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Preview: Tiki Island

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[Ed. note: This is a preview of a non-final, prototype of the game. Our opinions reflect that of the game at the time we played it.  The final product will feature variation in game play, art, and/or components.]

Tropical island paradises are nice.  Warm breezes, swaying hammocks, sand between your toes.  Unless there’s an exploding volcano on them, of course!  Or when tidal waves and hurricanes slam into them.  Or a giant kracken attacks them.  On second thought, I think I’ll take my next vacation in Des Moines.  Meanwhile, these poor islanders need off their doomed island homes.  Fast!  Alas, their isle of safe haven has problems of its own.  But they’ll deal with that when they get stranded there.

How it Plays

Tiki Island is an action selection, tile-laying game from first-time publisher Great Wight Games.  Players try to escape from a doomed island with three islanders to another island across a lagoon with the help of a tiki, special ability rune cards and a good-old fashioned six-sided die.

You start the game with three islander meeples and a tiki disc on your home island.  The board is a ring of islands surrounding a central sea or lagoon, all divided into hexes.  On your turn you will be laying island tiles, moving meeples and playing rune cards to get your paradise people out of the frying pan and, well, into the fire.  Which is not good for your grass skirts!

Across the waters on the horizon is an island where we may not die!
Across the waters on the horizon is an island where we may not die!

On your turn you roll a die and then decide on an action.  You can use your die result which corresponds to an advanced action.  For example, rolling a ‘1’ allows you four moves.  Or if you don’t want to take the action indicated by your roll you can settle for a basic action.  With that you can either make up to three moves, build one island or draw a rune card.

A move simply consists of advancing one islander or your tiki token from one island hex to another.  Just keep in mind you may only move along your own friendly islands (that you’ve already placed in the water) and two islanders may not occupy an island together at any time.  It’s perfectly fine for one to sit atop your tiki, though.  They bring good luck.  Well, usually.

Building just involves laying an island tile of your color in the water.  You must place it within three hexes of your tiki’s location, however.  Never extend too far from your positive karma (sorry to mix spiritualities there…).  So while you don’t need to get your tiki across the lagoon, you’ll need to move it out in order to build your little island hopping chain.

Roll hot to do the good stuff!
Is your tiki good luck or bad!

Soaring is a type of move that allows you to traverse over any kind of hex, as long as you land on an island per the normal placement rules.  On the way there, you can skip over water, unfriendly islands and even occupied tiles.  You gain the soar ability either through a special action activated with your die, rune card benefits or by discarding two rune cards on your turn to gain the capability along with any traditional movement points gained through another action.

Rune cards grant powerful benefits or otherwise allow you to bend the rules – even outright ignore them!  They can be used for a generic effect or their unique ability.  Anytime during your turn you can discard a card for a generic effect like an extra move, an extra build or, if you discard two, to gain the soaring ability.  Or you may play it for its special power as indicated by its text.  Some grant buffs, mix up play or attack other players.  Some are permanent or give your tiki protective powers.  Most can only be played on your turn, but others you can spring during another’s.

As everyone builds, moves and soars in a mad dash to escape their island, the first to reach the other side with all three islanders wins.  Although after seeing the mess you’re in there, you may wish you’d stayed home.

"Um, guys, wouldn't it make more sense just to make some boats?"
“Um, guys, wouldn’t it make more sense just to make some boats?”

Good Luck Tiki or Bad?

I’ve always wondered how there hasn’t been a Gilligan’s Island board game by now.  You have roles, maybe make it cooperative play, a bit of puzzle or mystery and a no-brainer victory condition that’s not just boring old points.  I guess Tiki Island is as much as I’ll get.  I mean, you are trying to get off your island.  Plus the Skipper even dug up a tiki one episode which cursed him and the island.  So, yeah, this is pretty close!

Of course your tikis don’t curse you in Tiki Island.  But the design is just as family friendly as the goofy 1960s sitcom.  Still, it offers a bit more that will also appeal to hobbyists looking for some medium weight fare – as long as you can roll with a little contentiousness.

The rules are straight-forward enough.  Roll the die, choose its action or settle for a basic one and maybe play a card.  Moves and builds make sense and are resolved quickly.  Once the board fills out with enough island tiles, then you won’t even be building which further distills action selection.  This structure makes it ideal for family-style gaming because it’s easy to understand and decisions are more puzzle-like in nature, rather than deeply strategic.  There’s not a tremendous amount of forward planning which might trip up outmatched players.

