Introducing Arctic Scavengers

What if there was a deck-building game like Dominion, but featured more theme and more player interaction? That game exists, and it's called Arctic Scavengers. And please don't roll your eyes just yet and say sarcastically, "Just what we needed, another Dominion-like deck-builder ... NOT!" This one is different and it does deserve a fair hearing, not least because it didn't get that when it first came out - which was right after Dominion. It was arguably the first deck-builder to be made after Dominion, but sadly didn't get a wide distribution at the time, although it's an excellent game.

So first you have to know something of its back-story. Since Dominion effectively fathered the deck-building genre in 2008, or certainly popularized it, we've seen many imitations. Some of these Dominionesque descendants pale beside the original, while others have built on its core system and added praiseworthy innovations of their own. What few people know is that Arctic Scavengers was at the very head of that initial wave of deck-builders following Dominion. It first appeared with limited availability in 2009, published by Driftwood Games, was quickly sold to Rio Grande Games. Yes, the same publisher that did Dominion! Well, they sat on it until they finally published it in a shiny new edition four years later, in 2013. Was the delay because Rio Grande didn't want to concurrently publish another deck-builder that could potentially rival Dominion or slow down its momentum in any way, or was it simply that Rio Grande was too preoccupied with rolling out Dominion and its expansions from 2008 onwards? The true story behind the four year delay remains clouded with mystery (see some speculation here).

Whatever the case, Arctic Scavengers has finally hit the light of day in a beautiful new edition from Rio Grande Games, with completely new artwork. And perhaps best of all, as part of the base game it now incorporates the HQ Expansion, which was originally only available separately. This can only mean good news for gamers, because Arctic Scavengers is a terrific game, and having an expansion included only makes it better. It's a pity it didn't get a bigger splash when the first crop of deck-building games initially appeared, because it might have made more of an impression, and now it needs to work harder to get noticed in a crowded and competitive field. Even so, Arctic Scavengers holds its own well, and I can assure you that this game is well worth checking out!

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the 90% of the world's population has been eliminated, and where the remaining survivors must try to eek out an existence in the new ice age that now covers the earth. Each player's deck represents their band of survivors and equipment, and the aim is to build up your tribe, by acquiring and using resources like tools, medicine, and mercenaries, and also compete with other tribes in skirmishes for the particularly valuable contested resources. The player with the largest tribe (most people in their deck) at the game end is the winner. Let's find out more about this clever and competitive deck-building game that is dripping with both theme and interaction!



COMPONENT OVERVIEW

Game box

The box is a standard medium sized affair, and gives us our first glimpse of our new icy conditions, and one of its desperate survivors, well equipped with various items of equipment that will also feature in the game (e.g. a shovel, spear, and more).


Game box

The back of the box introduces us to the theme and main concept of the game, along with an inventory of components and a picture of the game in play.


Box back

The box has a wonderful insert that is terrific for organizing and housing all the cards. One complaint is that the box doesn't close properly when all the cards are in the insert, although a fairly straight forward fix has been documented here.


Box insert

Component list

One of the neat things about the Rio Grande edition is that it includes the first expansion for the game, Arctic Scavengers: HQ. To keep things simple, we'll first show you the base game and explain how that works, before getting into the expansion. So not including the HQ expansion, here’s what you’ll find when you open up the box:

● 144 cards
● 2 card mats (Contested Resources & Junkyard)
● 1 setup/initiator reference card
● 1 game-play reference card
● 1 rule book


All the components, including the HQ expansion items

COMPONENTS

Card Iconography

Let's start by showing you the cards - and the base game comes with 144 cards, featuring about 25 unique cards that do different things. The icons on the cards are particularly important, as shown in the illustration below.
● The icon on the top right represents the cost of the card, to buy it and get it into your deck.
● The icon on the top left indicates the card type: people, tools, or meds.
● The icons along the left hand side of the card represent the four main actions of the game: draw, dig, hunt, and fight.
● The icon on the bottom left indicates the number of tribe members the card is worth, which are effectively the VPs needed to win the game.
Many cards have multiple abilities (draw/dig/hunt/fight), but you'll only be able to use a card to perform one of these when you play it.


Anatomy of a card

There are different cards as follows, which we'll explain in detail momentarily:
● 20 Refugees (identical)
● 69 Mercenaries (8 different types)
● 46 Junkyard items (8 different types)
● 14 Contested Resources (7 different types)

Refugees

There are 20 Refugee cards, and each player starts with four in their deck. They are very weak in themselves, but can be combined with tool cards to dig or hunt food (which you'll need to do the "hire" action). The symbol on the lower left indicates that they represent one tribe member each, i.e. 1 VP at the game end.



Mercenaries

Mercenaries can be purchased and added to your deck by hiring them, by playing the appropriate number of cards that matches the cost on the top right of the card, in food or meds. For example, to hire a Scout, you'd need to play cards that give the equivalent of 1 meds (cross icon) and 2 food (drumstick icon), and you can play more than one card to accomplish this. Mercenaries are available to all players and are in face-up piles much like the kingdom cards of Dominion. Getting these into your deck will add tribe members to your tally and increase your final score, but more importantly they'll give you access to more powerful abilities, i.e. by letting you draw more cards, dig deeper into the junkyard pile, hunt for more food and hire more valuable mercenaries, and have more powerful fighters for the skirmish action.

There are a total of eight different mercenaries, distributed as follows: 10x Brawlers, 8x Hunters, 8x Saboteurs, 8x Scouts, 5x Group Leaders, 5x Sniper Teams, 5x Thugs, and 20x Scavengers. Players will all begin the game with three Scavengers and one Brawler in their starting deck.







Junkyard items

Using the "Dig" action, players can play their mercenaries and equipment to dig into the junkyard pile, which consists of 46 cards shuffled face-down. You can draw as many cards as the total dig value of cards played, and then keep one and discard the rest. While sometimes you might find Junk in this pile, for the most part you'll find valuable equipment/tools that can be played along with your mercenaries to strengthen their actions of drawing, digging, hunting/hiring, or fighting.

