Saturday, June 6, 2009



Every once in a while you get to try a game that you weren't sure about, only to find out you had been missing out on something really quite excellent.
NHL Ice Breaker: The Card Hockey Board Game was just such a game. After only a couple of plays it was obvious this game is a must for anyone who loves hockey, and board games.
In terms of mechanics, this is a card game which is essentially war. Each player flops down a card, and high card wins. The deck is 54 cards in size a regular card array, plus two jokers, which are high card.
The cards are high quality, but you'll want to put them in protective sleeves anyway since you'll want to play this game a lot and for a lot of years.
In this case though, if a player drops a higher card, say a king, and you've only put down a six, you can win by playing a second six. Two of a kind beat a high card, although three-of-a-kind is still better.
While war would make for a pretty boring game, Ice Breaker designers at CSE Games, a Canadian company, have done a simply amassing job of adding the feel of hockey to the game.
With each win, a player gets to move the puck across a rink-shaped game board, according to the pattern laid out on the winning card.
As the puck moves, it can land on a number of highlighted squares, which call for a card to be drawn from the deck and the special 'icebreaker' rule used. Here the rules range from the puck going over the boards, creating a face-off situation, to a penalty being called, reducing the offending player's hand from five to four cards, or a big body check is thrown allowing the identified player to play additional cards.
Through the play you want to move the puck into the 'shooting zone'. Once in the zone the cards played represent the shooter and the goaltender. If the shooter has high card he scores. If the defensive player plays the high card the netminder has made the save. Unless of course you have played a trump card.
In NHL Ice Breaker, each card has a two logos, one used when shooting, one when the goaltender. NHL Ice Breaker is licensed by the National Hockey League and features all 30 teams. You can also play seven international teams including Team Canada and Russia, or either NHL all star team.
Players select a team, and if they have the card with that team's logo, they have a trump card.
This game offers just enough decisions to be interesting – do I use my ace to win the face-off or sluff off a deuce, lose the draw but have a card to make a key save with – to give you some control.
Yet the basic 'war' mechanic is so simple it can be taught in minutes.
The game plays fast, and with the ice breaker cards, it can change the flow rapidly, which really mimics the real game of hockey well.
The designers have also done a great job of adding the flavour of a real game to the mechanics.
As an example, in the third period a player can call a time out, allowing him to replenish his hand by two cards, without requiring the usual stoppage in play.
There are also rules allowing a player to 'pull the netminder' allowing them to draw an extra card, but automatically giving up a goal if the puck ends up in their shooting zone.
Rules allow for an overtime period and shoot-out scenarios too.
In correspondence with Fabio del Rio one of the game developers, he explained, “regarding the game development process, NHL Ice Breaker started as a simple simulation of the action of the sport of hockey using a deck of cards. Over a period of about a year and a half we developed the system and mechanics in such a way as to incorporate more of the fun and strategy of great playing card games, while maintaining strong hockey theme and feel.”
The game plays rapidly, and in general the scores are close. It would be somewhat rare to score more than six goals in a game, a period is defined by paying through the 54-card deck once, and usually only a goal or two will separate teams in the end.
While probably smoothest as a two-player game, rules exist to allow two teams of two to face off.
This is a game like cribbage in the sense you could play it over and over, and for hockey fans it's great as you add colour to play, like “Curtis Joseph makes a save for the Leafs,” or “The Russians take a lead over Team Canada with a stunning goal.”
This is a definite gem for hockey fans, well worth playing anytime.
And, the good news, del Rio said, “we do have expansion plans for Ice Breaker; we hope to have more details later this year.”

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 29, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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