Spirit Island Discussion

Every time I hear anything about Spirit Island it sounds like the type of game my wife and I would love.

We like co-ops, we have no problems with hard co-ops, we like asymmetric powers, we like the theme, we like a good number of the ‘fans also like’ games and I’m not put off by the price. I really like games that can play with 4 players, but are very good with 2 (especially in the Covid age).

However, we played it once in a cafe (it was a couple of years ago and I can’t remember which spirits or which opponents we had) and it was ok, not great (I think I rated it a 6). I’m not sure why, learning a co-op from the rule book can be tricky because there’s no one arguing against you if there is an edge case. I remember we won, which I wasn’t expecting.

I’ve had a fair few games (particularly towards the top of the BGG rankings) where it’s taken 3 or so plays to really get the game, Brass Birmingham only showed it’s colours to me after about 7 plays.

Obviously if you’re on this thread you’re a fan of Spirit Island, but is it common to need a couple of plays before you love this game, or should I look for something else? Is it common to make rules errors initially which can impact the play experience?

Please help me love this.

@yashima, I think you’re the expert

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Is this the right thread?

I’m closing in on 100 plays of Spirit Island with only around 5 solo plays. One friend jokes about it being like Catnip for me.

Firstly, the basic game of Spirit Island is easy. There’s a lot of rules and a lot of subtlety to build up knowledge on. I think my first game was also a win. I stepped up quite quickly about shedding the beginner stuff with predetermined cards, adding a bought card and so on before introducing adversaries. I certainly appreciated the beginner set up to learn the rules fully. I think it took 5 games to get the rules down to a level where we were playing close enough the published game. And the strategies are still evolving and improving even now.

Adversaries are mandatory for me to keeping the game interesting. Also Branch & Claw for adding events. They are more random but for me I like the tension they add by throwing spanners in the works, upping the tactical choices.

The game is procedural in many ways, there’s a bunch of book keeping to do along with shuffling tokens about and some down time potential. That being said, the puzzle stays fresh and engaging to me with all the spirits playing differently before adding in the random card draws for powers each game. Each adversary requires different strategies and get really tough. Sweden and England took me ages to beat levels up to 6 because they really play with some fundamentals and relearning the game to beat them was a challenge to my assumptions and patterns.

Each spirit can be taken in so many ways based on power draws and interacting between your spirit and the mix of others at the table further pushes the variety. Which spirits are seen as best also vary per player, so I think it’s about style rather than raw numbers.

I love this game so much I even paid for the organiser at the last KS as fast set up saves me so much time with how much I play. I like dense heavy euros though. I’m not against light rule sets but I also really enjoy complicated, interlocking games ala On Mars. Spirit Island definitely sits on the rules, dense side of things. I for one relish the getting to grips with them and find a beauty in the potential for wrangling strategy and tactics from the complex systems. That is personal and subjective.

That’s a blurb of my enthusiasm. Any questions I haven’t answered or any more you have?

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I’m not sure if it’s the right thread, I wasn’t sure where else to put it.

Thanks for the lengthy reply. It really does sound like my cup of tea, so I don’t know whether it was just a poor first play which has soured my feelings on it.

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Spirit Island is a wildly popular game and is often heralded as a solo-gaming masterpiece (my words, not theirs). So I split this discussion into its own thread in case anyone wants to ask questions about “Is Spirit Island Right For Me?” or perhaps deeper discussion of the game and strategy thereof.

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I only played it once with @EnterTheWyvern. Last I played was 4 years ago (when it was new). I strongly believe that it is the game that I will love. I know what I like, and SI seems to work for me. The card play reminds me of Seasons - both the thematic vibe and also the feel of playing it “oh if I play this and this, then X happens”.

I don’t like co-ops because of how it devolves into a team committee on what to do every turn. But SI allowed me to do what I want while helping or being helped by other people. I haven’t played it since then, but I saw on that one play how the game gives players space to play creatively.

