Spirit Island (Core Game)
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Spirit Island (Core Game)

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Spirit Island is a 2017 co-operative game from Greater Than Games. Deep, strategic gameplay unfolds against a startlingly compelling backdrop of island spirits fighting to defend their home from colonial invaders. Can you and your friends use your spirits’ powers effectively enough to repel Europe’s colonising hordes? Though you will always have to try to drive the invaders away…
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Stunning Artwork
Dice Tower


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • It's a co-operative game where you'll have plenty of camaraderie between fellow players.
  • A mid-higher weight game with an option to increase difficulty.
  • Rich thematic gaming experience with good mechanics.

Might Not Like

  • That it's a co-operative game.
  • The complexity of higher-weight games.
  • The fiddly nature of moving game pieces constantly.
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Spirit Island is a 2017 co-operative game from Greater Than Games. Deep, strategic gameplay unfolds against a startlingly compelling backdrop of island spirits fighting to defend their home from colonial invaders. Can you and your friends use your spirits’ powers effectively enough to repel Europe’s colonising hordes?

Though you will always have to try to drive the invaders away, no two games of Spirit Island will feel the same. One to four players choose from a set of eight spirits, each of which has four unique power cards. Each spirit is very different to the others, interacting with friends and foes in diverse and interesting ways.

On top of the eight spirits, players can also choose to face one of three different invader cards, each offering a new and distinct challenge. The board itself adds further variability, with four modular islands boards that each give the game a different flavour. Finally, four optional scenarios give you more variety if you want to change things up even more.

Action selection and area control are key mechanics in Spirit Island. Players choose which of their power cards to play, paying the associated energy cost to do so. The cards give players a mix of short- and long-term effects, with stronger powers available as the spirits’ influence spreads across the island.

The spirits are not free to do whatever they like, however. Your colonial adversary is an ever-present, growing threat. Over the turns of the game they will explore the island, settle and eventually ravage the surrounding territory, including the native islanders that you are trying to protect. If any spirit is destroyed, the island is overcome by blight or the invader deck runs out, your team will lose. If you can destroy or scare off all the colonialists, then you’ll win the game.

Do you think you have what it takes to keep your island safe? Buy Spirit Island today to find out.

Player count: 1-4 players
Time: 90-120 minutes
Age rating: 13+


Spirit Island Board Game Review

Dawn breaks, and the island awakens with the sounds of strife. The invaders harry the native Dahan, all the while depleting the rich resources of the land, blighting it for generations to come. Do you, the Spirits, heed the prayers of your devoted followers, and use your powers over the elements to beat back the intrusive marauders?

Spirit Island is a 1-4 player co-operative island defence game designed by R. Eric Reuss. You control a spirit, each with its own unique powers, with the sole duty of beating back the invaders’ attempts to settle colonies, blight the island’s natural beauty and eradicate the indigenous Dahan. Players take turns simultaneously, spreading their influence and stockpiling energy to unleash swift and devastating attacks before the invaders can establish their cities and ravage the land.

Players win either through completely eradicating the invaders, or through acquiring enough Fear tokens to push the invaders to abandon their plans. The players lose should the invaders deplete the pool of Blight tokens, or if one spirit’s presence is completely removed from the island.

Spirit Island Game Components

Spirit Island Set-Up And Gameplay

Players begin by selecting one of the four island boards and one of eight Spirit dashboards to represent them, along with their corresponding power cards. Each Spirit has its own unique play style, innate powers and set-up position, in addition to a complexity rating and play style summary to allow players to quickly establish what their Spirit does, from Vital Strength of the Earth’s focus on creating fortified areas, to Lightning’s Swift Strike’s emphasis on speed.

Once chosen, players interlock the island boards, and place their starting presence as well as any Dahan, invaders or blight according to the iconography on each numbered area on the island. Any remaining presence the players have is placed on their dashboard covering any dashed circle on the Presence tracks.

Players begin their turn by selecting one of three growth actions from their Spirit’s dashboard. ‘Add Presence’ allows a spirit to place one or more tokens from their Presence track onto the island to spread their area of influence.

