Spirit Island Board Game Review

Spirit Island w Leia

In Spirit Island, you and up to three other players try to defend an island from invaders using powerful Spirits along with the help of the Dahan, the villagers that inhabit the island. Spirit Island is fully cooperative. There are no hidden objectives nor points for players to achieve.

Setup

For setup, you’ll use 1-4 board tiles to create the island depending on the number of players. Each player will choose a Spirit and set up her/his board section of the island based on what’s listed on the back of their spirit board (starting presence) and on the board sections as well. Players will take the starting power cards that match their chosen spirit along with the remaining presence tokens of their chosen color. These will be placed on the spirit board with the leftmost space open on both the energy and card tracks.

Spirit Island Player Board
Spirit Island Player Board

There is also the Invader board. Here players place blight tokens, fear cards, and invader cards. To set up the fear deck, place nine Fear cards, separated into groups of three by the fear-level dividers. Players will also add five blight tokens per player if using the printed space on the Invader board but can change if you are using the included blight cards. The Invader deck will be made up of the invader cards labeled level 1-3. All will be used except for one card of each level. Lastly, you’ll add four fear tokens per player on the Invader board, perform an initial Explore step to add explorers on the board, and then you’ll be ready to play.

Spirit Island Invader Board
Spirit Island Invader Board

Gameplay

Each round of the game consists of five phases: Spirit, Fast Powers, Invaders, Slow Powers, and Time Passes.

Phase 1: Spirit Phase

During the Spirit Phase, each player simultaneously will choose her/his growth options, collect energy, and choose power cards to play. Growth options include adding presence on the board, reclaiming cards, gaining extra energy, and gaining new power cards. Each Spirit has multiple growth options from which to choose and not all Spirits have the same growth options.

Spirit Island boards
Spirit Island Boards with two players

Adding presence helps you reach areas on the board from which you can use powers on cards and your Spirit board. To add presence, you’ll take one of your discs from either the energy or card track and add it to the board within the range listed from presence you already have on the island board. Taking a presence from the energy track will allow you to gain extra energy, which is needed to play cards. Taking it from the card track will allow you to play more cards on your turn.

When you gain a power card, you’ll draw four cards from either the minor or major power decks and choose one. If you decide to draw from the major power deck, you will have to discard a card you already have. A minor power card will just be added to your hand of cards. There is no limit to the number of power cards you can have, both major and minor.

Spirit Island Power Cards
Spirit Island Power Cards

After collecting energy, you will choose which cards to play. These cards can be fast (red/bird) or slow (blue/turtle). You’ll pay the cost in energy listed in the upper left-hand corner for each card you choose to play. These cards can target different lands (i.e., jungles, sands, mountains, etc.) as well as the Spirits themselves.

The power cards you play also generate different elements listed on the left side of the cards. These elements can help you use your innate powers on your spirit board as well as potential secondary effects on the cards you play.

Phase 2: Fast Powers Phase

The second phase is playing your fast powers, which is a combination of your power cards and innate powers on your spirit board that are fast. This also occurs simultaneously, which means players can coordinate the use of their powers to potentially create potent combinations.

Phase 3: Invader Phase

Next is the Invader phase. The first thing you will do is check if you have any fear cards to play. You’ll generate fear from powers that you play, as well as when you destroy towns and cities of the Invaders. When you place all of the fear tokens in the pool, you’ll gain a fear card. Each fear card has a different effect depending on if your terror level is 1, 2, or 3.

Spirit Island Fear Cards
Spirit Island Fear Cards

Generating fear is important to help you win. Initially, you will need to remove every explorer, town, and city on the board to win. As you increase the terror level, you will make this goal easier. When you reach terror level 2, you only have to wipe out all towns and cities. At level 3, you only need to destroy all cities. If you manage to generate enough fear to go through the fear deck, you will instantly win the game as you have scared off all the Invaders from the island.

After playing fear cards, the Invaders will ravage, build, and explore. Each step will occur in the land listed on the card in the appropriate space on the Invader board.

When the Invaders ravage, they will attack the land(s) they are in. They do one damage for explorers, two for towns, and three for cities. If invaders ever do two or more damage to a land, the land will be blighted. If the land already has blight, it will cascade. This means you add one blight to the land as well as one blight to an adjacent land of your choice. If you need to add blight and there are no more blight tokens to add, you lose the game. If the land where you would add blight has any presence from one or more Spirits, each Spirit will lose one presence.

While ravaging, the Invaders will also attack the Dahan for the appropriate amount of damage. Each Dahan has two health. Once the Invaders are done, the Dahan will get a chance to retaliate. Each Dahan does two damage. Explorers have one health, towns two, and cities three. While destroying explorers is helpful, destroying towns generates one fear and destroying cities generates two fear.

Next, the Invaders will build in the land listed on the card in the build space. If any Invaders are present on those board spaces, you will add a town or city to the space. If there are fewer towns than cities in the space, you will add a city. Otherwise, you’ll add a town.

