Well, Christmas wasn’t white this year in central Indiana, so instead we pretended it was by making the journey to the North Pole in the Cambridge Games Factory game “North Pole”. I’m sorry, that was a cheesy opening line, wasn’t it? None the less it is true, my gang and I busted out “North Pole” over our Holiday break. After all, gamers have to game, regardless if it is a holiday or not.
In North Pole, you play as a penguin on vacation, travelling to the North Pole and back. Your goal is to be the first penguin to complete the entire trip by using snow shoes, sleds, dog sleds, and just simply waddling. You’re a tourist though, so you don’t know the terrain very well until you have explored it.
On their turn, players play down cards in order to move forward via waddling, snow shoes, or sledding. Waddling is the slowest means of travel, but is also the easiest to accomplish, forcing you to only play down a card of the same color and higher value than the space you want to move to, but then your turn is immediately done. Snow shoes are a little bit better, you have to play down a card with the same color and number as the space you want to move to, and then you may immediately make another move (if you have the cards to do so). Sledding is a little harder, you have to have three cards with the same number, but color doesn’t matter. Sledding lets you move diagonally too, which is something that is not allowed with waddling or snow shoes. Dog sledding is by far the most powerful, and requires three cards of the same number and the same color. The rewards are pretty great though, as you get to make two moves in a row and then take yet another turn if you have the cards.
All the cards on the board start face down, so how do you know what number and color you have to meet or beat to move there? After each movement you “explore” the cards that are around you, which lets you see the next moves you can make. However, we also found this to be a great balancing mechanic. The person in the lead was always exploring, so they couldn’t plan too far ahead. But the person in last did not have that disadvantage, in fact, they could plan for the entire path ahead of them.
A couple other mechanics are present that allow you to tamper with your opponents plans: The ice you are traveling on can break apart, forcing you to choose another path. When I read that in the rule book, I was completely expecting this to be a reference to global warming (I think we all remembering the drowning polar bears, right?), but I was wrong. Instead the designers say that it is a blizzard that destroys the ice. I’m not sure how a blizzard would do that, but no biggie.
Blizzards come into play when players use a card with a snowflake on it. At the end of your turn you “Check the weather” to see if you used any snowflakes or not. If you did, you choose one spot on the board to destroy. That card is removed from the board. Now there is a big hole in the ice. Oh no! But never fear, the ice can be fixed, should you not be able to simply go around it. Those same destructive snowzflake cards can be used by a player to rebuild the ice. During your turn, you can simply patch the holes by placing these blizzard cards into the spots on the board that have been decimated.
We found this game to be interesting and challenging, but the rules are pretty simple. The hardest thing to figure out is how movement works, but there is a reference card for that, no need to panic over that detail. Managing your hand of cards, and finding the best route over the ice was a challenge and took some careful thought and planning to be efficient, but learning how to get over the ice was easy. We were up and playing this one in approximately fifteen minutes, and that included the time it took to read the instructions. My players enjoyed the game, and I liked this snowy addition to my Christmas, even if that snow wasn’t out on my lawn.
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