30 April 2020
What can I say, except, you're welcome? Oh, Moai, not Maui. Try getting that out of your head now.
The history of Easter Island is one of desolation. One of the most remote communities on the planet, it’s spent the last three hundred years having its people and history shit on by colonial powers. There is a game set on the island that treats its subject – the raising of the famous moai statues – with proper respect, but that game is Giants (Fabrice Besson, 2008). Volcanic Isle is nonsense about statues, settlers and volcanoes that nicks the moai and attaches them to a completely made-up mythology for the island.
To be fair, if you take all the Easter Island stuff out of it, this isn’t bad. You play tribes settling an island made of tiles, eight of them volcanic. You spend action points to move settlers, build villages and moai from lava, and raise the statues on geysers, which is what gives you victory points.
However every moai you raise causes a fissure to appear between tiles, and when fissures link up they cause parts of the island to sink forever. Raising a moai may also cause a random volcano to erupt, sending fresh lava down to destroy what lies below.
(Easter Island’s three volcanoes were long extinct when the first humans arrived there around 1200 CE.)
Everything works and it’s all balanced and has interesting tactical choices and strategies, if you’re able to work around the rulebook’s lack of clarity and annoying omissions.
(Geysers? Never defined. The ship tokens? Not mentioned. Important rules questions? Unaddressed.) The components are plentiful, plastic and cartoony.
The game is decent but it never gets to grips with two core questions. Firstly, if raising moai causes fissures and eruptions that are destroying the island, why do it? And secondly, if you’re making a game about Easter Island using its religious art, don’t you have a responsibility to stay close to the actual history and mythology of the place instead of making up a lot of crap?
Volcanic Isle is stealing from the culture of one of the most exploited peoples in the world. If you don’t care about that, if you can play the game without its gross cultural appropriation making the experience a bit grim, you’ll probably enjoy it. For the rest of us, best avoided.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Designer: Andrea Mainini & Luciano Sopranzetti
Artist: Fernando Olmed
Time: 30-60 minutes
Players: 2-4 players
This review originally appeared in the January 2020 issue 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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