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Cardboard Children: Isla Dorada

some new exotic area

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.


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.


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.


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.


Keep Shakin'. Dicey. Stay Shakin'. Keep Rollin'.


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About the Author

Robert Florence


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