NHL Ice Breaker Game Review


The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 1 to 4 players
  • Approximately 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision-Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Take to the ice and score some goals!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Hockey is a game of speed, power, and finesse. Players zoom across the ice, smack into each other like bulldozers, and can turn with a flourish. Watching from the stands is just as exciting. Every movement could be a breakaway or a complete breakdown of sportsmanship as players trade blows with fists. Hockey feels like a gladiatorial arena and ignites the cold air. In this game, you’ll have a chance to relive some of those fantastic and exciting moments, but please do not punch your opponent.

NHL Ice Breaker, designed by Fabio Del Rio, Paolo Del Rio and published by CSE Games, is comprised of 54 playing cards, 39 Team cards, 1 Stanly Cup card, 1 game board, 1 game puck, and 3 Score/Period markers. The cards are as thick and as durable as your standard playing card. The puck and markers are made out of wood and plastic. The game board is made of thick cardboard and very durable.

Equipment Check

At the heart of the game are the playing cards. They are used to determine the result of plays for both players regardless if they are on the offensive or defensive. Each card is laid out the same and provides a lot of information, but only certain portions of the card will ever be used at one time. This makes what seems to be an overwhelming source of information into an easy to digest game component.

Your standard game card will look like the below example and has the following information.

  1. Card Suit and Rank: The game cards are comprised of 54 cards in total, which includes 2 Joker cards
  2. Pass: The number indicates how many spaces the game puck moves on the game board (counted in squares)
  3. Direction: The arrow indicates in what direction (from the point of view of the player) the game puck travels
  4. Team Logo (Offensive)
  5. Shot: Describes the shot taken on goal
  6. Team Logo (Defensive)
  7. Goaltending: Describes the save
  8. Ice Breaker: Describes the ice breaker action

Passing

Passing the puck is the only way to move it from one end of the ice to the other. When a player wins a hand, and they are not within range to shoot on the goal, the puck is sent towards the other end. The number of spaces the puck moves is indicated by the Pass (2) value and the direction it’s moved is determined by the Direction arrow (3).

Shooting

If the player is within range of their opponent’s goal (the puck is in the “shooting zone”), winning the hand allows them to take a shot (5) instead of passing it.

Goaltending

Similar to Shooting, if the puck is in range of the player’s shooting zone (that is, the puck is about to be sent to their goal), winning the hand means the shot on goal was saved by the goalie (7).

Ice Breaking

There are several special sections on the game board that influence the game and the ice puck when it ends its movement on it. One such space is the ice breaker. When the puck ends its movement, a new cards is drawn and the ice breaker (8) description is read out loud and resolved. Ice breakers include, but are not limited to, penalties, body checks, turnovers, puck going out of play, killer plays, and penalty shots.

Team Logos

Each player will have a Team card. If the Team Log (4 and 6) match the player’s current team, they earn a special bonus.

Game Set Up

Note: Game setup and play summarized here is for 2-players. Additional rules for solitaire play and team play are summarized in the Game Variants section.

To set up the game, first place the game board in the middle of the game playing area. Have each player sit opposite each other and behind their goal.

Second, shuffle the deck of cards and deal 5 cards to each player, face-down. Place the remaining deck of cards face-down and to one side of the game board. This is the draw deck for the duration of the game. Leave room for a discard pile for each player.

Third, use the markers to indicate the score for both players is zero and the game is in the first period.

Fourth, place the puck in the middle of the game board.

Sixth, either have each player select their favorite Team Logo card or randomly deal 1 to each player. Any unused Team Logo cards are placed back in the game box.

That’s it for game set up. Time to slap that puck!

Fire on the Ice

NHL Ice Breaker is played in periods and hands. A single game is three periods long. A single period is equal to the time it takes to deplete the draw deck. A single hand allows both players to attempt to outdo their opponent and take control of the puck. A single hand is summarized here.

Step 1: Reveal One Card Each

On the count of three, both players play and reveal 1 card from their hand, face-up.

Step 2: Follow-Up

Players now have the option to follow-up on their original card, creating a stronger hand. The player has several possibilities.

  • A Pair: a pair of cards, no matter what their value, will always beat the value of a single card
  • Two Pair: two pair of cards, no matter what their value, will always beat a single pair and a single card
  • Three-of-a-Kind: three cards of the same value (not suit), no matter what their value, will always beat two pair, a single pair, and a single card

There are also “Power Hands” the player can attempt that automatically allow them to win the hand. These are as follows, from lowest rank to highest rank:

  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Full House
  • Straight Flush
  • Royal Flush

Step 3: Resolve

The player who wins the hand then resolves one of their cards they used, either passing the puck, shooting on goal, or attempting to block a shot. Depending on where the puck stops, an ice breaker may also need to be resolved.

Step 4: Continue or Reset

After the puck as been moved, the players play another hand without drawing more cards. This puts the pressure on the player to think very carefully how they should spend their cards like a resource. If a score is made, then the point is recorded and players draw back up to 5 cards each.

