Review of Isla Dorada (Funforge) – Essen Spiel 2010

Isla Dorada
Designer: Bruno Faidutti
Publisher: Funforge
Ages: 8+
Time: about 50-70 mins for 4p game
Times Played: 3 games plus short demo of the game at the stand in Essen

[Author’s note: This was originally published on BGN in late 2010, though due to server issues, not many people could read it!  In any event, there are additional comments added below by other members of the Opinionated Gamers.]

Isla Dorada box

Isla Dorada is the new Essen release from Funforge which is being done domestically by Fantasy Flight.  It is designed by Bruno Faidutti, though he does give credit to Alan R. Moon, Andrea Angiolino and Piergiorgio Paglia for providing him with some inspiration in game design. [Click here for a recent interview with Mr. Angiolino on his game design style.] I can certainly see parts of Elfenroads/Elfenland (designed by Mr. Moon) in the core map and layout of the game.  Similarly, the bidding and movement mechanic of Ulysses (by Angiolino/Paglia) has been incorporated into the current offering by Mr. Faidutti as well.  These ideas have been merged together well to create a game which evokes a sense of familiarity while still being different enough from its ancestors.

In this game, players take on the roles of an expedition team which has crashed landed on Isla Dorada.  Luckily for the explorers, there is treasure hidden amongst the varied locations on the island.  These cities are found in different terrains: shoreline, mountain, jungle, desert, etc – and they are connected by different types of roads and paths.  If you are at all familiar with Elfenland, you should be able to picture the board in Isla Dorada – the only apparent initial difference to me is that there is no “dead-end” city in Isla Dorada as there is in Elfenland.

The entire group starts at the crash site which is located near the center of the board.  Throughout the course of the game (16 turns), players try to get the group to travel to specific cities.  The catch here is that the entire group has to travel together for the whole game.  Of course, each player has his own set of priorities on how he wants the group to move – and this is the central struggle in the game.

In the setup of the game, each player ends up with one destiny card, two treasure location cards and one curse card.  These cards are what give the players motivation to move to certain places on the board.  The Treasure cards can be played when the group moves to the city which is named on that particular card – there are Treasure cards for every location on the board.  If you are able to play a Treasure card, you will score the number of victory points printed on it.  The Curse cards are the inverse of the Treasure cards – you are obligated to play the card if the group moves to the site named on your card – and when this happens you score negative victory points for that card.  Finally, the destiny card that you have rewards a long term strategy – these cards usually have at least 4 locations on them – perhaps all the mountainous cities or the cities in the 4 corners of the map – and you score a graduated number of points dependent on how many of these sites the group has visited by the end of the game.

So, now that you know why you want to go (or avoid) certain places, let me describe how the choice is made.  Each round is essentially an auction.  Each player has a hand of cards – which, for the most part, correspond to certain modes of travel.  For example, you would use yak cards to travel on mountain paths while you use Kamel cards to traverse desert paths.  When it is your turn to bid, you either pass or make a bid where you show which path you’d like to take and how many points worth of travel cards you’re willing to spend to go on your specified route.  (Usually, you will travel along connected mountain, desert, jungle, river or ocean paths – though you could also bid with zeppelin cards to fly to any location on the board).  When you are making your bid, you only have to tell the value of your bid, not yet mentioning which card(s) you will use to pay for the bid.  The bidding goes clockwise around the board until all players but one have passed.  The winning player then pays the value of his bid to the bank and moves the entire group to the specified place.

You mark the city that you travel to with a wooden disc – and then any player who has a Treasure card for that particular location can play it face up on the table to score victory points.  Note that playing Treasure cards is not limited to the player who won the bid – all players in the game that have a matching Treasure card are able to play now and score points.  Also, if you had a Curse card that matched the current location, remember that you would be obligated to show that at this time as well.

Earlier, I had mentioned that players have a hand full of travel cards.  However, there are other sorts of cards that they may have as well.  The Sangaia card causes the expedition to skip the intended city on the indicated path and move onto the next city down the line.  The Bongo card can be played to allow a player to score a Treasure card for a neighboring city to the current location.  There are plenty of these special cards in the game – at least 12 different varieties – and there are nice player aids included in the game to allow players to know what they might have in their hands.

