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Spirit Island

Spirit Island

Game Information

Game Name
Year Published
Greater Than Games

In Spirit Island, powerful spirits have existed on this isolated Island for time immemorial. They are both part of the natural world and - at the same time - something beyond nature. Native Islanders, known as the dahan, have learned how to co-exist with the spirits, but with a healthy dose of fear and reverence. However, now, the Island has been "discovered" by invaders from a far-off land. These would-be colonists are taking over the land and upsetting the natural balance, destroying the presence of spirits as they go. As spirits, you must grow in power and work together to drive the invaders from your Island before it's too late!

Spirit Island is a cooperative, settler-destruction strategy game for 1 to 4 players designed by R. Eric Reuss and set in an alternate-history world around A.D. 1700. Players are different spirits of the land, each with their own unique elemental powers, forced to defend their island home from colonizing Invaders spreading blight and destruction. Work with your fellow spirits and the Dahan (local islanders) to increase your power and drive the invading colonists from your island in this deep and complex area-control game!

Every turn, players simultaneously choose which of their power cards to play, paying energy to do so. Using combinations of power cards that match a spirit's elemental affinities can grant free bonus effects. Faster powers take effect immediately, before the Invaders spread and ravage, but other magics are slower, requiring forethought and planning to use effectively. The Invaders expand across the island map in a semi-predictable fashion. Each turn they explore into some lands (portions of the island); the next turn, they build in those lands, forming settlements and cities. The turn after that, they ravage there, bringing blight to the land and attacking any Dahan present. (Who then retaliate.) The game escalates as it progresses: spirits spread their presence to new parts of the island and seek out new and more potent powers, while the Invaders step up their colonization efforts. Each turn represents 1-3 years of alternate-history.

Editor reviews

3 reviews

(Updated: June 08, 2018)
This is absolutely a five star game. It’s innovative, unique, and the gameplay is tremendously compelling. It is complex, but the payoff is a game with strong themes and a Dudes on a Map concept unlike any other.

The anti-colonial thing is handled with a light touch- it’s not “anti Europe”, even though you can choose to play the invaders as European countries. It’s still very high level, only the most delicate victimized white supremacist would take offense. There is subtlety, like how the invader pieces are all plastic, the island’s pieces are all wood.

I especially love that the things you do in this game you can’t do in any other game. Like using natural, elemental powers to scare would-be settlers away or to force them out of your lands.

Great, great game. Best board game of 2017, hands down.
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
If it isn't the best cooperative game ever, it's extremely close.

User reviews

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #282800 07 Oct 2018 00:14
So the heart of this game is the power/power combos. I've only played with the two direct damage lows, the river dude and the lightning dude. The obvious combo there involves the super powerful lightning dude's slow-->fast card (I still lost)... but I was missing the more subtle stuff. I think I should have forced some of the dudes together with river spirit pushes and done some everyone in the space stuff with the lightning dude. Another FYI, I was using their default card developments.

So any of you who have spent some time with this one, any good card combo or spirit combos you really like? The spirits seem *vastly* different which is pretty awesome.

I got the expansion at the same time since it was in stock, fwiw.
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #282802 07 Oct 2018 06:27
Oh yeah, for sure! I can probably write an essay on this subject. For now I’ll just throw River + Ocean out there as an incredibly good fit, just keep bursting those river banks and flooding the invaders out to sea whole Ocean searches the Major Power deck for coastal effect cards like Tsunami. If River digs out one of the cards that extends the other spirits range or allows you to use each other’s presence then it’ll move to a really swift finish.

Pairing Spread of Rampant Green with pretty much any other spirit is a good way to learn about their capabilities as it allows you to spam their presence discs and level up quickly. If you have the Serpent promo then it works really well as that one gets really fun at the higher levels and you don’t suffer from it having to consume other spirits presence.

Elemental Boon (minor power) is a great one to take when it comes up as you can get innate powers working at high levels, another great way to learn capabilities (so much so that i’d suggest seeding it in the top dozen or so cards in your first few full games without power progression)

I’ll think some more on this. One thing I’ve started experimenting with is non standard setups like using two adversaries or two scenarios and there are some interesting if untested combos.
Bernie's Avatar
Bernie replied the topic: #282804 07 Oct 2018 09:20
There are some super grand duos out there. As stated River with Ocean is pretty great but not my favorite River teammate, that falls to Thunderspeaker. Thunderspeaker can have energy issue which River helps with and more natives are always welcome. The River helps a few this way. The extra energy for Lightning or Shadows is a pretty great teamup.

