This game is four players aged 10+ and takes around 30 minutes to play. The production is immaculate, as expected from ZOCH zum Spielen the publishers, and the rules are written/translated to be easily learnt and quickly understood. As a game there isn't too much of what people associate with games playing, no dice to roll, cards to play, communication or interaction, but it is an amazing and enjoyable challenging Puzzle with a basic but more than adequate board and central design.
The "board" is a cross section of card shaped as four spokes from a centrally located square. The "spokes" are arrows pointing away from the below freezing temperatures of the Arctic Circle (the centre) growing in heat and thus survival as they near their point. Victor Boden's artwork is chilling.
Players each have a set of 4 Pawns in their own colour. These pawns represent the people of Arctic Expeditions who are now trying to find their way back to warmth and comfort. They are shaped like road cones because this makes them easy to pick up and move and more to the point they can be stacked, and stacking is important. The most important components in the game are the 2 huge ice blocks, transparent blocks of clear plastic on each side of which there is a symbol clearly printed. The symbols are Black Arches (a single sweeping black curved line), a Purple Circle or an Arrow; the latter being equally divided between the four player colours, Yellow, Red, Green and Blue. The Ice blocks are randomly slotted into the central area to form a 2x2 square.
The idea is to be the first player to get your pawns off the board by traveling them along the spokes and off at the fiery end into civilisation. To move the pawns there is an ingenious mechanic that each player must use on their turn. In turn each player must pick up two adjacent (never diagonally) ice blocks and tilt them either forward or backwards before replacing them into the centre, thus two new symbols will be showing. The players have to do this twice in their turn, moving the same ice blocks if they wish (though not back to their original positions), or any combination of the adjacent ice blocks; so now there are four new faces on the top of the 2x2 ice block. The symbols on these faces determine which pieces can move, what path they take and how many times they are moved.
One Green Arrow, for example, will allow a Green pawn to move one space on the path to which the arrow points. For each arrow showing, of any colour, the player must move (if possible) a pawn of the same colour as the arrow along the selected path. Pawns begin from the centre and if there is already a pawn on the first space of the path then the pawn to be moved is placed on top of it. If later on there is an arrow of the colour of the pawn on which the green pawn of this example sits then the pawn under the green pawn moves, taking the green pawn with it. You are not always moving your own pawns but having them atop other players pawns is better than having them under other player's pawns. Players can choose which pawn to move if there are more than one of the chosen colour on the path, but whenever a pawn has other player's pawns on top of it they must also be moved along with it when the under-pawn is selected for movement. You can never pass on moving a pawn if it's arrow is visible on top of the ice block.
Rather cleverly the designer Joe Wetherell has detailed the Black Arcs and the Purple Circles along with the coloured arrows on the ice blocks, and of course these have a different effect. If there is one (or more) Black Arc the player may rotate any ice cube 90 degrees, remembering it only rotates or spins on it's axis and thus only the direction of the symbol is changed never the face of the symbol itself. If there are more than one Black Arcs then several or the same ice cube(s) can be so manipulated.
If any Purple Circles are showing along with any arrows then they (the Purple Circles) can be used to add one arrow of the same colour showing (your choice if there is more than one colour on display) which thus allows the pawn of that colour to move more than one space, one for the arrow and one for each Purple Circle. As the ice blocks are clear it is possible to see through them to ascertain what symbols you will get face up when you rotate them but as it is also an type of optical illusion it isn't always easy to determine which way the arrow will be facing, that's why you need to get the Black Arcs to the top.
ICE CULT, not too sure about the name as unless you are going to stretch your imagination so that you believe the pawns to be cultists or cult members then it doesn't seem to fit quite right. However it is such a brilliant and enjoyable, as well as being frustrating and amusing, puzzle that the author could have called it just about anything - Polar Escape - Trek to the Sun - I'm Freezing, Get Me Out of Here! (are a few names that just popped into my head) - and it wouldn't have mattered one iota of a difference, it would still be one of the cleverest challenges to be published this century.
It looks like a family game but plays with the intensity and skill of games in the Chess genre. The problem with trying to review it is that the game is literally rotate 4 ice blocks and move pawns accordingly, how much more simple can it get ? So there are no hidden combinations of cards, no tactics or strategies - you cannot plan outside of your turn as the ice blocks will have moved by the time it comes back round to you, so all you can do is wait for your turn, study the ice and then hope you make and turn the right blocks the most correct way. This however makes it sound like too simple a game to be enjoyable but it isn't too simple, well it is really, but it is also one of the most enjoyable game-type-puzzles you will ever have played. It's intriguing, it's frustrating, it's so much fun and it's acceptably quick to play.
One thing we did allow, in the spirit of playing fairly and for fun, and that is to allow the players to slowly spin the "board" around so that you can see all sides and assess all options before taking your turn. The rules do not say you cannot do this, but neither do they say you can - it's an ice point to think on though there' snow use in arguing.
ICE CULT is the type of game you usually see all over the television and newspapers on the run in to Christmas from the large conglomerate games companies intent on getting you to buy their brightly coloured plasticated boardgames. The main difference being that ICE CULT is a game that if you got it for Christmas you would be regularly playing it throughout the year not just for the couple of break-days around Christmas time.
Put this on your To Get list and make sure you check it out.