Cardboard Children: Isla Dorada

By Robert Florence on March 11th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.


Hello youse.

In this first part of my series about bringing new people into board gaming, I invite you to join me in the process. We’re doing something special here. If you get even ONE more person playing these games, you’ve done them a service and you’ve done board game designers a service. You’ll essentially be a superhero. It will, quite literally, be the best thing you have ever done and the greatest thing you’ve ever achieved. That’s how crappy your life is.

THE FIRST STEP

I’ve chosen the select group of people I want to try to move into the board gaming lifestyle. They don’t know who they are yet, but I have their names pinned on a board with “Most Likely To Succeed” up top and “Most Likely To Just Sit There With Eyes Glazed Over Or Checking Phone” at the bottom. I’m all ready to pull the trigger and invite them to play games. Now I’m just deciding which game to play. Oh, and it’s HARD.

I played Isla Dorada this week, by the way.

ISLA DORADA

Bruno Faidutti was involved in this design, so I have no idea why I waited so long to play it. Faidutti’s name is on the box of some amazing games. Citadels, yep. Warrior Knights, yep. Diamant, yep. Mission: Red Planet, yep.

I bought the game last year, when it was going cheap in my local games shop. It went on The Pile and stayed there until last week, when a hastily arranged board game night called for something fresh. I had a quick look at the rules to see how complex they were. They weren’t complex at all. In fact, it looked like I could have everyone up to speed and playing within about ten minutes. Perfect. Isla Dorada was finally on the table.

This is a beautiful-looking game. The board depicts an island, broken up into different regions. Little lines connect all the regions. These lines depict different types of trails. Desert, mountain, river and so on. In the middle of the board, there is a playing piece that represents every player at the table. NO, WAIT! COME BACK! IT’S NOT A CO-OP GAME! See, we’ve all crash-landed on this island, and for safety’s sake we’re all going to move together, but we’re all still playing to win. Phew. Sit down.

Every player gets dealt a hand of cards. You can use these cards to take special actions, but usually you’ll be using them to vote on which path to take. Yes, much of this game is about bidding for the right to be the bossy-boots who leads the gang of survivors. When you bid and play enough Yak cards, for example, you get to lead the gang up a mountain trail to some new exotic area. And the game plays out like that, that simply, with you all wandering around the island and competing to lead the group.

Everyone has Treasure Cards and a Curse Card too. Treasure Cards have place names on them, and if your group visits the named region, you can turn in the card for points. If you visit a region named on your Curse Card, however, you LOSE points. See? You want to be leading the group now, don’t you? There’s a Destiny card too. This will give you bonus points at the end of the game if you manage to achieve the goals on the card. You might be tasked with visiting the island’s highest points, or avoiding all the island’s scariest areas, or something like that. It’s like being given an itinerary by some insane holiday rep.

The Action Cards are fun. They let you do a variety of annoying things, like stopping people from bidding, or ending the bidding process early. They let you steal cards from others, and use magic to transform cards you don’t need into cards you do need. They let you block paths and rivers by deploying giant creatures like Bigfoot and the Leviathan. All in all, they give the game an extra little layer of surprise and chaos, and stop things slipping into a predictable pattern.

Most points at the end win. Obviously. Duh.

This is a lovely little design. It’s very clean and simple, and very easy to play. It sits there at a Ticket To Ride level of complexity, in that weird area some people like to call THE GATEWAY GAME ZONE AREA. While we were playing we were able to chat and eat and drink and relax. Well, at least until we got close to the end, when everyone was trying to fulfil their destiny and getting really angry about the routes we were travelling.

It’s weird how this game has been ignored. It looks beautiful, plays well, feels like a “family game”, and is very replayable. There’s a lot of riding your luck in the game, though, and some people just don’t connect with that. It’s certainly more of a game to PLAY than a game to WIN, if you know what I mean. But we all know that PLAY is much more important, right?

Don’t ignore Isla Dorada any longer. A fun, lovely game.

WHOAH! WAIT A MINUTE

Did I just do another game recommendation when I was supposed to be telling you about my whole “getting people into games” thing?

Below, tell me who you’re going to try to get into games. Take photos of them (with their permission, obviously). Document it. Stick it on a blog or something. I promise to read, and link to it, from this page. Then we can all watch it happen. They’ll become gaming celebrities, like Wesley Crusher and Wil Wheaton.

Me, I’ll be photographing my beautiful victims, and then we’ll watch as they either jump into, or fall away from, our wonderful world. We will cheer, or weep, as we follow their story.

And ALSO next week… we’ll be talking about Kemet, which I’m so fucking excited about. And I’ll make lots of frog jokes.

Excited?

Keep Shakin’. Dicey. Stay Shakin’. Keep Rollin’.

