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[Review] Ice Lake

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I really enjoy ice skating, and have some very pleasant memories from it. Sadly, however, I’ll never become a great skater, or even a mediocre one. But still, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s not that often a theme of a game, barring the “Don’t Break the Ice” game many of us played as a child. Ice Lake (Live Oak Games, 2002 – Patrick Matthews) looked like a much improved version. The concept of writing on the board (not new to crayon railroad games, or course) was new to me, but it looked like fun, so I was glad to get my hands on a copy.

After playing the game, I’m still a little unsure as to how often it will come to the table for adults. For kids and teenagers, I think the game will see a lot of play. It reminds me to a small degree of RoboRally, but more simplified; and I believe that if one plays it enough, they may discover an optimal strategy, thus degrading the game slightly. The components were nice for a small publisher, and the theme fit the game well. Thus the youth I played it with were enamored, while the adults were slightly less impressed.

The theme of Ice Lake consists of players taking the role of skaters on a lake, trying to be the last skater left on the ice. Each player is given a plan card, a playing pawn of one color, and an erasable marker that matches that color. A board is set up in the middle of the table, showing a lake made up of multiple hexagons. Four of the hexagons have pictures of colored skates on them pointing in a certain direction, and this is where each player puts their skating token. One player is chosen to go first, and the first round begins.

Each player then secretly writes down a plan for their skater, using the letters “R”, “L”, and “S”. They can write down as many letters as they want, but must write down at least one. Once this “Planning Phase” is complete, each player reveals their moves, and starting with the first player, execute them. Moving occurs in the following way: On a player’s turn, they execute the first order on their list, moving their skater in the indicated direction: R – right one hex, L – left one hex, S – straight ahead one hex. They draw a line between the two hexes moved, indicating a crack left behind by the skater. After moving, they cross off the letter on their plan, and play passes to the next person. Play continues to pass around the table in such manner, with each player passing once they have no more letters left in their plan.

Players’ plans can also be foiled if they are forced to start. If the plan has them move into a hex that already contains another skater, they can’t move and their turn ends –they must ignore the rest of their plan. The same happens if the plan has them skate alongside a current crack in the ice – which is prohibited. Cracks can be skated across, but not on. Players forced to stop do get one free rotation of their skater. Players who happen to skate off the ice (shouldn’t happen if players watch what they are doing) are out of the game.

At the end of the movement phase, if any player is completely surrounded by cracks, they are out of the game. There must exist a line of uncracked hexes between the skater and the edge of the lake, for each skater to remain in the game. If a player could not or did not move in the movement phase, they are also out of the game – but as long as they moved one hex, they are okay. When only one skater remains on the board, they are the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: I was pleasantly surprised by the nice components in this game. The board has a very “wintry” look, and shows an ice lake, surrounded by snowed-upon trees, etc. Very thematic, as well as the box – which is covered with snowflakes and other winter art. The box is long and thin, but fairly sturdy, with plenty of space to store the remainder of the components. The markers are of good quality, and erase easily off both the plan cards and the board. The tokens are generic plastic skates, but function within the theme. All in all, impressive bits are to be found in the game.

2.) Rules: The rules are printed on a folded piece of thin cardstock, but are formatted pretty well, explaining how to play the game in terms so simple I doubt many people would have questions. The only “strange” rule was the “Reset” rule, what to do if a player got isolated from the other skaters, but it wasn’t that hard to figure out. The game was very simple to learn and teach, although several new players – especially teens, will often “die” in early games, not taking into account what direction their skater is facing. I have run into this with Robo Rally, also. So the first few games often become practice runs, with a few people dying and losing until they get a grasp on the game mechanics.

3.) Robo Rally: I’ve compared this game to Robo Rally, and the similarities are there – where you plan out your move ahead of time, and other player’s movement can mess you up. However, the options are always the same in this game (rather than those dealt to you), and the board is less static – there’s only ice, not moving ice, crushing ice, etc. (Hmmm – a game variant?) The thing with Robo Rally is the board is completely different every time you play – and with this, it’s always the same, a pond. This probably will cut down on the replayability.

