Imagine you were to be sent off to a remote desert island. Which board games would you make sure to have with you? Here we find out which three games our bloggers would take to play on Zatu island.
So, here we are… plenty of food, water and the weather is decent. All we need to do is wait for rescue, so we just need to keep ourselves occupied. Fortunately for you, I packed three games – you lucky people!
First out of the waterproof trunk is Space Base – my favourite Tuck and Roll. Plays up to five, keeps everyone involved pretty much all the time and is very simple to learn. You have twelve slots, each numbered, each with a ship/action – roll two dice and decide whether you use the total or the separate dice. Buy new ships to upgrade your slots, but here’s where everyone gets to play – flip your card, tuck it under your board and you can activate it when it’s someone else’s turn and they roll that number. First to 40 victory points usually wins. Usually.
Next out is another little gem – Shards of Infinity, and you’ll be glad to hear it’s got all the expansions, so we can go PvP or co-op. PvP? Okay, but this better not be for the last tin of Spam – that’s mine. Shards is a two to four (five) player deck builder that has some similarity to Star Realms but has some lovely components and a real kicker of a mechanism, mastery, that, as it increases, boosts the actions of certain cards – especially the Shard itself, which when maxed out does infinite damage. The latest expansion, Shadows of Salvation adds another player and a co-op story mode too (see review).
Last out… something I’ve been wanting to spend some time with – Descent, 2nd edition. We haven’t got any tech that hasn’t been waterlogged to run the app, but I’m happy to play the villain. I’ve been wanting to get this dungeon crawler to the table for ages and do the campaign some justice, but it’s been hard to get a regular thing going… but seeing as we’re all stuck here… hey, where are you going? THAT’S MY SPAM!
The three games I would bring with me to a desert island are... hmm, that’s tough! How do I go about cutting my collection down to three? Well, they’ll need to have some common attributes right? They’ll all need high replayability. They’ll need multiplayer capability so that I can enjoy the company of my fellow islanders. Also a solo mode for when I inevitably get sick of my fellow islanders! Last but not least they’ll need to be games I enjoy looking at as well as playing. Ok I think I’m ready...
Everdell. Undeniably ne of the best looking games ever made, Everdell has got the engaging gameplay to match. It’s mix of worker placement and tableau building is second to none in my opinion. The card synergies and combos are so pleasing it’s one I’ll happily bring to the table again and again! Add to that the excellent solo mode with variable difficulty and Everdell is an easy first choice, I wonder if I’ll be able to sneak the expansions onto this island too...
Terraforming Mars. TM has been in my collection for about as long as I’ve had a collection. Watching the map evolve as you bombard it with meteors, flood it, plant lichen, build cities and fill them with pets just never gets old. The deck of cards is so ridiculously big that replayability is fantastic, and gaining income in the production phase is one of the most satisfying things in gaming for me.
Silver and Gold. I figured I’d need one smaller faster game. Roll and writes are great for this but having a finite amount of game sheets on a desert island could be problematic! Enter Silver and Gold, this awesome flip and write game uses a dry erase system, perfect! It’s also brilliant fun with its Tetrisesque polyomino style gameplay. It doesn’t have a solo mode unfortunately but maybe I could draw a face on a basketball and get him to play it with me!
As I reflected on games I’d want with me on a desert island, I realised that they might need to be able to play solo, be relatively portable and also able to cope with the sun, sea and surf. I also didn’t want to lose all the small components on the beach.
Forbidden Island by Gamewright is a co-operative challenge for up to four players who have been dropped on a mystery island. The game board is modular, made of 24 randomly placed tiles representing different locations on the island. The basic set-up is a cross but I prefer to vary this layout to make the shape more difficult. Unfortunately, the island starts to sink and during each turn tiles are removed and parts of the island become impassable. By working together, the characters need to collect four treasures, shore up certain parts of the island, share resources and get everyone back to the drop zone. This was our first co-operative game and it’s perfect for a desert island and comes in a sturdy metal tin.
Mint Delivery comes in a tiny metal tin and is able to fit in a pocket. It is a lightweight pick-up and delivery game for up to five players with a solitaire version. Most games take about 30 minutes. It involves route planning and using the road condition and player special ability variants really makes this game quite interactive. There is plenty of game here in a tin that’s robust, extremely compact and portable.
Railroad Ink is a roll and write game. Two new editions will be released on Kickstarter later in the year. Players are faced with a 7x7 grid and a number of railway lines and roads. The aim is to score points by linking as many of these 12 starting positions as possible. Each turn the four dice are rolled to reveal a combination of roads, tracks and stations in different orientations. All the players use these to create their network. Depending on the edition (blue or red), expansion dice might offer rivers, lakes or volcanoes.
As your interconnecting routes expand you try to fill the centre nine bonus squares and avoid too many disconnected paths. Any number can play. The boards are wipe-clean card with whiteboard pens. Believe it or not, last year, I can vouch for the value of Railroad Ink in solo mode to keep one distracted when I was actually stuck on a tropical island waiting for a boat to the African mainland!
