A Review of The Horizons of Spirit Island. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Play, Initial Impressions and Comparison to the Original Spirit Island

Horizons of Spirit Island is a cooperative board game from Greater Than Games for 1-3 Players. It just came out today (October 1st, 2022).

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I had to ask my Target associate to find the game in back because it wasn’t on the shelves yet.

Horizons of Spirit Island is one of those Target exclusive games: I believe it is “exclusive” to Target for a time (1-6 months?) and then can be found elsewhere. 

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Horizons of Spirit Island is a lighter stand-alone version of the original heavier game Spirit Island (see below). Spirit Island is a very complicated game of spirits cooperating to keeping explorers off your island: many people call this game a “cooperative euro” game because of its complexity. Despite the heaviness of this game, it has become very popular due to its unique gameplay and highly asymmetric powers. See the original version below.

Horizons of Spirit Island is an attempt to make a more “friendly” version of Spirit Island to widen its audience. It is only $29.99 at Target, as opposed to $62.99 for the original from Amazon. It’s cheaper for a variety of reason: it’s smaller (see below), supports fewer players (1-3 instead of 1-4), has crummier components (punchouts instead of wood or plastic), and the board is a more traditional static board than the weird shaped island boards of the original. See below.

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Even though this is a cheaper version, you can use the spirits in this game as an expansion for the original: it just requires you have the original game.

Let’s take a look at this cheaper version of Spirit Island and see what we are getting!

Comparison of Components

You can skip this section if you don’t care about the original Spirit Island game.

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Let’s compare the new game to the old game: they are essentially the same game! The newer Horizons is cheaper and has lesser components (the newer box is smaller, see above).

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But the newer game has a Quick Start guide that will help newer players get into sooner: the original does not have anything like that.

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The rulebooks are fairly equivalent: the Horizons rulebook is a few pages shorter, but the original rulebook is longer because it has some extra rules for some in-game expansions.

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The newer Horizons has only 5 spirits you can play, whereas the original has 8 spirits …

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… and the newer Horizons uses much thinner cardboard (left), whereas the original has thick, sturdy spirit cards (right).

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The maps are very interesting: the newer Horizons (left) has a two-sided map: one side is for 1-2 players, and the other side is for a 3-player game. The original game has one sturdy but weird-shaped map for each player. It’s easy to scale from 1-4 players in the original game because that’s how many map pieces you take: it’s more modular. However, the dual-sided board of horizons has the advantage that it gives hints to layout and card placement, etc.

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The newer Horizons does NOT need an extra board for fear and blight because it’s on the main board . The original needs an extra side board for those same fear and blight tokens.

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Interestingly, the Horizons game makes the tokens compatible with the tokens from the original game by having different colors. See above: Horizons has three sets of different colors (orange, cyan, dark purple than the original player colors (yellow, blue, red, light purple). One of the goals of Horizons of Spirit Island is that it is compatible with the original game: if you find you like the simpler Horizons of Spirit Island, you can pick up the original game and use the spirits from Horizons with the higher quality components of the original Spirit Island!

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The blight tokens are just cardboard punchouts in Horizons (left) and weirdly thematic plastic goops in the original (right).

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The Dahan and the Settlers are all cardboard punchouts in the newer Horizons (left). The original (right) has the Dahan being wood tokens to represent a “natural” token, whereas the settlers and plastic to represent a more “unnatural” or “foreign” token. Furthermore, there is a system with the plastic tokens for notating hit points that I thought worked pretty well.

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I think the fear tokens are EXACTLY the same in both: see above and below.

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There are fewer cards in Horizons (partly because there are fewer spirits), but they are essentially compatible with the original. You might notice the fear cards are a slightly different color of purple (just different enough to be noticeable), but the power cards seem very compatible.

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If you look closely (above), the Horizon’s cards (left) are ever so slightly lighter and have an ever slightly lesser sheen. I don’t think that’s noticeable. They look like they will work together very well.

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Can you tell the difference on the other side? Not really, and that’s a good thing! But you can always separate the Horizons cards from the original cards by noticing the little Horizon’s emblem on the lower right corner: see picture below for a closer look.

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The card on the left is from the original game (no emblem), and the card on the right is from Horizons (note the little white emblem on bottom right).

The components of Horizons of Spirit Island are definitely of lesser quality and quantity than the original Spirit Island, but they are still pretty nice! And for the price point of $29.99 from Target, it makes it much easier to jump in and try the game out! I mean $62.99 from Amazon is more than twice as much!

Solo Play

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So, Horizons of Spirit Island supports solo play (thank you for following Saunders’ Law)! Unfortunately, the Quick Start Guide only discusses quick start for a 3-Player game, NOT a solo game!  See more discussion in the Quick Start Guide section below.

Playing solo is relatively easy: you use the 2-Player side of the board and use the Fear markers to cordon off one side of the island: see above and below.

