The dawn of day. White sails on the horizon. One ship, two, no three. Thunderous cannons. Walls crumble. Men, women, children, all dead. The battle might be lost, but we will never give up, we will rise again.
What you get for your money:
You get 18 colonists, 27 cubes, 2 fleet tokens, 13 metal coins, 4 dice, a dice sticker sheet, 2 imperial cards, 2 starting forts, 18 fort card, 6 ship cards, 12 building cards, 2 reference cards and the rules.
How do you play the game:
In Island Siege you build forts to protect your colonists, you build buildings to gain income and special abilities, and you build ships to increase your attack power. The player who owns twenty coins or uses all his colonists wins the game.
Both players start with an Imperial card, a starting fort and a white and black cube. You both put your nine colonists and your ship on the Imperial card and then you grab one white, one black and two grey cubes and put it on your starting fort.
The game begins. Your turn consists of three phases. One, you check if you have won the game during the Victory phase, then you move one colonist onto each of your forts during the Colonization phase and after that you can draw, build or attack during the Action phase.
Let’s talk about the last two phases a little bit more. During the Colonization phase you put one colonist on every fort you have with empty colonist spots. So, when you have three forts, you move three colonists from your Imperial card onto these forts. When you’ve removed three colonist from the Imperial card, you unlock an ability. When the first three are removed you may re-roll your dice one more time, when six colonists are removed you get an additional die, when nine colonist are removed you win the game during the next Victory phase.
Next, the Action phase. When you choose to draw during the action phase, you take three cards, keep two and give the other to your opponent. There are three card types: forts, buildings and ships. A fort card has a spot for a cube with a specific colour and some spots for other cubes in a certain configuration. It also has an ability and some spots for colonists. A building has a building cost, a special ability, a coin value and a cube depicted on it that can be used for repairing a fort. A ship has a building cost, a special ability and a coin value.
When you choose to build, you can place a fort, ship or building in front of you. When you build a fort you must place a coloured cube on its spot an you can fill the other spots with cubes from you own supply. For every cube you place, you get a coin. When you build a ship you have to pay with colonist from one of your forts and place these on the ship. Buildings are placed below a fort and the colonist used to build the building are removed from that fort and placed on the building.
And now, oh yes, you were waiting for this, were you? You can also choose to attack. You put you little wooden ship in front of a fort of your opponent and then you roll some dice. A die has a leadership, a white, a black , a red side and two grey sides. You can re-roll once and once you are finished rolling you attack if you can. First you can use leadership abilities if you have them. They come with certain cards. Then you can use dice for your first attack wave. You choose one or more dice that have the same colour as one or more cubes on the fort and these cubes are then removed from the fort. You have to use all dice of that colour in the first attack wave. The defender can create a better defence system by connecting cubes of the same colour or placing cubes behind others when building these fort.
After the first wave you can use your remaining dice to reinforce (gain cubes that have the same colour as the dice) or use red dice to attack again. Red dice can be used to remove any coloured cube. There are no defensive bonuses that can protect you from a second wave attack. When a fort has no cubes left, it is removed from the game, cubes and buildings included. The colonists that were on that fort return to the owners Imperial card.
So, during the game you attack, reinforce, build building, build ships, use colonists and gain coins.
The game ends, during the Victory phase, when a player has no colonists left on his Imperial card or has twenty and most coins. That player then wins Island Siege.
Let me first say that this is not a difficult game to play or teach once you know the rules. I do think the rules could have been written better. There are not many rules, it’s just a small 2-player game and so it’s not a good sign that I had to read the rulebook and rule clarifications on BGG multiple times.
That said, Island Siege has some nice features. The card powers are cool. They give you a benefit or forbid your opponent to do something. You have to remember that you can only profit from these card a short time. Forts will be destroyed, taking the buildings and colonists with them. So during the game, your power will rise and after a turn or two fall again. You have to make sure that you immediately can start building up again and always have a fort to fall back on. A turn where no colonist can be moved to a fortress is a wasted turn.
Ships are harder to destroy, so they are a safe(r) way to store colonists. But do you want to store colonists? The more times you can re-use them, the more you can build buildings and claim coins. Building can also be used to reinforce your fort, but ships are worth more coins and give you attack bonuses.
So, the idea is that you have two ways of winning this game. You use all your colonists or you gain twenty coins. So you might think there’s a lot of planning here. How do I want to do this, coins or colonist? Which cards am I going to use? But here’s the thing, I do not feel that there’s a lot of forethought in this game.
There’s a lot of luck; you draw cards, you roll dice. You do your best with the cards you have drawn and the dice you have rolled. You attack your opponent and hope you roll something useful. You claim some cubes and arrange them so you create a nice defence. Oh look! There might be a planning element here. You can mitigate luck a little bit with the card abilities, but in the end a roll of the dice can destroy your plans in a second. You have to like that.
Another thing I really don’t like is that sometimes, one or even two turns in advance, you already can say: ‘OK, let’s quit. You can’t stop me from using all my colonists in two turns. I win’. I don’t like it in any game, but it can happen in Island Siege too, so I needed to let you know.
Theme. What is the theme of Island Siege? Building forts, attacking forts in the Caribbean? I don’t really know. The ships make you stronger, the buildings give you more possibilities, more specializations, that is sort of thematic, on the other hand, the cube placement doesn’t make any thematic sense. Then again, what is the theme? I don’t know, I don’t feel it. There’s some flavour, but no real theme.
The game looks good. The illustrations on the cards, although in the case of the fortresses are covered with cubes, are nice and the little meeples and ships are cute. I do think the colour of the cubes could have been better. Maybe different shades of brown or grey to match the colours of the walls. Pristine white seems an odd colour for stone walls. What really catches the eye are the coins, they look good.
Quality of the game parts
The cards are decent. The cubes and meeples are fine. The coins really stand out. They are really, really nice. They are metal and every value has a different shape and print. What I do not understand is that you would spend money on coins that are just point tokens and are used for score keeping only while they could have spend that money on some decent dice. Dice without sticker sheets. Dice you, in fact, do use during the game. But, OK, I can’t deny; the coins are very, very good.
Island Siege is an OK game. Not bad, but not great fun either. In all the games I’ve played the winner had great fun, but the losing player had a terrible time, all because of a couple of bad dice rolls or useless cards. You can manage your cubes like a professional cube manager and have all these nice buildings built, but if your opponent is lucky, your forts can be turned into a pile of bricks in one or two dice rolls. It feels so random, so unfair for me. The mechanism themselves aren’t really the problem, it’s just that you have to like it and I just don’t like it enough, especially because it’s a two player game.
I like my two player games with as little randomness and luck as possible, because only one player can be the victim of the fortune of the other. Island Siege feels really random, that’s nice when you are on the winning side, not so fun when you are the one taking the blow.
I don’t say this is a bad game, but it just doesn’t give me what I want from a two player game; a tactical, head to head experience. When you like randomness in your games, this might be something for you.