Updated: Oct 24, 2020
With Robinson Crusoe (Portal Games) and 7th Continent (Serious Poulp) having popularised the adventure & exploration genre of board games, it’s not surprising to see more games trying to emulate their success. Michael Palm and Lukas Zach's Adventure Island seeks to simplify things, with few rules at the outset, streamlined storytelling and a very manageable quantity of components. The artwork by Lea Frohlich and Lisa Lenz is bright and colourful, so you might think it’s been pitched at a younger audience but, be wary, the tone turns darker as you go.
The mechanic of discovery is exciting and fun, and Adventure Island makes good use of this. There are plenty of locations to explore, each introducing new opportunities that might bring you closer to your scenario’s goal. There are only five scenarios provided, but the branching storylines do mean that there are many ways you can attempt to complete them. Each games should last about 30-60 minutes, so there is a lot of adventure time included in this game.
If you’re an experienced player of co-operative games, you might expect to win more than half the time. In this game, I think you’ll be lucky to win 10% of the time if you play by the rules as given! In Adventure Island, the odds are stacked against you as you must pass skill checks (which are implemented very well using a simple coloured dice based system) and constantly procure food for your party. And even then there’s still a chance that the vital card you need could be buried at the bottom of its deck, making it impossible to reach before you run out of time.
Most co-ops offer different difficulty settings to choose from. If you play by the rules as given, this game offers you ‘insane’ as the default setting! I would recommend that you make your experience more relaxed by playing on ‘easy’ or ‘normal’ modes. This means applying fewer hazard cards in each night-time phase: taking two or three instead of four (for a four-player game) will increase the time you have available, since you have as many turns as it takes to deplete this deck. Even playing like this, you will find most of the scenarios will still be extremely challenging!
Unfortunately, despite the game having been in development for four years, the card clarity and even spellings in Pegasus Spiele's English edition still have some major flaws. The story narrative begins 'It could have been so great!', and sadly, this is what I’m left concluding. It can be difficult to understand how a scenario is supposed to be set up to reflect the outcomes of previous scenarios, and the clever system of archiving cards that are no longer relevant (instead of destroying them as in a legacy game) can easily come unstuck or just prove too confusing. The logic behind what persists from one scenario to the next is a little bizarre: for example, you can keep the friend you made but you can’t remember where the volcano was!
Nevertheless, you could really enjoy this game. Try using the rule suggested here, as well as house-ruling for a more relaxed time limit. There’s a lot of exciting content to discover if you allow yourself time to get to it, rather than rushing through in a desperate bid to complete the objectives in the allotted time.
(Review by Matt Young)