- Designer: Charles Chevallier
- Publisher: Argentum / Passport
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 10+
- Time: ~90 minutes
- Times played: 4 with review copy provided by Passport
Antarctica is the 2015 Essen release from Argentum, distributed locally by Passport. Veterans of this blog will know that I’ve always been a pretty big fan of Argentum, as their games often hit my sweet spot in terms of complexity and style. In Antarctica, players head up a team of researchers working at the bottom of the world (and then move around cardboard chits and wooden pieces in order to score the most victory points).
The board shows the frozen continent, separated into eight wedge shaped regions. At the start of the game, each of these regions is randomly seeded with a research building. The sun is placed in the lower left region. Each player (in a 4p game) starts with 2 ships and two scientists. The ships are placed on the board in a Settlers style organization. There are three docking spaces in each wedge, but at the start of the game, each will only have one occupied. There are also a few research tracks in the center of the board. Each player puts a marker at the start of these tracks. The 3 Building card decks are shuffled and the top card of each is revealed.
The game is played in a number of rounds until one of the two endgame conditions is met. Each round follows the same pattern. First, the sun moves one wedge counterclockwise. Then, the ship which is in the front of the line at the dock in that wedge must sail away. It sails to another wedge, and docks at the first available space in line at that wedge. IF there are no spots available at a particular wedge, the ship cannot stop there.
Once the ship docks, then it can take one of the following 5 actions at the wedge where the ship ended its movement… Additionally, at any point during the turn, the player may play one card from his hand.
- Build a Building – using the cards available in the supply, if you match the building criteria on one of the cards, you may build the building in question. You generally need to have a ship docked at a wedge that has the one or two depicted pre-requisite buildings (whether that is the active ship or one of your other ships), and you must have enough scientists in your active supply to build – you need these scientists because you will be forced to deposit one or two scientists into this wedge as part of the building action. Furthermore, each wedge may only have one instance of each type of building, so you cannot duplicate anything. It is important to note that you do not own the building – all players will be able to use it for the rest of the game.
- Build a Ship – if there is a Shipyard building in the target area, you can build a new ship. It is placed in the region where the sun currently is – and placed in the back of the line. It will not move this turn though – it cannot sail and take an action until the next time the sun returns to that wedge. Each other player then receives a Shipyard card from the deck. The player who built a ship does NOT get a Shipyard card.
- Recruit Scientists – if there is a Camp building in the target area, you can move scientists from your supply to your active area. The number that you take from the supply equals the number of ships and scientists you have at this area. At the start of the game, you only have 2 active Scientists. The other 10 remain in your supply until you recruit them in this manner.
- Advance on a Research Track – there are three different types of research center buildings. You can choose to advance on the track of any ONE of these which are built in the target wedge. The number of spaces that you move is equal to the number of ships and scientists you have at this wedge. Also note that you do not count any spaces on the track that are already occupied by other players. If you pass pre-printed icons on the chosen track, you get those bonuses immediately. Some actions involve all players, some only affect the active player.
- Do Nothing – you may choose to do nothing, though even if you do this, you must move your ship
At any point during your turn, you are allowed to play one card. The actions of the cards vary – some allow you to replace a building prerequisite needed to build a new building. Other allow you to move scientists from your supply onto the active wedge, etc. Additionally, you are allowed to discard a ship or cube in your color to the Discarded box – these pieces are out of the game forever, but they will be used in final scoring.
Once the first ship in line has moved and taken an action, the second ship only activates if a card was played to activate it on a previous turn. The third ship never activates. Ships move up in line after the first ship moves so there is a new ship in front. [thanks to Larry Rice for correcting me!]
Then, the sun moves counterclockwise into the next wedge, and ships again move and act in the order in which they are in the docks.
The game continues until either a player places his last scientist on the board or the final building is built. At this point, the game moves in to the scoring phase. There are a number of different things to calculate here, but they each use the same general philosophy:
- Wedge Scoring – each player counts the number of scientists they have in a wedge. The player with the most scores one point for each of his scientists PLUS one point for each building in the wedge PLUS one bonus point. The second place scores one point for each scientist that the leader had. Third place scores one point for each scientist that the second player had…
- Research Track Scoring – each track is scored separately. There are VP marks on the track which show how much each cube is worth. The leader on the track scores VPs equal to the total of all of the cubes on the track. Second place scores what the first player’s cube is worth, third place scores what the second player’s cube is worth…
- Building Card scoring – as you build buildings, you keep the cards in front of you. Some of the cards have asterisks in the bottom left corner. Each player counts the number of these starred cards. The player with the most scores one point for all starred cards that were built. Second place scores one point for each card that the leader had. Third place scores one point for each starred card that the second placed player had…
- Resource Scoring – Look at the resources in the Discarded area. The player with the most discarded resources scores one point for each resource in the entire box. The second placed player scores one point per piece discarded by the leader…
The player with the most points wins.
My thoughts on the game
Antarctica is a surprisingly meaty game – well surprising from the rules; not surprising when you take into account the sort of titles Argentum is known for. When I read the rules, I was a bit surprised to find that the explanation of the setup was almost as long as the description of the rules of play. Though there are only four action options when you move the ship, the number of ways that they can play out certainly gives you a lot to consider.
You need to think about which action you want to do and where you want your ship to land. The landing area is important because that’s where the action will take place. You are free to move your ship as far around the circle as you want, but the further around the circle you move, the longer it will be for that ship to take another action, because it will not be triggered again until the sun reaches the new location. But, you can’t always move to the first available space because you may not need/want to do something in the first available wedge, or maybe you can’t build a building there because you won’t have the prerequisites needed for it. Anyways, as you can see, there’s a lot to consider when trying to figure out where to place your ship.
The game does move a bit slow (or at least it feels that way). There’s not a lot for you to do when it’s not your ship that is moving, and it’s hard to do a lot of advanced planning because much of your decision making can only happen when you see the layout of the board at the start of your turn. Furthermore, there is a large combination of possible moves when you take into account the landing site of the ship, the desired action to be taken at each of those sites, etc…
Sure, you can control the time gap somewhat by playing your ships close to the sun, but there are times when you really need/want to play far away. You could play closer in hopes of taking a turn again sooner, but this often isn’t worth it if you get a suboptimal action in return. If the action (wedge) you want is available, you often have to take advantage of that when you see it, because odds are very good that the spaces in that wedge will be occupied when it’s your turn next. Early in the game this doesn’t seem that bad, but once players introduce their third and fourth ships to the board, the dock spaces fill up quickly.
In our games, we have had a few players have as much as 15 minutes between moves. Of course, some of this may be due to slow play from the other players, but it’s a long time in a 90-120 minute game to wait. And as I mentioned earlier, the way the game sets itself up, there are plenty of times when you just have to look at the possibilities as they exist at the start of your turn.
Understanding the scoring system is also of paramount importance. The premium for being first in something is so large, it is really worth your while to choose a few things to excel at and abandon the rest. Due to the cumulative nature of scoring for the leader in a category, it’s not uncommon for the leader to score double (or more) of the second player’s score. You don’t want to spend too much energy getting third place in something as there just isn’t a lot of payoff for your efforts. Given the positive feedback loops of scientist placement – it’s quite common for players to try to load up a few regions with lots and lots of scientists and then use them to bounce up the research tracks of the facilities located there.
The artwork is well done and the iconography is easy to follow. A short tutorial in the rules explanation is all it takes to get everyone in the loop. The board can be a bit busy though. The layout tries to make it simple by giving outlines for each of the different buildings, but if a wedge gets fully built out, it can be a bit congested!
Overall, Antartica is a meaty game where you have to make all of your decisions count. You have a lot of options each turn, and you do want to maximize your actions so that you can take the lead in a region or a scoring track. I find that the scoring system gives the game lots of tension near the end because every play can change the situation for scoring in a significant manner. The main drawback for me is the fact that the game can move along slowly, and it’s definitely not one that I would play with an AP prone player. Our group tends to be a fast playing group, and most of our 4p games have come in at 90 minutes…
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (1 play) – There are some nice ideas in the game, but it really didn’t work for us. We did like the rabbits. (OK, I think they were supposed to be windmills. But they looked a _lot_ more like rabbits…)
Chris Wray (1 play) – This didn’t work for me either. Unlike Dale, I actually did have difficulty grasping the rules, as the individual elements didn’t mesh well in my mind, and the board and its components seemed cluttered. The game does become interesting at end game, but the time between turns can be enormous if you move too far around the board. I appreciated some of the mechanics, but I found Antarctica a bit dry.
Ted C. (3 plays) – I consider this very much a puzzle style optimization game that can suffer from analysis paralysis as already stated. Over each play, I did see some new ideas for scoring. Finally decided to sell my copy.
Brian L. (1 play) – The puzzles and clever play opportunities in this game intrigued me. Unfortunately, my one play was similarly plagued by the long gap between turns problem that Dale’s group also experienced. I was glad to have tried the game, but didn’t have not felt compelled to return to it.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Ted c.
- Neutral. Brian L.
- Not for me… Joe H., Chris W.