Review: The Lord of the Ice Garden – wish for yourself some frozen beauty
Some time ago, we lost all contact with Earth. Every day, I woke up with hope to hear from Marianne from control center. Communication channel remained silent. Exploratory team of scientists was now made only of me and Peter, but there were much more scientists before the attack. Many people perished under raid of crazy fire people and so does Peter’s sister. And now he just wanders around in caves, where we are hiding.
I went out several times, accumulated samples to allow for our experiment to continue. I have a feeling, that even the slightest exposure to M-factor is changing me. I have to explain this scientifically, before this magical energy gets me fully under its control. As I am documenting results, I am at the same time sending them back to Earth in blind hope, that someone on the other side listens to my broadcast. I’m starting to think about turning my power for greater good and subjugate whole Midgaard. But I have to finish my work first and then rule my new people..
This is, how view from the other side of the story by Jaroslaw Grzedowicz‘s book might sound, and now board game by the same name comes to us – The Lords of the Ice Garden and its author Krzysztof Wolicki. The publisher is a Polish company Red Imp, which introduced an excellent Enclave (review coming soon) last yea. Beautiful and detailed illustrations for a game were created by Dominik Kasprzycka. It is a novelty, that will be only presented at Essen Spiel 2014, but we were given a unique opportunity to play it right now in its final form. And now, only few days before the show, we present our impressions to you.
Game already takes your interest by its unconventional fantasy illustrations on the cover of heavy square box. It is filled to the brim with components, so every player will be happy to submerge in them. Of course, everything is dominated by big game board, which shows map of the newly discovered world. Left in the desert is stunning building, that winds like a snail into its shell, with numbers on it. On the right side, there are special fields, that await envoy of each opponent and above it, everything is guided by turn counter.
Single players get large cards with heroes. Tokens are about M-factor, population, unit improvements or scoring regions in different numbers of players. There are also some wooden components – cubes of two sizes and some discs, all in four colors and thus for each of the participants (fifth color represents neutral side). Each player colors is worn also y colorful character miniatures. They are beautifully detailed and precise and their total is 26.
At start of the game, players place game board on the table and randomly put scoring tiles into regions. One token starts on first step of upward snail of Dead Snow. World gets also randomly distributed tokens of magical reserves and each site deserves one cube of neutral influence.
Each player chooses a color and receives all wooden tokens. He takes his board and also has spot reserved on reputation, initiatives and moves. His green M-factor token is placed on his own board, on number 0. Everybody also get two gold coins and four population tokens. Gradually everyone now has to occupy two regions on the map for himself, by gradually placing small cubes of influence.
Individual rounds always start with initiative phase, when everything is about scale in the upper part of the board. There are four lines there, starting with big spots (for plates raising difficulty – not used in basic game), below are helmet icons and then boats numbered several times from one to three. Value of these ships determines round order (number one always starts). Directly below it is also drawn a group of cubes, that determines, how many tokens may a player send to take actions. At the beginning of each round (except the first), players are allowed to move their initiative tokens ahead. Once a phase, player can shift token by two fields instead of one and get to the front of the pack, starting earlier in later stages of that turn.
According to decided order (numbered ships and then pile of tokens top-down), players can choose actions in right part of the board. Each of the activities has several numbered positions, that are filled from left to right. Once allowed number of tokens is sent by every player (according to initiative track), it is time to evaluate their choices and actions. Players start with action number one and then proceed down, actually doing actions they chose.
One of first choices there is to add or move blocks of influence around the map. New influence can be only added to regions, where player already has some influence and also hoarded tokens of population must be spent. Motion is usually payed by true gold (except Voracious Mountain action). By taking another action, players can raise reputation, which they will be able to spend now. For example for shifting M-Factor tokens on their own board to the right.
Lords can of course also summon special units by spending valuable M-factor. And it will cost them also some that reputation, that is needed to hire these fighters. They can be upgraded directly on player’s board, where (according to their levels) they have space for enhancing tokens. These units can then be activate through sixth action (automatic one, that does not need to be selected) and then move or attack enemy Influence tokens or directly miniatures. Player earns victory points for a successful attack.
Along with some actions, players are also running out of time. This is main point of existence of Dead Snow spiral. But before players reach end of the game, several domination evaluation should take place. These happen always after few rounds, when player markers reach a red boat on turn counter. Players then receive rewards in the form of victory points, according to tiles randomly placed on the board at beginning of the game. Game can end by reaching end of Dead Snow, by achieving fifty victory points or meeting individual goals, which is tied to specific character.
