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When the Spirit Moves You: A Review of Spirit Island

Spirit Island (Greater Than Games)Game Name: Spirit Island

Publisher: Greater Than Games and Fabled Nexus

Designer: R. Eric Reuss

Year: 2017

Players: One to four

Ages: 13+

Playing Time: 90-120 minutes

Genre: Cooperative Eurostyle game of area control and set collection, hand management

Retail Price: $79.95

Spirit Island, much like the landmass upon which it is set, is deceptive. Its beautiful art, charming native islanders known as Dahan, and cleverly designed Invaders give no hint of the challenge it poses.

Each player takes on the role of a god: Ocean’s Hungry Grasp, Thunderspeaker, Lightning’s Swift Strike, Bringer Of Dreams And Nightmares, River Surges In Sunlight, Vital Strength Of The Earth, A Spread of Rampant Green, or Shadows Flicker Like Flames. Together with the Dahan, players work to destroy the Invaders who would corrupt the island and bring blight to the land.

Spirit Island carries its theme of anti-colonialism through nearly every aspect of the game. The visual design of the gods bears a strong, seemingly Polynesian influence, an allusion to the game’s real world parallels. Should players choose to face a specific adversary, such as a British or Swedish colony, these intimations only grow stronger.

The game benefits from high production values: the Dahan are wooden, the Invader sculpts are detailed, and the stock for both cards and player mats feels great in hand. The art looks as beautiful on the player mats as it does on the box and really helps to bring out a sense of the storyworld.

Spirit Island Set Up (Greater Than Games)From a gameplay perspective, Spirit Island is both mechanically and strategically dense. Each god has their own unique set of potential abilities and variety of playstyles; it may take even experienced gamers several play-throughs to really understand the nuances of a given character. Likewise, success requires a carefully coordinated effort among players; a full four-player game is one that will be heavy with strategy talk.

This kind of structure means that Sprit Island rewards replay. Multiple games allow players to try new strategies and new abilities to refine their technique, and to develop a more nuanced understanding of a specific god’s weaknesses and strengths. Gameplay challenges interweave seamlessly with theming, leading to an experience that feels cohesive and unified. The potential for inter-god synergies and combos is enormous, and can only truly be appreciated with the benefit of repeated exposure.

However, this structure also means that play can be slow. Gamers looking for a lighter and faster experience may find themselves bored or, worse, frustrated. The intensity of thought required also means that Spirit Island may not lend itself to multiple games back-to-back; it’s a main attraction, rather than a warm-up or cool down.

It’s important to understand that, in many ways, Spirit Island is an investment. The game has a learning curve, one that varies in difficulty and length depending upon a player’s chosen god. Players who are drawn to intensely strategic cooperative games that necessitate a high degree of participation from all involved will find themselves richly rewarded. The game has been designed with thought and care and it’s eager to meet players willing to engage with it at that level.

The game also benefits from a developer who remains engaged with the product. Designer R. Eric Reuss and a handful of volunteers man an online Spirit Island FAQ, complete with detailed rules clarifications, a list of rules commonly misplayed, and suggestions for adjusting difficulty, should the need arise. The FAQ is both regularly updated and well-organized — and a boon for sorting out sticky situations.

Spirit Island is a thoughtfully designed, beautifully executed title— it’s just not for everyone, through no flaw or fault of its own. For players seeking deeply strategic gameplay with high replay value who enjoy a compelling challenge and aren’t dissuaded by loss, Spirit Island is a natural fit, one to seek out with due haste. However, for those looking for a lighter experience, who would rather develop proficiency quickly, or who find themselves easily frustrated, other titles may be better suited.

TGG REVIEW
8.1 TGG SCORE
0 VISITORS' SCORE (0 votes)
Summary
Spirit Island is a thoughtfully designed, beautifully executed title— it’s just not for everyone, through no flaw or fault of its own. For players seeking deeply strategic gameplay with high replay value who enjoy a compelling challenge and aren’t dissuaded by loss, Spirit Island is a natural fit, one to seek out with due haste. However, for those looking for a lighter experience, who would rather develop proficiency quickly, or who find themselves easily frustrated, other titles may be better suited.
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Sami Yuhas
TGG SCORE - 8.1

8.1

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