Island Chain is a two player card game focused on making big combos to get maximum value out of your turn. It started as a village building game 2 years ago with the main focus being an overflow mechanism that caused villages to become overcrowded and made some villagers leave and start a new village. I worked on it a lot for a few months, modifying mechanism and changing the theme. It was villages on a river, then it was planets in space, then islands. Some times the locations were set, other times they were variable. It was just cards, then it was cards and mats and tokens.
At its most bloated I think it had 12 different character abilities, most of which caused other abilities to trigger to create the combos. Player’s were taking 10 minute turns in what was supposed to be a short card game. Players liked the combo building but the downtime was killing it. I eventually stopped working on it.
Along with the constant stream of new game ideas I have to deal with, ways to fix old ideas pop up every once in a while. A few months ago an idea to fix Island Chain came to me, make it a two player game. Cutting down the player count would significantly limit downtime, having less opponents to track made the cognitive load easier, and it could be a smaller game fitting into 54 cards, which was a design focus of mine at the time.
While I implemented this change, I also trimmed down the number of characters. Based on previous play tests, I had a good idea of what was fun and what dragged the game out. So it became a trimmed down 9 characters and played pretty well at 2 players. There was one major problem with that version. Some cards relied on the discard pile having cards in it, but players never discarded any cards. So I added a rule and put the Assassin back in the game. I had cut it because it seemed too mean and a way to slow down your opponent. But with only a two player game it was still quick enough and you don’t feel as singled out when you are the only opponent.
The game played well and I had some positive feedback from testers. Maybe because there weren’t any problems to fix, or just my schedule being too full, I drifted away from the design. It just wasn’t grabbing my attention. The other day I had an idea to add a bit to the game, while also simplifying some of the rules confusion that the last version had.
I’m a big fan of Schotten Totten. I like players battling over the row of stones in the center. So I thought of adding a similar system to Island Chain. Before, islands didn’t exist until a player overcrowded one island and caused characters to move and make a new island. So a player’s island chain was very variable and the game ended when a player had 6 islands. The issues people had were understanding when they could make new islands and what happened if all of their characters were gone from that pesky assassin.
Earlier versions had cards that represented islands, either as place holders, or as additional abilities. The first was very bland and the second was very confusing. The new idea is to have a row of islands in the center worth varying amounts of points. Instead of each player making their own islands, they will share the islands. My hope is that this will cause islands to be overcrowded more quickly, and move the game forward, as well as increase player interaction because you will need to pay attention to what characters your opponent has on each island. It should also clear up any of the confusion from islands being created an disappearing. End game scoring should also be simpler. Before, players multiplied their number of islands by the most crowded island. Now it will just be a matter of how many points they get from the islands they control.
I should have the PnP files ready soon and I’ll update the game page here.