Designed by R. Eric Reuss and published by Greater Than Games, Spirit Island could be summed up as "What if the Settlers got to Catan, and Catan decided to fight back?"
Spirit Island is a cooperative strategy game where one to four players take the role of magical spirits on the only island where such spirits exist anymore. Unfortunately, one colonial empire or another shows up, decides there's plenty of room to settle and plenty of resources to pillage, and starts tearing up the island. With most spirits not very used to mortal timeframes, it's taken them a bit to wake up and start doing something about it. The island is already in peril of permanent damage, and the spirits need to gain enough momentum to drive the invaders off before their magic fades for good.
Players start with a small amount of presence on the board and their own hand of cards. Each round, players pick an option to grow their spirit, and use their initially limited energy and actions to play power cards that will impact the board. Power cards all have their own speed (immediate or delayed), range, effects, and limitations. The invaders will then follow their own deck of cards to scout more of the island, build more settlements, and damage the island. Too much damage will create blight, which destroys spirit presence, and too much blight ends the game. Island natives will strike back if hurt, but are too passive and few to handle the problem on their own. As the invaders start losing towns, their fear of the unnatural island will rise, making it easier to hit a final breaking point where they all cut their losses and run. Both sides will escalate - the spirits by growing into their full power, the invaders by throwing more and more settlers at you.
Each of the playable spirits are individual characters in their own right. Every spirit has their own set of starting power cards, unique rules, options for growing and gaining power, and unlockable innate powers. Invaders can come from different nations presenting different challenges, special scenario cards can change the dynamics, and finally there's a sliding difficulty scale tailored to each nation. The base game has a lot of content options and replayability, even before getting into expansions.
The game was introduced with a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, and reached players in 2017. A mini-expansion, Branch and Claw, was also funded as a stretch goal from the original campaign, adding 2 more spirits, a new invader, new tokens that add effects to lands, and an event deck to introduce randomness. A second Kickstarter campaign was launched in 2018, for a full expansion titled Jagged Earth, which was fully funded and blew past all its stretch goals before the day ended. Tentative for May 2020, Jagged Earth plans to add ten new spirits, more pieces for 5th or 6th players, 2 new adversaries, aspects that modify base game spirits, more scenarios, powers, events, fear effects, blight effects, and rules for varied island layouts. Finally, each Kickstarter has also included a promo pack with more spirits and content for backers, which is also available to buy separately for new fans.
The Original 8 Spirits
- Lightning's Swift Strike - Shock and Awe. Born of a passing storm, and takes the form of a bird dancing from earth to sky and back. Befitting its nature, good at attacks and rapid action.
- River Surges in Sunlight - An exuberant river that gets along well with the Dahan. Stronger in wetlands, can push the invaders around early on, and work up to drowning them later.
- Vital Strength of the Earth - The life of the land made manifest. Slow, defensive, doesn't change much, but is always building up. Once it takes action, not much stops it.
- Shadows Flicker Like Flame - A spirit not easily meshed with any aspect of the wild, it acts at times like a moving shadow, a veiling smoke, a dark flame, and a consuming void. Its unnatural form makes humans, Dahan and foreigners alike, very very nervous.
- Thunderspeaker - A child of Lightning's Swift Strike, a series of events led it to bind itself to the Dahan as guide and helper. In times of great need, it will fight alongside Dahan and act as a leader to the different clans.
- A Spread of Rampant Green - Overflowing overgrowth. Wildly spreads all plants with abundant childlike glee, even over settlements, and can regenerate itself nearly as quickly.
- Ocean's Hungry Grasp - Spirit of the swallowing sea. Physically limited to ocean and coast areas, but its presence can shift like the tides, and it can easily drown invaders to build up for larger powers.
- Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares - a reclusive and normally dual-purpose spirit that visits all beings that dream, now embracing its dark half to deliver panic, terror, and hysteria to the invaders.
Kickstarter Promo Pack 1
- Heart of the Wildfire - Spirit of destruction and renewal, though other spirits are very wary of the first part. Friend to the Dahan, humans love fire, after all. Extremely potent attacker, but also creates and makes use of Blight, making it easy to do more harm than good.
