What is this game about?
Palm Island is a point-scoring, resource-generating game that can be held in the palm of your hand. There are only 17 cards in a base deck, and seriously, no table is required! You'll go through your deck eight times, after which Palm Island is over and it's time to see how you did. You make progress in the game by rotating and flipping the cards in that deck, both to generate more resources and to upgrade your cards. At the end of the game, you check your total score—the higher the better, naturally. Once you've gotten accustomed to the base game, you can add "character" cards and try to earn "feat" cards to spice things up a bit. The game can also be played solo, cooperatively, or competitively. One box contains enough cards for two people, but you can play with up to four players if you have two copies of the game.
How does it play solo?
Palm Island is perhaps best as a solo game. It offers other modes, but it's a game about looking at your own cards that are in the palm of your hand. As long as you don't mind trying to beat your own score, it's perfectly suited for solo play—and for quick, portable play. You can very easily take it anywhere. My copy has plastic cards that can handle just about anything, and it came in a sturdy little deck box that is easy to toss into a backpack. If I want to carry only a 17-card deck, the game comes with an even smaller carrying case for me to use.
Palm Island is good fun for what it is. There is plenty of strategy involved in getting the highest score. You need to look at the order of your cards (you can do that at the very beginning of the game, although not once you start!), decide what you can or should upgrade first, and generally make smart decisions. The way that you can rotate and flip cards to upgrade them is very clever, and there is a lot of satisfaction in getting to know what your options are and making better and better in-game decisions. At the same time, there is only so much new stuff to see in such a small deck. I have definitely been developing "favorite" strategies that I lean on again and again.
I also love that Palm Island is quick and portable. While I wish I had more time to play longer and heavier games, that's not the reality I live in right now. The game isn't, however, quite as manageable as I'd like. The plastic cards are a little bit slippery, and while rotating and flipping cards is no problem, I sometimes have a hard time handling my deck when I have the full amount of resources ready to spend (you flip resource cards 90 degrees so you can see them when contemplating future upgrades).
There is a natural comparison between Palm Island and another palm-of-your hand card game that game out this season, which is Maiden's Quest. I think there is a place for both games in your collection, especially if you're really into games that are both solo and portable. But I personally prefer Maiden's Quest. Between the two games, Palm Island is much more accessible and straightforward. It's also less innovative. Manipulating resources is fun, but it's nothing new. Maiden's Quest is much more ambitious in scope, and has several different princesses and villains that force you to manipulate your deck in different ways. It has difficult-to-interpret rules and a lot of little quirks, but it's got a lot more charm, and it's a meatier game (which you may not prefer in a handheld game, but I do). Both games are good, but if you're up for paying the price of admission, I think Maiden's Quest is the more interesting game to own and play in the long run.
Do I recommend it?
I do recommend Palm Island. It is quick, enjoyable, easy to learn, and easy to take with you all over the place—even more so than a game like Mint Works, which previously held the crown for me as "ultimate portable game." (I'm still waiting on Sprawlopolis, which will be my first purchase from Button Shy.) It has the limitations you'd expect from a very streamlined game, but it serves its purpose well, and I'm having a good time with it.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh