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Subject: How hard is it to learn/teach this game? rss

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Andrew D'Agostino
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Is Spirit Island a hard game to learn; a hard game to play; or both? To ask another way -- what causes it to have a high Weight rating?

One issue I have with the BGG 'Weight' rating is it doesn't discriminate between heaviness of learning (number of rules, number of moving parts, setup, etc.) vs heaviness of playing (decision space, challenge of the game, etc.).

Some games are relatively easy to learn, but have an enormous decision space and can be considered heavy by some. These are games with high Depth:Complexity ratios.

Other games are relatively hard to learn, but have limited depth or are rather straightforward once you get going. These games have high Complexity : Depth ratios.

The problem is, I've seen games of both stripes get high 'Weight' rankings. Where does Spirit Island land? The game looks awesome but if it takes 30 min to explain the rules, I don't think I'll ever get my gf to play.
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Brian Blankstein
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I'd say a little bit of both. The game has a learning curve. It takes most players a little while (anywhere from a few turns to several games) to internalize how the Invaders behave. Understanding Invader behavior is critical to finding ways to counter them.

Once you get there, the decision space is pretty large, particularly as the player count increases. The rules themselves aren't that complicated, but there are a lot of moving parts and it takes time to get familiar with them.
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Brian M
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The core mechanics of Spirit Island are fairly simple, but there are a ton of cards and a lot of effects, and there are several different interacting parts that you need to understand.

I would say it is heavy in both respects; there are a lot of rules, and there are a lot of decisions in the game. The rules are generally intuitive though; once you understand the basics you are probably not, for example, going to be looking things up in the rulebook during the game.

The game has a an introductory mode where you use pre-set decks of cards for each spirit rather than drawing from a deck to gain new powers. I strongly recommend this variant for first plays for everyone, even experienced gamers; even if you totally get the rules, having to read a bunch of cards (you get them in sets of 4) and trying to decide which card you want while you are still learning the system takes a long time.

I don't think it would take 30 minutes to explain the rules, especially if you have an experienced player guiding the invader actions (which are very straightforward). Its certainly no more complex than many games that I see you rate highly.
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Kenneth H
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The rules and steps of the turn are very straightforward. The rules can be taught in 5-10 minutes. The weight of this game comes from the decision space. You must decide how to grow, what powers you are going to play, and what those powers are going to target, and each of these decisions affects all of the others.

So, you would say the game has a high Depth:Complexity ratio.
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Ted Morris
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Quote:
The rules and steps of the turn are very straightforward. The rules can be taught in 5-10 minutes. The weight of this game comes from the decision space.


Definitely my experience as well. It's fairly easy to learn and has a nice flow that it's easy to follow. Learning how to play well is the challenge, and since each Spirit is fairly unique there's also a bit of learning curve to each of them as well.

Don't be intimidated, but don't pick Ocean's Hungry Grasp as your first spirit to try!
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Max Maloney
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"If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason." -Jack Handey
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I agree the weight is in the decision space. The gameplay is so open-ended it is almost freeform. The rules tell you how things happen, but the way you as a player interact with the game can change it on many levels. There permutations of what you can choose to do in a single turn are very high. Over 3-4 turns those permutations become astronomical.

It can be a dangerous game for AP players. But the variability is what makes it so fun and replayable. And the fact that the system is durable enough to handle that much variability is what makes it great.
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Michael Pureka

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While yes, the decision space makes up a lot of the weight, I don't think you should underestimate how much stuff you need to understand before you can even GET to that decision space.

You need to:
-- Understand all the pieces, what they are, their HP/Damage (intuitive except for Dahan) that presence discs don't look like the presence icons (but the reminder tokens do) and that blight doesn't look like it's icon either
-- Understand growth options, and all the icons therein (and it's a lot)
-- Understand power cards, and all the icons and terms therein (and it's a REAL lot) and the difference between fast and slow actions, and how elements work.
--Understand how each of THREE invader actions work

And once you've got all that, THEN you can start to synthesize stuff into a picture of how the game "works". But there's a nontrivial amount of heft to get to get to the decision space too.

Everytime I teach the game, I feel like I've got it down to a quick and easy presentation, and then I'm still talking ten minutes later and praying they retain all that.

And yes, there are some players who never seem to really GET what you need to do. They're sitting there going "Okay, I'm going to play this one card... and I guess I'll reclaim, I don't really have anything to do..."
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Anon Y. Mous
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The rules of what you can do and how you do it are very simple. The hard part is what you should do and why.
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Andrej Kojic
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Teaching the beginner game is very easy in my opinion, start there. The game is elegant in its design. Everything makes sense and has a way of orchestrating itself when you start to understand the basics. The complexity is within the important decision making, that might cripple some new players. The challenge is brutal at first, other than that... the game plays very smoothly.
 
