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Subject: Arctic Scavengers: a Pros and Cons Review rss

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bryden
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Arctic Scavengers, a pros and cons review

Where I am coming from (the biases):
With each review I relate the games that I enjoy to shed some light on my perspective on the game being reviewed. This will change depending on the game being discussed.

As far as card games go I have had a pretty broad exposure to the deck/tableau builders and it has been quite the mixed bag. I find that I enjoy those that involve some measure of thought. This is not say complex but at least the game should make me think a little bit or at least play fast enough to compensate.

The card games in this genre I enjoy include Thunderstone, Ascension, Glory to Rome, Race for the Galaxy, Innovation, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Core Worlds and the board game Mage Knight. Games such as Dominion, San Juan and Eminent Domain are OK. I found Nightfall distasteful and dull and Legendary (Marvel) a long winded game of Ascension.

I find those that I enjoy to incorporate elements of planning or in the case of Ascension just fast paced play with small amounts of ‘thinking’. Core World and Mage Knight make up the high end of the deck building play and while they don’t get the table time for this reason it does not lessen my feelings for them.

I had played Arctic Scavengers many years ago in its original format and noted that I needed to keep an eye on this one. I liked that you interacted a little bit while Dominion, the only other game in town at the time, did not. I found that the game play in Arctic Scavengers was a bit limiting back then.

With this I bring you forward to 2013

** Quick rules overview: (look for specific details elsewhere in this forum)
Game components brief:
1. Mostly cards (around 200 total)
2. There are a few play mats which help to distinguish the draw decks.

Gameplay brief:
1. The game is played over 16 rounds with scoring taking place after the last contested resource has been gained. The first 2 rounds consist of buying a couple of cards from the supply consisting of the same 10 types of cards (including expansion).

2. On your turn you can take as many actions as you want but no action can be repeated. For example, you only get one opportunity to draw cards even if the cards drawn permit you to draw cards. The action choices are draw, dig, recruit, trash and fight (cards saved for the end of round fight for the contested resource).

3. During the end of round fight(skirmish) you are able to perform a couple of misc actions to snipe or ‘disarm’ your fellow combatants to give you the edge or tip the balance to someone whom you think might be trailing.

4. The ‘in box’ expansion permits a few variants on some of the abilities.

5. Each turn plays out the same with the exception that each round a different person will take the initiative (first player) and know what is going to be fought over.

Overall feel:
First, the initial feel from 2009/10.

I felt that the game played OK with 3 or maybe 4 (I did not play with 2 then) but 5 was just too much. One of the players just was not paying attention in my only 5 player experience and that made the game drag but even the other players were ‘locking up’ off and on in all other games. As a result of these plays, the game seemed to show us everything it had after a couple of plays as the focus was on getting meds otherwise you were cooked. The only way to get the meds was by randomly digging in the junkyard (this is fixed with the addition of the medic) and it seemed that the fight was too important to ignore and that to me was the boring part (interesting for the first half of the first game) due to its blind bid component. Luckily the last game that I played in the last 3+ years the winning player did not win many fights and won by recruiting his team.

The issue I had with more players was that it seemed to limit options as the stacks of mercenaries are not increased. There are 5 thugs for 3-5 players. In this way the ‘key’ stacks were gone quickly and you were left with fight, fight, fight etc. while trying to buy a 1 or 2 point mercenary each turn. Dominion has the opposite ‘problem’, always 10.

So what is different now?

Not much really with the exception of the HQ expansion and the component quality.

Given my past experience I went ahead and put everything into the play to give the game a bit more depth for my fickle players. I can tell you that the additions help a bit to increase the thought processes. The real question for me was to find out if this would fall into the same routine as those plays long ago.

Much like the leaders in 7 Wonders which give you a guide to follow the ‘leaders’ in the HQ are nice to give each player a different starting position even though everyone's decks consist of the same 10 cards. This will lead to slightly different priorities in the early going. Some leaders felt/are stronger with different play counts and probably should have been noted as such. One is useless in a 2 player game (refugees count as 2 people which is irrelevant with the 2 player rules for skirmishes) and the butcher may be a bit overpowered due to the immediate access to meds while thinning the deck. More leaders would certainly be welcomed as only 10 are included which is the full complement for a 5 player game. Maybe getting dealt 1 and then choosing whether to draw a replacement might help. You would have to keep the 2nd drawn. Edit: This is now the only way that we will play, otherwise we see the same leaders almost every game.