As stated Spread of Rampant Green pairs well with everybody but I think really plays great with Heart of the Wildfire. Wildfires power to grant an extra point of damage on each damaging power is gold with Spread's innate and Spreads ability to have other spirits play presence is even better because of Heart's damage when playing presence.

Spread of Rampant Green also pairs well with Shadows and Lightning because he gets them through really awkward periods of their presence track that limit their ability to use growth how they want. As stated above, extra presence placement is great for everybody but these two are extremely constrained by it at the start of the game.

Serpent combos great with almost anyone as Serpent is all about making their partner really amazing in early game. A simple example is duoing with River you can get the second tier innate off on turn one for river. That's a pretty huge jump early game.

One of the most silly but potent combos is Shadows and Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares. This duo can easily push 8 fear a turn. Bringer is a great partner for most spirits. One symbol repeated can be enough to trigger higher tier inmates much of the time and looking at Fear cards removes a little hidden info and allows the players to make really huge impactful turns that may have just been win more or wasted without the prior knowledge. It turns Fear cards into almost like another power card.

As a side note, I hate the pre planed progression powers. I know why they are there, the game can overwhelm at the start, and I generally try and grab cards with my spirits symbols in mind, but being locked into the progression actively makes the game harder. There are not a lot of defense cards in the progression paths and even one of those can be such a game changer. If you know how the game works I would not ever use those again, on this your mileage may be different.
GorillaGrody's Avatar
GorillaGrody replied the topic: #282805 07 Oct 2018 09:24
I comboed my Spirit Island into cash for a game I would actually someday play.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #282808 07 Oct 2018 10:02
These are rad, thanks guys and keep them coming if you are feeling it!

Your progression card advice is really interesting, my first reaction was that the progression tracks were a godsend from a learning perspective... but you're right, I only pulled one defense card in my last game w/the river preplan.
Bernie's Avatar
Bernie replied the topic: #282810 07 Oct 2018 10:48
I think they are Ok for learning at the most basic level. But that they really are not good once past that. I think it really depends on your players though.

I played a 4 player game of this at Trashfest north last year and I was not quite ready for how nuts 4 player was, most of my games are with 2, but I had played a few 3 prior. I know Jay was playing and Dan, but we jumped whole hog into the game with the expansion and had really one learning turn.

I find the progression cards bad for a few reasons. When learning powers you are generally weighing a few things. Does this have my symbols. The progression cards do for sure. Next how does it help right this second. This is where it fails really hard. Sometimes you strike gold, bust mostly not. For a lot of spirits its totally ok to grab a total right this second card that you will dump for a major in a turn or 2. When you are fist leaning the game though it is really all about right this second effects. Last you look at how this card plays into whet you want to be doing. There are a lot of other little factors to look at as well. What zones the power targets or restrictions it has. If it needs a sacred site or not. These all don't get considered with the progression.

One other thing, I know Lightning's Swift Strike is a low complexity spirit, but I feel its a really bad spirit to learn to play on. The make a slow power fast special power as well as the minor power it has are a really bad crutch that teach you to play poorly. It removes the importance of learning how the turn flows. I think its a fine sprit and I have a blast playing it, but I think its bad for beginners as it teaches the wrong things.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #282813 07 Oct 2018 12:06
The beginners advice is very helpful, I'm going to try to introduce it to my spouse. She thought the plant dude you mentioned looked cool, so she can just use that and we'll figure it out.
Bernie's Avatar
Bernie replied the topic: #282862 08 Oct 2018 20:00
early on the "heart of the island" scenario is also good, as it makes you more powerful. It also less complicates the game with most of the game being on the coast. That may help for a first game too.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #283232 17 Oct 2018 20:35
I am finding this game tremendously difficult... it's something about how the enemy is all the way up your ass from the start and never lets up. You have to plan for an unknown explorer draw using slow powers, as you'll only get one blind attempt at explorers before they build next turn and therefore would need 3 damage to wipe... and then almost nothing does enough damage to destroy town and cities even though by the end of the first turn there will be like... 2 cities and 3-4 towns after the build?

I'm not seeing something, I need to watch a let's play by a decent player or something, any recommendations?
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #283268 18 Oct 2018 11:59
Bernie has given such great advice so far that I didn't feel the need to add anything more yet!

