Review: Arctic Scavengers

There’s something really satisfying about deck building games. Carefully choosing the cogs to fit into your machine and watching it grow and work its beautiful magic before you, or looking on in horror as the cogs jam and you end up with metal fragments in your eyes, both eventualities create great moments around the table. Dominion is the granddaddy of them all, but suffers from a lack of player interaction while Star Realms is an excellent duelling game but lacks the dynamism of playing with a full table. This is where Arctic Scavengers come in.

Designer: Robert K. Gabhart
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Number of Players: 2-5
Playing Time: 45 mins


Set after a cataclysmic event has plunged the world into the midst of another Ice Age (no, not the film with the talking mammoths) Arctic Scavengers sees players as tribal leaders competing for food, equipment and most importantly people. Whoever has the highest population at the end of the game is the winner. It’s a simple premise, and an instantly captivating theme that isn’t as divisive as fantasy or sci-fi, your friends around the table will be instantly invested in this world as the idea of survival taps into the very heart of being human. (Provided you are playing with humans of course.)

The first two rounds are peaceful. Each player takes it in turn playing cards from their hand to perform a variety of actions. You can send your dudes out with shovels and pick axes to dig for resources in the Junkyard Deck, you may discover a rifle, a medikit or useless junk. Sending more people and tools allows you to draw more cards from which you’ll choose one and place the rest to the bottom of the pile. This adds an interesting element to the game a few rounds in when, each player knows there’s still some goodies to be found in there if only they could remember where they were… And this desperate, frenzied rush for resources is just one element that makes this game exponentially more enjoyable the more players you have, which is a very unusual thing to say about a deckbuilder.

You may also play cards to recruit mercenaries using a clever dual currency system, some cards can be bought using food while more powerful ones require food and medicine.  There is a suite of mercenaries available for hire ranging from scavengers, who aren’t particularly great but can do a little of everything, to hunters who can gather more food and thugs who are great in a  fight but not much else. Then we get to the interesting characters like saboteurs and sniper teams that can be used even on other player’s turns to shatter their plans with a well-aimed bullet or an explosion worthy of celebration. Seriously look at the card art for the saboteur below cheering as a blows someone up. Excellent!


If you desire, you can also play cards to draw further cards from your deck, scouts can be played to draw two cards which could be vital in the build up to a fight or scouring your deck for that bloody medikit you’re sure you discovered but haven’t seen it turn up yet. The final action you can take is to trash cards to the bottom of the Junkyard Deck. This can see players taking their potentially useless refugee cards for a nice winter stroll and then buggering off and leaving them on their own. Is it worth keeping them around for the population points at the end of the game? Or would you prefer to have those spots in your deck filled with fighters, hunters or medics? Arctic Scavengers is constantly asking you to make interesting and tough decisions, none more so than whether or not to commit to a skirmish.

From the third game round onwards a new resources deck comes in to play, the Contested Resources deck. Now this is filled with some potent cards like grenades, wolf packs and even families. These are the prizes for which you’ll be fighting over. Just let that sink in for a second, the thought of people fighting to the death to secure a family for their tribe tells you more about this brutal world that Gabhart has created than any amount of flavour text ever will. The first player will secretly look at the top card in the deck, therefore knowing what all players will be fighting for at the end of the round. Play then proceeds as normal except each player states how many cards they are committing, face down, to the skirmish. This adds a poker-like bluffing element to combat that is absolutely exquisite. You could look at your friend holding back four cards and think it’s a fight you’ve got no hope of winning and don’t get involved, only for them to reveal three refugees and a shovel. Guile is important in Arctic Scavengers. But again, you are being asked a question, is it worth holding these cards back for a fight you may not win? Or should you be using those cards for hunting and scavenging? Or should I keep my sniper or saboteur handy just to keep that tribe from growing a little too powerful.


These simple, tried and trusted mechanics make Arctic Scavengers simple to teach and learn which is always a welcome bonus in tabletop gaming, but there is more complexity available for those who want it inside the box. There are several expansion modules that come with the base game that radically alter the way Arctic Scavengers works. Buildings adds a new resources deck and engineers to the game.  Buildings can be constructed and used to store weapons or tribe members. You can even build hydroponic gardens to generate more food to assist in hiring mercenaries. Gangs add a nice population bonus at the end of the game as they will join whoever has the most tools, medicine or buildings.

And then we have tribal leaders (above) who give each player’s tribe a unique flavour via a special ability that completely changes the way refugee cards work and also will have a huge bearing on your strategy over the course of the game. All of these modules do add complexity, but introducing them gradually into your games will increase the longevity of Arctic Scavengers immensely, not to mention making a great game even more fun.

Great theme, slick and smart mechanics
Easy to learn and to teach
Optional additional complexity
Card quality could be better, card sleeves recommended

Arctic Scavengers combines many tried and trusted mechanics such as deck building, hand management and bluffing into something extremely tense and satisfying that gets better the more people you have around your table. The optional complexity provided by the expansion modules adds new dynamics to the game rather than just more stuff and will alter the way you approach it. I cannot recommend Arctic Scavengers enough. Buy it. A new expansion Recon is slated for release later this year, you may want to keep an eye on that too.

The review copy of this title was purchased by the author.
Official Game Site

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  1. Oooh, may have to keep an eye out for this! Currently heavily into Star Realms and do like a good deck builder = )

  2. Hey Tim, I heartily recommend you do. I’ve got the digital version of Star Realms may have to nab the physical version too 🙂

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