Updated: Dec 26, 2019
Summoner’s Isle was one of the independently produced games being shown off at this year’s UK Games Expo. The game’s designer, Robbie Munn, had produced a small number of preview copies for sale and these rapidly sold out at the show.
There’s a back story to the game about spirits and sprites siphoning energy to create a passageway through which mankind will be enslaved. You can skip all that nonsense. The vaguely Nordic/Celtic mythological mumbo jumbo is a paper-thin veneer on what is essentially an abstract area control game. And though we’re being dismissive here about the theme, the actual game itself is a good one.
Unusually for an abstract game, we found Summoner’s Isle played equally well with two, three or four players, albeit that the dynamics inevitably change with the different player counts. Players each have a resource of three unit types: nine sprites, three trolls and one wyrm. The currency of the game is energy, and it’s energy too that constitutes the game’s victory points. It costs energy to recruit and place out a unit from the player’s supply but players earn energy for successfully combating an enemy unit and, each round, units earn energy for area control. The three different unit types have different defence values. These are fixed for the trolls and wyrms, but sprites roll a six-sided die in defence and add to their roll the number of additional sprites within the same territory. Units attack by rolling a six-sided die and adding the modifier printed on the unit.
There is a Chess-like ebb and flow to the game as players build up and seek to defend their positions. Players are encouraged to spend most of their energy each turn rather than carry over unused energy from one round to the next because the game incorporates a catch up mechanic of an ‘energy modifier’ that gives extra energy to players with little and takes energy away from players with a lot. You win by being the first to reach 36 energy, so you need to time your final dash for energy carefully so that you don’t fall just short of this and suffer an energy penalty. This can allow an opponent to just pip you to the post.
Robbie Munn is the designer behind Wotan Games' War of the 9 Realms, which we reviewed on Board's Eye View last month. On Summoner's Isle, Robbie has bent over backwards to make a game that is colour-blind friendly. Although each player has pieces of different colours, they also have their own set of icons. Likewise the territories on the board are distinguished by symbol rather than colour. Commendable as this is, it does make for a board that looks more cluttered and confusing than it otherwise needs to be, and we found this did initially put off some players. The board is two sided (offering a two-player and a three and four player board). We wondered if it might have been better to use the two sides to offer just one version of the board where territories were distinguished by icons and an alternative flipside where territories were distinguished by colour.
The game shown here on Board’s Eye View is the preview prototype produced in advance of the game's launch last year on Kickstarter.