- Serpent Slumbering Beneath the Island - Quite possibly the First Spirit. Sleeping deep in the bones of the earth, it can only touch the surface weakly. If other spirits allow it to feed on their essence above, however, the Serpent can send power to them in turn, and hasten its own awakening. Once fully roused, nothing can escape its rage.
Branch & Claw
- Keeper of the Forbidden Wilds - A guardian that wards sacred places of untouched deep wilds, for an unknown purpose. Excels at keeping exploring invaders at bay and punishing trespassers, but has difficulty spreading very far, or to areas already damaged and tainted.
- Sharp Fangs Behind the Leaves - Beast spirit of predators, hunters, and stalkers. At home in the jungles, it can move with the beasts of the island, push their hunts to pick off invaders, and marshal vast packs of animals to put the fear of all claws into the humans.
(tentative spirit list, details may change)
- Volcano Looming High - Physically limited to mountains much like Ocean's Hungry Grasp, but explosive once it builds up power.
- Grinning Trickster Stirs Up Trouble - A many-faced force of chaos that delights in random pranks and turning invaders on invaders.
- Vengeance as a Burning Plague - The diseases the invaders brought wracked the Dahan. Now their sickness and blight will be turned back on them.
- Lure of the Deep Wilderness - The call to explore, to leave one's life behind and find what lies further inland... only to vanish, without a trace.
- Shroud of Silent Mist - An ever-shifting fog that bring slow but certain death, draining vitality, color, sound, and finally life from those caught within.
- Fractured Days Split the Sky - A celestial spirit empowered by a recent eclipse, weaving fragments of past, present, and maybe-futures together to wield all their power when the time is right.
- Shifting Memory of Ages - An earth spirit that did not want to become vast and powerful and slow, just to learn and learn again.
- Stone's Unyielding Defiance - The hard stubborn rock of the earth, enduring even when damaged, and remaining so unbroken the invaders themselves may break trying to move it.
- Starlight Seeks Its Form - A new spirit birthed from fallen starlight, not yet tied to any aspect of nature, and thus a wildcard you can shape in a direction you choose.
- Many Minds Move As One - A flock of birds can't be that scary... can it?
Jagged Earth Kickstarter Promo Pack 2
(tentative spirit list, details may change)
- Finder of Paths Unseen - The trail between two places may be longer, shorter, bend through other spaces, or lead somewhere else entirely.
- Downpour Drenches The World - The endless rain. Sometimes the cleansing kind, or the torrent that turns earth to mud and muck, or the day after day flood that washes away homes.
The game contains examples of following tropes:
- Adventure Archaeologist: Invoked for the Powers Long Forgotten scenario, which puts several hidden magical relics around the island and sets both Dahan and invaders searching for them. Whoever finds one secures an advantage for their side - or alternately, points for victorious players if they choose to let the sleeping powers lie dormant.
- All There in the Manual: While the spirit boards contain a brief background on each spirit, the game rulebook contains a lot of worldbuilding that wouldn't normally come up, such as the state of the nations behind the invasions, and some of the island's history. Turns out, the Dahan tribes, when they arrived, needed to be taught some manners, too.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Mostly averted. The only spirit to appear human is the Thunderspeaker. It has tied its fate to the Dahan, and so mimics their form when it manifests. No one would mistake Thunderspeaker for a mortal, however.
- Asymmetric Multiplayer: Each spirit has different rules attached to it. Some basics don't change - there are almost always growth options for expanding presence, gaining new power cards, and reclaiming expended power cards, for example. The innate rules and powers change the game wildly for each player though - one spirit may excel at defending the land, another can move invaders around to disrupt their plans or set up combos, others start slowly but evolve into power juggernauts, some are pure offense and destruction, sometimes to the point they can be more dangerous than the invaders.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: In addition to the Rent-a-Zilla power, the major powers Indomitable Claim and Manifest Incarnation both feature spirits taking giant physical forms. Interestingly, neither does direct damage, just terrifies the invaders into freezing or fleeing.
- Banishing Ritual: The Rituals of the Destroying Flame scenario requires the spirits to sacrifice some of their power and presence to banish whatever force is protecting invaders nearby.
- Body Horror: The major power card Bloodwrack Plague features an explorer crew clutching their throat and arms in pain as their skin rapidly turns purple. Minor power Fleshrot Fever also shows an invader citizen erupting in pustules. Other fun diseases get mentioned on random event cards.
