Nautilus Island

Nautilus Island game and instructions
Nautilus Island game and instructions

Shipwrecked on a deserted island, castaways discover an abandoned submarine on the island’s shore. To ensure their survival, repair the submarine, and escape, they must take turns searching The Nautilus to collect the objects and treasures they find there.

Nautilus Island is a colorful drafting and set collection game for 2-4 players ages 8+.

Set Up

Unfold the game board and shuffle all the cards, counting out stacks of cards based on the number of players. There are six card colors representing the categories of items found in the submarine. Each color also has a corresponding symbol. Place the stacks on the submarine according to which columns are used for each player count. The symbols on the board dictate whether these stacks are placed face-up or face-down.

Nautilus Island gameboard
The board shows which columns to use at each player count, and which card stacks to place face-down.

Place the bonus tokens near the board face down. Choose five, placing one at each of the camp spaces on the board.

Separate the porthole tokens according to card count and arrange them into stacks of descending value. Place each stack on its designated space on the board.

Each player chooses a castaway and you’re ready to start.

Cards separated by color
Items come in five colors, plus yellow treasure.


The person who most recently took a boat ride is the starting player. For the first round, play rotates clockwise. In subsequent rounds, the order depends on how close each castaway is to the back of the Nautilus.

On your turn, move your castaway to the top of a column. (Or bottom, depending on which direction you’re moving that round.) You may not move to an occupied column or stay in the same column. The compass helps players remember which direction they are heading, so make sure to move the arrow at the end of each round!

Castaways and cards on the board
Castaways move from one side of the board to the other, collecting cards from the columns they occupy.

Then, either take the top card from each stack in that column and add to your hand; skip taking cards and instead store objects in your camp, face up on the table in your play space. There is no hand limit. The number of cards you can place depends on the number of cards (1-3 cards) in the column your castaway occupies.

Group cards in your camp into sets to create a column for each color. Yellow cards are treasure cards. You’ll keep those in your hand until scoring at the end of the game.

If you play cards to your camp, immediately take the corresponding bonus token for the color played.

Bonus token for each of the five colors
Grab those bonus tokens!

Place this above the column of colored cards. Card columns can accumulate multiple bonus tokens, and these all combine for end game scoring. Refill the bonus tokens when only one remains on the board.

After placing cards in your camp, you may choose to close the set. To do this, take the top porthole token from the pile for that number of cards and place it on top of the card column. No new cards may be added to this set.

Play continues until one column in the submarine is empty. Finish the round and take one final turn each. Then, score bonus tokens, porthole tokens, and yellow treasure cards. The castaway with the most points wins.

Porthole tokens
Close out a set to take a porthole token, worth big points!

Stephanie’s Thoughts

Drafting and set collection are two of my favorite board game mechanisms. Nautilus Island has these and presents familiar game play with simple strategy that is perfect for families. I appreciate the simple rules and quick play time, and like that the decisions require a bit of thought. Although the introduction tells the tale of castaways trying to escape an island, this is an abstract game. The objects and colors of the cards are strictly for differentiating the sets and don’t factor into any sort of story that the text suggests.

We initially played this game at two to learn the rules and get comfortable with play before introducing it to our almost 8-year-old. She took to it immediately, and eventually beat her parents in each game we played with her. Watching her balance her decisions was very rewarding – we could almost see the little wheels turning in her brain. Determining when to take cards, play cards to the camp, and close out a set make for three good decisions in the game. These decisions are particularly good for younger players honing their skills. There is some luck involved when drawing facedown cards, but it is the perfect amount for a bit of mystery when attempting to create sets.

The box recommends ages 8+, and I think this is accurate because of the simple strategic decisions that are necessary each turn. It is a game that can be shared with those new to the hobby.

We found the game to work great at both two and three players, since the number of cards and columns in the game adjusts with the number of players. (We imagine it would also play well at full player count.) There is no solo mode.

Each of our plays took approximately twenty minutes.

Final Thoughts

Nautilus Island gets a thumbs up from all three members of our household, and it is one of my favorite family games of 2023. With its quick setup and accessible-yet-fun game play, Nautilus Island has a new spot on our family game shelf and we will continue to play it together.

You can get Nautilus Island on Amazon or at your friendly local game store for about $30.

This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.

The Family Gamers received a copy of Nautilus Island from Hachette for this review.

Nautilus Island
  • 7/10
    Art - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Mechanics - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Family Fun - 8/10


Number of Players: 2-4
Age Range: 8+
Playtime: 20-30 minutes