Rabbit Island: Preview

In today’s preview, Fairway tries really hard to avoid making multiplying-rabbit jokes as he burrows into Rabbit Island.  See if Fairway can successfully lead his fluffle (or is it herd) of rabbits to victory in this 4X game coming to Kickstarter in February.

Rabbit Island is a two- to four-player 4X game: explore, expand, exploit and “exterminate.” Exterminate is probably rabbit-insensitive, and is more appropriately “conquer” since no bunnies are harmed during the game. In any case, Rabbit Island, is a game from upcoming, designer Samantha R. Et Alia that will hit Kickstarter in February. I reviewed a pre-production copy of the game.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. For being a prototype, this game already has some very nice components. The uniquely shaped tiles that form the map work very well for the purpose —  the shape impacts and assists in the game play.
  2. The art and graphic design are all well done. While some of it comes across a bit flat, I think it largely serves the game play purposes well and makes the game intuitive.
  3. The game imposes an unusual theme on the 4X genre: rabbit explorers.

Game play ^

In Rabbit Island, players each take on the role of a rabbit-explorer who has arrived on a new island. While it might have been a cooperative journey to this island, that ends on the very first move. Each rabbit explorer is driven to be the most success rabbit leader.  The game will be played over a series of phases: explore, build and conquer.  At the end of the game, the player with the most victory points will win. To earn victory points, players must control the most valuable settlements on the island.

At the start, each player is given a rabbit token, some carrot monies, and building tokens.  The rabbit token represents the player’s rabbit. The carrot monies will be used to fund the rabbit’s empire by setting up camps, villages and towns on the new map.

Explore. The first phase is the explore phase during which players’ rabbits explore their new land. All the players begin on a starting tile called “Founder’s Hill.” A stack of tiles is shuffled and then dealt evenly to the players. Players then take turns placing two new tiles on the map and moving their rabbit to one of the newly placed tiles until all but one tile is placed.

Note, this was for demo purposes showing an illegal tile placement. Also, the rabbits would not be on Founder’s Hill at this point

Placing tiles follows a few basic rules:

  • New tiles must all be oriented the same direction as Founder’s Hill (i.e., so that text on each tile is going the same way)
  • New tiles can only be placed such that little paw prints lead from one a previously placed tile to the new one.
  • The “path” created to the new tile must to have a gap created by the unusually shaped tiles. Gaps are fine if they’re touching unpassable directions, though.
  • Any new path cannot create a “cycle” of paw prints that isn’t escapable. It’s quite amazing how often this rule was invoked.

After placing two tiles, the player moves their rabbit to one of those tiles and can do one of three things: nothing, perform the action listed on the tile (mostly collect carrot tokens), or build a camp. To build a camp, players pay the construction cost in carrot tokens (typically between 10 and 30 carrot tokens). Doing so, establishes the lowest level of settlement. Settlements are described later.

Once all the tiles are placed, any paths that lead off the board are capped with “tunnel” tiles which lead players back to Founder’s Hill.

Build Phase.  Once the entire island is set up, players have established the bases for their rabbit empire and the game moves into the build phase. The build phase is played over a series of rounds (10 for a short game, 20 for a longer game).  During the build phase, players will take turns moving their rabbit leaders around the paths on the island (following the paw print paths).

To do so, players draw and play movement cards. These cards indicate how many tiles their leader may move. Depending on where their leader lands, a few things happen. If the leader lands on a Carrot Patch, the player will collect more carrot tokens. If the leader lands on an unimproved tile, the player can build a camp. If the player lands on an improved tile, the player will “harvest” carrots based on the tile’s level of improvement (and groupings) and have the opportunity to improve it to another level: camp to village, village to town. This even works if you land on another player’s improvement.

When a player harvests, the player collects the carrots shown on the tile for the then-current level of improvement. For example, the cave to the right, would produce 10 carrots per harvest action if a camp or village, but 20 for a town. This harvest action works even if another player owns the settlement. Players would share in the wealth in that case.

