JAGGED ALLIANCE has been a favourite Mercenary-based wargame for computer players since the heady days of 1995. It has always led the way in action and combat games and paved the way for classics such as Call of Duty™. The PC (by 'PC' I mean Personal Computer not Politically Correct) game has gone from strength to strength and has been through many visual changes whilst retaining its edgy gameplay and exciting adventures, never failing to ignite passion in it's thousands and thousands of players.
We are in the era of the computer game being turned into boardgame with many of them bringing in new players for the electronic version, though not all of the boardgames has managed to bring to the table what can be found on the screen. This boardgame, from THQNORDIC/UNDERGROUND Games, is for 1-4 players aged 12 upwards and sessions can take as long as you like because like all good computer games there is a 'save game' ability - in this case a special, large envelope marked 'Save Game' and with the obligatory 'Top Secret' red ink stamp. It is attention to detail like this that always makes me want to delve more into a game.
One of the difficulties in making a boardgame from a computer game are the rules. The electronic version is easy; you download then install, go through the opening video as the program loads and then select a character, modify it, and jump right in - the mission being introduced to you just before the screen changes and there you and your unit are, all tooled up and ready to rock n roll.
With the boardgame you can dodge the character creation by having a baker's dozen of character boards with all manner of skills and abilities, signifying the modification you can make online, and the visual terrain can be created via the 34 (17 double-sided) tiles that sit together to form the map segments to explore. The enemy that would be effortlessly controlled by the computer A.I. is now controlled by various game mechanics including the current Dictator, the current Threat Level, Counter-Attacks, Event Cards and Dice results; plus 40 pages of rules (first 27 pages for the 'Starter' rules).
As you would expect from a game that had nearly 1000 pledges for a successful Kickstarter campaign, there are loads of quality components:
6 unique Grey plastic Mercenary miniatures. Note: On the Kickstarter page these minis are in different colours.
16 Enemy miniatures including one Tank, 3 Bloodcats (Beasts), 3 Snipers, 3 Shields and 6 basic Redshirts, all in Red plastic.
10 different coloured stretch bases that fit on the figures round base (no requirement for the Tank's base). Four of these; White, Blue, Brown and Green, are for the player's characters. The 6 Yellow bands are to show when the enemy are 'elite' units
There are dozens of Counters and Tokens (120) and about twice as many Cards (over 250), most of which have one, two or three Vs (as in Ranks), the others bein A.I.M. cards, Events, 'Larry Behaviour', Spawn and Lieutenant cards.
13 Dice of different colours. Yellow (4), Orange (3), Red (2) and Blue (4).
The aforementioned 17 Sector Tiles.
Wooden Cubes, Red and Black.
Rules Book. Mission Book. Top Secret Envelope.
The game is played by one to four players who take on the rôle of a unit of Mercenaries who, over a number of Missions, try to clear the country of Arulco, a South American Dictatorship. There is a small, square map, printed the same on both sides, which is used for campaign play and reference. The Sector Tiles can be used to create areas within the map's regions as directed by the 12 scenarios in the booklet which can be extended by the 'Underground' expansion, plus you can make up your own quite easily seeing as most of the Scenarios are only one page long with hardly any descriptive text and consist of mainly Setup, Rules (if any specific rules are required), Goal or Goals and Victory Conditions.
The twelve scenarios (in this review I intersperse between saying Scenario and Mission just to break the visual text) in the booklet are designed to build up to a complete campaign, beginning easy while introducing you to the game piece by piece. The Mercs involved are from A.I.M. the Association of International Mercenaries - the A.I.M. cards contain specialist equipment for the Mercs.
Each character card has spaces for Fatigue/Stamina/Wounds cubes, the Dice used for their Skills, plus spaces around the board for Inventory, Weapons, Armour and other Equipment. Weapons and Equipment can be freely swapped between characters who are in the same Region. There are 13 Merc cards but only 6 Merc figures and none of them truly match - the nearest being Ivan Dol Vich and that's only because he wears a Russian style fur hat - so the miniatures are basically generic representations. They are all reasonably well detailed, not as good as some but better than others, but better than my photographs suggest.
As the Scenarios are not watered down the game is designed for playing with 4 Mercenaries though there is a specific rule for a game where there are only three players; 2 players take 2 Mercs each.
Most of the Scenarios (aka Missions) will be against one of the three Dictators - the End of Level/Game Bosses (Deidranna Reitmann, aka the Cruel Queen is the final Dictator and once beaten during Scenario/Mission 12 ends the campaign). My surprise is that there are only three of these because there are two Dictator cards, one with a different Dictator on either side the other with one Dictator and an unnecessary blank flip side. Depending on the Dictator at the helm there are special rules for the Guerillas against the Mercs; each of these Dictators can regularly add to the Threat Level, making it a lot harder for the Mercs to succeed. Within the sectors being searched and cleared there are Rebels who live there and will fight alongside the Mercs. $Dollars can sometimes be used to lower Threat Levels.
Part of the fun of the computer game is looting the bodies of the enemy. This is possible in the boardgame by drawing Equipment cards. When an enemy is killed draw one card from the top of the corresponding Equipment card deck according to the enemy card. Generally troop loot is a card from the one chevron deck, though Elite or Specials may see you drawing from the two or three chevron decks where you will mainly find better equipment. Once you take a card the 'body' is removed from the board - this is a game mechanic to show which troops have been looted. The equipment can be placed in one of the slots on your character board or the Inventory or can be handed to another character in the same location. Searching and Looting and Swapping or Giving of equipment isn't an Action.
