Palm Island, from designer Jon Mietling and Portal Dragon is on Kickstarter now. A review copy of the game was provided for the purposes of this review.
Palm Island is exactly the kind of game I tend to fall for. It’s almost comically concise – with a tiny deck of just 17 cards that you can fit in the palm of your hand. It offers variability, has a number of clever additions and variants for play, and most important of all, it’s a solo game.
Combined with a beautiful aesthetic, it’s a game that immediately captured my attention, and one I was eager to share with BGA readers.
You can watch my review below from YouTube, or keep scrolling to read my thoughts in greater detail:
How Palm Island Plays
This is one of those deceptively simple games that uses a handful of mechanics to really make you think. Each card essentially has four sides – a top and bottom on both sides of the card. Actions will allow you to flip, turn and rotate cards to access more powerful resources and eventually victory points.
At the top of each card half there are resources. You can spend resources (or in the case of the card above, pay nothing) to turn the card 90 degrees and put it in the back of the deck. Those resources are now available for future use in purchasing other actions. The catch? The number of resources you can have primed is limited, and if the resources aren’t used before the deck cycles back around, you lose them, turning the card back to normal.
The trick here is to carefully manipulate your cards, upgrading them and adjusting them so that you can afford the big actions as the game progresses. As you can see, you can also turn the card upside down, making it worth victory points in the case above, or flip the card over, often unlocking even more resources and/or points.
In addition to the core game with its 17 card deck, there are objective cards and character cards. These allow you to generate extra victory points, as well as special abilities you can use to generate more points, or in some cases, attack your opponents with.
Yet another variant introduces cooperative victory conditions, requiring players to pool together their resources and take on famine, a hurricane, or a volcanic eruption (each harder than the next).
It’s always the sign of a solid, well-implemented mechanic when a game is able to take that mechanic and retool it multiple times over for new takes. Expansion opportunities are endless.
What I Like About Palm Island
There’s something instantly likeable about a game like Palm Island. Similar to other single deck card games like Onirim or Port Royal, it consolidates all of its mechanisms into a single small deck of cards. Yes, there could have been resource markers of some kind, but they aren’t needed. The cards do the job just fine.
It’s that simplicity that makes this a game you can play over and over again, flying through the deck eight quick times in succession to try and best your previous high score. It’s not just a solo game, nor is it just a cooperative or competitive game. That core engine of 17 cards can be put to use in clever ways, implementing attacks, group objectives, and cooperative missions. And because of the compact nature of the game, it fits in your pocket. This is the kind of game I’m going to have on me whenever I go to a convention because it can be played in line without having to sit down – you can play as you walk, and no iPad required.
While I wasn’t able to see the game’s final artwork (this is going on Kickstarter tomorrow), what I did see I liked. It’s colorful and evocative of its tropical island locale, and opens up opportunities for some great artwork on the character and objective cards.
What I Don’t Like About Palm Island
To be honest, there isn’t much I dislike about this game. Similar to a game like Finished! the fixed nature of the deck is the sum total of the randomness, but it’s a small deck, which makes that memory mechanism a bit more forgiving than Friese’s game.
I did have some issues manipulating the cards in my palm. The game can absolutely be played in your hands, but when you have three resource cards tucked back and you’re trying to hold two cards in hand while evaluating your options, thinks can slip a bit. And don’t drop the cards – if you do, you might as well restart since each card has four unique positions you can hold it.
The Bottom Line
Palm Island is a simple, quick game with a surprising amount of depth that is the perfect short filler for convention lines, game night waiting, or whenever you’re up for a good solo challenge. The implementation of other mechanics, and more promised to come in the Kickstarter, mean the game will have depth for a lot of game groups well beyond those initial 17 cards. This is a game I definitely plan to back. For solo gamers, lovers of compact card games, or those looking for your next small profile filler, definitely check out Palm Island.
Verdict – Back it!