Initially, I wanted to get a copy of Palm Island before my family and I went on vacation to Disney World last summer. Alas, I never bit the bullet and instead brought along One Deck Dungeon, which, to nobody’s surprise, I didn’t even play once…for various reasons. Mostly because there are a lot of components to that game, such as a handful of colored dice, and you need a decent amount of table space to really set everything up. The idea behind Palm Island eliminates the need for this space, allowing you to play an entire match in the very palm of your hand. I ordered a copy several weeks ago and am glad to finally have it in my collection, as it actually does what it claims to do. Go figure.
Palm Island uses a deck-transforming mechanic that allows a player to play with just 17 cards over eight rounds to shape their island and overcome its unique challenges. You’ll store resource cards to pay for upgrades and upgrade buildings to access new abilities and gain victory points. Each decision you make will drastically change your village from round to round. After eight rounds, you calculate your score, and I’m still ending most of my games in the “needs work” range, but I can see the potential each time to do better. Palm Island is a solo card game with multiplayer variants, and the copy I got comes with enough cards for two decks, which is generous and kind of neat to see.
Here’s how the game ultimately works. Each card, which are double-sided, has four states, and they all start at state one when you begin playing. As you proceed through the game, which consists of a total of eight rounds, you may upgrade cards by rotating or flipping them, so long as you have the resources to do so. These actions change the card for the rest of the game and can help you gain more resources or victory points down the line. The decisions then come down to either upgrading your resource cards for more effects or spending all you got to build that grand temple for a ton of victory points. A lot of this deciding is affected by your initial shuffle of cards; for instance, one game, I ended up having all my temples back to back in a row, unable to do anything but skip past them, which meant losing out on a lot of victory points.
Palm Island has a fairly distinct look, with artwork done by Jon Mietling. It’s tropical, colorful, and well designed, with clear pictures for different resources and actions. In fact, for cards doing quadruple duty, there’s quite a lot of information to grok, but it never felt overwhelming. I did have to constantly double-check which was the flip upside-down icon versus the flip card over icon, but I eventually got it. The cards themselves are sturdy and thick, but a bit slippery, which can be dangerous when you are playing everything in your hand and trying to keep organized. Turning and un-turning resource cards can be tricky, and if you drop the deck you might as well just start the game over as it can be impossible to remember what order every card should be in. Still, that’s a minor complaint overall.
Right. I’ve played it at my kitchen table shortly before dinner. I’ve played it while in the chair at the oncology center getting my latest chemotherapy treatment. I played it on the morning of my wedding to kill time. Palm Island is without a doubt a game I’ll be bringing with me almost everywhere because…well, you can literally play it anywhere. So long as you don’t accidentally drop the deck of cards, you can game it up whenever you want. I truly love that.