Spirit Island: First impressions

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Review

This afternoon I had a chance to try #Spirit Island for the first time. I played solo, as "river surges in sunlight." I ended up winning the game.

I specifically bought this game to play solo, though, I hope I can at some point get some multiplayer games in.

Spirit Island is a 1-4 player cooperative game set in a alt history 1700s. You are the spirits protecting a Island from the the "nasty white guys over the seas." Space Biff called it the "anti Catan" and I think he pretty much hit the nail on the head. The game comes with 8 spirits in the base box. These Spirits are wildly asymetrical and that is one of the main draws of the game.

On your turn you are choosing a option which allows you various growth options, such as gaining new power cards, gaining energy, reclaiming played cards, placing presence on the board.

Next you play cards. These cards have a cost, and a effect. The effect is either fast, it takes place before the invaders can do anything about it, or slow, it happens after the invaders have had a chance to do any damage that they can.

After you play your cards and resolve fast actions the invaders act they, firstly explore a land, then they build in it, then they ravage it, destroying the native inhabitants and blighting the land with plastic bags and beer cans.

After they have wreaked havoc, your slow cards take effect, and so on and so forth.

You win when you have fulfilled a set of objectives that changes some during gameplay. You lose when your island becomes to blighted.

This is a extremely simplified overview of what is a quite complex game.

Presentation: The art is very good. I don't like all of it, but I do think it is all very good. The names of the spirits are the best names I have encountered in board games, names like: River surges in sunlight, Oceans hungry grasp, Spread of rampant green, Shadows flicker like flame.  The symbology seems clear and consistent. It is very easy to determine the state of the gameboard at a glance, and determine what the invaders will do next at a glance.

Rulebook: The rulebook is very good. Lots of nice pictures and examples, easy to find stuff when you need it. The only gripe I have against it is that it is printed on a very glossy paper, and it sometimes glares when the light isn't right.

Component quality: I am going to say that the component quality is very good here. It is not amazing, but it is very good. The insert is functional, and actually helps during gameplay. But, it does mean that the box is very very full. you wont get anything else in unless you ditch the insert. Ditto for the cards, if you want to sleeve them you will be needing to ditch the insert.

Gameplay: I think this is a great game in most regards. I do have one niggling thing I wish were a little different. In the game, assuming you don't lose, you are becoming more and more powerful. I can see the the last several turns you can be so powerful that the end is sort of anticlimatic. But, all the moments leading up to that are wonderful. Lets talk about the good now.

Most of the rules make thematic sense so they can sorta get out of the way and let you play.

The Spirits are wildly different. I really think this would be best with at least two spirits, either two player or two handed solo. But the ways that they can complement each other are just wild.

The sensation of leveling up is so so cool.

The sensation of threat from the invaders is very real.

The variety in this game is mind boggling. You have 8 wildly different Spirits to play with, And I think that is enough for most people. If it is not enough for you, in addition you have a number of specific nations you can combat. You have a number of scenarios that you can play, and a lot of ways to fine tune the difficulty level.

This is a complex game. But it is complexity I like, in that it emerges from gameplay rather than being inherent in the rules.

The wildly assymetrical spirit powers, combined with the emergent complexity make this a game that I think will be impossible to quarterback. I think that this game is perfect for those groups who want high interactivity, but don't feel like it needs to be negative interaction.


Final part of first thoughts.

I don't know if this will be my favorite solo game of all time or not, but I think that it could be. FYI the bgg single player guild recently had this show up as their number one solo game of all time, dethroning #Mage Knight who had been the champion for many years. I feel like this is a game that will reward richly those who play it repeatedly, and I feel like I can not really put a number on a rating for it at the moment. But, I think that the chances are very very high that when I do my next top five list next year this will be firmly planted therein. Based on my first play I highly recomend it.

P.S. Please Remember, this is not a review. These are first impressions based on one solo play. I hope to write something more complete when I get a chance to get more plays in.

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Supporter10 months ago

After Brian mentioned about Kickstarter, I was reminded that Spirit Island had a relatively modest success of around 80K on Kickstarter when it first launched. It's amazing to see these wonderfully designed games rise up to the top eventually.

Supporter10 months ago

That is refreshing. 

10 months ago

I'm curious to hear what you think after playing all the Spirits

Supporter10 months ago

Me too. Sufice to say I have played it now  three seperate times and with three seperate spirits and each time I've liked it better. 

