I get it, you are confused. I assure you that’s not a typo in the byline. This is a review about a board game with a movie theme not written by our resident “Movie Guy” Chris Sacco. Unfortunately, he was busy working on his board game prototype for his latest design. It’s a themed mash-up of his two favorite movies: Battlefield Earth and Gigli. He’s pretty excited about it, so if you see him at a convention, ask to play it.
Anyway, yours truly offered to fill in for him with our latest movie-themed review. Today we will be taking a trip overseas as I review the newest legacy game to grace my tabletop: Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar. Its designed by the team at Prospero Hall and published by Funko Games. Jurassic World Legacy (my shorthand name for this review) seeks to take players on a ten-game trip through the Jurassic Park/World movies. Will this be a memorable experience or should it be the next goat on the T-rex’s dinner plate? Time to find out.
I’m going to save any spoilers for a clearly marked spoiler section below. The rest of this review will only cover things found in the first game and tutorial game.
Every game of Jurassic World Legacy takes place over five rounds, each of which is broken up into a few phases. To start a game, each player will choose a character to control. Familiar faces are at your disposal in the form of John Hammond, Robert Muldoon, and Dr. Henry Wu (among others). Each character has a special ability and two more that are locked behind legacy features.
Once you have your characters and the basics of the board setup, it’s time to rip open the scenario envelope. This envelope will provide you with new game components and rules for the scenario. Some will only be used in that mission, while others will persist throughout the game. All new rules are added to the “rules deck”, which is a set of cards bound with a metal ring.
The basic round structure starts with revealing the next round card. This is usually a goal to get started with: find someone, explore something, locate an item, etc. Then players can scout any sectors their character is in. Scouting a sector reveals the matching sector card (6 in total). These cards will show any weather effects, how many items to draw when searching, and what the dinosaurs in that sector will be doing during their phase.
Then it’s time to take your actions. Depending on the number of players, each player will have a specific amount of action tokens—two actions at four players, up to 4 actions at two players (more on this later). Players can take actions in any order, and can even alternate spending action tokens back and forth. Different actions include moving two sectors, leading a follower one sector, herding a dinosaur (only with another player in the same space), searching (draw items cards), resting to heal, or room-specific actions.
Once all of the players’ actions are done, the dinosaurs activates. Each sector card shows how a dinosaur will act. A dinosaur might just wander, move one sector in a specific direction, or hunt if it’s a carnivore. When they hunt, they attack another character or dinosaur in their sector (or adjacent if need be). Attacks are handled by rolling the dinosaur’s might dice, with natural defenses blocking some of those hits.
After the dinosaurs act, the round ends. Some things might cause players to suffer consequences: dinosaur death, not completing a round card in time, etc. Whenever they suffer one, they flip one of the consequence tokens on the board face up. If the total numbers on those tokens ever equals five, the game ends in failure. If not, the next round begins. If at the end of the fifth round, all the scenario objectives have been met, the players win and move on to the next scenario.
It actually didn’t take very much convincing for me to grab this review copy of Jurassic World Legacy. I’m a huge fan of the Jurassic series, and have seen all the movies many times. Well, expect whatever that crap Dominion was. And the team at Prospero Hall usually does a solid job with their movie-themed games. So I was really curious to see what they could do with this beloved IP.
Let’s start with the good. When Jurassic World Legacy works, it works really well. Some things are an absolute blast. As with any legacy game, the new unlocks are the star of the show, and unlike some popular games that dole out unlocks at a glacial pace (cough, Gloomhaven), Jurassic World Legacy does a great job of constantly throwing new presents at the players. During every adventure you’ll be opening envelopes, scratching off cards, punching out tokens, and opening up mystery boxes. There is just no shortage of surprises in store for gamers. Which is how I like my Legacy games.
When I had the most fun with Jurassic World Legacy, it was when I was building out my park. Early on you get to choose where to place buildings, roads, and fences. Our group really spent a good amount of time deciding on how to allocate our resources. It made me yearn to dust off my copy of Jurassic World Evolution 2 and embrace my inner “parkitect”. Customizing the board is great, and if you do it smartly, the game becomes easier and more enjoyable/easier in future missions.
But… you knew there was going to be a but, when Jurassic World Legacy falls off the rails, it comes to a screeching halt. There are a couple of areas where the game, for lack of a better term, just sucks. My two biggest issues are with the building actions and the player scaling.
