Thursday, March 30, 2017

Islebound (Red Raven Games)

Ryan Laukat is one of my favorite game designers. He creates the game, writes the stories, does the art, runs the company, and probably mops the floor and takes out the trash too! The man is a genius and his games are always beautiful and take you into a fanciful and evocative world. Today, I am reviewing his game IsleboundIslebound is a sea-faring game for 2 to 4 captains, ages 13+! It takes 60-120 minutes to play and retails for $50. Islebound takes place in an archipelago (group of islands in layman's terms) that has busy towns, ferocious sea monsters, and of course pirates! You will command a ship, sail to the different island towns, and increase your renown by use of force, diplomacy, or business. The captain with the most renown (wealth, buildings built, and reputation) at the end of the game is the winner.
Setup
1. Assemble the map by piecing together the four sea boards and four sea ports. The hexagonal sea boards will form a cross and the triangular sea ports will form the corners of the map. All the pieces should fit together, and each of the ports must be uniquely named.
2. Give each player the following items: one player aid card, one ship board, a ship token, 20 cubes matching the color of the ship token, seven coins, and three starting crew members. Then, have each member take one cube and place it below the "2" on the movement track of their ship board.
3. Choose a starting player to give the first-player card too. The last player in turn order (and proceeding in reverse order) picks a home port and places one of their cubes to the left of the red banner on the sea port. Their ship token also goes on their newly chosen home port.
4. Set the renown board next to the map. Shuffle the event cards into two roughly equal piles. Place them next to each other, face up above the wave symbols. Do the same for the reputation cards, placing them above the trumpet symbol. Then, take the crew with two skill symbols and shuffle them. Then, place the top three below the wave symbol. Shuffle the renown tokens and put them in the top right corner of the board.
5. Set up the building area by placing the three, two, and one book tokens in a row. Then, fill in a card underneath each of these tokens, and two additional cards after the single book token.
6. Finally, place the two event markers on the map in regions that match the two visible event cards from Step 4.
Game Play - Each turn a player must move at least one space and complete one action. They also may complete as many free actions as they want. Actions are as follows:
1. Move your ship token a number of spaces up to the speed on your ship board. (Note: If you end your movement where another player is, you must exhaust a crew member with the administrate skill.)
2. Visit a town and complete the action on the wooden sign. Unless the town is owned by the player, he must pay the entry cost (coin and/or administrate skill) to enter.
3. Attack a town with a red banner. Do this by choosing a number of pirates and/or sea serpents and rolling the dice to see if successful. If unable to defeat the town, you must lose one attacker and retreat. If you are successful, all attackers are lost, but you gain coins equal to the number on the red banner and places your cube next to the banner. You may also immediately perform a free visit action to this town.
4. Employ Diplomacy on a town with a blue-green banner. The number in the banner is the amount of influence needed to claim the town. The influence you will use is found on the cubes in the influence track. You then gain coins equal to the number on the blue-green banner and place your cube next to the banner. You may also immediately perform a free visit action to this town.
5. Hunt for Treasure by taking all the coins on the treasure map of the renown board.
6. Free actions consist of buying a building or completing an active event on the region where your ship is located.

The game end triggers when one player has a certain number of buildings (eight in a 2-3 player game and seven in a 4 player game). The game ends when everyone has had an equal number of turns. Add up your renown, and the most renown wins.
Review
Islebound is a game that takes place in the same world as Ryan Laukat's smash hit Above and Below. Like Above and Below, there are citizens to acquire which can give you special abilities and buildings to purchase which can provide you with endgame points. Unlike Above and Below, which is a storytelling game, this one is more about area control mixed with some pickup and deliver. The artwork in this game is stunning as always, but familiar as well if you have played any of his other games. Seeing the character tiles is like seeing old friends or at least cousins of the old friends. The game board is also modular, which adds replay value to the game, because you can put different tiles in different spots to form a completely different map. You can also flip the tiles over and make for a more challenging game as well. What I like best about this game is the many paths to victory. If you like attacking and being a pirate, you have that option. If you are not the bloodthirsty type, then diplomacy is your best option. Every option is viable and I encourage you to try them all and see which one you like best, or surprise people and go the path they didn't expect you to take.

There is currently a mini-expansion out called Metropolis Expansion. This adds 40 new buildings to the game, creating even more replay value. Lastly, there is a bonus scenario called Deep Fog, which you can download and print for free or purchase if you want it printed on something more official and pretty. In that scenario, the map shrinks significantly and when the end game is triggered, players have a chance to defeat the Deep Fog monster for a hefty sum of points. Again, this adds more replay value to the game. Another nice feature of the game is the character tiles, which are double-sided. One side is used for Islebound and the other for Above and Below, so if you are a Laukat-nut like me, you add more replay value to a different game as well.

I wasn't entirely sure what to think of this game, as I had only played Above and Below before, and this was nothing like it. I found myself having a completely different experience, but one that was equally fun. With his wide-range of talents, Ryan Laukat is a renaissance man in the board gaming industry. Playing Islebound has only confirmed my original belief in his brilliance, which I originally thought after playing Above and Below. I am now not only the proud owner of two of his games, but have since purchased some of his older games, and pledged on Kickstarter for Near and Far, the next game in his fictitious and fantastical world. If you like good game play with beautiful art, then I highly encourage you to pick up Islebound or any game in the Red Raven Games catalog. You won't regret it.

This game was provided to me for free by Red Raven Games in exchange for an honest review.