And now for something completely different: a board game review, even though I shouldn’t use ‘completely’ – Spirit Island has both narrative and speculative elements, so it might be of interest to some of my regular readers too.
I have no intention to write more about board games on this blog – for the simple reason I don’t play them enough – but I did want to write a review for this particular one, because I’m smitten with it.
R. Eric Reuss’ game design is incredible, and as such Spirit Island is a monument to human creativity. It is no surprise it has become so highly acclaimed.
Spirit Island is a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players – make that 6 players if you get the Jagged Earth expansion. Currently, it’s ranked as the 10th best game on BoardGameGeek’s overall rank, and as the 10th best strategy game too. It has also topped the influential People’s Choice Top 200 for solo games for three years straight, this year finishing before Mage Knight and Marvel Champions. It’s considered a complex game, but if you put your mind to it, the rules are pretty straightforward and easy to remember after a game or 2. Thematically, Spirit Island is about natural spirits that try to defend an island that is being overrun by colonizing invaders – aptly sculpted in hideous plastic.
Before I dive into the game play, let me first say a few words about myself as a board gamer, so that you get a bit of an inkling where I stand on that front.
My interest in the gaming hobby – aside from computer games in the nineties – started with Magic: The Gathering, but I’ve never truly thrown myself into that game, basically because I was already in my 30ies and unwilling to invest the time and the cash to become a dedicated player. As a kind of ersatz MTG I bought Dominion, a solid title, even though I don’t take it of the shelves anymore.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve especially developed an interest in abstract 2 player games, most notably some developed by Kris Burm: YINSH, TZAAR, ZÈRTZ, DVONN, PÜNCT and LYNGK, all part of the GIPF-series, all highly rated on BoardGameGeek’s abstract game ranking. Incredible games really, easy to teach, lots & lots of depth. If you like pure strategy full-open-information games like chess or checkers, they are more than worth looking into. I have other abstract games too, of which Azul and Hive stand out – not because they offer depth, but because they are simply fun to play, with non-gamers as well. I guess I should also mention Santorini.
Over the years, on weekends with friends, people brought Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Citadels and a bunch of other stuff – I liked it all. During lockdown, piqued by the hype, I decided to give Wingspan a go. A friend of mine bought Dune: Imperium – a fantastic, nail-biting game, and that convinced me to buy Terraforming Mars – a game I had been eyeing for years, in part because of my interest in science fiction.
Both Dune & TM convinced me I could actually deal with complex games, and it turned out I also liked the solo mode of Terraforming Mars – even though rote fairly quickly set in. Discovering I liked games solo as well turned out to be crucial, because a big problem with board games is finding people that want to play the game you want to play. Spirit Island – supposedly great both as a solo & multiplayer game – had caught my attention for quite some time, and I decided to take the jump.