Spirit Island Quick Start Guide
Ready to up your game?
Annie and Lisa, our fearless Board's Edge founders, are more of light-to-medium-weight game players. To put that in terms of our Board's Edge scoring system, Annie plays a lot of Level 1 and Level 2 games. In our weekly game nights, our go-tos lately are Dominion, King of Tokyo (Dark Edition, of course!), and Quacks of Quedlinburg. Of course, yours truly isn't called the Guest Geek for nothing. I'm the resident Level 3 player, and I wanted us to play Spirit Island together. Spirit Island is an extremely complex game - we rate it Level 3 (out of 3) on our Board's Edge scoring system.
This is the story of how I tricked our Board's Edge family into elevating our game night and playing Spirit Island (at least every two weeks!). It's also a great guide to breaking a complex game down into simpler parts. Ready to try Spirit Island (or another advanced game) with some less advanced gamers? Here's our tried and tested approach.
- Open the box.
- Look through the components and sort everything.
- Set up as much of the game as possible. For Spirit Island, you can set up about half the game without knowing the individual spirits the players will choose at game night.
- Try out the rule book to get a feel for the game play. It so happens the Spirit Island rule book is rubbish (it's so bad we assumed it was a poor translation into English, but alas, it's just bad). In that case, move on to the next step.
- Abandon the table and watch a Youtube video (we like this one) by someone much better than you (or the developers) at explaining how to play games. Make sure everyone playing watches the same video.
- Everyone picks a character. In Spirit Island, the game ranks spirit complexity levels for you, so you can choose between low, moderate, and high-complexity spirits. Limit the group to low complexity spirits for the first round. (Even that guy who is naturally good at remembering rules and thinks Twilight Imperium isn’t that bad.)
- See if there are ways to simplify the game for the first play. Don't add in optional features, and make use of tutorials and walk-throughs. In Spirit Island, Blight Cards and Scenario Cards should be skipped for your first (several) games as you learn the game mechanics. They add spice later on. Spirit Island also includes "Spirit Progression" cards for the lower complexity spirits. This helps players learn the spirits and their powers with a tested sequence rather than luck of the draw.
- Don't forget your player aids. Most board games now come with setup and turn order cards that each player has in front of them for reference. Spirit Island has reminders all over the place - on the mats, on the boards, and on player aid cards. Use them!
- Start playing. Prepare for a 45 minute first turn while everyone mulls over options and tries to take back their turn three or four times. Basically everything will require a rule book check. Just expect it and try not to lose heart!
- At a certain point, you might get bogged down with a Level 3 game. In Spirit Island, this tends to happen after the second or third turn, when the board becomes absolutely polluted with invaders. At this time, most players will have absolutely no idea how to proceed or what to do.
Abandon the game.
Yes, you read that right. Not forever, but call it quits for tonight. (This avoids the 5 hour first-time playthrough that would sour everyone against the game forever and ever.) Set a date for a game night repeat. We scheduled ours a half hour earlier than normal and on a day we all had light responsibilities.
- Watch the same "how to play" Youtube video. Partially set up the game before game night starts. (We should do this every time, but we are terrible, terrible people. Develop better habits than us!)
- Force everyone to pick the same character as last time. Focus on the positive and capitalize on momentum from your first game night. Everyone has an idea how their character moves, how the other characters move, and how the bad guys (like the invaders in Spirit Island) move. You're ready to play for real!
If all else fails, the game might just be too complex for your group right now.
If you are trying to trick a group of non-gamers into playing a complex game, and this guide doesn't work, go back a step. Start with easier games with similar mechanics, and increase the complexity over time.
As training for Spirit Island, we recommend Pandemic, which is a great intro to cooperative games with programmed enemy turns. We even call Spirit Island an inside-out Pandemic on our game page! Give Spirit Island another try