4.) Strategy: The strategy is simple, as the side of the box says – “Skate circles around your friends”. So it doesn’t make sense to skate to the beginning of the lake, and it seems very possible that a canny player could win the game on the first turn. Avid gamers could probably sit down with the board for a while, and determine optimal movement for each skater, taking into account what the other skaters will do. Of course, when the game is played in a light-hearted way, this isn’t a problem, but someone will still probably “solve” the game. The options are fewer than one might think. One strategic decision lies in how many orders to give each player. Should they do a long order, hoping to get the first turn next time (each round, first player is the one who moved last in the previous round), or move only one space, hoping to let the other skaters skate themselves to death.

5.) Bluffing and Theme: I don’t really consider this a game of bluffing per say, but it is important to not telegraph where you are going to move, and it helps ever so much to deduce where the others move to. The theme works well – but it mostly reminded me of the motorbike scene in the movie Tron – drawing lines that block off the opponents (although here you can cross the lines). Maybe a Tron game could pull off a similar mechanic successfully.

6.) Fun Factor: Played with a group of teens – I had a blast. With adults or mixed groups, the reaction was not negative, but slightly less receptive. I enjoyed every game I played, but didn’t think that the strategy was too deep. It was fun, but I didn’t think about the game much after playing (aside from what I would write in this review). The game just wasn’t gripping like others I’ve played, even light fillers.

So should you get the game? That depends on your intentions: if you want a strategy-heavy game, then this is definitely not what you want – there are better games out there. For a fun, quick filler, this might be a good pick – but there are so many better fillers out there. For a wintry thematic game that can be successful for youth who like to write on game boards – you have a winner! That’s a narrow group, though, so I’m not sure that you should try and acquire this game. I own it, and intend to play it several times each year. I just don’t think it will ever become a favorite.

Tom Vasel

[Review] Ice Lake

Thanks Tom, sounds like Robo Rally meets Tron. If anyone is interested, there's a great Robo Rally game on

Joined: 10/16/2008

Tom, I appreciate the in-depth review. As I noted over on BoardGameGeek, I'm particularly gratified to hear that it went over well with the teenagers. This game was targetted at familes, and more towards kids than parents.

Regarding the Tron/RoboRally comparison:
It's always fun seeing people's reactions to Ice Lake. Experienced gamers see the lines being drawn on the board and think "Tron". More experienced gamers see the "plan your moves ahead" and think "Robo-Rally".

In fact, the rules-writing is a mechanic from historical miniatures. I play a fair amount of CLS (Column, Line, and Square), which is a game of napoleonic miniatures. Orders are written ahead of time, and then the units are moved simultaneously.

The problem with CLS and virtually all the historical miniature games that strive for some semblance of accuracy is that they are very inaccessible. Playing them requires a large investment in time, and effort.

What I wanted to do with Ice Lake was capture the idea of movement. People plan their path on the ice and then skate. If you're confident, you write a long set of rules and skate out faster than anyone else. If you're a little more cautions, you write a shorter path.

Is it like RoboRally? I don't think so. The games go much more quickly, there are no dynamic board elements, your options aren't limited to your cards, and there are no "gizmos" or guns. There is some resemblance in that it's possible to mix up your left from your right, and send your skater somewhere by mistake.

Is it like Light Cycles of Tron? I don't think so. Lines are being drawn, but you're not eliminating sections of the board. Instead, you're actively trying to catch your opponent. Most Tron games involve cutting the board into small segments, and trying to catch your opponent in a smaller segment than you. In Ice Lake, there's no real segmentation. You're trying to encircle the opponent. It sounds like a subtle distinction, but it really changes the strategy and the game play.

That's my two cents worth, at any rate. Thanks again for the review, Tom!

(Please note that in no part of this post did I point out that you could buy the game at - whoops. Never mind.)

Joined: 04/23/2013

I think this is the second time a member has remarked on or reviewed a game to later have the designer join the site and follow up. Neat-O!


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