A few things come to mind on this matter:

First of all, have you double checked that you have the rules correct. A very common mistake is for people to 'Pandemic' the blight cascades instead of just one extra token, and another is to 'spend' their elements rather than have them activate on everything. On a similar note, I've also seen people forget that they play all their activated innates, not just the final one.

  • Try not to focus on killing the invaders outright - you actually want some of them to stay around so that they can build up and you get can get big fear-inducing kills later on. Focus instead on the most urgent challenges, e.g. areas where there is going to be a blight cascade or you are at risk of losing presence due to blight placement. Use defence if you've got it.

  • Focus on fear. Earning fear cards can be a huge help as they will often let you nip off that one annoying explorer, taking minor powers that generate fear directly can be a good idea.

  • When taking power cards always go for a few minor powers first. As basic advice you then need to either focus on increasing your card plays and taking more minor powers (which can combo together in enjoyable ways) or increase your energy income and start taking major powers. Remember that you don't have to take a major power if you don't like what you've drawn, or can replace an existing major with another major. In a similar vein you can also replace your 'exhausted' cards with new ones going straight into your hand so in some circumstances you can keep chaining major powers without having to retrieve cards.

  • Try aligning on when each spirit is going to slow down their growth (i.e. retrieve cards) so that you don't have one terrible round where everything falls apart.

  • Don't be afraid of having a couple of lands blight, it's totally manageable. Building your capability instead of stretching yourself to stop a ravage is often a better play. I like to focus on preventing builds in awkward places rather than worrying about ravages.

  • Try using movement powers to push explorers around, especially if you have defensive powers. You could try grouping the invaders into 'super-cities' and letting them ravage and blight while keeping the rest of the island clear.

  • Try a different map layout, there are some that make the game easier (e.g. in a two player you can place the lands so that the coasts are at either end of a long island, this makes it easier to create a safe zone in the middle). This is actually now part of the official rules that are in the new expansion, there's a download link on the kickstarter for this particular part of it but I'm sure the full rules will be released soon.

  • You can also do some other stuff like not placing the initial blight (which interestingly wasn't actually in the original design), taking a free minor power card in hand before the game starts, adding an extra stage one invader card to the deck, and so on. Making the game a little easier will give you breathing space to figure out good ways to play.

  • Get Rampant Green out and just concentrate on spamming presence as much as possible in the first couple of rounds while using it's special power to stop ravages in Jungles and Wetland.

  • Lastly, I know that Bernie is not a fan of Power Progression but I would advise at least looking at the cards that are suggested as a way to understand what sort of things your spirit is tuned to be good at. If in doubt, always take power cards that have elements matching your innate. And I'll mention again that seeding elemental boon near the top of the deck can be good when learning; it isn't overpowered or anything, just super helpful in getting your innates online and stimulating co-operation between the spirits so can help the game click into place.

  • Oh also, a late entry: get the Dahan to do your dirty work for you, particularly if you have some defensive powers to protect them. You might lose a couple of them as casualties and have to endure some blight but they will blow up towns in revenge which will slow invader growth and earn you fear.

If there's anything in particular that is a challenge then let us know and I'll think about some more specific strategic help!
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #283279 18 Oct 2018 13:15
Oh yeah, more pertinent to your request, there’s a guy called Dylan Thurstan who did I think the first gameplay video for SI. He’s as close to a superfan as you’re going to get, is very approachable and is active on both BGG and the greater than games forums. I bet if you asked him directly he would give some great advice and that’s probably the first video to look for. Both the designer (Eric) and the developer (Ted) are also very active on both those sites and will often respond to direct queries.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #283291 18 Oct 2018 14:30
Thanks for the advice, I'll read it tonight while I stare at the board!
Bernie's Avatar
Bernie replied the topic: #283334 19 Oct 2018 07:59
Try playing the heart of the Island, if playing two player. Or just try a one player game. That may really help you get a feel for the game. The River on a single board has a good mix of fast and slow and how they inform play going foreword.

As mentioned, let the dahan kill after you defend. You can let some blight land, just try and keep the dahan around.

Bringer of dreams and nightmares despite being a very complex spirit may be a good solo board learning spirit because it forces you to move things around and not kill them. The narrowing of options may help. The spirit has a great suite of starting powers with push, dahan movement, defense and the fear or power play / gain.

