go since it's available at Carcasean. I played a 2-player game against Chong Sean.

The Game

In this game the players each manage a team of 3 explorers, and race to get all their explorers to cross the Bering Strait. Each player's explorers start at different research stations in Alaska, and need to reach different stations in Siberia to win the game. There are ice floes floating around the strait. The explorers can step on these to cross the strait. This reminds me of the old arcade game Frogger. The explorers can also swim in the sea, but only for a short while.

There are two types of "tools" available to the explorers - fishes and ropes. A fish gives enough energy to an explorer to swim one hex of water. It can also be used to distract attacking polar bears, even to lure them to attack an opponent's explorer. Rope are needed for climbing ridges - some ice floes have steep ridges which are impassable unless you use a rope. You can also use a rope to catch 2 fish (don't ask me how). The polar bears are generally harmless, unless your explorer steps onto the ice floe with one on it (they are pretty territorial I guess), or some other nasty explorer throws a fish in your direction luring a polar bear to charge at you.

Every turn, a player does two things - move an explorer, and move/rotate/add an ice floe - in any order. Moving ice floes in important for setting up a path for yourself. Rotating ice floes may help you save some rope. Adding new ice floes onto the board can bring new rope or fish, and may also be helpful in creating a path for your explorers. On the other hand, manipulating ice floes can also be very effective in hindering your opponents.

When moving an explorer, he can move as far as he wants, as long as all the movement rules are followed - spending fish when he swims, spending rope when he climbs a ridge. He can also collect an item when he stops.

At the start of the game there will be 12 ice floes seeded on the game board. In our game one of the ice floe cards drawn was the Diomede (island) card, thus only 11 ice floes at game start.

Player backpack on the left - each player can have 3 items at any time. Reference card on the right - on your turn you can do one of three types of ice floe actions, and one of two types of explorer actions.

The Play

In the game that Chong Sean and I played, most of our explorers stopped at Diomede, a small island between Alaska and Siberia, at some point. We were quite aggressive in collecting tools, and they became scarce quickly. I imagine with 3 or 4 players the resources will be very tight. Admittedly we rarely did the add ice floe action, which may be why we have a shortage of resources. With more players probably the add ice floe action will need to be taken more frequently.

One tricky part of the game was balancing setting up the board for yourself and for your opponent. If you set up a nice path for your explorer, your opponent may use the exact same path for one of his explorer on the next turn. Each ice floe can hold two explorers.

Our competition was quite tight, until I did something nasty to Chong Sean's last explorer who was trailing quite far behind. I used an ice floe action to move him to a far corner of the board. Since we hadn't introduced many new ice floes, is was tough for this isolated explorer to catch up to the rest. Eventually I won the game 3 vs 1. In hindsight, Chong Sean probably shouldn't have allowed that explorer to get into such a vulnerable position.

Near game end - Two of my (black) explorers have already reached Siberia.

The Thoughts

The game is an interesting and always-changing puzzle of how to get your explorers to the other side efficiently. You need to identify the opportunities for helping yourself as well as for hindering your opponents. Sometimes it's a tough choice choosing between these. Ice Flow actually doesn't feel like a race game. It is quite spatial. It also allows some really nasty plays. By pointing a polar bear at an opponent's explorer, you can possibly force him to go back to a start station.

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