A couple of Fridays ago, at the store’s weekly games night, we played Nanuk from Steve Jackson Games. I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Nanuk before that, having completely overlooked it in the SJ Games catalogue. Nanuk was designed by Brett Myers and Mark Goadrich, and illustrated by Alex Fernandez. (Goadrich is an associate professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Hendrix College in Arkansas, while Myers is a game designer from Madison, Wisconsin.)
Nanuk is a push-your-luck game with an intriguing twist. Players are Inuit hunters, and the object of the game is to have a successful hunt. Each player is dealt a hand of cards depicting seals, deer, birds, fish, and inukshuks. Players “boast” about the spoils of their upcoming hunt, with each player forced either to up the ante by betting that he will bag more game than the preceding player, or by increasing the duration of the hunt. The bidding stops when a player calls the bluff by saying that the hunt is doomed to fail. The player who calls doom becomes the Doom Leader, and the player whose bid was highest at the moment that doom was called becomes the Hunt Leader. At this point, players use a token to simultaneously reveal whether they will be part of the hunt or whether they prefer to remain on the sidelines (believing it to be doomed); if they believe that the hunt will fail, they must contribute one card (face-down) which is kept before them until the hunt is resolved.
The members of the Hunt then contribute cards, face down, to a pool that will represent the animals collected. The Hunt Leader mixes the cards up, then reveals them one by one. Cards that match the target animal of the Hunt count towards the required total, whatever it is. Non-matching animals have no effect on the total. Inukshuk cards are used to protect the hunt against Nanuk the Polar Bear.
After the cards are tallied, then one card is taken from the draw pile for each day of the hunt. Any card that bears a small polar bear symbol in the corner represents Nanuk, and if such a card is drawn during this phase the hunt will fail unless the pool of contributed cards contains an Inukshuk. So, if a hunt requires six deer in five days in order to be successful, the players who join the hunt will first pool their chosen cards, to be revealed by the Hunt Leader. Five cards are then drawn, one for each day of the hunt, whether or not the six deer requirement has already been met in the pooled cards.
If the Hunt is a success (i.e. Nanuk either did not turn up or there were sufficient Inukshuks in the pool to deal with him), then the members of the Hunt share the spoils, including the face-down cards anted by those players who did not take part. Cards are shared out with each hunter in turn choosing a card from the pool, until each has received an equal number of cards. Any extras are discarded. The shared-out cards are placed face-up before each player, grouped by kind. Likewise, if a Hunt fails, the Doomsayers will share out the pooled cards, the drawn cards, and the anted cards in the same way.
Scoring for the game is strategic. Players are trying to collect pairs and sets, with each pair being worth one point and each set of four different animals being worth three. Inukshuks are wild cards.
I really liked this game. It has an interesting combination of bluffing and betting, with the added dimension of being able to join a hunt with the express intention of sabotaging the effort (and thus undermining the game play of the Hunt Leader). This is a clever game that will stand up to many gaming sessions. Many thanks to Jared Budd and Jack Schwarz, our local Men in Black from Steve Jackson Games, who brought this game along and taught it (and I’m pretty sure that one of them won each of the games we played, too!)