Isle of Skye
- Designers: Alexander Pfister, Andreas Pelikan
- Publisher: Mayfair/Lookout
- Players: 2-5
- Time: ~60 minutes
- Ages: 8+
- Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Mayfair
Isle of Skye is one of the new summer releases from Lookout Games. As you will recall, they were bought up by Mayfair about 2 years ago, and now the Lookout games get worldwide distribution from the get-go via the Mayfair machine. The designer pairing of Alexander Pfister and Andreas Pelikan is a hot one – their previous game together, Broom Service, just won the 2015 Kennerspiel des Jahres – so they are definitely riding high right now.
In this tile-laying game, each player starts the game with a castle tile of their own. There is a game board in the middle of the table which has the scoring track, the round marker as well as spaces for the four scoring tiles used in this particular game. These scoring tiles are chosen randomly from the full supply of 16 at the start of the game. Players also get a screen and a discard token which they will use later in the game.
There are six rounds in the game, and each follows the same 6 phase pattern
- Income – in this phase, all players collect money. You get 5 gold pieces for your castle and one gold piece per whisky barrel connected to your castle by roads. Each of these tiles has a gold coin icon printed on it so that you do not forget. Also, in the later rounds of the game, you will also collect gold for each player who is ahead of you on the scoring track. The information of how much and when is printed right on the board so that you do not forget.
- Draw tiles – each player takes 3 tiles from the bag and puts them in front of their player screen. Then, behind the screen, the player will allocate the discard token to one of the tiles and some sum of gold (player’s choice) to the other two. Once all players have chosen, the screens are removed and the decisions are revealed. The coin amounts next to the two remaining tiles are your asking price for those particular tiles
- Discard tiles – each player has marked one tile to be discarded. This tile is returned to the bag, and the bag is shuffled
- Buy a tile – now, each player – going clockwise from the Start Player – gets the chance to buy ONE tile from any other player. You choose any tile from an opponent and pay an amount of gold equal to that laid out in front of the tile by the seller. The seller gives up the tile, collects the payment and also takes back the money he had set out as the price. The purchased tile is left out in front of the owner’s screen. Each player gets a chance to buy a tile – and it is not mandatory that you buy a tile, you could pass on your chance to purchase one. Once all players have bought or passed, all the sellers “buy” any unsold tiles; the gold that was laid out is given to the bank and the players take the unpurchased tiles in front of them.
- Placing tiles – players now take all their newly acquired tiles and add them to their area. They must be laid fully adjacent to a previously played tile, and all features other than roads must match. If you complete an area – i.e. have a landscape type that is completely surrounded by other types, you may score interim points in this phase. Any tiles that cannot be legally placed are forfeited to the supply and you get no compensation.
- Scoring – when you get to this phase. you will need to refer back to the round marker on the main board. Underneath the round marker, you will see 1-3 banners labeled A-D. These banners refer to the four different scoring tiles in the center of the board. In each round, you will score for the tiles whose letters are shown underneath the round marker. Each of the four randomly selected tiles will be scored three times during the game. If you have met the scoring criteria for the active tile(s), advance your marker on the track. Once all the scoring is done, rotate the start player clockwise.
The game continues for 6 rounds following the above format. At the end of the game, there is a bit of bonus scoring. There are a number of tiles that have scrolls printed on them. Players score points for each of these based on how well they meet the criteria: i.e. 1VP for every 2 sheep in your territory or 1VP per lighthouse. Additionally, if the scroll is in a completed area, you double the scoring bonus for it. Finally, you convert your left over gold to VP at a 5 gold:1VP rate. The winner is the player with the most VPs!
My thoughts on the game
This seems to be a little lighter than Broom Service or the other recent Kennerspiel winners. Heck, the back of the box proclaims these three things:
- Quick Tile Placement and Auction Game
- Little Rules, Lots of Fun
- Woolly Sheep
Not exactly the sort of selling points for the “complex game of the year”! But, I don’t think that this is the target audience for this game. This one is more for the casual or family gamer. It uses some familiar tile laying mechanics that should appeal to most gamers, but the buying/selling mechanic help this one stand out a bit from the genre.
There’s actually a lot to consider in the pricing and buying of the tiles. The key to the game is figuring out what tiles are available (and what tile features are available) as this will affect the relative value of the tiles in the buying phase. Of course, you will also have to try to read your opponents minds a bit because they will only end up selling two of the three tiles that you can see in Phase 2 – so you’re never quite sure what you’re going up against.
Pricing the tiles also takes a lot of skill. Early in the game, it’s hard to get a lot for the tiles because you don’t have a lot of money to start with. Any coins that you put down for a price cannot be used to buy other tiles until your offered tile is purchased. Knowing where you stand in turn order is helpful in knowing how much you ask for your tiles. Don’t be too greedy though, or you will end up buying the tiles that you might not want and pay a dear price for them.
There are times that you really would prefer to keep the tiles that you have drawn. If so, you want to place the price high enough to discourage others from buying them while not so high that you pay more than you need to. This method is a less efficient way of obtaining tiles because you only lose money to the supply for this instead of getting some back from purchases made of your tiles.
You have to always keep an eye out for the different features on the tile. Don’t forget that the end goal of the game is to score points, and buying certain tiles to maneuver for the end-of-round scoring criteria is always a good plan. Of course, you should also be looking for the scrolls with end-of-game bonus scoring as well as these bonuses can add up quickly, especially if you are getting double value for them if they are in enclosed areas.
That being said, you may not want to do so well right off the bat. The money situation can get tight near the end of the game – though players should have more income and more money accumulated from previous turns, the cost of the tiles will also likely skyrocket as well. Getting a +4 coin bonus per player in front of you on the score track in the final turn is not an insignificant sum of coins. I have seen a few turns where a player in last or second to last was able to move close to the front because he was able to buy an opponent’s tile while keeping his own drawn tile(s) out of reach of other players due to their high selling point.
The artwork in the game is well done, and the different features on the tile are easy to see. I do wish that the features were perhaps a little bigger because it was a little hard for us to see the tiles on offer on my 6ft cafeteria table that we use for gaming. Of course, some of this was due to the table and not the game… but it’s still hard to see all the details on the tile from a distance. When you can see them, the iconography is clean and easy to interpret though.
Our games have been 5p and 4p so far, and we’re clocking in right around the hour mark. Though there are only 6 turns, it does take a bit of thinking to price your tiles and then even more to look at the selection to decide what, if any, tile you will buy. As you don’t get that many chances to buy tiles, you really do need to maximize each of those actions when you get them.
Thus far, I am enamored with the game. This hits my sweet spot of being a game that is easy to learn and teach yet is complex enough to give me the feel of a full game – though not having to take up my entire game session to do so. I’ve only played it three times thus far, so I’m not sure whether it has the legs to be a great game, but I’m encouraged by what I see so far. The tileset is a decent size, and the randomly drawn scoring tiles promise varied play, but what I don’t know yet is whether or not the different scoring tiles will really create different games or if it just changes what you chase after short term vs long term scoring.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, John P, Craig V, Karen M
- Not for me…