The ‘Gain Power Card’ action adds new abilities to your repertoire, either in Minor form for smaller-scale powers, or Major form for more powerful, energy-hungry actions that require the permanent loss of another Power to acquire. ‘Gain Energy’ gives the spirit a one-off boost to their energy supply, and ‘Reclaim Cards’ allows a spirit to return previously used powers to their hand.

Spirit Island Review - Lightening's Swift Strike

After Growth it is the Play Powers phase, where players gain energy equal to the right-most uncovered value on their ‘Energy/turn’ track and then play a number of cards up to the right-most uncovered space on their ‘Card Plays’ track, paying the energy cost for each.

Powers have Speed, Range and Target values that indicate how fast a power is, how far away the power can target from your presence, and whether you need a specific entity in the land to use the power there. Powers also have a column of elements they provide either for fuelling the innate powers on your dashboard or unlocking more powerful effects on powers you acquire later in the game.

Finally, it is the Invader phase, where spirits use their powers in-between the invaders’ turn. Fast powers strike before the invaders, while slow powers must wait until after the invaders’ turn to resolve. The invaders’ turn is controlled using a deck of locations on a separate board.

First, a card will enter the ‘Explore’ space, spawning explorers on each location of that type. The next turn, this card moves to the ‘Build’ space where the explorers establish new towns and cities. Finally, a card is pushed to the ‘Ravage’ space, where invaders attack the land and its inhabitants, blighting the land and routing the Dahan from their homes. The Spirits then resolve any slow powers they have remaining, after which the game returns to the Growth phase and repeats until either a win or loss condition is met.

Spirit Island Review - Character Card

Final Thoughts On Spirit Island

Spirit Island is a complex entity, full of potential for dozens of game sessions straight out of the box. There is a lot of ground to cover, not just in Spirits, but also adversary cards which add a face to the invaders and increase the game difficulty, as well as scenarios that increase the amount of game-ending conditions.

Spirit Island offers an experience unlike many co-operative games I’ve played. It is positively dripping in theme, from the way its spirits are represented, to its unique art style, all the way down to component quality. The difference in having invaders represented by plastic minis while using wood to signify your presence and the Dahan tokens is a subtle one, but it shows mindfulness on the part of the designer and publisher to make a distinct difference in presentation on the board to differentiate the natives and invaders. For even more versatility, the Branch and Claw expansion offers more spirits, adversaries and scenarios, as well as Jagged Earth.

Despite the complexity, Spirit Island offers enough to get a less-seasoned gamer involved without them feeling overwhelmed, given the correct amount of support. Quarterbacking is essentially non-existent: there are so many power combinations that it is impossible for one person to control everyone else’s turn. The Invader board makes it easy to identify the biggest threats and allow players to make the best use of their powers to ensure the survival of the island.

Editors note: This blog was originally published on October 26th, 2018. Updated on June 14th, 2022 to improve the information available.

In Spirit Island players take the role of powerful spirits of the natural world that have been living for millennia on a remote and isolated island. A human population, the Dahan, shares the space and the resources with the spirits and helps in keeping the balance. Unfortunately, both the spirits and the Dahan are now threatened by invaders coming from one of the European nations that could disrupt the natural balance. Your role, as a spirit, is to raise against this forced colonization and push the invaders back from your island shores.

Setup – Difficulty Setting

Spirit island is overall a great game of strategy and planning and, as such, it requires a bit of a learning curve to find a winning strategy. When you are playing your first games it is recommended to avoid using any Blight cards, Scenarios and Adversaries therefore in this article we will not consider them initially. I will mention their role at the end to explain how you could progressively integrate them into your games.

During the game setup you need to chose a spirit for each player. Each spirit panel has a playing side and a setup side. On the setup side, you can find the spirit background and some details of how the spirit powers could be used efficiently. There is also a detailed analysis of the spirit weakness and strengths to help you choose the spirit that may suit your strategy better. If you are not playing solo it is recommended to try to mix spirits with different strengths that could complement each others.

