Hire Some Mercs and Grab Some Dice, It's Time For War
Over the years I have played a metric truckload of cooperative board games, and cooperative dungeon crawlers in particular. In fact, I'd say that coop dungeon crawlers are probably my favorite genre overall. I also quite enjoy tactical PC games, so jumping in to Jagged Alliance the Board Game was a complete gimme as far as I was concerned, and I'm glad to report that my time with the game has been quite fun. This isn't the most complex, deep, nor narratively rich game on the market, but for all that it still manages to be fun and engaging, and it really does feel like a Jagged Alliance game. Oddly, the fact that it replicates the look and feel of an old-school PC series ends up being to the game's benefit, as the modern setting make it stand out from its peers in the board game and actually make it feel like a breath of fresh air.
One of the most interesting things about Jagged Alliance is how it uses tried and true mechanics and gameplay yet it still manages to be fresh. The transition from mirky fantasy dungeon to modern day oppressed island nation makes the game feel incredibly relatable, and even though you are essentially walking from space to space and tile to tile, beating up baddies and looking for loot it's a lot easier to relate to the missions you go on and the threats that you face than in other, more fantastically themed games. I like slaying dragons and finding flaming swords as much as the next guy, but it's just different when the mission you are on ends up freeing child labor from being worked to death in an oppressive factory while slowly dismantling the empire of a corrupt dictator.
Mechanically there isn't really anything in Jagged Alliance that hasn't been done before. On the bright side, that means that the game is easy to learn, especially if you've played a game like this before, although don't go in to it expecting some kind of revolutionary shooting mechanics or anything along those lines. Everything is fairly straightforward, which makes the game easy to play, and tracking your progress through a campaign is easy as pie. The one downside to the straightforward path the game takes is that there really aren't any crazy twists or turns that will take you by surprise. That's okay though. Not every game needs to be overly complex or twisty to hold my attention. Sometimes keeping it simple and straightforward leads to an incredibly satisfying experience, as it does in Jagged Alliance's case, and the no-frills rules and mechanics has the double benefit of making this an incredibly solo-friendly experience.
While Jagged Alliance may not be the deepest game mechanically it does do a good job of providing a ton of options for the players. Whether its in the mercenaries you choose to use in a mission (you only use 4 of the baker's dozen in the box, and they can be killed permanently) to the way you outfit them with guns and armor, to the order that you choose to tackle missions and side quests in, the game has plenty for both players to do, and plenty of decisions to be made along the way. Although there is plenty of variety in player options, the same can't be said for the enemies that you will face. There are only a small handful of different enemies that you will face throughout the campaign, so you don't really have to switch your tactics up too drastically as you move forward because the enemies you end up facing are most often just tougher versions of guys you've already fought. If I had to choose between player options and enemy variety I'd go all in for player options though, which this game has in spades, so you still get to discover interesting things as you play, just don't expect a huge enemy variety.
Jagged Alliance has some solid replay value tucked into the box as well, even though there is only a single campaign included in the core box. The option to swap out which dictator you are facing off against changes the feel and difficulty of the game, and the fact that the threats you face are almost always determined by a random card draw means that even playing the same mission over again will feel different game to game. If you do play all the way through the core campaign and feel like you need more variety there is also another campaign available for free online, so the hours of game time versus price of entry is very favorable here.
Combat is, as usual in this type of game, a dice driven affair in Jagged Alliance, but only the mercenaries actually roll dice. Enemies have static damage and armor values while the mercs roll for attack and defense, and many of the items you can equip them with either improve the dice they roll or allow you to mitigate the luck in some way. Between new guns, armor, attachments, allies and single-use items there are tons of ways for you to outfit your mercs, which gives each merc a personalized feel. It's satisfying to come up with a powerful loadout and roll through a ton of enemies with it, and it's equally satisfying to set up a support character who specializes in completing missions, healing other mercs and repairs their gear when it starts to get used up.
All in all Jagged Alliance is a solid cooperative game that feels fresh thanks its modern setting. The enemy variety isn't huge, but the bevvy of choices that players can make throughout the game keep it interesting and entertaining. With the number of mercs, stacks of loot to find and two full campaigns available if you snag the one available online Jagged Alliance offers a lot of bang for your buck, which is exactly what you want out of a good mercenary.
A note on “chrome”: Jagged Alliance the Board Game has solid components. The cardstock is all good quality and the miniatures are well done, especially since you get more merc minis than you can even use at any given time. The art isn't the best I've seen, but it works for the game and theme, and the rulebook is well laid out and easy to reference.
The bottom line:
Jagged Alliance the Board Game isn't going to set the boardgame world on fire with revolutionary mechanics and deep storytelling, but it does provide a fun and engaging campaign that really feels like a part of the Jagged Alliance universe. This game plays especially well solo, and there are enough mercs, weapons and missions to make multiple playthroughs viable, and the fact that another campaign is available online for free really seals my recommendation. You won't find a huge variety of enemies or crazy mechanics in Jagged Alliance, but you will find a solid cooperative experience that feels like a breath of fresh air when sat next to all of the fantasy cooperative board games. If you like coops, or you like the Jagged Alliance computer games then Jagged Alliance the Board Game is a really solid option for you and your gaming group.
Get this game if:
You enjoyed the Jagged Alliance PC games.
You like cooperative board games.
You want to take a break from the traditional fantasy or Cthulhu settings of most cooperative games.
Avoid this game if:
You want a game with a complex story.
You want to play against a huge variety of enemy types.
You dislike cooperative games.
The copy of Jagged Alliance The Board Game used for this review was provided by the publisher.