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Subject: A Year With Isla Dorada rss

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I got Isla Dorada in a board game trade over a year ago. It was a game I knew very little about, but I was trading several game with someone local and took a chance on it. And I am glad I did. It is a fun game that plays with a wide range of players, and is pretty simple to learn.

I have played the game 11 times over the past year.

The Premise:
The players are explorers on an expedition that crash lands on a mysterious island. Each player has their own knowledge of where treasure is, and which places are cursed, but the island is too dangerous to travel alone. So the players must travel together, using a bidding system to decide which paths to take and which destinations to visit.

The Components:
This is a Fantasy Flight game, so their usual high standard is in effect here. Gold coin tokens, sea travel tokens, and the leader token are all made out of very thick cardboard. The 16 exploration markers are large, thick discs. The cards are also well made, but the highlight are the three plastic figures, one that represents the expedition party, one for the Bigfoot, and one for the Leviathan. These figures are large and very well detailed.

The rules are easy to follow, and reference sheets for each player are included that details what each card does. The artwork on everything is very clear, colorful, and overall superb, blending in seemlessly the mystical tropical island theme.

The Gameplay:
At the start, everyone is dealt a curse card, three starting treasure cards (of which they keep two), and two destiny cards (of which they keep one). Each player also starts with 10 coins and 6 adventure cards. The youngest player gets the leader token.

The expedition token that represents all the players starts on the crashed blimp on the middle of the board. From here, starting with the youngest player, bids will be made to travel paths to the adjacent locations. Certain adventure cards are used to make the bids, depending on the type of path you wish to travel on. The more cards you have, the more you can bid.

The dark mountainous paths use Yak cards. The lighter brown sand path uses Kamel cards. The green jungle paths use Gonogo cards. Blue water paths use Kayak cards, with each Kayak card having a value of two (whereas the other cards are only worth one). Starting with the leader and going clockwise, players can make a bid to take one of the paths or pass. If a player passes, they can re-enter the bid if it comes back around to them. All bids must be greater than the previous bid. Once a final bid is made and all other players pass, the the players place an exploration marker on the new location to mark they have been there, as well as the expedition figure to show their current location. The leader token is then passed to the player that won the bid.

The determination for players to head in different directions is based on their treasure and curse cards (and possibly their destiny card which I will explain at the end). There is a curse card and 6 treasure cards total for each of the 18 locations on the board. Players do not want to go to a location for which they have a curse card, as they will lose points. Whereas they want to head to locations on their treasure cards in order to gain points.

So once a location is reached, all players must flip over any treasures and curses for that location. This information is now available for all to see. Then starting with the leader, everyone gets new/more adventure cards to help them with future turns. 4 cards are flipped up, and the leader may choose one of those 4 cards, or a face down card from the draw pile (much like Ticket To Ride for those that have played, with Alan Moon even receiving credit in the manual). If one of the 4 cards are taken, a new card takes its place. After a card has been chosen, the player has the option to purchase a second card for the cost of one gold coin. As mentioned, every player starts with ten gold coins, and these will never be replaced throughout the game. So they must be used wisely. Once all players have taken their one or two cards, anyone with more than 10 cards must discard down to 10, and then a new round of bidding begins.

The adventure cards have more than just Yaks, Kamels, Gonogos, and Kayaks in the deck. There are a multitude of other cards that can be used to help in the bidding, scoring point, or others that take immediate effect when chosen. The flying Drako and Blimp cards, for instance, act as wild cards to be combined with any of the 4 main path cards. Drako's have a value of 2, but a coin must be spent when the card is used. The Blimp has a value of 5, but costs three coins. An added bonus of these cards is that they can be used to fly to any location, if only flying cards are used.

Other cards include the Shaman, which can turn one of the three animals (Yak, Kamel, Gonogo) into another type to help increase the bid. Some cards add bonus points to treasure found, allow you to claim treasure in neighboring locations, allow you to keep another player from bidding, or to end the bidding altogether.

On top of all those cards, there are immediate use cards that are used and discarded as soon as they are chosen. Some of them summon the Bigfoot or Leviathan to block paths on the board. Others give you more treasure cards, allow you to steal unclaimed treasure or adventure cards from other players, or simply force other players to discard cards or get an extra curse.

After 16 rounds of bidding (with extra treasure cards being passed out after round 4 & 9), the game ends. Each player will total up their treasures (minus the curses), leftover coins, and points from their destiny card, and the player with the most points is the winner.

Each player will have a choice of one of two destiny cards at the start of the game, and is basically a secret goal to fulfill throughout the game to get extra points at the end. Some of the goals want you to visit up to 6 specific locations, with the point value increasing for each location visited. Some goals want you to end the game on a specific location for big points, with points taken away for each path away from that location. Other destinies are based off of adventure cards you have leftover in your hand at the end, or what types of treasures you played throughout the game.

The destiny cards are great for shaping your overall strategy for the game, which helps create a reason for everyone to want to head off in different directions beyond the couple treasures and curses you start with. Some are a lot more difficult to fulfill than others, but the point differences are reflected accordingly.

Final Thoughts:
This game is a lot of fun, and seems more of a social game than strategy game, especially when playing with a full 6 players and the amount of chaos that brings. I haven't played with only 3 (my lowest count is 4), but I can see that being a little more strategic. Though I prefer a full compliment of players as the chaos and everyone fighting to go in different directions seems to be the theme they were going for. Trying to do what you want, and avoid certain places is where the tension comes in, and having less players means less chance of being opposed.

With everything being card-based, there is a lot of luck involved. Your treasures and curses are given randomly, the destinies are random, and with so many different types of cards available in the adventure deck, with some inherently better than others, some players will definitely get an upper hand over others through no fault of their own. For this reason, this game should be seen as a social game, because those focused only on strategy can definitely end up frustrated.

Otherwise, this game can be a blast, with players trying to one up each other in bids, getting revenge against one another with certain greatly timed adventure cards, or stealing away cards at just the right moment, and pulling off a difficult destiny card for major points. Player interaction is through the roof on this one, so you must be in the right mindset for it. If you are, this game is a great time.

I usually prefer more complex strategy style games myself, but I find this game is a lot of fun with a group of 5-6. Because of that, I rate this game an 8, following the BGG rating guidelines.

If you want to read more of my reviews, you can find them at A Year With My Games. Thanks for taking the time to read this!
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Alexander Montgomery
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West Haven
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So I have been following your reviews for a while, we seem to have similar opinions on games, I just popped on a copy of this with the Fantasy Flight Black Friday special.... don't let me down.
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Daniel Hadlock
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Roy
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Thanks for the review, I just received this from my Secret Santa your review helped me prep for the game. Now w/ 2 plays under our belt it's an enjoyable game.
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United States
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Yeah this game is pretty chaotic, but it's still a lot of fun. I didn't even know anything about it before I traded for it, but I am glad I did.
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Edward B.
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I've played with three, and it isn't very strategic at that level, either.

The artwork on this game is amazing, and one of the reasons I picked it up. Other people I've played with seem to like it quite a bit, but I'm really lukewarm on the game. It's fun, and I wouldn't argue with someone if they wanted to play, but I don't really bring it out, either. I would like to see bigger penalties for those curse cards!
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