Ice Weasels

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This is a game that I developed with Tom Kiehl, based on an original idea of his. Lots of the development and playtesting was done at Spielbany, the quarterly meetup of capital-region game designers.

Ice floes filled with frozen weasels float by, and you must carefully chip them apart, pull out the furry popsicles, and defrost them. Be on your toes, though, because you don't want to get stuck with frozen monsters or miss your chance to grab the prized weaseltonium particles!

The game begins with a line of cards face up, representing an ice floe. Most of the cards depict a weasel frozen in the ice. On your turn, you may either chip one end off the ice flow and tow it away (take a card from one end of the line) or split the ice floe (separate the cards into two separate lines). If you have collected a matching trio of frozen weasels, you may thaw them to take an extra turn and score more points.

More cards are laid out as the game progresses. Preference cards make particular weasels worth more or less, so part of the strategy is keeping the other players from getting varieties they like while forcing them to take monsters.


Design notes: How colors and trains became thawed weasel trios

"Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come."
[Friedrich Nietsche, as told to Matt Groening]

Ice Weasels, a game about chipping frozen weasels out of ice floes and defrosting them, was designed and developed by Tom Kiehl and me. I cannot entirely disentangle who came up with which part of the game, but the original idea was Tom's.

Tom is one of the hosts of Spielbany, a quarterly meetup of game designers in the New York Capital Region. One morning at Spielbany a couple of years ago, before anyone else had arrived, Tom shared an idea. When his kids eat freezer pops, they always just want to eat their favorite flavor. There are half a dozen flavors in the box, though, so he and his wife came up with a rule which assures that every flavor gets eaten. The pops come stuck together in a line, and the rule is that the kids can only pick a flavor that is at one of the two ends of the line. Tom's idea was to make this into a card game.

Using a Coloretto deck, he dealt out a line of cards, and off we went. We added the option to split the line of cards in the middle, rather than taking a card from the end. The choice only matters if players have incentives to seek out some colors rather than others, so we did two things to accomplish this: First, we dealt each player cards to indicate one colour they loved and another they hated. Second, we said that players could meld sets of matching cards for extra points and an extra turn. The catch is that you can only meld one set per turn, so you could miss out on the chance to score all your sets if you waited too long. The game did well at that first Spielbany, and some people even asked to play it later in the day.

I didn't own a Coloretto deck, so I made my own prototype with hand drawn monsters of different kinds. When I playtested it with friends, they were not exuberant. Tom started to playtest using the small train cards from Ticket to Ride, and he was thinking of it as the rail yard game.

Freezer pops are known to some folks as Flavor Ice, but to other folks as Otter Pops. So I had informally called it the Otter Pop game from the beginning. Over time, 'Otter Pop' became 'Ice Weasel'. When I was procrastinating on another project, I began doodling weasels frozen in blocks of ice. I finished art for all seven varieties of weasel, and I ordered a couple of decks from The Game Crafter. I sent one copy to Tom and took the other copy to game night with the same friends who had been luke warm on the game in its stick-figure monsters incarnation.

To my surprise, those same friends loved the game as Ice Weasels. With that crowd of casual gamers, the cute furry weasels got them to give the game a chance. If the game had been a dud, then I don't think the pretty cards would not have been enough. But the cards plus the game play was a successful package, and now they regularly request the weasel game.

There was other playtesting and rules tuning which had to be done along the way. For example, early versions often led to some player loving the same variety of weasel that another player hated. This gave both of them an unfair advantage, because the former had an easier time getting those, and the latter had an easier time avoiding them. My dad actually suggested the solution, which was to have everybody hate the same kind of weasel. In the base rules, it is always the three-headed, green monster weasel which people want to avoid.