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Nils Holgersson didn't make it to the South

Number 5 in our winter-themed countdown...

If you grew up in Europe in the '80s like me, you may remember an anime TV series for kids called 'The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson'. Based on a work of Swedish fiction by the same name, the show featured a boy (Nils) who enjoyed abusing the animals in the farm where he lived. One day, the little sadist comes across a small human-like creature. Upon refusing to set the creature free, he is punished and turned tiny himself. From then on, a journey begins with Nils riding a farm goose and joining a flock of wild geese in their migration towards the plains.

I had this memory in mind when I began playing Snowbirds, a PnP game about managing a flock of five geese and trying to reach the South with at least one of them alive. You start with a hand of five cards (as many as the flock size), and reveal the next location you are traveling to from the North. The location cards connect with each other, and show the distance, the risk and the hunger the birds have to overcome in order to progress further.

I have played four times, all failures. At first I sought to keep a full, well-pampered flock. I made sure they rested and didn't miss any meals. Soon I realized that this is not the way to go, as the birds are not flying business class with Emirates. The journey is instead hard and exhausting, and food is often scarce. The action cards are not enough, and you have to constantly decide when you can leave the birds hungry (thus making the distance longer) or make the journey more risky. And ultimately, when to start killing them off one by one.

There is some luck of the draw involved, as well as dice rolling to define the amount of risk each turn. But the game doesn't feel random, and responsibility falls more on the player and the choices they make. Depending on the size of your flock, at the beginning of the turn you renew your hand, and then decide if and how to spend these cards. So far I'm doing badly, I'm running out of action cards too soon and the birds can't see the South even with binoculars.

I guess I'll keep trying (perhaps I shouldn't use a hawk as a flock marker...) I do recommend checking the game out, the designer has also put out two expansions: Storms, and Sunset Sky.


Update: the complete series:

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