As interest in board games continues to rise, so too does the interest in exploring new ways of playing those games. One such way is through digital ‘ports’ of those games – translating them PCs, consoles, phones, and tablets.
While digital versions may not exactly replace the feeling of a physical board game, many add subtle tweaks that such as for solo play, campaign modes, online competition, or simply as a more portable way to enjoy the game. This is new territory to explore. Welcome, to the Pixel Provinces.
With its rich Scottish setting and a simple yet engaging combination of tile placement and bidding mechanics, Isle of Skye became an instant hit upon release for casual and heavier gamers alike. Since its release Isle of Skye has gone on to win much critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including a 2015 Laurel nomination and the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres. Expectations are clearly high, so how will this much beloved game fare as it’s adapted to the digital highlands?
Alexander Pfister and Andreas Pelikan’s clan territory building game Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King has made its way to the screen with the help of the team at Digidiced. Immersed in the beautiful landscape of Isle of Skye, players are chieftains of clans working to build their territories to score the most points. Territories are expanded through buying and placing landscape tiles, each made different by a combination of varying layouts and animal, boat, or building icons that contribute to scoring.
Buying tiles is complicated by the players themselves choosing which tiles to sell and at what price. Finding the right balance between the strategic worth of a tile and how much someone is willing to pay for it is crucial, as players will have to pay for any of their own tiles that weren’t purchased during the round. Territories score according to the four scoring tiles chosen at the beginning of the game, but which scoring tiles are applied changes from round to round.`
Players that have experienced some of Digidiced’s other adaptations will be familiar with the tutorial layout of Isle of Skye. The tutorial is broken into four sections which you can undergo as a sequence or revisit individually, including the rules for tile placement, the bidding process, and round scoring. The option to revisit sections individually is great for players that have played Isle of Skye before who may want a quick refresher before taking on this digital adaptation. While the tutorial is helpful for out-of-practice players, it’s also comprehensive enough for new players to learn what they need to play. Isle of Skye is renown as a quick game to pick up, and the brevity of the tutorial mirrors that. While it does cover the necessary material to play the game in its short segments, a copy of the physical game’s rulebook is also included for players who wish to reference it for any clarifications they may need.
Isle of Skye has both online and local play options. Playing in a local game gives you the option of facing off against three levels of AI: easy, medium, and hard. The AI is squarely middle of the road in terms of difficulty. Experienced players may find the upper level AI less challenging than they would expect, but newer players will have a healthy challenge facing against them. The AI game speeds are also customizable, which is equally as beneficial for players that enjoy studying AI moves as it is for those who prefer speedy turn transitions. Local games can also be played with friends that you’ve linked up with through your Asmodee Online account. Just like the physical game, a single digital game can hold up to five players at once, and you can customize your game to have any combination of friends and AI difficulties. Additionally, local games provide the option of playing with random scoring tiles or picking specific ones to use, allowing you to get some practice in with specific tiles before your next game at the table.
Online games are assigned via Asmodee Online’s familiar queue system. These games are ranked by default, but you can still queue up for quick, unranked games while you wait to be paired with other online players. Ranked games in Isle of Skye contribute to your game stats, which track your wins and losses, as well as additional stats like largest area or number of tiles placed. These stats also contribute to your progress on in-game achievements.
Getting matched up with online players in a ranked game is a speedy process, but the games themselves can often be slow depending on who you’re paired with. Their asynchronous nature makes them a poor choice for players looking for a quick taste of the game, but for the gamer on the go who may not have time for a full game in one sitting, it should be seen as a welcomed feature.
Isle of Skye ports splendidly to the digital format. Tile laying games transfer particularly well to screens, and Isle of Skye’s drag and drop system keeps the user interaction simple and streamlined. Rotating tiles is as simple as tapping on them, and the game even highlights possible tile placement options to let you know which moves are legal.
Moreover, the screen remains unencumbered throughout the whole playthrough; its contents are neatly organized so the information is easily taken in without being overwhelming on a small phone screen. The core focus of Isle of Skye is building up your territory to maximize your points during the shifting score tiles each round, so being able to quickly assess your layout options is crucial to playing well. The digital game’s uncluttered screen and the zoom feature eases the struggle of not being able to physically handle the tiles yourself and makes these quick assessments possible.
Knowing what your opponents’ tiles look like is just as important as knowing your own if you want to set your prices advantageously, and confining the game to a smaller screen helps accomplish that. Each player has a tab on the side of the screen that can quickly be flipped through to get a closer look at their territory setup, allowing for easy referencing when trying to set your costs for the round. The digital price setting and payment structure also reduces space issues by getting rid of the money tokens, making the entire presentation all the more streamlined.
Isle of Skye is a pristinely ported game that offers a challenging tile building experience that’s just as fun as the physical version. Although confined to a small screen, the game’s interface is clean and organized, and the tile placement system is highly intuitive. The different online and local game modes give plenty of options to choose from when setting up a game, and although some of the AI levels could be a bit harder, the customizable scoring tiles lend an interesting new sense of control of the game’s direction. This app accomplishes everything players would expect to see in a digital version of Isle of Skye without sacrificing anything in the process, and it does so while cutting the typical play time in half. Simply put: if you enjoy Isle of Skye, this digital adaptation is a great way to access the same level of fun through a handy new medium.
Isle of Skye is available on these platforms:
Sara Perry is a contributing writer and aspiring game designer with a love for games both physical and digital. Also cats. She can be best reached via Twitter.
Feel free to share your thoughts with us over on our social media pages!