Friday, April 28, 2017

Quick Review - Ice and the Sky

Ice and the Sky
Designer: Florent Toscano
Publisher: Jeux Opla
2-4p | 20m | 10+
Quick Review - Ice and the Sky

A while ago I was contacted by a friend who works for a publisher that was considering publishing a North American version of Ice and the Sky, also known as La Glace et le Ciel, but he wanted to know if it was worth pursuing.  So he sent a copy of the game for me to both review and give my opinion on if it's worth publishing in North America.

Ice and the Sky is a two to four player cooperative card game for ages ten and up that plays in just about 20 minutes.  The game is loosely based on French glaciologist Claude Lorius's groundbreaking research in Antarctica that supported the theory that climate change is caused by humans.  Originally a book by Claude Lorius titled Voyage dans l'Anthropocène, it is now also a movie by Academy Award winning director Luc Jacquet (March of the Penguins).  In Ice and the Sky players cooperate to balance the environment over three rounds, by playing different valued cards in one of nine locations: a combination Water, Land, or Sky, and East, North, or West.  The combination of science and theme was instantly fascinating to me, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review the game.  So, does Ice and the Sky manage to mirror the experiences and science presented in the book and movie?  Let's find out!

Ice and the Sky came to me to review via the Everything Board Games Network!  Check the page out for more awesome reviews!

The Ice and the Sky is comprised of just a deck of 66 cards.  The box is decent quality, but not exceptional, as are the cards.  The artwork throughout is nice, but not overly impressive.  We liked most of it well enough, but it could have really brought out the theme with some incredible environmental artwork.  Thematically, some of the art also doesn't really make sense.  This is mostly the graphic design though, and not the actual artwork.  Some cards produce Carbon Dioxide in the game, which must be managed or points will be lost, however the art on the cards that produce Carbon Dioxide don't always make sense.  For example, why does an empty field produce CO2, but the airplane doesn't?
The artwork is nice, but why does the glacier produce CO2, but the polluted docks don't?
The rules are obviously a translation from French.  For the most part they are clear, but there are a few instances where they could be clearer.  There are also a few details that are missing, particularly about how much table-talk is allowed.

Setup of the game is pretty straight forward.  There are three sets of 12 generation cards that are shuffled, then an area for a three by three grid of cards is designated, with three starting cards placed diagonally across the grid.  The generation cards will be used in the game to fill up the grid.  Three cards are placed to the left of the grid to indicate rows for Sky, Land, and Water and three cards are placed below the grid to indicate columns for East, North, and West (thematically we're supposed to be at the South Pole, so there's no South - another thematic element that doesn't always come across in the artwork). There are also twelve target cards, six for the locations and directions, and six with values of 3, 4, 4, 5, and 6.  Finally, there are eight cards that are used for tracking score.
The starting layout.
Ice and the Sky plays over the course of three rounds, or generations.  In each generation the goal of the players is to balance the climate (represented by the generation cards) with a target value (the target cards).  Each player will be dealt an equal number of generation cards, which each have a location and value from 0-3 on them.  Some also have a CO2 icon as well.  Players will also receive two target cards, one with either a location or direction, and one with a value.  These two target cards indicate a target value that must be achieved in their designated row or column for that generation.

