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The premise of this game from Laurence and Philippe Gamelin is a familiar one. Players have been shipwrecked and have washed up on a desert island. They need to work together to survive: collecting food, water and the wood needed to construct rafts on which they can escape. The castaways can see on the horizon the existential threat of an impending a hurricane...

So, at least at the outset, Hellapagos is a cooperative game. The 3-12 players (yes, the game notionally takes up to 12, but you may prefer to keep the maximum number down to 6 or 7 to avoid rounds taking too long) have to have enough water and food to survive. Each round, each player can take one of four actions. You can catch fish, collect water, collect wood or search the wreckage.

If you 'catch fish', you draw a ball from a bag. That'll show how many fish you catch (1, 2 or 3) and that number is added to the group's supplies. Each round a weather card is flipped, showing a number 0 to 3. That's the number of water rations you'll add to the group supply if you take the 'collect water' action. To construct each raft the group will need to collect six pieces of wood. If you choose the 'collect wood' action, you can freely add just one piece of wood but to add more requires a 'push your luck' decision. You announce how many additional pieces of wood you will seek (1-5) and draw that number of balls from the bag. If all are white, you succeed in collecting the wood. If you draw the black ball, however, you've been bitten by a snake while foraging: you don't get the extra wood and you are temporarily incapacitated so you don't get to take an action in the next round. Finally, the 'search the wreckage' action lets you draw a card from the wreckage deck. This will be added to the 3 or 4 cards (depending on player count) which you'll have been dealt at the start of the game. Some of the wreckage cards represent functionally useless items but others can be used to add to the food or water supply (or give you a way of hoarding supplies for yourself) and there are even cards that represent weapons that can be used to kill another player...

You see, tho' Hellapagos starts off as a fully cooperative game, the pressure on resources means that it's likely that not everyone will survive. At the end of each round the collective water and food stocks are reduced by the number of players. If there's not enough water or not enough food for everyone, then players vote on who will be condemned to die of thirst or hunger. Players who are sick (because they've suffered a snake bite or due to a wreckage card effect) don't get to vote but they can still be eliminated.

The game ends when the hurricane card is turned over on the weather deck (it's seeded in the bottom half of the deck so it can't appear in the first five rounds but it could turn up in any round after that). When the hurricane hits, the rafts must leave the island at the end of the round. If the number of survivors at this stage exceeds the number of rafts, then again players vote on who is eliminated. To escape the island on a raft, survivors will also need an extra water and food ration apiece, so again there will be votes on who lives and who dies...

It's possible that Hellapagos can remain an amicable cooperative exercise throughout. Possible but unlikely. As the strapline on the box warns: It's 'a cooperative game... until the food is gone'. Most games of Hellapagos will involve cutthroat decisions and you can expect players to use the cards that represent salvage items to protect themselves and/or backstab (or shoot) others. We've had a lot of fun in our Board's Eye View plays of Hellapagos but we can see that this may not be game for everyone. We found the dynamics of the voting system quite fascinating. Often a player will be picked on because the others think they haven't been pulling their weight (spending actions building their personal supply of salvage items rather than adding to the fish and water supply). However, those votes can sometimes feel personal - like you're the victim of group bullying... In that respect, Hellapagos is reminiscent of Alcatraz: The Scapegoat (Z-Man/Cranio Creations). The rules offer some variants to try - including a sole survivor mode, where to win you need to be the only player who escapes the island. This variant is bound to involve judicious use of the gun and bullet cards that are in the 'search the wreckage' deck...

Gigamic have done their usual sterling job in the production of this game, with components and art by Jonathan Aucomte that add to the thematic immersion. Hellapagos is distributed in the UK by Hachette Board Games.

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