Review 1 – Karen and the Pirate Island

This was the first review of the blog in Portuguese, but I ended up translating to English due to some comments at BGG about the game.

This is the new game from the designer of Shephy, called Karen and the Pirate Island (this is the game page on BGG, e the page on the website of the publisher Adventure Planning Services only has a few info).

The game is a solo deckbuilding game.

The story is that Karen was in a school boat trip, the boat sunk and she was take to an island (which has pirates).In the game, she goes adventuring and try to decipher episodes from her past, getting stronger until she can defeat the pirate ship and escape the island.

By chance (or not, as it seems like and inspiration), the game reminds me of Friday.


Nome: Karen and the Pirate Island

Designer: Pawn

Publisher: Bouken

Publication date: 2016

Number of players: 1

Playing time: 15 minutos

Price: ¥ 1,900 (US$ 18) in Japan

Where to buy: Sugorokuya and Amazon Japan (in the case of Amazon Japan, you may need to use a shipping forward service such as Tenso because Amazon Japan usually does not sell games abroad).


The box is in the same vein os Shephy and other game from Adventure Planning Services.

Karen 1

Adventure cards are the core of the game.

Karen 2

Episode cards give points.

Karen 3

Below is the HP marker. You begin with 20, and use HP during the game. If you go to 0, you lose nd Keren is trapped in the pirate island forever.

Karen 5

The game is in Japanese and English, but unfortunately the game manual is in Japanese only. The publisher mentioned uploading the English rules in a while, but haven’t done it yet. Luckly the game is very simple, so I translated the rules in half an hour.

Karen 4


During setup, create a deck of events (with adventures that need to be “defeated or completed” and episodes that are “deciphered”) and the initial Karen’s deck (with basic actions with 0 and 1 “power”) used to complete the adventures and decipher episodes. Some cards have special abilities that can be used once per game. Drawn two cards from the event deck, and Karen choses between fight one of the, or run away from both. If she completes the adventure it flips and goes to Karen’s discard pile (and will be shuffled together when the deck is exhausted). If she decipher an episode, the card goes to the special discard pile, and will give points at the end. The game goes this way until Karen defeats the pirate ship (winning the game, then you count the points to have and idea of how good or bad you did) or when HP are over (she loses).

Setup is below.

Karen 6

Below you can see the game flow from the manual.

Event deck (Deck de eventos) with adventures and episodes.

You open two event cards (Duas cartas de eventos são abertas).

Event discard pile (Descarte de eventos)


Karen’s deck (Deck da Karen)

Ability cards used (Cartas de habilidade usadas)

4 cards from Karen’s deck are opened (4 cartas da Karen são abertas)

Karen’s deck discard pile (Descarte do deck da Karen)

Episode discard pile (Descarte das lembranças)

Karen setup


1 – Draw and open 2 event cards.

Power = Poder

2 – Chose if you cant to fight a card, or run away.

3 – If run away is chosen, discard both cards and lower HP by 1.

Karen 7

If fight is chosen, chose one card to fight and discard the other.

karen 8

1 – Draw and open 4 cards from Karen’s deck.

2 – Sum total power

3 – If total power is equal or more than adventure card power, Karen completes adventure.

Karen 9

Completed adventure card goes to Karen’s deck discard pile (and will be shuffled with Karen’s deck when it is exhausted).

Karen 10

After that, discard all opened cards.

Karen 11

In the example below, both cards are too strong (the pirate ship is the strongest in the game, you need to defeat it to win the game). Let’s run.

Karen 12

Discard both cards and lower HP by 1. If HP reach 0, the game ends.

Karen 13

Cards too strong again, let’s run (we could’ve performed a “gut draw” as explained below, but Karen’s deck is too weak and with only a few cards. The deck building and gut draws are the strategic part of the game).

Karen 14

Discard both cards again, and lower HP by 1.

Karen 15

These are episode cards, they go from 0 to 10, and they need to be deciphered (they are discarded in a special discard pile and won’t go to Karen’s deck.)

Episodes cards give points at the end of the game.

Karen 16

Sum power and compare (same procedure as with adventure cards).

Karen 17

If deciphered, episode goes to episode discard pile.

Karen looses HP equal to episode card power (0-10!!!!), however, this is reduced by the number of episode cards deciphered (if you decipher a 5 power episode, and have previously deciphered 3 episodes (they will be in your episode discard pile), you loose 5-3 = 2 HP).

Karen 18

Some adventure card shave special abilities that can be used one per game. When used, the card will stay open above Karen’s cards, it is not discarded nor shuffled back into the deck. However, its power keeps being active, being counted with the other cards for the total por sum.

In this example, the special ability is to draw 3 cards from Karen’s deck, discard as many as you want, then put the rest back on the top of the deck in any order.

Karen 19

If the 4 opened cards (together with all the used ability cards above them) do not have a total power sum to complete the adventure or decipher the episode, it’s possible to gut draw cards, paying 1 HP per card drawn. There’s no limit for gut draws.

Karen 20

In this example, the total power value of the 4 open cards (2), plus the open ability card (3), plus one gut draw card (1) sums 6.

Karen 21

If there’s only 1 card in the event deck, it’s drawn and open normally, and you can fight it or run away. In this specific case, if you run away, you do not lose 1 HP.

Karen 22

When the event deck is exhausted, shuffle the event deck discard, forming a new event deck. Also, Karen LOSES 2 HP!

Karen 23

The event deck is formed again, and you open 2 cards again.

Karen 24

When Karen’s deck is exhausted, you Shuffle the related discard pile and form a new deck.

Karen 25

To win the game, you need to defeat the pirate ship. If your HP reaches 0 before that, you lose the game.

If the pirate ship is defeated, count your points. 40 is a tight victory, and 100 is a perfect victory!

Karen 26


My impressions

One of the things I like in oriental games is that most of them are quick, com great mechanics (and a lot of times the themes are really immersed into the mechanics) and small in size (but I also like bigger games :-P).

Karen and the Pirate Island is another example of this type of game. Simple mechanics, small size, and play in 15 minutes. In this specific case, being a solo game, it’s possible to play whenever you want.

I played the game only once as a test before writing this review, but I liked the game. I lost in the first play, but this is common in this type of game – you usually need some plays to understand what needs to be done to beat the game, and then proceed to do this.

How does it compare with Friday and Shephy?

I don’t think it’s possible to make this comparison after only one game, but, after playing Friday and Shephy many times, my first impression is that Karen and the Pirate Island is not as good as these other two games, but it’s good still. My opinion my change after I play more. I liked Shephy A LOT (which is the first solo game from the designer of Karen), so I think the satisfaction level of both may be alike after playing more. On the other hand, there’s two reviews in Amazon Japan where the reviews mentioned not liking the game that much.


After the initial impression, and the fact that the game is relatively inexpensive and possible able to give at least some good plays, I would say that it’s worth buying. Obviously, being a Japanese game and with the high probability of not being distributed outside Japan (like Shephy), it may not be interesting to import only this one, but you could easily include it when importing more games.

Marcelo Antunes Written by:

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