EDIT: Just to clarify that 4 years bit

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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 :wink:

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 :wink:

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I bounced off Spirit Island initially because the first couple games we got major rules wrong and as we understood what should actually have been happening it just seemed punishing and impossible. But when Jagged Earth hit Kickstarter I still pledged for more. it seemed really cool, I was just having trouble finding that cool. Once lockdown happened and it was necessary to shift to playing via TTS, I found a scripted Spirit Island mod and got my group to try it out and all of a sudden it just clicked and it became this incredibly varied, incredibly rich puzzle and I was addicted for weeks. I haven’t played in a while because I don’t really solo boardgame much and I’ve been trying out other stuff with my friends, but gosh I’d love to play more.

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Not really a counterpoint, but I also played it once and it didn’t grab me.

I had planned to buy the digital version to play it cheaply, but apparently the implementation sucks.

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The implementation is less clear than it needs to be with some important bits of information which makes it harder to hold enough together for deliberate play would be some detail I’d add to why it sucks. I deleted and don’t regret it.

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Could you post the mod you’re using please?

I think it can devolve in to committee play. I try and not do that but it’s not a game that actually stops that. TBH I’m pleased to hear you didn’t get that feeling from how we played. Maybe we’ll have to play when your connection is stable next time instead of finishing that game of Tokyo Metro

I think this sums up the arc of the game very nicely. Each game has that basic thing so unless you enjoy the getting there creatively each time I imagine the game will drag very quickly. In fact Paul’s written review on SUSD basically said that’s what he didn’t like, the similar arc each game. For me I enjoy the nitty gritty of the choosing the path to the destination each time based on conditions rather than feeling I need a different overall journey/destination for the variety.

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I’ll be honest and say I bought the game, played one game that was riddled with mistakes and inadvertent cheating. I’ve wanted to get back to it, but as a solo experience running 2 spirits, it is exhausting, mentally speaking. I’ve read, since then, that 1-handed solo is a lot easier (if less dynamic) – I really need to get back to it.

When I played, I used the guided decks and enjoyed reading between the lines to figure out the cool things I could do by combining the spirit’s powers; something that will assuredly be harder playing without the curated deck progression.

I feel like to really engage with the game, you have to have a big-picture strategy, but to really enjoy the game, you need to focus on the short-term tactics. And I’m a bit at a loss of how to reconcile those two mutually-exclusive conclusions; hopefully the way to resolve it is to just determine that my assessment is wrong.

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I agree with the above. For me, too much is going on to play multi-hand solo. It’s not like you can see everything at a glance, and each character has a lot going on with their cards and player board. It’s through and through a multiplayer game. Maybe it is easier once you’ve played so many times you know all the characters abilities inside out and know a good portion of the cards too, but I’m nowhere near that and I’ve played maybe 10 times - it’s a big time investment and not the sort of thing you can recommend to someone to buy as a solo game.

That said, I love how it has so much going on. Too many co op games are single player puzzles split into parts. I’m so used to playing Pandemic solo, I almost resent playing it multiplayer now - none of the characters on their own do very much. I need the complexity of Spirit Island or Arkham LCG for a satisfying co op game. Like Root, I just enjoy pulling the levers and seeing what my spirit is capable of, rather than worrying much about the win/lose of the game.

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I’m not sure those conclusions are mutually exclusive. Your big picture strategy is going to be basically similar most of the time (with some variation based on spirit set and adversary/scenario): stall invader growth as much as possible while either burning them down or spamming fear, preferably both. But within that the exact tactical moves to make are going to be super different. And the timing - knowing when they’re going to build and ravage a turn and two turns ahead respectively, but having to take a lot of your actions to disrupt that a full turn ahead of time? Fascinating and tough.

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Suck is maybe too harsh… but it makes seeing all the information unnecessarily difficult and as a coop game really doesn’t need the computer to provide an AI. I’ve played it a couple of times…

I always found winning with a single spirit much harder because of the way blight scales. Now that that was changed I may have to reassess my opinion on that.

I agree that you need to know the spirits reasonably well to manage several at the same time.

As for strategy… I usually rely on turn by turn tactics. However, I do know the strengths of each spirit (they are helpfully displayed kn the back of each spirit board) and so I know the general direction each will likely take.

