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Spirit Island Design Diary - Questions of Setting

R. Eric Reuss
United States
Massachusetts
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The Kickstarter has wrapped up, quite successfully! Spirit-centric updates got so much enthusiasm that they ate up most of my writing time during the campaign, but enough folks have said they'd enjoy reading further Designer Diaries that I'll continue posting them from time to time.

I was going to look at boards, Presence/Sacred Sites, and an interesting thematic question: where is Spirit Island, anyway? But it turns out that each of those is an entire post in itself, so for now I'll just answer the last.

It's still about design, just thematic design rather than mechanical. (There'll be more in this vein when I post about the Dahan.)


So where is Spirit Island, anyway?

My intent has always been for there to be a wide range of plausible locations and time periods for Spirit Island, so that players could fight against a wide variety of historical Adversaries. Many colonizers were limited in where they expanded, or founded colonies only before/after a certain century. Basically, I wanted Spirit Island to be able to take on aspects of a wide variety of historical conflicts - partly for the aforementioned gameplay reasons, partly so that if someone really wants to feel like they're driving the Invaders out of a (real) land they have some cultural attachment to, they can.

This level of generalization / archetypicality is, of course, ludicrous. Peoples, flora, fauna, climate, and geology vary extensively from place to place in the world. Many plants we tend to think of as generically "tropical" started out in one corner of the world (and were often spread by colonizing Europeans!). A single person's clothing, a single plant, a single animal may be enough to localize to a specific place... but probably only for an expert. The average boardgamer isn't going to know.

And there were some things that could be done to make it a bit trickier: the plants and animals of Spirit Island are distinctive to it; even those the Dahan brought with them when they came to the island long ago have been transmuted by the Spirits to better fit in with the local ecosystem. (There's a Choice Event which presents the same option for the Invaders' imported species.) The Dahan language uses phoenemes that are commonly found across the globe. Where possible, I avoided obvious markers-of-place in the Dahan culture. And so forth.

But there are areas I couldn't help but make traces. The canonical island map has rain shadows mostly on the northwest side of high lands, implying frequent southeast winds. There are details of geology which might come out if I get to do an expansion with the Volcano spirit. Etc.


How big is Spirit Island?

It's not just the location that's deliberately ambiguous - the size of the island is, too! A single Dahan piece might represent one village, a few associated villages, or an entire clan. A Town piece might reprsent a literal single town, or a certain density of Towns scattered through that area. (Larger physical scales also imply a longer timescale to the game, and that the Spirits are that much more impressively powerful.)

Spirit Island is absolutely no smaller than Montserrat (40 square miles) and no bigger than Madagascar (225,000 square miles), and is more likely to be in the range of 400 - 40,000 square miles. (Within one order of magnitude of Viti Levu, the largest island in Fiji.) The presence of large apex predators implies that it's on the larger side of that range - but it could instead be close to a mainland or chain-of-islands terminating at a mainland, with the arrival of Ocean's Hungry Grasp a few hundred years ago keeping it more isolated than it would otherwise be.

This ambiguity is for similar reasons to the ambiguity of place: some Adversaries or Scenarios might make sense only if the scale of the island is vast, or small.


...and other such questions.

The commenter who asked about location also asked a few other questions:

What should we call it? Spirit Island? Dahan Island? The Island?

Spirits and Dahan alike mostly just call it 'the island', as they infrequently have cause to visit or refer to other ones these days. Shortly after the Dahan first arrived, they started calling it something that roughly translates to "the island of great spirits" or thereabouts (and before making that discovery they undoubtedly had chosen some other name for it entirely), but I expect that the more-formal name doesn't see much use now.

(We should probably just call it Spirit Island.)

Are there other islands with natives (Dahan or otherwise) and spirits?

There are other islands within travel distance of Spirit Island. Not easy travel distance, but the Dahan used to trade with them semi-frequently before Ocean's Hungry Grasp moved into the area, and even after that still managed an expedition every decade or so. (At least, before the Invaders showed up.) The Dahan have been semi-isolated for long enough to have their own distinct culture, though.

The inhabitants of various other islands believe in spirits, or gods, or both. When the Dahan's ancestors showed up, they were taken aback at the number and power of the Spirits in this place. And for now, that's all I'm saying on the matter. :-)

Are there any spirits back in Europe? What about the Americas? Asia?

The Invaders are roughly analagous to nations from our own history. They might believe in spirits, but probably in the context of God / angels / demons / witchcraft (unless they're an Adversary where Christianity hasn't taken hold), and they have about as much experience with the supernatural as people from our own history.

Some of the Fear / Event cards represent various reactions the Invaders have to realizing "Oh crud, these things the Dahan talk about actually exist!", and there's one Major Power (Manifest Incarnation) which is effectively a Spirit showing up in immense, undeniable power and burning into the Invaders' minds, "KNOW THIS TO BE TRUE: WE ARE REAL." (It does a lot of Fear.)

Basically, what else can you tell us about the world of Spirit Island?

Enough to (hopefully) be intriguing, not enough to dispel all mysteries.

(Sometimes I want to delay a reveal; sometimes I simply don't know an answer yet and don't want to pin one down before it's necessary.)
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