JACKAL ARCHIPELAGO: Designed by Dmitry Kibkalo Artwork by K. Kritseva & T. Maifar Published by Magellan
JACKAL ARCHIPELAGO is immediately recognisable on game store shelves by its designer-skull box. The box design depicts a deep blue ocean with three small islands positioned to appear as eyes and nose, with the name of the game written in white uneven blocks like teeth.
The Jackal of the title is an ancient pirate of legend who has scattered a large fortune in gold coins around a chain of mysterious islands purporting to be in and around the deep azure Caribbean. Jackal Archipelago is different every time you play because the islands are created using terrain tiles and so offer new challenges each time. Apart from the unusual, possibly unique, game box, there are other things found in Jackal Archipelago that aren't found in other boardgames. The main ones being the four blue boxes that contain the first four schematic islands as shown in the back of the rules booklet. After you have played these you can mix and match the tiles to continually design new islands, thus ensuring a different island experience each game.
The idea of the game is simple, find as much gold as you can, collect it and take it on your boat to your Pirate Ship. At the end of the game the winner is the player with the most gold coins on their Ship. So how do you find and collect gold ?
Every player (it plays 2-4 aged 6+) has a Pirate crew of 3 men, represented by shaped wooden pieces in player identification colour, and a rowing boat printed in similar colour on a square tile. Depending on which box is being used there are Ability cards, 4 in each box, that offer some kind of an advantage or assistance but these are only obtained at the end of an adventure (after you have played the game) and thus come into play on games following the very first time you play.
The tiles selected for use, you generally do not use all the tiles in a box, are placed face down to create the island and then in turn each player places their Row Boats containing their three Pirate figures at an edge, mainly ensuring there is a good gap between each player's rowboat and thus giving them all a reasonably fair and equal opportunity to investigate separate parts of the island, though naturally they will soon meet up. Each turn you have to either move your rowboat or a Pirate. Obviously Pirates generally move inland while the boat goes round the coast, but Pirates can swim one coastal space if necessary. The boat moves according to the number of Pirates onboard so it musy have at least one Pirate on it to move; it can move up to one space per Pirate. Pirates move one space in any direction, including diagonal. If the space is occupied by an opposing Pirate the Pirate that was on the space is immediately moved back to its boat, dropping any treasure it may have been holding. Pirates are not multi-tasking. They cannot carry more than one Gold piece each, they cannot swim while carrying Gold, they cannot fight while carrying Gold. Gold is never safe until it is back on your ship. Goild is automatically taken to your ship when you have a total of four pieces of Gold on your boat - as you are seeing, the life of a Pirate is not easy, plus in certain circumstances they can even die and be removed from the game, but they can also be resurrected and come back.
When a Row Boat moves next to or Pirate moves onto a tile that is face down the player flips the tile over and explores it. The flipped side will have one of the following sides: Empty terrain, Arrows, a Horse, a Labyrinth, a Fortress, Ice, Treasure Chest, Pit, Crocodile, Trampoline, Message (in a Bottle), Barrel, Jungle, Cannibal, Shrine, Spyglass, Lighthouse, Bank, Hot-Air Balloon, Cannon, Airplane, Crossroads, Tangled Crossroads, Musket, Earthquake, Caramba!, Smoke, Bear's Den or a Missionary. The effect of each of these is described fully in the rules booklet. Suffice it to say that there are very few moves that result in the player having nothing to react to. If you move your Boat with more Pirates onto an enemy Boat with less Pirates then you may steal one Gold from that Boat. Gold is never safe until it is on your ship. Pirates can only carry one Gold from the land to the Boat but you may surrender one of your Pirates from the game (with no coming back) by having it take 2 pieces of Gold to your Ship where it is safe. The Pirate will not appreciate being sent to the Ship like a servant and so he gets the hump and will not come back to the Boat.
Within each box there is a card with removable stickers that are coloured to represent special abilities. When you gain such an ability you remove the sticker and put it onto one of your Pirates or onto your Boat, each Pirate and Boat may have only one special ability sticker. Having just listed all of the tile effects I'll just say that there are 20 Special Abilities and these are described in detail in the rules book.
One of the most important tiles you can discover early on is the Hot-Air Balloon. Landing on this space immediately transports you back to your Boat, so you flip the tile and are then placed back on your Boat, sounds a bit lame doesn't it? But just think about it for a moment. There your Pirate is, several tiles from home with some Gold facing a long dangerous trek back to the Boat. However, if the Hot-Air Balloon is close then just stepping onto it will immediately transfer your Pirate and his Gold back to the Boat.
JACKAL ARCHIPELAGO plays fast and definitely furious, and it can be crazy. There are also ways to spoil it, which some may call a legitimate tactic. If you move your Boat near to an opponent's Boat and keeping at least 2 Pirates on it then you can only explore with one Pirate, but if they use all their Pirates to collect Gold every time they send a single Pirate back to the Boat you can attack and steal it. If they look to be getting their third Pirate to their Boat then you can always move your Boat away or bring your Pirate back; it's not really a good tactic or even a good way to play, but it is a spoiler you should be aware of.
The components are a mixture of Plastic (Coins and Bottles), Card (Cards, Tiles and Boats) and Wood (Pirates, Bear, Missionary). There are many good and different things about Jackal Archipelago, such as the boxes for the separate islands which are a neat idea and make it easy for setting up and playing the first games, and the Puzzle cards, which along with the Bear piece, are an inspirational idea for solo play. There are four quite large player boards that represent the decks of the Pirate Ships but are not ship-shaped and so although they are marked into seven separate sections they aret basically just a place to keep your Gold and Rum etc and not really a necessary component; the space in front of you will easily suffice.
Play continues with the Pirates moving, exploring and collecting Gold until there is none left available (i.e. it is all on Boats or Ships) or there are no unexplored tiles on the island. Then you count up, and ALL the Gold you have, on Ship or Boat, goes towards your score. The Pirate with the most Gold is the winner. Overall I believe that after playing JACKAL ARCHIPELAGO several times with different groups of players it sits comfortably between being a family game and a gamer's game. There are times when, for a gamer's game, it gets a bit much, finding something different under every randomly flipped tile without being able to plan your turn or action, these are the times the family game shines through, for non-gamers aren't always looking for a planned move and prefer games where the fun and surprise aspect outweigh the strategies.