Playing Spirits and Alienating Colonists: First Impressions of Spirit Island

Greetings to all readers of the Krewe de Gumbo, Bryan here, back with my first impressions of Spirit Island from Greater Than Games. This game had my interest from the first time I heard about it, one because I enjoy co-op games, and two, because the basic premise sounded very entertaining. I was really intrigued by the idea that we are not playing as conquering colonists bent on area control but instead as the primal beings of the land whose people need their help evicting the invading hordes.

And invade they shall.

Image courtesy of Greater Than Games’ Kickstarter page

The game runs very smoothly despite the fact that there are quite a few loss conditions to keep track of — everything from the island being overrun, to the blighted lands removing your influence forever can signal a disappointing end. Luckily the game comes with a basic setup guide for an introductory play through. It keeps out some of the nastier mechanics that will be seen on repeated plays and offers the players a selection of low complexity spirits to start with. Start with the basic setup by the board and off you go.

Gumbo Game Night first play

Spirit Island is a 2017 release by Greater Than Games through its Fabled Nexus imprint. It was designed by R. Eric Reuss, and has amazing artwork from a number of artists, including Nolan Nasser who did the artwork for New Bedford. This is a Kickstarter fulfilment, but we have confirmed that there will be a number of copies at Gen Con 50.

The game begins with invaders exploring the beaches and from the towns and cities across the map, who on later turns will then build, and then ravage the land. The spirits take their turn before the invaders, gaining influence, energy, and cards in some combination then planning their actions, realizing most powers will not resolve until after the invaders take their actions. You then repeat this, earning fear to drive the invaders out as they continue to explore, build, and ravage until success or crushing defeat.

Image courtesy of Greater Than Games’ Kickstarter Page

Our play through went fairly well, with just the basic spirits, and three new players and one experienced one. There were some nerve wracking events that forced us to be VERY specific about what actions were being taken by what players, and who could absorb losses. We managed to win, and while there were, as mentioned, close calls, the whole run went well. The table talk and planning were rampant often planning players’ usage of energy down to which growth ability they took.

As a whole I did enjoy this game. The experience was good and there are some good mechanical choices that help keep the players on the edge without the situation ever seeming hopeless. The spirit choices do very well playing off each other, and using the villagers in conjunction with your powers is key to winning the game. The fact that the interplay not just between the spirits, but also with the villagers is so well handled was awesome to me. I will play it again, using more advanced rules now that we have the basics down.

There are, however, a few problems that stick out. The largest among them is AP players will cripple your play time. There is so much to track and plan that those types of players will get locked up. Also this game requires heavy amounts of co-operation, to the level that an alpha gamer is likely to emerge because a bad player can easily cause a bad round which takes a long time to recover from.

I am also unsure about how re-playable the game is in the long run. Even with more spirit choices, adding in colonist leaders with powers and blight effects, the game, like other co-ops I find, is basically just putting new tires on an old car. You may love that car, and still enjoy your time driving it, but it just can’t be your day to day anymore. I feel like players will get to the point where you know the situation, and how best to deal with it and limit the discussion of options or plans needed.

As always, keep playing and see you again,

— Bryan Barnes, @bryanbarnes19

Roux Day says: 

I wanted to like Spirit Island. I really did. It’s a thinky, euro-y, co-op with gorgeous art. Sadly, the overwrought gameplay dooms it to the back of the shelf for me. Glad I played it, but I don’t need to own it.

— BJ 

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