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Glory Islands

From designer Arve D. Fühler and publisher Rio Grande comes Glory Islands, a 2-4 player game utilizing hand management, area control, and set collection to crown the newest terror of the high seas.

Gameplay

Players begin with their ship on the starting sea tile of a 7-by-7 grid, a player board with five pirate meeples and one barrel, and a deck of cards numbered 1-5. They will also place markers on the Sailing and Points track. 

In Glory Islands, players will use their numeric cards to move their ship around the board, placing pirates into the middle section of the game board to capture treasure, barrels, and glory. The numeric cards are important to all of these actions as well as player order, as the highest card played will be the first player during the round and the lowest card going last. If there is a tie based on the card value, the number of dots underneath the number will break the ties, and if those are tied then black dots break the tie over white dots. Each player’s beginning hand is slightly different, so there is never a stalemate. 

Players will secretly select their card, and everyone will simultaneously reveal their choices. Once turn order has been determined, players will then look at the card and spend the associated sailing cost by moving their player marker down the Sailing track. The Sailing track is key, because players begin at 24 points and descend further as the game progresses. Using numeric sailing cards that cost too many sailing points may cause some players to end up losing points by the end of the game, and if they progress to the end of the track, they are eliminated from the game. 

After the sailing cost has been assessed, players will then move their ship up to the numeric value on the card they played, and then lay down one of their pirates up to the same numerical value on one of the island tiles in the column beneath the ship. For example, if a player plays a 3 card, they will spend 3 sailing points and then move their ship 1-3 spaces on the board, then place a pirate in the column 1-3 spaces away from the ship. There are two notable exceptions: if all spots determined by the card are occupied by other pirates, the player will place their pirate on the next available spot in the column, and corner spaces will allow players to place a pirate diagonally. The cards also can grant special bonuses or actions if players are willing to spend barrels or additional sailing points.

Where to place a pirate has multiple ramifications. The island spaces are not only adorned with treasure, barrels, and glory spots that each have their own benefits, but the islands are also polyominoes that, once filled up, are scored according to who has the most and second-most pirates on the island (ties divide the total points evenly). But what is on each space is just as important as controlling the majority of an island’s real estate. Placing a pirate on the treasure chest icon will allow players to rummage through a bag, selecting two treasure tiles and keeping one. The goal of the treasure tiles is to collect sets of 5 different types of treasure. Barrels act as a form of game currency, and are used to carry out some of the bonus actions from the cards after they’ve been played. Glory earns players one point, not only when a player first places a pirate in the spot. Each time players visit a row or column with pirates occupying glory spots, it will earn those players a point (for example, if a green pirate ship visits a row that has one glory tile with a red pirate and one with a green pirate, both the red and green pirates will gain one point). 

Play will continue, with players continuing to navigate around the board by using their cards and spending sailing points. At the halfway point, there is a checkpoint that offers the first player to cross it 4 points (2 points for second and 1 point for third, if applicable), with the game ending triggered once a player returns to the starting tile (earning them 6 points, with 3 points for second and 1 point for third if turn order allows and ships make can make it). Players may add one point from any of their pirates still on glory spaces, any remaining barrels they haven’t spent, and set collections totals, and then players will add or subtract points depending on where they ended on the Sailing Track. The person with the most points can hoist a Jolly Roger up yonder pole!

Glory Islands components

Photo courtesy game designer Arve D. Fühler

Review

Glory Islands is a simple game that, despite being advised for players 14 and up, can be easily understood by younger gamers. There are some things that will need to be explained to them, but they will get a handle on the finer points as play moves along. 

The game is also great at mitigating situations where one player may seem to be dominating due to the Sailing track, but also how ties are broken. When players play the same numerical value cards, after the round those players will swap their cards. Likewise, each card’s special powers can come in useful when used at the opportune time, such as using a 1 to not only save some sailing points, but to strategically pick up the discard pile to have more options in the following turn. 

There is also a fair bit of variety to the game thanks to two simple additions: a double-sided board and an optional mini-expansion. The second side of the board offers different island layouts as well as a storm space in the middle of the board. If a player places a pirate in the storm, they then can take that pirate meeple and place it on any open spot on the board, gaining its benefit. The mini-expansion, known as Shipwrecks, places five tokens on the northeastern and southwestern diagonal spots on the board. If a player lands on the spot, they make look at the tokens and take one, earning them points at the end of the game. If they wish, they may spend a barrel to take another token. These little additions change up the gameplay without adding weight or complexity. 

Overall, Glory Islands is a quaint game that utilizes many mechanics seamlessly. Play a card, move a ship and then a pirate, while being mindful of not using too many sailing points. It gives everyone a chance to feel like they are in control of their strategy while also offering multiple paths to victory. 

Pros: Many mechanics that work seamlessly, easy to learn, multiple paths to victory, gameplay variety through small game additions

Cons: Art design isn’t immediately eye-catching