I am only up to ~50 I think I only started counting a year ago or so. In any case definitely catnip, it just meshes with the way my brain wants to think. Most of those were solo-plays because my partner doesn’t enjoy it half as much as I do.
So, I first saw the cover when “prepping” for SPIEL 2018 or whenever the first German version was released and I was like “what kind of weirdness is that” but there was a lot of hype and so I looked closer and the more I looked the more I wanted to play it. It was already sold out at SPIEL when a friend and I managed to snag two seats at a demo table and even as the guy was explaining it, I was like “OMG that’s my game.”
Why is that?
- growth of the spirits: moving the spirit tokens from the player board to the island to get stronger is so Terra Mystica, I love it
- different powers and very different strategies per spirit
- a bit of an area control element that is a rare find in a coop game
- two different win conditions (fear vs invader removal) that can even be combined, I like being sneaky and going for the unexpected…
- and most important of all: card combos that appeal to the M:tG player in me
For me the highs of this game come down to those big moves you make where everything aligns and you play a bunch of cards that managed to build off of their powers and then use the spirit powers and wipe the invaders off the map in on big swoop. Or just aligning the symbols from your cards perfectly to use your spirit powers or managing to squeeze just one more growth out of your cards than you thought was possible.
My partner says for him the game has no such highs. He vastly prefers Gloomhaven over this. In Gloomhaven he can have a “fine move” every (other) turn if he plays right. In Spirit Island you have the slow build-up and frustration at the start and then you have a couple of turns of “omg, did I just do that” and usually then it’s a win in 1 or 2 turns that are way less interesting.
Because my partner doesn’t like the game as much, we never played on the more difficult settings together (I did in my solos), making it so I can more or less carry the game by myself and too many of his abilities fizzle and he finds that immensely frustrating. So as a coop experience, players having very different knowledge levels of the game is a challenge. Maybe as an exercise we should play games where he plays an easy/medium complex spirit and I go with one I don’t grok to keep it even and keep him in the game.
Even knowing this was “my game”, it took me a few games to fully internalize “all”(1) the rules, especially the timing of when certain things happen and remembering targeting of cards and abilities and whether they are fast or slow. There is a certain complexity inherent to this before you even get started on the game.
(1) There is a reason that there is a lengthy wiki and FAQs: the wording is not always perfect and to learn each and every card takes forever.
And yet. As opposed to what most people initially think: the base game without adversaries is pretty easy to win. This is nowhere near the difficulty of Ghost Stories, the main reason for this is that there is far less randomness baked into SI and that you can scale up the difficulty endlessly so the base game doesn’t have to start out that way. Both adversaries and scenarios help scale up the difficulty so it doesn’t get boring. If the game gets boring, you are playing it on a setting that is too easy.
Some people who don’t enjoy the game also complain that there is a lot of book-keeping between player turns (I don’t think it’s that bad). After my experience with the app I can add another complaint: I was previously unaware how much I ret-con/correct my turns because even after 50 games I still make mistakes with certain ability constraints (targeting, timing etc).
Give it more than a single game.
If/when you play get the first expansion, as @EnterTheWyvern mentioned: the events add a bit of randomness that the game can use to both make it easier and sometimes to make it harder. Also the first expansion has two awesome spirits that I love playing and the tokens which I wouldn’t want to play without. Second expansion is just for the nerds who can’t stop playing and were possibly/maybe running out of content after dozens and dozens of games
For a first game or two, I definitely recommend staying with the pre-built starting “decks” and the easy spirits without an adversary. If you want to take away some rules complexity you can also play the scenario that makes all abilities “swift” so you don’t have to worry about mixing up the two phases. Two or three player is best for multiplayer. And solo is best with two spirits. Each spirit has a bit of strategy advice on the back that you should definitely read.
You cannot force yourself to like a game and among my gaming friends I am the only one who really likes playing Spirit Island. But I am also the only one of them on this forum discussing games (and reading and cooking and whatever else)…
If you have any rules questions or strategy questions: please don’t hesitate to ask.
If I were better able to talk, I’d offer to teach a bit on TTS but until my tooth thing is healed talking is not my strength. In a week or so I should be better.
PS: just like mentioned above… I really don’t mind heavy rules if they end up coalescing into a single whole game like On Mars which is lovely or Spirit Island which is an easy 12 of 10 for me on BGG