There are games that use turntable boards and there are games where the players pass hands of cards around. Race to the North Pole is a game that uses both of these mechanics in a neat and unpredictable manner.
The players are leaders of an expeditionary force racing to the North Pole. The number of members in their party depends on the number of leaders there are; with 2 all four members of the same expedition take part, with 3 it’s three and with four players only 2 expedition members join the fun. The first leader to get all members of their expedition to the North Pole is the winner and gains the plaudits and the other leaders go home to lick their wounds – or an ice-lolly.
The first game requires a little extra setting up, the identification stickers have to be put on the meeples and the square plastic windows have to be positioned into the spaces in the board – once placed if you are careful these windows can remain in position when you put the game away. The stickers determine which member of the party each meeple represents, a different symbol for each meeple. If you are playing with colour blind people it may be a better idea to give each same-colour set of meeples a single symbol, so for example all four white meeples have the chevron symbol. Although this then prevents you from deliberating between the different crew members it makes no actual difference as there are no special abilities or statistics for each separate member.
There is one minor problem with the symbol stickers – the symbols are in black, and placing a black symbol on a black meeple renders the symbol virtually invisible – oops!!!
Each player has their crew members, a ship and a base camp board on which two pieces of equipment are placed at the beginning of play – each camp has a husky dog and one other (different) piece of gear. These pieces of equipment are shown on counters and are used once each for specific purposes then discarded. Players can obtain equipment during play and do not have to stick to only the pieces shown on their card, though each player may only ever hold three.
The rules booklet titled “How To Survive In The Arctic” is set out in Chapters and designed like a comic-book, four sections per page each containing an illustration and the necessary game play text. This makes it easy to setup and play whether you are new to boardgaming or a core gamer with years of experience. Having rules presented like this is excellent.
Players position themselves around the table (or sit next to each other and set the board out diamond-shape) so that each is in front of a base camp which contains three randomly dealt Action cards. There is a set order for a player’s turn which consists of Moving a crew member from your off-board ship onto one of the three Base Camp spaces, Taking one of the cards from the Base Camp in front of you and performing its action, checking the weather for a storm and finally passing the Turn Marker clockwise. All simple actions that barely deviate throughout the course of the entire game – you soon have no crew left on board your ship and occasionally a card may offer a different option.
The board shows a vast area of ice that for game movement purposes is overlaid by a grid of squares. On the ice are cracks which run along the length of one side of a movement space, sometimes expanding across many sides of one or many spaces. These cracks are so wide and dangerous that unless you have the correct equipment you cannot cross them directly. Obviously this means that simply walking in a straight line from your ship to the Base Camp to the centre of the board, designated as the North Pole, is impossible. Movement is by the use of the card that you chose from those available to you and is shown on the card by arrows, mostly one square at a time but occasionally two.
After each card is used it is placed in a column of overlapping cards so that the top part of each is always visible. The card shows what looks like a ninja star – it’s actually a storm warning icon – and within that icon there are from 0 – 4 dots. When the turn order, every player’s turn, reaches the Weather portion the player counts the number of spots visible on these cards to see if there is a storm. On reaching 12 or greater spots the storm comes and board is turned according to the next card in the action card deck. As the board rotates so the Crew members on it also move, sometimes away from, and sometimes closer to, their objective – the North Pole. There are actions that also move the entrance to the North Pole (shown by a boat or boats) and crew members can only reach the Pole via the correct space.
Some cards allow the crew members to combat either melee or ranged, opposing crew members. All you need to ambush an opponent’s piece is to be in the correct position on the board and play the necessary card. There are no die rolls or attack and defence modifiers, it just happens. The ambushed piece is returned to its owner’s ship and is free to move off on that player’s next turn. A bit like as happens in snakes & ladders.
RACE to the NORTH POLE is a fun game but for all the hype at Essen and apparently also at GenCon – the Base Camp stand, the snow machine, the razzmatazz and the big push towards the new Dized mechanic (which we haven’t actually got round to using yet so no comment on that from us) – I expected something more than a fairly basic to average board game. The moving board is a novelty but it isn’t in any way unique or even new. The fact that it also moves the cards available to the players is a neat touch but apart from looking good it has the same purpose and result as handing your cards to the next player in order as is utilised in many other games. In fact if you truly analyse the Race to the North Pole you will see that it is an amalgamation of several games and game mechanics rather than being anything new and exciting, and that really is a shame because I had expected it to have the WOW or X factor when in fact it is little more than a repeat, seen and played before. Think the “7 Wonders” and “Labyrinth” meet “Snakes & Ladders” in the “Realm of Wonder” and you are on your way to the North Pole.
Although disappointed that the Race to the North Pole didn’t reach my presumed expectations it isn’t a bad game in any way. It works neat and tidy, it presents minor challenges to the players on their turn plus it has less to do with luck than planning, even if the planning isn’t always possible to be purposeful or predetermined (although you can control whether there is a storm or not by the value of dots on a card because you have to play a card you are limited in how much control, if any, you actually do have).
There are a few customisable components that come with the game which allow you to customise it a little towards your own preferences and there is a suggestion of playing in teams but otherwise the game (without Dized) is as simple as it reads. The authors, according to the box, reckon 45 minutes for the length of a game, and an age of seven and upwards for players to be able to understand the rules. I agree with those as average statistics. In all fairness and honesty the game is what it is, a good looking, visually enticing, easily playable, family entertainment. I happily recommend it for family play, two adults and two children being optimum, but by the same standards I wouldn’t recommend it to experienced boardgamers looking for a new and satisfying challenge. Just how DIZED will change this, if it indeed does make any difference to the rules or the game mechanics, remains to be discovered.