For a full playthrough of a one-spirit game of Spirit Island, click here.
What is this game about?
Spirit Island is a cooperative game in which you and up to three friends can play as island spirits battling against European colonizers. Your ultimate goal is to protect your native people, the Dahan, and get your uninvited guests to go away for good. You can achieve your goals by destroying enemy explorers, towns, and cities, as well as by terrorizing the invaders—fear weakens their hold on your island and makes it easier to attain victory. In fact, if you inspire enough terror, that can count as a victory condition.
One of the more mechanically interesting aspects of Spirit Island is that spirits may be powerful and on their home turf, but it is the colonizers who have the advantage towards the beginning of the game. While your powers are still building, they will ravage your land and bring blight—which can ultimately cause you to lose. Over time, spirits can increase their presence, power card options, and energy levels (energy allows you to use your powers). But if you don't catch up quickly enough, your island is doomed.
Each spirit in the game operates very differently. Some are faster and more aggressive, while others are slower and have more defensive powers. Spirits also operate within different ranges—some can affect several areas around the parts of the island where they have established their presence, while others must operate very close to "home." Spirits also interact with each other in interesting ways, which makes this game very rewarding if you play it cooperatively or two-handed.
How does it play solo?
Spirit Island is a true solo game, in that it is possible to play with only one spirit. Overall, however, I recommend playing with two—it gives you a bigger area to play with, and you can experiment with more interesting synergies and card interactions. Either way, you are going to have a great time—this game has become a go-to solo choice for me.
It has been a long time since I enjoyed a game as much as I enjoy Spirit Island. I really wish that I had backed it on Kickstarter so that I could have everything for it. (This is the first time I have ever said or thought this, ever.) I will snap up the expansion the moment I get a notification that it's back in stock.
After so many games that present European colonization as good thing, it is about time we had a game from the opposite perspective. I am so glad to see an anti-colonial game, especially one that is just so good. If you want to be even more overt about the historical realities that underpin Spirit Island's theme, you can play some of the extra scenarios from the box, in which you explicitly pit yourself against England, Prussia, or Sweden. (Not Spain, for some weird reason, but maybe in an expansion...?)
Spirit Island is also great as a multiplayer experience. Most of the people I have taught Spirit Island to have had a fantastic time and expressed interest either in buying it for themselves or in playing it again. This game won't be every single person's cup of tea, but it will appeal to gamers who like a challenge.
That said, I would not, under any circumstances, teach Spirit Island to people who are not ready for more intense games. Once you get into the flow of things, it's not difficult to play (although it can be difficult to win). But the game is complex, and it takes time to appreciate just how delicious it really is. The first time I played it, I knew it had potential, but it took a couple of tries to really make the game sing. Do not try to make an unwitting casual gamer sit through this with you.
Do I recommend it?
Yes. If you are willing to put in a little bit of time and you enjoy difficult games with a puzzle-like feel to them, Spirit Island is going to rock your world. I think it's going to end up as one of my all-time favorite games.
Overall Rating: 5 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.