Sea, endless sea. Finally, an island in the view. Seemingly an island so beautiful one doesn’t want to leave. An island discovered by a stubbornly barking Dog, telling the boat not to change the course… Forward 6 something years to August 1771. It’s time to return to the island, with more ships. And other competing settlers and colonists. I hope there are no people living here as we did not come here to conquer, we came here to make it flourish and to make it our home for the future. We have to get ashore and begin exploring and discovering, collecting resources and building buildings, discovering ruins and erecting statues, all while our boats will sail around the island to find out where the others went. It’s time to begin working on Cooper Island.
Cooper Island is a game from 2019 by Andreas Odendahl, published in English by Capstone Games and Frosted Games. It is for 2-4 players and according to the box plays in 75 to 150 minutes.
I will not go through rules in this review as they are numerous and I would like everyone to look at the rulebook. Why? Because at least the English rulebook is the best written rulebook I have read this year, and in years actually. You can understand how the game works and what happens by reading the rules, without even having the components nearby, and this dear reader, is something that not many games of this depth and weight can do! So, take a look and see how to do a rulebook well, then come back here and read on! Or, maybe you want to read this first, so you don’t forget to do so. 🙂
The setup of the game is quite involved and takes a while. In the general setup you set the board according to player number in a way that everyone gets an own part of the island. There are different ways of setting up the parts of the board for 3 and 2 players which don’t really matter, except that it is great that you can decide the layout according to your wishes and the way you sit at the table or the amount of space you have in use! The general setup also includes shuffling the three different decks of cards and laying out royal orders according to player number, creating a supply for tokens, putting all the double landscape tiles into a bag, and laying out cargo ships and placing the harbourmaster on the leftmost ship.
During player setup you place one crate lid on each cargo ships laid out earlier and take two double tiles from the bag mentioned earlier. Each player has a player board and a worker board which they take and place onto the two small and two big buildings as well as the fortress. They also place a cartographer marker on the track (spot is later determined by player order) and take one coin from the supply, placing it on a spot in their storage. On the worker board they place two round (normal) workers on available workers area and two to their reserved spaces, and two square (special) workers to their reserved space. They also take all their milestone tokens and place them to their spaces. Furthermore, each player takes the six boats of their colour as well as the six islet tiles to their reserve. Each player takes also five ruin/statue tokens and places them on their island in the reserved spaces, and places their ships to the harbour, one sail boat heading left and two sail boat heading right. To finish the setup each places a single landscape tile on the spot close to their harbour and places one good matching the tile on the tile. Finally, a starting player is determined and cartographer tracks adjusted accordingly! Now we can begin…
The game is played over 5 rounds and each round has 3 phases. In the first phase you gain income (you can perform each action depicted by a hand once) from the boats you have docked, and are allowed to place an islet tile and a double landscape tile on your island. Half of an Islet tile has to be on an empty sand bank and half on the land, adjacent to an existing landscape tile. After placing the tile, you perform its action. The Double landscape tile has to be adjacent to existing landscape tiles and can be place on top of a tile to increase its production. However, the tile has to match the landscapes underneath and the existing tiles have to be empty of resources. You can also place the tile hanging, in which case you place a single tile below the hanging part, matching the type. This costs you cartography (more later). Every time after placing a tile you add a resource cube of the matching type onto the tile. A resource cube is worth X resource, where X is the height of the cube, meaning if a cube has 5 forest tiles underneath it, the cube is worth 5 wood. If a mountain is 3 or higher, you choose if you place a stone or a gold cube on it.
The second phase is for placing workers. Here on your turn you place a worker on a spot suitable for it (circle or square) and perform the spot’s action. You can place on top of other players’ workers (but not your own), by paying a fee of one coin or resource to the player whose worker you’re placing your worker directly on to. If placing a worker covers a symbol, you get something from it. Main actions are drawing and/or placing landscape tiles, moving up on your cartographer track, gaining coins or resources, building income boats, buildings or statues, removing ruins (before building a statue), or supplying one cargo ship. These actions are very well explained in the rulebook (pp. 14-19) I mentioned earlier, so I will not go through them here. You can also perform anytime actions, well, anytime, like taking resources to storage from your island, trading resources to other resources, using crate lids (after receiving it back when filling a cargo ship) to perform an action, using the action on large building cards (which you get when building a large building), or using cartographer actions to enhance your landscape actions to suit your needs better. The second phase continues until every player has used all their workers.
How to gain new workers? You gain them by completing milestones from your board, and then choose a worker you want to take. If you take a special worker, you have to send one available worker to a royal order card (which give you points at the end of the game, if you complete the order).
How to pay costs? Costs have a number in red, and that is how much of that resource or coins you have to pay. A resource in your storage is always of value 1, but on the island it is of value X (as described earlier). You can combine resources to meet the costs, but you never get anything in return. If something costs 2 wood and you use a 4 value wood from the island, that’s it.
How to track points? You have two boats as mentioned in the setup and they travel along the islands’ coast from sandbank to sandbank, one to clockwise and one to counter-clockwise. Each time you get points, you choose one of your ships to move and move it from a sand bank to the next sand bank per point. If you pass over an islet, you immediately get to perform the islet’s action. When you reach a bay, you gain a logbook token and perform the action on its other side. You gain a logbook also for reaching other players’ harbour, but you have to pay a fee of 1 coin or resource to the owner of the harbour, if you don’t, you take an anchor token and place it under your boat, and the harbour’s owner gets a coin or a resource of their choice from the supply. An anchor token prevents your ship from moving. They are -1 point at the end of the game and can be removed by gaining a point and spending it to remove an anchor. Logbooks are quite clever, as they track your points easier, you gain one every 5 steps per direction and they are 5 points at the end of the game.
