North Pole is a cute card game about penguins going on vacation to the North Pole, and then going back home. Light, easy to learn, and not too mean, this is definitely a family sort of game.
Time: 30 Minutes
Designer: Christopher Rao
Publisher: Cambridge Games Factory
The usual Cambridge Games Factory plastic shell case (alas) holding 96 cards in four different animal suits from 1-6, Base Camp and North Pole cards, six cute penguin player cards with stands, six plastic chips, the rulebook, and a single quick reference sheet. The basic cards are functional enough, nothing wrong with them, nothing special. But the penguins are definitely adorable.
32 cards are placed facedown on the table, in a 4x8 rectangle. The four corners are removed, and two opposing corners are replaced with the North Pole and Base Camp. Penguins are all placed on the Base Camp, and the two cards adjacent to the Base Camp are turned face-up. Players are each dealt five cards, and five from the deck are turned face-up in a selection row.
On your turn, you play cards to move your penguin along the terrain. Blizzard cards can remove or replace spaces on the board. A card of the same color as (and no lower than) an adjacent card lets you waddle there, revealing adjacent cards and ending your turn. If the number is the same, you get an additional movement. You can play three of a kind to move diagonally and move again, or three of the same number and animal to move diagonally twice and move again. After your turn, you draw two cards from the deck or selection row.
The first penguin to reach the North Pole and then return home to Base Camp is the winner.
NOTE: This is only a brief summary, with many details omitted.
The Good And Bad
The penguins are adorable. The value of this cannot be overstated. I'm not sure why penguins are one of the most universally beloved animals, but they truly are, and the penguin cards here seem to bring a smile to most people's faces. Whether you're trying to interest children, family, or just friends unsure about learning new rules, cute penguins always help.
Speaking of learning new rules, the rules are quite simple. There's no reason anyone can't pick this up in a few minutes, and while you will probably need to refer to the reference sheet a few times (more on that below), it's a pretty fast game to teach and players will have no trouble jumping right in.
Gameplay is relatively light and breezy. Comparable to (and not much harder than) Gin Rummy in terms of difficulty and weight, North Pole is the type of game that can be played socially and casually, chatting while playing and enjoying it as a pleasant diversion. It's the kind of game that's easy to bring to the table when you need to kill half an hour and don't want to think too much.
While the rules may be relatively straightforward, we found ourselves repeatedly referring to the reference sheet throughout our first game, and agreed that it would have been much easier if there were multiple reference sheets for each player. This isn't a big deal, but it is an annoyance.
There's not a lot to this game. Some may consider this a benefit when trying to teach a light game that others can learn quickly, but this isn't a game where people will be clamoring for an immediate rematch. You can play once, say, "Yeah, I understand how that works," and be content not to play it again for a while.
North Pole is a cute, light game suitable for all ages. The friendly-looking pieces, simple rules, and fast play time make this an easy game to teach. While it may lack enough "deep strategy" to satisfy hardcore gamers, there's enough light strategy to at least keep things interesting, making this a fine selection for a light family filler.