4 Chits, 4 Giggles
If you're over the age of fourteen, you may have heard the expression "You gotta spend it to make it!" In case you don't know what it means, it's a business saying about spending money to make money. After playing Summoner's Isle though, it seems this applies to magical energy too or as the Summoner's call it, mana...
This game by up and coming designer Robbie Munn is a nifty little area control game, and it is very well put together. The art of the titled island is stunning and the little beasties you summon throughout the game have a fantastic silhouette style that reminds me of those cute little shadowy creatures from Kingdom Hearts (they're called the heartless, keep up Dave! -Russ).
You all play as Summoners who have discovered a magic rich island and you all want the tasty energy goodness for yourself (like evil wizard oil barons). You must fight off the beasties summoned by the other players if you want to win, with the goal being the first player to gain thirty five Summoner points, or have the most points after nine rounds. That player is crowned the Super Summoner! Or winner, for short.
All players start with just five Summoning points and must spend these wisely by summoning their minions onto the island. Sprites are small but are cheap at only one point and are great at collecting you more magic points. Trolls are a little more expensive, costing three points but they're your muscle; they have plenty of actions to get around the island and punch the other Summoner's minions back into the ether. Then there are the Wyrms. At five whole Summoner points a pop, each player only gets one to play with but they hit hard! Often there will be an epic Wyrm battle taking place in the centre of the board where players cross their fingers and hope that the dice are kind to them.
The game takes place over up to nine rounds, and each round follows three phases. There's the Summoning phase, the Action phase and the Energy phase.
The Summoning phase is where you spend your Summoning points to bring new creatures onto the map, using up the very points that you'll need to win, and this goes in player order but also creature order, so everybody will choose whether to bring out their most powerful minions first, followed by the Trolls and then the sprites, which adds a tactical element to the game as those in last place get the most information to choose from but also the worst spots to place them.
Action phase is where all the fun stuff happens! Combat is quick and fun and like the most exciting of games involves a die. Each unit has either an attack bonus, a defense value/bonus, or both. The Sprites add one to their dice roll when they attack, but their only defense is how many other Sprites are in the same territory as them, so bunching them together gives them much better defense. Trolls get to add two to whatever they roll when they attack, but they have a pretty strong defense value of seven. Finally Wyrm's have a huge plus four advantage when attacking, and a very high defense of eight, but there are no certainties in this game and everybody is only a dice roll away from being wiped off the board!
You can get more points to spend on summoning by beating up your opponents minions, sucking the energy from them as they turn back to Summoner soup and are placed back into your opponents stash ready to be summoned again next turn, so careful planning and all out attacking are both valid strategies for winning the game.
After the dust of combat settles, each Summoner gains their Summoner points during the final (Energy) phase depending on the areas they control and how many minions they have where there are no other enemies because while minions love mana mining, they only do it when there are no other nasties around. You'll move your tracker up according to what you gained (or lost, as the closer you get to your goal, an automatic balancing mechanic sees players lose Summoning points) and turn order is determined for the next round starting with the player who currently has the least points, moving up the rank from there. Going early in the turn order is therefore great because it means you get to attack first, giving you the chance to take out your enemies minions before they get to attack you!
Summoner's Isle captures the feel of battle in a light and fun way. It's like a game of Risk with all the rubbish bits taken out and a huge injection of imagination and fun shoved in. The game is mechanically brilliant and a joy to play through. Combat is fast and frantic and you'll cheer when the dice land in your favour.
If you like light area control games with well refined mechanics then you should be booking the first flight to the Summoner's Isle. I'll meet you there, magical minions at the ready!
Review by David Murcutt
BONUS: Check out a full playthrough video for this game right here!