Spirits are also ranked by complexity and it is recommended to use the low complexity spirit for your first games. The complexity rating is related to the effort needed to find an efficient strategy with that spirit, not an indication of how efficiently the spirit fights the invaders.

Setup – Island And Invaders

Once each player has chosen a spirit, it is time to setup the island and add all the invaders. Randomly choose one island board per player and arrange them following the layouts depicted in the rulebook. Explores, towns, cities, Dahan huts and blight tokens are then added following the icons in each land.

Once the island is set, players will need to take the invaders board from the box and prepare the fear and invaders deck. The fear deck is made of 3 groups of three cards each separated by two terror levels dividers. All cards are selected randomly and the deck is placed face down over the final terror level space (“Victory”).

The invaders deck is prepared by randomly selecting 5 stage three cards, 4 stage two cards and 3 stage one cards. The deck should be placed face down in the “explore” space of the invaders board with stage level one cards on the top and stage two and three behind them.

To complete the setup, 5 fear tokens per players should be added to the invader board in the “pool” area at the top. Blight tokens should also be added to the Healthy island space on the invaders board following the instruction depicted on the board or the Blight card (if you have added any to the game).

Setup – Spirit And Player Board

Once each player has selected their spirit, they should collect all wooden tokens of one colour and all the cards corresponding to the spirit starting powers. These last ones are easy to find as they have the same image of the spirits on the back of the cards.

Some of the wooden tokens are added to the board following the setup instruction on spirit board. The placement rules are usually quite straightforward and they are based on which land of one type has the highest/lower number or the largest/lowest amount of Dahan/Invaders. The wooden token are called presence and if you have two in a single land they should be stacked to created a “sacred site”. This is quite important as spirits could only use their powers in lands close to those where they have influence.

Once the initial setup completed, player should flip the spirit board to the playing side and place an influence token in each space of the two trackers. The upper tracker will define how much energy the spirit will gain per turn while the lower one define how many powers (cards) per turn a player can play. Note that the leftmost space in each tracker should always be left empty.

During the game, players can take a token away from any of the trackers to reveal (usually) higher values that would allow them to collect more energy per turn or to play more cards.

Any unused presence tokens should be put back into the box.

Spirit Island – Turn Sequence

Spirit Island is played in turns and each turn is divided in 5 specific phases. Before the first turn, the invaders will take their first action toward colonizing the island.

Players turn the first card of the invaders deck face up. A new explorer unit is then placed on each land corresponding to the one revealed by the card if there is a town/city on it or if a town/city or the ocean is adjacent to it. Each land could only get one explorer but the same town/city supply explorers to all adjacent lands.

Turn Sequence – Spirit Phase

In this phase, players choose one of the grow option reported on the top part of their own spirit board and apply the effect selected. Some of the grow options allow players to add an influence token to the map moving it from their Energy or card tracker. Players are allowed to pick the same grow option multiple times across multiple turns.

Once selected the grow option, players collect energy basing on the amount showing on the energy tracker. Some grow options also grant additional energy and it is recommended to use energy tokens to track the energy collected each turn.

At the end of this phase, players choose which cards they want to play and pay the energy value listed on them. Remember you can only play as many cards as dictated by the related tracker on the player spirit board. Moreover, players could not play a card if they do not have the energy to pay for it and they should be mindful of which power acts fast and of those that take more time to be used.

In addition to its effect, every power card shows a number of elemental icons on its left side. When the total amount of elements shown on the cards equal the threshold of any innate power on the player spirit board, players gain that power and could use it as an additional one for that turn. Elements are not consumed in the process and the same threshold could trigger more than one power. When power cards are discarded at the end of the turn, the amount of gained elements goes back to zero till new cards are played.

Turn Sequence – Fast Power Phase

In this phase, spirits could trigger the effect of fast powers (those with a red bird icon). Each power can only target a land or a unit if it meets all conditions listed on the power card. The range of a

power is defined in term of number of lands between a presence/sacred site token and the target. Some powers are also restricted to some type of lands or by having/not having invaders/Dahan.

