Gaming Unplugged: Easter Island

June 26, 2009

Different “abstract strategy” games take the word “abstract” in their description different ways. Most are just a bunch of themeless geometric pieces and/or arrangements that don’t really represent anything: Go, Blokus, Connect Four, etc.. Then there’s stuff like Easter Island, a game in which players represent powerful wizards engaged in conflict with each other by using the titular island’s trademark Moai statues as powerful solar-powered deathrays.

No, I’m not kidding.

Each player has a total of seven Moai statues in his color (white or black); each statue has a triangular as a base, with one side parallel to the back and a point at the front. Play begins by players alternating placing four of these statues anywhere on the grid/board with the base of the statue parallel to the gridlines. Each player also has eight “sun disks” in their color.

Each player usually takes two actions per turn; whoever takes the first turn of the game takes only one action. These actions can be any combination of the following choices (and the same choice can be used twice):

  1. Place a statue from your reserve on to the island.
  2. Place a sun disk on one of the twenty sun spaces.
  3. Rotate one of your statues either 90 or 180 degrees.
  4. Move one of your statues any number of spaces in a straight line (without rotating it); you cannot pass through or jump over any other piece.
  5. “Activate” a sun token already on the board.

There are only two simple restriuctions to these rules: you cannot activate a sun token that you placed this turn, and if you place a statue as your first action, that statue cannot be involved in any beam that might be created during your second action. These rules basically prevent you from ambushing opponents with moves that weren’t already on the board.

If a sunbeam strikes a statue either directly from the front or directly from behind, the statue is destroyed; if that beam were to strike on either side, the beam would be redirected toward the front of the statue (presumably from its “eyes”). In the event that a statue is hit twice by the same beam, it is destroyed (it “overloads”, I guess); if no statue is destroyed by these means, then whichever statue was last struck by the beam is destroyed instead. Play ends when one player has only one statue remaining on the island, even if that player has additional statues still in reserve. If, in rare cases, the game reaches a point where both players have fired off all eight sun tokens without ending the game, whoever has the most statues left on the board wins; in the (even more rare) event of a tie, whoever placed the last statue wins.

Easter Island is a glorious game of move and counter-move, as each player attempts to orchestrate positions to trap his opponent’s statues in the sights of his unforgiving solar death beams while simultaneously trying to avoid the same fate. Sacrifices must be made in order to progess, and momentum constantly shifts back and forth as play progresses. Attacks can come from various angles as the imaginary beams pinball around the board, and an unexpected rotation or shift could spell your doom at any moment. As an added bonus, the game plays fairly quickly, with around a thirty minute run time for most cases. I would really like to see a “deluxe” version of this game (or perhaps a video version) that could really capture its quirky laser-shooting majesty, but the colorful board and solid plastic statues will have to suffice for now.