Island Siege: A JustUs Geeks Board Game Review

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Check out Marty’s review of Island Siege, a new game from APE Games!

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Do you love board games?  I sure do.  I love them probably more than I should, as a closet shelf full of boxes in my bedroom will show.  The best thing about board games is variety.  You can play a game of any type, in any setting, with varying forms, rules, and scenarios.  The best thing, however, is when a board game comes along that takes two concepts and mashes them together to form something great, and that’s just what has happened in Island Siege, by APE Games.  If you like games with colonization aspects, combat elements, and just a bit of luck, you’ll definitely enjoy this game.  Let’s dive in and see what’s in the box.

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One of the first things you notice about Island Siege is it’s beautiful art.  Jim Maxwell, who has worked in the past for ILM, worked on the cover depicting a time of colonization and high seas adventure.  The quality of the art carries over to the cards you’ll use to play the game as well, with their art being handled by Jared Blando.  The package is quite small, about the size of 3-4 decks of cards placed next to each other, but all the pieces you need to play are contained inside.

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Island Siege is a 2 player game, and included in the box is everything 2 people need to play a full game.  Each player gets 9 wooden colonist pieces in either yellow or red and 1 fleet token per player.  These are placed on the players Imperial card, which we’ll take a look at later.  Also included are 8 “1” coins, 3 “5” coins, and 2 “10” coins, which are made of real metal and are very impressive in person.  Each player has one starting fort card, which are bordered in white instead of black, along with 18 fort cards, 6 ship cards, 12 building cards, and 2 quick reference cards.  Add in 4 attack dice (which must have stickers put on the sides before you play) and 9 of each colored wooden cube (white, gray, and black) and you’re all set.  Also, a full color rulebooks explains the rules in an easy to understand format.  (If you’re like me, simply reading about the game doesn’t help you learn to play.  I never understand them fully until I’ve played a round or two!)

I’ve included some better pictures of the individual game elements below:

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The game is pretty easy to set up.  Each player places their Imperial Card directly in front of them and places three colonists in each bracket, right on the circles provided.  The player then places their starting fort to the right side of the Imperial Card and takes one black, two gray, and one white block and places them on the blocks outlined on the starting fort card.  Two more blocks, one black and one white, go into the players reserve and the rest are placed into a pool in the middle of the table between both players.  Remaining fort, ship, and building cards are shuffled and the deck is placed face down between the players as well.  The coin pool is placed to the side of the deck, and both players draw three cards, keeping two and passing the remaining one to their opponent at exactly the same time.  Players decide who goes first, and the game begins.

Island Siege is played in three steps, or phases.  The first is the victory phase, which occurs directly at the beginning of a players turn.  During this time, a player checks to see if they have won the game.  Winning Island Siege can be accomplished in one of two ways: economic victory, or colonist victory.  The first player to get to 20 coins or to place all of their colonists onto forts or buildings wins the game.  However, this is not as easy as it sounds, as a player can place their colonists on a fort only to have that fort destroyed by their opponent during their turn, sending them back to the Imperial Card.  If a player meets the conditions for either an economic or colonist victory, the game is over at the beginning of their turn.

The second phase is called the Colonize Phase, in which a player places one of his colonists onto each of his available forts.  Colonists are moved from the Imperial Card in ascending order, meaning the colonists on the bottom are moved first.  Emptying a row of colonists provides the player with a bonus: the first row earns the player an extra re-roll during the Action Phase.  The second row emptying lets the player roll an extra die during the Action Phase.  The crown on the third row symbolizes victory, as a player who starts his turn with all colonists placed is the winner.  You may only move one colonist to each card per turn, meaning that the more forts you have available, the more colonists you can move.

The last phase is called the Action Phase, and affords players one of three options.  During the Action Phase, the player moves his fleet token back to the Imperial Card (if it has been moved previously), and then that player may draw cards, build, or attack.  If a player draws cards, three cards are drawn.  Two are kept by the player and a third must be handed to the opponent.  If a player chooses to build, they may place any fort from their hand and place it next to their starting fort (or other forts if previous building has occured).  Once a fort has colonists on it, that player can build buildings or ships, which require a player to move colonists from a fort to the structure that is being built.  Ships and building have a requirement cost on the top left hand corner of the card, showing how many colonists it will take to build, but they also have a completion bonus at the bottom, showing what happens when you build the card.  In the examples I’ve show you above, the ship yields 3 coins to the player when built, while the Silver Smelter gets the player 2 coins and a black block.  This is in addition to the effects on the card, which are meant to turn the game in the players favor.

If a player chooses to attack, three of the four dice are rolled.  The result can either end up on a ship’s steering wheel, a red blast icon, or the white, gray, and black flags on fort cards.  The player gets one additional re-roll (unless they’ve moved enough colonists to get a third) before dice are set.  Attacking happens in two waves.  On the first wave, the attacking player chooses a flag color and one block from the defending fort is destroyed for every die that has that color flag.  The attacking player can then choose to reinforce their own stockpile of blocks by taking the non-used colors from the dice into their personal reserves.  If the player forgoes that, a second wave attack is performed, where each red blast icon allows the attacking player to knock out ANY block from the defending fort.  This is important, because blocks that are placed together with the same color are called “connected” and blocks that are placed behind others are considered “protected”.  These blocks make the attacking player meet certain conditions before they are destroyed, such as rolling the exact number or more flags of that color to destroy connected blocks and eliminating blocks in front of the protected block before it can be destroyed.

The challenge of Island Siege comes in deciding how to manage your Action Turn.  Build too much, and you’ll gain a lot of coins, but also will allow your opponent to fortify too much.  Attack too much, and you won’t have a chance to build or fortify your own side.  If you draw cards, there is always the risk of giving your opponent something that could turn the tide of the game drastically.  There is a quite a bit of strategy in pairing the fort cards with building cards, as each fort past your starting fort contains some type of rule that changes the way the game works, such as “opponent must re-roll all dice when re-rolling here”.  Furthermore, once ships are built, the colonists there stay there unless the opponent can destroy a ship, which can only happen via card text, so if you let your opponent build too much, they may just get most of their colonists on ships, which is a surefire way to win.

Overall, I have to say that I love this game.  It’s simple to set up and learn, and can be played in about 30 minutes (although a game with my wife took over an hour because of an end of the game stalemate!).  The game is visually beautiful and has elements of both board games and card games that give it a hybrid feel.  The coins are a nice, special touch as well and I really enjoyed the extra time and attention that was paid to them.  Rules are concise and easy to understand, though it may take a playthrough or two to fully grasp them, even though the rulebook does a pretty good job of outlining play.  I would definitely recommend that you pick it up if you see it, especially if you are a fan of the resource management or dice risk genre’s of board games.

You can find out more about APE Games’ Island Siege right here, or ask for it at your local game store. MSRP is $29.99, and I believe it’s worth every penny.  An expansion is already planned, called Coquina, that introduces pink blocks into the game.  Island Siege will release in early 2014.

*Review was conducted with a copy of Island Siege that was provided by APE Games*

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6 comments

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