Review: Isla Dorada

Posted by James (admin) on October 28th, 2010

When I first read about Isla Dorada I knew it would be something to check out because it sounded different to other games.  The players have crash landed on a desert island and aim to collect the most valuable treasure to win.  That’s not too different, but the way the players move is.  Rather than each player moving separately, the players are a single expedition party which never splits up.  So, players bid to decide who will choose the path along which they will next travel.  The island has various named locations on it and these are joined by different types of paths.  Players take turns bidding (stating which path they will move the expedition along if they win) and the highest bidder gets their way.  Players need to pay for a successful bid using adventure cards from their hand and the cards must match the type of path being used, i.e. kayak cards to move along rivers, yak cards to travel mountain paths, and so on.

The goal is to score the most points.  Each player starts with two treasure cards (worth positive points if the expedition visits the location written on the card) and a curse card (like a treasure card but worth negative points).  Also, players have a destiny card which is a secret objective and worth bonus points at the end of the game if the task printed on the card is completed; for example, the destiny card I had required me to visit all the locations with names printed in white.

Each round, players pick up one new card either from the 4 face-up or unseen from the top of the draw pile (Ticket To Ride style).  The cards are travel cards (for bidding), special bidding cards (like a card that stops an opponent bidding further in the current bid); plus, there are some cards with special effects like gain a treasure card, steal a card from another player, choose two players to take a new curse card, and so on.  On turns 4 and 9 players receive 1 and 2 new treasure cards respectively and, after 16 turns, the game ends.

Overall, I really enjoyed Isla Dorada.  The voting to move the expedition is entertaining especially as sometimes you will pass because someone else has already bid to move to a location you want to too.    Of course, every time you announce a route to on you are potentially giving away information about your objectives which others may use against you.  There are some cards which you can use to instantly stop bidding as well as block a player from bidding that round which shake things up a bit; for example, bidding low to try and win a bid cheaply may work against you if someone then stops you from bidding further so going in high may be a better move.

As you only draw one new adventure card each round, you need to pick your moments to bid seriously (i.e. you can not compete seriously in every bid), plus you need to gather cards that will let you achieve your goals but remain flexible to be able to respond to the expedition’s changing location.  The Shaman cards allow you to turn one type of animal card you bid into another and the Zepplin cards have a high value but cost gold to activate them, so there are many ways to combine your cards to reach your goal.

The board/card artwork is superb and something I think is one of FunForge’s strengths (last year’s Pony Express was superb too).  Plus, there are three large sculpted figures included – one to mark the expedition’s location and two to show the Leviathan and the Bigfoot who block the route on which they stand (players play appropriate cards to move them).  Not only are the figures really impressive but they are also a really nice addition because you know that Fun Forge didn’t need to add these and could have got away with just using card tokens.

The only negative issue with the gameplay I had was that gaining treasure cards is massively important – so you have more scoring opportunities – and it’s not always possible for all players to gain extra treasure cards equally.  In our game, one player was able to draw many of the ‘gain a treasure card’ cards way more than other players because of how they were drawn from the deck and there’s no penalty for not completing them.  They’re a bit like tickets in Ticket To Ride, but without the negative points for not fulfilling them which I think is a good balancer.  However, this may have been purely because it was out first play and we didn’t realise we were letting that player gain so many treasure cards – in future, I know I will grab them as soon as possible which may remove this issue.

The location names are very random sounding and similar so it’s quite hard to spot them (or even ask where they are), although it’s a nice touch that the names are written right-way up and upside down so players on both sides of the board can read them, plus they’re coloured to form groups making it faster to locate them.

I like the look of the variant rules where you can co-operatively bid for paths as that may increase the amount of bids in which you have influence.  I would love to see other official variants too such as having more than one destiny card, or negative points for incomplete treasure cards.

At the end of the day, the negative items above are actually very minor and Isla Dorada was a big hit with all the players; in fact, so much so that two of the other three players went and bought it straight away the next day.  So, I’m pleased I racked up two extra sales for FunForge.  Whilst completely different gameplay in all respects, the interaction, depth and fun of Isla Dorada reminds me of last year’s Tobago – I think if you like Tobago you will like Isla Dorada.  It’s different , simple, cute and, most importantly, just fun to play.


[Played with 4 players]

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>