ISLE of SKYE: from CHIEFTAIN to KING
Designed by Alexander Pfisten Published by Mayfair Games
This is a tile placing game in the manner of Carcassonne. It is for 2-5 players aged 8+ and takes about an hour to play once everyone has a working knowledge of the rules. I mentioned it was like Carcassonne because most boardgamers will immediately understand that I not only mean Tiles are laid next to each other but because they have to be laid specifically and because what is on them counts towards scoring. Having said that, it is the scoring that sets it apart from Carcassonne enough to make it a very good, enjoyably playable game in its own right. Although it is for up tp 5 players there are 6 player screens, thus giving a spare screen in case of damage; though thinking about it, and not too hard at that, it is more likely that the game was either originally for 6 players (and the components were thus designed) beforte it was realised it couldn't really sustain the extra player in its present form, or there is going to be a 6th player expansion pretty soon (perhaps even as a give-away at a games event) and it was easier and less expensive (sensible) to provide the necessary screen with the box than it would have been to include it in any published expansion. Okay, we got that out of the way !
As you may well have guessed from the title, the game is set in the Scottish Highlands (pronounced hee-lands for authentication) and therefore it features sheep, cattle and whisky (note, again for authentication, that whisky is spelt without the "e" before the "y" - it is generally accepted that the Irish spell whiskey and the Scots, whisky - not only are you getting a review of this fine game but I am also throwing in a history lesson for free). Whilst on the subject of history, let me set the game's theme up for you: Five Clans are fighting to control the aforementioned Isle of Skye: These Clans are (as noted on their player screens):
Clan MacNeacail, who have been long associated with the Isle of Skye.
Clan MacInnes were among the early inhabitants of Islay, Jura and the Kintyre peninsula.
Clan MacDonald who are not the predecessors to the American fast-food chain but instead descendants of the Lords of the Isles.
Clan MacKinnon known throughout Mull and Skye, in the Inner Hebrides.
Clan MacLeod made famous by the Highlander movies (and TV series) of course.
The other player shield bears the game title Isle of Skye.
Apart from the 3-part player screens there are a lot of particularly well designed, illustrated and produced components, including a double-sided game board, the necessary landscape tiles (weirdly being 73 in number), 5 specific player castle tiles (one per player screen but not one for the 6th screen), plus a cloth bag, coins, 16 castle-door shaped scoring tiles and 6 discard markers (again there is one spare). Apart from all of these which are in colourful heavy duty card there are also 6 scoring markers in wood, though one of these is the round marker rather than a player marker.
The game is played over 6 rounds (5 in a 5-player game) and the winner is the player with the most Victory Points at the end of the final round.
Similarly to most terrain based tile laying games, the tiles must be placed side by side next to each other, ensuring that like-terrain sides (mountain to mountain, meadow to meadow, water to water) are met together, with the exception of Roads which do not have to join - after all we have all heard of, if not traveled on, the "road to nowhere". The game board is slightly different on each side, players using the correct side depending on how many people there are enjoying the entertainment.
The mechanic for deciding which tile or tiles the players can place each round is quite unusual, possibly even unique in its own way. The players draw 3 tiles from the bag and examine them. They then sort them into a row behind their screens and make their choices. On one they have to place their Discard Marker and on the others they place at least one Gold coin. When all players have chosen, the screens are lifted and the first player looks around at the other player's tiles on display; prior to this the Tiles with the Discard Markers are returned to the bag. There are now 2 Tiles in front of each player that should each have at least one coin on. The first player looks at what is available and then purchases a tile from another player who cannot resist the sale. The price of the tile is the amount of gold that is on it, so the selling player loses the tile but gains gold equal to the value they have put on it as their own gold is also returned to them.
Players who cannot afford to buy tiles in this manner, or do not want to buy a tile this round, may Pass. If, when all players have Passed, there are still tiles in front of a player, they get to take those tiles back into their hands but lose the gold they assigned. Players may only buy one tile in this phase, but they may end up with more than one tile to place, all tiles they own must be placed onto the board during their turn. Players place their tiles to build their own mini Kingdom
At the beginning of the game a number of Scoring Tiles are placed on the game board randomly, into the plates marked Alphabetically. At the end of each round there is a scoring based on the tiles currently in place in each player's realm and according to the Scoring Tile currently represented by the round number - basically you move the wooden marker along the plate track one place per round and use the scoring tiles that are concurrent with the plate in which the marker sits.
Players score points for complete areas, lakes, cattle, sheep, castles, ships etc. There is no one single strategy, especially as the scoring tiles are as random as the tiles drawn from the bag, which means the game has all manner of player appeal; it is like Carcassonne but it is not Carcassonne by a long chalk.
Many games hang a theme onto a mechanic and often that theme has little or no function within the game. The theme (aka the "chrome") for ISLE of SKYE works perfectly and is more than acceptable as it sits in neatly with the building and the illustrations as well as the visual look of the highland terrain and animals. ISLE of SKYE is a very neat game with long term play and replay playability. I expect to see numerous expansions in the future.