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SIBERIA: THE CARD GAME

(dlp Games, 2-4 players, ages 9 and up, 20 minutes; 14,90 €)

 

You know how hit movies often spin off sequels (or prequels or “behind the scenes” documentaries)? And you know how often those sequels (or prequels or “behind the scenes” documentaries) are simply awful? Well, generally speaking, the same holds true for games. So it is a very pleasant surprise to find a welcome exception to the rule with Siberia: The Card Game.siberiacardgamebox

Siberia: The Card Game is based on Siberia: The Board Game (both designed by Reiner Stockhausen) that hit the tables last year and was featured in the Spring 2012 issue of Gamers Alliance Report. Once again, players travel into the arctic cold and, as in the boardgame, compete to extract and sell resources from Siberia.

As to be expected, Siberia: The Card Game ditches the board (and those colorful wooden cubes) in favor of several different types of cards: 60 Action cards, 36 Resource cards and specialized “person cards”: 10 “workers”, 8 “salesmen” and 5 “investors” and they are placed on their own in separate stacks. There is also a “headframe” card.

Resource cards represent the five resources found in the game, all color-coded and in unequal amounts with the more plentiful being less valuable. There are 10 pink/gas (ranging in value from 1000 to 3000), 8 black/coal (valued at 1000 to 5000), 7 brown/charcoal (2000 to 6000), 6 orange/gold (ranging from 4000 to 6000) and 5 diamonds/white (valued from 4000 to 7000). (While the rules are clear and straightforward, it is puzzling that this card breakdown is NOT in the rules! Knowing the relative amounts and values is important.)

Resource cards are shuffled and eight of them dealt out in a straight line face down. Then the first three of these are turned up. (A “headframe” card depicts an arrow to indicate the order in which these resources may be extracted.) All players start with one worker card and are dealt a hand of five action cards.

On a turn, a player may turn over one of the face down resource cards. (If three or more resource cards are face down, a card MUST be turned over.) Then a card action must be taken.

Action cards are similar to the counters used in the boardgame. Each Action card depicts two icons: a resource and a person. To perform a particular action, a player must play TWO cards which share the same icon. (Don’t have two? Then you can play THREE cards, two of them considered “wild” to perform the action.) So what actions are available?

First, you can try to harvest resources. You do this by playing two cards of the same type (or three if using your “wild card” power) and collecting, in the order of the headframe arrow (no skipping around), one card of that type of resource for each worker you have. Only FACE UP resource cards may be extracted. Collected resource cards are placed in a player’s own stash and are immediately replaced from the resource card deck with another face down resource card. Or you can try to recruit a person.

As mentioned, three types of persons populate the game, each with their own particular purpose. Play two Action cards with worker icons and you can recruit another worker to your enterprise. This enables you to harvest more resource cards when playing resource icons. Or you could recruit an investor. There are five investors, one for each resource. Having an investor means you only need ONE card (instead of two) to harvest the matching resource of that investor. The third person is the salesman. Unlike workers and investors, salesmen won’t help you in getting resources. Salesmen do, however, become immensely important in scoring. (More on that later.)siberiacardpcsAfter completing an action, a player ends the turn by drawing one action card. (If your cards are such that you either can’t or won’t use them to perform an action, you may simply draw TWO cards and pass. But there is a limit. No more than eight cards are permitted in your hand at the start of your turn.)

Play continues with the line of resource cards replenished as needed until the resource card deck runs out and the last card in the line is uncovered. At that point, each player (including the one who revealed the final card) gets one more turn. Then we score.

Each collected resource card has a value and a player scores the face value of each card. For example, let’s say I have collected three gold cards with a face value of 4000, 5000 and 6000 for a total of 15,000. Not bad. But that score can change and that’s where those salesmen come in.

Salesmen act as significant modifiers to the values of resources. So, in continuing our example, if I have managed to recruit the gold salesman, then, when scoring, EACH gold card I have, regardless of face value, is worth 7000. My 15,000 score has just zoomed to 21,000! Even better! There is a salesman for each of the five resources but salesman influence doesn’t stop there; they also impact the value of people you have recruited too.

All people in your “crew” are worth 1000 when scoring. But if you have a “worker salesman”, workers are twice as valuable, scoring 2000 each. Similarly, the “investor salesman” jumps the value of each investor to 4000. Salesmen are not immune to these effects either. If you have the “salesman salesman”, EACH salesman you have is worth 3000!

When the worth of all resources and people are totaled (you’ll have to get your own pen and paper for this as none are provided), the player who has accrued the most value wins!

In creating Siberia: The Card Game, Stockhausen has condensed the gameplay of the boardgame. Rather than having to shift salesmen from one stock exchange to another to convert resources into maximum cash, selling is left for the final scoring. You still have to make decisions regarding growing a larger workforce or sales force but the whole process is reduced to its essence. It was suggested (in the boardgame review) that “it might have been a good idea to increase player interaction if, somehow, a player could block another player from maximizing his profit…” and Stockhausen has done just that by allowing a player who sees an opponent gathering up a particular resource the chance to play defense and recruit the matching salesman thereby denying the opposition a potentially game-winning windfall.

More importantly, the card game actually eliminates (or at least successfully modifies) the problem of bad blind counter draws by allowing the two card/wild card play. Although the boardgame had “manager” counters that could serve as “wild”, you were still left to the mercy of a blind draw. With the two card/wild card play option, the “wild” choice is always available. Not only does this keep the game moving but it exacts a price (although not too brutal a price) for extracting resources that may be appealing but for which you do not have the proper cards. (This works with recruiting additional workers, investors or salesmen too.) And speaking of cards, the troublesome cube colors in the boardgame are reproduced on the cards here without a problem (aided by distinctive icons). Another plus is that the game scales well with two, three or four players. (A bonus is that the salesmen cards can be used as an expansion with the parent game if so desired.)

In the boardgame, the goal is to travel into the various Siberian regions, harvest resources and sell them at various stock exchanges to maximize profit. Faced with the challenge of condensing a boardgame into a card game, a designer is faced with many, often difficult, choices – choices that can prove overwhelming. Fortunately, Siberia: The Card Game streamlines the entire process without losing its flavor making this game an excellent choice for a game session opener or closer. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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