A survival horror card game from IDW Games presents the biggest challenge of the winter. After a dozen plays, we didn’t come close to winning on easy. Could we beat this cooperative 2-6 player game for those 12 and up, which plays in 30 minutes or less? Read on to find out!
Outpost: Siberia Components
The game comes in a really nice, stamped metal box. However, when you open it, there’s actually little to the game — just 54 cards and six cardboard chits for counting life points. The art and the design of the cards are both of excellent quality and once you figure out how to read them, it’s very intuitive.
The 54 cards are broken into four types of cards. There are six character cards, which represent the roles you’ll play in the game. To further identify these cards, each has a binocular icon in the upper right. Each has a piece of representative art of the character and something bad happening to him or her. They all have names that sound like they were taken from a Saturday morning kids’ show, if that kids’ show was a horror film. Names like Arctic Explorer Bryan and Survivalist Dana are just a couple of the characters waiting to die for your entertainment. Beneath the names are special abilities, unique to each character, and beneath that, a life tracker. You’ll be visiting that a lot.
There are 18 threat cards, which are evil and horrifying monsters looking to do you wrong. As you’d expect from Siberia, there are brown bears, wolves and Siberian tigers — but not your garden variety. These are frightening and mutated beasts … and the tiger is frenzied! The mutation is surely part of the reason you and your fellow adventurers are at the outpost, but you will soon be crying for home when you see the fangs on these predators. Think a flying snow squirrel can’t give nightmares? Think again. And that doesn’t account for the supernatural creatures at Outpost: Siberia. There’s a Yeti, a Thawed Out Mammoth and an infected explorer and scientist whose existence will have you questioning reality.
Each of these threat cards includes a name, ability, and identifying piece of art. Lest you think one of these is a crewmate, an eye in the upper right let’s you know the card is a part of the expedition deck. In the upper left are two numbers. The first, which looks like a scrape, is the threat’s combat value (CV), or damage it can deal. The maximum CV they deal is one. The second number is their health. At the bottom of the threat cards are benefits to the crew. After defeating a monster, it becomes a part of your deck and provides both a CV for the players and a supply — either food or water. the color of the information is different at the bottom of the card and in its upper right (when oriented to be read), there’s a backpack to denote it is part of the outpost deck.
The events, both good and bad, are laid out similarly. Each has an event name and ability with art that is consistent across the good cards and complementary art for the bad cards. There are icons to indicate if it’s good or bad, in case you have difficulty seeing color, and each has a payment cost to the crew when the event presents itself. The good event cards are OK. The bad event cards are miserable. Like the threat cards, at the bottom of the event cards are supplies for the outpost deck and corresponding CV. In addition to food and water, there are some tools in the event decks — flamethrowers and pick axes for finishing off beasts, first aid kits for regaining health, and flares for ignoring threat effects that round.
The cards are normal playing card size and I’ve taken to packing them in a leftover box from a deck of Bicycle playing cards and using some coins for the health trackers. I am going to beat this game at some point. Having it with me at all times strengthens those chances.
How do you play Outpost: Siberia?
Setup is pretty easy. Separate the cards into four decks: players, threats, good events, and bad events. Each player chooses a character card and places a token on the highest number of their life tracker. Both the good and the bad events should be quickly shuffled, but separately. Next, select a number of good events and bad events, according to the rule book’s difficulty table. (Easy is eight good events and four bad events.)
Take these twelve cards and shuffle them into the threats, creating what is known as the Expedition deck. The remaining events should be shuffled together, forming the Outpost deck. The backs of the threat and event cards are printed with a back so you can quickly arrange them so either the expedition or outpost information is oriented toward the tops.
Say a prayer and a farewell to your next of kin, gameplay is now ready to begin.
Each player should have their character card in front of them. It’s up to this motley crew to decide who goes first and what the turn order will be on each round. Character abilities (and health conditions) will help dictate the turn order.
