Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: Ride the Waves in Island Surf

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Island Surf

Aloha! If you like dexterity games, here’s a game concept I haven’t seen before: surfing. In Island Surf, be the first to complete three laps around and through the islands, but don’t lose your balance! No wetsuits required.

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At a glance: Island Surf is a game for 2 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It launches today on Kickstarter, where you can get a “toy pack” for $10, the travel size for $30, or the “Big Kahuna” for $60. One note: the age rating is really based on materials, components, and safety testing, not necessarily gameplay difficulty. Both of my kids (ages 7 and 10) were delighted by the game, though it takes some practice to get the dexterity needed for “surfing.” And, of course, since there are marbles and small parts, it’s a choking hazard for wee ones.

Island Surf
Seriously. Do you need to see anything more? Image: Tyler Tinsley

Components:

The exact component set will depend on which version you back.

Toy Pack: 2 surfboards, 5 regular marbles, 5 matte finish marbles, starting block, 1 drawstring pouch

Travel Set: 6 surfboards, 13 marbles, 1 cloth mat, 1 starting block, 6 small islands, 9 arrows, 1 starting line, 1 drawstring pouch

Big Kahuna: 6 surfboards, 13 marbles, 1 cloth mat, 1 starting block, 6 large islands, 9 arrows, 1 starting line, 1 drawstring pouch, 1 wood storage box.

You can also get combinations—1 of each of the above, or even the “surf god” tier that lets you design your own surfboard with Tinsley, or the “island surf god” that lets you help design an island. Your custom designs will be included in all the Travel Set and Big Kahuna sets.

The “starting block” is just a 16mm die that holds the surfboard still until you get going.

The surfboards and islands are all laser-cut bamboo with different patterns etched onto them. The islands come in two pieces that notch into each other so there’s a portion that stands up. The fabric is basically like a big bandana (22″ square), and the marbles are standard-sized glass marbles. The matte finish marbles in the toy set are a little rougher, and easier to stay balanced—they make the game a little too easy, but in the toy set they’re a nice beginner mode.

Designer Tyler Tinsley is local, so I asked him to swing by with a sample set. The laser-cut surfboards are really cool and the etching provides just a little texture for your fingers to grip. The islands are pretty cute, with various landscapes that stand up for height—they basically serve as obstacles to go around during the race. The path is marked with the little arrows, which you place at the corners of islands to show which direction the path goes, and you can easily make the course longer or shorter.

When my kids saw this on the table, they immediately wanted to know what it was and how to play. One caveat, of course, is that since the game involves marbles, you’ll want to be careful that they don’t roll off your gaming table and get lost. As long as you keep them on the cloth mat, they do generally stay put, but … kids.

Island Surf kids
My kids give Island Surf a shot. (Goggles and swimsuit optional.) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to play

The goal of the game is to be first to make three full laps along the race path.

First, you set up the race path. Spread out the fabric board and scatter the islands around the board. Then, use the little arrows to mark a starting line and the directions around the island that you want to travel.

Island Surf setup
Here’s an initial setup, with little arrows marking the path. (prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

On each turn, you mark your starting location with the starting block—your initial location is at the starting line, of course, but on subsequent turns you place the block anywhere in the water that touches your surfboard.

Next, you get to place three marbles. You may move marbles that are already on the path, or from the supply off to the side.

Finally, you place the surfboard so that it’s resting on the block and one marble, balance two of your fingers on the board, and “surf” across the marbles as far as you can along the race path.

As the game progresses, the chain of marbles will grow longer, though of course they shift around as players surf over them, and can be broken if any player chooses to move some from a chain at the start of a turn.

If you end your turn with your board overlapping an island, it’s a wipe-out and on your next turn you may only place two marbles instead of three.

You win by making it across the finish line three times.

Island Surf in play
Getting around that island at the top left may be tricky. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

I like dexterity games, but most of the ones I’ve seen have involved flicking, balancing, or tossing. Island Surf uses a mechanic I haven’t seen in any games before, and it’s really a cross between a toy and a game. You’ll need the balance and manual dexterity to surf across the marbles, but careful placement of the marbles is also important. If your opponent is ahead of you and you don’t think you’ll catch up, then it’s to your advantage to take away marbles from farther down the road so that they’ll have to rebuild their own path to start. The dexterity probably plays a larger role than the strategy, but there’s a little bit of both.

Because of the way the surfing works, you can actually cross over other surfboards and even over the flat portions of the islands—though if you slip you’ll be more likely to wipe out on an island, costing you for the next turn. And since you can customize each race, you can make them longer or shorter, which can also affect game length. Make a really short loop and use a lot of marbles, and you may be able to get all the way around the entire path without stopping.

It’s a lot of fun to play, even if you’re not playing competitively, but it’s fun as a game, too. It’s pretty easy to handicap the game, too—simply reduce or increase the number of marbles a player is allowed to move each turn to make it harder or easier.

I also like that you can just throw everything into the drawstring bag for travel, though I worry a little that the islands might get damaged—especially the little tabs that notch into the bases. The wood box will be laser-cut with dovetail edges that you assemble yourself, which will be nice for storing on the game shelf, but not entirely necessary.

Island Surf
My kids practice surfing. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Tinsley left a toy pack for me to keep after the demo, and my kids have run off with it. They’ve been playing with just the surfboards with some little figurines, but also rolling around the surfboards with the marbles (when the baby’s not around). I’m excited for the full version and hope it gets funded successfully.

And you know what I’d really love to see? A giant version of this at Gen Con. You know, with bowling balls. It could happen.

If you’re looking for a game that’s really unlike anything else you’ve played (or if you just like the idea of surfing across marbles), check out Island Surf on Kickstarter.

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