The other HQ cards are nice although there are not really that many. The goals (gangs) are nice but there are only 3 and 1 does not apply unless you are playing with the buildings which you should be if experienced with this type of card play. It is difficult to know where you stand with gaining a couple of these since what you gained is not public knowledge. You just have to watch what the other players are playing.

Given that we have been playing quite a bit of Sentinels of the Multiverse, Core Worlds and Mage Knight, Arctic Scavengers feels a bit hollow or dare I say shallow. Where Dominion provides a similar feel it has the card variety to at least ‘appear’ to be doing something different with each game. Here it is the same cards with each play. This puts AS in the same division as Eminent Domain but ED has an expansion coming soon.

Pros:
1. Card quality is decent: Compared to the original these are excellent but compared to Race for the Galaxy only fair. Same company, why not the same quality?

2. The ability to perform multiple actions on your turn: This gives you the ability to adjust your turn to fit your hand. This is opposed to take one action, buy and end turn (Dominion) or be able to take endless actions and then buy one card (also Dominion). However, there is a down side …

3. There are not many cards to learn: This makes it easier to introduce to new players.

Cons:
1. The game play is still very limited: Given the games that I have mentioned above AS just does not compare. Eminent Domain at least has warfare/colonize to improve your position instead of a blind man’s bluff system to hope to gain a card that ‘might’ help your position. You can affect your dig ability by increasing the number of cards that you use but at the cost of the skirmish. The end game bonuses are mostly linked to the cards found in the junkyard.

2. Pace of Play: The waiting around for each player to finish playing their hand still exists except with more opportunities to slow down play. This should improve with time but only if the game blossoms into something more than dig, buy and hope. It is better than ‘base’ Dominion. We have started to let the next player begin his turn while the previous is deciding which card to keep from the dig. This is helping. We are getting faster. Game group recently suffered the same fate: long delays between turns.

3. Gangs (end game goals): I like the fact that they are there but other than buildings you really have no way of knowing where you are at any given point to really make these more than a game end ‘surprise’. I am trying to figure a better way to make these more important and less transparent much like Race for the Galaxy. The meds gang is particularly concerning as the meds help with recruiting(buying) cards but do little with regards to the skirmish (they can protect your group a bit). So do I really want another dead card in my deck for a chance to gain 5 points?

4. Buildings: This could have been really cool but alas there are only 4 of them total. I like the way that the buildings are built. Good idea. However, we are finding that we don’t really have much time to take advantage of them other than the pharmacy or food one. The food building seems almost an automatic grab as it will, for a time, guarantee you a point a turn without using a card. The pharmacy helps to save meds for a turn when you would like to make a good buy. If there were more buildings that interacted with the mercenaries in unique ways, it could add a significant replay element to the game play. They seem to be slow to get up and running and you have to partially sacrifice a turn to ‘stock’ most of them. If your cards drawn were poor, it does give you an out or if you are trying to thin your deck you can store cards.

Final Thoughts:
It was more out of ‘nostalgia’ that I picked this up as I liked that last play which presented a possible new avenue that showed potential. Having the expansion in the box was nice and very important.

When I opened the box this time, the impression from the players (who hadn’t seen the game before) was “that’s it?”. After the first game the comments were “this game needs a couple of ‘real’ expansions”. These were not solicited comments. There is nothing presented that screams “there is more to discover”. It might whisper a little bit and I am seeing a little variance from the first few ‘replays’.

With now 10 plays in we are still playing and trying new things but doing this is up to the players to decide. Much like Eminent Domain you could do the same thing each game and expect roughly the same result. The junkyard and building stacks are the only variable elements other than your card draw.

The contested resources are interesting to a point. But, it is tough to stomach someone gaining a 5 point card for almost no fight value early in the game while I play 8 fight to get a grenade on turn 13+. I have been building this big crew for ??? Maybe the contested resource deck should be sequenced a bit? Edit: I am now sequencing the contested resources by separating the Tribe Families and the other cards. Taking 2 cards at random from the ‘other’ cards, mixing them and placing them on the bottom and then mixing the remaining cards and placing them on top. It is not perfect and I still was able to get a card on the cheap but it is better. The random stack was ‘too random’.

