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Players play a stag on a Scottish island. The object of the game is to be the stag who has mated with the most does and finishes on the highest level of the island. Gameplay is simple yet the effect of choices can be complex.
Due to constraints of purchasing components, production of this game was increased from 1000 to 2500 copies.
In an email from Gordon Lamont, he mentioned to me that “we certainly cannot be accused of unoriginal themes!” And certainly that is the truth, made evident once again in Antler Island (Fragor Games, 2007 – Gordon and Fraser Lamont). In Antler Island, each player plays a stag that is preparing for the rutting season, the player who breeds with the most does, while fighting the other stags is the winner! An interesting theme to be sure (if interesting to explain to young children), and with simplicity of play to match earlier Fragor Games’ offerings.
With beautiful components (typical from this company these days), Antler Island is an easy game to explain to folks, as they simply are programming their stags to move, eat, fight, and – well, rut. The game has similarities to more complex programming games, such as Robo Rally, but falls into a much more friendly category, even though a player is highly encouraged to go head to head with other players. It’s sometimes difficult to stop a runaway leader, and strategy is often obvious; but the game works on an easy, enjoyable level – and I’m glad to see Fragor Games returning to the fun game methods that made them popular in the first place.
The game board, which changes if there are three or four players, has three levels of an island – with several outside spaces, each denoted with either a yellow, red, or blue spot, six middle spaces (three of which are marshes), and one center spot. Each player takes a control mat of their color and places two antler pieces onto the head of the stag pictured there. Several “doeples” are placed near the board, as well as some piles of food tokens (which range from “1” to “3” in value). A colored die is rolled, and a food token is randomly placed in each spot with that matching color on the lower level; and then it is rolled again for a different color – on which players place their stag piece. A doeple is placed on the remaining empty spaces, as well as the three non-marsh spaces on the second level. Players take one random food counter and place it below their control mat. A pile of “wily” tiles are shuffled and placed in a pile, with the top one flipped face up. The player with the most money on them gets the starting marker, and each player places a scoring piece of their color on the bottom of the “doe track” (which goes to “12”). Players are given five action tokens of their color, and the first round is ready to begin.
At the beginning of each round, players place their five action tiles next to four different options on their control mat. Three tiles are numbered, showing the order in which they will be played, while one is an “X” – meaning it can be played at any time; and the last is blank, which is used simply as a bluffing device. Once everyone has placed them, play starts with the first player. That player turns over their “1” tile or their “X” tile, whichever they like. However, once they have played their “X” tile, they have no choice but to go in numerical order. The actions that occur are:
Players continue taking actions (although they may be unable to take an action, depending on where they are) in turn order, until each player has taken four actions. At this point, new food tokens are added to the ground level; and all does still on the board move directly up one level, staying at the top if there. New does are added to the bottom, and the game continues.
Fights are fairly simple, as first the attacker places an amount of food tiles in front of their card. The defender places a similar number of tiles (both players are limited to playing three tiles maximum). Each player has a chance of retreating; otherwise, the players flip the tokens, adding the number of food there to the number of pieces in their antlers. The player who wins the fight (or didn’t retreat) wins, and any played food tokens are lost (except if someone runs away like a liver-hearted coward). The winning stag gets the top wily tile, and the losing stag (in battle only) loses one piece from their antlers. Wily tiles are played to allow players to take a one-time special action. The different tiles are:
The game continues until one player reaches twelve (three player game) or ten on the doe track. This signals that the current round is the final round. After that round is over, players get one point for the space they are on the doe track, plus one point for any additional does they may have snagged the last turn, three points if they are currently on the center space, and one point if they are currently in the middle section. However, a player may NOT win unless they have won at least one fight with another stag during the game (even if that stag simply turned tail and ran).
The advanced game gives players cubes of their own color, which are captured by other players if they lose a stag battle. At the end of the game, players get one point if they have all of their own cubes and additional points if they have one cube of each other player’s color. Some comments on the game…
Antler Island is not going to be a breakout hit, I think – like Shear Panic was. But it is engaging and may have a wider audience, if only because the entry level is very low. The pieces are tremendous, and the theme flows throughout (snickers included). I personally would prefer to play a game that offered a few more tactical decisions; but this is a great family game, so it will see more play in my household. Besides, my kids like trying to see how many does their stags can kiss. If they only knew…
“Real men play board games”
The always jovial and friendly Lamont Brothers have developed a reputation of using clever and adorable components in their games. Their first release, Leapfrog, featured colorful rubber frogs, while their last two releases have included wonderful three-dimensional sheep and rats. Their latest release is Antler Island, wherein player’s pieces are whimsical stags. The presence of these special components never fails to generate considerable excitement amongst gamers, and no doubt helps boost sales.
