A game for 2-4 Players aged 10+ by Charles Chevallier Published by Argentum
Last year I was lucky enough o get a copy of Argentum’s boardgame “El Gaucho” and we thoroughly enjoyed it, with one exception – there were a couple of areas on the board that were a bit small for the necessary use they are during play.
It seems that this may be a running theme with Argentum’s production because once again they have published a very, very good game, but there are a couple of areas of the board which sort of takes the gloss off the game play.
So first off let me explain my statement above and then I can get on with telling you just how good the game is. My apologies for the length of this explanation but the words just ran away from me..
To begin with, there are two areas in which you can put your pieces, one (Green) for additional supply (ready ships and cubes) and one (Red) where you can put pieces out of the game but that will score points at the game end. Both of these fit nicely in with the board’s design but are really too small for the number of pieces they are expected to contain. This isn’t a problem as far as playing is concerned because the pieces can overflow out of the boxes, but it does show a minor flaw in the overall design of those boxes.
The second, and a little more problematical, is the score tracks box in the centre of the board. This is where you place your cubes and which will core you points at the game end as well as give bonuses during play. Each track shows the icon of the research centres and you move your cube along that track when you place buildings. One of the tracks has 2 of the icons and there is no explanation why. Do you have to have control over both of those icons at the same time or are they just together to make it so there are two tracks for each icon ? If the latter why not just have a separate track, it would only mean adding one more track to the box, and if the former then why isn’t it mentioned in the rules ? Also, the tracks are totally adjacent and their individual boxes are only just of size for each cube which makes the overall size of the box squashed and thus fiddly when moving cubes on it.
Some rules are hidden within the text and could have been made a little clearer with a direct statement. One of these being the Shipyard cards, of which there are 13. These cards can be held by the players and used when necessary. There doesn’t appear to be a limit on how many you can hold and there is nothing to say that once used the cards are discarded OUT of the game, but there is a clue in the rules where it says if there isn’t a shipyard card available when a Shipyard is built on the board then nobody gets one and the remainder are put back in the box. We took this to mean that cards may only be used once and then are put back in the box, but it is possible that all players cannot get a card because the players are holding them.
On opening the box the first thing I thought was that ANTARCTICA has everything, from the component pieces to the visual appeal of the board to totally impress me on the production. There are wooden player pieces, Ships, Cubes and Meeples in four different colours plus there are six sets of wooden shapes, also in different colours from each other and from the player pieces Add these to the shiny yellow wooden that looks like a solid ping-pong ball cut in half some die cut card tiles and three sets of card shapes that slot together to form 3D buildings and you have an impressive amount of game pieces. Noticeable by their omission are dice in any shape or format.
The board depicts Antarctica which for logical purposes has been divided into eight roughly equal sections. In each of these outlines have been marked in the snow to show where the buildings are to be placed when constructed. The actual positioning of the pieces makes no difference to the gameplay or scoring, except they must be within the boundaries of the section where they are built, but by putting them on their correct places each section builds into a tidy, manageable area. Around the board, above each section, is a glowing circle to track the path of the sun.
Each player has the pieces in their colour, but not all are available at the start, they have to be brought into play via various mechanics. In fact the players only begin with two ships on the board with a couple more ships and the five cubes in the ready area (this being the small green area on the board discussed earlier) the remainder of their pieces are set aside. Players also begin with a Resource card that will provide them with one of the four main resources at any time in the game. The thought behind these cards is excellent for once used they are discarded but not out of the game and neither are they available to the other players as each player may only ever hold one of these. There is a way that players can get them back and reuse them, and the good thing is that this can be done more than once.
ANTARCTICA is sort of played in turns but the mechanic is such that there is no actual order to them. The Sun moves from section to section freeing the ship in the first slot from the ice. The player whose ship this is then moves it to any other section placing it in the first available slot of the three on each section. The section where they place their ship is now called the Target Area and the player whose ship moved is now allowed to take an Action available in that area, Actions available are determined by the buildings constructed there.