Recommendation:
If you like playing ‘base’ Dominion or Eminent Domain then you know how Arctic Scavengers will feel. For others the game might give the impression that it is played out after X (small number of plays >1 and less than 10) plays. Each game then comes down to getting that one good turn (tribal family) to tilt the balance right as the game is ending. Unfortunately for AS this seems to take a little bit too long to get to.

Arctic Scavengers is a card game that will likely play better with occasional play and not something to build a game night around. This is OK for me as I like to spread the wealth around. However, if you are not one to buy many games, then you might be disappointed quickly.

Some mention the theme as a real ‘hook’ to getting this. I don’t feel it and it really matters little to me.

The one word review: limited
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Robert K Gabhart
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Thank you so much for the detailed and thorough review. It is unfortunate that theme isn't a factor for you as this was a key aspect of design and something that many AS fans are drawn to.

While I will grant you that play is more limited than more established games, I am surprised that you consider it capped at 10 plays worth of options. The ten tribal leaders alone give you 10 plays. Scout + Group Leaders provide a draw-heavy strategy. Sabos and Snipers can be used to interrupt resource gathering as well as during skirmish. Engineer with buildings supports sabo / snipers in bunker and also med-centric and tool-centric gang strategies. Meds through junkyard vs buying medic. Mercenary /Thug heavy strategy vs contested resource strategy. Then there's all of the permutations of those options. Don't get me wrong, deck building platforms that have been in publication for the last few years have MORE options, but AS just hit shelves three weeks ago. Give me a couple months of strong sales and Rio will let me lose with Deception expansion. More bluffing options and depth, more mercs, more leaders, more gangs, alternate contested resources, etc. The next expansion after that gives alternate starting hands, new buildings, more mercs, more resources, etc.

Anyhow, thanks again for the review and your perspective. If you and your group have some input regarding ways to take the game to the next level with future expansions, please message me. Thanks!
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Kevin B. Smith
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I haven't played AS yet, but had a couple questions about the review.

NoDicePlease wrote:
the game seemed to show us everything it had after a couple of plays as the focus was on getting meds otherwise you were cooked. The only way to get the meds was by randomly digging in the junkyard (this is fixed with the addition of the medic) and it seemed that the fight was too important to ignore and that to me was the boring part (interesting for the first half of the first game) due to its blind bid component. Luckily the last game that I played in the last 3+ years the winning player did not win many fights and won by recruiting his team.

This starts out saying that you have to dig for meds. But then it says that you have to fight. And it ends by saying you don't have to fight. It seems to me that choosing whether to commit heavily to the fight or not is a bit part of the game. I like interesting decisions, and this seems like it should be one...as long as it's true that not fighting is viable.

Quote:
The meds gang is particularly concerning as the meds help with recruiting(buying) cards but do little with regards to the skirmish (they can protect your group a bit). So do I really want another dead card in my deck for a chance to gain 5 points?

This also sounds like a potentially interesting decision: Whether to over-focus a bit on meds to pick up extra points. Even without the gang, it seems like (without having played the game) deciding how many meds to get might be an interesting decision.

Quote:
But, it is tough to stomach someone gaining a 5 point card for almost no fight value early in the game while I play 8 fight to get a grenade on turn 13+.

I have no trouble with early stuff being cheap and later stuff being expensive (even if it's the same stuff, or even if the better stuff shows up early). Lots of games have variations on that.
 
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bryden
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gabhart wrote:
While I will grant you that play is more limited than more established games, I am surprised that you consider it capped at 10 plays worth of options.

While I see myself playing the game likely many more plays than 10, my comments were more directed to those experienced deck builders. It seems that we have become a more expecting lot of players over the past 4 years and desire a richer experience from the start. In comparison, AS is just not up to modern 'standards' with the 'jaded' gamer.

To your point, Base Dominion has often been quoted as having millions of different game 'experiences' just waiting to be discovered but this was not how it felt as certain cards create an almost singular focus on the play (Chapel, for instance). The other cards in play were just there to fill out the display. I found that the newness of the play mechanic is really what drove the plays of Dominion.

The dynamics of the play group within the depth of the game design might flesh out the intricacies if the theme etc. would carry the day. It is here that I had hoped there could have been more with AS. If the chapel is in play in every Dominion set, I tend to find the play very dull much like having many bonus actions cards and turns tend to run on. With AS all of the cards are in play each game and this drives the 'feeling' that the game does not vary much unless you and your game group like to experiment and as long as those experiments create wins.

