Updated: Aug 30, 2022
Have you ever wanted to be an Island Spirit and destroy the white man, come to take your island home? Since the answer is obviously yes, Spirit Island is the game for you. It's a cooperative game that pits you and your allies against conquering invaders. You take the role of an Elemental Island Spirit, and you need to team up with the native population of your island to kill or scare away the invading settlers. Each spirit comes with it's own unique play style, and set of stats, so you can try to balance your strengths and weaknesses with your teammates. Here are the eight spirits that come with the game.
As you can sort of kind of see, each spirit has different bar graphs showing what they are good in. For example, the "Earth" spirits like A Spread of Rampant Green and Vital Strength of the Earth both excel at defense (defending the natives from the settlers). I have only played the spirit I identify most with, Ocean's Hungry Grasp, because hunger. There are also four low complexity spirits that come with a pre set up to make the game a bit less complex, two moderate complexity spirits, and two high complexity spirits. We spread it out a bit this game, as I played Ocean's Hungry Grasp (high), and my three friends played A Spread of Rampant Green (moderate), Thunderspeaker (moderate), and Vital Strength of the Earth (low). The game is definitely complex, so the first couple of times you play it expect to reference the rule book constantly. We are four pretty experienced board gamers but we still needed to stop and check often. But once you get the mechanics down, the game flows more naturally (especially if you are the Ocean or River spirit). Your island has one piece for each player you play with, so it gets bigger (and harder to defend) when you play with more people. Each spot on the map is a different kind of terrain, and Invaders either explore the land, build on it, or ravage it and spread Blight (when the island is too blighted you lose the game). Here is what it looks like at set up.
Each spirit works stronger on different territories. My ocean dude can only do things on the coast (any territory bordering the oceans where you can see my red spirit presence tokens), and the other spirits had preferences for land as well. For example, Thunderspeaker (the only spirit in the form of a human) works well with humans, so it has a lot of abilities that target lands with natives on it (the cream colored mushrooms on the maps). This leads to a pretty awesome map control game, where settlers are spreading like the literal plague, and you and the other spirits have to work on containing them. The board and pieces are very well made, and the aesthetic of the island is pleasant too. Here is what a player's space looks like.
My handsome ocean spirit has his own card, like every spirit, with special rules that apply to only my spirit. My spirit could take Invaders and drag them out to the ocean, where they drown and I turn them into energy. Radical. You can also see on the right side of my spirit card three sections. You can learn more about it when you play it, but for now I'll just talk about presence (the section with my red dots on it). When you spread your presence on the island, you get to take one of those red dots and put it on the island map. When you do, it uncovers an upgrade to either how much energy tokens you get per turn, or how many cards you get to play. I was SPREADING my ocean, so by this point in the game I got one free energy per turn, and could play three cards on my turn. The spirit turns, while sometimes chaotic with four people, always feel engaging because there is so much you can do, and you do not have to sit around and wait for everyone else to finish their turns before you get to go, like in a LOT of other games (Looking at you Fantasy Flight).You can also see the energy tokens on the left, the currency you need to pay for your power cards. And you can see my power cards on the top of the screen. These cards do a variety of things, from protecting natives, to killing invaders, to giving them fear. The way you win the game is by putting fear into the hearts of these would be conquerors, which is a mediocre segue to my next photo!
This is the invade board, a spot for you to keep track of what the invaders are doing, where they are doing it, and when. The main thing I want to cover is the fear, you can see all the fear tokens at the top of the board. Each time you do fear damage to the invaders, or destroy a city or town (or drown them to the hungry ocean), you take fear from the top pile and put it into the middle. When you go through all the fear, you give the invaders a random fear debuff. Then you refill the fear pool and do it again. It's an interesting balance between wanting to keep the invaders off the board, but also wanting to do the most fear you can so you can win the game. The fear board is compact and does exactly what it needs to do, I wish more games had boards like this to help keep track of what is going on. Here is what the game looks like mid play.
Overall I like the game a lot, there is a lot of replay value, as we only played it on easy mode. On normal mode, it introduces new mechanics like Boss Invaders who alter the game a bit. I really haven't played a game quite like it, it's a unique experience, but it does take a long time to play. I think we won in about four hours, but that is with looking up rules every two seconds. A normal game would probably take two hours. The concept of the game is funny/engaging, and the variety of spirits makes it so you could play this eight different times and have a unique experience each time, well worth the value of the box. The game can definitely drag on, as I think our willpower died right around hour three. But I still highly recommend this game, so much I have the two expansion boxes coming with 14 more spirits, yikes. It's also on sale a bunch on amazon so wait before you buy!
Here are the pros and cons from the people I played with!
A Spread of Rampant Green
Base game has lots of different characters with unique playstyles. High replay value. Loves killing white colonizers. Strong cooperative experience.
Complex rules for first couple of playthroughs. Not a board game for new board game players. Lack of turn structure for players can lead to confusion.
Vital Strength of the Earth
Lot of opportunities for cooperative play, interesting and diverse character choices, relatively easy to pick up the rules
Some rounds there can be little your character can actually do, especially with low complexity characters
Loved the board layout and rhythm of the game. Once you understand the basics it's fun to plan out your turn according to what zones the invaders will be active in. Characters had good synergy with other spirits, and characters were diverse.
Game cards weren't specific or detailed enough about what actions do, left us confused about some mechanics.