Dice.

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18 Comments »

  1. President Weasel says:

    Stay Dicey. You don’t get to choose the catchphrase, it has chosen you.
    I’ve played Isla Dorada three or four times and found it enjoyable enough. There’s some luck involved and a lot of grimly holding on to the special flying transport cards until the last minute. I do agree that it’s pretty, especially the totem pole piece that represents the players.

    It’s no Kolejka though.

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  2. timzania says:

    “It will, quite literally, be the best thing you have ever done and the greatest thing you’ve ever achieved.”

    Already was. I introduced some family members to Settlers of Catan and they shared it with a family friend. The friends’ family took to it as a huge regular bonding experience and I understand it was a great comfort to them all in the father’s last months as he was dying from cancer. Don’t think I’ll ever top that one.

  3. TheThinkTanker says:

    “NO, WAIT! COME BACK! IT’S NOT A CO-OP GAME!”

    But… But… Co-op games are marvelous!

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      Morph says:

      That’s confused me too. Co-op games are the best of all games!

      • WantOn says:

        Given the Flo-man’s prediliction for all things back-stabbing, betraying and generally abusing your fellow player, I imagine co-ops are down on his list of preferences. Just a guess; could well be wrong.

        I have had some recent great success with the missus and co-ops. She doesn’t like the competitive aspects of some board games, particularly if it means losing to me for some reason. Introduced her and the kids to Pandemic and Flash Point the other weekend and both were extremely well received. Might be the way forward in fact. Co-ops with the family, Spartacus, Power Grid etc with the regular weekly gaming group.

        • CletusVanDamme says:

          Pretty much where I’m at. I own a lot of co-op games because the missus won’t play competitive games with me (to be fair to her I am a bit of a twat). I wouldn’t ever want to bench old (or new) competitive favourites but co-ops definitely have found their feet in the last few years and I think there’s a lot to be said for them, especially as far as family goes.

      • Ragnar says:

        Agreed. This past weekend, with gaming friends over, we spent more time playing Castle Panic than Cosmic Encounter.

        I prefer coop video games too. I find overcoming a challenge together more enjoyable to stabbing someone in the back – which just feels like being a dick, and leading down the path of corpse humping.

      • Jorum says:

        I like all the co-ops I own, but this kind of game can suffer from the ever-present danger of most experienced player “advising” everyone what to do.
        Or someone ending up saddled with “important-but-dull” job like spending entire game of Ghost Story ringing a bell or placing buddhas.
        Which counter-intuitively can sometimes make them a bad choice for enticing new people.

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          Morph says:

          Yes the best co-ops have to avoid those problems. Space Alert is probably my favourite. You each have a role to play and it’s impossible to be telling everyone what to do since the game is timed.

          • Shadowcat says:

            Space Alert is a terrible game for introducing to new gamers, however, because the timed aspect means that before you can begin playing even the simplest scenarios you need to know and understand the majority of the game rules. Explain-as-you-go isn’t really an option (I guess you could pause the track, but that’s not great either). I’d say that your non-gamer would need to be pretty keen if you’re planning to use Space Alert as a gateway.

  4. Jorum says:

    I started a game club about this time last year, and while most people I’ve had join are “veterans” I’m happy to say that there have been probably half a dozen non-gamers we’ve converted to boardgamers.

    My ongoing project is to get my wife away from Warcraft and into boardgames. She’s not biting, other than one game of King Tokyo where she won using suicidal aggression.

    I’d try and spread the word at work, but limited games you can fit into a lunchbreak.

  5. Leonard H. Martin says:

    Not as good as Scrabble.

    Now I’ve played all manner of board/box games – Junta, Munchkin, Arkham Horror, Descent, Doom, Cosmic Encounters, that daft Star Wars game where Darth Maul is the character to be, Paranoia, FASA stuff, Tragic the Saddening, WH4K, some obscure German tank battle thing whose name escapes me… countless others.

    None of them are as good as Scrabble for getting non-players involved in a game. Also, Scrabble is awesome. If you don’t like and play Scrabble, I’m not sorry to say, you don’t like games.

    • Shadram says:

      Incorrect. It’s perfectly possible to dislike word games but still like other games.

      It might be that there is a game that you could say ‘if you don’t like this, you don’t like games,’ but I’d say it would be something simple like Survive, rather than a spelling & vocabulary test like Scrabble.

      • malkav11 says:

        Except that, generally speaking, I don’t like simple games, yet I love games.

    • Froh says:

      Try some europeans games. Less rules.

      Dixit, Noé, Hanabi. You should handle a lot of non players with thoses games. Still better than Scrabble.

  6. Ich Will says:

    Not quite what you asked for, but have this:

    http://daddyandtheboy.wordpress.com/