Hamburg, Nov 2017
Fresh out of Skurrilum’s Malvini game, we plunged into the pirate-themed Phantom Island. A few eyebrows were raised when they handed out four head-mounted torches between five players, but fortunately it turned out to be decently lit throughout the game, with the torches provided just to better handle any dingy corners.
The titular island is a fabled isle that vanishes and reappears mysteriously, and which is rumoured to be hiding pirate gold. The game is set in the present day, and however mystical the island may be, you’re a thoroughly modern team of explorers, with 21st century equipment that would otherwise be out of place.
Once again Skurrilum’s set design is outstanding. Everything is built from the ground up to fit with the theme, which here means plenty of wood and ropes and fake foliage, but also a more physical style of puzzle and a greater emphasis on exploration. Here too the design avoids lazy choices and fills the space with convincingly vintage chests and hand-made puzzles.
A number of items and pieces of information turned out to be not relevant, which may grate on those sensitive to anything smacking of a red herring. That caused little confusion during the game though, and we only really noticed afterwards – it was just a surprise that some of the things we’d mentally filed away as ‘use later on’ remained unused.
Five players again felt a few too many, both because it was a little cramped in places and because I was eager to get stuck into everything in the room. Our group was split on which of the two Skurrilum games we’d played we’d enjoyed more. Phantom Island was a hands-on, rambunctious game with a cool finish (that we accidentally circumvented by triggering the game end early, by pure fluke), whereas Malvini has the edge in beauty and elegance. Which you prefer will depend on your tastes, but both are must-play games.