Aside from the 7 Junk cards, there are seven other different items of equipment in the junkyard pile, distributed as follows: 4x Multitools, 4x Nets, 4x Pickaxes, 6x Spears, 6x Shovels, 6x Medkits, and 9x Pills. Players will all begin the game with one Spear and one Shovel in their starting deck.







Contested Resources

During the game, players will also use their mercenaries and equipment that have "fight" values to compete in a skirmish at the end of each round, and whoever has the highest fight value will win the top card in the Contested Resources pile. There are 14 cards in this pile, which effectively doubles as the game's timer. Since there are two introductory rounds without a skirmish, there will always be exactly 16 rounds in each game. The contested resources care are virtually all strong cards that you'll definitely want to get into your deck, especially the tribe family cards, which are worth 3, 4 or 5 points each!

There are a total of five different contested resources, distributed as follows: 2x Wolf Packs, 2x Grenades, 2x Sled Teams, 2x Field Crews, 6x Tribe Families.





Card Mats

The game comes with two large thick cardboard card mats, one for the Junkyard pile, the other for the Contested Resources. These are very useful, since both piles are face-down, and this makes them readily identifiable during the game.


Junkyard mat & Contested Resources mat

Reference Cards

There are also two reference items to assist players during the game. First of all there's a standard sized card, featuring instructions for Game Setup on one side, and an Initiator Card with the flow of play to be used by the starting player of each round.



Secondly, there's a much larger thick cardboard general reference card, which lists the key concepts and different actions in the game. On the reverse side of this card are reference materials for the expansion.



Rules

Arctic Scavengers comes with 16 page colour rule book, which includes a couple of diagrams, details about how all the different cards work along with an overview of the different icons, a short FAQ, and a helpful sample round walkthrough. The four final pages explain the different elements of the expansion. So the rules themselves are fairly brief and easy to learn.

The English rulebook is available here: Arctic Scavengers Rulebook



GAME-PLAY

Set-up

The eight mercenaries are placed on separate face-up piles in the middle of the table, while the contested resources and junkyard piles are shuffled separately and placed on their respective playmats.


Main playing area set-up

Each player gets their own starting deck of 10 cards (4x Refugees, 3x Scavengers, 1x Brawlers, 1x Spear, 1x Shovel). The starting player gets the "Initiator" card, and we're ready to go!


Cards in all player's starting deck

Flow of Play

Arctic Scavengers plays out over a series of rounds, each of which consists of three main phases:
1. Drawing phase:
Each player draws five cards from their deck.
2. Resource Gathering phase:
Beginning with starting player, and in clockwise order, each player can play as many cards from their hand as they wish in order to gather resources, by performing one of several actions: (a) drawing; (b) digging; (c) hunting/hiring; (d) trashing.
3. Skirmish phase:
Players compare the unused cards from their hand, and whoever has the highest fight value gets to claim the top card from the face-down contested resources deck. The next player in clockwise order becomes the new initiator, and the next round begins.

1. Drawing phase

At the start of each round, all players simultaneously ensure that they've discarded all cards from the previous round, and draw five new cards from the top of their deck, reshuffling their discard pile if necessary. Remind you of Dominion already? During this phase, the starting player ("initiator") gets to peek at the top card of the contested resources deck, which will be up for grabs in this round's skirmish - that inside knowledge might just prove handy!


A typical opening hand

2. Resource Gathering phase

Unlike the other two phases, the resource gathering phase occurs in turn order, beginning with the initiator. On your turn, you can play as many cards from your hand as you wish to complete the following actions. You can do multiple actions on your turn, but can only do each action once at most. Note that all cards gained by these actions go to your discard pile, as do the cards you play to perform these actions.

Draw action: You may play cards with the "draw" icon in order to draw that many cards from your deck.

Dig action: You may play cards with the "dig" icon in order to draw that many cards from the Junkyard pile; you may keep one if you wish (which immediately goes into your discard pile), and return the others to the bottom of the junkyard pile. You can play multiple tribe members in order to increase your dig value, and each tribe member can also use one tool card to increase this as well; e.g. a Refugee (dig 0) equipped with a Shovel (dig +2) would enable you to draw two cards and keep one.


Example: The Refugee uses a Shovel to dig for 2

Hunt/Hire action: You may play cards with the "food" icon (representing hunting for food) or the "medicine" icon in order to purchase one new mercenary (which immediately goes into your discard pile) from the face up piles available. This mechanic should be familiar from Dominion, with food and meds acting as currency instead of money. Just as with digging, you can play multiple cards to generate extra food or medicine, on the condition that each tribe member not use more than one tool.


Example: The Scavenger uses a Spear to hunt for 2, and hires a Brawler

Trash action: You may trash any of the cards in hard, and remove them permanently from your deck by shuffling them into the junkyard pile.

Special actions: While you are resource gathering, opponents may as a special and instant action play a Saboteur card (to force you to discard one of your tools) or Sniper card (to force you to discard one of your tribe members).

Set aside for skirmish: At the end of your turn, you set aside any unused cards for the skirmish; in fact it's often a good move to keep strong fighting cards for this purpose, or even to include weak cards to bluff your opponents.

3. Skirmish phase

There is no skirmish in the first two rounds, to give players opportunity to begin building their decks. But from round three onwards, after everyone has completed resource gathering and set aside cards for the skirmish, all players simultaneously reveal the cards they have brought to the skirmish. To decide the skirmish, players compare the total fight values of their cards (once again, each tribe member can only use one weapon), and the player with the strongest force gets to take the top contested resource card (nearly always a strong and useful card!) and put it into his discard pile. The number of tribe members brought to the skirmish serves as tie-breaker (in the event this is tied as well, the contested resource up for grabs is shuffled into the junkyard instead). Saboteurs and snipers can be used during this phase, in which case they are resolved in turn order beginning with the initiator. The skirmish part of the game involves a kind of blind bid and bluffing, and ensures constant interaction and surprises!