- Boring, but Practical: Using power cards to shift explorers or towns around might seem like a waste of your time, but all invader actions are keyed to land types and presence. Explorers can't reach a land if its too far from settlements, and building won't happen if there's no one there. Getting explorers "lost" in a land type they didn't target before the builders can follow them out is an excellent way to keep the invaders from spreading too fast.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Spirits do not see the world the same way humans do. To start, "Soon" may mean a day or three years. Dahan will always try to heed any spirit's advice or warnings, but there's spirits that consider humans friends and some that consider humans food, as per their nature. Neither spirit would have any real problem with the other, either.
- Combos: Every power card played infuses a spirit with elements for that turn. Building up specific elements unlocks free innate powers, scales those powers in strength or versatility, and can even unlock bonuses on the power cards.
- Combo Platter Powers: Getting new power cards is a draft out of 4 random draws. Elements will push you toward certain choices, but nothing stops you from picking whatever you like or is useful, even if it's a firestorm when you're a river spirit. Or maybe the cards just don't like you.
- Coop Multiplayer: Each of the players are spirits cooperating to push out the invaders, and win or lose the game as a team. The invaders have their own deck of cards that control what lands they're interested in, which they then move into in a mostly predictable way.
- Corpse Land: The major power Land of Shades and Embers lets you set one up, but it harms the land to do it.
- Dashed Plot Line: Even spirits friendlier to humans don't quite see time the same way we do. Each game round actually represents a year, more or less, of the most important events.
- Difficulty Levels:
- The rulebook recommends simpler options for first-time players, like not using any adversary nation. The simplest spirits to play are highlighted, and also come with an ordered list of acquired power cards to substitute for the more randomized power drafts.
- Adversary cards add challenges to the mid-game invader actions, and each has an increasing scale of difficulty options that will customize the fear deck (padding it, making it harder to reach terror thresholds) and invader decks (removing cards to give you less time or move harder cards to earlier rounds) or add new mechanics to ramp up the pressure. Some even come with extra game-over rules.
- There's even a score chart at the back of the rulebook for those who want to evaluate how well they did against varying conditions, adversaries, difficulties, and scenarios.
- Disaster Dominoes: All of the invader mechanics set these up naturally.
- Just leaving one new explorer alone means next round you'll have a town settlement there. Leave both alone, and next round after that, they'll ravage the land for 3 damage, more than enough to kill a Dahan and create blight.
- If a land gets targeted again before you can deal with that town, the now comfy invaders will build up a full city. Not replacing the town, in addition to the town.
- If new blight is created where blight already exists, it will double up in that land and cascade out to another nearby, which then further cascades if that land itself already has blight. Too much total blight is an instant game over.
- Disaster Relief Game: Often compared to Pandemic, since the settlers spread and spread much like the diseases from that title. Blight carries cascade effects similar to outbreak mechanics in Pandemic too. Containment is often the best first strategy.
- Discard and Draw: Literally. Gaining a new card from the Major Power deck requires you to lose one of your existing power cards permanently.
- Eldritch Abomination: Some spirits edge away from obvious nature themes, and wield power over darkness, dreams, and even time - which makes them more alien, harder to communicate with, even to Dahan.
- Elemental Embodiment: Standard method of manifestation for many nature spirits.
- Lightning's Swift Strike takes the form of a thunderbird formed entirely of lightning.
- River Surges in Sunlight looks like a school of fish and eels made of water skipping downstream.
- Vital Strength of the Earth appears as a mossy earth and stone golem.
- Ocean's Hungry Grasp manifests as a high wave with eyes, ready to swallow settlements whole.
- Emergency Broadcast: Thunderspeaker has a starting power card called Words of Warning, which alert the Dahan to an incoming attack, letting them defend and respond far better than normal.
- Evil Colonialist: The invaders, who ravage and despoil the island as an inevitable consequence of their presence. They do not deliberately hunt the native Dahan (in most scenarios), but neither do they hesitate to kill off any natives who get in their way. For bonus points, the invaders are explicitly Europeans and their explorer figurines wear conquistador helmets.
