Tara won Island Hopper at SaltCon 2018 as part of the Blackout prize. We were really excited to play this game, and have now played it a few times. I enjoy that Island Hopper has several elements that make it fun for all kinds of people, whether or not they would usually enjoy this type of game.
See the BoardGameGeek page for Island Hopper.
Island Hopper is a timed dexterity game in which players have the chance to either pilot a cargo plane to various islands, delivering goods; or to collect money from contracts on the goods delivered to specific islands. The goal of the game is to have the most money at the end. You can collect money in a few ways:
As the Pilot
- Some Contract Cards have tourists on them. These give you money for each island you land goods on on your turn. Tourist Cards are the only kind of contract a Pilot can collect on.
- Each time the Pilot lands a good on an island, they are able to collect the coins that have been placed around that island.
As Business People
- If the pilot lands a qualifying good on an island pictured on a Contract Card in your hand, you can claim the amount stated on the contract card. Easy enough, right?
- Each Contract Card has one or more goods icons on it. By collecting multiples of these symbols, a player can claim extra cash at the end of the game. The more of a symbol you have, the more cash you claim.
Those mechanisms drive the entire game. The Pilot is generally motivated to land on islands with more coins around them. As a result, the other players can place money from their collection of wealth next to an island to incentivize a pilot to deliver a good to that island. Bribery and connivance play a role in this game, as does good spacial awareness.
Why spacial awareness?
Because, as the Pilot you must place your hand on one Good Token, close your eyes and lift the good 3-6 inches (7.6-15 cm) off the surface of the table and try to move your hand so that the good drops onto the island. If any part of the good token is touching the table, it doesn’t count as having landed successfully on the island. To top it off, the pilot has only one minute to decide which islands to deliver goods to, and to deliver as many as you can (up to the number of players). Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that all the players each have 3 chances during each round to guide the pilot with a one-word direction, like “drop” or “left”.
Each player gets the chance to be the pilot by bidding for the role. It’s a great way to make extra money, especially if you have a steady hand, a good sense of where islands are relative to each other, and the ability to drop a wooden token gently. It also helps if you have a tourist or two.
Island Hopper’s Best Points
Island Hopper is a well designed game with solid mechanisms that help evoke the theme. Most importantly, it doesn’t punish players that struggle with dexterity games in general.
It’s Also About Strategy
Island Hopper isn’t only about dexterity. In fact, players have to strategize far more than in most dexterity games. Unlike Pitch Car (one of the games we played at SaltCon 2018), your inability to perform the dexterity component of the game is rarely crippling. In one of the games we’ve played I was never the pilot, and I won by a fair margin. On the other hand, from the other times we’ve played, it’s clear that having dexterity is a valuable asset. Both times, the player who was Pilot most often won the game.
Additionally, it’s a style of dexterity game that I’ve never encountered before. Having to drop wooden tokens on to punch-board islands, all while my eyes were closed makes for a challenge. It’s a challenge where strategy, skill, and luck all have a part, and you’ve got to balance all three.
The components are nice, and the packaging is even better. The box has places for all of the components, and even a clear, molded plastic lid that attaches to the insert and displays the game to its best advantage and keeps the pieces in their relative containers. The outer box is made of really nice, high quality chip-board and has a couple of cool features, like cut-outs that help me to open and close the box a bit more easily.
All of the artwork and mechanisms really help the theme work. I think that the theme makes the game more fun, and it makes sense. Unlike other games, Island Hopper has a theme that really makes sense with how the game works. Even the height at which you lift the pieces makes sense with the theme, as does the relative distance between islands. It’s a solid theme that doesn’t really do much to draw me in, but it fits well and is nearly perfectly executed.
Unfortunately, not everything about Island Hopper is awesome. Just most things. Between a few flimsy components, and some inconsistencies related to physics, the downsides are relatively minor.
Flimsy Player Shields
One of the biggest complaints I have about this game is that the player shields are flimsy. They’re printed on glossy paper that is remarkable thin and easily crumpled or bent. For how good most of the components in this game are, the player shields are sorely disappointing.
Another issue I have with Island Hopper is how inconsistent it can be. If I try to drop a wooden token on a wooden table, it’s going to have a different reaction than if I try to drop it on a table with a play mat over the top. Because most players can adjust easily enough, that inconsistency isn’t going to make or break the game. It’s simply a minor annoyance.
Buy Island Hopper
I really enjoy playing Island Hopper, and I’d recommend it for anyone who wants a game that requires someone to have dexterity, even if it isn’t you.
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