After the group has moved and all players have played the matching Treasure and Curse cards – each player has a chance to draw one or more adventure cards to their hand.  Each player is allowed to add one card for free – this can be one of four faceup cards in the display or the facedown card on top of the deck.  Again, most of these cards are travel cards which will be used in the bidding, but there are plenty of special action cards – some of which are applied instantly and others of which can be saved in your hand to be used at a later time.  You get one card for free each turn, and you have the option to buy one more card per turn at the cost of 1 gold coin.  You start the game with a fixed supply of 10 gold coins – they can be spent to draw extra cards or be used to allow you to play special wild travel cards.  There is no way to generate extra gold coins, so you have to budget your use of them throughout the game.

courtesy of the FFG website

A few of the cards from Isla Dorada

If you’re familiar with the other games of Bruno Faidutti – you’ll likely be familiar with that “certain sense of French randomness” that often comes out in his (and many other French designer’s games).  In Isla Dorada, that random element rears its head in the instant acting Adventure cards.  Because their effects happen immediately, there isn’t a lot of planning that you can do for them.  Some of the cards are mostly benign – the Bigfoot card causes the player who drew it to place the Bigfoot piece on the board which acts as a roadblock across one particular land path while the Leviathan similarly blocks one specfic water based path.  Other cards are more disruptive – the Panda card allows the active player to force any two players to discard three adventure cards while the Samedi card causes two players to draw an extra Curse card and add it to their hand.  The Marabout card allows the active player to draw an unplayed Treasure card (remember, the bulk of victory points are scored from playing these cards) from an opponent’s hand and to add it to their own hand.  As you can see from these examples, the game state can change rapidly and seemingly randomly at times.

Once all players have had a chance to take their free card and possibly purchase a second card, the round is over.  At the end off the 4th and 9th rounds (out of 16 total) – the players do get additional Treasure cards – one new card after Round 4 and two new cards after Round 9.  If these new cards show locations already visited by the group – they cannot be scored unless the group goes back to that specific location on a later turn.  At this point, the next round starts – and a new auction is started to decide the group’s movement from their current location.

Overall, the game is a fun fun ride – though like with many of Faidutti’s games, you have to be able to accept that you’ll never fully be able to control the course of the game. While certainly there is a luck/random element to the game, mostly manifested in the instant Adventure cards, it doesn’t seem to be overwhelming in Isla Dorada.  For me, this is a positive, as some of Bruno’s other games involve too much luck for me to enjoy them — and yes, I know that this is really more of a reflection on my Type-A “must-have-control-of-things personality than anything else…

The artwork is beautifully done, and it helps evoke the adventure theme with the vegetation and animals shown on the cards.  The map/board is well done, and a nice touch is that all of the city names on the board are written in two directions to make it easier for all players to read the names.   However, while it’s easy to read the names, all of the city names and some of the adventure card titles are ridiculous made up names that are hard to pronounce – to the point where the other players can’t understand what I’m trying to go to or which card I’m trying to play.  Despite that, the artwork is very striking, and people were constantly stopping to look at the game to check it out during my games.

courtesy of the FFG website

the board for Isla Dorada

The treasure cards have text which is helpfully color coded – the strange made-up names for the cities are at least color coded to the type of terrain they are found in – so at least you only have to look in 4 or 5 places for the city name instead of all over the entire board.  Unfortunately, this same pattern is not used for some of the Destiny cards – and these are cards that often require you to monitor 4 or 5 different location names.

If you can get past the difficult names, there is a really nice reference sheet provided for all players so that everyone can easily figure out what they can do with the cards in their hand.  Yet, despite the well done reference, it still took us awhile in these initial games to understand our cards.  There are helpful icons on many of the cards, but they are overshadowed by the background art at times.  I will say that by the end of my second game I was pretty familiar with the icons.

As far as gameplay goes, I felt that there might not be enough to do at the start, as you only being with two treasure cards.  If you’re able to get to these two sites early on, you have less incentive to move the group around – though of course you still have your Destiny card to fulfill.  You get 1 more Treasure card at the end of round 4, and then 2 more at the end of round 9 – so it gets better – but if you do well in the first couple of rounds, there isn’t a lot to do except maybe try to steer the crowd towards the destiny card bonuses.  This happened to a player in both of my games, and I don’t know yet if this is something that I should expect in most of my games or if this is an extraordinary experience.

I do like the auction mechanic used to move the group around the board.  Trying to get the group to move in the direction you want it to go without having to spend your own movement cards is key.  Since all players can play their Treasure cards at the destination while only winning bidder has to pay cards back to the supply – you’re usually better off taking advantage of other players who want to go where you want to go.  If you’re able to figure out where the other players want to go (or where they want to avoid), you can hopefully save your cards for the times when you definitely want to go to a specific place.