How to win? Not there yet, we need to clean-up at the end of each round first, which is the third phase. You do this in the following order: 1) feed workers (each missing food -> 1 anchor token (distributed evenly between ships)), 2) If you want, reactivate an anytime action on a large building or under a crate lid and pay accordingly, if you’ve built your fortress, you can do either or both for free, 3) Gain 1 point for each statue you have built, 4) gain 1 point if you have covered the top 3 spaces on your island with landscape tiles, 5) workers back, 6) clear your marketplace area, if you have anything there you don’t want to or can’t take to your storage area, 7) move harbourmaster to next cargo ship (this is also a round tracker, so when they move from the 5th ship, the game ends).
Now? Yes, now. You win by gaining the most points, surprise! You count the points gained during game, each logbook is 5, then count how many sandbanks away both of your boats are from the previous harbour or bay and sum them up, you can minus the anchors already here for clarity. Check if you get any points from Royal order cards and add it, also add the points from some building cards and leftovers (every 5 in any combination of coins & resources in storage, cartographer track steps, and unused double landscape tiles gives you 1 point). Try to get around the island, back to your own harbour with both of your boats as you count your points, I dare you! That is probably impossible except in a 2-player game… But at least try to make them overlap at some point (10 points per player should be overlapping?).
I said in the intro, that it’s time to begin working on Cooper Island. Well, it can feel like work to someone! This game really seems like a lovechild of Frosted Games and Capstone Games. The crispness and weight of Capstone’s eurogame-lineup and the added thingamabobs and whatchamacallits from Frosted games are present here. The game came with extra income boats and a solomode at Spiel!
The game has a lot of little things to remember and to take into consideration to do well in the game. You need to take care of your resources as your storage is limited and that I can not emphasize enough. Resource management is very important in this game! So is planning the placement and height for your landscape tiles to suit your needs. Also the placement of your islet tiles matters more than expected. You should balance in a way that you don’t pass an empty sand bank if not absolutely necessary as doing so will take away one use of your islet tile. You also have to pay attention to where other players, especially those next to you, place their islets to know which boat of yours is more important to advance during the game. The Royal orders seem difficult to complete, but then again, you can aim to complete them from the beginning.
Building your island is very satisfactory to me at least and gaining a load of gold for cargo ships is very rewarding. It’s also a very well thought out little thing, that a building has to be built on the highest possible area. This will make blockades in elevating your island by surprise and you might need to reroute your plans for building that tall mountain there for gold. Building card system is also very fascinating as you draw 4 cards and choose one, rest go to the bottom of the deck. You might get 4 good ones to choose from, and if you play ‘well’, you might get to choose from the remaining 3 again if you wait for others to build same size buildings in between. The limit of 2 buildings per size is also a great thing. Giving points each round for statues? A great decision to give players an incentive to build them instead of buildings. Same goes for getting landscape tiles to the top 3 spots, as it is usually better to keep elevating your landscape to get more resources. But points every round? Might be worth it like statues, especially if you get good islet actions/bonuses with these points!
My favourite thing in this game is though, that it escalates crazily. The beginning is really slow and the first three rounds can pass by in a flash. Then, the magic happens. You get a new worker or two, you supply a cargo ship, you build a building. And the last two rounds are so brainburning when you get your engine ready for the remainder of the game, ready to go for the win and maximum score you can! I love how this slow build-up is done in this game!
Will this fit on my shelves? Well, to put it short, definitely. I like heavier games and I tend to gather too many of them. The only problem is I don’t get to play games often enough with the people who also like heavier games. This has a solo-mode though that I have not yet tried, but want to. I am generally a Capstone Games fanboy and like almost everything they put out as their president’s taste in games is very very close to mine (give me my podcast back guys, I wants it!). That being said, I’m not biased here as I can see someone not liking this game as you might see from below, but for me, this is nearly a perfect weight and complexity euro-game. I also like ode.’s designs, and this game was very high on my list for Spiel, in top 5 games to bring home from there.
Is this a game for you? If you don’t like needing to remember a bazillion different fidgets, gadgets, buttons and levers, this game might, well let’s be honest, should not be for you. If you don’t like doing mental calculations and long term planning as is possible in regards to how to build your part of the island, this might not be for you. However, if you like most of those things listed before, this game should definitely be for you! This is a really crunchy puzzle where you need to take many little details into consideration while making your long term strategy. You also need to be able to react, at least a bit, to the other players taking the spots you want. But they are just a little nuisance, that you just pay off.
I give this game a solid 9/10 and you will surely see it on my top 9 of 2019. Where there? Somewhere for sure, maybe at the very top, maybe close to. I haven’t done it yet, so it’s too soon to tell. Although, I doubt I’d tell anyway to keep some excitement in there 😉 .
Thus, an ode. to the game is required:
Family ode. they have a dog
And Cooper is his name-r
C, double-o, p, e, r
C, double-o, p, e, r
C, double-o, p, e, r
And Cooper is his name-r
The copy of the game was given to me at Spiel’19, with no promises, besides an honest opinion on the game from me.
Thank you Clay!
Clay even asked me if a dented copy would be fine – of course it is fine! If there are any reviewers out there who would turn down a slightly dented copy, shame on you! I even became so happy as the free copy helped my budget situation, that I bought a copy of Bus from them as I didn’t have to choose between the two anymore! One of my favourite moments at Spiel, honestly!