Review: Island Siege

Posted by James (admin) on April 8th, 2014

Island Siege Game 1Island Siege caught my interest when it was a Kickstarter project but I only picked it up recently.  A game for 2-players, it’s a card game at heart but feels bigger because the cards played stay on the table (well, until they’re blown to smithereens) and there are some very nice metal coins, a few wooden meeple and some dice too.

A player wins at the very start of their turn if all of the colonists on their Imperial card have been placed elsewhere or if they have 20+ coins.  Each player starts with a fortress, a few cards in hand, and 9 colonists (meeple) on their Imperial card.  Each turn, a player moves 1 colonist from their Imperial card onto each of their fortresses and then either:

  1. Draws 3 cards, keeping 2 and giving the other to their opponent
  2. Pays the relevant cost to build a card (fortress, ship or building) from their hand
  3. Attacks one of their opponent’s fortresses

Fortresses can be built for free, but adding extra building blocks (black/grey/white cubes) from your supply makes them stronger and earns coins.  Buildings and ships can be built by moving enough colonists from a single fortress card to the building/ship card and this also earn coins.  Buildings are added to a fortress giving it special abilities, but buildings are lost if the fortress they’re attached to is destroyed.  Ships are independent, have special abilities and can also be destroyed.

Each fortress card shows a small grid where the cubes can be placed.  If all cubes are removed, the fortress is destroyed along with any buildings built in it.  The grid can have any mix of coloured cubes (grey/black/white) on them – their position and having adjacent matching colours can make them harder to destroy.  When a fortress is destroyed, all the meeple on the fortress (and its buildings) are returned to the player’s Imperial card.

Combat is fairly simple.   A player picks a fortress to attack and rolls the dice – the number of dice and re-rolls depends if they have special abilities and how many colonists remain on their imperial card.  Each dice shows the cube colours (white, back and 2 grey), a red icon, and a ship’s wheel icon.  When finished rolling, the attacking player chooses one colour and removes a block of that colour for each dice result in that colour.  The player can then either (a) gain cubes from the supply that match their remaining dice results (red and wheel results give nothing), or (b) remove any one cube from the fortress for each red dice result.  Using the red dice results is powerful because these ignore any protection they may have.  The wheel results can be used to trigger special abilities.

Island Siege Cover

Island Siege moves very quickly as the amount a player can do on their turn is very limited.  Initially, it appears the game will be over in seconds because a player will have placed their 9 colonists; however, it becomes apparent very quickly that this is not an empire building game but a fast riot of construction and destruction so being close to placing all your colonists is not likely to last.  What goes up will soon come down as nothing is safe and fortresses are frequently decimated.  So, there’s no getting attached to anything as the game ebbs and flows at quite a pace.

Constant attacking won’t win you the game – it hinders your opponent and may gain you some cubes (for building stronger fortresses), but it can’t earn you victory on its own.  I like this as it means (potentially) reducing your opponent is at the expense of making your own progress, which requires you to balance your actions.

There are multiple routes to follow towards victory.  Lots of fortresses lets you place lots of colonists each turn; however, without extra cubes when built, your fortresses are easily destroyed – a fortress can be repaired slightly when a building is added but it only adds 1 black cube which isn’t much against a determined attacker.  To build strong fortresses, you need cubes and that requires attacking actions.  Rather than lots of fortresses, you can try to have one or two powerful ones with lots of buildings to give you special abilities, but these are all lost if their fortress is destroyed.  You can try to gain 20 coins by building things but this time as it requires colonists or cubes.

Whilst the building (and blowing up) of fortresses, ships and buildings is very quick, there is a need for tactical decision-making in order to balance these different strategies to give yourself a chance of winning, whilst watching to see how you can make a quick break for victory as you go; however, you also need to watch for your opponent doing the same.  Creating good combinations of special abilities from buildings, fortresses and ships can really boost their effectiveness so there’re some fun strategic decisions to be made.

Island Siege Game 3

It doesn’t look good for yellow. Red has attacked and will destroy the 2 grey cubes on the first attack and then use the red to remove the final black cube. Bye bye fortress, bye bye building, and 4 colonists go back to the Imperial card.

The cash game mechanic plays an important role as it means that whilst players’ fortresses may keep being destroyed and their colonists keep being returned to their Imperial card, cash can only increase so a player will cross the finish line no matter what.

Luck does play its part because dice are involved and the effects can vary wildly depending on whether you roll what you need or not.  I’m not a fan of too much luck in games, but this is acceptable in a fast-paced game and it feels in-keeping with the easy-come easy-go atmosphere.

Physically, the components are nice.  The cubes and meeple are wood and the cards are fine (although I would have liked them slightly thicker).  The metal coins really stand out as they’re very high quality and look great.  The only component I’m not so keen are the dice which are quite large so feel a bit clunky and the stickers that go on them are the weakest element in terms of their icons.  The colours of the black/grey/white cubes themselves are really obvious but I didn’t find the dice symbols that match them are quite so clear at a glance due to much of their faces having a beige background and the black and grey stickers being fairly similar; however, this is a minor complaint.

Overall, I really enjoyed Island Siege.  I wasn’t expecting such a fast pace or the constant wash of destruction, but I was pleasantly surprised and it packs a lot in to 20-30 minutes.  The game is a lot of fun – you can’t plan too far ahead, but there are lots of tactical decisions to be made and you can find synergies in combinations of abilities if you work them out.  Island Siege is a fun, light-hearted game – you’re just as likely to make make explosion sound effects when your own fortress gets destroyed as when you wipe out an opponent’s – however, it still retains a good level of quick decision-making and requires tactical thinking.

[Played with 2 players]

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