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Harley Winfrey
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There are many games that have a solo version that is different from the "regular" game. Spirit Island plays by exactly the same rules whether you have 1 player or 4. You just use 1 to 4 board sections based on how many spirits you are using. Some people play solo with 2 or more spirits, but I enjoy it just fine with only 1.

So, because the board is small, it's pretty quick to play a few 1 player, 1 spirit games to learn the rules well and get a feel for the strategy before you teach it to another player. I think this is an underrated way to learn the game and I appreciate that it is available as an option.
 
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Tomas Andersson
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I would say that most of the complexity is in the decision space, as the others have said.
One note though, due to the flexible difficulty, the game is quite forgiving on the earlier difficulties, and you can probably make small mistakes on every turn and still win. However, for players that haven't had much experience with Spirit Island there is still a challenge. But it is a good way to learn the game at lower difficulty and then increase it slowly.
 
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Julien Regnard
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Rules are quite straightforward for persons used to play board games.
The invaders turn is very simple and you can run through it several times without playing the spirits turn to show how it works with the ravage and Dahan counter attack.
The spirit turn is easy too. Everything is visible on the board with icons.
The most difficult are he powers and it is not so bad because icons are clear and they avoided text walls.

I would say the game is 2.75/5 on the rules side, and 4+/5 for the decision space. It is almost impossible to play for persons who don't plan at all.
Players need to be involved enough to search for the best way to use their power through careful planning, it usually takes one game just to get used to the way of the Dahans to deal damage.
 
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Matt Rossi
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When it comes to teaching, I feel that this game has four main strengths:

1) The game is cooperative, so while you might be "playing for them" until they learn the ropes, you aren't eliminating competition by teaching like you would in a competitive game. No worries about pulling punches.

2) The rule book and player aids do a great job of using precise language. Everything the rule book does is consistent within itself. It doesn't mince words or use generalized language to describe things, so when it says "Explorer" or "Invader" you always know exactly what they mean.

3)The sections in the player aids and rule book giving tips or fleshing out general stats and play styles is helpful for giving new players direction.

4) Everything the invaders do is mostly deterministic. Where they do it is subject to the cards, but the rhythm of the game stays the same throughout. It might be difficult to get the hang of at first, but it doesn't change over time and only one player needs to have a complete understanding of how to populate the board and/or remove pieces. This provides a beneficial handicap for new players without reducing the difficulty. They can focus on learning what they need to know while you take care of the rest.
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Matthew Bishop
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Some recent data points, in case they help:
- Played a 4P game with the low-complexity spirits and preset power cards. All 3 other players were new, none were super serious gamers. I gave everyone the "easy mode" start of game extra growth phase. No adversary. Finished in 1.5 hours, everyone had fun.

- Played a 4P game where 2 of the other players were new, 1 of whom picked a medium-complexity spirit (as did I), and we used the normal rules for gaining power cards. Again "easy mode" start of game extra growth phase. No adversary. Finished in 2.5 hours, everyone had fun.

The low-complexity spirits and preset power cards really cut down on time. The bonus growth gets people to the more interesting decision space faster, which both shortens the game and allows them to appreciate things more.

But more complex spirits and normal power card rules didn't seem to make things that much more difficult for the newcomers, aside from time.
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Francis Irving
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I'm struggling to get this to the table.

I've enjoyed it solo and got along OK with some 2 player games.

Tried one 3 player game and it took forever. The other players kept trying to ask me for help - they hadn't formed enough of a mental model quickly enough of the Invader phases or the card powers. So had no idea how to plan over their whole turn.

They enjoyed it and it was getting better but we ran out of time.

I think with serious gamers, say anyone who has played anything as complex as Magic, it would go a lot easier. With others, it is really hard to get knowledge to a point where decisions are made autonomously and it becomes fun.

The invader actions, esp the ravage, are really counter intuitive. In lines of computer code they are very very simple. But they're really hard to get an intuitive grasp of without mentally following the algorithm. This is bad for people with intuitive kinds of intelligence.

The cards are tough for anyone who hasn't come across diverse iconographic cards before. Hence why I specifically mention Magic above as a good prerequisite skill.

I'd advise... Making people interested watch a rules video ahead. Play with less players - it was much easier with 2 than 3 and there doesn't seem to be any downside as the game scales with that. Get the most gamery players you can. Up front, commit to everyone playing at least twice over a week or two or you'll just waste your time with a one off tough first game.

To answer your question - both the rules and the decision space are worthy of the complexity score.
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