Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of Island Hopper by Eagle-Gryphon Games

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of Island Hopper by Eagle-Gryphon Games
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Title: Island Hopper
Designed by: Scott Almes
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
Year Published: 2017
MSRP: $50
2-6p | 30-45 min | 8+

You and your friends all make a living by selling goods amongst a chain of beautiful tropical islands. Sounds great, right? Well, there's a problem. None of you are successful enough to buy your own seaplane, so you all pitched in and bought one together, which means that each day you all have to use the same plane to make all of the day's deliveries – and some of you aren't going to get paid. To make matters worse, the plane is in such disrepair that the instrumentation is broken, the compass demagnetized, and the windshield is covered in cracks, duct tape, and the remains of a few unfortunate seagulls, so the pilot might as well be flying blind...

Each day in Island Hopper, players auction off the Captain's seat; the player who becomes the Captain is in charge of flying the plane for the day, but cannot make any deliveries of their own. To make their deliveries, the other players bribe the Captain to fly to the islands to which they need to go, thereby earning themselves cash. When it's time for the Captain to fly, the Captain must close his eyes, pick up their goods tokens, and attempt to land them in an island's harbor. A successful landing means that players can fulfill their contracts and the captain collects his bribe — but if the goods splash into the sea, you might find yourself under water...

—description from the publisher

Blooms are the game's highlights and features.  Elements that are exceptional.
  • A silly combination of dexterity and social interaction with a fun bidding mechanic.
  • There are fun, strategic choices to make.
  • The artwork by Kwanchai Moriya is whimsical and the components are top notch.
  • There are lots of moments for laughs, as long as you don't take the game too seriously.
Buds are interesting parts of the game I would like to explore more. 
  • This game isn't for everyone, but if you like social interaction and light strategy, give it a shot!
  • Having limited chances to say a single word has pros and cons.  On one hand, it prevents people from just shouting things out randomly, on the other hand, with certain players it results in no one saying anything.  It might be fun to try playing without the direction tokens and let the pilot have to figure out directions from a cacophony of different instructions.
Thorns are a game's shortcomings and any issues I feel are noteworthy.
  • The game is simple enough, but the rulebook could have used a few more runs by a proofreader.  There are a few typos and phrases that seem to be left over from the prototype (referring to coins as cubes, for example), the terms 'round' and 'phase' are used interchangeably, and there are a few details that seem to be missing (like what triggers the end game).
  • We found players hands tend to either rise from the table or drop closer to the table, so some players tend to drop the goods from higher up, resulting in more bounces and less successful landings, while others are almost placing the goods right onto the islands.  2-3 inches is an ideal height, but it's difficult for everyone to be consistent.
  • While the art throughout the game is pretty nice, the coins are super generic.  They're functional, but about as plain as could be.
  • There is a very high amount of luck in the game, particularly for what contracts and passengers are available to draw.
  • Missing from the rules is what the ruling should be (success or not) if a good is on an island and coins.  Not touching the table, but definitely supported by the coins surrounding the island.  We've been playing that the coins become an extension of the island (thus making it even more attractive to try to fly to), but there's no discussion of this in the rules at all.
Final Thoughts:
Island Hopper is the type of game that needs a very specific audience.  It's quite fun if people are willing to be goofy and silly, but it's not going to work well with people that are very analytical or strategic.  There is a bit of strategy, but it's overshadowed by some silly dexterity mechanics that can leave your best laid plans sunk in the water after a bad bounce.  If you go into the game understanding that the joy comes from the experience, regardless of if you win or lose, you'll have a good time.  This isn't a perfect game; there are some fiddly aspects to it, and for as casual as it is, there is a lot going on outside of the primary mechanics.  Whether you feel this enhances the game to move it up a notch from just a casual dexterity game, or just gets in the way of a silly dexterity filler is up to you and the group you play with.

This is a great game to play with the family, particularly the 8-15 age range.  I think the 12+ age limit is quite a bit higher than necessary - there are no complex mechanics or concepts.  Probably the limiting factor is how far across the table the players can reach since the islands can be spread out a bit.  I think if you like games like Colt Express, Junk Art, or similar light, silly games, Island Hopper might be a good choice for you!

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Rating:
Bud!  This game definitely has some
great moments.  It's good for several plays
and should appeal to most gamers, especially
if you enjoy other games like this.

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GJJ Games Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

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