#011 Harvest Island (2017)
Designer: Chih-Fan Chen
Artist: Cinyee Chiu
Publisher: Big Fun Games
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 30-40 minutes
Harvest Island is a chilled glass of fruity New Zealand chardonnay on a sunny Sunday afternoon. You'll also be collecting sets of cards and managing your hand, but mostly you'll be praying it doesn't rain or that the sun doesn't burn you crops into dust.
What's in the box?!
A lot of Taiwanese publishers use the same manufacturer for their game components, which is why you find that a lot of Taiwanese games using white cardboard. This can be divisive for some gamers, but I think the white cardboard feels sturdy and looks clean. The insert is quit stunning as well; however, if you're like me and store your boxes horizontally, then this insert is somewhat useless (but still appreciated).
General Game Flow
I'm not going to go into full detail on how to play as there are several videos available and the rulebook is available as a pdf on BGG as well; however, I will give you a general idea of how the game plays. Like most set collection card games, you'll be playing for points and the player with the most points wins.
In this game, you are a Taiwanese fruit farmer. (The rulebook calls the island "Formosa", the old Portuguese name for the island, but you, me, and China all know it's Taiwan.) You will be harvesting fields of fruit (or sets) in the game, each set will consist of cards of the same fruit: all bananas, all mangoes, all guavas, etc. Each card in your set will score you points. Also, if you happen to harvest the largest set of a particular fruit in the game thus far, you receive (or steal from another player) the matching Harvester Animal Medal of said fruit. There are twelve medals in the game, and each one is worth eight points.
You have three fields to cultivate your fruit (sets): one holds up to 4 cards, one holds up to 6 cards, and one has no card limit. You'll be cultivating and harvesting your fruit (sets) over four seasons. Each of the four seasons is represented by a unique deck of fruit cards. Each fruit is also unique. Some are only available in the spring and summer deck. Some are only available in the fall and winter.
In addition to the fruit cards, there are also weather cards. These are important because if three rain or sun cards ever come out, then the largest field of each player is cut in half. Goodbye Harvester Animal Medal.
On your turn, you'll do one of two things: cultivate (play two cards) or harvest (score points).
When you cultivate, you have four choices: sow (play a card under your field to designate what the field solely grows), plant (play a card that matches the seed of a particular field), fertilize (play a fertilizer card on a seeded field), or release (play a card in the storage area). You must play two cards. If you release two cards on your turn, you may take a fertilizer card. After playing two cards, you draw back up to a four-card hand from the current season deck. If a weather card is drawn, immediately play it in the weather area of the board in front of everyone and draw another card.
When you harvest, you'll simply sell all the fruit on one, two, or all three of your fields. Place all the cards, except the seed, into your personal discard pile to be scored at the end of the game. The seeded card is removed from the game.
Play continues until the winter deck is depleted. The rest of the round continues until all players have had an equal amount of turns, and then points are scored. Players add the points marked on each fruit card and add 8 points for each harvester animal medal.
Is there meat in this vegetarian game?
Well, do you like kebabs? You're not going to find enough meat for prime rib but enough for some meaty kebabs.
Harvest Island plays similarly to many other set collection card games, but three things help make it unique: the market (the storage and supply areas), the weather, and the graphic design. The strategy behind manipulating the market becomes very interesting. At first glance, it was just the place to dump cards to get fertilizer, which you really want to get--winning those harvester animal medals are crucial for winning the game. Later, it became apparent that the market was a very useful mechanic; players can delay the game and more importantly delay weather cards from coming into play.
The weather added palpable tension into the game, but more importantly it added interactive tension. Certain patterns emerged in gameplay. Players would play the market to delay the weather cards from coming, so they could max out their fields for points. Their opponents would burn through the season deck to find those weather cards and rain havoc on their opponents. In every game, at least one weather lull would appear where all players knew they would be safe from the weather and the game then became a race of greed to maximize those fields for points. This is all possible due to the season board having the precise breakdown of each season deck. It allows gamers to calculate their risks and rewards.
The Good, the Bad, & the Graphic Design:
I love animals. I love games. I even love animal games; however, I'm not sure why there needed to be animals in this game. There were consistently two fairly minor negatives with this game. The iconography was the first. There were two icons for each fruit. One icon for the main card art and harvester animal medal (both have animals and fruit), and one icon for the harvester marker and season board (no animals and just fruit). Players would constantly get confused, and as much as I love celebrating Taiwanese animals, they made the harvester animal medals a little hard to distinguish from each other. This is a minor grievance, but with a game this light it doesn't help when players get confused--even if it is only for a few seconds. In some games, players even accidentally grabbed the wrong medal. That's not good.
The second minor negative I have to mention was inconsistency. Sometimes you count the sowed (or seeded) card and sometimes you don't. I would constantly have to remind new players that the seed (or sowed card) is always counted but never put in your personal discard pile. Again this is a minor grievance that goes away after multiple plays; however, it doesn't help sell the game to others.
Excluding the iconography kerfuffle, the rest of the graphic design choices were fantastic. The art design was simple, clean, and intuitive. Having each season deck's card distribution broken down on the season board wasn't necessary but was extremely welcome in a set collection game. Push-your-luck mechanics work best when you're able to calculate the probability; the season board makes that possible. Having each card inform you of which season the fruit is harvested was another fantastic design choice. The game was designed to give players enough information to make their choices matter. That's the mark of a good game.
Harvest Island really is a chilled glass of fruity New Zealand chardonnay on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It's a light and refreshing time you can spend with your family. Despite the mildly confusing iconography issue and the rules regarding seed (or sowed) cards), it's a solid game. The intuitive and clean graphic design though, really help elevate this game. The added push-your-luck element and market manipulation mechanics are fun and help add longevity to this game--especially for gamers who are looking for something more in their set collection games. The clean art makes it approachable to non-gamers, and also for gamers looking for a light set collection game. Gamers might find this game a tad on the light side however. It's a good game--just not amazing, and there's nothing wrong with that either. Not every game has to be the most innovative game of the year. This game is an excellent little palate cleanser after a heavier course. A heavy Passtally sandwich is followed by a light refreshing glass of Harvest Island. That's a solid pairing.
Lighter games have this tendency to be tossed into the Family Game realm. Harvest Island is light and suitable for families; however, I'm not sure if kids will like this style of game. Some indeed might find simulated farming a tad on the boring side. They're your kids, so you'll understand them better than I do. The vast majority of my students prefer highly interactive games. Seeing your classmate, friend, and especially teacher or parent suffer from your brilliant gameplay is exhilarating for most children.
The game scales well; however, it does feel different at the player counts. The 2-player game has a great push and pull feel and at times feels like a race for those harvester animal medals. The 4-player game doesn't leave you enough time to really maximize your fields (sets). There is a significant amount of time between your turns, so the board state could be very different by the time your next turn begins. In fact, the weather could come and wash (or burn) your field down to half before you know it, giving the gameplay a more rushed and tense feel. The 3-player game has a nice balanced tempo to it. I was really surprised at how consistently close the scores were (if the harvester medal animals were fairly evenly distributed that is).
CardboardEast recommends Harvest Island.
Gamer: CardboardEast recommends Harvest Island, but may be too light for some.
Family: CardboardEast recommends Harvest Island, but may not be interactive enough for some kids.
Party: CardboardEast does not recommend this game with adult beverages.