Isla Board Game Preview - This is a prototype version and does not represent the final quality or ruleset of the game.
Isla is from the team behind 2020 release Salvage Hidden Treasures. Ocean City Games Ltd are back again, this time with a roll-and-write themed around exploring a mysterious island. The game is coming to Kickstarter in 2024. You can get more information about the game and crowd funding campaign here.
The game works very simply by all players taking a player sheet, pen, and setting up their items in a random fashion on each marked space. Each player will place their character in the start space on the bottom left of the sheet and the five dice tiles on the matching coloured and shaped space on the bottom left of the sheet. One player will then shuffle and set up the threat deck, placing it face down in the central area, along with the five dice. Finally, take the Exploration deck, shuffle that and deal the first four cards face up. Give one player the first player card and you are ready to go.
Players will now take it in turns to be the lead player. Players will either be exploring which means moving through the island, researching which means exchanging tokens you have found for the research cards, or resting, to get a dice back.
When exploring, you will choose the number on one of the rolled dice and move the shown number of spaces. If you move over a token you can take it for your collection. When exploring, you must move the token for the dice you chose to cover that dice symbol on your player sheet. This shows that you cannot use this dice again. If you move over a symbol on the map that shows a dice colour and shape, you can refresh that dice.
When researching, you do not move, but instead hand in previously attained tokens to claim a research card. These will give you end game points.
When resting, you simply refresh the left most used dice. You can only rest once per game, but one token that you can collect as you explore does gives you a second rest if you move through it.
Whenever you roll a one you must draw a threat card. The old rules said you had to take one threat card for each one rolled. This made the game pretty tough and highly unpredictable. I think they made the right decision to update this rule. Most of the threat cards are bad you see. They restrict your movement, make you exhaust dice, or even give other players the power to act on your behalf. Some though do give you end game points if you can cover entire areas on the board. Something that is quite hard to do in your early games.
One you have chosen if you are exploring, researching or resting, the first player rolls the dice and the players all carry out their actions. Multiple players can use the same dice, but players must take it in turn order if more than one player is researching. Once a card has been researched it is replaced by another. Each round one card is replaced too. So these are constantly being refreshed.
The game ends when all players reach the exit in the top right of the map. Points are awarded to the first player who made it out, how far out of the map you managed to escape, how many dice you have unused at the end of the game, and for all of your completed research cards. Then, minus points are awarded, -1 for each unexplored space on the map! This creates in interesting balance between racing to get out first, whilst covering all spaces.
Another change to the rules sees the player coming out second also receiving some points, three points versus five for the first space. I think this again is a good change to avoid the race for the finish being as important. In multiplayer mode, the desire to effectively move through as many spaces as possible whilst managing the quickly depleting resource of usable dice is negatively affected by the race element. I feel players need to have more reasons to cover the island in full other than negative points, which I hate in games. Secret challengers known only to them perhaps, that force them to visit certain spots on the map, or cover certain areas in full so slow people down. In solo mode however, this is very different.
The set up for solo mode is very similar. Take out the threat deck. Also remove the first player token, and replace them with one of the four Keeper. There are four to chose from, each with a different degree of difficulty. Each one has a starting location as shown on the back, along with a little back story. Place any other non-playing character piece onto the Keeper starting location to represent your enemy. In the solo game you are looking to get as many points as possible, whilst avoiding the Keeper capturing you which happens if its piece ever moves through or onto your spot.
The Keeper moves after your action each round. You do this by drawing the top research card. On the bottom left of this card a symbol is shown, not used on the multi-player game. This links to the symbols shown on the Keeper card, and it will move closer to you accordingly. It s a very simple but effective way to add some tension to the solo player game that works for me so much better than the multi-player version.
The game becomes so much more than a race to the finish, and more what it should be. A resource management game. The resource in this game big the dice. You will be amazed by how quickly you run out of dice if you do not manage them properly. Will you use the higher valued dice to move further and more efficiently through the island, covering more ground more quickly, but in turn move away from the lower dice refresh spots that are situated at the bottom of the island. Or will you work you way slowly but surely through the island in an organised manner, refreshing dice as you go, starting slowly and building up?
The race against another player who perhaps may be playing faster than you and going for that finish bonus is removed. It is replaced with the tension of the slowly advancing Keeper. Which, even with carefully made plans, and on easy mode, offers a significant challenge. It will either not move, or race forward one to three spaces. If you stay still to research, or run out of the higher dice, or force yourself to reply on a specific role, you can be easily caught.
This is a wonderful tension that builds on the games suspense and enjoyment for me. Solo is where this game shines.
If you are looking for a new roll-and-write game, and enjoy playing these solo, this well could be one for you to check out in 2024 when it comes to Kickstarter. I for one will continue to follow it closely.