As I mentioned earlier, there is definitely a random element to the adventure cards which may not be for everyone.  Some of these cards also include direct targeting of other players – to draw adventure or treasure cards out of their hands, for instance – which may be a less desirable mechanic to some folks too.  I didn’t really mind the targeted attacks as most of them were targeted on the perceived leader at the time, but the possibility of being ganged up on certainly exists in this game.

In the end, Isla Dorada isn’t a perfect game, but it is a fun ride.  The artwork on the board and cards is beautiful and captivating.  Even though it seems like the major mechanics in the game are just borrowed from other games, it doesn’t feel borrowed or old.  The combination of these older ideas is done well – and results in a fun game for families and social gaming.

My Rating: I like it.

Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor

Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers

Valerie Putman’s opinion:  It was just not my cup of tea, though I can imagine quite a few gamers who would love it.  I found it to be a bit too silly and random.  I might have found this tolerable if I was playing with non-gamers or children.
Andrea Ligabue’s opinion: it is a typical Faidutti game but it also has an evident Angiolino influence (it takes a lot from Ulysses – 2001). The game flows quickly and fine: really a nice family-children game, not so good for gamers. The graphics are really particular and nice but in the beginning the style can be a bit confusing. I love the sculptures! I like it since I’m used to playing games a lot with my wife and my 10 year old daughter including family-children games.

Mary Prasad’s opinion: the game looks beautiful, with nice components and artwork, but the goodness ends there for me. The game is a constant tug-of-war with some take-that elements that I just don’t enjoy. That said, if you do like these elements in a game, this one is worth checking out. I imagine many people would find it to be a fun game, and in fact some of the people with whom I played did say they liked it.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! (0)
I like it. (2) Andrea Ligabue, Dale Yu
Neutral (1) Brian Yu
Not for me… (1) Valerie Putman, Mary Prasad

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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4 Responses to Review of Isla Dorada (Funforge) – Essen Spiel 2010

  1. Note: having only played once, I decided not to jump in as an OG opinion… but that won’t stop me from commenting. :-)

    There’s a lot to like about Isla Dorada – it’s flat-out gorgeous, the gameplay is clean & easy-to-follow, and it has a fun theme.

    OTOH, the game runs on MUCH too long… and coupled with the extremely random nature of the game, I found myself irritated by it even as I cruised to a commanding win in the game. (I won because, well, I drew the right cards & other people wanted to go the same places that I did.)

    I’m not in a hurry to play it again.

  2. Kevin O'Hare says:

    I have to concur with Mark’s assesment, really nice looking board and components, but it was also a little too random and left some of the players at the whim of the rest of us, making for a not so enjoyable play session. Like Mark I won that one game and still have little desire to play again.

  3. Ryan B. says:

    Well, the review does make its central point and reinforces some my thoughts about the game. I looked hard at buying this but ultimately didn’t pull the trigger. The game is aimed for the family games market, which is terrific. The art is solid and on the surface the game looks a lot of fun. The “take that” element is something I think would work for this type of game.

    But, I’m afraid to say, I think Bruno gets too cute by seemingly adding too many mechanisms? I don’t know. The rulebook was a bit of a slog, in trying to understand all of the general concepts and how they interrelate. The game town names illustrate that more thought could have been put into the ability to relate more to the target audience here. K-I-S-S Method. I want to be able to easily pronouce the names to communicate quickly with other players. And I agree that the cards looked they might be a little difficult to figure out…. and it looks like that premise holds up in this review.

    All of this added up in the “moment of truth” decision to purchase. And I passed…. because it just looked too complex for a family game.

    And I do realize that it may play much easier than it looks. But ultimately, I went with “Survive” as my new island hopping game and I’m satisfied with my decision because the game is very relatable. But I still wished I could have found a sound reason to go after Isla Dorada because I think Bruno is a heck of a game designer with a good touch for understanding the whims of the “mass market”.

    As for Dale’s thoughts? Objectively, this was a good review overall and captured some important thoughts about Isla Dorada.

  4. Doug Adams says:

    I played this for the first time last night. This is an excellent review, skilfully written. I’m not a Faidutti fan so I’m not the target audience, and I knew what to expect going in. The game wasn’t too bad and I’ll play it again. I found the graphics pretty on the eyes, but hard on the game play.

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