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Game review: Islebound brings nautical conquest and adventure to the tabletop

The board game Islebound by Red Raven Games allows gamers to play the role of a ship's captain. Players travel to different exciting ports in a make believe world in order to gather supplies, hire more crew, gain renown, build structures, get money or gain fame. It's a nautical adventure that requires a little luck and a lot of strategy. Land ahoy!

From two to four players each start with a ship, seven gold coins, a home port and three starting crew. The goal is to earn the most renown by collecting gold, constructing buildings and performing actions available in different ports around the game map.

Speaking of the game map, it's the first thing that gamers will discover is unique about Islebound. The board is made up of several different double-sided pieces that come together like a puzzle. The four corners of the game board are the home ports of the players. Overall, it's a fantastic design that adds tons of variety because the board can be played on either side.

On a turn, a player first moves his or her ship. The board is divided into spaces and a ship can move two to four spaces depending on the skills of the crew. New crew members can be hired along the way that allow the ship to move faster.

After movement, a player gets to take one action and as many free actions as he or she can. One action that players can take is to visit one of the islands on the board. Each island has a cost to visit it and an action that can be performed after.

For example, on the island of Stratic, visitors must pay a coin and exhaust a crew member that has an administrative skill. They may then build an available building. Other visitor actions on different islands allow hiring more crew members, hiring soldiers or sea serpents for battles or gathering wood, books and fish.

Another action available to players is to attack an island. Islands can be taken over and owned by players by matching or exceeding the island's strength. To gain enough attack strength, sea captains recruit soldiers and sea serpents. Once an island is taken over, the owner can now visit it and perform the action there for free.

Some islands however, will only surrender if diplomacy is used. For diplomacy strength, players try to add cubes to the game's influence track by doing a variety of things throughout the game. This is a wonderful aspect to the game because it rewards players for investing in something other than combat actions or building combat strength.

The final action a player may perform is to take the money that has accumulated on the treasure map. Money accumulates here when players pay money to visit a town. The only other way to earn money is take control of an island. Sometimes money can get scarce in the game so players will eventually need to take over an island even if that means taking an island already owned by another player.

A cool aspect to this game are reputation and event cards. Event cards reward players with a bonus when they meet the requirements of the card and travel to the location where the event is taking place. Reputation cards are used by visiting a particular city called farwold. These cards give potential reputation points to all players no matter who activates it.

Renown points are earned throughout the game for various things. They accumulate to a maximum of seven and then reset, but at seven points, players collect a bonus such as free resources or coins. But remember, it is renown points that win the game.

Buildings are a wonderful touch to this game. A huge deck of building cards are available to draw from. There are five available each turn. Each building has a cost to build it, a benefit it gives the player who built it and renown points it is worth at the end of the game. The game ends when a single player builds a certain amount of buildings.

I can't stress enough how well designed this game is. There are a lot of moving parts but the rulebook is easy to follow and the descriptions address every aspect players will run into. I was surprised over and over again how easy it was to find an answer in the rulebook when I had a rules question.

When it comes to board game design, finding the right balance between variety, complexity, fun and length is difficult to do. It might take a designer years to get the right mix. But local Utah designer Ryan Laukat of Red Raven Games is gifted. He consistently designs games that are balanced, appropriate for families and extremely fun to play. And he does all of the fantastic artwork himself. All of his games are good, but Islebound is one of the best. Purchase it. You won't be disappointed.