Cooper Island Review


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18 June 2021
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Cooper Island is a bountiful place. A visual feast laid out on the table with the game boards forming different peninsulas that will be cultivated for resources by players. Your boats will sail around the isles marking victory points and triggering additional player actions. As the game progresses, mountains and forests develop on the peninsulas, and the signs of human habitation begin to show with villages, buildings and even golden statues forming atop the land’s highest points.  

As players, you will never run out of things to do because Cooper Island is equally rich in gameplay mechanics. The middle of the island is dedicated to the worker placement actions, while the player boards’ focus on the engine building mechanisms. The players’ individual peninsula boards are a base on which land tiles get stacked to form various landscapes for resources and buildings. There is resource management, additional objectives randomly dealt at the beginning of the game, rules for tile placements, incomes and markets – a lot to cover, especially in five rounds. It is a strategic brain scratcher: there are several things you want to do, but all of them come with their own unique prerequisites, needing a turn or two to set up a really good move. 

Understanding what to do and how to do it won’t be easy either. The player boards are the most egregious offenders. They are littered with small symbols, spaces for tokens, action and rule reminders that are both hard to see and comprehend. Although the core rules are not hard to understand, it is a common occurrence to dive into the rulebook for some minor clarification during play. Cooper Island is not a game for newcomers and even seasoned players will need several turns to take in all of the information provided. 

Just when you have finally got your engine going – your land is generating needed resources and feeding your workers and your income is greater than your expenses – the game ends. You might have done a lot – or tried to – but at the end achieved very little. Somehow you still earned victory points and maybe managed a narrow win, but the overall experience was underwhelming. In part this is because, during the game, victory points are not as important as fulfilling objectives within the game. The focus is on getting the income boats, or building statues, or recruiting all your workers. At the end of five rounds, when you have barely scratched the top of your ‘to do’ list, you suddenly remember that it’s the victory points that matter after all.

Cooper Island defines itself as an ‘epitome of an expert game’, and there is certainly a lot to take in and think about throughout every turn. To achieve the aspired expert level of play, Cooper Island merged four or five games together, raising the challenge, but not necessarily the fun. You could easily take the building of the peninsula element and make it a game in its own right. Yet, to make the gameplay deeper, there is an added layer of engine building, random objectives and so on. In the end, neither element of the game is fully given its own due, leaving the player want to experience parts of the game again, but not Cooper Island in its entirety. 

ALEXANDRA SONECHKINA

PLAY IT? MAYBE

Cooper Island is lush with components and mechanics, but despite having some promising elements and ideas, it does not come as one satisfying whole.

TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED LEWIS & CLARK: THE EXPEDITION...

Lovers of heavy weight euro worker placement games, like Lewis & Clark: The Expedition, may find that Cooper Island will present a welcome gameplay challenge.

Designer: Andreas "ode." Odendahl

Publisher: Capstone Games

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Time: 60-120 minutes

Players: 2-4

Ages: 12+

Price: £70

What’s in the box?

  • 1 Central island board
  • 5 Puzzle pieces
  • 4 Bay tiles
  • 4 Peninsula boards
  • 4 Player boards
  • 4 Worker boards
  • 24 Islet tiles
  • 24 Income boat tokens
  • 20 Ruin/statue tokens
  • 16 Milestone tokens
  • 20 Crate lid tokens
  • 16 Normal workers
  • 8 Special workers
  • 8 Small buildings
  • 8 Large buildings
  • 4 Fortresses
  • 4 Ships with one sail
  • 4 Ships with two sail
  • 4 Cartographer markers
  • 60 Double landscape tiles
  • 56 Single landscape tiles
  • 30 Log book tokens
  • 16 Anchor tokens
  • 5 Cargo ship cards
  • 8 Royal order cards
  • 15 Small building cards
  • 15 Large building cards
  • 1 Final overview scoring card
  • 1 Harbormaster
  • 1 Cooper token
  • 1 Bag
  • 100 Resource cubes
  • 24 Coins
  • 1 Final scoring pad

 


This article originally appeared in issue 48 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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