Review: Isle of Skye27 Jul 2018 0
Review: Isle of Skye
Released 19 Jul 2018
A cursory glance at the promotional screenshots and you could be forgiven for dismissing Isle of Skye as simply a Carcassonne clone with a Scottish setting. Thankfully, although it shares the same tile-laying mechanic, Isle of Skye has many clever ideas of its own. So much so that the board game has won a host of awards, including the prestigious 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres.
As clan chieftain, you expand your territory and strengthen your clan in the hope of being crowned King of the Isle of Skye. You do this by purchasing and placing landscape tiles. These tiles feature a mix of highlands, water and mountain areas and must be placed so that the different landscape types match. There are also roads to consider. These do not need to be placed so that they link to other roads, but to earn the maximum income, it is advantageous to have a connected road network. Tiles also feature a range of other point scoring opportunities, including livestock, ships and various types of buildings Finally, a small number of tiles contain scrolls that award bonus points at the end of the game for fulfilling certain requirements.
The first significant difference from Carcassonne is that each player works on building his or her own individual landscape. You may think that this would lead to a rather solitary gaming experience, with little interaction between competing players. Happily though, the brilliantly designed auction system ensures that the game feels both competitive and involving. Before we go to auction, however, we need some cash. Players earn a basic five coins per turn; additional income is earned from tiles that feature whisky barrels as long as they are connected to your castle by road. There is also a catch-up mechanism that rewards extra coins to players who have fewer points.
With coins burning holes in our sporrans it is time to get trading. At the beginning of each round, all players draw three tiles. They then have to secretly choose one tile to discard and decide how much they are willing to pay for each of the remaining two. Then, in turn order, each player has the opportunity to use any remaining coins to purchase a single tile from an opponent. This works brilliantly, as you have to carefully set prices with the aim of purchasing tiles for the best possible price. However, set these too low and your opponents will snaffle them up. Furthermore, you don’t want to tie up too many coins in trying to secure your own tiles because you may miss the opportunity to purchase a tasty tile from another player. It sounds simple but setting prices can lead to some agonising decisions. Sometimes, you will be tempted to hang on to a tile that is not particularly useful because you know that it will appeal to an opponent. You can then attach a high price and take a gamble that they will bite, but you run the risk of being forced to cough up for your own overpriced tile.
Isle of Skye introduces plenty of variety, with a choice of sixteen different scoring tiles. Only four of these are used in each game and their point scoring potential should form the crux of your overall strategy. Before the game commences these four tiles can be chosen by the players or determined randomly. Not all of these tiles will be scored every round, so certain types of landscape tiles are going to be more valuable at certain points in the game. There is an interesting variety of scoring tiles, which require different tactics to exploit. Some have a spatial element, such as forming squares of four tiles; others will require you to enclose areas of particular landscape types. Then there are those that require you to have the majority of particular items such as ships or coins. The result is a pleasing diversity of scoring opportunities that makes every game feel different.
This isn’t a difficult game to learn and the interactive tutorial will soon have you up and running. To improve your strategy there is the option to watch games that have been played between the highest ranked players. At the start of the game your five coins will not go far, but with some shrewd financial management, you should soon see your income escalating. This will also mean that the landscape tiles will in turn rocket in price, which means that you constantly have to be aware of market trends.
The graphics accurately represent the table-top original and the screen layout works relatively well. All of the required information is laid out along the screen edges, with the central area reserved for your ever-growing kingdom. There are a few times when the interface feels a little unresponsive, like when you are trying to set prices, or get an overview of each scoring tile. I am not convinced by the background, which gives the impression that you are playing on a stained tablecloth. Also, the sound is rather nondescript, although mercifully it does hold back on the bagpipes. Most seriously of all, there appears to be a major bug that causes the game to freeze when playing a pass and play game. I encountered no such problems when competing against just AI opponents. Unfortunately, even at the highest difficulty level the AI does not put up too much of a challenge. In the auction, placing a value on a tile is dependent on so many different variables that creating an AI to challenge experienced players is tough. You are going to want to find some online human opponents to really get the most from this game. Thankfully, setting up an asynchronous online game is easy enough. This mode works especially well, as turns play quickly, and a single game doesn’t drag on too long.
If you enjoyed Carcassonne and are looking for something with more strategy and depth, then Isle of Skye is definitely worth considering even if the app itself isn't as polished as other leading board game adaptations.
Note: By the time of publication, a recent update has ensured that the interface is much more responsive, sadly the issue with pass and play games freezing hasn’t been resolved.