It has been scientifically proven that memory is often, and commonly, altered by emotions. Sometimes this results in a remembrance in a way that was better than it really was. We use the term nostalgia here casually, but it’s important to think deeper on this. Whether you believe Han shot first or Jar-Jar is hilarious, the power of memories color purchasing decisions at every moment.
This is something that game publishers count on. As such, Underground Games out of Germany believes players will remember those fond times by purchasing Jagged Alliance: The Board Game (Jagged Alliance), a tabletop version of a late 1990s computer game featuring tactical modern era combat with an overarching theme of tropical country liberation. The first PC game was published in 1995, and the more popular Jagged Alliance 2 hit shelves in 1999.
One to four players should be prepared for a miniatures adventure game that takes about 120-240 minutes per session. Players who are huge fans of Jagged Alliance could be happy with solo play, but for the real experience, 2 or 4 players is ideal.
The core of Jagged Alliance is the campaign experience going through learning basic combat mechanisms to experienced combat confronting an organized military. With each session, players will set down and chew through bad guys while keeping an eye on the scenario objectives. Hopefully, between sessions, players will gain enough funds to equip new gear in preparation for the next scenario. Players familiar with fantasy adventure games such as Descent: Journeys in the Dark Second Edition will grok all of this right away.
The gameplay is primarily players activating their mercenary-heroes (mercs) in succession. After each active merc’s turn, any enemies in that merc’s location also activate. A merc’s activation will likely involve the player spending points from their Stamina stat. Every particular action, including shooting and/or moving, uses these points, so much of the game is players trying to accomplish as much as possible while conserving Stamina.
Stamina points are either converted into Fatigue from player actions or, more negatively, converted to wounds when a merc takes damage. Luckily, many mercs have some medical training that can be used on a turn. In addition, most mercs recover 2 Stamina each turn.
The combat mechanisms are also straightforward. Weapons deal an amount of damage represented by yellow, orange, or red dice in increasing order of lethality. Each weapon also indicates how much Stamina is needed to fire the weapon, whether from single shot to burst fire. The number of stars a player rolls on the combat dice is the damage and any armor worn has a value that reduces damage.
Once all players have had a chance to take a turn, the “Dictator” phase begins. In this phase, the difficulty of the scenario slowly increases as the antagonist becomes aware of the mercs’ accomplishments. Threat tokens added to a separate tracking board amp up the danger. For each token during the Dictator phase, the Threat Level of the game increases by one. If this increases past certain points, the Dictator launches a counter-attack against the mercs. This requires an all-or-nothing roll to survive the scenario based on how many locals the mercs have converted to Rebels (other rules included for this).
There are lots of smaller and more complex rules included but not explained here. For the full explanation, check out the rules PDF.
To be honest, for many people, much of the purchasing decision of this game will hinge on whether it really recaptures the feeling of playing the computer game. This reviewer has never played the Jagged Alliance series but having read several descriptions and watching videos of gameplay, the content in the board game feels just right. That said, the play experience from round to round at the table is solidly one of modern adventure board gaming ala Descent or HeroQuest.
The action/stamina system is very similar to other games and players will constantly be budgeting one choice over another. The introduction of “Command” actions elevates an interesting dilemma many adventure games have had regarding how to treat major actions vs time to complete them. Since the game never really relates player actions to a specific amount of time, most of the game is moving, shooting, healing, and interacting with the locals to foster the revolution.
Luckily for the nostalgic, that’s where Jagged Alliance shines. Player accomplishments during scenarios, even if achieved from action resolution rather than roleplaying, interplay with the overarching plot and rising tension to really bring the best experience that fans could expect. The content builds to a singularly difficult climax and scenarios that will deliver serve up memories.
However, where the TBG part of the Jagged Alliance name falls flat is with the components. The miniatures and game components are pedestrian at best. The campaign didn’t aim to deliver miniatures specific to the 13 included merc personalities, and that’s ok, but the sculps are just basic poses and a not-amazing amount of detail. In addition, the number of enemies included is not exorbitant. It mostly consists of bad guys with guns, bad guys with shields, aggressive cats, and a tank. That may be very accurate to the original PC game, but for a modern miniatures game, it doesn’t come close to competing.
Players who are fans of Jagged Alliance and miniatures games can just stop reading. They’ll get their money’s worth from the story and gameplay. Those looking for a new miniatures game that pushes the envelope of game mechanisms should pause. There isn’t anything exceptionally new here, and the overall production of the game is average at best. If Jagged Alliance: The Board Game had been released 10 years ago, it would look a lot better. As it is, other company’s productions for miniatures games make the lack of extras in this title more visible.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – Fans of Jagged Alliance will forgive the flaws in favor of story and dramatic mechanisms. Miniatures gamers with no nostalgia here should likely pass.
• Below average production scope for a minis game