Example: The Thugs has a fight value of three as does the Scavenger with the Spear, but the Thugs win the tiebreaker with more tribe members

Scoring

The skirmish for the last contested resource from the deck marks the final round, after which the game ends. Since there are 14 contested resources and the first two rounds of the game don't involve a skirmish, this means that each game will last exactly 16 rounds. To determine the winner, players simply add up the number of tribe members in their deck (the icon on the bottom left of people cards), with the number of contested resources cards won serving as tiebreaker. A good final score will typically be at least 40 points.


A final score of 32 points for a player

Two Player Game

Only minor adjustments are necessary when playing with just two players. The most important change is that skimishes need to be won by beating your opponent's fight value by at least two, and the number of tribe members no longer serves as a tiebreaker. Additionally, two cards of each type are removed from the junkyard at the start of the game, and the starting player doesn't get to look at the contested resource at the start of a round. Aside from these changes, the two player game plays in the same way as the multi-player game.

HQ EXPANSION

The good news for folks who get the new Rio Grande edition of the game, is that it automatically includes the Arctic Scavengers: HQ expansion, which really adds replayability and flexible options to the game.

Component list

The HQ expansion comes with the following extras
● 49 cards (12x Buildings, 10x Tribal Leaders, 8x Junkyard cards, 8x Medics, 8x Engineers, 3x Gangs)
● 1 card mat (Engineering Schematics)
● 1 storage cover
● 1 rules reference (on reverse side of main reference)

The rules are included in the final pages of the rulebook. The expansion is introduced by way of various modules, which can be introduced to the game one at a time, to make the learning curve more pleasant. I'll simply walk you through the different elements of the expansion one at a time.

Medic

The Medic is a new mercenary that can also be used to contribute 1 med as part of a hire action. It can also be used as a draw action, and also has a special ability to save a tribe member that is being sniped.



Rifle & Toolkit

These new tools are added to the Junkyard pile. The rifle assists with hunting or fighting, giving +2 in each category, while the toolkit assists with digging or building.



Gangs

These cards represent a final bonus of five points each that is awarded at the end of the game. They are the following:
The Gearheads: award 5 points to the player with the most tool cards.
The Pharmers: award 5 points to the player with highest value of med cards (medkits & pills).
The Masons: award 5 points to the player with the most building cards.



Engineers & Buildings

This adds a new Engineer mercenary, that enables you to perform a special dig action in order to take a card from the engineering schematics pile (to be placed on the expansion play-mat pictured below) and begin a building.



The selected building card is placed face-up in front of you, and a number of cards equal to its build time (listed by the icon on the bottom left of a building card) are drawn from your deck and placed face-down on it. One such face-down card is removed at the start of each turn (a process that can be accelerated by other tribe members or toolkits), until the building is complete, at which point it is immediately active and available for use.

The 12 cards in the engineeering schematics deck feature four different buildings:
Hydroponic Garden: lets you get extra food for hiring
Pharmacy: lets you store meds
Armory: lets you store tools
Bunker: lets you store tribe members





Retrieving cards from storage in a building can't be done in a skirmish, but can be done at any other point on your turn (you can use your bunker on an opponent's turn). Most of these buildings let you set-aside and store cards until such time in the game where you wish to use them.

Tribal Leaders

These ten cards represent different tribal leaders: Butcher, Cannibal, Excavator, Fanatic, Gangster, Mentor, Organizer, Peacemaker, Ranger, Sergeant at Arms. At the start of the game, each player is randomly given two of these ten cards, from which they select one. You - and you only - can use the special ability of your leader throughout the game. Many of these leaders help make Refugee cards more useful in one way or another.


All ten different leaders

Dirty Deeds

This module just adds a new ability to saboteurs and snipers that interacts with some of the other new elements introduced by the HQ expansion. Saboteurs can attack and disable completed buildings (which need to be repaired by discarding a person card), while Snipers can attack and wound a tribal leader (who needs to be healed by discarding a med card).

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Dominionesque: Comparisons with Dominion are inevitable, because Arctic Scavengers certainly has been inspired by Dominion and unmistakeably shows its influence in terms of mechanics and design. For example, each turn you discard all your cards and draw five new ones, and you play cards from your hand to purchase cards available from the middle of the table, ultimately trying to get point-scoring cards into your deck - these are all features we're familiar with from Dominion. But it would be a mistake to think that Arctic Scavengers is simply a Dominion clone, because that's where the similarities end, and Arctic Scavengers does offer a fresh take on the genre, with qualities that still stand out even in what is quickly becoming a crowded field of deck-builders. Since Dominion is the obvious benchmark and point of comparison, here are some of the things that set it apart from Dominion:

Strong interaction: One of the oft-repeated criticisms of Dominion is the lack of interaction, and that aside from some of the Attack cards it's largely multi-player solitaire and an individual race to get points into your deck. Several deck-builders have attempted to include combat, though not often successfully (here's looking at you Heroes of Graxia!). Arctic Scavengers manages to introduce a very simple form of combat by enabling players to set aside cards for a skirmish that awards a contest resource to the winner. It's a system that is streamlined, effective, and elegant, especially because it avoids the need for complex calculations. Players can't really afford to ignore the skirmish, because the contested resource cards are just too good! Yet it's also not the only way to win, because if you don't strengthen your deck by hiring mercenaries or digging for good tools, you won't win the skirmishes anyway. The skirmish is essentially a kind of blind bidding mechanic, but it keeps players guessing, and because the cards allocated to the skirmish remain secret until the end of a round, you're forced to look at how many cards others are playing for the skirmish, and that will have a big impact on your own choices. You can also use Snipers and Saboteurs to interfere directly with your opponents - but investing resources into these comes at the cost of other options, and these cards don't offer many other rewards, so choosing them isn't always the best move. Overall the interaction is highly thematic, and very satisfying, without being too nasty or vicious.