For each player, there are three required actions and two optional actions each turn:
- Draw Outpost Cards — Draw 2 cards from the Outpost deck and decide which to keep in your hand and which to play to the supply, an area in the center of the table with items available for all players. With outpost cards, you are only concerned with the gold end of the card, what’s at the other end does not matter. The card you keep in your hand can only be used for its combat value (CV) and the card played to the supply can only be used for the item and its effect. This is a required action.
- Attack Threats — If there are any threats, those nasty monsters, on the table, now’s your chance to unleash fury. This is an optional action. Each threat has a health value and you can play cards from your hand to hurt them. Tuck your cards beneath the threat and once the cumulative CV meets or exceeds, the threat can be eliminated.
- Use Equipment — But not so fast! To finish off a threat, you must play a pick axe or flamethrower (or sometimes (gulp!) both) from the supply to provide the killing blow. Once you do, the threat, the supply card and all the CV cards are placed in the discard pile. You can also play a first aid kit from supply to provide player(s) with health or a flare to nullify a threat’s effect for the round. This is an optional action.
- Endure Expedition Card — Everything’s going great, right? It was. Now, the active player has to reveal an expedition card. This might be a good or bad event, each of which has a cost associated with it, either food or water. If the necessary card isn’t in the supply, someone has to take a damage. After resolving the cost, resolve the effect, which can be somewhat helpful or very bad. If the expedition card is a threat, reveal the card in a threat area of the table, where all current threats are displayed. The threat attacks immediately and the active player may choose from the players who’ve already had a turn this round and give that player a damage. This is a required action.
- Exhaust Character Card — In the final required action each turn, a player should tap their card (turn it sideways) to indicate that character’s turn is complete that round. Some threats have end-of-round effects. Resolve these once all players have exhausted their cards.
Players take turns completing these actions until one of three conditions is met. If the players work entirely through the Expedition deck and resolve all cards, they win! If any player ever drops to zero health, they lose. Also, if there are ever five threats in play at the end of a player’s turn, they lose.
Optimistically, at the end of the rule book, it reads: Once you win the game, why not try again at a harder difficulty?
Ha! As if!
In a nod to how brutal this game can be, IDW came out with an updated survival guide (links to PDF). In addition to some tips for how to play, there are a few recommended updates to setup and play.
First, during setup, remove six random threats from the Expedition deck, then deal one to each player as a starting hand. Discard any leftovers to the box. During play, players should draw three cards (instead of two) from the Outpost deck. This gives players a greater choice and in addition to one to the hand, one to the supply, and one is discarded. Finally, card actions from supply and attacking can be done in any order.
Why You Should Play Outpost: Siberia
There’s no reward in playing a game you can solve within the first play or two. Part of why we play games is for the cerebral challenge and Outpost: Siberia has that in spades. The game is absolutely merciless. When we first sat down to play it, we thought “Oh, this will be a fun way to spend 20 minutes.” An hour later, we were on our fifth play, evolving strategies, trying to find a way to get an edge.
One thing that became immediately apparent was that you needed a full complement of six players to have a chance. Fewer players meant that threats with end-of-round effects would activate too frequently. We didn’t have six players, so some of us doubled-up on characters. We still lost.
It was a bit disheartening to spend so much time on a game and not come close to winning. So, off to the message boards we went. Our plight seemed par for the course. A lot of people complained about how difficult the game was. A significant number of them said they had given the game away, traded it, or banished it to the back of their shelves. Quitters.
We picked up a tip or two and went back at it. Another hour, still, no luck. We decided to only put good events in the Expedition deck. Still, we were destroyed. OK, maybe those quitters were on to something . . .
One more time back to the message boards and I spied the survival guide. We decided we would give the new rules a final chance. The first time with the new setup and rule tweaks, we died again — but it was closer. The next time out, we won. After so much failure, the victory was very sweet. We hooped and high-fived. Then we put the game away. It will come out again, I’m sure of it. But maybe after the bruises heal.
IDW has a second version of the game coming out in March, this one is set in the Amazon. Its impossible to tell from the cards shown on the page and there’s no rule book yet, but hopefully they make tweaks to make the game just a bit easier. I don’t mind a challenge when playing a game. In this case, dying has never been so much fun.
Outpost: Siberia is available now and retails for just $19.99.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.