Recommend
17 
 Thumb up
 Hide
3 Posts

Islas Canarias» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Leo Colovini Channels Sid Sackson rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
I Am Sparcatus
United States
Danbury
Connecticut
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Islas Canarias Review
Leo Colovini channels Sid Sackson



The game box. Image by hauwech

Overview
I recently acquired Islas Canarias through a trade. After discovering it in a search for games by Leo Colovini, I knew I had to have it. What attracted me was the large, chunky wooden pieces, the simple rules (though some ambiguities sparked several rounds of clarifications in the BGG forums), and smooth, simple game play (at least, that’s what I was hoping for). I finally found someone willing to deal it, and received it in March 2012.

Islas Canarias is a game of settlement of the Canary Isles by Spain. Each player represents/owns an island, to which he’s attempting to attract a wide variety of settlers. Each different type of Settler (there are about 20) has a different set of priorities regarding where he would like to settle, arranged in descending order of importance. For example, a fisherman wants first to be near the sea; failing that, near a river, and so on. When Settlers land on an island, they build a house of their color on an open building site.


Settler cards: the bottom icon is the color of the settler’s house; the 4 top icons are the priorities. Image by olavf

The players’ islands have 6 terrain features that bear on Settler priorities. In addition, some settlers want to settle near another type of settler (house). Players seek to arrange their settlers in such a way as to leave open attractive spaces for subsequent settlers to build on. It is this juggling of the settler influx, seeking to keep options open for future settlement, that provides the bulk of the strategy in the game. Each island has a different number of open sites adjacent to each terrain type. They are symmetrical but different; each island has its advantages and weaknesses.

Houses may be upgraded to Palaces (takes 2 houses) or Towns (takes 3 houses) of the same color. Upgrading gets you more points, and more importantly frees up building sites on your island for future settlers. The decision on when and how to upgrade is also integral to the game.

In addition, players can earn rule-breaking privileges for being ahead in the various colors of houses. These privileges allow specific rules to be broken in favor of the owning player. Privileges can be gained and then lost to other players over the course of the game.



The game in action at Essen. Image by yakos

Rules
The game rules are very simple, but the English translation was originally fraught with some ambiguities that caused confusion. Leo Colovini subsequently clarified the rules questions in the BGG forums; the most recent version of the rules document (version 3, uploaded by me) contains those clarifications.

A player’s turn consists of the following steps, both of which are required:
1) Draw 3 cards OR add a settler to his island (by playing a card)
2) Add a settler or pirate card to the Settler ship

That’s it. Turn structure & sequence is very easy. After all players have performed the two items above, there is a ‘Settler Ship’ phase where the settlers (and maybe pirates!) that the players have seeded onto the ship come off, looking for somewhere to settle (or plunder, in the case of the pirates).

This Settler Ship phase is the heart of the game. When a player plays a settler card in the first phase of his turn, the settler will build a house on the player’s island. The player must follow the settler’s highest priority if possible, but if no suitable site exists, the player may put the settler’s house anywhere. So, in this phase, there is no risk that the settler won’t build on the player’s island. However, in the Settler Ship phase, all the players are competing for each settler that comes off the ship. Islands are compared, and the one that is most amenable to the settler’s priories wins the settler. Ties are broken by the next highest priority. So it’s possible to not get any settlers from off the ship, or get several. Since every player has an equal chance to play settlers directly from their hand (and guarantee a build on their island), the Settler Ship is where the differentiation occurs and players will gain or lose on their rivals.

Houses may be upgraded to Palaces or Towns, with escalating point values. Pirates may cause a player to lose a house. Once a player reaches 19 points worth of buildings, a final turn is played and high score wins.



An island worth 12 points. Image by hbirger


Decisions
The interest in most games lies in the decisions they force upon the player. What types of decisions do you perform in Islas Canarias?

To play well, you must monitor the progress of the other players’ islands to determine if a card you’re sending to the Settler Ship is likely to return to your island as a settler, or if the priority of that settler will cause him to defect to an opponent. Sometimes, all you have are cards that will help the other players; then you need to determine which settler will do the least damage if an opponent gains him. Fortunately, with the large, colorful wooden pieces, it’s easy to scan the other players’ islands and determine if you’ll win a settler’s priority. This is not a game like Puerto Rico where it’s hard to tell what the other players have going on without knowing the game very well; by halfway through my first game of Islas Canarias I was able to scan the other players’ islands efficiently and decide upon my course of action.

You must also keep track of the pirates (there is only 1 in each color) to determine if you’re at risk of losing a house. Losing a house to the pirate is not catastrophic, but you want to avoid it when possible. Multiple pirate losses by the same player guarantee defeat. You have to decide if it’s worth the risk to keep 2 houses of a color, hoping for a third and an upgrade to a town, or if you want to play it safe and upgrade the 2 houses to a palace right now. Upgrading to a palace gets you points faster, but also fills up your island quicker and you’ll have trouble attracting settlers off the ship later in the game. I’ve yet to see a player win who did not save up to build at least 2 towns at some point in the game.