Convincing theme: Another weakness of Dominion is the pasted on theme. Now this doesn't matter if you enjoy the game-play, which most of us do. But Arctic Scavengers really sets the bar higher in that regard, by having a theme that feels fresh, and is well integrated with the mechanics. At the end of the day, it's still a deck-building game and there's a certain measure of pasting on happening, but the theme is very present, and it really works. You're adding tribe members to your deck; tribe members can use tools and weapons; a shovel lets you dig further; a rifle lets you fight better; a scout lets you draw more cards; a hunter lets you get more food; all of these things make a whole deal of sense on both the level of theme and mechanics. Some of the leader cards are a little too dark and macabre for my liking (e.g. the Cannibal or the Butcher), but one can just avoid those if so inclined. The skirmish phase also fits the post-apocalyptic scenario that is the premise of the game, and when playing cards you really do get a sense of narrative and story. Everything just makes more sense than playing a Village or Festival or acquiring a Province or Duchy in Dominion. I'm not complaining about Dominion, but I am praising Arctic Scavengers - it just does this much better. My boys are somewhat lukewarm about Dominion, but they really took to Arctic Scavengers, in large part because of the theme and mechanics.

Consistent and quality artwork: The theme is capably enhanced by wonderful artwork. In the revised edition from Rio Grande, all the artwork for the cards is by Martin Hoffman, one of the artists for Race for the Galaxy, and he's done a marvellous job in capturing the somewhat somber mood of the theme and atmosphere that is the game's setting, as well as provide beautiful images that match each individual card. It's really impressive, and absolutely adds to the game-play experience. I like the artwork in Dominion well enough, but it's not always internally consistent, nor does it match the level of quality and theme evident in the artwork of Arctic Scavengers.

Bluffing and hidden information: One of the ways interaction is especially important is in the skirmish, where players set aside cards that are only revealed at the end of the round. There's a lot of hidden information that becomes important here. The initiator knows what the resource being contested is, and can use that to his advantage - or is he bluffing and just trying to get other players to dedicate strong cards to attempt to win an item that is merely average, making them forgo opportunities to use those cards elsewhere? Bluffing quickly becomes an important part of the game, because the large amount of cards your neighbour is putting towards the skirmish may in fact contain useless cards. Meanwhile the card up for grabs in the skirmish remains a surprise to players other than the initiator, so you don't really know what you're fighting for, or whether your fighting cards will even be enough to win it. Another element of surprise comes at the game end - it's usually very hard to tell who is winning, and only when the game ends does it become obvious where the point cards went. All these elements of hidden information keep the game suspenseful and enjoyable.

Non-obvious choices about how to play your hand: With Dominion, often the biggest decision you have to make on a turn is deciding what card to buy; playing the cards dealt into your hand is often quite obvious, and once you see what you've drawn, it's usually a straight forward matter as to the best way to play them. Arctic Scavengers feels very different that way. You only have five cards in hand, but you need to decide whether to use them to dig in the junkyard, to hunt/hire new mercenaries, and/or to fight in the skirmish. Often you'll want to do all of these actions the same turn! Cards will offer abilities in more than one area, but it's up to you to decide how to use them. As a result, there are often very tough choices to be made about how to allocate your cards. Because of these choices, a player's turn can take longer than it does in Dominion, and this potential down-time can be a weakness, but that's more a reflection about the decision-making involved in playing a hand that it is a criticism of the game. Your opponent has set aside three cards for the skirmish - do you just give up on that and use all your cards for digging and hiring instead? Or might he be bluffing, and should you at least allocate one or two cards for the skirmish, and use the rest for digging/hiring? Should you use most of your cards to get that big bad mercenary who can help you out later on, or should you opt to get something less powerful so that you can at least use one of your cards to get something out of the junkyard too? Digging gives you useful items, hunting/hiring gives you useful tribe members and points, while the skirmish gives you a contested resource which is arguably best of all, but committing fight cards doesn't guarantee a win because you need to beat out your opponents - so what to do? These choices are far from obvious, and that makes playing each hand full of interesting decisions, and adds tension and excitement as you try to figure out what approach to take.

No big combos and chaining of plays: In Arctic Scavengers, you can only do each different action once per turn. As a result, there are no big combos and extensive chaining of actions like you see in Dominion. For many people, this is one of the things that they love about Dominion, and they'll miss it here. But that is a deliberate design choice on the part of designer Robert Gabhart - he's consciously wanted his game to have a very different feel from Dominion, and so made a deliberate decision to come up with mechanics that in that respect are simpler and more straight forward, and require an entirely different set of decisions that focus more about how to allocate and use the cards that are in your hand. I do like the huge card combos and chaining of actions in Dominion, but Arctic Scavengers is more about player interaction and using your limited resources in a different way, so it has a very different feel, one which suits the game and the theme just right. Instead of focusing on chaining actions, because the cards here often have multiple uses (e.g. digging, hunting/hiring, and fighting), you'll instead be focusing on the difficult decisions about what to use your cards for.

Replayability doesn't rely on different cards: The replayability of Dominion is well documented, since in each game you're using a different set of ten kingdom cards from the available 25 that come with the game. Arctic Scavengers doesn't have that same kind of built-in replayability, since the mercenaries and other cards used are the same for each game. One might think that this reduces replayability, and there is some truth to this, but there are two redeeming factors that compensate for this:
1. Firstly, the player interaction shapes the game significantly. Because Arctic Scavengers is more about player interaction than series of card combos, replayability does not depend on having a different set of cards on the table. Rather, each game will feel very different depending on what your opponents are doing. You're constantly having to adapt your play to what they are doing, especially in the skirmishes. This really helps ensure that no game will play out the same way, and forces you to change your decisions; you simply can't play with the same strategy, especially if your opponents are doing different things.
2. Secondly, the HQ expansion greatly assists with replayability as well, and I'll comment more on that in the next point.

Customizable expansion: The expansion really does help with replayability by providing new ways to play the game. For example, Tribal Leaders give various ways of using Refugees, and give each player a unique ability to use throughout the game. There are ten of these, so you can play the game ten times with a different leader, and the game will feel quite different and give you new options and require new strategies to exploit. Furthermore, adding in engineers, buildings, and the other extra cards that come with the expansion, also helps keep things fresh and provides different paths to victory. Some suggest playing with the expansion already in your first game, but I find that the base game provides a good entry point for learning the game without over-complicating things or bloating the game time. Once you've mastered the flow of play and essentials of the base game, you will quickly want to start adding in elements of the expansion, and I particularly like the fact that it's set-up in various modules that you can add in as you wish. Without the expansion, the game would quickly feel simple, so we are fortunate that the Rio Grande edition includes the HQ expansion by default.

