Start as a meaningless chieftain and become a wealthy king on the Isle of Skye in this two to five player tile-laying game from the designers of the Kennerspiel des Jahres 2015 winner Broom Service.
What do you get for your money?
You get 1 game board, 16 scoring tiles, 72 landscape tiles, 1 cloth bag to put them in, 5 score markers, 6 player screens, 6 discard markers, 1 round marker, 1 start player marker, 80 coins and the rules.
How do you play the game?
Isle of Skye is a tile-laying game, think of a game like Carcassonne, with an auction element where you build your own little kingdom.
The game takes a couple of rounds, depending on the amount of players, and at the end of every round the players will score points. When you set the game up, you also draw four scoring tiles and place them on the board. These are the four ways you can score points during a game. However, there’s a catch, you do not score all tiles during every round. For instance, during the first round in a five player game you only score the first two and during the second round you score the first and third scoring tiles.
After the last round, players also score points for the scrolls they have in their kingdom and the money they’ve left and the player with the most points wins the game.
So, how does it al work. Well, all players start with a castle tile with a couple of roads connected to this castle and one barrel icon on one of these roads. A barrel icon means that, as long as it is connected via a road to your castle, you have an income of a coin per barrel in phase one of a round, except the barrel on the castle tile, that one is worth five coins. In round one and two this is the only way to get income, but during the first phase of the rounds after that you also get one to four coins for every player that is in front of you on the scoring track.
During phase two all players draw three tiles from the bag and place them in front of their player screen. On these tiles you find roads, cows, sheep, barrels, watchtowers, stables and boats, all located in lake, grassland and mountain areas. The players look at the tiles they and other player have and then, behind their screen, secretly assign one or more coins to two of the tiles and the discard token, a token with an axe on it, to the third tile.
Why do you want to do that? Well during the next phase all player remove their screens and then, starting with the starting player, every player may buy one tile from another player. Except for the tiles with discard token, these are put back into the bag. A player then pays the amount that is assigned to the tile she wants and places the tile in front of her. The selling player also takes back the amount of coins he assigned to that tile.
Every player gets a chance to buy one tile and when everyone has done so, players place the coins they assigned to the tiles that haven’t been bought back into the general supply.
So, you don’t want to assign too many coins to a tile, because if no one buys it from you, you eventually have to buy it yourself.
After the auction phase you may have zero to three tiles left to place in your kingdom. When you try to fit them in, you have to be sure that the different areas (mountain, lake, grassland) fit together. A grassland side cannot touch a lake side or a mountain side, for instance. Roads don’t have to continue, but a road with a barrel on it that’s connected to your castle does bring in extra money.
During the last phase of a round you check how much points all players score according the scoring tiles for that round.
What can you expect? Well, for instance, get 1 point per sheep in your kingdom, get 5 points for every set of broch, farm and lighthouse icons, or get 2 points for every completed mountain area. Other examples you can see in the pictures above.
This goes on until the last round. After that round there is an extra scoring phase where players score point for their scrolls. You score twice as many points if your scroll is located in a completed area. You also score one point for every five coins and the player with most points is the winner of the game.
This game reminds me of Carcassonne. Of course it does, it’s a tile laying game and tile laying games are always compared to the tile laying game of tile laying games; Carcassonne. It’s not always fair, but, hey, what do you do about it.
I’m going to do that too, but only for a couple of sentences. Isle of Skye feels like Carcassonne because you have to place tiles and you have to match area types when you place them. However, that’s where, for me, the comparison ends. I can say something about the complexity though. Carcassonne is considered a perfect entry-level game. What about this one? Well, Isle of Skye is still a nice family game, but it is a baby step up in terms of difficulty. There are a few more things you have to think about, but it’s nothing to worry about.
What I like about Isle of Skye e is that every game has different scoring tiles, that means that every game has a different focus. This doesn’t mean that it plays differently, but the variation keeps it fresh. What I also like is that you, when you buy and place tiles, have to think about the short-term goals and the long-term goals. Not every scoring tile will be active that round. Do you go for a tile that scores points now or do you invest in tiles that score in later rounds? That also depends on the price the other players set for their two tiles.
OK, about that auction or, more accurately, the market where players can sell their ware. It’s a fun idea for sure. On the one hand you have to give the tiles you don’t need a nice price, so the others want to buy it and, at the same time, to give you something extra to spend later on. On the other hand you have to give the tile you do want a price that might scare potential buyers away, but be careful, don’t set it too high, because you have to pay for it yourself.
It is fairly difficult to set the right price. You have very little information to go on. You can see the other tiles in the market, but you have no clue what price the players might give it. So, you don’t know how much your tile with a lighthouse is worth compared to the other tiles with lighthouses. Almost always you just go on a hunch.
Another interesting thing about the market, is the discard token, which can mix things up too. You’ve spotted a tile you want, you’ve set some money aside to buy it later, and then the player whose tile it is discards it when the player screens are removed. What a bummer.
Not that both mechanisms are a big problem, but it is something to keep in mind. Those who like to be totally in control might be a bit disappointed. Also, you have to realize that, because other players may buy one tile, there is a chance that you have only one tile, or zero if you did not buy a tile yourself, to place in your kingdom, while other players have three. You might think it’s a big thing and you can not possibly win this game because of it, but that’s not the case. There’s a major catch up mechanism in this game that deals with this problem. During the last couple of rounds, the players also get coins for every player that is in front of them on the score track. It starts with one coin per player, but it goes up to three or four coins. This means that the players that have the fewest points get a boatload of money to spend during the market phase or to assign to their own tiles.
Having a major and obvious catch up mechanism might be considered a bad thing, but in this case I don’t think it is. This game is not intended to be played on the razor’s edge (I think). It’s intended to be a light game and because of this mechanism everybody can be competitive until the end and can have good time.
Isle of Skye only takes an hour to play, which is another big plus. And that’s with five players, with fewer players you can play it in an even shorter time. This means that it’s a solid, family style, filler game. You can explain it in a couple of minutes, the gameplay itself is easy to understand, but the placement of the tiles still gives you something to think about and the various scoring tiles make sure that there’s loads of fun gaming time in the box.