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Review – La Isla

Review – La Isla

This is a review of La Isla designed by Stefan Feld. It plays 2 – 4 players. Realistcally, I’d estimate the playtime at 45 minutes.

There are a few simplified mechanics at play in this game that work so well together.

On a turn, all players draw three cards. The card effects vary based on what portion of the turn you use them in, but you have the select how you will use them at the beginning of your turn so this portion is the main action selection portion of each turn. You slot the cards into your holder at this point and the turn begins once everyone has done that.

The first card will grant your a persistent effect (such as gain VPs when certain conditions are met, or collect resources when another condition is met, etc), the second card will give you a resource, and the final card will move the main tracker closer towards end game conditions, as well as possibly scoring you points.

In between the second and third cards, you spend resources to place your explorer piece on the map, potentially collecting animal tokens. When the tracker for an animal moves up, you gain points for the animals you have.

The gameplay is actually quite simple, but damn is this game deeply satisfying – and shockingly so for how light the game is. The mechanics compliment each other elegantly and the order of operations forces some deep analysis on each turn.

Thematically, the players control explorers who are venturing into the jungle attempting to corner and capture…endangered species? Huh.

But honestly, the theme isn’t too tightly bound to the gameplay. Animal trackers move up, you get resources, and none of that really has any thematic purpose whatsoever.

It’s a mechanics game first and foremost and I don’t see that as a problem.

The art here is a little rough. The board appears very congested and busy as there are a lot of icons, spaces, and colors on the board. It makes sense when you get used to it, but at first glance, it’s a little off-putting.

The iconography was likely what extended our gameplay so much. It’s not super intuitive and the fact that the player cards are small, the reference cards are small, and you only get ONE set of those reference cards, meant a lot of passing the cards back and forth during the phases. I actually ended up snapping a photo of the reference cards on my phone so that I could just reference that.

The color choices weren’t great either, as it’s difficult to tell some resources apart. The yellow and tan cubes look frustratingly similar when piled together, but there is yellow-ish lighting where we play.

This game moves along quite quickly. You soon realize that there isn’t enough time to do everything you want, but the game is short enough and easy enough that you can always just start another game.

The main lag in the game comes in the action selection and card allocation at the start of each turn, but everyone is doing this (and the resolution of 3/4ths of their turn) simultaneously, so there is very little down time.

I see this game on clearance sales fairly often. I got my copy as part of a buy two get one sale, so I paid maybe in the mid to high teens for this. At that price, this game is an incredible value, but I could see paying up to $25 – $30 for it. The gameplay is immensely satisfying compared to how simple and lightweight the rules actually are.

Despite my gripes with the artwork, the components are nice, the board is made of large interlocking pieces, and the card holders weren’t entirely necessary but really help keep your player area organized. That was a thoughtful addition, for sure.

As I said, this game is light – I’d say on the lower end of mid-weight at most. I rarely try to teach a game without having learned it myself, but I just read the rules out loud for this one and we had little trouble. The segmentation of the actions make your in-turn decisions very minimal. It’s all about how you setup each turn that counts, so newcomers won’t be paralyzed with options.

I can absolutely see myself bringing this game out to our public game nights and I think the family might enjoy this one as well. I’m eager to play again, for sure.

There are a boatload of cards (and you don’t even have to use them all for your first few games) so we maybe worked through half of them in a three player game. There are also about two dozen actions that the cards grant, so strategies can be varied.

We “got” the game after the first couple of turns, as the turn structure replays until the end game is triggered. There were no surprises, as long as you remind players of the few special VP conditions at the end.

Final Thoughts
This game was a huge surprise for me. I bought it on clearance, simply because it was a Stefan Feld game, but had low expectations for it, assuming it to be a simplistic, family game. I was very wrong and realized that almost immediately. There is an elegant depth to this game and I was blown away.