There are plenty of good civilization building games, but Spirit Island takes a wonderful alternate approach where players take the role of spirits trying to protect/reclaim their island from colonists building towns and cities, often at the expense of the natural habitat.
Spirit Island is a challenging co-op with a real sense of entropy and things getting out of hand. Each turn the game controlled colonists the players are working against explore new areas, while building villages and cities in areas they’ve already explored and cause damage to the island, native inhabitants, and spirits in areas they’ve already built in.
The mechanics that govern the progression of what players are fighting against are ingenious, including an interesting, natural mechanic where one of the victory conditions gets less stringent as the game goes on. That’s not to say it gets easier though, as the colonists and their buildings spread rapidly and become more entrenched turn by turn. At the same time the spirits evolve and grow of the course of the game, giving players more options to fight back with. This is something that really feels different among all the games I play, to great effect.
There are couple of different ways to win, speaking to different strengths of spirits and strategies around winning by causing destruction versus purely scaring the colonists away. The game is also specifically designed to scale with the number of players, in all aspects from the number of various counters used to the board size itself. So far it all seems really well designed and balanced.
But the wonderful thing is within that balance they’ve achieved a tangible feeling of pressure and escalation. At times we felt a bit of the type of frantic energy and “quick – what are we going to do now?!” edge usually present in real time games, which is an impressive feat in a game where there isn’t actually any time pressure to the turns. The level of immersion and the way the gameplay draws the players in is fantastic, and perhaps most importantly in a game like this while challenging it is beatable, and players can easily see how close they came even in case of defeat.
I’ve played Spirit Island with 2 players with a couple of different people, and have tried it solo as well. As harrowing as things were with 2 players, I found the single player mode even more difficult as there’s no help to make up for your particular spirit’s weaknesses. It’s a really interesting, different challenge, and I can see myself playing both solo and multiplayer modes regularly in the future.
There are also scenarios, specific colonizer adversaries, and a variety of spirits to play that enhance variety and replayability. This looks to stay fresh and engrossing for quite some time, even before diving into the available expansion content.
Overall Spirit Island is a well executed, highly thematic, fun game of increasing pressure.