Long ago, Easter Island was once a vast continent ravaged by constant volcanic activity. The settlers of this land raised Moai –gigantic monolithic statues to appease the gods and mend the wounds of the land. Unfortunately, instead of healing the land, the very act of sealing off craters and geysers caused an even greater disaster to unfold…
Players in Volcanic Isle are tasked with building villages and raising Moai across the continent, each doing their best to survive and become the strongest tribe.
However, with each Moai raised, the possibility of a volcanic eruption increases! Eruptions devastate settlements and even cause whole sections of the board to sink into the sea and be removed! Strategically plan the expansion of your settlements amidst the chaos of volcanic activity with an ever-changing landscape! (Arcane Wonders)
Volcanic Isle invites players to go back to before any of the Moai statues were raised on Easter Island, and join with up to 3 other players in a fight for survival. Players will establish villages, raise Moai, and watch their hopes and dreams be bitterly dashed on the sinking volcanic rocks they once built said dreams on!
Players raise Moai statues as part of regular game play. They can also take an action to get a prayer token, which can save them from one lava flow that would have taken out a village or unraised Moai.
On a given turn, players have four action points to spend. They can move a settler, build a village, sculpt a Moai, raise a Moai, get a new settler, or get a prayer token. Villages and Moai can only be made out of lava tokens, and while the island comes pre-seeded with them, players may actually run into situations where they’re hoping for an eruption so that they have more building materials on hand.
Whenever players raise a Moai, they also have to place a fissure tile in front of it, signifying that by blocking the lava geyser they’ve contributed to the instability of the island and, after rolling the die, possibly also caused an eruption from a random volcano. When a volcano erupts it spews a lava tile in every direction (more on that later), and should any section of island be surrounded by fissures and/or the sea, that section sinks. (The smaller or less-volcano-endowed section of island is always the one that sinks.)
I really enjoy the push and pull that the game presents for players, and how it challenges them to gain the most Victory Points while trying to also keep as many of their villages, statues, and settlers on the final island as possible. While not technically a press-your-luck title, it has a similar feel as you actively contribute to the downfall of the island while seeking points. And the look on some player’s faces when you sink half the island (or they accidentally sink themselves) is hard to describe, but it’s a beautiful thing. And while your settlers cannot attack other settlers outright, you can really mess up someone’s day with a well-timed eruption or fissure placement.
I feel like I need to put the island tiles in the, “Not sure if it’s a bug or feature,” category. Volcanic Isle smartly has players pop out the volcano tokens from the center of the eight main island sections, and then from underneath install 8 plastic volcanoes. The visual effect is good, but the problem then is some of the tiles won’t lay flat. I’m not sure if it’s meant to represent tectonic plates rubbing together, but it’s frustrating when you can’t see all the fissure tokens that are out.
When a volcano erupts, the rule book instructs players to place a new lava tile on the first empty lava channel around the volcano in “every” direction. Since the channels are somewhat haphazard it can get to be hard to tell what they mean. Orthogonal? Hexagonal? A little bit of clarity on this mechanic and some more obvious lava channels would go a long way.
My last beef with Volcanic Isle is the scoring. Not only are players scoring each time they build a village or Moai, but they also have to keep track of multipliers (players earn more points for having multiple villages and Moai in the same area), which can fluctuate depending on if your villages get destroyed. Then, at the end of the game, they have to calculate again to see how many points are awarded for what’s left on the board.
Overall, Volcanic Isle feels like a solid core game that could have used a couple more playtests. I don’t see why the volcanoes couldn’t have just sat inside the circles left on the islands by the volcano tiles, and while I appreciate the natural look I almost wonder if the lava channels should flow in specific directions so it’s clear where the next lava tile should go, if any. It’s definitely worth checking out if possible, but I get a sinking feeling that this game needs a little more time in the volcanic oven.
A review copy was generously provided by Arcane Wonders.
+ Great game play loop
+ Modular setup
+ Multiple possible outcomes every turn
- Some of the components feel cheap
- Hard to tell where to put new lava at times
- Scoring is hard to remember/keep track of