Small Islands is a one to four player tile laying, territory building game with elements of push your luck. It is designed by Alexis Allard and published by MushrooM Games. A game of Small Islands will play a maximum of four rounds. At the beginning of each round all players, in secret, pick an objective card out of a selection of three. During a turn players will draw a tile from the three available and add it to their hand. Players will then place one of the tiles forming a communal landscape making sure the landscapes match.
The landscape tile removed is then replaced with a new one from the navigation stack. The Landscape tiles will have a variety of icons on them which are used to score points based on your objective cards.
Once the navigation stack is empty players can choose (but don’t have to) “land” one of their or the available ships, which score points at the end of the game. This ends the round and players earn points based on the objective card they selected. To score points players must place one of their limited houses on to an island that meets the objective’s mission. Points are awarded based on the objective. Once a house has been placed on an island that island and house do not score again in future rounds.
A new round begins with the exploration stacking being repopulated and new objective cards being dealt. Play continues this way until the end game is triggered. Points are totalled up and are gained from objective cards scored during the game and for each anchor that surrounds your coloured ship placed on the map.
An Island in the Sun
Small Islands has that similar feeling to Carcassonne of laying tiles to create a shared map. It scratches a similar itch. So does Small Islands offer anything different or is it re-skin of a popular classic.
I was very impressed with Small Islands. I purchased this on a recommendation from someone and I am so glad I did. I like that you get to choose which tile out of the available three you add to your hand. I also really like the aspect of laying one out of the three tiles in your hand. You are not at the total mercy of the tile draw and are able to do some short term planning. Small Islands gives you choices, good, tense choices. Another great feature is that you get to choose your objective out of a hand of three. They say good things come in threes and that is certainly true for Small Islands.
Picking up one out of three tiles, playing one out of three tiles and choosing one of out of three objectives.
The scoring is another very interesting aspect of the game. In the basic game you choose one objective card which has the mission and the reward. In the advanced game you get given separate mission cards and separate rewards and create your own objective card.
Players also get to choose when they score by placing one of the available ship tiles. This offers tension and interesting choices in the game. Do you push for a few more scoring points and hope that no one ruins your plans or score now but get less points. It is a wonderful balance that really sets Small Islands apart for me. Also, players only have a maximum of eight houses for the whole game, with the game lasting a maximum of four rounds. Careful selection of when and where to place your house is the crux of the game. It really sets the game apart from other tile laying games.
The artwork is gorgeous and at the end of the game the map of islands that has been created is lovely to look at.
One slight negative is that there is only 12 objective cards for the normal game mode. It would be nice to see a few more of these in the game. However, there are 12 mission cards and 12 rewards cards for the advanced mode so the combinations available are much higher when playing advanced. It feels like the normal mode is designed as an introduction to the game and the advanced mode is how it should be played.
Each player also has a bonus token that can placed on any tile during your turn. These are double sided and contain the icons that are present on the tiles. You can change the number of a particular symbol on an island tile to swing the scoring in your favour and eke out a few more points.
I have purposefully tried to avoid comparing this directly to Carcassonne. I currently have both in my collection but if Small Islands is supported and more content is realised Carcassonne might well get pushed out of the collection.
Small Islands is gorgeous looking, has simple rules and is quick. It is very accessible and definitely fits in to the gateway category.