In addition, a harvest can be larger because of harvest groups which are adjacent settlements of the same color. In this case, if you harvest, you’d collect the sum total of all the carrots for the entire harvest group.

When a player improves a tile, he or she pays the cost of the improvement in carrots and adds their build marker on top of the existing build token. In this sense, a player can take control of a tile by simply paying for the next settlement upgrade.

Conquer. At the end of the Build Phase, players will then sum up the victory points for all of their settlements. When more than one player contributed to the improvement of a tile, the player’s collect the number of points for each of their contributions.  In the cave example, if player one built the camp, player 2 built the village, and player 1 built the town, then player 1 would receive three points and player two would receive 1.  Additional points are awarded for most carrots and longest harvest group.

On the green ^

Game play.  Rabbit Island is a fantastic introduction to 4X games. Since the game is structured into phases, it’s relatively easy to introduce new players to the game. In addition, the game rewards strategic play and thoughtful planning in everything from how to build the paths (i.e., where to place tiles) to when to expend resources to improve the tiles.

Tiles.  Those tiles are impressive. The shape contributes and assists game play and forces players to think spatially. We also enjoyed the tile art and design especially recognizing that there is a lot of information to convey to players.

Art. The art on most of the components was happy and bright. It felt well-suited for a game about rabbits. Although, for a game about rabbits, they don’t feature prominently in the art — just their paw prints.

Balanced.  The game seems to have done a good job balancing the costs and rewards. What appeared to be heavy costs and low output tiles (like the Cave) turned out to be just fine so long as you were building to add to your harvest groups.

That said, the ability to amass huge quantity of carrots as a result of harvest groups quickly outpaces the real costs of building settlements. Whether you could afford the upgrade wasn’t ever really an issue. The only real question players had was whether it made sense to break up a harvest group since they could also benefit from an opponent’s harvest group.

Where it comes up short ^

We didn’t have any significant issues with the game. One mechanic did present for some unexpected challenges, though.

Tile placement. We played the game a number of times with different player numbers. If there’s a any real issue with the game: it’s getting the darn tiles placed correctly. It was as if players could regularly do two of the three things (fit the pieces together, follow the bunny prints, keep the orientation the same), but not all three. There’s technically a fourth too which felt like it shouldn’t have been an issue but was: no cycles. Everyone eventually gets it, but there’s lots of “oh man, that doesn’t work.”

We also had a few games where players inadvertently created long unidirectional paths. This turns out is interesting strategically since no one competes for your tiles. However, it’s detrimental to the game in that it becomes a solitaire game with little player interaction.

Fixable with a Paw Print Token? One thought we had: give each player a few “paw print” tokens that they can place to otherwise valid locations to add an “out.” It could be as few as one for each player.  Then at the end of the explore phase, let players place those paw prints to make one extra path out of a tile to another.

In the Hole ^

Rabbit Island is a great addition to the game library for fans of 4X games, especially if you’re a family of gamers. The game uses wonderfully intuitive game play. So it can serve as an understandable and structured introduction into strategic choices of more robust 4X systems. Even still, the game still puts the players’ fates in their own hands. The game is paired with bright and colorful art and the imaginative them of  exploration-minded rabbits bent on conquering a new-found island. It’s definitely a cute take on the 4X genre. Rabbit Island is definitely one to check out when it hits Kickstarter.

Rabbit Island is in the hole for a Birdie. ^

Fairway was provided a pre-production copy of the game to write an honest review. He was not otherwise compensated for this post.

2 thoughts on “Rabbit Island: Preview”

    1. Good question. We learned the game with two players. It plays fine, but in the version we played the opportunity for separation — and thus less conflict — was greater with only two players. The much more interesting game play opportunities occurred with more players because there’s more competition for the spaces. You definitely still have that with two players though.

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