Traveling to that remote research facility deep in the Siberian tundra sounded like a great idea back in July, but now it’s the beginning of the winter and you’re stuck without hope of rescue. There’s a monster storm heading your way, and like the scientists in the classic horror film The Thing, you have no idea what beasts might show up and try to kill you. Your goal: survive the storm during the long, long winter night, with the help of the few fellow humans still left alive!
This is a great premise for a game and Outpost: Siberia doesn’t disappoint with its engaging graphics, simple cooperative play and non-stop mayhem. It’s a jungle out there! I mean, um, it’s a frozen wasteland, that is!
Designed by Daryl Andrews and Jonathan Gilmour, with art by Ron Joseph, Outpost: Siberia is published by IDW Games and comes in a nifty tin. I like tins because of their portability but I will say some reviewers are incensed that it won’t fit neatly into your gaming collection. Just so you know…
The game is comprised of a deck of standard size playing cards that represent your crew, good and bad events and the beasts eager to get ya. There are also a half-dozen life tokens to keep track of player health:
In the above you can see three player cards: Tracker Tanaka starts with 4 health, Ice Climber Anani has 3 and Trail Guide Belle only has two health points. Notice each has special skills too. For example, Tanaka can discard any card as if it were food. That’s critical when a beastie comes along and steals your food!
In fact, here are some examples of good, bad and threat cards too:
Here’s where it all gets confusing too: See how the bottom of each of these cards has an item in yellow? Turns out that any card can be oriented one way or the other – depending on context – and so the rightmost card can be a Frenzied Siberian Tiger in one context and Water in another. And yeah, that’s super confusing, particularly if you play where you sit across from your fellow players.
The deck is adjusted at the beginning of the game to bias towards good (light blue) or bad (red) events, creating the Outpost deck. There’s also an Expedition deck that collects all the remaining cards: make your Outpost deck good and the Expedition deck is just going to get more brutal!
Since it’s a cooperative game, it’s smart and strategic both to pay attention to each player’s skills and health: you can go in whatever order you’d like within a round. A turn consists of picking two cards from the Outpost deck, reading the yellow side of the card, then keeping one in your hand and putting the other into a shared supply pool. You can then attack any threats to the party with as many cards in your hand – or from the shared supply – you’d like. Equipment lets you heal health and survive the round, then it’s time to draw an Expedition card. These are typically bad news so in the instructions they refer to this phase as “enduring” an Expedition card. 🙂
Here’s an example where I’m playing Expedition Leader Hans and have just drawn a +2 food and a +2 flare. In the supply are a +3 water and a +2 ice axe. You need to ignore the upside-down parts of these cards:
The number on the top left of these cards denotes its combat value. Compare that to a threat card that has both its injury value and health points listed:
Here the relatively benign Amur Hedgehog has come in from the cold and attacked one player for -1 health (top left of the card with the three slash lines). It’s weak, though, just 2 points of health, so an ice axe with an attack value of 3 easily kills it . While the Hedgehog is an active threat, however, notice that it limits players to drawing one card at a time from the Outpost deck, not the usual two.
Moving on to some more serious threats, here’s how things might play out:
On the left, the Siberian Moose has 4 health points so is reasonably tough, but still defeated with a +1 flare and +3 ice axe. On the right, the Rabid Siberian Lynx is not something you want showing up at your outpost, so it’s tougher, with an alarming 8 health. We haven’t killed it yet, but our +6 supplies combine to almost defeat it.
These raise one of my greatest points of confusion with Outpost: Siberia too: whether you can simply match the points listed to defeat a threat, or whether you also need to have a specific weapon to do so. It’s not clear in the rules, but I infer that you need to use an actual weapon to properly defeat a beast: an Ice Axe or Flamethrower. (yes, very much like The Thing. Or was that a spoiler? 🙂
That being true, it means that simply putting down another 2-point supply card will match the health of the Lynx, but not defeat it unless it’s an ice axe or flamethrower. I think.
You can also use a good card to help out a player, of course:
Here using the First Aid Kit has restored one of Tracker Tanaka’s lost health points. As with most games, you can’t end up with more than you started out, so if Tanaka was already at 4, it would be a waste of a valuable supply.
That’s basically the game play. Players work together to balance supplies and keep pounding on threats that seem to basically keep coming without letup. Get through the Expedition deck with all your characters still alive and you’ve all won Outpost: Siberia and are rescued! Hurray!
The problem is, we didn’t find it particularly fun. The dual-orientation cards were perpetually confusing and it took a couple of gameplays to get the rhythm of the Outpost vs Expedition deck. Over time an “easy” deck configuration normalizes out too, since discarded cards are shuffled back into the Outpost deck once it’s exhausted. Kill lots of beasts and the pesky critters keep showing up!
I love the theme, I like coop games, and I’ll give this another whirl with some gaming pals, so might well come back and revise my thoughts. For now, though, I’d say think through the gameplay I’ve outlined and ask yourself if it sounds like a fun game for you and your friends/family before you pick up Outpost: Siberia.
Outpost: Siberia, from IDW Games. $19.99 at amazon.com
Disclaimer: IDW Games sent me a copy of “Outpost: Siberia” for the purposes of this review.