Review: Spirit Island

Game Name: Spirit Island Published Year: 2017
Game Publisher: Greater Than Games Player Scale: 1-4
Game Designer: R. Eric Reuss Run Time: 90 – 120 min

In a distant land, yet unexplored lays a beautiful Island where nature still rules. But with the ever-growing colonial powers reaching further at the end of the world it was a matter of time until they managed to find this place.

Welcome to Spirit Island!

SI_box

In this coop game, each player will play as one spirit of the island representing the embodiment of nature, from the river, plants or thunder to the darkest beings. You’ll be helping the Dahan, the indigenous inhabitants of this Island, to get rid of the colonial settlers and prevent them to taint this paradise. It won’t be easy, and you’ll have to use your whole arsenal of powers to accomplish this.

How it plays?

Game mechanics are relatively simple to grasp. In every round, you’ll start with the growth phase, your spirits will grow progressively stronger as the game goes on. In this phase you’ve got different options depending on your spirit, but they usually end up in some combination of adding presence to the island, gaining energy, power cards or recovering your hand.

SI_setup

Then everybody will select at the same time the power cards that are going to be played this round.  Fast powers will get played next to no particular player order, followed by the invaders turn and finalising with the slow cards. This is where the game gets complex, there are so many strategies, combinations and combos to do that it can be a bit overwhelming on your first game, but this is the beauty of this game’s system. With simple mechanics it manages to get a brilliant card system that will make your brain hurt thinking the best move working together as a group because believe me, you won’t stand a chance if you don’t cooperate with each other.

SI_cards

Each spirit (There are a total of 8 spirits in the base game, 2 extra in the Branch and Claw expansion, and 2 extra available as a promo) has a starting deck of 4 powers each related to your spirit’s nature. Then throughout the game, you’ll get to increase your hand with new powers from a common pool. You have minor powers and major powers, for this you always get 4 cards, keep one and discard the other 3. This makes the game cycle through the deck at a good pace and you can always find something more useful for your spirit’s gameplay. For the major powers you’ll have to discard one of your other power cards, these ones are usually very powerful and will be more useful as the game advances. Also, each spirit has special rules, and innate powers printed on its board that get activated by certain elements.

SI_spirits

The invaders follow simple rules, where they ravage, build and explore in this particular order. But you have knowledge of where this is going to happen with s couple of turns in advance. The way this works is, they explore in an unknown place, next turn they build in the terrains they’ve explored and in the following turn they will ravage in those. So you will have to strategize around this.

Wherever they manage to ravage successfully it will place a blight, which hurts you and if these grow in number can be game over at some point. The game will end in victory depending on the fear level of the invaders, as it will change the victory conditions. In general, the more fear, the easier is to win. By increasing the invader’s fear, you’ll also get fear cards that will be very helpful to win the game. You will lose if blight reaches a certain level or the settlers have finished with the invasion and you haven’t reached the victory conditions yet.

With the Branch and Claw expansion, you also add extra terrain effects (diseases, beasts, plants, …) plus the events that change the game a fair bit.

SI_expansion

If this didn’t sound like enough content already, the game can be tweaked as you want with certain elements. You can add scenarios, which will change the objective for the game quite significantly, you can add invaders behaviours with different levels of difficulty and also you can add blight cards that will make your game unique once the island gets blighted.

Solo game

The game can be played with just one spirit, some people like it more playing multi-handed, but I have to say that I’ve enjoyed all my games with just one spirit. Some are more difficult depending on how the invaders expand as they start slow but gain inertia and become really powerful at the end, but you need to reach that end. Definitely makes for a good challenge every time and with so much variation not a single game will be the same. Otherwise, there is no real difference with the multiplayer game, as it scales really well. For these reasons is one of the most beloved games in the last few months in BGG’s 1PG.

SI_spirit_example

Opinion

I am really impressed with this game. I’ve heard people describing it as a mix of Mage Knight meets pandemic, not sure if I would compare it too much with Pandemic. This you get the same satisfying eureka moment when you find the perfect combo to devastate the invaders when all seems lost like Mage Knight has and I love about it, and the ever-growing invaders in your lands, the invasion can spin out of control quite easily like sometimes it happens in Pandemic. But the game definitely stands on its own.

Art is good, the map is not the prettiest, but it makes it really easy to spot everything once it starts getting crowded. Components are nice, and the card quality is good. Every spirit plays really different, and they all feel balanced to me, I was really impressed by that. Don’t get fooled by the colourful artwork, the game is heavy, strategic and will make your brain hurt to win, even in the lower difficulties. But is not unfair and always feels rewarding to win it.

I would recommend getting the Branch and Claw expansion if you like the game, the base game feels complete on its own, but it adds quite cool features to the game that I wouldn’t go back now and has two more spirits to play with! The game was part of a Kickstarter campaign but is easily found in retail (I bought it this way) and there will be another campaign for it later down this year. If you want the promo spirits it was recently in the BGG geekstore and can be bought in the designer’s website, though it seems currently out of stock.

Pros: Rewarding gameplay (love the card system with the fast/slow powers), high variability and flexibility for tweaking the difficulty.

Cons: The game is more complex than it seems, this might be a problem for some people. If you suffer from analysis paralysis the game will get very long for you.

You may like: Mage Knight, Start Trek: Frontiers

What are you waiting for then, go get yourself a box full of deadly spirits!

 

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