Two player friendly: Arctic Scavengers also works fine as a two player game. When players are familiar with the game, I'd estimate it takes about 15 minutes a player, so it can start to drag a little when played with the full complement of players. The skirmish also has a different feels when more players are competing for the contested resource! But the game works very well with just two players, and in some respects feels like a real battle of wits, with the bluffing element becoming even more important, and the minor rule adjustments needed being very easy to take on board.

Rules questions: So is there anything not to like about Arctic Scavengers? If I had any complaint, it would be about the rulebook, which could really benefit from some additional illustrations, and leaves some rules questions unanswered. The rules are fairly straight forward and the learning curve certainly isn't big (the designer has stated that he considers Dominion to be "a deeper game and requires more time and investment to become comfortable with or eventually master the card combinations"). But there are some situations that aren't covered, especially in relation to the use and timing of Snipers and Saboteurs. Fortunately the designer has done a herculean job of answering all questions promptly and clearly in the forums, which I've used to compile a Sniper/Saboteur FAQ. A complete FAQ for other rule questions is apparently in progress, and should greatly assist new players.


Playing out a hand

What do others think?

The criticism

Not everyone is excited about Arctic Scavengers as I am, and I can appreciate some of the reasons why. If you really can't stand the idea of blind bidding for a resource, then the skirmish mechanism may only cause frustration. Other critics have pointed out that there's greater down time than in Dominion - and I agree, but that's because of the tough choices required for playing cards, and that you can't play your cards in hand on auto-pilot like you often can in Dominion. Some of the other criticisms raised about Arctic Scavengers have already been addressed by the HQ expansion, such as the need for players to get meds aside from digging in the junkyard (addressed by the Medic mercenary), and the concern about lack of replayability (addressed by various expansion modules). Several comments mention a potential problem with a runaway leader, although this isn't something that proved to be a big problem for us.

Many gamers have already found their favourite flavour of deckbuilding in Dominion, and the reality is that Arctic Scavengers aint Dominion. So if it's building of an engine and chaining of card combos that you like, then you'll probably miss those elements given that they're absent in Arctic Scavengers. On the other hand, if you're looking for more theme or interaction than Dominion, then this might just be exactly the deckbuilding flavour that you're looking for!

The praise

On the positive side, Arctic Scavengers has especially received praise for the ways it is different from Dominion, such as its strong theme, healthy interaction, fresh mechanics, and subtle decisions. So let's hear from some of the more enthusiastic commentators, such as these:

"Enjoyable deck builder with a competitive test at the end round, you need to divide your focus into several areas to keep in the hunt for the victory." - Steve Rogers (epilgrim)
"Solid, enjoyable deck builder - the mechanics feel fresh." - Doug Adams
"Thematic deck-builder with nice fight (bluffing) mechanic at the end of each round." - Brian Boyle
"Wonderful theme, and very decent game." - Rob Mortimer
"I really like this deck building game that actually has an interwoven theme! This also has a fair bit of interaction with the battle at the end of each round for a contested resource that can be pretty special." - Larry Rice
"Thematically rich for a card game, players attempt to build and escalate their decks' abilities as the game progresses." - Nathan Morse
"Excellent Game. Think Dominion with more interaction and bluffing." - The Cheng Meister
"Not a Dominion-beater, but certainly in the Top-3 deck-building game. Clever mechanics that makes the game play fast and gives the player plenty to do in his turn. Recommended!" - Mik Svellov
"Great deck building game , with a lot of player interaction." - Jason Rush
"The best deck builder ever? I think so." - Rob F.
"Really great deck builder, some innovative mechanics not duplicated by other deck builders." - Dustin Crenshaw
"This is a really great game. There are a lot of subtleties that make the game great." - Raid1280
"This game doesn't do anything new or revolutionary but everything it does, it does very well. I think this game is overlooked and deserves more attention." - Ashley Martin
"Simply one of the best deck building games out there. It has plenty of strategy, unique features and a totally functional thematic feel to the whole game." - Paul Matthews
"Absolute gem." - John VanDenBerg


Comparisons with Dominion

It's especially worth noting how many comments compare Arctic Scavengers favourably with Dominion, yet suggest that the games are different enough to consider having both:

"This is very similar to Dominion, but it is different enough, you don't feel like you're playing the same game." - Johnathan Rochester
"Like Dominion in many respects. Deck construction, drawing & discarding cards, shuffling. Notwithstanding the similarities, this one plays out *MUCH* differently. There are more choices to make and no combos to pursue." - Alan Stern
"I was originally worried this would be a Dominion knock-off, but it manages to borrow heavily from the Dominion mechanics and come up with something pretty unique." - DroppEcho
"More fun than Dominion with some new mechanics." - Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson
"It has the deck building mechanic, yet it has a distinct feel from Dominion because of the better theme and the unique skirmish that happens after everyones turn." - Mathew Schemenaur
"Has some Dominion feel, but more player interaction which I liked." - Blake Crawford
"Similarities with Dominion are unavoidable, but really does play quite differently." - William Bussick
"Takes the Dominion mechanics, and turns them into something more interactive." - Stephen Tavener
"Although this follows in the footsteps of the archetypal Dominion, Arctic Scavengers is without doubt its own game." - Nathan Morse
"This plays very differently from Dominion, and I think there would be room for both in a collection." - Stoic Bird
"I don't see the need for gamers to take an either/or approach to these two games, as each possesses its respective merits. I believe Dominion offers better depth, more replayability, and the opportunity for more unique decks to be built within the same game, while I think Arctic Scavengers possesses a more original and well-supported theme, more tactical decisions in regard to hand management, a higher level of direct conflict, and an element of gameplay not present in Dominion - bluffing, mainly when preparing for the various skirmishes." - Devin Schwartz
"People need to stop saying this is a Dominion clone. It's a good game that borrows a few components from other games but is a distinct entity." - Zeb Larson




Recommendation

In many respects it is a pity that Arctic Scavengers didn't get an earlier chance at glory, when it was first published back in 2009, because it might have stood a better chance in what is now a crowded field of deck-building. Perhaps with wider distribution then, people would really have sat up and taken notice at a design that was influenced by Dominion and yet very different from it, notably in how it included significant player interaction. On the other hand, it's still a respectable and streamlined design even by today's standards. Furthermore, the four year delay does mean that buyers today get the benefit of a wonderful new edition that has improved artwork, and includes a delightful expansion that enhance's the games replayability. I'm pleased to see it in a brand new edition, and getting the wider distribution that it has deserved all along.

