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At our house, we really appreciate games designed by Stephan Feld, such as La Isla. La Isla means The Isle or The Island. Your explorers roam about this island in search of extinct animals and birds.
How can you find creatures that are extinct?
Perhaps it’s best not to ask that question. Let’s just move on to how you play the game.
Playing La Isla
The game of La Isla looks something like the picture below.
In the center is the island. The board itself is made of a central decagon surrounded by 10 unusually-shaped pieces that you put together randomly to help make the game different each time you play.
If you look closely at what’s on the island, you’ll see 5 different colors of 6-sided “bent” shapes. Look at the center ring to see each of the colors: light green, beige, yellow, brown, and dark gray.
If you have a pair of cubes matching one of these colors, you can send one of your explorers into that area.
On each of these areas is a pair of objects: knapsacks, canteens, tents, hats, and coiled ropes. Sometimes, sending one of your explorers to the area where you see a particular object is beneficial. You might get points or only need 1 cube (instead of the usual pair). You might move a purple marker up an animal track to score more points and hasten the game to its end.
In between these areas are tiles showing the extinct animals: Dodo, Giant Fossa, Golden Toad, Sardinian Pika, and Owlet Moth. Other than the Dodo, we tend to call these critters other names like cat, frog, chinchilla, and mosquito…or other variations on those themes.
You collect these tokens when you have your explorers on the 2, 3, or 4 areas surrounding one of them and gain (2, 3, or 4) points accordingly. Collecting all 5 types of creatures is a major end game scoring bonus. Collecting a lot of one type may mean a lot of points at game end as well.
Each player has a home board, of sorts.
This is an area where you play cards. On each turn, you randomly draw 3 cards from one or more stacks. (I usually draw all three from the same stack nearest to where I’m sitting, but there is no rule that says you have to.) Each card, as you can see at the left above, has 3 sections.
The top section is a power or rule breaker. The lower left shows a colored cube. The lower right shows one of the animals.
Your task is to place your 3 cards, face down (temporarily), in “slots” A, B, and D below your board. The card you place in Slot A will go into one of the 3 container areas in the top of your board. You can see several cards in those containers in the picture above.
The Slot B card will get you the cube of the color shown. The Slot D card will move a purple marker up the animal track. (More on that later.)
In player order (technically), which rotates each round, each player reveals first card A and places it into one of his 3 containers. Note that beginning in the fourth round you’ll have to cover one of the cards already there. This can be torturous!
Then (again, technically) in player order, you reveal card B and take a cube from the supply. I say “technically” twice here because in practice everyone can do A and B at the same time.
Slot C doesn’t have a card. This is really the only slot where player order matters. Here, you move one of your explorers to one of those colored areas on the island, if you have the cubes to do so. If you don’t, you can take another cube from the supply and pass on the explorer movement.
After each player has completed the C action, reveal the cards in Slot D.
In the center of the scoring track shown above, you can see a colored track for each animal – (left to right) Pika, Dodo, Toad, Moth, Fossa. At the start of the game, the purple barrel marker is at the bottom of each track. Various events during the game can move a marker towards the top.
As a marker moves, it may attain a new multiplier level. The first three moves are all in Level Zero. The next three are in Level One. Levels Two through Five (at the top) follow.
These Levels determine two things: when the game will end and the value of the animal tokens you collected during play.
Depending on the number of players, the game will end when a certain number of cumulative point Levels is reached. For example, the board above shows 1 + 2 + 1 + 3 + 2 = 9 Level points. This was a 3-player game, so the game ended here when that total of 9 was reached.
At this point, each Pika you had collected was worth 1 victory point, each Dodo was worth 2, each Toad was worth 1, each Moth was worth 3, and each Fossa was worth 2. This scoring is noted at the bottom right of the right-hand card shown below.
Other scoring shown there includes 2 points for each pair of cubes you have left over and 10 points for collecting all five types of animal tokens. As usual, the player with the most points is the winner.
The reference cards above also show in detail what each of the Slot A actions can do. We refer to these cards fairly often, but it’s not a pain to do so. These cards are, in fact, very much appreciated, just like the game itself.
What We Like About La Isla
We noted recently that La Isla is one of the few (maybe the only…but we haven’t played them all) Feld games that has no possibility for getting negative points. This makes it seem just a little more friendly than some of his other designs – not that most of his others are really nasty.
The real heart of this game is the point in each round where you have drawn 3 new cards from a stack and have to decide which Slot to put each one in. More than once I’ve had all 3 cards laid face down only to pick them all up again and rearrange them. And then maybe do it again while others are still deciding on their best moves.
There are times when you have to look at what other players have in their play areas (cubes and cards showing) to help decide what your next move can or should be. Much of the time, however, it really doesn’t matter, and you can just do what you want, putting your cards in the Slots that make the most sense at the time.
The cards include rule-breakers for virtually every rule I mentioned above. There are many more cards than you’ll ever use in a given game (much like in Macao, another Feld game). Along with the modular island, this helps to make each game different.