For example take Thunderspeaker who is my most played spirit. Her special ability is that her tokens move with the Dahan and her powers allow her to move the Dahan. She can do direct damage but she rises and falls with the Dahan so I will do everything in her power to protect the Dahan that means I will usually go for defensive cards or those that create new Dahan on the map. Her colors are purple, orange and yellow with a slight need for red as well. So that dictates which cards I choose. To get the most out of her powers she needs 4 purple so I always try to go for growth options that get me to playing 3 cards and the permanent purple from the top track. I know what her opening combos are and the way I play her she is always short on energy as soon as she is not the game is over…

Each spirit requires the player to know these basic things about them and know the four basic cards they have.

Each spirit also has synergies with others and that is where I find the most satisfying part of the puzzle. Thunderspeaker is really nice paired with Spread of Rampant Green because the trees can help her grow faster. Same with the serpent. I also like combining her with Lightning because they can both be very fast. My favorite combo is with Forbidden Wilds because of the strong area control through the wild tokens.

I love seeing how spirits interact…

A few general tips:

  • for starting out I find having each player concentrate on their starting board is quite helpful. Sure, if you can, help out on another board but first look to your own.
  • it is extremely common to have a blight added during the first one or two ravages.
  • flipping the island card is not that bad (especially with the greater variety of cards from Branch and Claw) and doesn’t mean you lose the game instantly (still better to avoid it).
  • the invader card from era two that adds invaders on all shore areas is pretty good as are back to back same land types because ravage comes before build… and if you wipe out invaders during ravage by defending they cannot build
  • for events effects that are supported by colors you can destroy a card for four energy or discard one for two to pay for the effect and I always forget that discard is an option
  • added: if you draw major powers and like none of them you can simply destroy the major power itself instead of one of your existing cards, also you can destroy cards from your discard pile.

It’s late, I’ll have more thoughts on this for sure.

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Based on Chewy’s post here I thought I’d have a bash at my rankings. S for overpowered then A to D seems an odd way to do it when preferences come in rather than out right power but hey, that appears to be the format.

S
River Surges In Sunlight - great starting cards and a brutal and straight forward innate.

Thunderspeaker - Fast out of the traps and grows in strength in the end game. Has some management needed of the middle stage of progression but if the start is done well you should be in easy street by then.

Heart of the Wildfire - So destructive it’s not even funny. As long as you can run a game on a blighted island (most likely) there’ll be no invaders left.

A
Ocean’s Hungry Grasp - needs an asterisk, the most overpowered partner of any spirit with decent pushing. Great power generation and has deadly control of the coasts. Quick to help the other boards at the coasts should allow fellow spirits to deal with the centre mitigating it’s weakness.

Serpent Slumbering - the defend power is so good it mitigates the slow build. Then the serpent awakes and it’s all over. Rude power and card numbers plus during the escalation buffs other spirits.

Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares - The sheer weight of fear generation and speed with which Bringer runs majors are both astounding. A bit of finesses required but once over that hurdle the efficacy is awesome.

Keeper of the Forbidden Wilds - the numbers get big, real big. Getting there’s the trick though. Has potential to get in trouble with early spread but once they get going they’re so destructive that it should only take a turn or 2 of running at full power to clear the island.

B
A Spread of Rampant Green - putting out allies presence is so good as is the no ravage for presence. That being said can get overwhelmed without some careful management and tails off a bit late game. Hard to rate power wise due to how interactive with other spirits it is.

Lightning’s Swift Strike - being a slow turn fast turn spirit seems to negate the slow powers fast abilities a bit and it’s killing towns and cities is decent without being great.

Vital Strength of the Earth - Defends everywhere isn’t to be sneezed at and once they get going the energy income and ability to get repeats of any powerful cards is good. Just maybe not scintillating to play.

C
Sharp Fangs Behind The Leaves - Really fun to play but can be swingy with the events and if they get thrown off course too badly are a really tough one to recover with.

Shadow Flickers Like Flame - I’m not sure they’re as bad as many make out but still maybe a bit too jack of all trades to really feel like a beast. The Dahan targeting ability is great for their range potential early on and can give some really fast starts but that’s circumstantial.

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