All in all, if you're looking for a straight-forward deck-building game that features strong interaction and a compelling theme, Arctic Scavengers is well worth checking out. It would be mistake to suggest that one must choose between this and Dominion. It's Dominion-esque to be sure, but it plays very different from Dominion and has its own appeal, and there's certainly room in a collection for both. Dominion fans might just find themselves enjoying what it adds to and changes about their beloved game, while those who didn't like Dominion might just find themselves appreciating Arctic Scavengers precisely because it isn't Dominion. Either way, you owe it to yourself to take a look at Arctic Scavengers, and see if it might be something for you.


Deciding what to play

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Oliver Paul
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AS was my absolute favorite game of last summer, getting 15 plays in in a very short amount of time. I've never been a big fan of Dominion, mostly because of its lack of theme and seemingly small player interaction, both of which are much improved in AS.

One thing, though, is that since you use all the card decks in every game of AS, replayability is a problem. After 15 plays, I'm a little tired of it, and anxiously waiting for an expansion.

Great review, as always!
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murksofus wrote:
One thing, though, is that since you use all the card decks in every game of AS, replayability is a problem. After 15 plays, I'm a little tired of it, and anxiously waiting for an expansion.

Thanks for your comments Oliver. Do I understand correctly that you have the original edition of Arctic Scavengers, which doesn't include any expansion?

Buyers of the new Rio Grande edition are fortunate enough to get the HQ expansion as part of the game, so your concern about replayability won't be as much of an issue for folks who get this new edition.
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Oliver Paul
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EndersGame wrote:
murksofus wrote:
One thing, though, is that since you use all the card decks in every game of AS, replayability is a problem. After 15 plays, I'm a little tired of it, and anxiously waiting for an expansion.

Thanks for your comments Oliver. Do I understand correctly that you have the original edition of Arctic Scavengers, which doesn't include any expansion?

Buyers of the new Rio Grande edition are fortunate enough to get the HQ expansion as part of the game, so your concern about replayability won't be as much of an issue for folks who get this new edition.


No, I have the new version, got it last summer when I attended DiceTowerCon (my first con!).

The expansions don't really add much complexity, so we started using all the modules from game 2-3 or so. Definitely adds replayability, but after 15 games or so I'm ready for some different cards, since all the decks are used in every single game.

I still love the game, it's just I wish there was some variability in the decks and cards that are used per game. Hopefully an expansion will be released that addresses this.
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I only played the original release without the expansion, and it looks like the expansion fixes my biggest issue (no non-random way to get meds). However, now that there's a medic mercenary, why is it ever worth it to go through the junkyard? There's a fairly high chance of getting nothing, and the bonuses on the tools (at least in my few plays of the original) weren't all that helpful.

New edition does look nice, and I do really like the mechanics behind the game, but I'm disappointed that it doesn't look like they spent any development time during that 4 year layover, and this (like almost any modern game, really) could have benefited from some tweaking.
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VolcanoLotus wrote:
I only played the original release without the expansion, and it looks like the expansion fixes my biggest issue (no non-random way to get meds). However, now that there's a medic mercenary, why is it ever worth it to go through the junkyard? There's a fairly high chance of getting nothing, and the bonuses on the tools (at least in my few plays of the original) weren't all that helpful.

New edition does look nice, and I do really like the mechanics behind the game, but I'm disappointed that it doesn't look like they spent any development time during that 4 year layover, and this (like almost any modern game, really) could have benefited from some tweaking.


The pharmacy bonus goal is based on items, not medics. Medics only break ties. You still need to find the pills, not just hire pharmacists

You're right that, with medics, fewer people dig deep in the junkpile, but that likewise means that for those who do dig, there's a greater chance of finding something good before the discarded garbage bubbles to the top.

PS: Awesome review, Ender! And this game deserves the praise you've given it for the reasons you highlighted.
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murksofus wrote:
I still love the game, it's just I wish there was some variability in the decks and cards that are used per game. Hopefully an expansion will be released that addresses this.

Many traditional card games are endlessly replayable even though they use the same 52 cards every time. This is possible because so many actions and reactions are available that even though the same cards are used, it's very challenging trying to figure out what your opponent is going to do.

Is Arctic Scavengers endlessly replayable for similar reasons?

Are our modern expectations for variable set-ups so ingrained that, regardless of the quality of game play, if AS doesn't have one it's considered a fault in the design?

Does the game play in Arctic Scavengers become scripted and predictable after repeated plays with the existing card set?

I've played AS once and thought it was very interesting because the player we all thought would lose won the game. But so far I've had trouble convincing others to give it another go.
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Great, underrated game.
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I was hoping to see a bit more balanced review as I remembered getting in the past and so I add.

I anxiously waited for this game to final get its "formal" release and with the expansions no less ...

When it finally did come out I picked it up at a good price and it was played a total of 6 times with interactive groups (family has played it another 10+ times). The lack of variety is a big problem. Additionally, the game tended to run a little long. Everyone was into it and then we looked at the time and how many cards were left in the contested resources and things started to sour.

Much like Tikal or other action point games it can take a little bit for some players to determine what they can do with their actions. I am a fast player and would often start my turn while the junkyard was being manipulated to help speed things up.

My pros and cons review of AS is here.

For occasional play it seems to work OK.

I summarize my opinion with:
If you think that playing base Dominion is where it is at, pick AS up.