Players hold their generation cards in their hand so that only they can see them, and target cards face out so that only their teammates can see them.  So, without knowing what your own target values are, you'll be working with your teammates to place your generation cards in the appropriate rows and columns to match everyone's targets.  At the same time, players want to cover up any CO2 icons in the grid, else they will lose points, and possibly the game.
You can see your own generation cards, but not your target cards.  Only your teammates can see your targets.
Each generation, players take turns putting one of their generation cards into one of the three spaces of the row (Air, Land, or Water) indicated by the card.  Cards have a value ranging from 0-3, and will adjust the total value of both the row and column the card was placed in.  Once a card is played, players are allowed to tell the other players if placing the card made them reach their target, or caused them to not reach their target.  Through this process of achieving and then losing target values, players are able to deduce what their target row or column and value is.  But you only have 12 total turns each round to figure out everyone's target values, reach those values, and also cover up any CO2 icons in the grid.
As the game progresses cards will be covered with new values, adjusting the total values for each row or column.
Scoring is completed at the end of each generation and tracked with the included cards.  Once the generation is complete, players count how many of them reached their goal.  The score for the generation is the number of players that reached the goal, minus the number of players that didn't reach it.  So in a three player game, possible end of generation scores are 3, 1, -1, or -3.
The score cards used to track scores are pretty ingenious, if a bit fiddly...
At the end of three generations, the game the scores for each generation are added up and then multiplied by a CO2 multiplier.  At the beginning of the game the CO2 multiplier is three, but for each CO2 icon visible at the end of each round, that multiplier goes down by one (again, tracked with cards).  If you reach zero for the CO2 multiplier you lose the game.  Also, if your final score is negative, you lose the game.

If you are able to complete a game perfectly, meaning all players have reached their goals in all three generations, you can attempt a more difficult game.  In addition to CO2 icons, some cards have CH4 (methane) icons.  These behave the exact same way as CO2 icons; any displaying at the end of the round result in a reduction of the multiplier.  A perfect score varies depending on the number of players, 18, 27, or 36 for two, three, or four players.
We were far from perfect, but we did manage to barely win!
Final Thoughts:
I found Ice and the Sky to be just an OK game.  Nothing really great, but not bad either.  The people I played with (and me, too) had fun playing, but had no real urge to play again.

Mechanically it's solid, but it's one of those cooperative games that falls into the awkward area where there's too much randomization to make the game work without a significant amount of tabletalk, but if you do allow tabletalk then it gets too easy to solve the puzzle presented to you.  The rules don't specifically state how much table-talk is allowed, so we struggled with what we could tell each other and what we had to keep secret.  The combination of some cards being private and some being outward facing (but hidden from the owner) made it difficult to discern what we could and couldn't talk about, too.
What are you allowed to talk about and what do you have to keep secret?  Too much talking and the game is too easy,
but without any talking the game is too random and rounds are too short for any real deduction work.
Things I do like about it though: I really like the deduction and logic aspect of the game in trying to figure out what row/column and value combination you have in your hand.  There are interesting dilemmas about whether you should cover a Carbon Dioxide to keep your multiplier high, keep yours or a teammate's values intact, or invalidate someone's combination just to give the other players information.  I also really like the theme, even though it didn't really come across in the gameplay.  The artwork was also nice (but not amazing), even if it didn't always work thematically.
Those darn CO2 creating bats...  Guess I should chase them down in my CH4 producing jets...
Over my Antarctic desert canyon...
I think the game could be improved greatly if maybe one or two cards in each generation had two values (maybe one 0/3 and one 1/2 card) that you'd be able to choose which value it was.  This would give just a bit more flexibility to players while limiting tabletalk.

I feel that Ice and the Sky would be best played with only two players.  I played with three and felt that there were too few cards in each round for players to ave time to both make deductions and manipulate the values effectively.  I suspect a four player game would be almost impossible to have all four players reach their targets.  But with two players there's a bit more flexibility and time to make deductions, making the randomness of the dealt cards less of a factor.
With three or more players the generations don't give you enough control without being able to discuss strategies.
I had intended on doing a full review of Ice and the Sky since it is a retail game, although not readily available in the US.  However after playing once, I don't think it's a game that I'll be able to get to the table again.  I may be able to try it with two players, and I'll update this review if I do, but I wasn't all that impressed with it, and neither were the others that I played with.  So while it's not the worst game I've had to review, there was nothing about the game that really grabbed me.  That's a shame, because the concept behind the game is pretty interesting, and the movie looks spectacular.  

If the concept behind Ice and the Sky interests you it'll be difficult to track down in the US.  There is a copy in the BGG Marketplace, however you'll probably need to contact an overseas game store to get a copy from Europe.  

Preliminary Rating: 5.5/10

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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