Isle of Skye Review

By Chris / July 29, 2018
isle of skye -feature

Manipulate prices to your advantage and earn the role of king!

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Platforms

Android & iOS

Game Length

20 Minutes

# of Players

1-5

Game Publisher

Lookout Spiele

App Developer

@digidiced

Our Rating

Multiplayer Options

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    Asynchronous  Online
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    Local Pass and Play
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    Cross-platform
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    Random Matchmaking

Overview

Isle of Skye tasks players with the role of chieftains of rival clans as they navigate the tile placement game to build their kingdom in order to score the most points. Players set prices on their kingdom tiles and others may choose to pay those prices, then you place any tiles you have remaining or purchased to expand your kingdom. Points are scored at the end of each of six rounds and some additional scoring takes place at the end, the winner is the chieftain which secured the most points for their kingdom. A game usually takes about 20 minutes.

The first instinct for most people seems to be to try to draw a comparison between Isle of Skye and Carcassonne. The main reason for this is the visual aspect of seeing square terrain tiles you place to make a kingdom bigger. However, that’s pretty much where the comparisons end, and Isle of Skye is much better off for that. 

A turn in Isle of Skye begins by each player receiving the gold their kingdom produces. Next, each player draws three tiles. They will choose one of them to discard and then set the price on the other two. The price can be set to any value one or higher, but the player must have enough coins themselves to afford their two tiles, because if no other player buys their tile, they are forced to buy it themself. After prices are set, players go in turn order with the chance to buy any other player’s tile. Each player may only purchase one tile and once a tile has been purchased it can’t be re-purchased by another player. After all players have completed purchasing, each player plays all tiles they ended up with into their own kingdom, there is no common board in Isle of Skye.

Each tile can have one of three different terrain features as well as roads or a handful of different icons used for scoring. Fields, mountains, and water terrain must connect appropriately to others of the same type when placing tiles, but roads don’t have to. After all tiles are placed, points are handed out based on the criteria defined in one or more scoring tiles used for that round. The turn ends and the turn order is reset and everything starts again. The game ends after the sixth round (or fifth, if a five player game), afterwards scoring that comes from special kingdom scroll tiles and remaining gold takes place and the winner is crowned.

Scoring tiles are the most important aspect of Isle of Skye. There are 16 available and four are used in a single game. They are labeled A-B-C-D and scoring takes place at the end of each of the six rounds in a set pattern. Only tile A is scored in round one, but A, C, and D are all scored in round five, for example. The scoring tiles have a wide range of goals. Some will reward points for each completed area in your kingdom, which can be mountains, water, or fields. Others will reward players who have the most boats, or give five points for each set of broach, farm, and lighthouse. And so on. Note that boats, broaches, farms, sheep, cattle, etc… are all icons which show up on tiles and are used in scoring. Depending on which scoring tiles are used, certain icons will be far more valuable than others in any given game. The whiskey barrels are of added importance as they will provide extra gold if they are connected to the starting castle tile via road.

You play towards the scoring tiles and also any scroll tiles you may place along the way. Scrolls are typically in the form of “one point per two boats” or something of the sort. A very important twist is that if the scroll exists in a closed area, such as a body of water which is completely surrounded by land or mountains (perhaps the most Carcassonne-like aspect of this game), the scroll scores double points. Players must also always consider coins, having large supply will give maximum flexibility during the pricing/purchasing phase. Being able to set your own tiles out of affordability while also having leftover coins to purchase another tile is a powerful combination. The trick of using your own coins to buy your tiles during pricing is a small, but crucial twist that really helps make the game.

The game works really well because it is fairly simple to learn but also has a lot of depth, this is pretty much the golden combination for medium weight games in my book. Not all games need to be “easy to learn, difficult to master,” but it serves games like this very well when they can pull it off. The core of the game is in the tile pricing phase. You can see what tiles your opponents have, but not their prices or which one they will axe (discard). You can also see their kingdoms and the scoring tiles so you know exactly what tiles they will find valuable, so set your prices accordingly. There are many risks to be taken in this phase. See the perfect tile you need to score big points sitting with another player? Maybe you set your tile prices really low so you can have enough coins to pay any huge price tag your opponent puts on that one tile. It pays off if they actually choose to keep the tile, but since they get to axe one, you might be left in the cold.

All of this adds up to a really great game. The player interaction that occurs is vital and fun, each turn feels like a game of wits trying to squeeze the most coins out of your opponents if not totally axing the crucial tile they needed altogether. It’s also highly satisfying to purchase a tile that an opponent clearly wanted to keep, as there is no way to protect your own tiles except with pricing. This gives the game a solid “take that” aspect while never becoming overly malicious since you can’t play the entire game just to get one over on an opponent (well you can and lose), but is enough to add a lot of fun.