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Unused part

There’s some scaling for Fear and Blight tokens just for set-up (only 4 Fear and 6 blight), and some powers can’t be used in solo mode, but in general, the base rules for solo are exactly like the base game.  This is great, because there are almost no exceptional things to keep track as you learn the game: all the rules you learn for the solo game apply to the multiplayer game.

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I’ll be honest, the original Spirit Island is one of my favorite solo games.  It is such a fun puzzle to solve solo!  And each spirit in the game plays so differently!  In my first solo game (above), I played the Eyes from the Trees, which are a creepy spirit!!  Their main strategy is to scare the pants off the Settlers!! I almost felt like I was playing a horror movie as I played!  I generated so much fear that I scared all the settlers back to the main city!

And then on my last turn, I played the Jungle Hungers  (see above) and pretty much decimated the main city location.  It was so cool and thematic as I scared the settlers back to the coast and then reached out from the Jungle to completely trounce them!

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To be fair, it was a very close game: I almost ran out of blight.  Had I not complete devastated the coastal town, the Settlers would have polluted my island and I would have lost!  It was a close, fun, thematic game.  And SO MUCH FUN!!!  

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Let me be very clear: it took me two hours to get through this game.  This is a very thinky game and prone to Analysis Paralysis … even this newer “simpler” version .. because this game is still Spirit Island.   I took my time and thought long and hard about my decisions.  I like playing solo games like this, and I don’t mind doing this by myself. But if I were with a group, I would make sure I moved much faster.  

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In the end, this was everything I loved in the original solo game (and that still applies to the multiplayer game as well).  Horizons of Spirit Island gameplay is still Spirit Island  gameplay: it was fun but thinky.

Quick Start Guide

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The Quick Start Guide is .. okay.  We were expecting something more like the onboarding experience we saw in Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion: Gloomhaven (see our review here).  Jaws of the Lion was another very similar product to Horizons of Spirit Island.  The original Gloomhaven is a giant, complicated, expensive game and Jaws of the Lion was an attempt by Target to bring the Gloomhaven experience to the mass market.  Similarly, Spirit Island is a giant, complicated, expensive game and Horizons of Sprit Island was an attempt to bring the Spirit Island experience to the mass market.

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Although the Quick Start Guide does a great job guiding a 3-Player game through the first few turns, it’s not really an extensive onboarding guide: it just discusses set-up and play over a few turns.  Jaws of the Lion was a lot of more extensive: it would start simple and slowly introduce more and more rules (over the first few games), to slowly onboard players into the game. 

For example, my first play of Horizons of Spirit Island was a solo game (see previous section), not a 3-Player game.  I know how to play Spirit Island, but it’s been a while since I played, so it was nice to go through the rules from the Quick Start Guide. The problem was that I had to scale everything for a solo game.  In the end, the Quick Start Guide was an okay help, but not nearly as helpful as the equivalent Quick Start Guide in Jaws of the Lion.

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I always recommend learning a game solo, especially a big complicated one like Horizons of Spirit Island, so you can you can teach your friends and facilitate their plays. I would have preferred a solo Quick Start Guide rather than a 3-Player guide (or at least one that covered both).

Discussion

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Horizons of Spirit Island is still the same game as Spirit Island, but it has a cheaper entry price,  cheaper components, and fewer components (fewer spirits, fewer cards).  Horizons of Spirit Island also doesn’t have some of the in-game expansions that Spirit Island has: I assume they were elided to keep the price down.  The Quick Start Guide in Horizons is useful to help new players, but it’s not as helpful as I was expecting or hoping; it works okay.

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In the end, even though Horizons of Spirit Island is pretty much the same game as Spirit Island, it does feel easier to get to the table!  The original Spirit Island has a pretty big box chock full of components and is rather daunting.  

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The smaller Horizons of Spirit Island just “feels” smaller (and strictly speaking, it is) and that seems to make it easier to get to the table.

Conclusion

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If you ever wanted to try Spirit Island, but were afraid of the price or the daunting box or the complex rules, Horizons of Spirit Island is a good entry point.  Horizons is pretty cheap at $29.99 at Target, but even with the lesser components, the game still looks really good: see above.

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The Quick Start Guide (see above), although not great, is still pretty good and it will help you get into this fairly complicated game.

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If you decide you like Horizons of Spirit Island, you can still purchase the original Spirit Island (with the exceptional components) and use the Horizons of Spirit Island game as an expansion!  All of the spirits and cards from Horizons of Spirit Island can be used in the original game as extra content!  More spirits!

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Horizons of Spirit Island makes it easy to tryout Spirit Island. Horizons is pretty cheap, and you can decide if you like it before spending money on the bigger Spirit Island and it’s myriad of expansions.

I like it.  I will keep Horizons of Spirit Island to introduce new players to the Spirit Island experience!  And also for the extra spirits!

 

3 thoughts on “A Review of The Horizons of Spirit Island. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Play, Initial Impressions and Comparison to the Original Spirit Island

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