Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
Iglus and Inuit! A unique theme with equally unique gameplay
There's Hey, That's My Fish! and Igloo Pop and a handful of other games about penguins, but that almost sums up the number of decent games themed around the inhabitants of earth's two poles. A shame, too, as the theme is pretty unique in the ranks of such tired old themes as building churches and castles, producing and shipping goods, and fighting over territory. Iglu Iglu is a great arctic-themed game with unique gameplay to match its unique theme. You could call it a "reverse tile-laying" game; instead of building something up piece by piece, you're tearing it apart and scrambling for what little land will remain. The game has beautiful artwork that captures a serene iced-over lake on the verge of melting.
In brief, on your turn you will choose one of the ice tiles on the board to melt, then spend some action points in an attempt to position your tribe of Inuit in the best places on the ice that remains frozen to that point. An interesting "event" mechanic is thrown in with a number of special actions or effects on the back of each ice tiles. You, and only you, look at the picture on the bottom of the ice tile you decided to melt and either apply the effect immediately or hold the tile for later use, depending on the type of tile it is. Some tiles are helpful, some are harmful, and some are very helpful. The surprise of not knowing what you're going to get is a lot of fun; it reminds me of the similar mechanic in Escape from Atlantis. The artwork on the tiles is fun and well done.
After you've chosen your tile, you spend your alotted action points, sometimes modified by tiles you've held from previous turns, to move your Inuit, hunt or fish, kayak across the water, or build "iglu"s. There are two distinct ways to earn points during the game, and you will need to balance the short-term gains from one source to the potentially larger long-term gains of the other in order to do well in the game. Hunting and fishing gives you instant victory point gratification.
Positioning your Inuit tribe to take control, through an area majority mechanic similar to Entdecker, of the small islands of ice that may, or may not, remain firm until the end of the game. You can potentially gain significantly more points from controlling these islands than you can from any individual hunt, but the gains only come at the very end of the game and it's hard to foresee how great they will be. As the game draws to an end, you'll be fighting hard for every last inch of solid ground due to the interesting tile-removal mechanic. The pace of the game becomes more and more frantic as it goes on, which is a nice change from some other games.
Iglu Iglu offers a light-hearted approach to a fun and unique theme with some interesting and uncommon twists on more familiar mechanics. The different parts of the game fit together very well, showing the experience, perhaps, of the game's two designers. It is not a heavy game, nor a very strategic one due to the randomness of the ice tiles and the relatively short play-time, but it offers plenty for the non-gamer and the gamer to enjoy in an appealing and accessible package. The components are excellent and the game's theme is very well integrated.
There are a few drawbacks to the game. First, the scoring system for the islands is a little convoluted, to the point that the designers themselves suggest a few different scoring variants. It is a little confusing to work out exactly which should be used, but if you dig around the links here and play around with each scoring system a few times, you'll find one you like in no time. Second, it is a little hard to remember some of the oddities that can crop up with certain tile or action point combinations and how to resolve them. It is sometimes unclear the order in which things should be done or who gets to decide how to resolve certain actions. Finally, the game can sway heavily in one person's favor due to a few lucky tile draws. This can be overcome by the other players by being more aggressive in butting in on other people territory and hunting or fishing grounds, but it can throw the game if each player is only worrying about their own agenda. The initial setup of the game offers a good chance to set the mood, confrontational or passive, of the rest of the game.
All in all, I think Iglu Iglu is a great choice for anyone who enjoys lighter fare or the tile-laying genre. It is different enough to not feel like just a Carcassonne spin-off or a Metro / Streetcar clone. The theme is cute, unique, and richly integrated and the gameplay has enough decision-making and surprise twists to keep almost anyone happy. It scales well from 2 to 4 players and could certainly handle a broad range of ages and experience levels as well. A great game for all, I say, and certainly underrated and underappreciated here.