Players can also call a timeout during the game to discard and replace cards, thematically mimicking the exchange of players on the ice.

Ending the Period and Winning the Game

Each time the draw deck is depleted, a period ends. The deck is reshuffled, the puck is placed back in the middle of the ice, and the period marker is advanced. A new period then begins. After the third and final period, the scoreboard is checked. The player with the highest score wins the game!

Game Variants

A small number of additional ways to play the game are provided in the rules. They are summarized here.

  • Solo on Ice: It’s possible to play against the board game by drawing the cards blind for your invisible opponent. The rules are more or less the same and can create some very intense plays.
  • Team Play: The basic game allows only 2 players to go head-to-head. The team play allows up to 4 players to join in. Teams are comprised of 2 players each and each team alternates which player is taking their turn.
  • All Stars: The same as the basic game, except players refill their hand at the end of each hand.

To learn more about NHL Ice Breaker, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks, who actually knew very little about hockey, really enjoyed the board game. They found it to be fast and fun, with the visual action of the puck being moved around to be the real high-point of the game. According to one Child Geek, “The game feels really intense, especially when the puck gets close to your goal.” Another Child Geek said, “I don’t know much about hockey, but I know I like this game.” Of particular note was the lack of Power Hands played by the Child Geeks or anything larger than a pair. When I asked why, the majority of Child Geeks didn’t know enough about Poker (which is as much a part of this game as ice is to hockey) to feel comfortable or confident to attempt such hands. It wasn’t that they were incapable, it was that they didn’t know enough. We quickly solved this by making small cheat sheets which did the trick. If you end up playing the game with younger players or inexperienced players, do consider making a cheat sheet for the different hands. Speaking of hands, all the Child Geeks clapped theirs in joy, approving NHL Ice Breaker.

The Parent Geeks liked the game, especially those who were fans of hockey. According to one such Parent Geek, “I’ve always wondered if you could make a hockey sports game and I guess I now know the answer.” Another Parent Geek said, “This game really captures the speed and quick turnaround on the ice. I found myself thinking I would score for sure only having to race back to my goalie to defend!” For those Parent Geeks who did not know much or anything about hockey, they still found the game to be fun and intuitive. According to one such Parent Geek, “Really, it’s kind of like a tug-o-war when you think about it, but in reverse. If I just focus all my attention on keeping the puck down at the opposite end, I will eventually score.” When all the Parent Geeks were done, they all agreed that NHL Ice Breaker was a fun game to play with both their family and their friends.

The Gamer Geeks were very pleased with the ability to risk more to do more, but weren’t fans of the lack of combos that could do. They did, however, recognize that careful game playing and thoughtful use of cards could maximize the Ice Breakers and possibly give them an upper hand. According to one Gamer Geek, “The game is all about managing your cards, pushing your limits, and taking risks. I like that. I also like that it is fast enough to allow you to try lots of different things without having to wallow too long in miserable downtime.” Another Gamer Geek said, “Doesn’t feel much like hockey to me, but I can clearly see that it is a hockey game. I like it, but would caution anyone who is looking for a pure Hockey game to not get their hopes up.” Which is to say, the Gamer Geeks felt the game put a lot more emphasis on Poker than hockey. Which, perhaps it does. Regardless, the Gamer Geeks could find no fault with the game and enjoyed themselves, resulting in a full endorsement from the gaming elitists.

The game is a great deal like Poker, but only when you are playing the hands and determining the winner. The Poker aspect is nothing more than a means to an end, where that end is hockey. It may not feel very “hockey’ish” at first to drive the puck down the ice because you got a solid two pair, but it doesn’t take long for players to start associating solid card hands with solid plays on the ice. Once that happens, each hand in a period takes on a life of its own, representing the stuggle to control the puck and make a point. Hands can become very heated and a loss could mean the difference between a miraculous save or a miraculous goal.

As for me, I enjoyed NHL Ice Breaker more than I enjoyed Hand-Off, the football version of the same game. NHL Ice Breaker feels more fluid, tighter, and more exciting. Both are entertaining games, and I’ll be first to admit that I don’t follow either football or hockey that closely, but given the two, NHL Ice Breaker would be my first choice for two reasons. First, the cause and effect of the hands feels more in tune with the game. Quick hands make for quick plays and big hands make for some spectacular shots. Second, the rules feel more streamlined and emphasis is focused on the action instead of the overall game goal. Or better put, the game keeps you in the now and every once in a while reminds you that there is a larger game you are playing, too.

I really enjoyed myself. Again, I know so little about hockey that I could write my entire sum of knowledge on the back of a cocktail napkin, but that doesn’t matter. You need not know what hockey is or even have heard of a puck. What needs to happen is intuitive and the gameplay keeps players on course from the very first slapshot to the very last goal. Do play this game when time permits. As far as Sports games go, this is a fun one.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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