Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Quick Review - Snow Day: The Cold War - Kickstarter Preview

Snow Day: The Cold War
Designed by: Andrew Voigt
Published by: Vitamin D Games
2-4p | 30-60m | 10+
Quick Review - Snow Day: The Cold War - Kickstarter Preview
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At the first Protospiel event I ever went to I played a bunch of really interesting games, including one called The Dark Forest by Andrew Voigt.  We chatted about the game for a long while and then kept in touch after that.  Since then we've played games together at several other Protospiels, including his pretty complex W.A.R.P., a tactical combat game.  Fast forward a few years later and Andrew contacted me to see if I'd review his newest game, about to hit Kickstarter, so I said sure!

Snow Day: The Cold War is a tactical combat game for two teams of one or two players, for a 2-4 player family weight game.  Snow Day is much simpler than W.A.R.P. with a theme much more suitable for kids in the 8-12 years range.  It's appropriate for adults, too, and plays in just 30-45 minutes.  Snow Day is on Kickstarter from Tuesday, October 29 to Tuesday, November 19.  You'll be able to grab yourself a copy for just $30, plus shipping (estimated at $12 for the US).

In Snow Day: The Cold War two teams of players are trying to destroy each other's snowmen.  Teams can be either two teams of two, two teams of one, or a team of one versus a team of two.  Regardless of the number of players, each team will consist of four characters.
The game looks great when all set up and laid out.
Setup is fairly quick and simple.  Just take the four yard boards and lay them out in a 2x2 grid.  Have the houses on the outer edges and the yards all together toward the center.  Then divide up the characters for the teams according to the house colors and decide who will play each color on each team.  Give each character two snowballs and add snow forts to the yards where indicated.  Then set up the snowmen on the spaces indicated and place the character standees in the playing area and get ready to start.
Actions are kept simple for fast, straightforward gameplay.
Alternating turns, each team's characters will take two actions each.  Actions are pretty simple.  Characters can either move up to four spaces, make any combination of two snowballs or snow forts, destroy up to two adjacent snow forts (and gain a snowball for each), knock down a snowman, or throw a snowball.  These are pretty simple choices, with the most complex being movement and throwing snowballs.  Movement is only orthogonally, however snow forts slow you down and ice lets you slide.  This is still pretty straightforward though.  Each level of a snow fort costs you one movement (snow forts can be up to two levels tall).  If your character encounters ice it'll slide in a straight line to the opposite side, potentially letting you gain additional distance, but also requiring you to maneuver just right to get where you want to go.
The ice paths allow for some interesting movement options.
Throwing snowballs is the combat method in Snow Day.  This is only slightly more complex than the other mechanics in the game.  Each character has a range of 7 (in the base game - there are advanced character abilities that change this).  Range is measured by orthogonal spaces, so there's no tricky diagonals or anything to consider.  If a character's target is within range you'll roll a D12.  Whether you score a hit or not depends on your roll and how well protected your target is.  If the target is in the open you score a hit on a 3 or higher.  If one snow fort protects the target a hit requires a roll of 7 or more, and if there are two snow forts it takes an 11 or higher to hit.  Snow forts only protect characters that are directly adjacent to the fort from throws that are from any space across the line the fort creates across the entire playing area.  This means you don't have to worry about line-of-sight or figuring out crazy angles, keeping the game fast and simple for younger players.

When a character gets hit, place a snowball on their health meter on the character card.  This indicates how cold the character is.  If there are snowballs on all the spaces on the health meter the character must go inside to warm up.  They'll go to the nearest house and have to wait a few turns to warm up.  If an opponent's house is closest they'll have to wait an extra turn, however when they come back outside they're that much closer to their opponent's snowmen.
Hanging out in a warm house for a few turns gets you all fired up and ready to fight again!
When your character is next to an opponent's snowman you can use the Knockdown action to knock over the snowman.  The first team to knock over both of the other team's snowmen is the winner!

There is both a simple and advanced version of Snow Day.  The only difference between the two versions is the character abilities.  In the simple version every character is the same.  Flip over the character sheets, however, and each character has a special ability.  The Quarterback has a range of 9, the Digger can make extra snowballs or snow forts, the Figure Skater can turn once on ice, etc.  Some of these abilities seem pretty powerful compared to others, but overall the balance seems pretty good.  Each color has two characters and often when one of the characters has a pretty powerful special ability (like the Quarterback's extra range), the partner character is weaker or more situational (like the Bully's ability to move 1 space and push someone out of the way).  This seems to balance the game overall.
Between the snow forts and ice areas the playing area provides a nice maze.
Final Thoughts:
Overall, Snow Day: The Cold War is a very simple game.  The rules are light and very straightforward.  This is great for an introduction to tactical combat games.  Combat is simple, just a roll of a die, with few modifiers, just a check of any defensive snow forts.  Movement is just simple orthogonal movement, but the inclusion of ice to slide on and the snow forts to climb over add just enough variability to make movement decisions important.  The characters' special abilities are likewise simple, but different enough that they add some interesting interactions and feel like different characters, or units.

Personally, I'd really like some optional ways to increase the complexity just a bit.  I'm not a huge fan of rolling a die to determine outcomes without having some way to mitigate bad luck (one game I played I only hit my target once out of about 8 throws, but my opponent hit me every single time).  It would also be nice if there was an option to rebuild a knocked down snowman somehow.  Currently, losing one snowman means you have to really defend your last remaining snowman, changing your strategy significantly.  If there was a way to rebuild a snowman that has been knocked down it would definitely lengthen the game, but would also keep you from feeling like your only option is to defend if you lose a snowman before you have a chance to hinder your opponent.
Sometimes it's good to hunker down behind your snow fort.
Tactical combat games aren't usually my preference, mostly because I'm not very good at them.  Whenever I play a war game or other tactical combat game with friends I almost always end up feeling like I'm fighting from a disadvantage.  Sometimes I can manage to work my way out of a hole, but I didn't feel like that in Snow Day.  Because the game is so simple I felt like a run of bad luck wasn't easy to recover from.  Once you're down a character or two even some good luck isn't always enough to recover.  A simple fix might be to have ambush cards that can be acquired somehow.  These could be one-time use special abilities that change the rules of the game slightly (additional movement, throwing range, dodging a snowball, etc.).  Teams could start the game with one or two and then you earn another one when a character gets sent inside, so they come out of the house all warmed up and ready to fight.  This would add just a tiny bit of mitigation to bad luck that I think would benefit the game greatly.
The game is fast, easy, and thematic.  Perfect for family play.
As it is, Snow Day: The Cold War is a great, light tactical game.  It's a great introduction to war game mechanics with a more family friendly theme.  Its simplicity makes is a good game for families with younger kids (I'd recommend age 8 and up), non gamers, or those times when you just want something light and casual.  You probably won't pull this out with your hard core gamer friends, but it's a fun game for family game night.  If you're looking for a fun way to introduce your family or non-gaming friends to tactical combat games, without overwhelming them with all the complexities or theme of your typical wargame, Snow Day: The Cold War is a great choice!

Be sure to check out Snow Day: The Cold War on Kickstarter between now and November 19, 2019.

Preliminary Rating: 6.5/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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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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