Players should discuss the order in which powers will be played to maximize the effects and the synergies. If there are no eligible targets, the power and the energy are still consumed. Players could also eventually decide to not use one or all the effects of the power.

When using a power, players may push or gathers invaders units or Dahan. Powers could also allow players to remove units or to cause damage to them. If any town or city is removed or destroyed by a power, a fear token is moved from the fear pool to the “generated pool”. Once all tokens are removed from the pool, a fear card is flipped face up (but its effects will take place in a later phase).

Turn Sequence – Invaders Phase

The invaders phase is a critical phase in the game as it is made up by a lot of subsequent actions.

First, players should apply any Blighted Island effect if they are playing with a Bligh card. Once these effect resolved, players should resolve all Fear cards earned so far in the order they have been flipped face-up. Once resolved, each fear card is moved to the discarded space on the board and it will have no further effects.

Once all blight and fear effects completed, Invaders will take their actions. In order, they will Ravage, |Build and Explore the land depicted on the card in the corresponding slot of the board. If there is no card, the invaders will skip that action.

When ravaging a land, invaders will damage the land first: 1 damage per each explorer, 2 per each town and 3 per each city. If the total is higher than 2, a blight token is added to the land. If there is already a blight token, a further token is also added to an adjacent land.

Once the damage to the land resolved, the invaders attack the Dahan. For each 2 point of damage caused by the invaders, a hut is removed. If any Dahan survives, they will fight back causing 2 damages per hut. This damage could be used to remove one or more unit from the land. The health of each invaders unit is the same of the damages they deal and if a town or a city is removed, new fear is generated as mentioned before.

After ravaging a land, the invaders build on the land showed on the corresponding space as far as there is at least one invader unit. A town is added to the land if there is no town and a city is added if there are more towns than cities. Each new building is added to those already present on the land.

Finally, a new explorer is added to the land shown on the card currently in the Explore slot. The new unit is added following the same rules applied for the invader first action at the beginning of this section.

Once these three steps completed, the cards are moved one space to the left. Note that the new Explore card should only be revealed during next invaders explore phase.

Turn sequence – Slow Power Phase

In the slow power phase players resolves powers with the blue turtle icon in the same way used for the fast powers.

Turn Sequence – Time Passes Phase

This phase is used to close the ongoing turn and prepare for the next one. Any unit (invaders or Dahan) that has been damaged but not destroyed goes back to full health. All used power cards are moved to their player discard pile and could be gained again during the grow phase.

Spirit Island – Winning Or Losing

Players will lose if the pool of the blight tokens is empty at any moment during a turn.

Victory conditions, on the other end, depends on the terror level. The highest terror level requires a player to remove all explorers, towns and city in order to win, while at terror level three players will win if no explorers and town are present on the Island. Victory conditions could be met at any time during a turn even when a new terror level is revealed.

Spirit Island – Increasing The Challenge

Once you have familiarized with the main concept and the turn sequence, you can try to add some further elements to the base game. Some of them make the game more difficult (Higher complexity spirits, blight cards…) while others add variety (scenarios, adversaries…). The adversaries in particular are quite fun to play although some of them could force you to change your style and strategy quite dramatically.

Three years ago my partner and I shared our first proper Christmas together. As every adult does, I made a list of all the board games I was hoping for and by November I was preplaying half of them in my head. Due to their increased popularity during lockdown, my friends were all beginning to understand how amazing modern board games could be and I couldn’t wait to have a host of new games to play with them.

Christmas morning came and, poised in my reindeer slippers and Deadpool Christmas jumper, I sat with an iced mince pie in one hand and a wrapped square box in the other.