Finally, is the explore step. You will add one explorer in the land if it has a town or city, or if an adjacent land has any towns or cities. After this step, you’ll shift each card down and flip over the next card in the stack on the explore space. If you ever have to flip a card here and there are no cards to turn over, you lose the game.

Phase 4: Slow Power Phase & Phase 5: Time Passes (i.e., Clean-up)

The fourth phase is the Slow Power phase. This works exactly like the fast power phase. The fifth and final phase is Time Passes. You’ll gather any reminder tokens you may have placed from cards used, flip damaged Dahan, towns, and cities back to their undamaged side, then start a new round of play.

Win & Loss Conditions

To win, players must either accomplish the goal listed on the current terror level or reveal all fear cards. If players can no longer flip an Invader card to explore or can’t put out any more blight tokens when blight would occur, they lose.

Components

Everything in this game is well made. The card stock is good quality. The plastic Invader pieces are well made. The Dahan are wooden pieces shaped like huts and really add to the look of the game. The energy tokens are cardboard, but they do not feel cheap. The spirit boards are thick, solid cardboard and the island tiles are double-sided. Our tiles do have a tiny bit of warping, but not enough to affect the placement of the board tiles on your table. The rest of the tokens are a mix of plastic and wooden pieces, all of which are well made. Storage for the game is a breeze as the included trays make it easy to put away all of the cards, tokens, and boards included in the game.

Spirit Island Tray Inserts
Spirit Island Insert Trays

The rulebook is well written, has references to terms near the back, and a summary of icons and turn order on the back. There are also included reference cards that players can use to help them remember turn order, icons, and other game rules.

Artwork

This is a gorgeous looking game. The colors of the island tiles really help them pop on the table. The backside of the tiles, which is used for more advanced play, have a more realistic look for the topography. The artwork on the different power cards, Spirits, the rulebook, and backs of the fear cards is stunning. Because of the artwork, the spirits look like all powerful beings and the powers they use give the appearance of wonderful creation and absolute devastation.

Replayability

You can play the game in the standard way as mentioned above using the regular or alternate sides of the board tiles. The alternate sides have more spaces and the different land formations may be more bunched together, making this a more difficult option.

There are two included blight cards. These are used in place of the blight space on the Invader board to determine the amount of blight in the game. These will start on the healthy side, but if flipped to the blighted island side can add a hinderance to players.

Example of blight cards

You can also play a set of scenarios and/or against different colonial empires. Depending on the scenario or empire you choose, the board set up and win/loss conditions can change. You can choose a difficulty level using the colonial empires, which gives them extra abilities while adding more fear cards that you need to get through instead of the typical nine.

There are eight Spirits included in the game and each one plays differently from the other. Lightning’s Swift Strike is an offensive powerhouse that will focus on playing multiple cards to wipe out Invaders. Ocean’s Hungry Grasp is usually restricted to placing presence in ocean spaces (normally not used) but can drown Invaders, turning those drowned invaders into energy. Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares is all about generating fear, but he can’t actually do any damage nor destroy Invaders.

Conclusion

Spirit Island is awesome! This is easily one of my favorite cooperative games that I have ever played. Had we played this more before we put up our top five cooperative games list, this would have been on mine.

The different Spirits have cool powers, and all have their own style of play. The major and minor power cards all have great abilities that can make it tough to choose which card you want when you gain one. You can generate elements with one card that helps another player use his/her innate power, which can let that person move Dahan to a new territory. Then another player can play a card that will allow him/her to have the Dahan attack the Invaders, which can help generate fear. Figuring out these and other combinations is the best part of the game. Working together can take what looks like an unwinnable situation and turn it into victory. My wife and I were able to generate over 10 fear on one turn due to the way we combined our cards.

The game is gorgeous and has great components. It has a rulebook that I don’t have to read multiple times to understand how to play the game. Being able to play scenarios and against empires adds even more replayability to the game. This is an excellent game for two players. We even played a game with three players and it was just as good. If you like cooperative games, you need to go out and add this to your collection.

A Wife’s Perspective

As a fan of cooperative games, I was excited to try this one. I was even more excited when I unwrapped it as a Christmas gift from my husband! In the two weeks that have passed since Christmas, we have played this game multiple times even though we still have several games from Santa that are still in shrink wrap. That should tell you something. This game is so much fun! I had a wee bit of difficulty understanding all of the different rules and player powers at first, and I definitely recommend that you play with the less complex characters to start. I was completely hooked after my first game. The game is difficult to win, but not punishingly so like Ghost Stories is. It provides a challenge, but a winnable challenge. One that gives you a sense of accomplishment when you win and the game certainly maintains a satisfying level of “will we or won’t we win” tension throughout. I highly recommend purchasing this game.

About NickiChris 20 Articles
We are an avid board/tabletop gaming couple from Oldsmar, FL. We want to communicate with others who enjoy our hobby and help those who are new to board gaming.

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