Snowblind: Race For The Pole (Or A Nice Norwegian Summer)
As we all know (after a quick Google), on the 14th of December 1911 Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, reached the South Pole with 4 others, beating the British party of Robert Scott and companions. Fully inspired by his courageous feat, I’ve set out with some close friends to recreate this marvel of exploration and daring on the 106th anniversary of his successful journey. With Snowblind.
Except that we’ll be doing it in summer. In South Africa. Using cards and little supply tokens. There might be a husky nearby. Does that count? Today, we take on Snowblind: Race for the Pole, the second game by Pleasant Company Games, a Cape Town-based games company responsible for Ancient Terrible Things and Konja. Who will discover the South Pole out of our ragged bunch of explorers?
Like all Pleasant Company games, Snowblind comes in a sturdy box, a little sturdier than some of my other games actually.
In that box, you get:
- Rule books in English, French and German
- A delightful little art book containing photos from the original expedition as well as old concept pictures from earlier versions of the game (some text would’ve been nice)
- 4 ships representing Norway, Britain, Japan and Germany.
- Supply tokens
- Food tokens
- Crate tokens
- Research tokens
- Captain, Sailor and Scientist tokens
- Compass token, for the player starting the round
- Action Board
- Crap ton of dice
- Beautifully illustrated board
The components are well designed and very solid. This construction of this game is fantastic and I can see many years of play out of a set. The artwork is fantastic. Rob Van Zyl has a very distinct style, an almost rough unfinished aesthetic, which I didn’t like the first time I saw his games but once you see all of the pieces together, the theme really ties together. I’ve been converted to this art style now and I’m a big fan.
Taking A Tern For The Worse
As the title of the game states, this is a race to the South Pole. But it’s not as straightforward as that. Weather and exposure will fight you at every step, filling your journey with danger. The Captain who successfully plants his or her flag is not necessarily the winner either, as you still need to return to your ship. Victory points can be amassed in various ways as well, which we’ll look at shortly. On your turn, you take your choice of die from the Action Board. This can give you abilities ranging from moving your Captain (plus flag) and three crates one space forward or back to moving a Scientist and three crates one space forward or back and gaining a Research token.
Once you have taken the die and completed the action, you roll for Exposure. The number rolled equals the level of Exposure as shown on this card. Your die does not get returned to the board however. Once the other players have taken their actions and dice, you select the next action die you’d like to use except now when rolling for Exposure, you roll BOTH die instead of just the one, increasing your chances of becoming a popsicle. So if you rolled a 4 and a 6 on an active zone containing an Explorer and a Camp, the 4 would be cancelled out by the Camp but the 6 would hit you, causing you to lose supplies or Exhaust your Explorer.
When an Explorer is Exhausted, one more hit of Exposure will remove him or her from the game. If you were able to bring another Explorer into that zone with food, one item of food would be used automatically to revive your comrade. So the game is a battle of resource management and pushing your luck. And boy is it TENSE! I did not think it would be this tense but then again, I did name all of my Explorers.
When a player has decided that they have pushed themselves as far as they are willing to go they can pass. This means that they take no further action for the rest of the round. The other players continue on until they have depleted the dice or passed themselves. A Weather card is taken from the Weather card deck and revealed to all players. The Exposure on the Weather card will affect every player’s Active zone closest to the pole. This can obviously throw a massive spanner in your plans so stock up on food! The dice are then returned to the Action Board and the next round progresses with the next player receiving the starter Compass. But bear in mind, if the Weather card drawn was the Pack Ice card, that signifies the start of the last round and people need to start hustling back to the ship!
As mentioned, as helpful as it is to get your flag to the pole, or as close as, it’s not the only way to win. In fact, in our first game, I was first to the pole but took my time getting back and lost the Medal for reaching the pole and returning to the ship, leaving me trailing by one point at game’s end. You can earn victory points by keeping your Sailors and Scientists alive, ending the game with food, earning Research tokens and placing Camps on the board. Much like our beloved Ticket To Ride, victory can be revealed right at the end, snatching your win away by the narrowest of margins.
Mark’s Verdict: Snowblind: Race For The Pole
I love this game. I’ve been looking for a decent dice game for ages and this is a great blend of dice chaos and careful planning. It’s not a very aggressive game, with players tending to focus on their own expeditions. No doubt out of respect for the other brave adventurers. The components are really solid and the art really lends itself to the bleakness you feel as you lose another Sailor to the icy biting winds of your own stupidity. The rule book feels a bit ambiguous on first read but once you start a round you realise its pretty obvious as you play. A highly recommended game to cool you down this summer.
As an aside on this momentous anniversary, our game changed history with Norway’s Captain succumbing to the icy death at the pole with Britain’s intrepid Captain Scott planting his flag and returning safely. The third player seemed more concerned with his haul of illicit whale meat…
Publisher: Pleasant Company Games
Designer: Rob van Zyl, Simon McGregor
Players: 1-4 players
Play time: 20 minutes per player