Let’s first, talk about the buildings. You start off with two buildings that have actions: the visitors center and the science lab. The main thing you do in these buildings are a set of mini-games. You learn in the tutorial adventure how these work, so no spoilers with these. The visitors center has you rearranging crates of different colors try to get matching colors in a row/column. You know those puzzles you used when you are a kid that had one empty square in a grid and you’d slide squares around to form an image? Yeah, it’s kind of like that. The science building is slightly different, but you are basically doing the same thing, but instead, are trying to get 8 letters the right position. The mini games aren’t awful, per se, but the problem is that they felt like pointless busy work. And, at the risk of spoilers, they are every game. So what was kind of OK in mission one, I was way, way, way tired of seeing halfway through the campaign. By mission eight or nine I wanted to flip the table.
This compounds with the fact that you always have so much you need to do. So the actual interesting things—finding/equipping new items, searching for X location, exploring the island, and interacting with the dinosaurs—all take a back seat because you have to get these pointless building actions taken care of. No one sat down to play a game about Jurassic Park and thought “Boy, I’d really like to create a line of 3 blue crates”. If these actions were only in a handful of missions, I’d live with it. But having to do it every game made us not want to keep going.
But where the game truly falls apart is at the higher player counts. At two players, you each get four actions a round (possibly a 5th as there is a shared action token), so you feel like you have a decent amount of player agency on how you want to tackle the mission. But at 4 players? You only get two actions each round, for a total of 10 for the game. That, frankly is just not enough to experience the game.
Think of it this way. You could spend 2-3 actions traveling to a building, another 3-5 actions moving inside the building sliding those crates around. Leaving you with 1-2 actions to exit the building to try and get something else done. And then you are done for the game. If all I got to do for the entire game was do that sliding crate puzzle, I’d hate it. With only 2 actions a round, all your player agency basically disappears, because there are so many things that need to be done, everyone has to split up and do their part. The game starts to drop on rails at that point.
SPOILERS BELOW: SKIP TO THE FINAL THOUGHTS IF YOU WISH TO AVOID:
Still with me? Good. I wish I could say that things got better later in the campaign. Unfortunately, they don’t. The things that were fun in mission one are still fun, the things that sucked in mission one, still do (or have actually gotten worse). Around halfway through the campaign, I was hoping they’d dump those annoying buildings (of which there are 4 now). Instead, they double down on them and give you bigger, harder ones. That was as close to a flip-the-table moment for me. Our whole group sighed when those came out. In a game that’s all about theme, nothing took us out of the moment more than having to repeat those puzzles.
The games follow a somewhat linear path of the plot of each of the movies. You’ll unlock a ton of new characters to use, from Alan Grant to Owen Grady to even Denis Nedry. Each has their own thematic power, which I appreciated. However, that means that the game feels a tad on rails for what you have to do as it tries to follow the plot of the movies. There isn’t any room for exploring or creating your own story here. The action economy is so tight, you have goals, and focusing on those is about all you can do.
I also want to point out that the rules can be a tad frustrating at times. Instead of having a big rulebook with extra places for stickers, it uses a card deck that’s kind of a pain to find what you need. I would have much rather had a big rulebook. One of the more annoying rules though has to be with the carnivore’s ambush ability. If there is no one near them to hunt, and no fences to attack. They will teleport to a random place on the board and attack. Early on in the campaign when you have only a couple of fences, this mechanic can absolutely wreck your game. So be aware.
Finally, the last mission in the campaign is the most unlike the previous ones with the island raining lava down. You’ll be in a race to rescue dinosaurs before they get destroyed by the lava, or captured by Wheatley. It was nice to see something a little different in this mission, however, you’ll still be rearranging crates and DNA symbols, so don’t expect something super exciting. It’s also replayable, so I suppose there is that, although I can’t imagine too many people will want to.
I see Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar as a game that could have been great, but was bogged down by pointless busy work and terrible player scaling. I would not recommend this one to any group over two players as the actions are just way too tight are higher player counts to feel like you have any kind of agency.
At two players, it’s decent, depending on your tolerance for mini games that really feel uninspired. But if you can stomach those, customizing your island is a ton of fun. Placing fences, buildings, and roads can really impact the course of the campaign. It wasn’t until we started getting a solid network of fences and roads that we really started having a fighting chance. All in all, it’s not an awful game, but not one I have a desire to ever play again.
Earlier this year, I did a list of my Top 10 Dinosaur-Themed Board Games. Were I to do that list today, Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar would probably crack the list albeit at around 9-10 in the ranking. Which is a little sad considering the IP it’s based on and its price point.
Final Score: 2 Stars – When it works, it’s fun, when it doesn’t, it’s dreadful. Might be worth giving a spin for fans of the series, but only at the lower player counts.
• Mini games feel like pointless busywork
• At 4 players, you just don’t have enough actions
• Ambush mechanic can wreck early games
• Wasn’t a fan of the rules in a deck