It is with greate sadness that AS had not been up and running all of those years ago so that when its 'enhanced edition' (borrowing from Sentinels of the Multiverse) was released the game would take center stage.

I am concerned that what we have now is all that we will have and long term this won't do.

Best suggestion at this point is to add more variety to the cards, even if they are more complex (Dominion Intrigue) and then only put X number into play. This is my wish for the next expansion if it comes to be and I hope that it does.

At this point I might go ahead and try limiting the number of cards available to create that dynamic feeling. I will play with it.

Thanks for your comment and your involvement in the AS forum.
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bryden
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peakhope wrote:
I haven't played AS yet, but had a couple questions about the review.

NoDicePlease wrote:
the game seemed to show us everything it had after a couple of plays as the focus was on getting meds otherwise you were cooked. The only way to get the meds was by randomly digging in the junkyard (this is fixed with the addition of the medic) and it seemed that the fight was too important to ignore and that to me was the boring part (interesting for the first half of the first game) due to its blind bid component. Luckily the last game that I played in the last 3+ years the winning player did not win many fights and won by recruiting his team.

This starts out saying that you have to dig for meds. But then it says that you have to fight. And it ends by saying you don't have to fight. It seems to me that choosing whether to commit heavily to the fight or not is a bit part of the game. I like interesting decisions, and this seems like it should be one...as long as it's true that not fighting is viable.

You need to win at least some of the point battles (tribe families). If you let one or two players get most of the contested resources and you get a couple that have little value (grenades) when you invest in the fight then you lose and do so badly. This happened yesterday as a matter of fact. The gamer was not to excited about the end game prospects and the final score showed that he was at a big disadvantage by investing in some of those fights only to lose.

The question is would you sacrifice yourself for the good of the table to prevent another player from getting a contested resource for 1 card. There were many times that I ignor the fight because I have already gained a good bit of material and now can focus on guaranteed points (hiring) instead of 'rolling the dice' by going all in just to hope to win the fight.

There is a decision there but if you are third and the 2 previous players have committed nothing to the skirmish leaving you to either give the fight to the 4th player or to potentially sacrifice your turn to prevent it. It feels like the situation is playing you.

peakhope wrote:
nodiceplease wrote:
The meds gang is particularly concerning as the meds help with recruiting(buying) cards but do little with regards to the skirmish (they can protect your group a bit). So do I really want another dead card in my deck for a chance to gain 5 points?

This also sounds like a potentially interesting decision: Whether to over-focus a bit on meds to pick up extra points. Even without the gang, it seems like (without having played the game) deciding how many meds to get might be an interesting decision.

It's not. In many ways it commits you to hiring over fighting. The problem is that if you can't get the meds in your hand with your hunt then you have a dead hand. The medics give you a card draw and the group leaders can enhance this but then you are giving up the meds that you need to buy a card.

Not all of the time mind you but sometimes it feels like you are loading your deck full of estates hoping that you have the most to get a 5 point bonus at game end except that the meds from the junkyard are not worth any points. They do have strong buying power but get too many and you will often find yourself with weak fighting ability.

peakhope wrote:
nodiceplease wrote:
But, it is tough to stomach someone gaining a 5 point card for almost no fight value early in the game while I play 8 fight to get a grenade on turn 13+.

I have no trouble with early stuff being cheap and later stuff being expensive (even if it's the same stuff, or even if the better stuff shows up early). Lots of games have variations on that.

It was OK for the first 5 or so games and then it started to get a bit annoying. It did not go over well with the game group until I related how I was going to 'stack' the deck. This was promising although not totally rewarding.
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Dan Rheingans
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Basically mirrored my thoughts on Arctic Scavengers. Game felt too limited and random. I never felt like I was actually making *choices* The idea of the game is neat, but implementation not so much.
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Kevin B. Smith
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I ended up having a chance to play AS a few times. I enjoyed it, except that fighting in the skirmishes is pretty much required, not optional. You don't have to compete in all of them, but you have to build your deck to be able to compete.

The skirmish is essentially a semi-blind all-pay auction, which is one of my least favorite mechanisms in all of gaming. So the game didn't work for me just for that reason. But I really enjoyed the rest of the game, think it is a solid, worthy design. Additional expansions are likely to solve some (but not all) concerns people have with it.
 
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Robert K Gabhart
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FYI - This review is 2 years old. Rio has now released the Recon expansion (previously named "Deception"). It substantially expands the options and introduces some new mechanics. Give it a look.
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