What is this game about?
Arctic Scavengers is a deck building game set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which groups of people band together to scavenge for and fight over resources. Mechanically, it has some cool variations on deck building because each card may be able to perform multiple actions, but actions (drawing extra cards, digging in the junkyard, recruiting new cards) take place in a specific order and each card can only be counted towards a single action. Choosing how to use your cards each turn is a big part of your strategy. After the first three rounds, the game also includes skirmishes, in which players commit facedown cards to a battle at the end of each round of play. When the skirmish cards are revealed, the winner makes off with a "contested resource" to further build up his or her tribe.
No matter what happens in Arctic Scavengers, the largest tribe wins—your ultimate score at the end of the game is based not on resources or fighting prowess, but on how many members you've recruited to your tribe during gameplay. You can thin your deck by removing people from your group, but you don't want to go too thin because each person in your tribe contributes to endgame scoring. All in all, Arctic Scavengers is a game that is all about tense decisions—how will you deploy your cards? Should you ditch that worthless refugee? Do you try to bluff during the skirmish to see if you can get your competitors to back out?
The HQ and Recon expansions for Arctic Scavengers add some new mechanics, including tribal leaders (HQ) and new types of mercenaries (Recon). The solo rules for this game were originally published with the Recon expansion. My edition of Arctic Scavengers includes the base game plus both expansions in a single box.
How does it play solo?
Arctic Scavengers is a highly interactive game, which means that the solo mode needs to play very differently. There is a solitaire variant published in the Recon rulebook. To play solo, you need to shuffle up the contested resource cards along with rifles and thugs. Then you break those cards up into 7 skirmishes with increasing numbers of cards. You play as normal, except that each time you shuffle your discard pile, you remove the top card of your deck to represent your tribe's attrition over time. You are never forced to complete a skirmish at the end of the round, but the game does not end until you have fought the seventh battle. If you lose a skirmish, you also lose one of the cards you committed to the skirmish, which will impact your final score.
In the solo mode of Arctic Scavengers, your score is based on the cards you have, rather than on the number of people in your tribe. You get 2 points per resource, and 1 point for every other card in your tribe.
There is one major issue with the way the solo rules are written. They do not specify whether you should set up the junkyard—the location in the game where you send people to dig for resources like medicine. If you don't set it up, it can be impossible to recruit some types of mercenaries (such as those who require meds), so you can't do a purely random setup. If you do play with a junkyard, this problem is eliminated, but the solo game is easier because you can scavenge any number of times before fighting the seventh skirmish and bringing the game to a close. I checked BGG for clarification on this matter, but didn't see anything conclusive. Leave me a comment if you did!
Arctic Scavengers is a very cool deck builder if you're playing with a game group—it creates an exciting race for resources, and the bluffing aspect of the skirmishes each round can be a ton of fun. The solo mode, however, doesn't work. Not only is there lack of clarity in the solo rules (see above), but the solo rules as printed create a boring game no matter how you interpret them. With no forced skirmishes, you can essentially just goof around until your deck is the size you want. Even though you have to discard a card every time you cycle through your deck and reshuffle, that hardly matters if you are able to recruit several cards each turn—something that won't be a problem with all of that time to gather up resources. And since solo is a beat-your-own-score game, you are basically being encouraged to string your game waaaaay out so that you can acquire as many cards as possible. And trust me, it stops being fun after a while.
Several brave souls on BGG have created their own homebrew variants to make a solo version of Arctic Scavengers that works. I admire the effort, but for me, there are so many great solo games out there that I'd rather spend my time on a game that was truly made for me.
Do I recommend it?
For solo? No.
Overall Rating: 1 star
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.