Isle of Skye – Review

Type: Tile Laying & Euro

Time to play: < 1 hr (Teaching: 15-20 minutes)

Best played with: 4 players

Isle of Skye is a tile playing game where each player builds their own isle – full of whisky barrels, cows and castles! In the game, you start with your own castle and then draw three tiles from the bag. With those three tiles you then discard one and place a bid behind two others. This is done in secret with the bids held behind a small screen. A short trading round then occurs – any money you did not bid is available to you to bid on the other tiles you see. You can buy the tile of any opponent for their bid. If you do buy the tile, that player gets their bid back and the money you paid. The trading round goes clockwise until all players have bought or passed (just once!). Then all players lay their tiles on their own maps – as long as they fit in some form.

This is a fascinating game for two reasons; one it has a pricing model that is intriguing and difficult to master, and two the scoring (not mentioned above) is different every time. Starting with the pricing; each round you will have three tiles which you will value or discard. You can only value them with the coins in your hand – overspending in one round can leave you exposed in the next. Undervaluing a tile will surely lead to your opponent buying it. However if no-one buys the tile, you must pay that price for it. So each round you look around and try to work out (a) how much that tile is worth to you and (b) how much it is worth to someone else. Playing well you can ensure you don’t overpay for what you keep and you can get the most for the tiles you do lose.

Turn order also plays an intriguing role here. If you buy a tile from a player still to purchase/pass then that player will have more money to buy your tile. However, if you want them to buy it then perhaps you want them to have the money!

So then to the scoring; at the end of each round you score based on tiles picked at random at the start of the game. At first only one tile, but then combinations of the four chosen. So then you might try to play for each rounds scoring round by round, or prepare for a big score in one round hoping that others won’t outscore across the others (or that you will not have to pay too much for the tiles you need!).

I have taken the time above to explain these key mechanics because they are in my opinion what makes this game really impressive. I would closely compare this to Carcassonne (as the classic tile laying game), but here rather being limited to placing a meeple on the tile you lay, you are able to build for multiple strategies each round. Furthermore, you can pull back a player winning by pricing them out of the tiles they need. This kind of catch up mechanic – where the group can work together to hold back one – is the most interesting approach to me. Having the game shuffle player odder, or provide preference to other players helps but it is best when players can catch up through their own choices.

Comparing it to Carcassonne; there is a great tension here in each round. If you have a tile that would be too valuable in another player’s island then you can simply discard it. However, if the coin would help you build then perhaps you should keep it and put a high price?! This circular iteration between discarding, bidding high and worrying you would have to pay that price is well developed.

So, I think this is a very compelling game and I prefer it to the classic in it’s genre. However, despite the expectation into Essen 2016 it has not perhaps reviewed as well as it could. The biggest flaw in my view would be that this is neither a “filler” game nor is it long/complex enough to build a fulfilling strategy like many other engine builder / Euro games (e.g. Terraforming Mars or Terra Mystica). Trying to pick a flaw within the game, I would point to the tiles that score bonuses for other resources on the tile – the player that gets these multipliers is often the winner. Most of the time this can balance out, but sometimes it doesn’t and that kills the game.

Last notes;

  • If you like Euro games or want a variant on Carcassonne to change up the play or you like bidding games then I would strongly recommend this game
  • If you like theme, then this is quite weak. The theme is almost irrelevant to the game
  • If you are sitting down for a long game, jump this or be ready to play this a couple of times

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