NHL Ice Breaker: A Fast-Paced Hockey Simulation

NHL Ice Breaker

Casual gamers come from all ages and backgrounds, and certainly sports fans are no exception. For the hockey fan, NHL Ice Breaker is a highly competitive and fast-paced game that brings the excitement of hockey to the table. We recently had the opportunity to evaluate this officially licensed NHL game from CSE Games. I will tell you what we thought of it, but first a bit of info on the game itself.

Game Play

NHL Ice Breaker is a hockey simulation game for 2 players, with variants for 1 and 4 players. The object of the game is, obviously, to score more goals than your opponent. The game consists of a board depicting the hockey rink, a special deck of playing cards, NHL team cards, a hockey puck, and scoring markers. Players have three periods of play, each of which ends after the deck of 54 cards is depleted.

The core game play is simple. Each turn, players select a card from their hands to play. The players then simultaneously reveal the cards, then more cards can optionally be added to strengthen the play. Each player's selection is ranked similar to poker, with more cards of the same number ranked higher than a single card of that number. High-ranked poker hands, such as a straight or flush, are considered Power Hands, which automatically accomplish an action.

If the puck is in the grid, the player whose card(s) are of a higher rank can "pass" (move) the puck in the direction and number of spaces indicated on the top card. If the puck lands on an "Ice Breaker" square (indicated by an orange border), the player must turn over a card and perform the action on the card. Ice Breakers represent much of the action that would normally happen in a hockey game, such as body checks, penalties, turnovers, etc. They can be good or bad for the player who landed on the space, such as advancing to the shooting zone, having a face off, and drawing fewer cards.

If the puck is in a shooting zone, the player with the higher ranked cards either scores a goal or makes a save, depending on whether the player is on offense or defense (i.e., which side of the board the puck is on). After a save, the defender can choose to put the puck immediately back into play or freeze it for a face off. Play continues in this tug-of-war style until the end of the period. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.

Plenty of other elements of hockey are represented in the game, both strategic and logistical, such as pulling the goalie, calling a timeout, overtime, and shootouts.

Review

NHL Ice Breaker seems like a good choice for dedicated hockey fans. I am not a huge fan, myself, yet I still had fun with it. It felt fast-paced and exciting, likely fueled by my huge, come-from-behind overtime victory. My wife, however, who is not a sports fan at all, didn't care much for the game — she attributed my come-from-behind victory more to her decreased lack of interest than my awesome hockey skills.

While there are plenty of strategic decisions to make the game interesting, we observed that the Ice Breakers can swing the game pretty heavily, depending on which card is drawn. For instance, it was a penalty on the opposing team that first gave me the momentum I needed to come back. In this case, it helped to balance the game, but it just as easily could have shut me out if the penalty was on me. Fortunately, players usually have a choice as to whether or not they want to land on an Ice Breaker space to take the risk.

For the average casual gamer, I would say that NHL Ice Breaker tries to be so complete in representing the game of hockey that it becomes a bit too complex. But for the true fan, it may be just the ticket to a great hockey experience.

Pros: Captures the excitement of hockey, great for dedicated fans

Cons: A bit over-complicated for non-hockey fans, heavy swings can occur based on the luck of the draw

Full disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.