Monday, June 19, 2023

Castaway: dice and desert islands

For the last couple years, I’ve tried to learn at least one Roll and Write game a month. And we are moving across the country this summer so both my game playing time and my game thinking power has been limited.

Enter Dark Imp’s playmat line.

I had already tried out Beach Life last year and found it better than I expected. Beneath artwork that looked like it had been designed for High Lights and the simple rules were some tight choices. I blocked out the rest of the line for May, June and July.

June was Castaway.

The title tells you everything you need to know to know about the theme. You are stranded on a desert island and trying to escape and survive.

The actual gameplay is roll two dice and then everyone gets to do something with the roll. The two basic actions are gather resources and use those resources to build stuff.

Let’s get a little more detailed. The play area is a five by five grid. Each square has four squares in it. The little squares either have a shipwreck, empty water, a tree or empty land in each little square.  You use the two dice to determine which set of four squares you’re working with that round.

Two details: when you harvest materials, you immediately assign it to a specific building project. To be fair, that does simplify the book keeping. Second, another action you can take is planting trees. Since wood is the most heavily used resource, that’s an interesting way of resource management.

The game ends when someone build the right combination of stuff for either self sufficiency or rescue or someone has three turns where they can’t do anything. There’s a variety of ways of getting points that all come down to how well you’ve developed your island.

Okay. I’ve been playing Castaway solitaire and I’ve been enjoying it. The game offers simple mechanics that let you build up your island in different ways.

Two mechanics I like in particular: the subdivision of the squares into four smaller squares and replanting trees. The first one gives you more choices and the second one gives you a way to manage resources.

I also think that playing it solitaire, I am missing out on the potential of Castaway. Playing alone, you can control when the game ends. Losing that would add a lot to the experience.

Ultimately, Castaway is a lowkey, enjoyable game that I think works well with a casual audience. It’s not innovative but it is accessible. It’s aimed at a family audience and I think it works for that. 

(I haven’t played Island Alone, another PnP R&W about being stranded on a desert island but it is high on my list to try. I think I will find it more engaging and fun. However, I think Castaway will do better for times when my brain is worn out :) )

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