The privilege cards are quite powerful but balanced. The ‘break all ties’ card has the potential to be the best card in the game, but there have also been games where I’ve seen it rarely used. You must decide on whether to try for a privilege that has not yet been gained, or whether you have the cards to top another player’s score in a color and steal the privilege from him.

Hand management is also crucial, and in a similar vein to Masons (another Colovini design), you must choose between scoring and increasing your hand size. Knowing when it’s safe to run your hand down to only 1 or 2 cards, or when you must forego placing a house in order to increase your options, is a critical skill and one that takes a certain level of judgment & familiarity with the deck (though I’ve never even tried to count cards, and don’t think you need to do that in order to play well – just keep a mind on those pirates!).

Another really interesting facet to the game is managing your island’s terrain ‘competitive advantage’. Each island has 2 terrain features with 5 likely building sites, two with 4 sites, and two with 3 sites (most sites border more than one terrain feature). If your island has 5 sites next to Mountains, for example, and you fill them up too quickly, you’ll lose future settlers to another player who maybe only started with 4 or 3 Mountain spaces, but has not filled them yet. Ideally you want to keep your competitive features open as long as possible. Deciding which houses to upgrade to Palaces or Towns, and which sites to put the Palace or Town in, also bears on this principle.


Channeling Sid Sackson
Many gamers consider Sid Sackson to be the grandfather of the Euro genre. He pioneered games with Euro-style mechanics as early as the 1960’s: games with fast play times, simple rules, interesting decisions, and engagement throughout. Euro games have often been noted for being geared around slick mechanics, sometimes at the expense of immersive settings. Colovini’s games exhibit this tendency dramatically. In this particular game, the ‘Canary Isles’ setting is basically irrelevant except to provide some nice artwork (though to be fair, the artwork in this game is utilitarian; it’s fine, just not amazing or anything). But the game has such simple rules, and they go together so well, that each turn flows smoothly and quickly. The mechanics support the interesting, if subdued, interactions. It’s hard to believe something so simple can work so well; this is a game you can literally teach in 5 or 6 minutes. I’ve never had a game last longer than 40 minutes (but I’ve only played with 3 and 4 players, never with the maximum 5). Moreso even than Knizia, whose scoring has always been convoluted and who seems to have disengaged from traditional board game design to focus on iOS titles, Colovini embodies the simplicity and elegance of those famous Sackson designs of yesteryear.


Gripes
No game is without its downsides. In Islas Canarias, the main issue I have is that the 3 player game often seems to see one player hopelessly behind while the other two fight for victory. I’m not sure why this occurs, but I think it’s due to the tie-breaking mechanism – it breaks down a bit when there are only 3 players to compete for the priorities. I’ve never had this problem with 4 player games. The game is still fun with 3, but be aware that someone will probably be a bit unhappy with their options. I’ll never turn down a game with either player count, however. I’ve never played with 2 or 5, but suspect I wouldn’t like it as much.


I rate Islas Canarias a solid 8/10.
6 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kevin B. Smith
United States
Walnut Creek
California
flag msg tools
designer
mbmbmbmbmb
Nice review. Gosh, it's a beautiful game. And I love those cascading preferences.

I fell in love with the idea of the game, and bought it. After playing it a few times, I traded it away because it just didn't click with me. I have since concluded that I'm not really a Colvini fan.

Objectively, one flaw in the game is that the town chits are hard to see from across the table because they lay flat. Huge houses would have been far nicer. More vivid art on the town tiles would have helped.

Subjectively, I just found that I didn't have enough control. Too often, all the cards I could send to the ship would help other players. Also, based on just a few games, it seemed like a runaway leader was a significant concern.

1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
I Am Sparcatus
United States
Danbury
Connecticut
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
peakhope wrote:
Nice review. Gosh, it's a beautiful game. And I love those cascading preferences.

I fell in love with the idea of the game, and bought it. After playing it a few times, I traded it away because it just didn't click with me. I have since concluded that I'm not really a Colvini fan.

Objectively, one flaw in the game is that the town chits are hard to see from across the table because they lay flat. Huge houses would have been far nicer. More vivid art on the town tiles would have helped.

Subjectively, I just found that I didn't have enough control. Too often, all the cards I could send to the ship would help other players. Also, based on just a few games, it seemed like a runaway leader was a significant concern.





People who like Colovini’s designs will probably like this; those who don’t, won’t. This is an archetypical design for him. The town tiles have never been a problem for me to see & identify, but I suppose they could be for some.

Regarding control, this game is about dealing with lack of control. In much the same way Masons is. You have to nudge events along how you’d like, but you certainly can’t make your own destiny; it’s linked tightly to the actions of other players and the card draws. Having cards that help others is part of the fun – you have to figure out whom to help that will hurt you least. Your opponents are doing the same thing!

Runaway leader, I’ve seen a bit of that in 3-player, but never in 4. I just played again last night, and was hit hard by two early pirates. Nevertheless, I was the first to double-digit points, and held a lead until around 14 or 15 points, when the other players pulled ahead and I finished last, with 19 points. This has been fairly typical for me in 4-player games. Maybe this is one of those games that really doesn’t play well with the stated range on the box – I wouldn’t turn down a 3-player game, but probably won’t suggest it unless we have 4 players.
3 
 Thumb up
0.05
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.