I have always been a fan of Red Raven Games. The games that Ryan Lauket produces are really good games. The fact that he does it all is just beyond comprehension. That being said there isn’t really a Red Raven game that I have just been ga-ga over. I had heard about Islebound and was immediately drawn to it. I own Above and Below, which is my favorite RRG game so far. I tried Artfacts Inc., which I liked but it was not good enough to see consistent table time. All the games I have played from RRG have been solid smooth games yet there seems to be something missing that keeps them from rocketing to my Top Ten games of all time. Islebound definitely looks great and plays smooth but does the game play finally catapult a RRG into my favorites? Let’s find out….
Publisher: Red Raven Games
Designer: Ryan Lauket
Time: 60-120 Minutes
Islebound takes place in the same land as Above and Below. Each person takes the role of a clan that embarks upon the open seas to gain as much renown as they can. The players travel from island to island hiring islanders for chores, conquesting islands by war or diplomacy, finding treasure, or completing quests. All these things help you acquire renown and on your way to getting your name written in the record books. Did I mention you also build buildings? This game seems to have it all.
The game is pretty simple as you play. At the beginning of the game, everyone gets one island to start on. On your turn you simple move and take an action, and additional free actions. Movement is a must but actions are not. There might be times where you can’t do an action. Turns move really fast so even in a 4 player game the down time is minimal.
When it comes to moving, you have to move your ship from the island it is currently on. You can’t visit the same island twice in a row. When moving, if you ever land on the same island as another player you have to exhaust one of your crew mates.
When you land on an island you can then take an action. The first thing you can do is work on the island and gain the resources or abilities they offer, on that particular . In order to work you must first pay the natives one coin and sometimes exhaust a crew member. When you pay a coin it goes into the treasure map area, more on that later. The next two actions work the same way. You can overtake an island through attacking or diplomacy. Islands with the red flag can be attacked and the ones with a blue flag need to be over taken with diplomacy. You gain pirates and sea serpents for attacking and you place your cubes on the diplomacy track. The best way to gain influence for the diplomacy track is by completing quest, more on that later. When you attack an island you need to roll dice and allocate those dice to each pirate and sea serpent you used. To ally an island through diplomacy, you simply take off the diplomacy track the needed number. The important thing about this action is once you claim an island every time some one lands on there to use the action, they pay you and not the treasure map. You also get to use the action for free the rest of the game when you go back to an island you own later in the game. You can overtake other players island but the value to attack or ally goes up by two.
The last action that you can take is Hunt for Treasure. When you hunt for treasure you simply take all the money that has accrued on the treasure map into your possession. You basically use a turn to gain money.
After you are done with your action you can then take a free action. The first free action you can take is completing a quest. There are two quests available throughout the game at all times. If you visit an island that has a quest on it you can activate that quest to gain diplomacy. You are giving aid to the island in need. It will usually cost something like fish, wood, books or a crew member. The second free action you can take is buying a building. Most of these buildings give special bonuses and abilities throughout the game. Some give you bonus renown points at the end of the game. These are key because the first person to build 7 buildings triggers the end of the game. If you fall behind in buildings it will be very difficult for you to stay in the hunt. Each building also gives you renown points equal to the price they are, at the end of the game.
That is pretty much the game. You can spend fish to move an extra space or a piece of wood to re-roll a die in combat. There are also different crew members that you can hire that give you extra bonuses when you exhaust them. Who ever can manage their crews and get the most renown points is the winner of Islebound.
The components are fine…..nothing to write home about. It has nice thick cardboard. The art it fantastic! I love the fact that I can use the new crew members from Islebound in Above and Below! The biggest complaint that I have with the components are the player ships. They are nice and big…..but the color that makes them different is a tiny flag on the top of the mast. It is sometimes hard to see which ship is yours. The sails are all different but they are all still white. It would have been great if the sails for each ship was the color of the player to make them really stand out! The cubes are big and chunky. Over all they are solid components.
There are a couple of neat ideas here that I really like. The turns are super quick. Move and take an action. Even when someone uses an extra action it is not a big deal. The diplomacy track is also very interesting. When you place cubes on the track you have to place from left to right. When you take cubes off, you can choose from where you want to take them. It’s a nice game to decide where to take them from to force others to put cubes on a lower space while you horde the high numbers. I also like how you keep track of renown points through out the game. Instead of their being a number track around the board, every time someone gets seven renown points through out the game you get a tile that gives you an extra bonus. All the tiles are worth seven points but the bonuses are different. At the end of the game, you just count how many seven tiles you have.
Islebound starts to lose me in the last two categories. The first is the strategy. I am starting to not be a big fan of games that end when “a player has this many things in his tableau”. To me, this just turns into a race. If you are the only one building buildings then you will win in this game. It forces you to build buildings. When you are forced to build buildings, you are not able to focus on other parts of the game. I wanted to focus on getting as many seven point renown points one game but soon found that everyone will pretty much end with the same amount no matter what. One thin I didn’t mention is the influence cards. There are two influence cards that are available. There is an action on one of the islands to activate one of the influence cards. When it is activated, the person who activated it gets a certain amount of renown points….usually one or two. Then everyone in the game will get points due to a specific criteria, such as points for every crew member with a scroll. So, if you want to focus on influence cards and get renown points, you are actually helping others get them too, meaning to be able to focus on just that wont work. You HAVE to build buildings!! And, I don’t like that!
This is another sore spot for me. I just don’t see much replayability??? The boards do come double sided but can not be mix and matched. If I play the basic they all have to be the basic, if I play the advance they all have to be advanced?? And going hand in hand with the strategy there just doesn’t seem to be much else going for it. Build buildings!! If I thought there were other avenues to win, I would want to play it more.
Final Thoughts 13/20
It is hard to not be drawn in by Ryan Lauket and Red Raven Games. Their productions are some of the best. The art work is stunning and they just look fantastic. I have really struggled to like the game play of many of his games. Islebound is a very smooth and thematic game. I just have little desire to play it more. I really feel like the end game condition hinders both the replay value and different strategy. If this game took place over a certain amount of rounds or years, I feel it would have been a much better fit. Then I could see one person focus on only buildings, another on renown points, another on just money. As it is now, building buildings and staying within reach of the person who has built the most buildings really makes you go in one direction while trying to do other things a little on the way. I will keep this around for a bit but Above and Below is by far my favorite Red Raven Game.