Escape from Pirate Island Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 5 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
  • For 1 to 6 players
  • Approximately 45 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Shipwrecked on a hostile island, you must work together to survive and leave the island in one piece!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

It is truly an island paradise, full of exotic birds and beautiful sandy beaches. Go deeper into it, however, and you’ll start to see the island’s more sinister side. The island natives, for one, are not too pleased that you have landed on their island, and are more than happy to push you back into the ocean with their spears. Then there’s the pirates and the walking skeletons, not to mention that very large and unstable volcano that looks to be erupting in the very near future. So why even bother to land on such an island? For the treasure, of course! And not just any treasure – pirate treasure! Work together to survive and be rich or, well…let’s not think about the alternative.

Escape from Pirate Island, by self-published game designer Mike Young via the Game Crafter, is comprised of 24 double-sided Island hexes, 8 Pirate figures, 6 Headhunter figures, 3 Skeleton figures, 58 Event cards, 12 Character cards, 12 Character markers, 1 Pirate Ship card, 40 Resource cards, 10 Treasure Map cards, 6 Lava tokens, 4 Trap tokens, 1 Treasure token, 1 Native Village token, 1 Food Tracker marker, 1 Food Track card, and 6 Turn Summary sheets.

Example of what is included in the game

Game Set Up

Note: Game set up is fairly involved and is best done prior to inviting any players to the table.

To set up the game, first find the Lagoon, Shipwreck, and Volcano Island location hexes and set aside. Take the remaining Island hexes and shuffle. Randomly draw 16 Island hexes, face-down. The Island map is then built as demonstrated in the following example.

Example of what the island playing space will look like after it is built

Second, create the Event Deck using the instructions provided in the game that detail the specific requirements. The Event deck is always different each game, making every game a unique experience. Place the Event deck to the side of the game board and within easy reach of all the players.

Third, place the Food Tracker card to the side of the playing area and place the Food Tracker marker in the starting position. This represents all the player’s food for the game. Don’t let the game character’s starve!

Fourth, shuffle the Character deck and deal out 2 to each player. The players should look at these cards and keep one, taking special note of each character’s special ability. This is their starting character. The Character deck is shuffled again and a number of Non-Player Characters (NPCs) are drawn based on the number of players in the game. These are the player character’s friends and can be used to help survive the island. Place the NPCs off to the side of the board as they are used by all the players.

Example of a Character card that can be a player character or an NPC

Fifth, shuffle the Resource cards and deal 2 to each player and 2 to each NPC. These are the character’s starting resources. They’ll find more while exploring the island. Place the remaining Resource deck to the side of the game board and within easy reach of all the players.

Sixth, place a Pirate figure on the starting space and Character markers in the character starting area for every player character and NPC.

Seventh, place the Treasure Map cards to one side of the board. They will be used a little bit later in the game and will help the characters find the treasure so they can leave the island.

All the other game bits are kept to the side and will be used later in the game.

That’s it for game set up! Time to play! Choose the first player and begin!

Exploring & Surviving the Island

Escape from Pirate Island is played in rounds with each player having a single turn per round. On the player’s turn, they will complete the following steps in sequential order which are summarized here:

Step 1: East Food

The first thing a player must do is feed their character. This is done by shifting the Food Tracker marker to the next lower number on the Food Tracker card. If the Food Tracker marker is already at its lowest value, the player MUST discard one Resource card from either their character or from an NPC that is occupying the same hex of the map as their character. If they cannot, the player’s character will die of starvation right then and there.

Step 2: Movement

Movement on the island is done by moving the player’s character 1 or 2 adjacent hexes. The player can move their character and any NPC up to 2 hex spaces. The NPCs need not be in the same hex as the player character to be moved, nor does the NPC need to end their turn on the same hex as the player character.

Step 3: Explore or Encounter

The player now explores the hex their character is on if it has not yet been flipped over to reveal the hex location name. No other action is taken on this step. If, however, the hex has already been flipped, the player can choose to explore the hex again, which changes the hex to another random hex not yet on the board, or encounters the hex space. Encountering the hex space allows the player to take specific actions as noted on the location’s description.

Step 4: Treasure Map

This step will allow the players to start finding the treasure, but this action is not available at first. There is an Event card that must be drawn to allow this step to be taken. Until then, this step is ignored.

Step 5: Event

The player now draws an Event card, reads it out-loud, and does whatever the Event card states. The card could populate the island with more bad guys or help the players.

Step 6: Hazards and Enemies

If the player is located on a hex space where an enemy is located or a hazardous element, like hot lava from the now very active island volcano, they must spend resources to avoid or eliminate the threat. If the player cannot successfully deal with each enemy and hazard, their character dies. Any NPC located on the same hex space can assist the player.

