When I was in middle school and high school, I would often fall asleep listening to radio broadcasts of the Indianapolis hockey team, the Ice. At the time, I don’t think I had ever seen a full game of hockey. The basics, of course, are easy: sticks, skates, puck, net. But icing and off sides were complete mysteries to me as were the mechanics of a line change in a game that never seemed to stop.
But even though I had only the most rudimentary mental image of the action on the ice, the commentators sucked me in, and as their voices rose in pitch with each shot on goal, I would grip that little transistor radio until the plastic casing threatened to burst apart.
CSE Games’ combination card game / board game NHL Ice Breaker, does a good job of capturing some of that rapid back and forth that kept me listening to those hockey games. Opponents use cards to move a puck across the game board. The cards are also used to take shots on goal and make defensive saves.
Players battle for control of the puck by playing the highest card or combination of cards. To begin, each player simultaneously reveals one card. High card wins, but the lower player has the opportunity to add another card to form a poker hand (two of a kind). The other player may respond with a better poker hand (a higher pair or a three-of-a-kind). Players go back and forth in this manner until one player passes.
There are four boxes on each card. Each box has instructions for different situations: a pass, a shot on goal, goal tending, and the “ice breaker.” If the puck is being passed, the winner moves the puck as instructed. If someone is taking a shot on goal, the winning hand either scores a point of makes a save. The “ice breaker” box is a special instruction for when the puck lands on one of the many special spaces on the game board.
The game comes with a bilingual rule book and a quick-start rule sheet. We were able to play very well just using the quick sheet and making a few consultations to the more detailed rules. Once you become familiar with the cards, most of your work is cut out for you. Most of the instructions are on the cards. The strategy is light—there are very few times when you won’t just play your best cards right away—but there is good tension especially as one side approaches the scoring zone.
I also appreciated how the game could be played by a single person. It’s not as engaging as a 2 or 4 player game, but the single-player option was an amusing way to pass the time—more so than many other forms of solitaire that I know.
All in all, the game is easy to learn, quick to play, and it has just enough strategy to keep you coming back. If you designate someone as the color-commentator, this game takes on that jittery, impressionistic quality of those radio broadcasts.
1-4 players. Ages 8+
NHL Ice Breaker was designed by Fabio and Paolo Del Rio and is © 2013 by CSE Games.