- Forced Sleep: A few powers either put the invaders to sleep or make them so lethargic they can't accomplish anything (A Year of Perfect Stillness, Sap the Strength of Multitudes, Drift Down into Slumber).
- Gaia's Vengeance: The Board Game. Made more explicit with several of the power cards, like Ritual of Destruction, or Raging Storm, or Cleansing Floods, or...
- Garden of Evil: Most cards and powers fall into Green Thumb territory, but then you'll come across Twisted Flowers Murmur Ultimatums, and Death Falls Gently from Open Blossoms, and the plants get a lot scarier.
- Genius Loci: An island overflowing with them, from the small to the large. The players are just the ones stepping up in the current crisis. The island itself may be one giant one, judging by Serpent Sleeping Beneath.
- Glamour: Lots of illusion cards, many of which make certain lands more attractive to move people around. Some seem benevolent (Enticing Splendor, Draw of the Fruitful Earth, Lure of the Unknown), some far less so (Call of the Deeps, Entrancing Apparitions).
- Going Native: Powers that add Dahan to the island are pretty rare. Luckily there is one minor power, Call of the Dahan Ways, that lets you convert an invader. Inverted too with Sweeden, whose mid-game escalation is to begin recruiting the Dahan into their settlements and society.
- Green Thumb: A Spread of Rampant Green takes the award here, with several powers to push plants to grow faster, with the standout example being Overgrow in a Night. River Surges in Sunlight also has the power River's Bounty, giving the Dahan enough crops to increase their numbers.
- Herald: Powers that interface with the Dahan tend to take this form. Examples include Harbingers of the Lightning, Voice of Thunder, and a whole series of Call to X cards.
- History Repeats: Played with. The Dahan tribal natives on the island initially arrived the same way the current invaders did, and started causing the same damage. But unlike the current invaders, the spirits were able to teach the Dahan how to live in harmony with the land (and with them).
- Hungry Jungle: Any jungle may qualify as the game goes, but the spirit Sharp Fangs Behind the Leaves, and more literally, the major power The Jungle Hungers, fit the bill better.
- Instant-Win Condition: If you manage to earn all the fear cards and the invader terror hits maximum, it doesn't matter if one more blight would finish you off or the island is filled with cities. They're all running for home and you win. This is incredibly hard to pull off though, unless you have a spirit that concentrates on fear, like Shadows Flicker Like Flame.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: The fear cards represent the invaders growing more and more aware of the (hostile) supernatural powers of the island. As new Terror levels are achieved, the invaders become increasingly eager to cut their losses and abandon the island.
- Making a Splash: Two spirits in the base game are water-based. Plenty of water powers too - Flash Floods, Cleansing Flood, Wash Away, Swallow The Land-Dwellers, Tsunami...
- The Many Deaths of You: Plenty of ways to lose.
- No invader cards left to draw? Time's up, the invaders have gotten too entrenched to leave.
- Run out of blight to put down? The island is damaged past its ability to heal, and The Magic Goes Away is inevitable even if you could push the invaders off.
- A spirit will be completely destroyed if its last presence on the board is removed, and this is treated as a team loss as well.
- If England gets too many settlements in a single land, they will declare the grand city the capital of their colonies. They ain't leaving.
- Moving the Goalposts: Earning fear cards will do this in your favor. Initially, every invader down to the last explorer must be removed from the island to win. As terror increases, they'll get more willing to cut their losses and run - first, explorers will all leave if there are no towns or cities left, and later on even towns will close up if there's no cities left to protect them. Maximum terror (earning every fear card) is an instant win for regular games.
- Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: Most of the spirits have names like this.
- The Natives Are Restless: Invoked in-universe by the invaders for the Dahan Insurrection scenario, as their leaders across the ocean dismiss the ridiculous reports of supernatural disasters. They blame the Dahan for all the "trouble", and start hunting them down.
- Nature Spirit: Many of the spirits represent elements of nature, from storms to earth, the ocean and plants as well.
- Nightmare Sequence: The Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares's special rule, "To Dream a Thousand Deaths" prevents it from doing any damage at all. All of its powers instead manifest as disaster nightmares broadcast directly to sleeping invaders. Pleasant dreams.
