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[Review] Yeti Slalom

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Silly themes are rather rampant in games. Sometimes I wish that the “Gamer’s Games” would have sillier themes – as it adds lightheartedness to the atmosphere. One problem with a nonsensical theme, however, is that it turns some people off – as they believe that such themes are for kids. Of course, much of the time this is actually true, so when I saw Yeti Slalom (Rio Grande Games and Amigo, 2001 – Ral Menzel), I assumed that it was a kids’ game. Then I thought about it, and realized that I’m usually wrong about such things, so I prepared myself for a fun game for all – about snowboarding in the Himalayas, while avoiding Yeti.

Well, what do you know – it IS a game for kids. The game is fun, there’s no denying that, but the luck factor is huge – and adults will find that there’s not enough game to match the fun theme. The theme works well on the game, and there are enough strategic decisions in the game that teens can be kept excited about the game, but huge swings in luck can often determine the winner, and this would frustrate older players.

A game board is placed in the middle of the table, with a grid of spaces running down to the bottom – simulating a mountain slope in the Himalayas. There are five starting spaces at the top, and each heads a column of six rectangles. The five rows after the starting row have a space on each side, depicting a Yeti in the act of throwing a snowball. Each player is given four snowboarder cards, numbered one through four, some snowball cards (determined by how many players are in the game), and some Yeti cards (from a deck of 20 – number for each player is determined by number of players). The youngest player goes first, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.

On a player’s turn, they can place one of their snowboarders in one of the empty starting squares, move one of their snowboarders, or attack with a Yeti card. When moving a snowboarder, the player can move the card one rectangle sideways, straight down the hill, or diagonally downward. The snowboarder must move into an empty square, and can never move up the hill. The first player to move one of their snowboarders down from the last row, places that snowboarder card on the first place square at the bottom of the board. There are also spots for second, third, and fourth place – every snowboarder who finishes after that is placed face down in front of the player controlling that snowboarder.

There are five Yeti pictures flanking the rows on each side – green on one side, and red on the other. Each picture is in a different pose, and there are two cards in the Yeti deck that match each pose and color. If a player plays a Yeti card onto the space it matches, that Yeti throws a snowball at opposing snowboarders who happen to be in that row. The player rolls a die to simulate the snowball throw, with a “1” or a “2” always missing. A “3” or higher hits the space directly next to the Yeti, a “4” or higher hits the next space over, etc. The space farthest from each Yeti cannot be hit by that Yeti. Multiple snowboarders can be hit by a single snowball throw, as long as the number equals or exceeds the number on the space where the targets reside. (The die numbers are noted on the board for easy reference). Every opposing snowboarder that the player hits is given to that player, who places it face down in front of him. If a player does not like the roll they get when throwing a snowball, they can discard one of their snowball cards to reroll the die, taking the higher of the two rolls.

Once one person has finished all their snowboarders (or had them pegged by a snowball), the other players may no longer move their snowboarders sideways. When all the snowboarders are finished (or wiped out), the game ends. Each player gets points equal to the values of all cards placed in front of them, as well as racers that they had finish in a final position. First place awards four times the value of the snowboarder to the player who achieved it, second place – three times, and third and fourth place – four times. The player with the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: One word springs to mind as I open the box for the game, and that’s “bright”. The game has a Hanna-Barbara feel to it, and everything is done in a light-hearted way. The cards’ artwork is especially delightful, and really invokes laughter – especially the team of ninja bunnies. The Yeti cards are also humorous – and I especially liked the names the rules gave each Yeti – Ambidextrous Yeti, Crooked Yeti, etc. The card quality was superb, with the cards being about half the size of a typical playing card. The board continues the tradition of brightness, and the way the artwork of the Yetis on the board matching the Yeti on the card was very helpful. Everything fits into a sturdy medium-sized box – again with artwork that continued the theme.

2.) Rules: The rules were very clear – with excellent formatting and color illustrations. A few variations were included – such as using the snowballs more sparingly, or forcing the player to take a re-roll, rather than the higher of two rolls. Every variation makes the game slightly more complex, although that’s very relative – and at it’s most complex, this game screams ease of play. The game can be taught in a minute, and it’s very well understood.

3.) Luck: If you don’t like luck in games, stay away – because this one has luck in huge amounts. With the re-roll cards, the race becomes more a carnage-filled battlefield. Very few games I’ve played had more than three snowboarders even make it down the mountain. And I’ve seen someone use all their re-roll cards, and still roll several “1”’s in a row. This can be extremely frustrating, and while there is some strategy in the game – knowing what areas to move your snowboarders to, and which number to send down the mountain first – the strategy is extremely limited.

4.) Theme and Fun Factor: With the luck aforementioned, I normally wouldn’t really want to play the game. However, the theme makes up for – but only with kids or teenagers. Yells of laughter as the kids whoosh their snowboarders down the mountain, or unload the mercenary Yeti snowballs at opponents. Dire threats and laughs of revenge pepper the game – and even though I knew the game was almost a total luck fest, the kids I played the game with had a blast. They thought that the game gave them some degree of control – and indeed it did, but it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy adults.

So, if you work with youth or children, and want a game that they’ll really enjoy, but one that really isn’t taxing on the brain, then this is a good bet. Also, if the theme of snowboarding down a mountain while avoiding the slings and arrows of outrageous Yetis tickles your funny bone, then this may also be your cup of tea. But for most serious gamers, this game will only give them a taste of extreme luck and annoyance, and I don’t think they should pick it up. I’d much rather play this game with my kids than Uno or other children’s games – but even with my teenagers, this still is only an occasional hit at our table. Still, that skateboarding giraffe elicits chuckles every time that it hits the table.

Tom Vasel

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