10 months ago

Still haven’t gotten to play this one yet. Sounds great though. So i know it’s complex, but how hard is it to learn of you are used to learning games?

Supporter10 months ago

I don't think the learning it is that hard. Sure, it is complex, but must of the complexity comes in the gameplay. AND, when you have a question it is easy to find the answer in the rule book.

10 months ago

That’s super nice. I like easy rules but complex gameplay. I feel like that’s how you know a game is well developed (as long as it’s actually good lol).

Supporter10 months ago

I think it is very good. Of course, whether or not it is fun is a personal taste sort of deal. For example, I think that #The Castles of Burgundy is a good game, but I really do not like it. There will be those that are going to feel like that about this game.

10 months ago

Oh for sure. That’s how I am with a few games as well so I definitely understand haha

10 months ago

It’s the game that first sucked my wife into modern board gaming. Fantastic game.

Supporter10 months ago

Is Spirit Island pretty accessible for a new gamer? My wife seems to enjoy co-op games so this would be an obvious future purchase for me if it's not terribly difficult to wrap our heads around.

10 months ago

It is not a very accessible game in my opinion. It just happened to have drawn my wife in.

Supporter10 months ago

That's really cool. It was such a nice experience when my wife just fell in love with Viticulture. So does that mean your wife has gotten quite immersed into modern board games too? What are her favorites?

10 months ago

I don’t know if I’d go as far as calling her very immersed. I’m definitely the board gamer in the family, but she’ll play a medium to heavy euro from time to time and enjoy it. I’m the one that has to initiate it though and she hates having to learn new game rules. It’s pretty easy to convince her to play Spirit Island, Great Western Trail, Agricola, Castles of Burgundy, or Orleans.

Supporter10 months ago

She likes playing games but not too the extent I do. Also, she would usually rather play what she knows than learn something new. 

Supporter10 months ago

I do not think that learning would be much if any more difficult than root. But, I imagine it will go differently for different people/learning styles.

Supporter10 months ago

Great first impressions article Chris! Echoes many of my thoughts too. Although you do seem to find the components to be a little bit higher quality then I determined them to be.

Supporter10 months ago

Yep. I know I liked the components better than you. 

The last new to me big box game I played was #Star Trek: Frontiers. So, I think my expectations were artificially lowered in terms of component quality. 

Supporter10 months ago

Lol I could see that. It's been the reverse for me. Because I started off with high production value Stonemaier Games' games, it's easy to spot where other games fall short.

Supporter10 months ago

Good point. And my other recently played games were Scythe and Imperial Assault, which have phenomenal component quality. 

Supporter10 months ago

I also do think that the art asthetic also elevates my impressions of the components. And, I do think that they are a notch or too up from merely servicable.

Supporter10 months ago

The art is good. And the components are fine. They just aren’t in the same level as the best components are. 

Supporter10 months ago

Correct. I imagine we just have a different baseline for components. 

I typically consider mayfair/lookout to be sorta my baseline for quality of "good" components. I consider #Spirit Island to be some better. So, I consider it to be very good. But, it is not the excellent quality we get from Stonemaier, or some FFG stuff. 

10 months ago

Great thoughts! How easy/difficult was it to learn?

Supporter10 months ago

There is a lot there, but I feel like it is easier than it's weight would suggest. I imagine it is easier to pick up than Dune, simply because it is cooperative. 

10 months ago

That's awesome! I'm definitely interested in this one, just trying to gauge whether or not my wife would enjoy it as well :)

Supporter10 months ago

Me too, my only hesitation is (1) the length of gameplay time and (2) if explaining/understanding the rules will be too much of a step up from where we are at. Otherwise, I'm almost certain my wife will enjoy it if we had zero pressure with time and if we're not starting the game late at night when her battery's running low.

10 months ago

Yeah, play time might be an issue for us as well. We've definitely had some 2 hour sessions before with friends, but not many. I'm not sure she'd be up to it if it were just the two of us.

Supporter10 months ago

Nice! I've been waiting to hear your thoughts on Spirit Island. I believe it has a modular board as well? Seems like it has a ton of replay value in so many different way, and I always love asymmetry or variable player powers.

@trentellingsen has a copy but it hasn't come out yet. Hope to try it some day (Trent's typically not a big fan of co-ops but maybe he'll like this?)

Supporter10 months ago

I don’t have #Spirit Island actually. I’d be down to play one day though after hearing so many good things about it