Inuit: The Snow Folk Review

Inuit The Snow Folk Board Game Review

Inuit is a lavishly illustrated tableau builder that has players growing their small Inuit village in one of the most inhospitable landscapes on the planet.  You’ll have to scout the tundra, trap seals, hunt polar bears and conduct rites in order to not only survive but to flourish.

Inuit is a very simple game, and each turn it asks you the same very simple question: “What do you want to do?”
Inuit The Snow Folk Board Game Review - In Play

That may seem like a grand question worthy of debate, philosophical thinking and much pondering.  But, truth be told, it isn’t.  At least not in this case.  Your village is represented by this neat little folding board; as you recruit villagers you’ll place them under the board and when you send them off to complete a task you add the efforts of their toiling above the board.  The more villagers you have assigned to an area in your village, the more of that task you can complete.  Three bear hunters can hunt and return with three polar bears.  Two Shamans can conduct two Rites and so on.

It isn’t quite that simple though, as there aren’t always three polar bears just knocking about on the Arctic expanse waiting to be hunted.  Conversely, there could be dozens of seals lolling about, but since you only have one seal trapper it will take time to trap them all.  This is the Great White, essentially a common market of cards for you to draw into your village. A new card is added to this selection each turn (with extra cards being added if you choose to Scout, and you will), possibly enhancing your prefered option or simply adding even more cards.
Inuit The Snow Folk Board Game Review - Game Cards

Pretty much every card is worth victory points at the end of the game, the animal or “game” cards are worth the most, and Spirit cards provide bonuses such as +2 for each Elder.  Even you villagers are worth points, and interestingly, they are worth points to you even if they are in an opponent’s village. 
It’s a very interesting aspect to the game; you will score points for all villagers of your clan regardless of which village they are part of.  You’ll also receive negative points for each villager not of your own clan in your village.  Although this is interesting it isn’t especially exciting as all it really means is that most players will have mostly their own clan in their village.  The game is coercing you into a behaviour quite heavy-handedly, and you are not entirely sure why.

In fact, this interesting/negative scoring causes a bit of a problem when scaling the game down to two-players (also at three but far less so).   With only two players a sizable chunk of the deck is made up of villagers that neither player wants.  Your options are to fight them, which isn’t nearly as an appealing option against a non-player, or you can recruit them into your village at the cost of the negative points or just leave them there, cluttering your table.  At three players this is less of an issue, but an issue all the same.  The crux of it comes from the fact that even though some of these negatives can be counterbalanced, it feels grossly sub-optimal to deliberately and consciously take negative points.  It could be a tactic that works for some, but years of gaming has conditioned me to avoid point penalties it’s hard to undo it, even if I can see the rationale behind it.  
Inuit The Snow Folk Board Game Review - Villagers

More often than not, your choices are pretty straightforward.  The various Game cards, Seals, Orcas and Polar bears are where the points are.  Shamans will allow you to conduct rites which will change the layout of your, or your opponent's, villages.  Spirits add bonus points at the end and each villager of your own clan will score you points too. 

I've never been overwhelmed for choices when playing Inuit.  I know where the points are and I go for them.  It makes the most sense to claim many cards over fewer, so when there is only one polar bear, I'll expand my village by adding another hunter or scout etc., and when there are lots of valuable resources, I claim as many as I can.

It would be fair to say that in most games I've been “whelmed” for choice. I've never been in a position where I've had to make a difficult decision between collecting this resource and that. There is always something to do in my turn, an action worth taking, but there isn’t really much tension in that action.  One of the more interesting choices in the game comes from the player interaction which manages to be delicate, vicious and fleeting all at once.  
Inuit The Snow Folk Board Game Review - Great White Close Up

In Inuit, you are building what is essentially a primitive engine, and the fuel for this engine is villagers.  By fighting and killing your opponent’s villagers (only while they are in the Great White) you can force them to start taking non-clan-villagers, you can slow their engine, inflict point penalties while at the same time bagging yourself a few points.  This tactic is delicate because it is so precise in its attack, vicious because it directly assaults a player and can really mess up their plans for their engine, and fleeting in that it’s over and done just like any other action in the game.

However, this game isn’t designed for me, or gamers like me.  This is squarely a gateway game.  Inuit is beautiful to look at, it has very simple rules, very simple choices.  Scores are easy to gauge, player actions and repercussions are easy to predict.  To an experienced gamer, there aren’t any surprises in the game, it does what it does and it does it pretty well.  It just doesn’t do it for me. 

Inuit: the Snow folk is a good gateway game.  It’s good for teaching some core principles of hobby games but once it has served its purpose it doesn’t have any reason to stay in a collection other than to teach other new gamers and look pretty on the shelf.

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher. 
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