Step 7: Escape the Island

Like the Treasure Map, this step is not available at first. The players can only take this step if their character or NPC is currently located on the Lagoon hex space, the players have found the treasure, and the pirate ship has arrived. Until then, this step is ignored.

Once the player has completed all the steps noted above, their turn is over and the next player goes, repeating the steps.

Starvation, Combat, and Character Death

Each character has a special ability that can be used to possibly help them out of a tough spot. Sometimes, though, a character just can’t escape bad luck. When a character dies, either because of starvation or they do not have a resource card they can use to fight hazards and enemies, the character perishes. Lucky for the players, this does not mean the end of the game. Instead, they take control of one of the surviving NPCs and then use it as their new character on their next turn.

Players are not penalized if a character dies, nor does it impact the victory condition of the game. It does, however, make the game a bit harder. With less NPCs available, there are fewer resources and helpful hands to explore the island, find the treasure, and get to safety.

Treasure Maps and Loot

As the players explore the island, they will eventually draw an Event card that triggers the Treasure Map step. The players now look through the Treasure Map deck and match one card to each hex space that has the treasure map icon. If there are less than 6 spaces that have been found, random Treasure Map cards are added to those that represent hex spaces already found. The remaining 4 Treasure Deck cards are then removed, with only the 6 Treasure Map cards remaining in play.

For the duration of the game, and until the treasure is found, players can now use the Treasure Map step on their turn to narrow down where the treasure can be found. A Treasure Map card will be flipped over revealing a specific hex space location. A player must be in that space during the Treasure Map step to allow another Treasure Map card to be drawn. If a Treasure Map card is drawn that shows a hex space location not currently on the map, players must explore previously explored hex spaces to find the missing location.

Once all the locations have been found and matched with the Treasure Map cards, the players have found the treasure!

Escaping With the Loot!

Once the treasure is found, all the currently living characters and NPCs must get off the island. To do so, all the characters and NPCs must travel to the Lagoon hex space where, hopefully, a pirate ship sits anchored. If not, the players must wait until the Event card places the pirate ship. When it is there, the NPCs and character need to be on the Lagoon hex space by step 7 to escape. Once all the survivors have done so, the players have won the game, stealing not only the pirates’ treasure but also their ship!

Of course, if all the NPCs and player characters die, the players lose. The players can also lose if the Event deck runs out.

We’ve only summarized the rules of Escape from Pirate Island, and there is much more to explore. We did not include, for example, solitaire play, the hot lava and traps, undead skeletons, earthquakes, and other nastiness. To learn more about Escape from Pirate Island and read the full rules, see the game’s web page on the Game Crafter.

Prediction

Pirates and ninjas. Two types of characters my little geeks (and I) have always enjoyed. Thematically speaking, this game is going to be a winner. Exploration on an exotic island with undead skeletons, pirates, and headhunters is going to tickle the fancy of everyone in our test groups, from Child Geeks to Gamer Geeks. This game really does come across as an adventure after reading the instructions and I am most eager to have one.

The cooperative element immediately makes this game more accessible. Cooperative games allow other players to be much more helpful than they would otherwise during a game where the folks at the table are opponents versus team members. This type of environment promotes helpful game discussions and allows inexperience game players to be a part of a game with veteran game players without slowing things down or putting unnecessary pressure on any individual to “do well”. Cooperative games are all about the “team”, not the “individual”. Of course, this type of environment also opens the door for loud and aggressive players to take over, but that’s just something you need to be aware of and handle discreetly if it occurs.

When I pitched this game to my two oldest little geeks, they were very excited to play it. To date, they have played cooperative dungeon crawlers and I just started to play Pandemic with them to see if they could handle it. Escape from Pirate Island doesn’t come across as difficult, but the resource management aspect is going to take a bit of focus when I teach the game. Most of the enemies you can avoid and survive, but starvation is going to take out a player’s character anywhere on the island.

Teaching the game is probably best done while playing it. This is because the steps needed to complete on a player’s turn don’t make much sense until you have context. I did a general overview with my test groups, and most of the time they looked lost. Once I put the game in front of them, however, the lights in the attic came on. The same can be said for my little geeks who were befuddled by what I was telling them until they saw it in action. And so, after carefully explaining the importance of balancing resources and the need to explore as a group, my little geeks and I were ready to go the island and have an adventure. Before we did so, I asked them their thoughts on the game so far.

“I think this looks like a really neat game. Reminds me a lot of Scooby-Do and the pirates he is always fighting.” ~ Liam (age 8)

“Oh, yeah! We’re going to kick those pirates in the butt, Dad!” ~ Nyhus (age 5)

Let’s get to the game and see if it lives up to my little geek’s exceptions…and mine. Will the game be an adventure or a wasted trip to a ho-hum island? Let’s find out!