The Lords of the Ice Garden is a very thematic game and despite the fact, that it is essentially a classic worker placement combined with domination mechanics. These stir the whole game the most, although very cleverly linked with a map and two automatic actions, that players are not activating by themselves. This action happens every round, and allow players to make their units and always actively participate in fighting, if possible.
Big surprise for us was to find out, how this game is all about conflicts. Players are constantly fighting over something and not just dragging for the regions, as it is customary in similar games. This time, they are directly killing enemy influence cubes or units.
During the game, nothing ever happens randomly and players have opportunity to influence everything. Only random elements distinguish games from each other and are performed during setup of the game. However, this has also resulted in fact, that individual matches are quite similar. This time, it is not a big problem, because the player’s interaction will take care alone for variability.
Description of entire rules is quite simplified in our review. In fact, this is a surprisingly complex game, that can take quite a while to learn. Rules do have some small reserves in explaining it all at once, because the order of the information is not perfect. Overall, game has a really large amount of things that need to be monitored and puts high claims on players, so this is definitely not suitable for beginners.
It is very important also to work well with resources. Each of them is acquired and spent a little differently and players must use them well, because there is of course a shortfall of all these. Everything comes at a cost and often even forces yo uto move internal clock of Dead Snow. And there are even some included variants for making the game harder, with Vuko tiles and other stuff.
From the player’s perspective, opportunity to influence their initiative is also interesting, because its all decided by how quickly player is moving his token on initiative scale. This can affect when scoring occurs, while also draw end of the game nearer and nearer. Once final scoring occurs, game is simply over. This is a very powerful tactical weapon primarily because order is the main thing, when it comes to evaluating actions.
The Lords of the Ice Garden seems quite overcomplicated. There is worker-placement, battle for regions and individual player tasks. It seems at first as if the author tried to load the game with as much of his favorite mechanics as possible and it seems slightly harmful. You have a puffy feeling just like that, but with more portions of the game, it starts to disapper as you are getting used to. As a result of this, there are several paths to victory and even ending the game. In addition, individual tasks for characters are public, so players can try to prevent their fulfillment. This is another place, where all their efforts meet in conflict. But it is not easy to change your mind and take another path, there is no time.
Due to the complexity level of the whole match, it is clear, that the game will take longer. Game almost always exceeds reported ninety minutes. With more players, hourglass definitely sit on two hour bench and break it. Fortunately, everything is divided into phases of sending workers and then performing actions, completed by participants gradually, so nobody waits overly long. Yet the game with multiple opponents is also more interesting. On the other hand, there are less regions with two, still leaving more place to do your stuff. Thus the game is more tactical and you have more control over outcome of your actions.
You can be a little perplexed by complicated rules, but if you read carefully, you will learn everything. Quality of the other components is excellent, starting with beautifully illustrated board, through an interesting design of player boards to the very last detailed miniature of special units. These figures are made of hard plastic, which means, that they have to be handled carefully. Otherwise you run the risk, that their thinner parts of the body break, which would be really bad with for example Iced Drakkar (head on a thin neck). Most of the pieces are compact and thanks to all of them, plan looks really impressive.
The Lord of the Ice Garden is really hilarious game, that tries to be comprehensive in adding more game mechanisms into the whole mix. Fortunately, all have their place here, because in the end, it’s a game of moving soldiers, trying to make greatest impact on common map. Game is very tactical and very, very conflicting. The Lord of the Ice Garden surprised us pleasantly and many players will fell in love with their long icy skin.
Review: The Lord of the Ice Garden – wish for yourself some frozen beauty
The Lords of the Ice Garden is a great game for demanding players, offering outstanding processing and really interesting combination of worker-placement with a real map and movement. Players can choose from several paths to victory, but always have to gradually send their action tokens and do actions they choose according to playing order. And someone willing to make sacrifices will be first in the run there. Game is very conflicting and no move can end without players reaching for each other’s neck, which ensures a very exciting match. It can end in several ways, but always after more than ninety minutes of gameplay. Differences between the games are only in a few changes in distribution of starting tokens and then in the actual player interaction. With two, game is even more tactical due to the greater freedom, but still absent of any luck. With more, it becomes longer, but still fun. The Lords of the Ice Garden is an example, how should be different mechanics implemented with each other to make a really complex and interesting game. This one got a real kick from Kickstarter and it will shine.
Reader Rating0 Votes
interesting combination of different mechanisms
more ways to end the game
very conflicting game
absence of luck
possibility to upgrade units
Vuko tiles make the game even more interesting
multiplayer may bring longer pauses (with thoughtful players)