FYI: There have been two editions of Rescue Polar Bears. This review concerns the more recent one, Data & Temperature.
What is this game about?
Rescue Polar Bears: Data & Temperature is just what it says on the tin—a game about rescuing polar bears! You (and possibly fellow players) will control boats that sail around the arctic, collecting data about global warming while preventing adorable, adorable polar bears from drowning when the ice caps melt. While you can only win the game by picking up a specific number of data tokens, you can lose the game by failing to protect the bear population. You begin the game with a limited number of helicopters that can pick up bears that have fallen into the water. But if you need a helicopter and don't have one? Game over. Let's not dwell on the fact that a polar bear is dead and it's your fault. You can also lose the game if you end a turn with the temperature above 20 degrees.
The bears themselves, of course, do not exactly behave according to plan. Despite their shrinking living space, the bears will attempt to reproduce each turn. Baby bears grow up, and adult couples pop out not one, but two bear cubs! Think Pandemic, except you want to save the disease cubes while also preventing them from multiplying too much.
It's not an easy game, but Rescue Polar Bears does offer you a few helping hands. Each time you collect a certain number of data tokens, you can upgrade one of your boats, which may allow you to move further or pick up more bears. And if you land on certain hexes on the board, you can draw support cards that sometimes offer significant benefits.
How does it play solo?
Rescue Polar Bears is a cooperative game, but it can be played solo by controlling two or more boats. Gameplay is straightforward enough that it's no problem to play two-handed.
Rescue Polar Bears has a unique theme and excellent production values that really shine. The bears are so adorable that it's impossible not to worry about them! When I played this game with students, we all got excited about saving bears and surprisingly upset when we had to helicopter them out of the water. This game is good fun solo, but it especially shines in a group because it is so engaging.
The other huge benefit that Rescue Polar Bears has to offer is that it is extremely easy to teach, while still being a difficult game. You can't expect to win every time you play, and this adds plenty of drama and tension to the proceedings. But you can whip this game out with any play group, with any level of experience, and have a fantastic time.
While Rescue Polar Bears has a very unusual theme, it does not feature equally surprising gameplay. The game works great, but it's mechanically very workmanlike. Don't expect a fresh take on cooperative games inspired by Pandemic. That said, this doesn't bother me at all—the game works so well, and it brings joy every time I pull it off the shelf.
Do I recommend it?
I definitely recommend it. Rescue Polar Bears is adorable, fun, and challenging enough to please a wide range of gamers. This one's a keeper.
Overall Rating: 4 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.