The old Rhado runs videos have a pretty decent commentary if I recall. I would try for no more than 2 player videos though, as I (who has a lot of games under my belt) have trouble following everything on them.
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #284311 22 Oct 2018 09:37
Hey Gary, my son asked for a game of Spirit Island over the weekend so I suggested that we take out Branch & Claw and play an introductory level game so that I could jot down some notes, which I’ve replicated under spoiler tags below. We chose to play a defensive game with Green and Earth because we liked the idea that Green is guarding the wetlands and jungle of the island whilst Earth tends the mountains and sands.

It was quite fun to cut out the more complicated parts of the expansion and get back to just the base game, and it’s happily pretty easy to annotate one of these games. As it turns out we covered quite a lot of the things in the game that were discussed above: movement control (push/gather), defensive powers, innates and elemental power-ups, and guiding the Dahan to stand against the invaders themselves. I’m pretty sure that we played with a straight bat but I haven’t re-run through this myself; we do occasionally make an error so apologies if we screwed something up at some point. It’s not a video but hopefully you can set up and follow through without issue to see how we played this one out and I hope that it gives you some inspiration for how to play more effectively.

Warning: Spoiler!

Round 1
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Round 2
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Round 3
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Round 4
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Round 5
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Round 6
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Round 7
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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #284313 22 Oct 2018 09:57
You are the best! I am on the road today, I will read this very carefully tonight.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #284563 23 Oct 2018 19:25
Actually going to through your replay and play it out for myself. Thanks for this.
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #284587 24 Oct 2018 07:13
My pleasure. I had a run through myself on it last night and there are some typos due to my indecipherable handwriting but it’s mostly correct and good enough for you to figure out what we were doing.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #285249 04 Nov 2018 13:53
Just taught this game to my spouse, took all of the advice here on intro games where it differed from the rulebook: no lightning dude, I used the river she used the green spreading wilderness faction. No using the programmed automatic power progression.

Huge hit! Spouse loved it. Went way better than my solo learning games. I never would have thought doing the card buys thing yourself would be better for new players but it really is. Thank you again for that advice. I think I wasn't really groking how important getting minor/major powers was.

We won in the 2nd fear stage but that was because of did the extra growth before the first turn.
Bernie's Avatar
Bernie replied the topic: #285270 05 Nov 2018 08:17
Glad it went well. It is so fantastic two player.

And games go much faster without teardown and setup if you can manage to leave it up :)
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #285289 05 Nov 2018 10:46
If I didn't travel all week I'm guessing it would have stayed on the table!
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #285313 05 Nov 2018 12:34
Either of you guys tried the expansion spirits? I think they both look cool but the creeping wilderness one that pushes the Dahan had me excited to try it (eventually, one step at a time).
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #285318 05 Nov 2018 13:08
Yep, both are great although a little more complex. My son loves to play Sharp Fangs so it comes out a lot, but I’ve never really figured a good way to play wilderness that is as satisfying as some of the other spirits. I’d very much recommend starting with Thunderspeaker for a spirit that moves Dahan around, that one is a lot of fun as you get to take the fight direct to the invaders. Maybe that’s why I’m not so into Wilderness, it feels kind of passive?
Bernie's Avatar
Bernie replied the topic: #285376 05 Nov 2018 20:47
Keeper is one f my favorite spirits. He plays a little different, as you always want to end your turn with 2 or 3 energy. Generally he just houses a board. Starts pretty slow though.

The thing to keep in mind with the expansion is that it really randoms up the game. I think this is much needed after you play for a bit. In base you have 2 random things. Fear cards and invader cards. The event deck totally messes with everything. in a great way.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #285387 05 Nov 2018 23:35
Yeah, the event deck doesn't do much for me on first glance. Might feel differently if I played enough for it to get stale. A problem it would be nice to have!
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #285389 06 Nov 2018 03:08
I absolutely agree. Now that you know what you are doing you will reach a point pretty quickly where every game at the base setting is ending in victory in stage II level II and it starts to lack a challenge. That’s the point I’d recommend to add in Prussia as an adversary which is low overhead and to include the expansion tokens and event deck.

What the events do well is throw curve balls at you so that you have to contstantly challenge your strategy and readjust, it keeps you on your toes and stops the game feeling stale. Which conversely is totally unhelpful when you are trying to learn how to play!