The theme of Antler Island, while perfectly natural, may also be a bit too mature for younger audiences. Players represent stags whose main purpose is to mate with does, called “doeples” in game parlance. Victory tends to go to the player who is most successful in this task. Along the way, stags must gather food for sustenance and antler growth, both of which help in the inevitable conflicts with opposing stags. The theme is certain to cause some sophomoric chuckles and jokes from most males, but can be changed to “kissing” as opposed to mating in order to make it kid-friendly.
The game is played on a three level board, with each level divided into various territories. Each turn, all does move up one level, and a die is rolled to determine the territories that will receive new food tokens and does. Players then secretly plot their actions for the turn on their player mat, allocating three tokens valued 1 – 3, one “x” token, and one bluff token amongst four possible actions: move, eat, rut, and grow antlers. Players can perform the same action multiple times, but must execute them in numerical order. The only exception is the “x”, which can be executed at any time, thereby interrupting this order. Thus, players must pre-plan all of their actions, and hope situations don’t arise to spoil those plans.
Players alternate taking one action at a time until all actions are performed. When moving, a stag may wander to an adjacent territory, moving up a level if desired. Stags cannot enter wetland territories, all of which are scattered about the second level, so does are temporarily inaccessible when they are on these territories. A stag may mate with a doe if it is located in the same territory and the “rut” action was chosen. The doe is removed, and the player tracks his “mating” progress on the doe track. Moving up on this track not only progresses one in terms of victory points, but is also the source of some good-natured boasting! The “eat” action permits the stag to eat all food tokens present in his territory. Food tokens range in value from 1 – 3, and can be used in conflict or to grow antlers. Players cannot possess more than five food tokens, so excess hoarding is not possible. When the “grow antlers” action is chosen, the player may surrender as many food tokens as he desires, and add an amount of antlers to his mat equal to half the value of the food tokens surrendered. Players can get creative adding the antlers to the picture of their stag, creating an impressive or bizarre rack. This is reminiscent of Phillip Keyaerts’ Evo, wherein players can get creative when placing new body parts on their dinosaur caricature.
If two stags occupy the same territory, a conflict results. The strength of a stag is determined by adding its number of antlers to the value of food tokens committed to the attack. Players can commit a maximum of three tokens to an attack. Either player may retreat prior to revealing food tokens, thereby conserving those tokens and preventing the loss of an antler if defeated. The aggressor still wins a fight token if his opponent retreats. If an “antler lock” ensues, the player with the greatest strength wins a “wily tile”, a fight counter, and places the losing stag on any empty space. The losing stag also loses one antler. A player cannot win the game without earning a fight counter, so a completely pacifist approach cannot be pursued.
Some spice is added to the game with the “wily tiles”. These grant special abilities to the stags, such as extra movement or food, calling does in adjacent spaces into a stag’s territory, or even mating with multiple does with one action. That last tile is humorously titled “Rut your Stuff”! These tiles are earned when winning a conflict, and every time a stag’s antlers are increased to an even number. They are quit valuable, so it is wise to attempt to collect a few of them.
The game ends at the conclusion of the round when at least one player has successfully mated with twelve or more does. Players receive points for the number of does with whom they have mated, as well as points for the level of the island they occupy: three points for the top level or one point for the second level. The player with the most points wins.
An advanced version of the game adds fighting cubes, which are confiscated from opponents when conflicts are won. Points are earned for capturing cubes from each player, as well protecting your own cubes. This version does place a greater emphasis on conflict, and makes for a more interesting and interactive game.
Make no mistake, Antler island is more suited for casual gamers and families. It is NOT a deep game. The mechanics are quite basic, and the decisions to be made are not very taxing. Turns generally consist of quick movements to adjacent territories in order to gain food and mate. Amassing numerous food tokens and growing antlers relatively quickly are important tactics, as one must earn at least one fight token in order to be eligible to win the game. Due to the generous placement of new does each turn, there is usually an ample supply of females with which to mate. Food can be a bit scarcer, but there usually isn’t a dire shortage.
Fortunately, the game plays to completion quickly. Otherwise, the basic strategies and mechanisms would likely cause it to grow stale. Even using the fighting cubes, there isn’t much here to entice gamers seeking deep strategies or tough decisions. Rather, the game is much more likely to find its home in the family setting, where it should shine.