Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Board Game Review - Ice Flow

In urinary terms, Ice Flow sounds incredibly painful. It sounds a little like a frozen kidney stone. Luckily, Ice Flow has absolutely nothing to do with taking a piss. It's about actual ice - big chunks, the kind cartoon characters jump on and then ride around the Arctic while they get chased by crazy penguins.

In Ice Flow, you're all explorers trying to cross the Bering Strait. For those of you who haven't finished sixth-grade geography, the Bering Strait is the tiny bit of water between Alaska and Siberia. If the game is to be believed, there's some part of the year when it freezes so solid that you can actually run across it. Apparently there used to be some kind of land bridge there, which is how the Eskimos got to Alaska, but now it's split and you may have to swim a little. You'll be well-equipped for the trip though - all you need is fish and rope. Not even scuba gear or anything. This should be a breeze.

Personally, I would prefer to take a helicopter, but in Ice Flow, the only way across the Bering Strait is to hop from one floating chunk of ice to the next, trying to get all three of your intrepid (but not real smart) explorers across to Siberia. Only there are polar bears floating on those ice cubes, and those frozen rafts keep moving and spinning, and if you're not careful, you may wind up stranded.

The pieces in Ice Flow are fantastic. There are hexagonal ice floes cut from clear blue acrylic, wooden polar bears, wooden fish, wooden gimps (supposedly explorers, but they look like physically handicapped meeples), and wooden ropes. I guess actual rope would have been a little unwieldy.

On your turn, you do an ice floe action and then an explorer action. It's pretty simple, and since the game actually says at one point, 'nobody dies in Ice Floe', this has to be a Euro game. If I was looking for a reason to punch myself in the mouth, I might even say the rules are elegant. But I'm not looking to pummel myself any more than I'm looking to pass a frozen kidney stone, so I'll just say the rules are short and easy to follow.

Ice floe actions include moving an ice floe, spinning one, or discovering a new one. Apparently there has been a lot of littering in the Bering Strait, because most of the new ice floes have crap on them, like fish and rope and polar bears. There may be candy wrappers and empty beer cans, but since those don't actually have anything to do with the game, there are no cards for them.

Then after you do something with the ice floes, you send your explorers jumping across the floating ice rafts to try to get across to Siberia. The trick is to try to move an ice floe so that you can get as far as possible with your explorers. It's not hard to do, especially if you use rope to cross broken pieces of ice or throw fish to distract the polar bears. It would be a lot easier if the other explorers would quit moving the ice road all over the place, so that what was a clear path for four ice chunks winds up stopping right in front of Smokey the Polar Bear.

Ice Flow is pretty fun. It's light and easy to understand, plays reasonably fast, and requires a lot of planning and flexibility. You can finish in about 90 minutes, and it looks great while you're doing it. So basically, it's nothing like a frozen kidney stone.


Incredible pieces
Easy rules that make for lots of strategy
Plenty of ways to hose your friends

The plastic ice floes can be too small to accommodate all the flotsam that can wind up on them
No body count
Not a frozen kidney stone

Ice Flow is clever, tactile and darned pretty. It's not too deep, and you don't get to kill anybody, but it's still fun. Go here and order one:


Anonymous said...

This does sound like a fun game. I just put it on my wishlist the other day!

But if there are fish that you toss to Polar Bears, wouldn't the fish die?

Matt Drake said...

No, the fish are dead before the game begins.

mrwolf710 said...

Yeah, that's why the box smells :(

Anonymous said...

They're virtual fish, and only wooden polar bears can smell them.

But maybe we should have the manufacturers add a fish smell to the box. Not too hard as we're based in a fishing port...

Thanks for a great review!


Anonymous said...

Great review! It pushed me over the edge to add it to my wish list. When I have $125 or more, I will definitely buy this game. Thanks for sucking my money out of my pocket, Matt!