Dale Yu: Review of Nautilus Island

Nautilus Island

  • Designers: Johannes Goupy, Theo Riviere
  • Publisher: Funny Fox
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Review copy provided by publisher at GenCon 2023

You are shipwrecked on a mysterious and deserted volcanic island. In the wake of a storm, you come across a grounded and abandoned submarine: The Nautilus. You must explore it from top to bottom, and will need to collect as many objects as you can to ensure your survival, repair the submarine, and leave the island before the other castaways.

During their turn, players move their Castaway marker in a column and then choose between collecting object cards from the column or place down cards from their hand to start a collection. Storing objects allow players to claim bonus and/or porthole tokens before their opponents and get victory points. When a column is empty, the game ends. Player with the most victory points wins the game.

—description from the publisher

To setup the game, the board is placed on the table, and 8 object card stacks are made from the deck; the number of which varies by player count.  There is a chart in the rules which tells you which stacks to place face-up and which to place facedown.  There are 6 types of objects, helpfully color coded (green clothes, red navigation tools, blue repair equipment, purple fishing gear, orange supplies and yellow treasures).  

The bonus tiles are mixed up and five are placed face-up in the upper right of the board.  The four types of Porthole tiles are stacked by type in descending value and placed on their spots.  Each player gets a Castaway meeple in their player color.

The game is played in rounds, with each player taking a 2 part turn.  In the first round, play goes clockwise from the designated start player.  In all following rounds, play goes from the player closest to the tail of the Nautilus.

First, the active player must explore the Nautilus.  Place your castaway marker above an unoccupied column of cards on the Nautilus – on the opposite side of where it was previously.  You cannot place on the same column as where you started either.

Then, you can either collect an object by taking the top card from each stack in the column or you store objects in your camp by placing cards of a single color, up to the number equal to the number of stacks in the column you are in.  If a bonus token is available in your played color, collect it from the board and place it on your cards played this turn.  If you later play the same color, group all those cards together in a single area, and it will be possible to have multiple bonus tokens on that group.   When there is only one Bonus token left in the camp area, refill the four empty spaces with tokens from the draw pile.

Finally, if you played cards, you may close the set by placing a porthole token on the group of cards you added to this turn.  The number of cards must be exact (2, 3, 4, or 5) – and once you close a set, you may never play that color again.

Each player takes their turn, at which point they will all be on the same side of the Nautilus.  Now repeat the process, with turn order going from back to front.  There is a compass arrow affixed to the board which you can use to remind you of which side the markers started the turn on.

The game ends when a column of the board is empty.  The current round ends when all players have taken their turn, and thus all players have had the same number of turns.  Each player tallies their points on: Bonus tokens, Porthole tokens, Treasure cards in their hand.  The player with the most points wins.  Ties broken in favor of the player who ended closest to the tail of the Nautilus.

My thoughts on the game

Well, based on the description, this is a pretty unfriendly island – you’re not working together with your fellow castaways – you’re trying to beat them in a race to get stuff and escape the island; stranding them to a lifetime of eating plain rice, doing absurd physical challenges and sometimes having pizza air-delivered in so that the winner of said challenge can gorge themselves on greasy goodness until they puke?!  OK, confusing mixed metaphor there.  That’s what you get when I write a review in the middle of the night due to my insomnia.

Anyways, in this game, players try to accumulate cards to make sets as quick as they can.  There is certainly a bit of a race aspect as the porthole tokens have declining value as you go down the stack; so it can definitely be worth your while to be the first to make a set of any porthole size.  Additionally, if you wait too long, you might lose the chance to take a Porthole at all – you can only take a Porthole token for the exact size of your current group.

However, it’s not just about the Portholes… The bonus tokens can be pretty strong, and sometimes it may be worth playing a set in a color just to get a hold of a particularly juicy bonus tile; there are times when the points from a bonus tile will easily offset any decrease in points that would come from taking a Porthole tile later in the game as opposed to sooner.  Heck, sometimes it’s just worth it to play a card to grab a guaranteed 3VPs!  Don’t forget that your played cards don’t matter for scoring; just the cardboard chits on the table and the treasure cards in your hand…  The winning scores I’ve seen have mostly been around 40, so 3VP is nothing to sneeze at.

Whatever you do, I’d definitely recommend that you do it swiftly.  The game has a deceivingly low number of turns – I’d say maybe 13 to 15 on average?  On a turn, you either draw a card from every stack in the column or you play cards down.  Depending on how players choose to do it, the game could theoretically last as little as 8 rounds – if there was one particular column that was drawn from every round.  

In any event, don’t be surprised when the game comes to an abrupt stop.  I have seen a player last in player order decide to end the game by drawing cards – even though they had a nice set of cards they could have played; but they figured that they were better off trying to draw treasure than to let the game go one more turn and allow the other players to possibly throw down an extra porthole tile.  I’ve also seen a player feint the end of the game, but then took the opportunity to do one more draw and then get an even larger final play on his next turn!

The graphic design is well done as I like both the cover art as well as the different illustrations on the cards – there are 4 different objects per color, so you do get a nice selection of interesting things to collect.  The different objects in a suit only matter for one of the bonus tokens, so you’ll mostly just be looking at the background color.  I’ll admit that I don’t particularly understand the arrow on the board – it’s not overly hard to remember which side the meeples started on, and it might have been easier just to have a card that you could have placed next to the board… but i’m sure there are some parakeets out there that think it’s super neat to have this arrow attached to the board.

The strategy is pretty straightforward – the game plays as it appears.  You move to a column: maybe to take cards you want yourself, maybe to block another player from collecting cards you know they want, or maybe just choosing a column based on the number of stacks in it so that you can play a matching number of cards from your hand to the table.  I suppose there is a bit of advanced timing where you might try to wait a turn or two before playing particular cards as you can try to time your place in turn order to when the new bonus tokens come out in order to get a bonus token as often as you can.

Though at first glance it seems like it would always be a better deal to go to the columns at the front of the ship because they have the most stacks, but this decision then puts you at the back of the line to choose next turn; so trying to figure out turn order can be an important component of your decision. For instance, if someone has taken their turn and reveals cards that you really want, you might take the rearmost column this turn, taking a single mystery card, in order to be able to choose first next turn and take the cards you covet.  

The game definitely does not outstay its welcome.  Most player turns are over in a split second, and as you only have 4 columns at most to choose from each turn and only 2 options once you move; each round takes about a minute at most, and there are usually only 12-15 rounds in a game.  Like I said, don’t wait too long to close out your sets or else you might be left with nothing!

Nautilus Island is a fast and breezy set collection game; a nice game for a filler or a closer for game night.  The strategy is admittedly light, but there are enough decisions to be made in this short game to keep things interesting and to allow for superior play to win the day.  (At least that’s what I’m claiming as I’m currently lifetime undefeated at the game!)

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • 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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