Michael Palm & Lukas Zach for Pegasus Spiele present a game of cooperation for 2-5 brave and fearless players who have reached the hearty age of 10 years or more and have dreamed of being stuck on a deserted desert island.
The artwork is more than adequate at portraying the possibilities on and of the island and is down mainly to the imaginative skills of Lea Fröhlich & Lisa Lenz, with layout and design and additional work from Christine Conrad & Klemens Franz.
The players are all survivors of a dreadful shipwreck who then managed to swim safely to the sandy shores of safety on an uncharted island in the Indian Ocean. As members of the remaining few, you have to work together and discover a way off the island and back home or onwards to India as per the original voyage. Throughout play the characters become involved in numerous Adventures (which I prefer to call Missions as there are definite goals for each one's success).
This game has several card decks (for 'several' read '10') and '7' associated specific card separators. The box has been designed to for the card separators to slot into, thus allowing decks to be separated into the necessary headers: Current Adventure; Upcoming Adventure; Cave/Horizon/Parchment Cards; Archives; Flotsam; Hazards; Place cards. Other components include cardboard circular Tokens and Markers along with 5 player meeples (one per player identified by colour) and a set of specially created 6-sided dice that each contain these sides: 3 x Green, 2 x Yellow and 1 x Orange. Obviously ordinary dice could have been used, 1,2,3 = Green, 4 & 5 = Yellow and 6 = Orange but the range of colours brightens up the darkness of being cemented on this desolated piece of floating land. Actions often require players to roll various colour checks on the dice for a successful outcome. With each die having three Green faces it is obvious that Green skill tests are more likely to succeed and thus they usually affect the more general of actions.
Although this is a 5 player game there are six player-character cards. Players can choose from: Hubertus Wagner; Hagris Brown; Jamie McMullen; Suzie Wildworth or Maria Fortuna. Sometime during the first part of this adventure you should run into Govinda Jaipur who then can become a new addition to the group of survivors as a player character. I am not sure how Govinda can be logically introduced as finding him does not turn this into a six-player game so anyone taking on the role of Govinda has to relinquish the character they had played in the first Adventure and as it is unlikely that a character will die unless the party together fails the Mission in which case they all lose. If Govinda is already on the island then he isn't one of the survivors and why would 4 out of 5 castaways decide he should join them at the cost of their other member - except perhaps he knows how to cook long pork so they have a good supply of food at hand? Being a bit more serious, it is also difficult to determine why he cannot be chosen as a player from the off. To be honest, when we started playing our very first game we had randomly chosen characters and I had drawn Govinda. The only skill he has is that when the characters go back to the Camp at the end of the day Govinda rolls a die and if a green face is rolled he has no need for food - I certainly had no advantage or disadvantage playing him.
ADVENTURE ISLAND is a rolling adventure and should be played in numerical order of Missions (aka Adventures). You are not required to do this, nor are you required to play with the same players each session, though it is easier and more satisfying if you do.
Each Adventure begins with setting up the Mission according to the appropriate cards and card decks; these are positioned in the box behind the associated named card separators. Each mission tells you specifically the cards that begin in play, always beginning with #101 the Beach. It is from the Camp near the Beach that all ventures are undertaken.
The players should discuss amongst themselves what actions to take and who should take them. Searching for Food and searching the Beach and Flotsam deck are always good ideas as there are many objects and items to be found that can be used to create tools such as a Stone Axe or a better Shelter. There are always a number of cards, determined by the Mission, that sit face up between the Flotsam and Place decks, these being cards 101-104 inclusive for the first adventure. Every day in this paradise-like-hell each player takes two actions before the next player has their turn, and after all players have acted Night falls and all characters are returned to the Camp where they must eat. There are three types of sustenance: Food, Fish and Meat. Fish and Meat may be eaten as Food, but Food cannot be eaten when Fish or Meat are required. This is because 'Food' is taken to be a type of all-in stew concocted from whatever the player/s who searched for food found; Fish and Meat are specific and will be asked for as such.
After eating and before sleeping every player must draw and resolve a Hazard card. While in camp or on the same card as other characters any items can be used by or given to another character. It doesn't actually say so directly in the rules, but if you are continuing on to the next mission/adventure then all things you have made (the axe, torch etc) are lost back to the deck to be discovered again the next day. The nearest I can see to stating this would be "Sort all other cards by their number behind the seperator Current Adventure." We realised this the first time we played because we kept the useful items ready for the upcoming adventure only to find that we again discovered the pieces to make them again. Daybreak may bring with it additional aid from a Start of Day Effect.