Three decks of cards with their top card on view provide the buildings possible for the turn. The player needs access to the resources required, as shown on the cards, to be able to build what is shown on the card the player chooses. “Access to” means having a ship in the section where the resources are available, not necessarily the Target Area. This is a clever mechanic because there are no actual resource pieces except the buildings that “produce” them, the Cranes (ore) Shaft Towers (coal) Derricks (oil) and Wind Turbines (energy). Supplementing these are Laboratories and Factories and three types of Research Centres (inland, coastal and naval) which the players have to build. Only one of each type of building can be constructed in each section.
Like all good resource management and building games there is an element of frustration. In ANTARCTICA the frustration part is that you only have one Action per turn, though you can play a card and/or possibly move on one of the central resource tracks, and if you use that Action to build you do not own the building and you cannot use it that turn. It is also likely that you will not be able to use it next turn as once the Sun arrives in the section a Ship has to move off and another section becomes the Target Area. Once the Sun moves out of the section ships on the second and third slots move up one space and that is how players get a Turn; the Sun lands on a section where their ship is first in line.
The slot-together buildings are Headquarters, Plankton Farms and Parabolic Antennas, which again do nothing in particular except fill a space in a section and become part of the resources for that section which are of VP value when each section is scored at the end of the game. One of the ways of ending the game is for a player to get all of their Meeples (scientists) onto the board. This means they have to play to get them from their supply to being ready for use and from there onto the board. Most building cards allow for a scientist to be placed along with the building with some cards allowing two scientists to be played. The other way the game ends is if all of the three stacks of building cards are exhausted.
Each of the Buildings on tiles has a specific purpose. One of these is a Shipyard and naturally this is where your Action can be to build a ship. You only need to land your ship moved by the Sun to the section where the shipyard is and then you gain another ship as long as you have one ready for building. It costs no resources and it comes into play on the first available space in order where the Sun currently sits. This is the only time you can place a ship in the section where the Sun is. When you build a Shipyard every other player, but NOT the player who built it, gets to select a shipyard card from the stack. Note this is not a random selection. The shipyard cards allow different actions according to the illustration on the card. One of these pictures is of an icebreaker and playing this card in your turn allows you to take an action with the second ship in the section where the Sun is (as long as the ship in second place is yours of course). Once the player with the first ship in line has completed their turn the player who played the icebreaker then moves their ship and can choose another Target Area or the same one as the previous player; no-one may ever choose the section where the Sun is as a Target Area.
When the game ends each section is scored, the player with the most scientists in the section is in control and gains one point for every piece in the section, Meeples of all colours and buildings, plus one additional point. The player with the second most scientists in the section scores one point for every scientist in the first player’s colour. Knowing how the scoring works is an essential part of the game, for when you are building and placing people into sections where you don’t have control you are possibly/probably giving VPs to another player.
The central tracks are also unique in their design and play. On some of the spaces on each track there is either a Blue or a Red design. When a player’s cube lands on or passes over these spaces something special occurs. If it is a Red space that player gets whatever icon is printed there – the spaces are very small so you may need 20/20 vision or a magnifying glass the first time you play. If it is a Blue space then, starting with the player whose piece landed or passed the space, every player gets the benefit. Blue spaces can only activate once but Red spaces activate each time a player lands or passes one.
ANTARCTICA works very well once you understand the rules. The box reckons a game lasts 45-90 minutes and from experience, playing with four experienced board-gamers, it is closer to the 90 minutes, possibly a bit more, because there are many options open to you on your turn but because what the previous player does may affect your plans you cannot really plan that far ahead.
ANTARCTICA has good replay value and apart from the couple of anomalies in the rules, which as I have said you can easily get around, it is easy to understand and play. The mechanics are unique, or if not actually unique, quite rare. In all a very enjoyable game.