If you think that Dominion is not good until a couple of expansions have been added then give this a pass unless a full expansion is released. My kids commented on the lack of variety after one game. This gives you an idea of how noticeable it is.

If you don't like Dominion in all of its flavors then perhaps you might like this one for a little while. There is player interaction and trash talking but be forewarned that this comes with a price in hours.

I had hoped for much more but in the end just got what I played 3+ years ago in a nicer box. AS has not aged well.

Since praise was mentioned above I add the following opinions from BGG: (as someone who has played this game enough times the following viewpoints are shared, just a sample)

Cons in the personal reviews section of BGG:
Maybe it's just me, but every game seems to go exactly the same, with little reason to consider a different strategy than the one I used the first time.

More interaction than Dominion, but less cards so probably less replay ability.

A deck building game with a lot more randomness than is pleasurable. Not enough options. You have to rely on luck to do anything. And its too long (at least with 5 players).

An excellent fun, fast, Dominion clone that beats it's predecessor based on the added interaction, combat, bluff, and junkyard, but losses to it in terms of versatility. There just isn't enough for you to do yet with only 8 mercenaries, the Junk Yard, and the contested resources (compared to Dominion's 25 action cards and now 50 with the expansion, or 76).

Early game is fun, but end game tends to drag on.

OK. I enjoy Dominion. So there's nothing to dislike about AS, as it’s virtually the same game. Like D. you can still get duff hands. There is the added fun of the end of round skirmish to differentiate the game, but not the variety which is the key to the success of Dominion. As I have Dominion I don't feel the need to buy AS as well. If I did own it, I'd probably play 20 games of Dominion with its variety and then a game of AS, as an occasional alternative.

Digging pile is a source of deep frustration: Do you get lucky and draw the medpacks, or not? And I can't believe anyone would crow about "interaction" which boils down to a standard blind bid.

Good concept, but it really lacks variation. I'll certainly be raising this rating once the expansion comes out (if it ever actually does). New version has come out now, and I've played it once. It's slightly improved, but I still don't think it's worth the price. I can't recommend it.

This game shares the same mechanics of Dominion, but it's not nearly as good. The game revolves largely around a blind bid for a random card. An additional random element was added in a Thebes-like "dig" mechanic--where half the pile starts out as worthless, and more and more of it is worthless as stuff gets removed. Also, they eliminated card chaining--if I draw a card that lets me draw another, I can't use it because I already drew this turn.
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VolcanoLotus wrote:
I only played the original release without the expansion, and it looks like the expansion fixes my biggest issue (no non-random way to get meds). However, now that there's a medic mercenary, why is it ever worth it to go through the junkyard? There's a fairly high chance of getting nothing, and the bonuses on the tools (at least in my few plays of the original) weren't all that helpful.

Note that the Medic isn't that cheap to hire (three food), and only gives 1 meds, and isn't terribly useful aside from that. So the Medkit with 2 meds is still a more desirable option, especially if you are fortunate enough to find one in the Junkyard plus hire a mercenary on the same turn.

With a Junkyard of 46 cards, it takes a while for Junk to rise to the surface anyway, and certainly this is less of a problem in games with a lower player count, so it's still worth digging to get tools with +2 bonuses. These incremental benefits can make all the difference between winning and losing a skirmish, or being able to hire that better mercenary.

I think the addition of the Medic nicely addresses your concern that others also had about the original game, namely that it could be frustrating if you didn't find any meds cards in the Junkyard, thus limiting your hiring options. The Medic gives you an alternative way of getting meds, without being so overpowered that it makes players stop using the Junkyard altogether.
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Stoic Bird
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EndersGame wrote:
VolcanoLotus wrote:
I only played the original release without the expansion, and it looks like the expansion fixes my biggest issue (no non-random way to get meds). However, now that there's a medic mercenary, why is it ever worth it to go through the junkyard? There's a fairly high chance of getting nothing, and the bonuses on the tools (at least in my few plays of the original) weren't all that helpful.

Note that the Medic isn't that cheap to hire (three food), and only gives 1 meds, and isn't terribly useful aside from that. So the Medkit with 2 meds is still a more desirable option, especially if you are fortunate enough to find one in the Junkyard plus hire a mercenary on the same turn.

With a Junkyard of 46 cards, it takes a while for Junk to rise to the surface anyway, and certainly this is less of a problem in games with a lower player count, so it's still worth digging to get tools with +2 bonuses. These incremental benefits can make all the difference between winning and losing a skirmish, or being able to hire that better mercenary.

I think the addition of the Medic nicely addresses your concern that others also had about the original game, namely that it could be frustrating if you didn't find any meds cards in the Junkyard, thus limiting your hiring options. The Medic gives you an alternative way of getting meds, without being so overpowered that it makes players stop using the Junkyard altogether.


It definitely sounds like an improvement, don't get me wrong.

It has been a few years since I played, but I can remember every player at the table (I think we only played with 5) being frustrated at one point or another about having a tool in their hand when they knew that the rest of their deck would have been much more useful.

I don't know. I agree with the poster above that there's just a bit too much randomness. The person who pulled the most double medkits has won every time I've played, and it's now sounding to me like the medic wouldn't necessarily change that.

I don't think it's a bad game, but it's not one I wanted to continue to own or would go out of my way to play - and that was before I tried Nightfall, which I think does player interaction deckbuilding much better than this one (albeit in a more complicated game).
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NoDicePlease wrote:
If you think that playing base Dominion is where it is at, pick AS up.

If you think that Dominion is not good until a couple of expansions have been added then give this a pass unless a full expansion is released. My kids commented on the lack of variety after one game. This gives you an idea of how noticeable it is.

If you don't like Dominion in all of its flavors then perhaps you might like this one for a little while. There is player interaction and trash talking but be forewarned that this comes with a price in hours.

Since praise was mentioned above I add the following opinions from BGG: (as someone who has played this game enough times the following viewpoints are shared, just a sample)

Thanks for your contribution bryden. My review did mention the concerns expressed in the personal comments you've cited, although alert readers will recognize that some of these criticisms are clearly about the game without the expansion.

