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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Saturday 30 May 2020

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Spirit Island Digital

Game: Spirit Island

Publisher: Greater Than Games

Designer: R. Eric Reuss

Digital Edition By: Handelabra Games

Year: 2017

Spirit Island is a cooperative game where players represent spirits, defending an island from incoming invaders. By controller the invader populations, destroying their people and buildings, removing their blight from the land striking fear into their hearts, the spirits can hope to protect their land.

I find Spirit Island to be the heaviest cooperative game we own. It might look more intimidating, but Gloomhaven is a breeze compared to Spirit Island. Spirit Island is a huge brain burner for me and its digital release allows me an opportunity to really dig deeper to try and get my head around the game, with the ease of quitting and restarting when everything is going very, very wrong.

Spirit Island Digital currently gives you access to a quick play mode, or the chance to fully customise your game including the map size, spirits and difficulty level. They do plan a tutorial mode and online play in the future, but they're not yet implemented in the early access version. Additionally, I have only found ways to play this as either a solo experience or couch co-op with Amy sitting over my shoulder.

As far as app implementations go, I have certainly been spoiled by playing some really nice board game apps recently. Games that do beyond just giving you a like for like representation of their pieces, that really offer a different experience to the tabletop game. Spirit Island does not try to do this. When you look at the board and the pieces it's an exact representation of the small plastic miniatures and wooden huts from the real life game. I could be playing in Tabletop Simulator, rather than having paid for a quite pricey app! The implementation of the cards and the graphics that keep track of fear and the invader sequence are a step up from a direct port, but have their own challenges too.

Every turn is critical in Spirit Island and the best turns come a sequence of actions, perfectly timed to be in the fast or slow phase, where players work together to try and clear out the board as much as possible to avoid catastrophe in the invader phase. Planning a good turn isn't easy and you want to read and understand all of your cards and see how cards might work together. When you need to click on the preview of every card to read it, this is a pretty tricky thing to do! Over time, you might become familiar enough with the symbology, or even the names of every card to find the interface easy, but for your first 10 or more games you be clicking an opening cards to remind yourself what they all say and it's a part of the user interface that I really don't enjoy. Playing digital games needs to be smooth and quick for me, not tricky and admin filled. I want to think less hard about my turns in digital games than I do at the tabletop, thanks to a user interface that shows my what I need to see.

The biggest challenge I had with Spirit Island was actually winning. One spirit, one island is described as the least complex, but I actually found it too limiting. Some cards exist to help other spirits. The whole game seems to play better when you can actually cooperate between the spirits who all have different strengths eg. "If you push the invaders here then I can take them out in a single blow." There's no doubt that the developers know it's tough and there's options to try going even easier by tweaking the rules, such as eliminating the first explore phase or ignoring blight cards. Managing two spirits and a larger island felt rally tough to do on my own - cross referencing all the cards to try and come up with an optimal move and managing so many problems all over the island.

I think that in taking Spirit Island Digital it's lost two crucial elements for me. Firstly, having everyone looking at their hands of cards and discussing the best strategy is something that I really needed because I can't get my head around making the best decisions on my own. Secondly, the consequences of the explore, build and ravage phase can be quite hard for me to envisage as a series of chain reactions. Physically undertaking these steps on the board really helps to cement it in mind in a way that the computer taking care of it really doesn't recreate. I think I need to play the physical game a bunch more time before revisiting this digital version!

You Might Like...
  • There's so much replayability here, with different sizes of island, tons of spirits and all the combinations they can be played in.
  • Games are very quick, with all that admin taken care of for you.
  • There's no risk of finding the AI too easy - I still haven't won on the easiest mode!
You Might Not Like...
  • This is a hybrid between an app and more of a Tabletop Simulator implementation of the game. It's not pushing the boundaries quite as much as other board game apps.
  • The game is still in early access mode, but the lack of tutorial really is a mountain to climb unless you're intimately familiar with the game.
  • Playing with one spirit seems to be a recipe for disaster and playing with more is a lot to juggle, without the visibility you'd have on the tabletop.

The Verdict
5/10 I can only really recommend Spirit Island Digital for real fans of the physical game. I've played the physical game 3 or 4 times and I found the learning curve in the Steam version too steep. I must've played almost ten times without a win, not even close! The implementation of the game is extremely true to the board game, so if you're looking to get deep into solo games of Spirit Island with no need for setup on the table and a bit of book-keeping taken care of then the Steam game is a great resource for that.

A Steam code for Spirit Island Digital was kindly provided to us by. Spirit Island Digital is now available for early access on Steam, with more features still in development.

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