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A boardgame about the Canary Islands? Ooo sounds intriguing, and as a gamer who does holiday there, I was intrigued as to whether it would possibly make an apt travel game? After all it can be fun playing boardgames in their themed locations: Carcassonne, Alhambra, and Puerto Rico are games that people have done (see boardgamegeek for photographic evidence).

Islas Canarias is a game about the settlement of the Canary Islands – each player takes one island playing board, which are differently shaped but containing the same number of land plot spaces. The boards each contain a set of features adjacent to the landplots: mountain, coast, river, road, village, and a farm, which vary in the number of plots adjacent to it (so an island will have 5 spaces next to one feature and other islands will have 4 or 3), with each island being strong at something. new players seem to want the bigger islands or moan if they’ve got a small island, but each has its strengths.

Look at the islands and you will see each has 5 spaces next to 2 features, 4 next to another 2, and 3 next to the final 2.

There is a deck of settler cards, of which each player starts with a hand of five. Each card depicts a settler with their occupation in Spanish and depicting the colour house they want to live in and a priority preference of where they want to live. On your turn you can do one of two things and then compulsory do a final action – you can either play a settler card to place a house on your island (of the colour stated on the card, and its placed according to the priority depicted on the card e.g. next to the mountain, if there’s no free space there then next to a red house, otherwise …) or pick up three cards; the final action of your turn is to place a card on the settlement ship (so if you start your turn with one card you must choose to pick up to be able to place a card in the ship). At the end of each round the cards placed on the ship by everyone are shuffled and one placed aside (so the card you put in may not come out this time), they are then “settled” according to the priority i.e. given to the player who has most free spaces next to the settlers priority, with ties going down to the next order of priority. Of course you have to place the settler in a highest available space, so meaning you now have less spaces. Your spaces this way can quickly fill, luckily there is a way to free up spaces. Houses are worth 1 point, but if you have 2 houses in the same colour you can exchange these for 1 palace (that has to go on one of the spaces vacated by the houses) worth 3 points (or 2 points if you already have 1 in that colour). You can also upgrade to Town settlements, worth 5 points, by converting 3 houses of that colour. A rule I missed on first couple of plays is you cannot upgrade a palace and a house into a town, which is quite important as it makes you more vulnerable to pirates in the meantime!

So this is a game about using cards to place houses on your island directly and hopefully via the ship (if you have the most favourable space). There is more to this game though in the terms of privileges and pirates. The first player in each colour to build a palace gets the privilege card for that colour (other players may take these later if they get more points in that colour) that gives you a special power. these are

  • Win all ties
  • Draw 5 cards when not building
  • Use houses of different colours when building a palace
  • Build wherever you want
  • Take extra card every turn
  • Protected from pirate attacks

The settler deck consists of 54 settlers and 6 pirates (one in each colour). A player may not play a pirate on their island, but can place it in the ship. When a pirate comes out they attack the owner of that colours privilege, who then has to place a house (of any colour) back into supply (if they have the pirate protection privilege they can determine another player to be attacked). If the privilege isn’t out its the player with most points in that colour with ties meaning all tied players put one house back.

The game carries on until one player reaches 19 points and then the game ends at the end of that round (so it is possible for someone else to win with more points or even the player who reached 19 to then lose points via the pirates!).

This game was described to me by one friend as just a puzzle solving game, but I don’t see it that way. It is about being aware of which features you are strong in each round (to hopefully get settlers via the ship) and deciding when to upgrade to palaces or go for towns. It is quite a short game, playing in about 45 minutes, though this can be longer if players are deliberating far too much each turn. The mechanics are quite simple to pick up but with more to it than a quick filler. Maybe I will take it on holiday next time.