08th May2019

‘Inuit: The Snow Folk’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


It’s hardly rare for a board game to build its theme around the lives of the native people of one region or another, but in most cases, such games tend to marginalise, exploit or otherwise belittle such people. Inuit: The Snow Folk is a very, very different prospect. Designed in collaboration with the Inuk people,Inuit: The Snow Folk allows players an abstracted view of life in the snow – with fascinating results.

Inuit: The Snow Folk is a relatively simple card drafting and tableau building game that offers the players multiple routes to victory. It is something of a point salad and the box includes a score pad specifically designed to aid in endgame scoring. That said, after a few games, I began to use the pad as more of an aid memoire rather than a counting tool, since its main function is to make sure the players don’t miss anything.

During setup, each player takes one of the long, foldout boards in a desired colour. They then shuffle a large (and rather unwieldy) deck of cards that may or may not include one of the two expansions that come bundled in the base game. A specific card (Polar Nightfall) that signals the end of the game is shuffled into the last ten cards and placed beneath the deck. If using the expansions, then there may be other aspects of setup such as sorting Sunrise, High Sun and Sunset cards and removing warfare cards relating to tribes (colours) that are not in the game (only applicable with fewer than four players.)

With this done, the players will draw the top five cards from the deck and place them face up in the middle of the table, creating The Great White. With this done, the game can begin and at this point, the first player will be looking at their own player board, a large deck of cards and then the five face up cards in The Great White. The first thing they’ll do on their turn is draw an additional card, which is mandatory.

After this, the player may take the optional step of Scouting, which allows them to draw a number of additional cards equal to the number of Inuit cards that are placed beneath the Scout action on their board, plus one (for the tribesperson show on the player board itself.) So, on their first turn, a player might choose to Scout once based purely on their starting tribesperson. After Scouting, a player may activate any one other occupation, again for a value of one tribesperson. Depending upon which occupation they activate, they’ll be able to take one or more of the cards in The Great White.

In summary, all of these occupations work in the same way, but they allow the player to draft different cards. The Elder action allows the player to recruit a new Inuit card – either an adult or a child – to then place it beneath their player board in any occupation. There’s an interesting nuance here in that each adult card shares a colour with one of the player boards, whilst each adult shares the colour of two of the player boards. Taking Inuit cards that match your colour will gain you points, whilst taking non-matching Inuit cards will lose points. Even when the choice seems sub-optimal, you may simply need to expand your tribe.

Aside from Scout, which I’ve already explained, the other actions each allow the players to take cards that will potentially gain them points later in the game, or allow them to take actions now. Three of the occupations relate to hunting, allowing the player to claim Orca, Seal or Polar Bear cards which all yield points. The rarity of each of these cards reflects the associated real life risk of these hunts and the point value for each kind of animal is also tiered.

The Shaman action allows the player to take a Rite or Spirit card, each of which will come with some printed text that relates to its ultimate value. A Spirit card will usually allow the player to gain a number of points based on something else within their tableau – for example, a bonus for a particular kind of hunting. Rite cards have various effects, but they often allows players to bend or change the usual rules – for example, they might allow the player to change Inuit occupations midgame (which is not normally allowed.)

The last action is Warfare, and it is slightly different. In short, the Warfare action allows a player to take one or more Inuit cards from The Great White to then place them face down above the Warfare occupation. This, symbolically, indicates claiming enemy weapons by defeating them in battle, which is why they are turned face down. At this point, those cards are referred to as weapons for the purpose of scoring, including when resolving Spirit or Rite cards, for example.

Inuit: The Snow Folk continues on with the players taking turns to place a card in The Great White, Scout (if they choose to) and then take one Occupation action. As a result, Inuit: The Snow Folk is a very fast paced game despite what seems like a huge deck of cards to work through. When the Polar Nightfall card is drawn, the players take a final turn and then the final (and only) scoring takes place. The player with the most points, wins.

There are many positives about Inuit: The Snow Folk, beginning with the fact that the game’s creators take great pride in the fact that their game was created with the collaboration and blessing of the Inuk people. This should be encouraged and applauded in my opinion, because far too many games assume what the lives of indigenous people must be like, and in doing so, misappropriate their culture for financial gain.

Not only does Inuit: The Snow Folk correct this from a moral perspective, but it also feels like a more accurate and wholesome game as a result. Inuit: The Snow Folk is very simple to play, but it feels thematic and interesting, without ever becoming boring or bogging down in mundane tasks. It must have been tempting to make Inuit: The Snow Folk into a worker placement game, for example, but by focussing on card drafting and tableau building, I think it will reach a broader and more diverse audience.

The next good thing about Inuit: The Snow Folk is the artwork, which is wholly excellent. From the spectacular cover art to the individual cards, artist Paulina Wach has done a superb job. I won’t pretend to have an in depth knowledge of which dyes are available to the Inuk, but I doubt that they have colours as widely varied as used in the game. However, by using this particular palette, I think what Paulina has set out to achieve is to draw the eye to this important game, whilst also demonstrating how rich, vibrant and colourful Inuit life is for the benefit of a largely unknowing public.

Finally, and I guess most importantly, Inuit: The Snow Folk is an enjoyable and smart game to play. It is very simple to learn and to teach and very fast paced when in play. The two bundled expansions might as well be used from the outset as they add some interesting but easily managed complexity, but even the base game remains enjoyable for players of all skill levels. The only negative from my perspective is player count, and there is no doubt in my mind that Inuit: The Snow Folk is materially more interesting with four players than it is at two – unsurprisingly, three player games sit somewhere between.

Inuit: The Snow Folk is an important, beautiful and extremely fun game that deserves the attention of any collector. It’s a useful teaching aid for younger players (and it is simple enough too) but it’s also filled with interesting decisions and choices for the more veteran gamer. A very good addition to any shelf.

**** 4/5

Inuit: The Snow Folk is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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