- Noble Savage: The Dahan fit most of the mold. They've reached a balanced state with the island, farming and hunting in ways that won't damage the land, in accordance with a truce struck after they and the spirits fought the first time. Many clans or tribes are mentioned but not detailed, matriarchy is common, and although their people are farmers, they will also migrate as needed. They will ally and friend some spirits, avoid or placate others, and help or ask aid in turn. The lore gives enough details to avoid Hollywood Natives, although the artwork swings back and forth.
- Noodle Incident: The history of the island is murky. Spirits that have a loose grasp of time don't help.
- Many non-playable spirits get an offhand and informal mention - The Volcano, The Green, The Pathmaker, The Stalker, the passing storm spirit that birthed Lightning's Swift Strike, etc.
- Spirits rarely conflict, but when they do it always manifests as some unexplained magic phenomenon. Like the ice curse whose runoff creates River Surges, or the imprisonment of Bright Thunder Roars that led to its freedom by Dahan hands and metamorphosis into Thunderspeaker.
- A Second Recreance between spirits and Dahan is mentioned (the First being when the Dahan arrived), and appears to have been a very important event. Nothing else is detailed though, just stating the Dahan stopped treating spirits like gods around then.
- Servant Cults are also brought up but never explained, although likely related to the Recreance.
- Place of Power:
- In gameplay, having 2 of your spirit's presence in a single land creates a sacred site. Such sites are required as a source for many powers, especially Major Powers, and may invoke your unique rules to your advantage.
- For the worldbuilding, the island itself. Magic and spirits did once exist in the wider world, but now the island is unique as a powerful source of both.
- Place of Protection: Vital Strength of the Earth's sacred sites will automatically defend the land and the Dahan.
- Playing with Fire: Quite a few power cards are fiery (Pillar of Living Flame, Blazing Renewal, Flash-Fires, Flame's Fury, etc.), and Burning Heart of the Wildfire embraces the trope.
- Portent of Doom: Lots of powers invoke this on the invaders as well, usually for the fear. Visions of Fiery Doom, Rain of Blood, and Fire in the Sky are standouts.
- Red Shirt Army: The Dahan function like this in regular gameplay. They will do nothing on their own, wait to be attacked, suffer casualties, and then strike back with whoever is left. They have no direct impact on winning the game, there's lots of ways to move them around, so it's possible to make this trope worse by throwing them at the invaders. On the flipside, if they can just get some defenses and survive the first strike, their counterattacks can do more consistent damage than a lot of spirits — and that is one way for more defensive spirits to mount an "offense" against the invaders.
- Regenerating Mana: All spirits gain energy each turn, to be spent on various power cards. The amount of energy increases as you grow your spirit, if you play presence from the energy track.
- Rent-a-Zilla: The major power Sea Monsters from Branch and Claw summons a pack of Kaiju from the deeps to attack the coast.
- Salt the Earth: In almost endless variety - other than demolishing settlements, one of the most direct ways to deal with invaders. Power cards include, Crops Wither and Fade, Stem the Flow of Fresh Water, Drought, Accelerated Rot, Poisoned Land... Some of these will blight the land just as badly as invaders, so careful use is advised.
- Sanity Slippage: A specialty of the darker spirits and powers. Dissolve the Bonds of Kinship is a standout power card that turns the invaders against each other.
- Shock and Awe: Lightning's Swift Strike, naturally, and there's a major power for Talons of Lightning.
- Solo Tabletop Game: The island will scale all the way down for one player, with the obvious drawback of having no backup for your chosen spirit's weaknesses.
- Speedrun: The scenario card Blitz, which tweaks a number of rules to speed up the game.
- Status Buff: Quite a few low-power cards can be cast on spirits to give them a quick boost (Boon of Vigor, Gift of Constancy, etc.). To make sure you don't hog them, many also have either boosted effects when used on teammates instead of yourself, or grant an extra lesser buff to yourself when buffing someone else.
- The Swarm: Made very horrifyingly obvious with Branch and Claw power card Insatiable Hunger of the Swarm.
- Time Abyss: Most spirits don't have a concept of when they began, they've been around so long. Two spirits, Serpent Slumbering Beneath The Island and Volcano Looming High, offer conflicting stories of how the island itself was born.
- When Trees Attack: Minor power Rouse the Trees and Stones, which has golems and Ents mobilizing for an attack.