The one point I didn't cover is the concern about game length. We've been playing three player games consistently in 45 minutes or less, which feels just right. To be honest, I don't know that I'd want to play with more than four players, because then the game could feel like it's dragging and that there's too much down time. But with lower player counts, I really don't see this as an issue. Mind you, if people try adding in all the expansion modules on their first play and find that the game runs on too long, then they only have themselves to blame; you really should get familiar with the base game first, so that the game-play speeds up, and makes your experience with the expansion more positive.

But even with the expansion, it remains true that the replayability in Arctic Scavengers isn't generated by having a different mix of cards, and it doesn't have the same diversity, variability, and replayability as Dominion. As I mentioned in the review, those who enjoy these kind of combinations and chaining, will find Arctic Scavengers lacking. But to be fair, it's trying to be a different game in that regard. I highly recommend that folks interested in Arctic Scavengers read these reflections of the designer, where he compares Arctic Scavengers with Dominion, and explains how and why the two are different:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/3485901#3485901
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Adam O'Brien
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To address the runaway leader problem (that we experienced with the first printing; I haven't played the RGG edition):

The order that the Contested cards come up can create this problem. We had several games where someone won the first couple contested cards and they were (fuzzy memory on card names here) cards like grenades and attack dogs or something else that were great for combat. That player then proceeded to win almost every subsequent contested card, including the high value (Refugees?) cards. Players who got the Meds cards early also had a big advantage (I understand this may be addressed by the new medic card).

Don't get me wrong, I really liked a lot of the mechanics in this one, and really lamented the limbo it was in for so long. But this problem is what killed it for my group.
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Matt N
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abdiel wrote:
Many traditional card games are endlessly replayable even though they use the same 52 cards every time. This is possible because so many actions and reactions are available that even though the same cards are used, it's very challenging trying to figure out what your opponent is going to do.


Those games do not have a central pool of cards that dictate strategy, generally speaking. Also, I'd argue that only a few of those games are still fun after playing over and over. There is a very large difference between cards that are distributed randomly each game and cards that are universally purchasable.

Quote:
Is Arctic Scavengers endlessly replayable for similar reasons?


I'm not sure, because I played it once (with the medic expansion) and was not too impressed. Incidentally, I don't agree that Dominion has massive replayability with just the base set. Combinations, millions, never play the same game twice, blah blah are great and all, but the game starts to converge on some relatively simple strategies after a while with relatively uncommon exceptions.

Quote:
Are our modern expectations for variable set-ups so ingrained that, regardless of the quality of game play, if AS doesn't have one it's considered a fault in the design?


Doubtful. Games like Caylus and Puerto Rico have relatively low variability and are still considered good by the bulk of the BGG masses.

However, that may be true for games that are primarily deck building.
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Dustin Schwartz
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To echo the sentiments of others, I think AS is best with 2-3 players. Any more players and the game would drag too long, particularly given the potential for AP caused by the various "currencies".

But at the player counts that I mentioned, it is much easier to gauge your approximate playtime than with other popular deck-builders like Dominion or Thunderstone, since AS is turn-delimited.

You could certainly shorten the game by removing several cards from the Contested Resources deck prior to the game's start. If so, would you show the removed cards to all players, or keep it as blind information?

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3dicebombers wrote:
To address the runaway leader problem (that we experienced with the first printing; I haven't played the RGG edition):

The order that the Contested cards come up can create this problem. We had several games where someone won the first couple contested cards and they were (fuzzy memory on card names here) cards like grenades and attack dogs or something else that were great for combat. That player then proceeded to win almost every subsequent contested card, including the high value (Refugees?) cards. Players who got the Meds cards early also had a big advantage (I understand this may be addressed by the new medic card).

Don't get me wrong, I really liked a lot of the mechanics in this one, and really lamented the limbo it was in for so long. But this problem is what killed it for my group.


Runaway leader problem doesn't happen much with the base game if players are experienced and paying attention.

It happens even less with the HQ expansion (included in the Rio edition) as there are multiple truly viable paths to victory thanks to gangs and effective hiring. I have seen multiple games in which the winner won few or even ZERO CRs and still managed to win.
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paul matthews
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To echo the sentiments of others, I think AS is best with 2-3 players. Any more players and the game would drag too long, particularly given the potential for AP caused by the various "currencies".

But at the player counts that I mentioned, it is much easier to gauge your approximate playtime than with other popular deck-builders like Dominion or Thunderstone, since AS is turn-delimited.

You could certainly shorten the game by removing several cards from the Contested Resources deck prior to the game's start. If so, would you show the removed cards to all players, or keep it as blind information?



Interesting comment, I would agree that the base game runs quicker and probably smoother with 3 players. However 4 to 5 players changes gameplay dramatically! It is surprising how empty the junkpile becomes and how tense the skirmishes are with the greater threat of snipers. I have demonstrated the game at conventions with non-board-gamers and everyone "gets" the game. Even board-gamers who don't like card games enjoy AS, due to the interaction. In introducing the game to first timers, you have to explain that Hunters and Brawlers are first to get mercenaries as they will go very quickly and also to place the emphasis on how good the contested cards are, if they are contested every turn from the initial 2 rounds, games can end just when you are warming up.
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gusgus mcgee

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Great stuff. Love to see the forum active.
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A really excellent job of a review

Kudos Good Sir !
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Thanks for this excellent and helpful review!
 
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Have you tried the new version that includes the Recon expansion.
 
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mdeflo wrote:
Have you tried the new version that includes the Recon expansion.

I haven't had opportunity to try it (I don't own a copy of it), so I'm afraid I can't comment on the Recon expansion.
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Jason "J.T." Taylor
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Ender -- how is this game holding up for you today? Do you play it anymore or is it collecting dust?
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jt4jc wrote:
Ender -- how is this game holding up for you today? Do you play it anymore or is it collecting dust?

While we haven't played it recently (multiple reasons, not just game related), but I still have it and don't plan to get rid of it at this stage.

There's some rules overhead (FAQ to clarify a number of special situations) that has been a bit of a barrier to getting it back onto the table easily.

I do love the way the theme works though, and how it is very different from any other deck builder I've played so far.
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