Palm Island is an ingenious little design, which as the name suggests is played in the palm of your hand. Play solo or multiplayer as you gather resources and upgrade your cards to collect enough resources to survive an impending disaster (such as a hurricane or volcanic eruption). One copy of Palm Island includes two player decks, additional copies are required to play with more players.
On the surface Palm Island is a simple resource gathering game, but the ingenuity of the design comes from maximizing a single card’s use and forcing players to use their hand as efficiently as possible. Everything is also designed with the thought in mind that players might be in a car or at the beach without a table or other suitable play surface. Actions from the top two cards can be taken to store, rotate or flip cards. Rotating and flipping cards changes what resources that card generates and in some cases, increases the point value (which indicates how good you played). Cards are stored by rotating them 90 degrees, making the resources at the top of the card visible on the side of the deck. No more than 4 cards can be stored at any one time. So even if you have a resource you need to save for the disaster, it may be wise to use it on an upgrade and then store it again later when it rises to the top of the deck. This makes the position of cards and which resources you select to spend important. If you choose to spend a resource (by turning it back upright) that is above the round marker in your deck, you will have the opportunity to store it again before the end of the round. Since actions cost resources, you may want to adjust the order of your deck to have the cards with those resources come before the card using them. Order can be changed by holding a card at the top and taking the actions of the other cards, until what you want has been moved to the back of the deck for next round.
The amount of play and decision making in a small 17 card deck is astounding. It is a very inspiring design and one for designers to look at. I was very impressed with the creativity from Jon Mietling and how he did so much with so little. Something I often aim to do in my own game designs.
What I’ve discussed is just the basics of the game, after playing a few rounds there is even more to discover. Palm Island includes rules and additional cards for competitive modes where players start with their decks in the same random order and see who can work their deck most efficiently to acquire outposts. This can be played at a casual pace or in speed mode (with slight rule changes for the outposts). There are 7 different villagers for each player which can be added into the game for new actions and ways to acquire more points. Feats can be added to the solo game, where at the end of games you unlock an ability for all future games by achieving some accomplishment. Almost a legacy game, you might say. The difficulty can be adjusted by limiting the number of feats used in a game. For a cheap, small box game, there is a ton of value packed into Palm Island.
Whether you need a game for travel or are just looking to try something a little different, Palm Island is absolutely worth having in your collection. A brilliantly simple design that offers plenty of fun. Palm Island is now my go-to portable game for flights, camping, or any time I’m tight on space. I’ve even pulled it out at home when I don’t have someone to game with and can lay on the couch while playing. Get yourself a copy of Palm Island now from Portal Dragon.