Here in New Jersey, the Festival of Ballooning happens every summer, with over 100 hot air balloons taking to the skies over some of the most beautiful locales in the Garden State, drifting in the wind until they come back down to Earth. If you live in the area, and perchance one of those balloons lands in your yard, tradition is that they gift you a bottle of Champagne.
The similarities between the Festival of Ballooning and Islands in the Mist end simply at they both involve hot air balloons and the vagaries of wind travel. If only this title came with a bottle of bubbly as thanks for playing it.
The goal of Islands in the Mist is to explore your individual island via airship, navigating the varying winds and managing your energy to be able to be the first to fully explore your island. By discovering contiguous terrain of similar types, your island is made more valuable, with the player at the end developing the highest-scoring island emerging victorious.
A player’s turn is divided up into a series of phases. First, random tiles are drawn and distributed to “clouds,” making them available for players to select and add to their island. Then two dice are rolled—one die showing the direction of the wind for that turn, and one die providing a bonus in the form of extra energy, tiles, or the ability to change course. All players then move their airship, using the direction of the wind and the movement value on their current tile as their base movement value, which can then be altered using energy to change flight length or direction. After ending movement, players then lay tiles on the spaces surrounding their airship.
Playing the right tiles in the right spot on your island is the key to scoring. There are six different types of terrain, that each match up with one of the sides of the (hexagonal) island. By placing terrain tiles adjacent to each other as the island spaces fill up, players can earn more points, so long as those tiles are also adjacent to the corresponding coast. When a player connects all six sides of the island to their base, the end of the game is triggered, where points for terrain are totaled, along with other bonus points and penalties on various tiles. The player with the highest score is declared the winner!
While billing itself as a “discovery game,” Islands in the Mists presents a puzzle for players to solve. In that regard, the game works, as it is enjoyable mental work to calculate optimal movements of the airship while simultaneously counting available energy and plotting out moves for future turns. The puzzle nature of the game really shines through and is one of the bright spots that it brings to the table.
Unfortunately, that feeling of satisfaction only lasts for so long. As the turns add up and the repetition of the turns accumulates, it turns into more of a slog of an experience in the second half of gameplay. Our plays took around an hour on average, which is about 30 minutes too long. A game like this needs to allow players to get in and get out relatively quickly, and we found that it just dragged on.
While we try not to include artwork or rulebooks as part of our review, in this case, we need to point out that the graphic design and rules explanation for what is considered a “connected tile” is very difficult to comprehend. The coast spaces (on the edge of the board) have hexes printed on them where tiles can be placed, but a connection can happen if the tile is placed adjacent to those edge spaces. It felt very counterintuitive, with the graphics (which are just busy on the whole) not helping to support the rules and gameplay. There was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments as we tried to reason through this.
The Island in the Mist box comes with 2 modules for expanded gameplay. One adds a harbor, which has more spaces for airships to move to and exchange tiles, while the other provides extra powers for players to change the movement of the airship. We can confirm that these modules do indeed exist, but do not necessarily recommend them, as the game does not need any additional complexity to add extra playtime.
Islands in the Mist is a title that has the potential for greatness, as thinky puzzle games such as Cascadia and Sagrada are high on our list of favorites. However, this title gets caught up in the breeze and sails on by, due to its long and repetitive playtime.
Final Score: 2 Stars – Potential to be sure, but this one just missed the mark for us.
• Too long of playtime, for the type of game it is.
• Unintuitive rules and design in parts of the game