Small Islands – Courageously Explore For Prestige
Discovery and exploration have seen many incarnations in board gaming. In Small Islands, players take on the role of explorers searching a newly found archipelago. Players seek vital natural resources and knowledge from ancient temples to bring wealth and prestige back to their clans.
Small Islands is a game for 1-4 players, ages 8+ ,designed by Alexis Allard, with art by Aurélie Guarino. Small Islands was published by Mushroom Games in Europe and brought to the USA by Lucky Duck Games. A game lasts about 30 minutes.
How to Play
The goal of Small Islands is to score the most prestige points over the course of four rounds. A round has three phases: Preparation, Exploration and Reward.
At the beginning of the game, before the first Preparation stage, deal each player an Objective Card.
Draw six landscape tiles from the reserve stack and place them face-down on top of the Navigation tile to form the Navigation Stack. Each player draws two Objective cards. Of their three, each player selects one to keep for the current round, a second for the next round, and discards the third. Objective cards score Prestige Points throughout the game; each consist of a Goal and a Reward.
In clockwise player order, each player will chose one of two actions: Explore or Land.
When Exploring the player draws one landscape tile and adds it to their hand.
Next they’ll choose a tile from their hand and add it the play area. Players must:
- Rotate the tile any way they choose
- Place the tile adjacent to a previously placed tile
- Continue the landscape illustration in a coherent manner on all sides
A player may place a bonus token from their supply over any landscape tile resource icon (even a previously played one!).
To Land, a player selects a ship tile and places it in the archipelago. This immediately ends the round and play proceeds to the Reward phase.
Starting with the player who placed the ship tile (then proceeding clockwise), all players may place Clan Houses to earn Prestige Points from islands that that satisfied their current round’s Objective card. Players may not place a house on an island they previously played on.
After scoring, shuffle the used Objective cards back into the main deck. The player following the player who landed becomes the new start player. Begin the next round with the Preparation phase.
Sailing Into the Sunset
The game ends when one of the following conditions are met:
- Fewer than 6 landscape in the reserve stack (Preparation).
- No more face up landscape tiles available and a player can’t place their Ship tile (Exploration).
- No Ship tiles not in play (Reward).
Players sum their Prestige Tokens, Discovery Tokens and the Port symbols located on the landscape tiles surrounding their ship tile. The player with the most Prestige Points wins!
Small Islands nails it when it comes to a fun tile laying game with a twist that keeps luring me back in. I enjoy the game more after every play.
The stellar artwork draws you in with its colorful island landscapes and water. If you look close enough you might even catch some mythical beasts floating around. When the game ends, have fun examining the newly charted map.
Small Islands is language independent, but the Objective cards, Advanced Mission, and Rewards cards will take time to understand. Thankfully, the rulebook does a great job of explaining and providing illustrated examples for easy reference. Keep this in mind when playing with younger players; they may need help understanding the iconography.
Small Islands‘ gameplay has myriad layers that I love exploring each game. Objective cards are the heart of scoring and it’s crucial to look at the navigation tiles in hand and in the center to maximize points. The first round can be tough since there are only four landscape tile in play. However, being able to reserve an Objective card for the next round is extremely helpful in planning ahead.
As you place tiles, work towards multiple missions! If your plan doesn’t work out, you can always discard the reserved Objective during the next Preparation phase.
Knowing someone could choose to land a Ship sets a timer to each round. If you’ve been playing multiple tiles with Dragon Fruits for example, your opponent might catch on and choose to land preventing a large point swing in your favor. It’s also crucial to work on exploring multiple islands. This isn’t only for future missions; remember a player can score more than one Island per round. Also, keep in mind that just because you have eight Clan houses doesn’t mean you’ll have a chance use them all. Playing defensively by mucking up tile placement or deducing another player’s Objective can be an advantage.
You can also score points from uncompleted islands! This blew my mind!
Bonus tokens come in handy in a pinch. If you’re just shy of meeting an Objective’s Mission; laying down an extra Lotus or Arka Leaf could keep you from sinking. These are my favorite mechanism in the game. If you end up with some extras near the end, just play them for extra Port points to increase your score.
Increasing the Fleet
Small Islands plays just as well at two as it does four. The more players there are, the faster the archipelago will grow, as will the opportunities for scoring. Obtaining a sweet spot surrounded by Ports to Land a ship is a tricky feat. Even if you Land early, don’t forget to surround your Ship tile with anchors as the game progresses. These bonus points can turn the winds in your favor in a close race.
More than One Way to Sail
For players looking to ramp up the difficulty, there is an Advanced Mode. Here players use separate mission and reward cards to combine to make Objectives. There’s also a solo mode that pits players against a virtual player. It has a pretty snappy AI system for tile placement and three difficulty levels.
Who is Small Islands For?
Fans of tile laying games with a many scoring opportunities will like Small Islands. It can scratch an itch for folks who like geography and exploration games, too. Solo gamers will find its one-player mode a decent challenge. And importantly, the game plays great all all player counts. I especially liked it at two.
The Family Gamers received Small Islands from Lucky Duck Games for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Number of Players: 1-4 players
Age Range: 8+ (with a little help understanding mission objectives)
Playtime: 30 minutes