Breaking the ice …

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about a board game here, so today I’d like to talk about a game that I bought just the other day:  NHL Icebreaker.  Basically, this is a small little NHL hockey simulator that turns out to be surprisingly fun.

The mechanism is quite simply.  You get a deck of cards just like a regular deck of cards, with all the suits and values represented, from Aces to Jokers.  The cards also have special features.  At the top is listed a direction and a number of steps, which is used to determine how far you’ve moved the puck by skating or passing it.  Below that there’s a “Shooting” section that has a team listed beside it that’s filled with flavour text about how you’ve scored a goal, and below that is a goaltending section that also has a team beside it and is also filled with flavour text, this time about how you’ve saved a goal.  Below that is an “Icebreaker” action that’s a special action that can range from you taking a penalty (lose a card and have a faceoff) to your opponent taking an action to your moving directly into the shooting zone.

So, how do players compete?  Well, each player is given a hand of cards from this deck, just like in a normal card game.  Then, they play cards mostly one at a time against each other.  The highest card wins, and the puck moves based on the skate/pass directions at the top of the card.  The goal is to move the puck into the “shooting zone” of your opponent, and then the next play determines the results of the shot on goal, whether that is a save or a goal.  When a hand runs out — and at some other times — the hand is redrawn, and when the deck runs out, that’s the end of one period.  Just like in hockey, you play three periods and potentially overtime and a shootout.

There are some special squares and circumstances, however:

- Beige/goldenish squares are called “Icebreakers”.  If the puck stops here after a movement, the next card is drawn from the deck and its Icebreaker text is applied.

- There are four breakaway squares around centre ice.  Stopping in one of these squares means that you move directly to the shooting zone.

- Each player chooses a team to represent them.  If the card you play in the shooting zone has your team written beside the appropriate action, it trumps all cards and you automatically “win” that round, either getting a goal or making a save.  In case of a tie, highest card still wins.

I played it with the solo version yesterday, playing as the Ottawa Senators against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and won 6 – 3.  In the solo version, the player only draws two cards and can’t refresh their hand until they’ve played both.  Each round is the player playing a card and then drawing the top card from the deck to be the card of their opponent.  Everything else works the same.

The game was remarkably fun, and quick.  It took me no longer than an hour to play, and there was a fair bit of up-and-down play in the game.  It was a close game until the third period when I went on a run and blew the game wide open.  The only issue is that penalties don’t matter much in this version; you can’t actually penalize the game opponent and the player doesn’t hold enough cards for it to usually matter.  The other thing I did that might not be in the rules is that when you have a path that moves diagonally and it hits the boards — ie it can’t move sideways anymore — I played it that the puck basically gets stuck along the boards and you aren’t moving anymore.

The game was very inexpensive but is quite a bit of fun.  I’m glad I bought it and it might actually get some play, especially since its solo version allows for a bit of strategy while allowing it to be played solo.

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