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The Plum Island Horror Review

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Board Game Review by::
Tony Mastrangeli
Price:
$95

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4.5
On Apr 2, 2024
Last modified:Apr 2, 2024

Summary:

We review The Plum Island Horror, a cooperative board game published by GMT Games. In The Plum Island Horror, players are working together to protect the people from rampaging horrros.

The Plum Island HorrorThey say you can’t judge a book by its cover… and they are probably right. I’ve read some great books with some awful covers (I’m looking at you, 50th-anniversary edition of The Hobbit). Regardless, when I saw the box cover for The Plum Island Horror come across my inbox in one of GMT’s marketing emails, my interest was immediately piqued. It has a cool retro comic book vibe to it and I knew I needed to dive in for a deeper look. And that’s what we are here to talk about today.

The Plum Island Horror is a cooperative board game for 1-4 players that takes about 2-3 hours to play (no matter what the box says).

Gameplay Overview:

If you’ve ever played a game from GMT Games, then you will have an idea of what you are in for. Their games are deep, complex, and not aimed at the casual audience. That being said, The Plum Island Horror is one of the less complex games from GMT (but still has a lot going on). So I’m just going to give you a high-level overview of the gameplay, if you want the full ins and outs, you can download a PDF of the rulebook here.

The Plum Island Horror takes place over 3 days, each of which are divided into 3 rounds each (morning, afternoon, and night). Each round is divided into 3 phases: The Hunger Phase, Activity Phase, and End Phase.

The Plum Island Horror Tokens
You draw tokens from the bag to see whose turn it is.

The Hunger Phase only happens at the start of a night round and requires you to feed each of your units 1 supply. Easy enough.

The Activity Phase is where things get interesting. Each player’s faction (of which they are all unique) has a turn order token in a bag. The Horrors have 4 tokens themselves: 3 fate tokens and an event token. To see whose turn it is, draw a token from the bag. If it’s a player, they can take 1-3 actions depending on what round it is.

At the start of a player’s turn, they get an adrenaline phase, which lets them move each of their units (most players have 5) around the board. Then they can take actions that consist of moving, evacuating civilians, searching for loot or supplies, fighting the Horrors (melee or ranged), repairing a location, or using a special faction action.

After you’ve taken all your actions, the next player clockwise can decide if they want to do a follow action. This lets them take an out-of-turn action, but at the risk of drawing an event card (1 in 3 chance). Once all players have followed or not, then a new token is drawn from the bag.

The Plum Island Horror Faction
Each faction unit has its own special ability.

When you draw a Horror token, one of two things can happen. The fate token will spawn new Horrors and activate some Horror stacks. These will happily march down the board, attacking civilians or players who get in their way. One of the 4 Horror tokens is an event card draw, which are almost always bad for the players.

The goal of the game is to survive for all 3 days (9 rounds). Afterward, you check to see if you’ve evacuated at least 26 points of civilians. If so, you win! If at any time you have too many overruns by the horrors, the biohazard level gets too high, or a faction is completely eliminated, the players lose.

The Plum Island Horror Gameplay
Players will be moving around the board, collecting supplies, evacuating civilians, and fighting the Horrors.

Game Experience:

My overview above is fairly abbreviated as there is a lot is going on in The Plum Island Horror. Expect to play a learning game where you try and wrap your head around all you need to do. I’d definitely recommend a solo learning game before trying to teach your group, as there are also a lot of easily missed rules that can impact the gameplay. Not that this is new territory for GMT Games. Complex games with lots of depth are pretty much their bread and butter. But I will say that while the game is fairly involved, the game never felt overly complicated. For the most part, all the actions make sense, and the Horror’s turns are really streamlined.

The Plum Island Horror Tracks
There are quite a few ways to lose The Plum Island Horror.

Mechanic-wise, I love the follow action. It helped to keep all the players engaged, even when it was not their turn. This is doubly true because the first and the last round only give players 1 action. You will need to push your luck with those follow actions and hope you don’t draw an event card (which really suck). To be honest, if it wasn’t for the follow actions, I could see the downtime in the game getting really brutal, so kudos to designer Hermann Luttmann on a great mechanic.

Speaking of playtime, wow is the box overly optimistic about the game length. It says 45 minutes per player, and I have no idea where they came up with that. I’ve never had a game clock in under 2 hours (even solo) and 3 hours feels more on point until you are really familiar with the game. So expect to be sitting down for a lengthy session when you start setting up the game.

So the question is, does that 3 hours feel long when you are in the weeds? I’d say yes and no. The early arc of the game is great. You are moving around, searching for supplies, evacuating civilians, and having occasional skirmishes with the Horrors. This is a ton of fun and it carries on through mid-game when things start to really ramp up. Yet, for us, around turn 5-6 the game starts to stall a bit.

The Plum Island Horror Fate Cards
Fate cards are used for spawns, activations, and random numbers.

Almost every game we’ve evacuated the required number of civilians by mid-game, and then are left wondering if that should be the end. Yet it’s not. To win, you have to survive all 9 rounds. So the game goes from actively trying to help people escape to a more reactive one. Trying to keep the Horrors in check and stop them from overrunning the island. While that sounds great, this isn’t a Zombicide level dice chucker. Fighting the Horrors (especially in melee) isn’t always a winning proposition. By round 7-8, the shine comes off a bit as you are just in triage mode. Thankfully, the actions per turn drop back down near the end of the game, so things go quicker. However, I do wish there were rules for speeding up the end game after you’ve rescued all the civilians you need, as some of the interesting decisions have left the game.

But outside of that issue, I think The Plum Island Horror is pretty great. I love how unique all the factions feel. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and there are a lot of little thematic touchers that can almost be considered easter eggs. Each unit in a faction also has its own special ability, which will break the standard rules in some way. They are all different enough that you’ll be drawn to play again just to see what each faction plays like. It’s that kind of uniqueness that gives the game a lot of replay value.

The Plum Island Horror Combat
Combat is handled via dice rolls, which Horror attacks being calculated via a chart.

Final Thoughts:

Is The Plum Island Horror perfect? No. It has its quibbles, but it’s also a ton of fun. Despite all the things I griped about above, everyone I’ve played it with has really enjoyed it. It’s highly thematic, has a ton of replay value, and is full of interesting decisions to make. For a player count, I think it’s best at 2 players. Solo mode does work fine, but you are just controlling 2 factions, which can be a bit daunting trying to keep track of the special powers. At 3-4, you’ll have a bit more downtime between turns (even with the follow action). For us though, 2 players was the sweet spot. You got to synergize with other players and things moved along pretty quickly.

If the theme or gameplay sounds at all interesting, then definitely give The Plum Island Horror a look. There is already an expansion on the horizon, so more goodness will be here soon.

Final Score: 4.5 Stars – While long, the gameplay and theme lend themselves to a really fun experience.

4.5 StarsHits:
• Factions all feel really unique
• Limited actions lead to tough choices
• Lots of replay value
• Follow action was a great idea

Misses:
• Game length is longer than advertised
• The second half of the game isn’t as interesting as the first

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