"Yeah! We've almost made it to Volcano Island! What a minute..."
“Yeah! We’ve almost made it to Volcano Island! What a minute…”

At first, it’s tempting to build a bridge of adjacent tiles from your island to the other side.  You’ll quickly see the folly in such a plan.  First, if everyone tried chaining their tiles, only one will completely succeed while cutting off everyone else in the process.  Second, it takes too long.  Instead you’ll want to employ an island hopping campaign by strategically placing tiles as stepping stones.  Therefore, soaring is central to the game.  Incidentally it’s also not exactly easy to do.  It’s not one of the basic actions, so you’ll need either one of two die results for an advanced action, a rune card providing the ability or discard two runes to add soar to your movement.  That means it’s either random (die roll or card draw) or expensive (discard two cards).  So spacing out your islands and moving methodically forward while grabbing soar every chance you get is the puzzle to solve.

Yet that doesn’t mean Tiki Island is bland or formulaic.  Those rune cards nip that issue in the bud.  These various powers really stir up the waters and there are many.  You can gain movement and builds, you can swap meeples and tikis, you can turn islands into unusable wastelands, you can destroy opponents (they go back to start) or stun them (lose a turn).  I was pleasantly surprised with the amount and variety of abilities and effects that can influence all facets of game play in both small and major ways.  Almost all of them are as beneficial to your efforts as they are fun to use.  Sure, some are going to be fairly situational and they’re gained randomly, so there’s a bit of luck of the draw.  Still, unwanted cards aren’t wasted.  You can discard them for general boosts, including two at a time for the critical soar capability.

Rune cards toss in enough moving parts that the design is really best suited to players with some experience in the hobby.  Laying out your island path and hopping across it is all about efficiency.  Some planning is needed to be most effective, of course, but it’s plain enough to parse out.  Runes, however, can augment your basic actions or mess with your careful calculations like a possessed tiki out for vengeance – besides generally giving you other interesting things to do other than lay a tile or move a few spaces.  While giving it a vibrant personality, the cards keep this design from gateway and/or casual territory.  Many are contentious, some are fiddly to resolve, a few require some interpretation, but all of them change up normal play in some manner.

Rune cards are central to this design...and a lot of fun, too!
Rune cards are central to this design…and a lot of fun, too!

So the rune cards’ reception could swing either way depending on your gaming personality.  They certainly spice up play, keeping turns from monotonous routine.  However, some would prefer to lay out their moves unhindered by arbitrary card play.  After all, they can be combative and even create a bit of chaos.  Not to denote that attacks are unremitting.  But when interaction does occur it is sharp and effective.  You can stun islanders leaving them immobile for a turn or destroy them, which sounds more dramatic than its actual effect of returning a meeple to its starting island.  Then again, just having your islander swapped or transported can mess with you enough to leave you fuming like a volcano.  It’s all in fun and usually recoverable, so you shouldn’t completely blow your top.

Chaos and congestion and attacking tikis aside, Tiki Island is a tropically medium weight design and a breeze to play.  Better yet, it scales equally well to all player counts, providing a bit different experience with each complement.  If stuck on this island with just one other person, game play races out a bit more frantically with subdued interaction and an emphasis on the finish line. Stranded with a full table of six, players will jostle and attack going all Lord of the Flies on each other.  Typically turns move quickly, so there’s minimal downtime.  Interaction – and game length – increase the more crowded the table. 4-player sessions are my favorite clocking in at a satisfying time while leaving a bit of lebensraum and allowing for greater interaction that’s not too disruptive.

"Whoa, there's a ginormous sea monster over here!" "Who cares, our other home is on fire!"
“Whoa, there’s a ginormous sea monster over here!” “Who cares, our other home is on fire!”

Tiki Island is a clever abstract design with plenty of action and special powers that sweep players along with its tide.  Its basic structure is smooth sailing, ideal for family gamers – at least ones somewhat accustomed to the hobby already.  It’s rune cards stir up the waves with some choppy surf ideal for hobby gamers looking for medium weight fare.  With little downtime, smart play and the ability to accommodate up to six, Tiki Island may not be your desert island game, but it’s a fun, smart and often riotous way to spend an hour in paradise.

 

Tiki Island is currently seeking support on Kickstarter.  For a pledge of $35 ($15 off the MSRP, including worldwide shipping) you can support this project and receive a copy of the game, tabbed to be shipped in March 2017.  If you’d like to track it down, head over now to the campaign page.  Get in on it today before the tiki gods curse you forever!

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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