Four dogs commited to racing is something, you have to try for your own. Only then you will understand, how strong bond exist between driver and his sled. Forever connected by the desire to defeat nature and win. Despite the freezing temperatures, snow, ice and wind from start to finish, they must fight with only their own strength and cleverness!
Reins of the sleigh is brought into our hands by board game Snow Tails. Author are duo of Lamont brothers (Gordon and Fraser), who together form publishing house Fragor Games and created also excellent Poseidon’s Kingdom. It was originally published as early as 2009 and was followed by Mush! Mush! board game. However, we are looking at new version from 2015 and with illustrations done by Beth Sobel. Distribution for Europe is provided by Esdevium Games.
So the game has a completely new graphic jacket, which resulted into rushing pack of huskies on the cover and behind them are two mushers wanting to win. First look on them and you should be able to tell, that core skill for every true sled rider is ability to drive in drift. All components will help us train, while contents begins with a pile of maps, made of straights, sharp and slight corners and of course start and finish tiles. Even these small track parts are divided into a large number of rectangles, whose common lines diverge only in the corners, making some lines better.
Each of the players gets new ready and polished sled – they have printed place for cards of two leader dogs. And this means, that there has to be some decks of cards – they come not only as dents, but above all as five decks of dog cards with twenty numbers from one to five separated by player colors. But there are also brake tokens (32 pieces) and primarily wooden sleigh miniatures. They are sharing their space in a bag with green trees.
This is now complete list and each player should get his proper outfit for this winter racing. But first, they should know, where they will be racing – by combining map tiles and creating a really twisty route, which must begin with a piece of the start and end with finish. Trees must be placed at designated places. Each player will have their set of dog cards (shuffled and placed in front of him) and one sled. This sleigh board has a hole in the bottom, where every rival puts starting brake token with value three. Rest of tokens and dent cards are set aside for now.
Right before starting shot, players choose their positions near the start line and draw five cards into their hands. They will be using them immediately, because they start to alternate in turns, always according to the current order in the race. Positions side by side is always resolved in favor of slide, which will be on the inner side of track in following curve.
On his turn, player can use and play from one up to three canine movement card, all of equal value. Basis for successful movement forward or drifting is the right balance of dog leaders, which are not only pulling the sled, but also giving tempo for the whole pack. Now, it is possible to cleverly use cards, that can be placed on left or right position, or place dog card on the discard pile. This third spot is not only throwing card away, because this value will be immediately reflected in the brake section of the sled, which has to be always subtracted before movement.
Relationship of these numbers will determine, how far will the sled really move. Forward movement corresponds to the sum of two movement cards minus brake value. That is the distance, which will dogs drag your vehicle forward this round. But it will not always be a straight line of movement. Indeed, whenever right or left team leader got another instruction (= card with different value), sled will move and skid towards one side. Number of lanes to move left / right is outcome of subtracting card values from each other.
Each space on the track corresponds to one point. Team thus mostly move forward, while only drifting to one side or the other. There is no other option to turn. Selection of distance, how and when remains shearly on the player decision, but points have to be always used completely. For a balanced sled with two identical values, player earns extra bonus, moving forward by number equal to his current position in the race (the more in the rear he is, the bigger boost he gets).
But corners have their own speed limits. Their crossing is the first place, that leads to damage. This dent card has to be held in players hand and is occupying space, that could otherwise be used for useful movement cards. And since there is upper hand limit, this is not good news. Much more frequent problem for drivers become collisions with other sledges or fixed obstacles. But while in the first case, nothing serious happens and only turn ends (no injuries taken), stationary part of the track will not move sideways and player gets a wound card into his hand for colliding with a tree. At the end of the round, player draws a new card from their deck to have five again (including injuries).
Game continues. Racing is open to all mushers, until one of them receives fifth dent card. Such slides are elimianted from the race immediately. But the winner is unknown, even when first player crosses the finish line. Resolution is done only after finishing current round, all players having their chance to move for the last time. Whichever rider managed to outrun his opponent and drive further behind finish line is the winner.
Snow Tails will allow us to reminisce a taste of winter and snow, which did not arrive to our country this year. But maybe that’s, why will be more than grateful for this opportunity. Better news is, that game will also warm you up at the same time by providing great entertainment, so you will definitely not freeze by boredom.
Speed cards give players tremendous control over their dogs. Everytime, you can play some value on any of those three spaces and thus affect the entire ride of your sleigh. You have to think tactically, and sometimes even use brakes, when approaching a curve too fast. Penalties arising from violations of speed limits are unnecessary and you will be sorry for getting those.
Far more interesting are actual collisions. Those are sometimes inavoidable and great fun in the race is bound to them. Players have a clear incentive to avoid damage. Any such loss of one place the card in your hand is very noticeable. Drifting itself is solved logically by subtracting both cards and even with this, rules are compact and do not have anything overly complicated in them. Game is easily learned and played.
It makes the game a great family fun and puts it to the level of the very popular Formula D, at least in our eyes. But this time, there is no dice and chance is represented only by drawn cards. Yet, the players have greater impact on their performance, than with unpredictable dice. We do not have to explain too much about that, but the more slide is on the line, the more fun it will be. Collisions are salt of the whole game, because every race is filled with it and players can bump into each other as well.
Snow Tails big advantage is the fact, that players themselves can create their own tracks. Thanks to double-sided racing tiles, there is really many possibilities to connect these and extra length can easily affect the time, before players reach finish line. And if you are not good in creating tracks or do not have time, there always are many to choose from in the rulebook. Racing end can happen during thirty minutes on a short track, but can also go on for an hour with multiple players on a long snowy region. Authors prepared for the players also other delicacies on the maps, such as narrowing or avalanche.
Snow Tails is a racing game, that gives us something truly original. Racing in constant drift using a unique mechanism of related dog cards. This is exactly the main attraction and also works very well. But do not worry, the game is simple enough to simultaneously become a family treasure, which all adore. So if you are competitively positive and maybe even love snow, then this is for you: Snow Tails is a clear choice.
Snow Tails is a reminder of winter, from which you will not get cold. On the contrary, we will enjoy a great and hot fashion, when racing dog sleds. Players have control of two of their dogs leading the pack and moving forward, trying to have the best possible balance of both speed and direction. When dogs run at different speeds, sleigh drift sideways, which is also the only option of turning. It needs to be used wisely, when cornering. But often under the influence of a random draw of cards, player has no choice, that to sends his team into a different skid, than he wants. Collision is then just a matter of time, and brings a great charge to the entire game. Game excels in accessibility, which makes Snow Tails great choice for all, who love desire to be first at the finish line again.