Antler Island is a game with a unique theme. In Antler Island your goal is to mate your stagg with as many does as possible and hopefully end the game at the top of the hill. During this adventure in nature you'll also be competing with other neighborhood staggs which will translate to conflict to be THE alpha male.
The Lamont Brothers have done it again. When I first saw Shear Panic I pretty much purchased the game simply because it was soooo adorable nevermind the excellent gameplay. Antler Island is no different with 4 cute little staggs that in no way look like they'd even think abut hurting one another. The board is also interesting as it consists of three levels. Personally I wish the island's mounts were a bit taller as it seemed pointless to make each level and extra eighth of an inch off the table when for minimal additional production effort they could have been half-inch levels (which would have made the game's presentation far more dramatic). The cards that antlers are built on are also kind of cool especially if you're the kind of player that enjoys stacking your pieces in interesting patterns (you know who you are!).
In Antler Island setup places the player's staggs, food, and does (females) in an evenly distributed pattern on the island. Each player starts with a food token worth 1 or 2 food (they range from 1-3) and 2 antlers.
You then have 5 action chits... 1, 2, 3, X, and -. You'll place your action chits next to the appropriate actions on your board and you'll have to do your four actions in order. Yes, four... the - is a bluff and isn't really an action. The X is a variable action that can be done at anytime, but obviously once used you're committed to performing your remaining actions in order. There are 4 different actions you can perform: 1) move - move to an adjacent space (although there are marsh spaces that does can move to, but staggs can not), 2) eat - eat any food tokens in the space you're in (you can keep up to 5), 3) mate - mate with a doe (or, if toning it down for kids it can be kiss or catch a doe), or 4) grow antlers (turn in food and divide by two and you'll get that many antlers with a minimum gain of 1 antler for 1 food).
Then, in turn order, you'll resolve your actions in the order you've committed. This may or may not go well depending on whether other staggs compete for the resources you want (meaning they enter your space) in which case a conflict occurs. Conflict is resolved by each involved player committing up to 3 food chits and adding them to your antler growth with the larger total winning. Now, this is important when resolving conflict, as we played it too loosely in our first game and realized it's something that needs to be adhered to stricty: 1) first the attacker commits food tokens, 2) then the defender chooses to stay or retreat, 3) if the defender stays the attacker can choose to retreat, and 4) finally, if both lock antlers then food chips are revealed and a winner is declared. Conflict is important as you must win at least one conflict in order to win the game (and that can be as simple as another player retreating... you don't need to lock antlers to win a conflict). Either way the 'winner' gets a special privilege in the form of a wily token, but if the winner emerged from locking antlers then the loser also loses an antler.
Wily tokens can also be acquired by growing antlers in multiples of 2 (i.e. your 4th, 6th, 8th... ). Using a wily token doesn't count as an action and can do one of six things: 1) add one to your move, 2) give you an extra food when eating, 3) allow you to mate with an extra doe, 4) allow you to keep a food token after a fight, 5) allow you to not loose an antler after loosing a fight, and 6) attract one doe from each adjacent space.
At the end of each round (all players have completed their four actions) does move up a level towards the top of the island and the base is reseeded with food and does based on a die roll. This is random, however often there's leftover food from the prior round and you can access several base level island spaces from the middle level of the island within a single move if getting somewhere quick is important.
The game ends when a player has mated with 10 (4 player game) or 12 (3 player game) does at which time the turn is finished. You can mate with more than that number of does for additional points, though. Finally, if you're at the top of the hill at the end of the game you get an extra 3 points... if you're on the middle level you get 1 point.
The game scales for 3 players by removing a quarter of the lowest level of the island and adjusting the victory conditions.
There is also an advanced version that gives each player a number of cubes equal to the number of opponents. You are then allowed to take a cube (any color) from an opponent when you win a fight against them. At the end of the game 1 extra point is awarded for having all of your cubes at the end of the game and 1 point/cube for having a complete set of opposition cubes at the game's end.
I've read several reviews here that criticize the game for being too light and pass it off as a simpler family game. This game is deeper than it may appear. It's got a light theme that detracts from the choices you'll be making. Allowing players the ability to turn in 1 food for 1 antler to play the system on antler growth is one example or a pretty clever mechanic that offers a nice balacing factor to the more obvious get lots of food to build antlers. The forcing of one fight makes for another interesting series of choices... do I keep food in anticipation of a fight? There's certainly a lot of outthinking your opponents here. In fact, even fighting can be interesting as I've initiated conflict simply to move 2 spaces at the cost of giving my opponent the right to win the game (a win in a fight) and a wily token. Fair trade? It depends on the situation. This game has thoughtful decisions in it.
Winning the game has been an interesting exercise, too... one that I have yet to achieve. We've exclusively played the advanced version and I haven't really been impressed with that addition. I doubt it's worth the effort of winning a set of opposing cubes simply because of the effort and penalty (of time wasted) should you fail. The 3 points for being at the top of the island (which may also involve fighting) seems pretty critical to me and comes down to some good advanced planning with regard to timing. I do agree with other reviews that state that this game is good for the 45 minutes that it plays in and would not have made a good 2 hour game with it's lack of variety with respect to the types of decisions being made.
So how do I rate it on the fun factor scale? There's really nothing in my collection that compares to it. It plays quickly and the rules are solid, and after playing it's been asked for again. I'd give it a solid thumbs up for being fun.
My biggest issue with the game is it's price. I purchased mine at Origins with my 50% off that Mayfair provides for giving a varienty of their games a go (I won't go into details on how that works as that's beyond this review) making it $30. I'm very happy with my purchase at that price. I see it at FunAgain.com for $87.50. There's no way I can justify that for this game. As for what you can justify I'll leave that to you, but I do hope the prices I see are based on importing and that it'll be a bit less expensive and more financially accessible once really distributed in the states.
I hope gamers don't overlook this because it has cutesy pieces or a light, and unusual theme. It's quite easy to get into the mode of "I know exactly what I want to do and have to hope someone doesn't mess with me" type of play like a Roborally kind of game, but the X move chit really offers flexibility. I'm finding it quite rewarding to make the X my move so that if others mess with me I can try and get somewhere useful. I don't want to overexaggerate the game's compexity either... this isn't a heavy game by any means... it's just heavier than I think most people recognize.
Burster of Bubbles, Destroyer of Dreams.
Just imagine the red offboard up here. I'll create it Real Soon Now...
Yes, I know a proper 18XX tile should have a tile number.
I've only gotten to play this once, but I remember being pleasantly surprised that there was a real game under the cuteness.
Got two game tables and a microphone
I dunno. I played the game once; it just seems as though the novelty of making sounds of a rutting moose and laughing with your friends goes just so far. I don't see the joke being worth the money to pay for the game.