Previewing: Voodoo Island

There’s this innate thing that happens to some people whenever they’re in a precarious and dangerous position: they somehow make it worse. These folks have the capacity to get you into more trouble rather than help get you out of it, either by being oblivious to their surroundings (i.e. Fry from Futurama), being too self-absorbed to see the larger problem (Ed from Shaun of the Dead), being too naive to understand the gravity of their actions (Pippin Took in Lord of the Rings), or are just too stupid to be able to recognize there even is a problem (Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, and pretty much every other male sitcom lead).

"I smashed the satellite phone with a rock because it wouldn't stop beeping. My bad."

“I smashed the satellite phone with a rock because it wouldn’t stop beeping. My bad.”

Let’s call it the Gilligan Effect. The Gilligan Effect is what happens when your party consists of the people that are going to do more to exacerbate your troubles than help correct them. This would be things like touching something when they don’t know what it’ll do or losing an invaluable item needed to solve the problem at hand.

Or in Voodoo Island’s case, simply wandering off into strange and unknown terrain, either due to boredom, or to find a Starbucks.

The Gilligan Effect is in full swing here.

Voodoo Island is a quick new scenario-based tile game about surviving a dangerous island. The game’s story begins with a family on vacation whose boat began leaking. They were lucky enough to land upon a strange tropical island in order to make the necessary repairs and be on their way.

Except while you’re working on salvaging your lives, the rest of the player’s family decided to up and wander into the jungle for no good reason. Because, really, when your boat almost sinks and you don’t know where you are, it should be your first instinct to just saunter off instead of helping fix the damn boat.

Really, if one of them becomes a zombie, it’s their own fault.

Voodoo Island begins with an initial scenario for two players, with future scenarios offering more player roles. In Scenario One, the first player takes the role of said family member who has fallen prey to the Gilligan Effect and must stop working on the actual problem of fixing the boat to go find them. The other player controls the will of the zombies on the island who wish for nothing more than for some tasty hero brains.

The objective of the first player in this scenario is to scour the island in search of the family and then return to the starting beach tile before the zombies catch them, thereby revealing all of the game’s gridded tiles. However, the player must be wary, as the stack of tiles is interspaced with four that spawn zombies.

The player can reveal a new tile adjacent to them, or wait around to become zombie chow.

The player can reveal a new tile adjacent to them, or wait around to become zombie chow.
Prototype Shown

Getting around the island in search of your fellow foolish castaways is done by two very simple actions. If the player opts to move, they may move any number of spaces in any direction until they either hit an obstacle or the edge of a map tile.

Upon reaching the edge of a map tile, that player may then choose to reveal and place a new tile on that edge. Revealing a tile is optional, though, and while there will be times when it may not be wisest to reveal the next segment of the island, it is the only way to find your family. You know, if you want to.

Alternatively, if the first player chooses not to move (as they’re hopefully contemplating leaving them behind), and they’re on a tile edge, a new tile must be placed regardless.

The zombie player must wait until one of the four zombie tiles out of the 22-tile stack appears to pretty much do anything, and that can seem odd for the first few turns as one player simply moves about by themselves. However, Voodoo Island is set up for the zombie tiles to randomly come every half dozen rounds or so. Once that happens, the hunt is on, and players will alternate turns.

When a zombie tile is revealed, a new zombie is added to the board. In typical zombie fashion, though, they take some time to get moving and will not move the turn they are spawned. Otherwise, on the zombie player’s turn, they may move each zombie up to three spaces in any direction and in any order they wish, except that they can’t move on to more than one new tile each turn. This point is helpful, as when each zombie is summoned, the first player gains a mini tile that they can thrown down in their fleeing path to slow the approach of the mindless creatures they’ve found.

The zombies that is, not their family.

Use of a Mini Tile Prototype Shown

Use of a Mini Tile during movement.
Prototype Shown

As the number of tiles revealed increases, so does the chances of becoming a tasty snack. Yet all is not lost for the brave family adventurer. Once all four zombies are active, the zombie player must roll a six-sided die before each zombie movement, and rolls of five or six will incapacitate or remove zombies from play.

Thus, one of the scenario’s win mechanics is for the zombie player to simply lose control of all four zombies, thereby letting the first player just stroll back to the beach. What’s more likely, though, is that they’ll be making a mad, frantic, panicky run for the beach instead. If the first player can reveal all of the tiles and make it back in one piece, they also win. However, if they ever cross paths with a zombie, they can forever curse the name of Gilligan for getting them killed.

A fully revealed island map.  Prototype Shown

A fully revealed island map.
Prototype Shown

Voodoo Island is designed to be a modular scenario game, and its first expedition is a short one, clocking in around 20 minutes or so. At first glance the game can seem overly simple, as the first scenario to Voodoo Island seemingly is just two players moving a few pawns around a couple dozen tile pieces. Once the first couple zombies appear, though, the¬†lackadaisical tone wears off quickly. Indeed, one of the surprisingly fun things about Voodoo Island is how quickly the game transitions from plowing through tile pieces into a mini Chess match where every move counts. The first player’s unit may have the powers of a Queen, but the zombies operate as a cross between Rooks and Bishops, making them quite potent, and revealing Voodoo Island to be a brief and lightweight tactical movement game.

For a short and incredibly easy to play filler game, Voodoo Island includes both some light tactical puzzle elements and design space for additional scenarios, and you can find out more about it on their Kickstarter. Voodoo Island has all of the hallmarks of a seemingly simple game built right.

Which is more than can be said about the family boat.

Photo Credits: Gilligan by Warner Bros. Entertainment.