Microgame of the Month: Islanders


Summer is here (well, possibly – I’m writing this in May and summer is not a given here) so it’s time to hit the beach and soak up those juicy sunbeams while they last. The only problem? You can’t play board games at the beach! Fret no more, for Islanders will fill that gap in your leisure time.

Islanders is a society-building game using rocks enjoyed as either a meditative solo experience or a co-operative game that probably* won’t ruin your holiday.

First up, find a nice flat-ish rock to serve as your Island. Decide at this point roughly what your island is like. Is it a beautiful Pacific island with leafy trees and bright flowers or a wind-scarred hideout in the Shetlands? 

Once you have an idea of your island, you’re ready to begin. Using various sizes of rocks that are around, decide various things about your Society. For example, do they decide to build one great communal castle instead of a village? Take a medium-sized stone and place it on the Island. Do they decide to sacrifice one person a year to the great ball of fire in the sky in the hopes that it stays around? Take a large stone and balance it on the Island. 

The bigger and more impactful the decision, the larger the stone. As you go, use small pebbles to add in smaller descriptions about your Society: they really enjoy colourful hats, they rear wild boar, they throw rocks at passing ships and so on.

Once the tower eventually falls, consider this a shake-up moment in the Society. Traditions will change, structures may fall, pillars of the community may die. Decide/discuss how the Society has changed. The only rule is that the rock that caused the fall somehow plays a large part in the societal shake-up. 

Eventually, you may find your tower is growing too large. Your people may want to leave the confines of their home (especially the North Sea ones). To represent this, find a nice skimming stone to stand in as their ships. If you’re playing with multiple players, take a single skimming stone each. Then, skim as best as you’re able. 

0 skips: Splash! For all of their love of sea-based artworks, they weren’t great shipwrights. The fleet sunk, there were no survivors.
1-3 skips: You have found a small island near your home. Find a flat stone smaller than your current Island stone, place it within reach and use it as an alternative to your Island tower when needed.
4-6 skips: You have found a bountiful land. Find any flat stone you like and use it as the base of your new Island.
7+ skips: Your sailors have learned much on the waves. Whenever you would set sail (skim a stone), take the best result of three attempts.

Once you’re done (most likely through rain), knock down your tower one last time and scatter the stones around. Partly to represent that the Islanders have spread out or have such a varied Society that they do not need rigid structures, and mostly because small creatures use those rocks for protection.



Using a sharp stone, scratch recognisable icons into the stones to help remember what each was. Once the tower falls, check which stones are still on the Island and decide why your Society has kept them. If you can’t remember what a surviving icon means, just discard it. 

Oh, and if you’re lucky enough to be going to a white-sand beach on the coast of Spain or something then you don’t get to play. Enjoy your sand and feel jealous of us in Blackpool or Saltcoats!



Anna Blackwell is a freelance game designer and writer who, as well as creating the narrative-centric RPG Those Who Play, runs this very column! She likes games with unique mechanics and components and aims to publish some this year. To keep up-to-date or to get your microgame featured, follow her at @BlackwellWriter or email at [email protected].


This game originally appeared as Microgame of the Month in the March 2019 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