Dale Yu: Review of Glory Islands

Glory Islands

  • Designer: Arve D. Fuehler
  • Publisher: Rio Grande Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Rio Grande Games

glory islands

Glory Islands is set in 1660 on the island of Tortuga. The players are all pirates or rogues, wanting to be known as the best.  The board shows an interesting and conveniently polyomino shaped island group that forms a square.  There is a track of sea spaces that bounds this square archipelago where your ships will travel.   There is a sailing track where you mark how many sailing points you use in the game, and outside this is a Glory (VP) track.

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Each player gets their own deck of 6 sailing cards – valued 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5.  They also get their matching color player board and all their bits.  Scoring discs are placed on the glory track and the sailing track, and their ship starts on the Home space of the sailing squares.

The game will be played in a series of rounds until at least one of the pirate ships has made a full lap around the islands; and is therefore back at the starting space.  In each round, there are five phases that are followed.

1] Play sailing cards – all players secretly and simultaneously choose a card from their hand. Once all have chosen, they are revealed.  The choice of the card is fairly important as it will determine turn order, how far your ship can move, and where you will be able to place pirates.  

2] Spend sailing points – all players move their disc on the sailing track forward a number of spaces as seen on the number in the top middle of their chosen card.  If your ship marker moves all the way to the end (past the “-30” space), you are eliminated from the game as your ship has been sunk.

3] Determine turn order – the player who played the highest numbered card goes first.  Ties broken by the dots underneath the number (more goes first, and black before white).

4] Resolve Actions – First you move your ship, at least one space up to the number on your card. When you stop moving, look at the row or column of your ship, and each pirate on a pirate field space in that row/column scores a glory point (use the diagonal if you are on a corner sea space).  There are bonuses for reaching two spaces along the track, score them as you pass these spaces.

Next you place pirates in an empty space – in the corresponding row/column/diagonal – no further away from your ship than the number of your card.  If no space is empty, keep going forward until the first empty space and place your pirate there.  If you have no more pirates in your supply, you must move one of your previously placed pirates from the board onto the new space.  Note that if you played a 5 card, you have a special bonus action of being able to make a pitstop to drop off a pirate before finishing your movement and placing another.

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If you placed on a pirate field, you immediately score 1 Glory point. If you land on a Treasure chest, draw two tokens from the bag and keep 1.  If you land on a barrel, take a barrel from the supply – these are mostly used to power special actions on the movement cards.  Finally, you have the option to take a special action (each different value card has its own special action).  Then check to see if any island is fully occupied with pirates.  If so, it scores based on the chart found on the player board.  This is essentially area majority, so the player with the most pirates on an island will score the most points.  Whenever an island is scored, all the pirates are removed from the island and returned to the player’s supplies.

Then you get to take an optional bonus action based on your card:

  • 2-value – spend a barrel, draw 3 tiles, keep 1
  • 3-value – spend a barrel or spend 2 movement to place another pirate
  • 4-value – spend a barrel or spend 2 movement to move one of your pirates to any empty space

5] End of Round – First look to see if there were cards of the same value played. If so, swap the highest tiebreaking card with the lowest.  Then, each player puts the card from this round into their discard pile.  Finally, if you played a 1 card this turn, you instead take all the cards from your discard pile back into your hand.

glory islands in play

Photo taken by designer

Continue playing rounds until at least one player has finished a full loop.  Players now get 1 glory point for each pirate left on the board and each barrel left over as well as plus/minus points for the sailing track space their piece is on.  Finally score 1/3/6/10/15 points for each set of 1/2/3/4/5 different treasures in a set.  The player with the most points wins.

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  • My thoughts on the game

Glory Islands is a tight game that gives you lots of decisions.  Each round, you have to choose which card you’d like to use – taking into consideration things like turn order, which tiles you want to place on, how far you’re willing to go on the sailing track, the special actions that might come with your card choice, how many points you’re willing to give your opponents or score for yourself, and the racing bonuses.   That seems like a lot to think about each round, but it’s actually pretty manageable.  

As with many games with these cycling card decks, there’s also an art in figuring out when you need to play your 1 in order to get your discarded cards back in your deck.  Heck, in one game, we had a player try to play his 1 card every time, just taking whatever spaces he could get but trying to minimize his movement penalty and leverage that point differential at the end.  The strategy didn’t quite work, but it was an interesting extreme case to try!  

There is a little bit of bluffing and reading the minds of your opponents as you try to figure out what they’re going to do.  If you have really good memory, you might remember which tiebreaker values your opponents have in their hand, and that might help you plan your own card play based on that – but I no longer have that skill, so I just cross my fingers and hope for the best.  (Be sure to remember to trade cards with each tie – I have found that we forgot a lot in our first games, and this certainly can imbalance things).  

You’ll also have to figure out how you want to use (or not use) the barrels.  While you don’t necessarily get anything in the short term when you take a barrel; they do give you access to the powerful special actions on the cards.   If you don’t use them, you do get 1 consolation point at the end of the game, but every other action will score you at least 1 point, so I would try not to have too many unused barrels…

On the whole, unless you’re trying that weird edge-case-play-my-1-card-every-turn strategy, you’ll have some tough decisions to make.  You can get a lot of scoring from ships stopping on the rows/columns of your pirates, but you’ll get even more from the area-majority scoring when an island is finished.  There are times when the penalty for moving with a 3, 4 or 5 card is repaid with a double placement or movement that locks in a majority bonus for an island.

While you’re considering the scoring, don’t underestimate the scoring value of the treasure chits.  Getting 15 for a full set can be a game changer, though certainly this takes a bit of luck (or 2-value special actions) to get that last color sometimes.

Much of the scoring takes place on the islands closest to the sailing paths; but it can definitely pay off with a long-term play or two where you reach a bit further out from the coast to set up majorities later in the game.  Be careful not to do this too often though as your supply of pirates is fixed (and limited), and you’ll have to move a previously placed pirate if you have no more in your supply.

The art is just fine, and the cards/icons are easy to understand.  The player aid and player board nicely summarizes all the in game and end-game scoring.  At first some players got confused that some of the island shapes on the scoring aid aren’t in the game, but this is because the other side of the board has some differently shaped islands…

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We’re finishing a game now in about 20-30 minutes, and this feels just right for a game of this weight.  There are some interesting decisions to be made, but nothing that should take you more than a minute to consider.  As a result, the game tends to be fast paced, and I enjoy games that move at this speed.  I’ve had a chance to play this game both as a prototype and now as a finished product, and I think it’ll still have more plays as 2022 churns on.  It’s a good choice for a filler or closer in our group.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan B. (2 plays):This is a decent light game of a sort that I feel we used to see a lot more of – it’s simple and fast but is not a card game, dice game, or roll/flip-and-write, which collectively seem to be most of the light games recently. (And they’re all fine, but it’s nice to see something different.) I could see it being a bit too similar from game to game, but there is a second side of the board which I am told feels different, plus a mini-expansion, and in any case it’s not the sort of game from which it’s reasonable to expect endlessly rich gameplay.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Steph H, Dan B.
  • Neutral. John P
  • Not for me…

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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