What could it be? I wondered. Maybe Champions of Midgard, Five Tribes or maybe even the adorable but surprisingly devious Echidna Shuffle. As I peeked inside I discovered to my horror that my partner had in fact gone…off list. In my hands I held Spirit Island, a game I had NEVER heard of before and I would be lying if I said my heart hadn’t sunk. But what I didn’t realise was that I was holding one of my soon to be all time favourite games, a game I would clock over a hundred hours of gameplay in and the first box in a collection I would soon proudly grow.

Spirit Island is a strategic cooperative game during which you play as one of the island’s 8 spirits, a protector of the land who’s been awoken by invading colonists. Your objective is to rid the island of these invaders and protect the local inhabitants, the Dahan. You must halt the spread of blight and tear down the cities which rise up seemingly unstoppably.

Game Play

In Spirit Island, each round is split into 5 main phases:

– Spirit Phase

– Fast Power Phase

– Invader Phase

– Slow Power Phase

– Time Passes

1. Spirit Phase – During this ‘planning’ phase, you and your fellow spirits coordinate your growth and power cards to stop invaders from exploring, building and *shudder* ravaging. What I love about this game is it’s complexity. In my house, we even have a dedicated notebook for Spirit Island which we use to record the moves we plan to take during the fast and slow power stages. Some ‘spirit phases’ can take up to 30 minutes of discussion before you are ready to commit to a strategy. It’s certainly the longest part of the round but it is definitely worth it (strategy satisfaction!).

2. Fast Power Phase – During phase two, you play down the ‘fast power cards’ you paid for earlier. Play happens simultaneously and so it transforms play into a team event as power cards not only clear the board but have the ability to boost other players too. You often come out of this stage feeling surprisingly confident, certainly in the first two rounds meaning you might even end the fast power phase by saying ‘you know what, I think we’ve got this’….but ohhhhh just you wait.

3. Invader Phase – Once you have played your fast powers, invaders will then ‘build’ and ‘explore’ new lands. From round two, invaders also ‘ravage’ meaning they fight each populated section of land which matches the revealed invader deck card. The invaders fight together, combining their respective strengths of 3/2/1 (depending on the piece) into a fearsome force. As they attack first, they can easily clear out the native Dahan whose 2 health leaves them little to no hope of being around long enough to follow up with any damage of their own. What’s worse is that every time 2 or more damage is done to an area, blight is added.

4. Slow Power Phase – As you finally lift your head from your hands, it is time to play your slow power cards which seem so ineffective now. During your planning phase, you focus mainly on stopping the lands which are set to ‘ravage’ that turn as these have the potential to fill with game-ending blight, it is only after the invader phase that you are forced to come to terms with the next land type set to ‘ravage’ in a turns time.

5. Time Passes – During the last phase, the board resets and you discard any played cards ready for the next ‘spirit phase’.


As with most games, there are many ways to lose but only one way to win. In Spirit Island, you lose if you empty your blight supply, if any player’s spirit loses all its board presence or if the invader deck runs out.

To win, you need to fill the invader’s hearts with terror. One of my favourite mechanics in this game is the fear generation and fear deck. As you defeat cities/towns you generate 2/1 fear. Once you have generated enough fear (4 fear per player) you earn a fear card, a random event which, when resolved at the start of the ‘invader phase’, will provide you with further help in clearing the spreading invasion. These cards are slow to earn and so when you have one sitting, waiting to be turned over, it fills your whole team with hope! As you won’t know what the effect will be until after you have made your plans, you can’t rely on the card to solve all your problems, but it feels good to know that something positive is about to happen.

As you turn over more and more fear cards the win condition changes, evolving from having to clear all evidence of invaders from the board to then only needing to clear the cities – if I have survived long enough, it is at this stage that I am usually able to secure a victory.

Spirit Island: Pros So why is Spirit Island one of my favourite games of all time?

– Well, there is good replayability, with 8 spirits and almost 60 power cards you can gain, future playthroughs give you the chance to explore different abilities and try new strategies for keeping the invaders under control. Each spirit excels in different areas (offense, defense, utility, fear, control) meaning that as your players change spirits, the makeup and strengths of your team will change. There are also plenty of fear cards (15) and as each fear card has a different effect depending on the ‘Terror Level’ (1/2/3) you would need to invest a LOT of hours into the game before the deck starts to feel stale.

