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Game review: Survivalist adventure in Walking Dead and Arctic Scavengers

A zombie plague and an radical shift in the earth's climate provide the themes for two new card games: "The Walking Dead: The Card Game" from Cryptozoic Entertainment and "Arctic Scavengers" from Rio Grande Games.

"The Walking Dead"

Based on AMC's hit TV series, "The Walking Dead: The Card Game" offers two ways to play. In hero mode two to six players attempt to gain the most points by killing zombies. A total of 104 walker cards contain a number at the top and bottom corners, while each also shows a number of bullets above and below an angry zombie. Players are dealt 15 card each, as well as one of six hero cards representing the protagonists of the TV series. Four walker cards are laid face up to begin the game.

Each player selects two of his walker cards to lay down next to the beginning cards. In each row, the number must be higher than the preceding face card. No row can have more than five cards, so when a player lays down the next sequential card in a row that already contains five, he gains all the cards in that row. The card he played then becomes the new face card for that row. Once per game, players can lay down hero cards to allow them to immediately place their card, beating opponents to claiming the row. This continues until all cards are have been played, then the player with collected cards who show the most bullets is the winner.

Survival mode, for three to 10 players, is very similar, though in this game players want to avoid claiming cards. If a player must play his card and claim the row of five, he is “swarmed” by the undead. In this scenario, the player with the least bullets on his cards is the winner.

Though the zombie and hero photos on each card are a lot of fun, the "Walking Dead" theme is not particularly strong here. Another theme easily could have been pasted onto this game with no great alteration to game play, and for that reason, fans of the show may be disappointed. Additionally, it would have been fun if each of the hero cards had some special ability, rather than just the same trick each player can use only once.

That being said, both modes are fun and can be quite intense. This is a great quick game that many will enjoy precisely because of its simplicity.

"The Walking Dead: The Card Game" is recommended for players 15 and up, and the cards do contain some scary, bloody zombie artwork. Each game plays in about 15 minutes.

"Arctic Scavengers"

Quite a bit more complex is "Arctic Scavengers," a recently reprinted deck-building game set in the grim future of 2097 where an unexpected global ice age has killed most of the planet's population. The remaining humans have created tribes to help them survive and gather resources.

Two to five players take on the role of one of these tribes. In the center of the table lay a junkyard deck and a contested resource deck. Additionally, specialists are separated into eight mercenary decks. These cards and the players' starting cards each carry information such as how much food or medicine they are worth, how many cards can be searched for in the junkyard, or their combat value. Additionally, most cards have a number that indicates how many people they bring to the tribe. Certain cards, such as the shovel and the spear, can only be played with other cards representing tribe members.

Players are initially given the same 10 cards, then must draw five to use either for digging in the junkyard or recruiting mercenaries. After the third round, players also engage in a combat phase in which the winner takes the top contested resource card, which usually boasts a number of new tribe members. Each round consists of building a better deck to draw cards from in anticipation of combat. At the end of the game the player with the largest tribe wins.

There is a lot in "Arctic Scavengers" to like. Though the rulebook is a little confusing at times, the game is generally easy to learn. There are elements of bluffing here, when a player must decide how many cards to take into combat, and the various abilities of the mercenaries make the combat round an intense, action-packed ride. The theme here is also a lot of fun, and players really feel invested in this frozen, foreboding future scenario. The artwork, beginning to end, is phenomenal.

And yet, "Arctic Scavengers" never really seems to take off as completely as it should. The cards themselves are a little too busy, with a lot of rules for each you need to keep on top of. Also, compared with similar deck-building games, "Arctic Scavengers" seems a little more complicated than necessary, frequently slowing down the action.

The game also contains an expansion, with more mercenaries, leaders and headquarters. These additions do add some interesting aspects to the game, though not quite enough to overcome the above criticisms. Still, many people will enjoy this particular deck-building game. It is a good game — just not quite a great one.

"Arctic Scavengers" is recommended for ages 13 and up and plays in about an hour.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. Cody has also appeared on many local stages including Hale Center Theater and Off Broadway Theater. Email: