Skull Canyon Ski Fest
- Designers: Jason Klinke and Kip Noschese
- Publisher: Pandasaurus
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 14+
- Time: 45-60 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Pandasaurus
The intro from the rules: Skull Canyon Ski Resort is finally celebrating their grand re-opening with a huge festival, after being closed for many snowy seasons in a row. Hopefully by now, skiers have forgotten the rumors of yeti sightings on the mountains. Hit the slopes and brave the terrain, competing against other skiers for points and fame. Play sets of cards to complete a run, but remember to do it in style to wow the onlookers! Take the lift to reach different parts of the mountain and claim the most difficult runs!
Setup the board on the table; putting the Yeti in the cave, placing random bonus markers on the appropriate spaces on the board, and setting up the weather track and the daylight track. The board shows the mountain with the mostly universally accepted system of green runs being easy, blues intermediate, and black the most difficult. The different chair lifts are seen in red. The run scoreboard is placed above the mountain, and here the players can track which runs they have completed.
The Gear and Slope decks are shuffled, and a 4 card display is made for each. Each player takes the components of their color, puts their skier meeple at Lodge #1 on the board, and gets a hand of 7 Slope cards.
The game is played over 3 days, where the bulk of each day is done skiing. There is an Apres-Ski phase between the days where player can take bonus actions and buy gear in the Ski Village.
In the Skiing phase, turns are taken in order, and on each turn, players take 2 actions per turn. The options are: Train, Ride a Lift, or Ski a Run. The same action can be done twice, and the actions can otherwise be done in any order. When the last player in turn order has finished their turn, they move the daylight marker down one space. If it hits the “End” space, the day of skiing is over – and the game will move into the Apres Ski phase; well, unless it is the end of Day 3, at which point the game ends.
A bit more about the possible actions in the Ski Phase:
Train – choose up to 2 Slope cards, either taking one of the 4 face up display cards or the top of the deck. The cards have 5 possible styles as well as 3 different colors. Each card is a combination of a color and a style. When you take a card from the display, you immediately replace it before taking the next card. Yeti cards are wild and act as any color or style. You can only choose a Yeti from the display as your first card, and your turn ends if you take it. You are allowed to draw another card if you get a Yeti from the deck on your first draw. If there are ever 3 Yetis in the display, discard all the cards and reveal a new 4. (Essentially, describe this to veteran games as just like Ticket to Ride).
Ride a Lift – If you are at the base of a red lift track, you can take the lift up the mountain to the next lodge or waypoint. Note that if you are at Lodge #1 at the bottom of the mountain, you can take ANY of the lifts that start at the bottom. (If you have a Lift Ticket token, you can do this action without it counting as one of the 2 for your turn)
Ski a Run – Go through these six steps:
- Play a set of cards (either the same color or same style) for your run. In general, the minimum for green = 2 cards, blue = 4 cards, black = 7 cards.
- Move your skier to the bottom of the run; and if you played exactly 1 Yeti card, move the Yeti to a different run. The Yeti prevents anyone from doing the run that it is on. Note there are 2 runs which the Yeti cannot ever block.
- Score VP based on the difficulty of your run. 2 VP for green, 4 VP for blue, 8 VP for black
- Earn Fame based on the difficulty of the run. 1 for green, 2 for blue, 3 for black. If there is a style bonus marker on the run, if all of your cards match the icon on the marker, you double your fame. Also, if you do a run which reaches the bottom of the mountain on the final space of the daylight track, add an additional Fame point to your total.
- Mark the run on the scoreboard if you meet the conditions to steal or claim the run – if you are the first to do a run, place your marker on the appropriate space on the run scoreboard. To steal an already scored run, you must have played an additional number of cards equal to the number of markers on the space for that run. If so, place your marker on top of the markers already there.
- If you played two or more Yeti cards, trigger an avalanche – ALL skiers must move their meeple down one run, even one blocked by the Yeti. If this causes a player to make it to the bottom of the mountain on the last daylight space, they will get the 1 Fame bonus, even if it is not their turn. (If you have an Explosive Charge token, you can discard it to trigger an avalanche before or after any of your actions)
At the end of the first and second days, there is an Apres-Ski phase where all players move their meeples to the Ski Village at the bottom of the mountain. There is a turn track in the bottom left of the board. Place the lowest skier on the #1 spot and continue to move players onto the track as you go up the mountain. If there is a tie, the earlier in turn order that round moves to the track first.
There are six possible locations in the Ski Village, and they are numbered I – VI from left to right. Initial turn order in this phase is done per the track at the left of the village. Once all players have moved off the track, then the leftmost skier gets to go next. It could be possible for a skier to take multiple turns in a row.
When it is your turn, you can move as far to the right as you like. When you stop, you place you skier on the rightmost open slot (if there are multiple spots), and then pay for the location using either Fame or slope cards. Then you take the action seen on the space.
You can always move to the rightmost location, the Hotel, as there is no cost nor limit to the number of skiers that can be there.
When you reach the hotel, there are a number of steps to take:
- Draw slope cards from the deck; the number based on the weather for the next day
- Spend fame to buy 1 face up gear card from the market; do NOT refresh the market. Gear cards give you ongoing abilities and are also worth victory points at the end of the game
- If the next day is snowy, you can start at any lodge; otherwise start at the base of the mountain
Once all players have made it thru the Hotel, you discard any unpurchased gear and deal out a new display. Pass the start player marker clockwise, and play another round.
At the end of the third day of skiing, there is no Apres-Ski; just final scoring. Added to the points scored during the game:
- Fame: 1 VP per 3 fame at the end
- Gear: VP as printed on the gear cards (between 1 to 3 VP per card)
- Most Green Runs (only the top marker on each run is counted): 8VP
- Most Blue Runs (only the top marker on each run is counted): 6 VP
- Most Black Runs (only the top marker on each run is counted): 4 VP
- Most Total Runs (only the top marker on each run is counted): 4 VP
The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most fame.
My thoughts on the game
Skull Canyon Ski Fest is a fun romp of climbing up the mountain and skiing back down. It combines the concepts of set collection of the cards with majority scoring on the scoreboard. The built in flexibility in the card play – being able to use the background or the style- gives you plenty of options as you collect the cards.
The advantages gained from gear should not be ignored. These ongoing advantages can really give you a leg up on the competition, and you should be well aware that there are only two chances to pick up some gear. I’d recommend not letting yourself get shut out of the extra stuff.
Overall, the game moves fast, and I usually find that I have to make sure I can do all the things that I want. With only 3 days, and 4 turns per day – you have to make the most of your 24 actions. Getting a free ski lift pass is essentially a free turn – and after a few plays, it is something that I usually try to take advantage of at least once in the game. You can also employ some good turn management – there are times you might want to take a ski lift up the mountain (assuming you know where you want to go) if the card selection isn’t what you want; so you temporize for a turn by going up instead and hoping that your opponents choose those cards you don’t want and replenish the selection with more desirable cards…
While you’re trying to maximize your actions, you have to figure out your paths up and down the mountain. At times, you’ll want certain runs to help you put markers on the scoreboard. Other times, you might have the right skill cards in your hand to take advantage of the bonus fame for matching the type on the marker. Having excess fame can be really handy when making your way thru the Apres-Ski village…
It helps to be a little flexible on the downward run, as it is surprising how often the Yeti moves to block routes, and of course, each time your opponents get a chance to move the Yeti, you can figure that they’re trying to block somebody from a desired path! You can often look at the position on the scoreboard to divine what run someone is trying to go down. There are a few runs which the Yeti cannot block (as they are the only options down the hill from that point) – otherwise, you’ll never be completely blocked by the Yeti…
Graphically, the style is nice and thematic. A couple of ergonomic quibbles. First, the scoreboard doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to the organization of the runs, they are neither in alphabetic order nor matching the spatial order on the map. It just takes a little bit of extra time to find the run when it’s time to place a marker or reference the board. Second, I wish the line of spaces in the apres-ski village was left to right and not up and down. It has confused a few people given that everything else goes left to right; and anything that lessens confusion is a good thing in my book.
Scoring is pretty easy, and there are reminders all over the place. During the game, you probably would do well to figure out your plan. Getting the bonuses is nice, but the largest bonus is no more than a single black run; so you’ll have to figure out which is the best way to gain the points. As I mentioned before, the Gear cards you gain give you some pretty strong advantages, and honestly, you might shift direction after the first day if you get a gear card that really helps out. Also, don’t forget that each gear card is worth VP on its own – another reason not to get shut out.
Overall, a fun and challenging game set on a ski slope. It’s not that heavy, and it is an enjoyable 40-60 minute game. It gives you some of the feeling of Ticket to Ride in the whole collecting cards for a bunch of turns and then spending them to travel – but the scoring system gives you so many options on figuring out what the best way down the mountain would be.
Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3Esu7Lb
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, John P
- Neutral. Steph H.
- Not for me…