Played this recent GMT Games release with Jesse (2-player) last week, forgot to get in my impressions.
I saw this game at WBC (the real one) several years ago and was instantly curious, as my wife grew up in Hawaii (although we're pretty sure there's no Polynesian in her ancestry). I love discovery games in general (AoE3 excluded), and so I was very interested to give this a try. The combat system is wacky (you have about a fifty percent chance of one of your units going away vs one of theirs), and the hidden nature of the various pieces can make it a little difficult to remember what has moved where during your turn, but all in all there's a fun little game there if you can get past the fact that much of your progress will depend upon how good your island tile draws are.
I say this because I turned over exactly four non-atoll island tiles, one of which was a good pull (Hawaii with four slots for villages). Jesse did much better, pulling all of the tiles that I needed for my bonus victory points, and promptly placing them far behind his lines.
Like so many games, I suspect this one is better with more than two, as it is very hard to bring down a leader unless your dice are very very lucky. While I did manage to take Jesse's home islands (and probably should have kept the villages there to score points), the next turn he was able to steal it right back and do me quite a bit of damage in return, so it's hard to say that an aggressive strategy would work for more than a turn or two.
I'm very interested in trying this with three players in the near future, perhaps at Sunriver in May. The game might also work as an evening game at WBC West, although the hidden unit factor might make it just a little too heavy (I really prefer games that are tactically light in those slots). There is minimal downtime, but the movement phase can take a little time as the game gets going and especially if combat occurs (and it can occur several times in just one player's move phase). With four, I could see downtime of up to five minutes if you are going first or last in the play order, which is on the border of what I'd accept in a game like this.
So, despite the fact that the game's outcome rested a bit on the luck of the draw, I have to say that it is certainly an interesting game, with a theme I have some small stake in, and that there are definitely some options when it comes time to take your turn. An excellent example is that your explorer can be used to generate extra income in lieu of being used to explore in the next turn. I also like the push your luck element in having the explorer go just one more space into the unknown.
As a bonus, the game comes with a Playbook that has no game-related content at all, just capsule descriptions of the various islands, culture card topics, and related material. If you're interested in a game that actually teaches you about the historical expansion of the Polynesians across the Pacific rather than just tacking an island theme on, and can tolerate a goodly amount of chaos, this might be a winner for you. It will definitely stay in my collection whether it gets a lot of play or not.