Publisher: Mayfair Games
Designers: Alexander Pfister & Andreas Pelikan
Duration: 60 min
Ah, you wake up one morning, on your beautiful green pasture and look out at your clan, your land and proud of what a great little kingdom you have on the highlands. But whats that across the way? Your rival clan is putting some land for sale… he wants HOW MUCH? But that tower…. you know you need it. You want it. And you’re willing to pay however much it costs for it.
Isle of Skye is the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres (connoisseur game of the year, like 7 Wonders) award winner. It is a simple mix of tile laying (building your kingdom) and auctioning (you get to sell your tiles). But how does it stand out in a crowd that is full of tile laying games?
What’s in the Box?
Inside the box you’ll find a double-sided game board, 16 scoring tiles, 73 landscape tiles, 73 coins, 5 starting tiles, 6 player screens and 6 discard markers (1 spare for each), 5 scoring tokens, 1 round token and a cloth bag for the landscape tiles.
The components feel great, super thick cardboard and the wood tokens are nice. The art is good, nothing exciting but everything is well organized and laid out just perfectly. I’m not saying the art isn’t good… it works well for the game. Maybe I’m just picky or something…
So how do you play?
As I said before, Isle of Skye combines tile laying (or tile placement) with auctioning (the buying and selling of said tiles). To begin, set up the board in the middle of the table (there are 2 sides, one for 2-4 players and another for 5 players) and every player chooses a colour. They receive the appropriate screen, a starting tile with their castle, a discard marker (the axe!) and place their token on the “0” space of the scoring track around the board. Place the screen in front of you, and the put your castle in front of it with some space in between. Then, set up the coins next to the board and place the round marker on the first space of the round track. Then, shuffle the scoring tiles and choose 4 randomly selected ones (there is an suggestion in the instructions for which 4 you should use for your first game) and place them in order on the board as you choose them. Then, lastly put all the landscape tiles in the bag, and the youngest player gets the starting token. You’re ready to begin!
The game plays over 6 rounds (5 in a 5 player game). Through each round, you will play 6 phases:
- Income. Players will receive income every round based on their kingdom. You will get 5 coins minimum based on your castle, and then 1 coin for every barrel with a coin that’s attached to the roads leading to your castle. Starting in round 3, you will also receive gold for every player ahead of you on the scoring track, starting with 1 gold per player in round 3 and moving up 1 gold every round after)
- Draw tiles + set prices. Each player will draw 3 tiles and put them in front of their screen. Then, behind their screen, they will assign their discard marker to 1 tile, and set a minimum bid of 1 coin from their supply to the other 2 tiles. Once everyone has done this, every player will remove their screens and reveal their secrets.
- THE AXE! (aka Discard a tile). Take the tile you chose to discard, and place it back in the bag. Now that tile will not be available that round.
- Buy a tile. Beginning with the starting player and going clockwise, each player can buy exactly ONE tile from another player. You buy the tile by paying the player their cost (example, in the picture above, if you were to buy the tile on the right you would pay the players 5 coins). If you can’t afford a tile or simply don’t want one, you can pass, but that means you can’t buy anything this turn. Now for the selling player, when someone buys your tile, you not only take their money but also the money you set out for your bid, which, if you have not yet bought a tile this turn or passed, you can use that money this turn. If you buy a tile, you place it next to you (you’ll use it in phase 5). If you have any tiles left for sale in front of you, you take those tiles and place them next to you, but you discard the gold associated with them.
- Building. Take the tile(s) you have received this round, and add them to your clan territory. The rules are that the terrains must match (fields must touch fields, water must touch water and mountains must touch mountains). Roads don’t need to connect, but it helps if you continue roads for income (example: in the picture above, the player would get 7 gold in the income phase; 5 for the castle, and 1 for each barrel on roads connected to their castle). Tiles may be turned in any direction, but must be attached to at least one tile. Some tiles will give bonus points at the end of the game (in the picture above, there is a scroll icon with a 1 per 2 barrels… that means that you will get 1 point for every 2 barrels on your island at the end of the game). If you absolutely cannot place a tile, you must discard it back into the bag (but get nothing for it… sorry).
- Scoring! You’re not playing this game just for fun are you? You wanna win! Well, this is where that happens. You remember how you picked 4 scoring tiles at the beginning. Well… depending on the round, you will score based of those. Let’s take a look: for round 1, you will score tile “A”, which in this game is based of brochs (defensive towers from the iron age, found only in Scotland. History lesson over). You will get points based on how many you have in your island (1 point for 1, 3 points for 2 and 6 points for 3 or more). In round 2, you will score “B”, which is 2 points of every completed mountain (completed means that it is fully closed off) in your island. Now in round 3, will score both tiles “A” and “C” (C is simple… 1 point per sheep on your island). Round 4 is “B” and “D” (one point for every set of a broch, lighthouse and farm on your island). Then the last 2 rounds will feature 3 scoring tiles that round.
After you have completed phase 6, you will pass the starting token clockwise, and then move the round token, and go back to phase 1. If its the last round, you will also do final scoring, which are any bonus points on the tiles on your island. Important to note is if the scrolls on your island are enclosed, you will receive double the points! Lastly, you will recieve 1 point for ever 5 coins you have. Then, whoever is farthest along the scoring track wins the game! (If you are tied, whoever has the most gold wins the game).
Is it any good?
There are many reasons I LOVE this game. First of all… its VERY replayable. You get 16 total scoring tiles… and you choose 4 per game… and put them in a random order… it’s extremely rare you will have the same scoring twice. And every game feels different. Some games I’ve played have had very low scoring where every point is significant, while others have had high scoring where it swings round per round… it really feels fresh every time!
The other great thing is the auctioning… if you know a tile will be in demand that turn, you can really set the price high. Example, if you know lighthouses are scoring in the current round, and you have tiles with lighthouses, you can price them high and get people to over pay…. or have it blow up in your face and have to buy them yourself at the end. Or you can actually play that way and keep them for yourself… and have it blow up in your face when people do overpay for them and you are left with nothing but piles of filthy money. The strategy is endless. Also… I REALLY enjoy the discard phase. Its so fulfilling when you draw the 3 tiles and you have one that you know EVERYONE is drooling over… and then choose to axe it and when you lift your screen, watch the disappointment on everyone’s face (am I a bad person? Only when I game!).
The strategy in this game is also varied. I’ve played games where I dabble in a little bit of every scoring tile, and some where I focus on a couple. I’ve played games where people REALLY focus on one of the scoring tiles and have won. And there’s no set strategy in this game… every game will be different, and no one can really master is… the playing field is fairly level.
It also scales very well for player counts. I really didn’t think that it was gonna be a good 2 player game due to the auctioning aspect… but I was proven wrong. It becomes EXTREMELY mean, as you will be discarding tiles you know your opponent needs, and really pricing the tiles they need out of their reach. But the more players you add the more open and varied it becomes as well… it really works great at every player count.
There’s really no reason why this game couldn’t have been nominated for the Spiel des Jaheres (Game of the Year) award… its not that complex and is very accessible. The instructions are very clear and laid out with a lot of pictures, and the game is simple and very easy to teach. It will innevitably get many comparisons to Carcassonne, and while the tile placement is similar, they are very different games. But when this game came out, it blew away my expectations and quickly became one of my all time favourites. If you’ve ever wanted to build your own little kingdom in Scotland, love to sell things at high prices, or like to build things, this game is perfect for you. I HIGHLY recommend it.
- Highly repayable… every game feels familiar yet different at the same time.
- Mechanics flow great, and you never feel like you are truly behind
- Components feel great and work perfectly for the game
- Great at all player counts
- Rule book is very well written