Designed by Marko Jelen and Jan Wagner, and published by Underground Games, this is the board game adaptation of the hugely popular 90’s tactical action PC game series first released by Sirtech in 1995.for the now defunct OS MS-DOS. The board game is based on the PC game's second iteration released in 1999 by Talonsoft in which we are hired to assemble a team of top mercenaries to depose the current dictator of the fictional country of Arulco and reinstate its rightful ruler Enrico Chivaldori. In order to free Arulco we will have to go through a twelve scenario campaign, with each scenario based in locations like Drassen, Estoni, and Meduna; easily recognised by those who played the PC game.
The board game plays as a fully cooperative or solitaire dungeon crawler without the need of a GM, allowing up to four players to work together in discrete skirmishes or through the twelve scenario campaign to bring down the illegitimate ruler of Arulco. It takes the combat mechanisms from games such as Dark Souls (Steamforged), Imperial Assault (FFG) and Conan (Monolith), tweaking them just enough to make them its own. The campaign also helps ease in new players by slowly introducing game mechanisms, starting with movement and combat and later introducing the dictator phase, counterattacks and missions that add extra layers of complexity and decision making.
Game flow is in two main phases: the player and the dictator phases. In the player phase each mercenary has a go followed by the enemy activation in the same sector. Once all mercenaries have had a go, it’s the Dictator's time to respond. This will always result in cards being drawn with a multitude of effects - for example, preventing stamina recovery – the enemy can also counterattack as the terror threat increases and this can result in the players automatically losing the scenario. Certainly the known risk of a potentially devastating counterattack serves to direct players' actions: you'll find you'll be making some calls based on what it less likely to hurt you rather than because it's the action you's most like to take. The player phase game is all about managing stamina; deciding either to spend it to try and kill an enemy or save it in case we fail and he gets a chance to fire back.
Players have a lot of flexibility over how they tackle a scenario. You can try and move together through each sector or you can risk a lone wolf approach. Each sector has several areas of different types that can add more depth and strategic planning; for example, swamps will cause more damage to those in them and urban areas will provide more protection. Looting enemy bodies is the action that really makes this board game reminiscent of its PC origins: it's how you acquire better equipment and weapons either to use or to sell to buy something more lethal. Equipment also has a durability stat that can be used to enhance a weapon or equipment action; for example, it can provide expertise or extra dice re-rolls.
A unique aspect of the game is the ability to use a 'command action'; with each mercenary being able to flip a token to use his/hers once per activation. This also allows group moves or skill rolls to inspire fellow mercenaries in the same sector by restoring stamina, repair durability from weapons or equipment and even heal wounds; and it doesn't consume stamina! However, the best mechanism in the game is ‘Expertise’. When acquired, this provides an effect similar to an exploding dice, in which you tot up any hits you get, reroll any dice with the wreath symbol, add any hits to the previous total and keep repeating until no dice shows a wreath symbol.
Combat can be quite frustrating at times; for example, mercs and enemies in different sectors cannot interact in any way with mercs or enemies in other sectors. And range stops making sense when a knife has a range of 1 and a fully automatic MP5 is 0! The most frustrating rule, however, is that each weapon can only be fired once per mercenary activation. This restriction is the opposite of the PC games, where you would tend to fire the same weapon multiple times until you ran out of action points or bullets. In the PC games, action points were based in time units and by spending more when shooting it would allow us to make a better shot at the cost of reducing the total number of shots we could do. It would have been interesting to see something similar, perhaps with stamina being used to gain more dice to roll or even guaranteed hits.
There are only a couple of issues with the components. The main one is that there just aren't enough miniatures to represent all thirteen of the mercenaries available for you to play with. This could well spoil the enjoyment of the most hardcore fans and those who would like to paint and personalise them. Not all mercenaries from the PC games are selectable, but most that didn’t make the cut are available as Allied cards that can be equipped and provide additional benefits such as extra stamina, command actions, extra dice to roll or expertise. Our main gripe was with the tiles that make up the different sectors in each scenario: these really should have a white border around the edges to help distinguish similar adjoining areas in different sectors. Tho' enemy types are limited to just five, all have easy-to-use multiple stats cards that provide up to four variations of each, including a tank and Bloodcats.
Jagged Alliance: The Board Game will appeal the most to fans of the original PC game. However, as one myself, I suspect they will feel a mix of initial excitement along with an element of disappointment at the realisation that there are key features of the PC game that didn't make the cut. One of the appeals of the PC game, for example, was the interactivity of some of the mercenaries you could select: each had their own detailed biography, backstory and individual personality reflected in gameplay so that they offended other mercenaries they disliked or even refused to work with us if we had a certain mercenary in our roster.
What draws us the most into this board game iteration is the campaign: capturing the feel of the PC game through the looting during the scenarios, being able to sell and buy weapons and equipment from the AIM deck, recruit new allies or replace the ones we have, and swap mercenaries between missions to try and get a the best team to tackle the task ahead. Although the PC version is, perhaps inevitably, more interactive, you can see the designers' attention to detail in the save envelope that matches the PC save screen with a red top secret stamp.
(Review by Rui Marques)