Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 24 January 2019

The Game Shelf Previews:- Coral Islands

Game: Coral Islands

Publisher: Alley Cat Games

Designer:  Richard Maass, Rohan Dagard

Year: 2019

Alley Cat Games are back on Kickstarter with Coral Islands - two different dice stacking games in a single box. After widespread success with Dice Hospital, Alley Cat Games have become a publisher to watch on Kickstarter - typically launching a mixture of smaller and medium sized family weight games throughout the year.

Coral Islands has been in development for a long time and we first saw it at the UK Games Expo in 2018, where we played Coral - a puzzly 3-D spatial game which will play 1-4 players. Islands is new to us and uses drafting and set collection in a very different game for 2-4 players. The games feature artwork from Sabrina Miramon and the colourful setting really comes to life of the table.


The first game in the box is Coral. When placing the Coral board on the table you are presented with a grid style board with gaps in certain places. Starting from the centre tile you will take turns placing one of the two dice from your hand onto the coral cluster with the goal of making certain patterns. There are several different collections of patterns available to choose from, all of which will promote different placement choices. Ultimately though every pattern requires at least one of the dice in it to be of an opponent's colour. After placing one of your two dice you can claim one of these pattern cards if your placed dice completes that pattern. More complex patterns are worth more points. The game continues until everyone has run out of dice.

Every time you refill your hand you roll your new dice and when placing your dice you must place in increasing numerical order (with the exception that a 1 is a wildcard). There is also a height limit of 3 dice per space on the board. To counter this dice luck you can earn fish in several ways, spending 1 fish gives you the ability to re-roll a die, or to add or remove 1 pip from a die, freeing your placement options. Alternatively spending 3 fish lets you place 2 dice in one turn, potentially getting 2 pattern cards. At the end of the game the player with the highest value in pattern cards wins.

The second game, Islands, is a dice moving game. At first every island has a dice with a 1 showing. There are 3 scientists placed out, each of which is given a card matching one of the dice colours. On your turn you will choose one of these scientists and take all of the cards they had, from these you will choose one of the cards and place it in front of you, then discard the rest. You can then increase the value of a die of the colour you took then move it a number of spaces equal to the number of cards your scientist had. After this you give each scientist 1 extra card, adding more choice to the scientists you didn't pick for the next player.

Islands pictured at the end of the game.
At the end of the game you will score each colour one at a time. The player with the most value in cards of any one colour will be the first to take off the board a stack of dice that is topped by that colour, the player who did second best will then take the second biggest stack and so on. Each dice that was in the stack is 1 point towards victory so your aim during the game is both to win colours, but also make those colours more valuable (and ideally lower the value of your opponents stacks. To assist you in this each scientist has a unique ability that can break one of the normal dice movement rules, letting you build bigger stacks or perhaps isolate dice you don't want from those you do. At the end of the game the player with the most dice wins.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Dice stacking is one of my favourite things to do in gaming, whether on not it is part of the rules! It's not something that is seen in many games, with Blueprints probably being the most notable that we own and enjoy. As a pretty under-used mechanism, it's easy to see why there is space for two very different games that both use this idea.

My favourite of the two has been Islands, in particular because it feels like it plays better with two-players and because it offers some slightly more interesting layers in its puzzles and set collection. I love how the board is always changing up to the last moments of the game, so that the 'strong' colours are never quite finalised. Trying to predict and manipulate the board so that you collect high value cards in the colours you think will score highly is really key and it feels like your knowledge of how best to influence the game will improve with multiple plays - a quality that is important for me in terms of replayabilty.

Coral is the more simple of the two games and with two players, it felt very easy to just perform a 'nope' action to prevent your opponent from succeeding, which meant the the higher point cards were particularly hard to get, making it quite frustrating. With more players, there is more board space available and more chance that someone won't mind leaving a dice in a good spot for you, making the game more puzzly and fun as you have more opportunities.

Coral with two-players
Having more than one game in a box always makes me nervous that some of the games will be compromised in order to allow cross-use of the components. With Coral Islands there are enough distinct components that both feel like fully formed games, although from a personal perspective I might have been happy with a copy of Islands alone as a boxed game. But I guess there's no problem in getting a bonus game for free!

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Coral Islands presents two dice games in one box and of the two there is now doubt that Islands is the most friendly for a two-player audience. Perhaps it was due to the prototype set of cards we used, but in Coral it was very easy to block your opponents from getting points. Since you always needed an opponent's dice in specific parts of the patterns it became possible to avoid placing a die in those places to starve your opponents of points. With more players not only are there more chances for mistakes to be made, but also the opportunities given are harder to predict as suddenly multiple colours of dice can be combined to provide the 'opponent's dice' in your patterns.

Islands is a different story and works very well for two players. It could be seen as an extremely fluid area control game, where control is solely by the topmost dice. When you take a card not only are you giving yourself more points towards owning that dice colour at the end of the game, but also giving yourself an opportunity to get one of those dice onto a bigger stack. Of course the next time your opponent takes a card of that colour they can move it back off onto a smaller stack. Islands is interesting as the ideal situation for first place of a colour is to have 1 huge stack, then a tiny stack so second place gets the smallest reward possible,. Similarly if you know you are second place you want to ensure that the best 2 stacks of a colour are equal so that there was no advantage to winning that colour. Combine this with the scientists each letting you break one of the core movement rules of the game and you have an extremely fluid abstract game that can require a lot of thought to do well in.

The cards from Islands
It's probably clear that we both have a preferred game in this box, but with both games requiring one half of a double sided board, a ton of dice, and only a handful of cards it becomes clear why the games are packaged together. While Coral didn't work that well as a 2 player game for us, I do believe that it will make for a good 4-player filler game. Islands I feel may be the opposite, with the two player being the best way to play with a battle of minds. Increasing the player count will make it that bit more chaotic and little less predictable.

You Might Like...
  • Both games are family weight games, so it's likely that both games will suit the same audience.
  • The games are really tactile and visually impressive.
  • Both games feature interesting mechanisms for player interaction.
You Might Not Like...
  • At two-players, your options in Coral can feel very limited.
  • There is limited variety in the games, which are quite simple and perhaps not aimed at experienced gamers.

The Verdict
Coral Islands offers two quite distinct games, with a compact set of components, but both seem like fully fleshed out games. Coral feels a little weak at 2-players, whilst we think we might enjoy Islands best at 2 players. With two different games in the box, this might be quite a versatile game to have to play at home as a couple or take to a game group. If you're for a game that's relaxing, light and eye-catching, then check out the Kickstarter campaign.

Coral Islands was a prototype provided for preview purposes. The Kickstarter is live until 5th February 2019.

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