Barrier to Entry

Isle of Skye is introduced to new players by a series of four short tutorials. Each of them roll out key aspects of the game. All of the information you need is there, but they are so short that they don’t really hammer home the points all that much. It will likely take a game or three for new players to get fully comfortable with the game. To help, the game has a Help button which will overlay helpful hints about the game layout. The game also features an instruction bar in the corner which will always tell the player what action they need to take.

There is no rulebook in the game, but an index of all 16 scoring tiles can be found in the tutorial menu. This is helpful to use as a reference. Overall, the tutorial is quick and to the point, the game isn’t the heaviest out there, but some of the details, particularly in scoring, might be lost on new players until they get some games under their belt.

isle of skye - tutorial

Starting a game

isle of skye - menu

Main menu

isle of skye - early

Early in a game

Look and Feel 

If you’ve played any of Digidiced’s other apps, you will know what to expect from Isle of Skye. The same menu layout and style are found here. ​  It has a bit of a dated feel but, after some updates, works pretty well. 

The controls work fine.  Tile placing is drag-and-drop then click to rotate, easy enough.  Tile pricing works by swiping up to increase the price or down to lower it, with swiping down from 1 resulting in that tile getting chosen as the axed tile.  This isn't a perfect system, as once the coin supplies build up you will find yourself swiping up 10+ times on tiles, but it does get the job done.

Minor issues in this category include jumpy zooms, most notably when looking at opponent’s kingdoms.  A personal pet peeve is how slow the animations are and that there is no option to skip or speed them up, game times could be cut drastically if you didn't have to watch every point being scored and gold being delivered for each player every single turn.  Isle of Skye has some warts, but does manage to get the job done and let you play the game.

Multiplayer

Isle of Skye retains the familiar Digidiced online matchmaking. Our favorite feature is the ability to queue up to five asynchronous games at one time, and the game will place you as matches become available. Such a simple, elegant feature that I’m quite surprised other developers haven’t copied yet. Online games can be ranked or unranked and asynchronous or real-time. Asynchronous games have a 72 hour timeout per turn. Ranked games will automatically match you with other players looking for games, while a casual game involves inviting friends to play. The online system works well, there are no surprises and the game has system notifications.

Stats are kept for online games, they are pretty basic including wins/losses, tiles bought, etc... There are five achievements to chase, all online, these are fairly bland, but better than nothing. You can view your ranking with online leaderboards.

Players can pass around their device for local pass-and-play matches, players likely won’t want others seeing the prices they are setting, so some level of secrecy is necessary when playing locally with friends.

One thing to note is that Isle of Skye does really well as an online game in my opinion. Each game is only six rounds long (five in five player games) and you will only be required to open the app, at most, three times per round. You can finish an online game only opening the app 18 times, often less. There aren’t many apps around that can make that claim, and Isle of Skye packs some depth in those turns.

On the downside, I’ve had a few online games I couldn’t continue because the game got stuck on the loading screen. After an update, these instances appear to be occurring less frequently, but have not been eliminated altogether.

Single Player

When starting a new game you choose how many AI to play against, which difficulty they are, and which four scoring tiles to use during the game. AI comes in Easy, Medium, and Hard. As a complete novice to the game, I was able to defeat easy bot on my first try, not really knowing what I was doing. Medium is a little tougher, but is honestly closer to what we’d expect from an easy AI. The Hard bot will beat you, but it isn’t really a stout challenge. They are good at playing towards the scoring tiles, but will often pass on the chance to purchase a tile from you which could wreck some of your big point plans and turn the game.

isle of skye - tiles

Scoring tile details

isle of skye - late

Setting tile prices

isle of skye - victory

Victory!

What Else?

The physical game has an expansion, Journeyman, which adds quite a bit to the game, ramping up the decision making and weight of the game considerably. At this point, the expansion is not available in the app.

For lack of a better place to put this, the game also makes my phone run quite hot.  Isle of Skye isn't out of line with most other board game apps, graphically, so there isn't really any good reason for the to be taxing the phone so much as to cause noticeable heat like it does.

The Wrap Up

As Isle of Skye is a really fun game wrapped up in an okay app.  Many of the initial bugs have been worked out, but a few remain such as not being able to see the end of an online game.  One thing that might be more difficult to overcome is the AI, the hard simply isn’t super difficult. If your primary purpose for this app is to play offline against AI, you might be disappointed in the challenge presented by Isle of Skye as the AI will tend to let you carry out your awesome plans without interfering, which is opposite of how the game should be played.

Isle of Skye presents a clever game in a functional, if not spectacular, app.

What we like


- Really fun game, the tile pricing mechanic works great

- Ranked, randomly matched online games

- Game sets up really well for asynchronous online play

What we don't like



- Can't watch the end of online games


- Tile pricing controls are repetitive


- AI is too forgiving


Our Rating

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