Final Word

I am most pleased to report that my little geeks did very well in the game. As expected, I had to take on the “leader role” for a bit until they got the hang of the game and could manage on their own. The game is not difficult and the players need only complete each step in sequential order each time they have a turn. The only real decisions a player might get a bit lost on is where to move their characters at first when the island is so big and unexplored. It is later in the game, when the Treasure Maps start to play a larger roll, that the players start to get some direction and motivation as the Event deck disappears and the island becomes more and more hostile. For my little geeks, this proved to be a wonderful adventure and they had a great time. This is also a game that does not require the player to be able to read if there is another player willing to read for them. I must caution, however, that younger players tend to not speak up when they should or play an equal role in the game as their older teammates. Do what you can to help them feel like an important member of the party so they don’t think they are just being dragged along.

Parent Geeks had a wonderful time with their little geeks and with their peer group. One Parent Geek said this game felt a lot like the pirate movies from Disney that are so popular at the moment. Another Parent Geek suggested this game provided a slightly darker version of the movie, The Goonies. There was some discussion on where the game felt a bit “broken” however. Specifically, the game playing speed at times felt a bit slow and the first portion of the game felt a little repetitive. This, they said, wasn’t a deal breaker for them, but something they didn’t care for as much in the game.

The Gamer Geeks were not terribly thrilled by the game and were rather subdued until the game kicked it up a notch towards the end. They have played a number of cooperative games before and found this one to be a bit too slow and a bit too random for their tastes. They all agreed it would be an excellent introduction to cooperative games, however, but was not a game they would seek out to play.

A shot of our most recent game with the Parent Geeks – we are slowly making progress

Gamer Geeks, this is a fairly well designed cooperative game, but it lags a bit and is somewhat repetitive in nature. The game mechanisms work exceedingly well together, but the game as a whole falls short of feeling as epic as it is trying to be. The random events will keep you engaged, but not for long. Again and again, your peer group commented that the game felt repetitive and the level of cooperation wasn’t so much a team effort but a primary objective everyone was working towards on their own. Still, the game will keep your interest and greatly increases in difficulty towards the end. Character death is avoidable, but it takes effort, and you’ll be dependent on the NPCs more than you might like. In the end, the game fell just short of satisfying and being approved. The majority of Gamer Geeks all agreed it would take very little to get this game to the next level and be fully endorsed by the gaming elitists. Specifically, more cooperative interaction, better artwork (or, at the least, more consistent artwork), and a bit more game play with the resources.

Parent Geeks, this is a fairly easy game to play but not a game you will easily win. The game starts out fairly easy with players just exploring the island. But the longer the players are on it, the mores populated the island becomes with nasty things that will do all they can to take a player character out. The NPC’s were a nice touch and allow the players to cooperatively control a much larger group than they would have otherwise, but even this won’t save some players from loosing a character or two. The Parent Geeks really enjoyed the theme of the game and said they felt like they were on an adventure with those they were playing it with. The non-gamers, however, were a bit overwhelmed by everything, especially towards the end of the game when everything starts to go bad, quickly. For a family game, you will find this just a bit more complex as it takes a while to set up. Once you start playing it, though, it’s smooth sailing.

Child Geeks, this is a challenging cooperative game of island exploration and treasure hunting! You’ll need to work with others to reach your goal and leave the island, but don’t be afraid to make your own choices. Do, however, consult with the other players to make sure that everyone is working together. It’s fine to exercise your independence, but no one can help you if you are on the wrong side of the island. Take care to play the game the way you want while still acting as a team player. You’ll also need to watch your own resources, but also everyone else. Jump in where you can help and ask for it in return. We think you’ll enjoy the game, but do expect to feel a bit overwhelmed towards the end as the island springs to life and becomes full of danger.

I have mixed feelings about Escape from Pirate Island. It captures a theme I enjoy and has some very interesting and fun game mechanisms that make the game play intriguing and a delight. Then, just as quickly, the fun I am having with it starts to fade as I find myself doing the same thing over and over again. But then again, it all works and comes together very well. At times, I feel like I’m working too hard in the game and then not enough. Watching the other players, I know they feel the same way, and character death always comes as a surprise, which can be really frustrating. But in the end, I rather enjoyed it, despite what others might consider flaws.

I agree with my fellow Gamer Geeks that the game is not yet fully realized, but I don’t see this as a bad game by any means. It’s fairly solid, continues to have a good track record with our groups, and certainly satisfies my island adventure cravings. I can build the island anyway I want, have a relatively different game experience every time I play, and am always impressed by how much damage an earthquake and lava can do to a fake island. Yes, I’d say the game is doing just fine, in my book, but I hope the game designer revisits it and spruces it up. What we have here is a game that feels just shy of being something very special and it frustrates me that it isn’t.

If you are looking for a treasure hunting, island exploring, cooperative game where evil pirates, headhunters, and skeletons abound located on an exotic paradise that is ready to explode, do grab a copy of Escape from Pirate Island.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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