Variety is the spice of life, especially for modern games. Narrowing down three games for a desert island scenario is a tough call! My logic is that I’d want games that offer to scratch three different itches…
My first pick would be Mölkky. I had the pleasure of playing this Finnish throwing game last summer, and it’s loistava. (That’s Finnish for ‘brilliant’!) It’s like bowling, only you stand any knocked-over ‘pins’ back up wherever they land. They start bunched up, but spread out, fast! No two games are alike. Pins are numbers 1-12. You score, say, 7 points if you hit the number 7 pin. But if you knock down multiples, instead you’ll score the same points as pins that tumble. First to 50 points wins… But if you score over 50, you bounce back down to 25 points! I’d never tire of Mölkky as an outdoor game on an island.
Lewis & Clark would be my pick for a Euro-style game. Players race, recreating the historical expedition westwards across north America. It features dovetailing mechanisms: hand management, resource management, tablaeu-building, deck-building, and worker placement. You borrow and benefit off the symbols in your neighbours’ tableaus, which feels rewarding! Timing when you ‘camp’ along the way is crucial to success. I’m delighted that Ludonaute are republishing Lewis & Clark in 2020.
I have to pick at least one island-themed game, right? Isle of Skye, by Alexander Pfister, gets my vote for many reasons. It’s like Carcassonne-plus, building your own Scottish highlands isle. The scoring systems change, every time you play. But most important of all, I love the pricing in Isle of Skye. You pick how much to charge for your tiles. Should you make your tiles expensive, to squeeze extra coins off your rivals? Or will that turn them away? Tile-laying is a mechanism that I find relaxing, so that would help if I got stressed on the island! I love admiring my layout at the end of the game…
If i was going to a desert island, I would want to take games with me with plenty of replayability, so that each time i played them it would feel like a different experience. I also thought about having games with different styles and times to play so there was a game which fitted whatever I was in the mood for.
My first game would have to be Wingspan. Engine building is one of my favourite mechanics, and combined with the unique theme makes Wingspan a game I will happily play again and again. In Wingspan players are building up their habitats by playing bird cards which require food and eggs. These resources are obtained in different habitats; the more birds you have played in that habitat the more of that resource you can take. The engine works really well and is very satisfying to build. There is a lot of replayability with a huge number of bird cards, as well as a variety of bonus cards and end of round goals.
Secondly, I would take Santorini. I find abstract strategy games very enjoyable so would have to take one. In Santorini players are building structures with the aim of getting their builders to the third floor. Of course, as a competitive game the other players are trying to stop this. Players can build a cap on top of the third floor to prevent any builders being able to stand there. There are also hero and god cards included with the game. These give your builders a special power and can add another layer to the game.
Finally, I would take Altiplano as a heavier game. Altiplano is a bag building game in which players move around locations in the Andes trading for various goods. Goods can be used to gain points in your warehouse, to fulfil orders, or to obtain better goods The game has lots of interesting choices to make each turn and a number of ways to get points. Altiplano also has a lot of replayability, with the different starting tiles you are dealt, and the missions you can play with. These can change your strategy making a new experience each time you play.
Robinson Crusoe is a punishing co-operative game set on a desert island. Why then, would this be my top game to take on a real desert island? Ignacy Trzewiczek, the designer of the game, spent months studying survival guides. The result of which plays out on the board of the game.
Each round, players have to make difficult decisions on whether to explore the island, build shelter, or go hunting. You decided to not improve your shelter, or sleep in that cave you found? You risk getting a cold. Didn’t treat those wounds you got while climbing a palm tree? You risk getting an infection. You don’t need Bear Grylls with this game.
Another game I’d take with me is Inis. This fantastic area control game uses card drafting to determine your actions and modular board to create the kingdom in the course of the game. There are three winning conditions that players need to keep an eye on. But even once someone achieves any of them, that player needs to announce it to the rest before the turn ends. It’s a great game, but beyond that, I reckon that the map tiles could be used as shurikens for hunting, or at least knocking those coconuts down. Very useful.
The last game to take with me would be Gloomhaven (perhaps I’ve arrived there on a private yacht without a luggage limit). What a better place to play a 100-scenario campaign game? This ground-breaking dungeon crawler is going to take a long time to finish. Perhaps it’s good then that the rescue ship won’t arrive for a while…
Taking board games onto a desert island is a little dangerous for me, because instead of lighting beacons and arranging stones on the beach into a large “SOS” I’ll be relaxing in my treetop paradise with three games that I would be playing in an infinite cycle.
First up would be my old favourite, Terraforming Mars – while some may be building shelters and hunting small mammals on the desert island, I’d rather be crashing asteroids onto the Red Planet’s surface and creating an army of tardigrades to gradually accrue extra points in my important planetary engineering efforts.
My second game would have to be World of SMOG: Rise of Moloch – I have had this game of combat and intrigue in a murky Victorian London in my collection for about 18 months now and despite loving the theme and the idea of one-versus-many, I haven’t got this to the table yet – I think an extended stay on a desert island would be the perfect time to crack it open and transport myself back to Blighty (albeit a dingy pseudo-fantasy approximation of our beloved country’s capital where zombies and killer clowns roam the smoke-filled streets).
The final game I would have stashed away for this holiday of sorts would be Friday: A Solo Adventure – because when you’re stuck on a desert island, you’d want to play a solo deck-builder about a guy trying to survive on a desert island, right?!
Is that a rescue plane overhead? – Who cares, it’s my turn, and I need to concentrate…