Some of the cards are double-sided as far as the adveture goes and by flipping them over you, often by paying the required cost in Resources found as Flotsam (or elsewhere), you gain something of use to the collective. For instance flipping the 'found' Torch over will give you more light for exploring as long as you have the Campfire lit already, or meeting a Shaman and convincing her to be friendly and aid your quest.
Tokens and markers are used to show the current state of play for each character. A Green Tick doesn't mean that one of you has a can of Sure deoderant but it does mean you have completed a section of a multi-part Action. Fatigue markers (ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz............) lower your attributes and a full set of lowered attributes means you are too exhausted and you 'die' - the players have lost! Fatigue is gained by executing commands and Actions (generally found on cards) that are vital to the party's survival so try to choose the least fatigued character to perform them. Grey, Ghost-adorned Curse Markers usually do something nasty to one or more players
The Resources available are basic which keeps the crafting aspect of play speedy instead of delving into a long, drawn-out, complex affair. In fact the game is quite streamlined without ever giving the feeling that it is rushed or of simply going through the motions. There are disappointing dice-roll results of course and also when searching card decks you do not always get what you want. Because it is a cooperative game it is unlikely that every player will fail and therefore there are times when one player failing the mission can be rescued by the next player taking the same action and succeeding. As play is in clockwise turns it is possible for a player who has accepted an agreed task to instead move for one Action and try the Action failed by the previous player. Actions agreed around the campfire are accepted after discussions and all discussions are usually aimed at the success of the group as a whole.
Each Mission/Adventure has its own goal, not particularly well hidden in the mission title. In the beginning you take the 'First Steps', then you move on to 'Find Friends' (the end of this, the second mission, is where I would have thought Govinda Jaipur would come into play, instead of at the beginning.) The third adventure "You Need More Help" is where you discover you are not alone on the island; leading you to Can You Help the Locals and finally the fifth and final escapade - Will You Ever Escape From the Island?
Each game slightly changes the Rules from the previous adventures but none too disparative so that they are too complex to comprehend. Each Rules change is in line with the Current Adventure and making life more difficult for the hopeful castaways. The Hazard Deck grows from its 10 card origin through to 24-25 cards and on the last adventure the characters (if there are five playing) significantly only get one action each on the first day instead of two - I reiterate 'only in a 5-player game'.
The back page of the Rules booklet is a page of the different Milestone achievements by specific header and action. Cards with a Flag icon in their Action text kickstart the achievements for the round which are noted by ticking the associated box. For example: Under the 'Explorer' heading there are three headers: 'Finally, a Bath' 'Perfect View' and 'Learning to Fly'. If you tick all three Milestones then you activate the advantage the Heading has to offer in the text below the boxes; some Headers have four boxes to tick.
The cards are numbered and where the designers felt necessary also marked for their chronological adventure. This makes it easy to put them all back in the box numerically but if you haven't played all five adventures through from the start in one session then there is some sorting out to do prior to restarting from where you left off. It is possible, though not recommended, to have several games on the go at the same time (but not simultaneously). Because the cards are easy to sort and resort you could theoretically be playing with Group A, then introduce different players, a la Group B to the game and begin from the start and possibly even have another Group at yet another (or same) point in the story, played on different days probably. It would be a hard thing to master and hectic - remembering not to remember what to do - but impossible I don't believe.
We think it is a good game to bring out early in the evening and try to work through as far as possible. The box says 60-90 minutes for playing but that is for one, possibly two adventures with at least one experienced player (in our opinion). All five adventures back-to-back once you understand how the game works took us between 3-4 hours tops, but it was great fun and created a super atmosphere of cooperation between the players. There are a few areas where the rules may have been challenged by translation but most regular board game players should be able to (almost literally) read between the lines.
ADVENTURE ISLAND is another in the recent spate of games released as cooperative and I would liken it to a game such as Pandemic Liberia, not in actual play, but for the way it brings core adversarial gamers together to plan, plot and think as one entity.
It runs out around £26.00 plus which is about the same price as Pandemic Liberia - good value for great game play and enormous fun. Play it through, leave it on the shelf for a couple of months and play it again and it will seem to be a totally fresh new game; the Hazard cards being shuffled and thus randomly drawn ensuring each game entertains different problems and puzzles for the survivors. Highly entertaining and enjoyable.