NOTE: My full review of Snow Tails will appear in the upcoming issue of Counter magazine. What follows is an abbreviated version.
Usually known for crafting games around adorable 3-D figurines, Fragor Games has departed from this tradition with their latest offering, Snow Tails. Instead, they use a healthy supply of cardboard and wooden pieces to represent the sleds and obstacles faced in a dangerous, fast-paced dog-sled race along the Arctic Circle. While perfectly functional, one can’t help but miss those attractive figurines.
Snow Tails is also one of the Lamont Brothers’ simpler games. Their previous games have been split between family offerings and designs more suitable for gamers. While easier to learn and play than all of their previous titles save Leapfrog, the game is also one that seems most likely to appeal to both markets.
Players represent brave sledders speeding across the frozen tundra in hopes of victory, fame and glory. A wide range of courses can be constructed from 14 double-sided track pieces. Most of these track sections are basic straights, curves and corner pieces, but some offer challenging obstacles such as trees, snow drifts and chasms. Maneuvering around these turns and obstacles can be challenging, and as a player’s sled becomes damaged, it makes such skillful handling even more difficult.
The key to movement is properly balancing cards played between two dogs and one’s brake. Failure to skillfully maneuver through turns and around obstacles will result in nasty dents to one’s sled, which reduces one’s movement options.
A player will then move his sled forward according to the combined speed of the two dogs, minus his current brake level, which ranges from 1 - 5. If one dog is pulling faster than the other, drifting will occur. Drifting requires a player to move his sled in a forward / diagonal direction, which can be useful in navigating turns and avoiding obstacles, but can also result in collisions.
The race continues until the conclusion of a turn when at least one player crosses the finish line. The player whose sled is furthest across the finish line is victorious, and with much rejoicing, becomes the hero of the Arctic Circle!
Snow Tails is another installment in a long, long line of race games. Mechanisms and objectives are similar to that of other race games: play cards to move, navigate around turns and obstacles, and try to conserve your resources to finish strong. However, there are some significant differences. The apportionment of movement cards amongst dogs and braking is certainly different, as is the method used to determine drifting and bonus movement. Indeed, it is these creative movement mechanisms that sets the game apart and makes it worth a look.
Snow Tails does a fine job of appealing to both casual gamers and those who take gaming more seriously. However, don’t be fooled: the latter group may enjoy the game, but only as a fun diversion. It certainly won’t satisfy their cravings when searching for a deep, strategic experience. When they are looking for a game that is fast and fun that they can play with both gamers and their families, Snow Tails does a fine job of fulfilling that desire.
Mark, Rhonda, Ryan and I strapped our dogs to the sled, and began the perilous race around the “Dagger of the Mountain Troll” course. This course has one “U” turn, and a treacherous stretch wherein an abundance of young saplings wait to damage sleds.
Rhonda held the pole position at start, while Mark and I settled for the far outside positions. It wasn’t long, however, before we slipped past the leaders. Mark opted to enter the turn at a fast speed, causing damage to his sled. He later smashed into the side, causing yet more damage, and earning the nickname “Captain Dent”!
I raced past Mark coming out of the treacherous “U” turn, and was able to successfully navigate the forest of saplings without incurring any further damage. This allowed me to maintain my lead and race to the victory.
Ratings: Ryan 7, Greg 6, Mark 5.5, Rhonda 5.5