– There is also a nice random element to the game. During the setup of the ‘invader deck’, you remove 3 cards from the pack, this makes card counting impossible and ensures you can never be certain which lands will be affected next.

– This game comes with SERIOUS strategy satisfaction. When (if) you manage to beat the invaders, you are left feeling very elated for the rest of the day.

– The developer has thought carefully about providing ways to adapt the difficulty of the game. There are two sides to the board with different terrains which change initial set up, there are also adversary panels, scenarios and blight cards that can be used to make game play more difficult and also to introduce new interesting mechanics. My favourite scenario card is ‘Guard The Isle’s Heart’ which adds an additional lose condition in that if any buildings end up in the ‘Isle’s Heart’ you lose, this forces you to focus your attention on the central section of the board and play the game in a whole new way.

Spirit Island: Cons So what isn’t so great?

– The most obvious con to this game is its complexity. I think it is important to get across that the rule book is very difficult to digest. I have learnt and taught dozens of games over the years and yet for Spirit Island I had to turn to a YouTube tutorial… The way a turn would progress, the way the invaders would ravage, the way powers could gather and push, these were concepts I just could not wrap my head around and so for my first playthrough I played with a video running in the background. I would always recommend learning this game at a table with someone who has been to the island before if you can. You know it’s bad when a game has a ‘How to read this rulebook’ section…

– Things can also very quickly get out of control, having recently played Forbidden Jungle by Matt Leacock, I was reminded of the sudden panic one feels when a board (which you thought was under control) explodes with bugs, or in this case: cities. In the base game the ways to subdue the explorers is quite limited and although this is definitely improved by the ‘Branch and Claw Expansion’ (with the introduction of Disease and Strife tokens), when playing the base game you can quickly feel quite powerless.

– This is also NOT a quick game, I personally see this as a pro as I have happily spent a whole day working through this game, but when you have guests round or when you’ve decided to start playing at 7pm, you might regret the game time.

– Spirit Island is also very expensive. We all understand that board gaming is not the cheapest of hobbies, but when its price tag is combined with its complicated and frankly daunting nature, I can see it being a game many people buy and then regret as it gathers dust on their games shelf.


Overall, this is a game that will forever be part of my collection, it is perfect to play with friends, as a couple and even solo and I get genuinely excited each time there is an expansion. It isn’t a game I would recommend for beginner board gamers but if you enjoy a cooperative game that often feels like a puzzle you are working together to solve, then this is a fantastic game to sink your teeth into. It is also a game that will keep you coming back for more as the random card draw of the ‘invader phase’ means no two games are the same.

The artwork on the boards is very beautiful and you can tell how much time and imagination has been put into creating decks of completely unique cards, scenarios and adversaries. No two cards are the same and I cannot imagine how long this game took to design. Although some components’ physical quality could be improved, the written content of the various cards is outstanding.

I find it hard to compare Spirit Island to other games I know, it is quite unlike anything I have played before, however having recently played Forbidden Jungle I do feel that the planning, cooperative nature and the sheer upheaval that can happen during the opponent’s turn do make these games somewhat similar.

This game is certainly improved with the addition of expansions, Branch and Claw in particular is an expansion I will not play without as I think the additional tokens allow you so much more in terms of strategy and control, whilst Jagged Earth introduces my favourite spirit: ‘Grinning Trickster Stirs Up Trouble’.

To conclude, if you are confident when it comes to playing games and are looking for a new series to add to your collection which comes with fantastic expansions, lovely artwork and some serious strategy satisfaction then look no further. Spirit Island is the game for you.

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Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • It's a co-operative game where you'll have plenty of camaraderie between fellow players.
  • A mid-higher weight game with an option to increase difficulty.
  • Rich thematic gaming experience with good mechanics.

Might not like

  • That it's a co-operative game.
  • The complexity of higher-weight games.
  • The fiddly nature of moving game pieces constantly.