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Isla Dorado was one of five Essen releases I had pre-ordered. At first it piqued my interest with some of the most amazing artwork ever, but it really sold me after I had read the rules. I expected a lighter family-style game, with lots of interaction and just a ton of fun. My anticipation only got bigger and bigger as the Essen fair got closer. In fact, of the games I bought at Essen, it was the first one I played right after we got home from the fair.
We played a four player game with an interesting mix of players. Jasper prefers lighter eurogames, like Alhambra, Havana and San Juan. Janneke is a big fan of Ticket to Ride, Agricola and Dixit. Joost has a soft spot for Ameritrash-style games like Chaos in the Old World and Space Hulk, but he can appreciate the medium-heavy eurogame as well. I'm his opposite, with a strong preference for medium-heavy eurogames like Agricola, Power Grid, Carson City and Brass, but I like a Ameritrash/hybrid style game as well. Different as our tastes may be, we all shared our anticipation for playing Isla Dorada.
I had read the rules before, so I explained the game, but like the others, I hadn't played before. It's not a complex game to teach, but there are a lot of different cards which create most of the learning curve. While the artwork is very original and atmospheric, it doesn't help in any way to differentiate the meaning and function of the cards; all cards are very colourful and have weird names, the result is that the used iconography kind of blends in. We had to use the cheat sheet with the explanations of each card a lot. On a few occasions we had to refer to the rulebook, for a more thorough explanation. The rest of the game is quite straightforward and soon we were playing the game.
You're part of a team of treasure hunters and you move a common pawn around the board, but each team member has a hidden agenda. They want to steer the entire team in the direction where they can find the most treasures and they want to avoid specific cursed places. Players bid for the right to decide where to go next. This way they try to fulfill their destiny card and their treasure cards. After a few turns we got the hang of how this game is played and we really turned into this team where nobody could agree on where to go next. The bidding sure is a lot of fun, with the addition of special bidding cards. It can get pretty mean, excluding others from bidding, making your bid the final bid, let others pay a lot for the right to move to a certain site only to move the pawn another space to the next site, et cetera. There are special cards with an immediate effect as well, that deal out extra curse cards, or steal adventure cards -which are used for bidding- or treasure cards -which are used to score victory points- from other players, block certain paths, et cetera. Everybody is always interested where the pawn is going and the cardplay is very interesting so there is virtually no downtime and a lot of player interaction. The game totally deliverd in this aspect.
In our game, scores were usually very close, going back and forth who was in the lead. So it all came down to our destiny cards. We had a great example of the types of destiny cards out there. Janneke and I had a list of 4 or 5 scattered places to visit during the game; the more we visited, the more points we scored. Joost had the opposite: he had a list of 3 sites not to visit. Finally, it was Jasper's destiny not to visit the same sites twice or more. A quick scan of the cheat sheet shows there are a lot more different ones. The destiny cards are one of the best aspect of the game; for all of us, they accounted for over half of our final scores so they really matter.
After being the underdog for most of the game, Jasper pulled out a marvelous move in the final turn, making me pay way too much to move our team to a certain spot, only to make it move another time. This way he scored his final treasure and he made sure he completely fulfilled his destiny card: we visited 16 different sites and not once did we visit a site twice or more. he won the game with a total of 47 point. I came in second with 40 points, Janneke got pretty close with 38 points and Joost finsihed last, with only 33 points.
It didn't really matter who won or lost, not only because it was our learning game, but mostly because we all had a blast. Janneke already thinks it's one of her favorite games and so do I. Joost has decided to get a copy of his own as well. We shared a lot of laughs and we all can't wait to play another game of Isla Dorada.