Dale Yu: First Impressions of La Isla (Ravensburger)

La Isla

  • Designer: Stefan Feld
  • Publishers: Alea/Ravensburger
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 45-60 min
  • Times played: 1, with preview copy provided by Ravensburger USA


[Note: Normally, I prefer to play a game at least three times prior to writing it for the blog. However, given the time pressure coming up to SPIEL ’14, I have written up my thoughts on a number of games based on only one or two plays in order to cover as many new games as possible prior to the show. I fully admit that it is often not possible to see the full breadth of a design in a single play, and thus I shall not give a rating to any game at this stage with such a few number of plays…]


Stefan Feld has been one of the more prolific designers of the past few years, though some (including myself) have said that Feld had been producing similar games different only in theme – the “point salad” variety of game… La Isla is the latest Feld design, again published by Alea/Ravensburger. Mr. Feld has had a number of games published by this company, and the partnership has worked well in the past. In this game, players take on the role of tropical island explorers, trying to find nearly extinct animals.

The board is constructed out of a central 10 sided island and 10 interlocking spoke like board pieces. You set up the board randomly, and the rules state there are over 100,000 possible layouts for the board! Every jungle space is randomly seeded with a small animal token.


Image taken by Jackytheripper from BGG.

Image taken by Jackytheripper from BGG.

Each player is given a cardholder – this is folded to give you room to hold 3 cards as well as providing you a template for each round’s actions. Each player also receives one resource of each of the five types and one large animal tile.


Image taken by Jackytheripper from BGG.

Image taken by Jackytheripper from BGG.

The game is played in a number of rounds, all following the same pattern. Each round has five phases – and each phase is completed by all players before moving onto the next phase.


At the start of each round, there is a CARD PHASE – all players draw 3 cards at random from the draw pile(s). Then, they look at these three cards and allocate them FACE DOWN under the spots A, B, and D of their card holder.    Each of the cards in La Isla has 3 bits of information – and each is used in a different phase. ON the top half, each card ­has a special action. In the bottom left, there is a colored resource pictured in the corner. In the bottom right, one of the 5 nearly extinct animals is pictured.


Phase A – special action – you take the card placed in the “A” slot and slide it into your cardholder so that you can only see the special action. You may have up to three special actions available, and when visible, you may use this action in all future rounds. After the 3rd round on the game, you will have to cover up one of your previously visible cards (and thus lose the special ability of the covered up card). You may not have two of the same special action visible at any time, but there are many closely related and synergistic actions available.


These special actions may allow you to score points or take resources when you do something. Other break basic rules. On the reference sheet, there are 26 different special action icons, so that should give you some indication of the breadth of stuff you might be able to do…


Phase B – Gather resources


Discard the card you had placed in the B slot. You take one resource that matches the one depicted on that card.


Phase C – Place an explorer


When you start the game, you have 5 explorers under your “C” space. If you still have one available there, you may place one on a landscape space on the board. However, to do so, you must pay 2 cubes that match the color of the space you are placing in. After placement, if you have an explorer on EVERY space surrounding an animal tile, you collect that animal tile. You also score a number of victory points equal to the number of men surrounding that space. You need to make sure that you are ahead of your opponents because only the first person to surround a space will get the animal tile and the points. If you choose not to place a guy, you take a cube of any color from the supply.


Phase D – Manipulate the animal track


The animal track has a column for each of the five animals. You look at the card you have in the “D” sot. You move the marker up one space in the corresponding column. In addition, you (and only you!) score one victory point for each animal tile that you have collected as well as 2 victory points if you have the large animal tile that matches.


Check for game end – on the animal track, each column is split up into areas numbered from 0-5. At the end of each round, you add up the five column numbers and see if you have exceeded the game end sum on the board – for a 4p game, this would be 11. If you have passed this number, it’s time to go to game end scoring


Scoring – there are some more points to be scored at the end of the game

  • 10 VPs for each set of 5 different animal tiles
  • 1 VP for every 2 resources
  • X VP for each animal tile (X = region of the scoring track for that animal on the board)

The player with the most points wins.


My thoughts on the game


This game is a breath of fresh air from Mr. Feld. I have been admittedly a harsh critic of Feld’s games in the past few years as they all felt too similar in style. La Isla is a solid title, aimed more at the family gamer – and it just feels different to me. However, that’s not to say that this game is simple. The varied special actions on the cards and the constantly changing situation on the board force you to constantly monitor what is going on. The special actions do give you multiple ways to score points, but it’s not the same sort of multiple competitions on different tracks.


There are some familiar elements though – It does keep one Feld trait – a dependence on a non-standard polygon. In this case, it’s the decagonal shape of the island board. While it is not as non-standard as the heptagon in Macao or the weird shaped pieces in Notre Dame – the ten sided board is still not something you see every day! Another Feldian trait is the special action mechanic which has been seen in most other games of his.

The components are well done, as you would expect from Ravensburger. The little cardholder things are a unique piece, and they function nicely as both a receptacle for cards as well as a round summary guide. My only beef with the components is that there is only one set of reference cards for each of the 4 languages included in the box. To make matters worse, this is the only place in the box where the icons for the special action cards are listed. I was able to take advantage of my color copier and make 3 more sets for my game – otherwise, we would have been passing around the one set constantly. Though the box is full of material, I feel that adding three more sets of 3×5” cards would have been very helpful indeed.

The initial play of the game was quite interesting. It took awhile to see what all the different special actions could do, and there is a lot of planning that can and should be done to maximize your special abilities. Even though there are many different possible special actions, you always need to be on the lookout for new combos because the game forces you to constant change your lineup of 3 special actions. You also have to constantly be planning ahead – you only have a limited number of explorers, so you’d like to use them wisely to collect animal tiles quickly. However, there is a bit of a race going on, and you also need to make sure that someone doesn’t steal one out from under you!


I have only played it once, but given it’s shorter playing time and high level of interesting decisions in that shorter time, I can see this competing for the title of Feld game that I like the most (currently held by Castles of Burgundy)…


The good news for the people local to me (Americans) – the game should be in the domestic market soon. My preview copy came from Ravensburger USA, so I would expect games to be entering the sales channel soon!


Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

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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1 Response to Dale Yu: First Impressions of La Isla (Ravensburger)

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