Nautilus Island, a new board game published by Funnyfox, is the second ‘marooned on an island’ game that I played at Gen Con, the other being Hellapagos. However, thematically this one is much different in the sense that instead of fishing for survival, players are salvaging what they can find from the abandoned Nautilus submarine in order to try and get off the island. Possibly with some extra treasure to boot!
Designed by Johannes Goupy and Théo Rivière, the Nautilus Island board game is approachable set collection in a thematic package, ensuring you’re never certain of what exactly you’ll find stashed away in this submarine. Timing is everything as your fellow companions are also collecting their own goods to provide value to this escape attempt.
So grab some work gloves and join me as I take a look at Nautilus Island!
Nautilus Island Gameplay
How are we going to get off this island? By looting this awesome submarine, of course! Players take turns moving their Castaway from one side of the ship to another, placing it in a column that doesn’t have a Castaway yet. Once they’ve moved, there is a decision to be made: Gather the Objects in the column, or Store Objects back in your camp.
Gathering Objects allows you to take the top card off each pile in your column. Some of these cards may be face down, so you don’t know the full story of everything you’re getting.
Storing Objects is how you earn points; you can play cards in front of you up to the number of spaces in your current column. The cards played must be the same color and are added to any existing cards of that color in front of you, provided that you don’t have a Porthole on that color.
When you lay down Objects, you can also take the Bonus token for that color if it’s still available. These get replenished when there’s only one Bonus token left, so there’s a bit of timing involved to ensure that your strategy is optimal.
After playing cards, you can choose to take a Porthole and close off that color. Doing so gets you some extra points, but you cannot play any more cards of that color for the remainder of the game. It’s a risky tradeoff!
Once a column is completely empty, the round continues until everyone has played their Castaway. Any cards leftover in hands count for nothing; only cards played in front of you score points! Highest score wins the game.
Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on Nautilus Island!
For a relatively simple set collection game, the Nautilus Island board game has more components than you might initially think. The gameboard lies everything out in a very intuitive way, ensuring that setup goes quickly even at different player counts.
I especially like the rotating compass, which can be adjusted to point at the side of the Nautilus that all of the players were on at the start of the round. It’s a simple cardboard arrow with a plastic rivet connection, but you’d be surprised at how easy it would be to lose track of which side the Castaways started on without it.
You’re also getting some intricate Castaway meeples in the four player colors, as well as numerous cardboard tokens for the Bonus and Porthole pieces.
All of the cards are mini-sized, which is honestly a really good choice for a game like this. I don’t need an entire standard-sized card to essentially show me some slightly larger art; the miniature cards do their job adequately and splendidly, keeping the game’s footprint small as each player builds their sets.
How hard could the Nautilus Island be, right? Move your Castaway and take some cards. Easy.
The depth of strategy in this game comes primarily from the matter of timing. Do you want to keep adding more cards to your hand to get larger sets? Or should you play those cards so that you can get the Bonus while it’s available? The spicy addition to this is realized by the fact that you can only play cards up to the number of decks in your column. This means you’re getting to play an absolute maximum of three cards each round.
What makes this an even juicier decision space is that you’ll see people gravitate towards the meatier end of the submarine, where there’s more bang for their buck. However, people on the narrower side get to go first each round, meaning that you can’t just hang out on the deep end all game night long either.
It reminds me a lot of the pains of a Fantasy Football snake draft where getting an earlier pick just means that your next pick is going to be eons away. I really enjoy that dynamic in a frustrating but strategic kind of way.
The art in the Nautilus Island board game is really superb. While working the Hachette booth at Gen Con, there were constantly people gravitating towards the game simply because of the box art and the board. Bright azure waves surrounding an intriguing steampunky submarine is more than the price of admission to get people to the table. My hat’s off to Clément Masson for creating an inviting game that looks fantastic as you play it.
I did have some reservations initially that there could be some color-blindness issues cropping up with Nautilus Island. After all, the Objects that are Orange, Red, and Purple can definitely seem a bit similar. Luckily, each card and representation of a color is joined by a representative symbol as well, to help keep everything distinct and in order.
Nautilus Island is one of the more approachable games that I’ve been able to teach recently, and that’s because the rules overhead is very low, along with the barrier to entry. From a complexity standpoint, it is decidedly in the camp of other set collection games like Sushi Go or the like. The selection of which column to take is one that people can grasp, and the actual flow of the game is quite snappy.
But what really makes the game enjoyable are the hidden decks. They can completely change your strategy if all of sudden you get a couple of the same card. You’re constantly shifting your priorities in your hand, unless you’re sticking to columns that have all known values. Which is actually quite difficult to do.
Nautilus Island would probably be featured in our dormant ‘Beer and Pretzels’ column, meaning that it’s a chill game that you can enjoy with friends.
The gameplay of the Nautilus Island board game brings about player interaction in an indirect way. That is to say, when you place your Castaway on a column, you’re effectively blocking your opponent from visiting that column in the same turn. Going first in a round can certainly wreak some havoc in that regard.
In a strange way, this also creates a thematic connection to the mechanics, in the sense that the constant shuffling of the Castaways evokes this idea of frantically running around the ship trying to find exactly what you’re looking for. And you’re constantly racing over multiple aspects of the game: racing for columns, Bonus tiles, and Portholes. Every action has a time cost associated with it, and managing those costs is half the game!
Nautilus Island: Sift Through that Sub!
I wasn’t prepared to run games of Nautilus Island at Gen Con, but as happenstance would have it, I learned the game on the fly and got a few tables up and running really quickly. That’s a testament to the approachability of the game, but also to the conciseness of the rulebook. Even in the hustle and bustle of a convention, you can go from zero to playing in a matter of minutes.
I’m happy to give Nautilus Island the wonderful Nerds of Earth Seal of Awesomeness award! This is a lighter game to gift this award, but we feel that it encompasses everything that a game should be: easy to teach, easy to learn, have meaningful choices, and most of all…it’s fun.
You can pick up a copy of Nautilus Island from your FLGS since it released earlier this week, or you can pick up a copy from Hachette Boardgames directly.
[Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of Nautilus Island from Hachette Boardgames in exchange for an honest review.]