It was going on three years ago now that I was first introduced to Ice Breaker: The Card Hockey Board Game.
After only a couple of plays it was obvious the game was a must for anyone who loves hockey, and board games.
In terms of mechanics Ice Breaker is essentially war. Each player flops down a card, and high card wins. The deck is 54 cards in size, a regular card array, plus two jokers, which are high card.
High card wins a showdown, usually, allowing you to move, pass and shoot.
There are exceptions to the high card wins rule. If a player drops a higher card, say a king, and you've only put down a six, you can win by playing a second six. Two of a kind beat a high card, although three-of-a-kind is still better.
While war would make for a pretty boring game, Ice Breaker designers at CSE Games, a Canadian company, have done a simply amassing job of adding the feel of hockey to the game.
With each win, a player gets to move the puck across a rink-shaped game board, according to the pattern laid out on the winning card.
As the puck moves, it can land on a number of highlighted squares, which call for a card to be drawn from the deck and the special 'icebreaker' rule used. Here the rules range from the puck going over the boards, creating a face-off situation, to a penalty being called, reducing the offending player's hand from five to four cards, or a big body check is thrown allowing the identified player to play additional cards.
Through the play you want to move the puck into the 'shooting zone'. Once in the zone the cards played represent the shooter and the goaltender. If the shooter has high card he scores. If the defensive player plays the high card the netminder has made the save. Unless of course you have played a trump card.
Back in the spring of 2009 I wrote a review on Ice Breaker, and I was a fan.
Its late 2012 now and the game remains a fun diversion, especially for a hockey fan who might be in withdrawal as millionaire players and multi-millionaire owners argue over a contract with the National Hockey League season in limbo pending a deal.
What makes Ice Breaker work so well is that the basic 'war' mechanic is so simple it can be taught in minutes.
The game plays fast, and with the ice breaker cards, it can change the flow rapidly, which really mimics the real game of hockey well.
The designers have also done a great job of adding the flavour of a real game to the mechanics.
As an example, in the third period a player can call a time out, allowing him to replenish his hand by two cards, without requiring the usual stoppage in play.
There are also rules allowing a player to 'pull the netminder' allowing them to draw an extra card, but automatically giving up a goal if the puck ends up in their shooting zone.
Rules allow for an overtime period and shoot-out scenarios too.
This is all stuff I talked about in 2009.
So why am I once again reviewing Ice Breaker?
Well CSE Games has recently released two special editions of the game.
One highlights just two NHL teams, the historic Montreal Canadiens and the defunct Quebec Nordiques team which should be resurrected if NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman ever gets off his high horse long enough to move struggling American teams north to cities where they will be relevant.
The cards in this edition, which is limited to 5,000 copies, is of course in both English and French, and highlights jerseys from throughout the history on both franchises.
The game rules are just as easy to understand, and is basically the same as the earlier editions except there are some special cards which help players define what 'specific year' of the Nords and Habs they are playing.
Province of Quebec fans will want this one, as will fans of either franchise, although as a boy from the west growing up at a time the only Canadian teams were Montreal and Toronto, I would have preferred those teams.
Down the road a 'Battle of Alberta' edition featuring Edmonton and Calgary would be a natural too.
A second special edition of Ice Breaker highlights Team Canada.
The edition features Team Canada jerseys from 1920-to-2010, so there is a real sense of Canadian hockey history here.
The Team Canada edition is limited to 2,400 copies, and among the three sets now available is the one I rate as most desirable based on it highlighting this country's proud heritage. It really is interesting to look at the old sweaters worn by our international hockey warriors throughout the decades.
Regardless of which edition you pick, Ice Breaker is a great card game and a great hockey-sim game. You will not be disappointed with this one.
Check it out at www.csegames.com
— This review originally appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper in Saskatchewan, Canada