Most Actions, including Movement, cost the characters an amount of Stamina. As long as you have Stamina you have the chance to do something and how you use your Stamina is the most crucial part of the game. Stamina blocks (the small wooden pieces) are placed on the character card in the specific space. When used for Actions they are moved to the left into the Fatigue box; they are moved to the right into the Wounds box when the character takes damage. Like most computer games the characters can take more damage than the enemy units. Enemy units have built-in armour shown as a numerical value, and each point of armour deflects a point of damage, though only one damage needs to get through to kill. Player characters have and find equipment that can be worn as armour and commonsense has to prevail; a single character cannot wear two helmets or 4 boots etc.
Movement between regions costs Stamina and sometimes that can reduce the amount of points you have remaining to actually do what you need to do. There is a 'free' movement available via the use of a Command Action which can move your character on its own or with any or all of the characters in the same area. It is good form to ask your other players (unless you are on your own) if they would like to be moved with you - they move freely also - but the wording of the Command Action lets the player simply move them if they wish, but as I say it's good form to ask first. Let's face it, this is a cooperative game and you want all characters to have each other's backs.
During Setup, Spawn cards are dealt into sectors on the board according to the scenario. These may be specifically placed or randomly placed (scenario or player decision) and each of these cards has a red back with either a Question Mark or one, two or three skulls. These cards determine the difficulty and challenge of the sectors they are in. The 'Question Mark' on the back means that there is no prior knowledge of the situation (the effect of the cards is random) or challenge, whereas the Skulls go from Weak (one Skull) to Strong (2 Skulls) up to Deadly (3 Skulls); effects of these cards affect all units in the group.
The computer game has many hours of play and the boardgame emulates this, which is why you have the SAVE GAME envelope and the Campaign detail sheets in the back of the Rules book. This allows you to play a mission or more and then save the character's equipment etc in the envelope until your next session.
The Dice are designed by colour to make combat results and actions get better through the application of skills. The faces of the dice are Blank, Stars (successes) and Laurel Crowns. In order of weakness upwards the possible results are:
Yellow dice relate to not very experienced: Stars 2 x One 1 x Two 1 Star in a Laurel 1 Laurel 1 Blank
Orange dice relate to good experience: Stars 2 x Two 1 x Three 2 x 1 star in Laurel 1 Blank
Red dice relate to very experienced: Stars 1 x One (unusually large star) 2 x Three 1 x Four 2 x 2 stars in Laurels No Blanks
Blue dice are not used in Combat, generally Blue dice are for hiding and bribing. Stars 2 x One 1 x 1 Star in a Laurel 1 Laurel 2 x Blanks
There are dozens of Tokens and Counters which you need to know what they all do. When to use them is usually obvious, but when there are a fair number of them on the board it is ideal to know what each of them mean and why they are where they are. The game isn't played to a time limit but there are challenges that require solving within a number of turns. JAGGED ALLIANCE the Boardgame cannot compare to the intensity and speed of JAGGED ALLIANCE the computer game, but the designers, Marko Jelen and Jan Wagner, have done their best to achieve the on-screen game's atmosphere, and Jens Fiedler's artwork does its best to bring the terrain from the screen to the table, if only it could actually stand out.
I understand that games with miniatures and this amount of cardboard cost a small fortune to bring to life and at £75.00 it fits into the scheme of things when compared to other, similar, boardgames currently on Kickstarter or in Game Stores. I also realise that adding a little more cardboard to the game might have pushed the price up a little but for visualisation it would have been nice to have some scenery, some card trees and bushes, some small buildings/ruins, anything that would have taken away some of the flatness and given the miniature figures better perspective. The largest scenario uses just 11 terrain tiles arranged as a 3x3 grid with a top right and bottom left additional tile.
Overall JAGGED ALLIANCE the Boardgame is best played with friends as the banter around the table as well as the decision making and strategy forming between them brings so much extra to the game play. Playing it solo allows for you to make all the decisions for each of the Mercs on the board but it doesn't quite give the satisfaction of playing the loud and animated computer version, especially with a decent pair of headphones on. (Tip: don't play the boardgame with headphones on - you won't look cool and you'll miss all the things being said about you by your friends).
I wish I could paint miniatures as even the slightest bit of colour would make the figures stand out more visually on the board and if well painted in camouflage gear (I still haven't managed to find any decent one-coat camouflage paint) I can see them bringing the best out of the fairly impacting terrain on the sector tiles.
Is there £75.00's worth of game here? The answer to that question is how often you play it. If you play it only once you have paid about the same as you would for a decent seat at a 90 minute football game, the difference being the football game has been and gone whereas you still have the game to play again or sell on to cut your losses. If you play it 20 times then each game has cost you about the same as a cup of Costa or Starbucks coffee and the result is the same, the coffee has gone and the game remains. From my playing experiences - I haven't reached the cup of coffee per game yet but I am well on my way towards it - so yes, it is value for money. It is a good game, especially, as already said, when played with others, and it also serves as a reminder to get the computer game out of the cupboard and fire it up again.
These didn't make it into the box:
Colour coded Mercenaries. All Mercs in the box are basic Grey (shame as they look good in colour).
You get the Tank but not the Lieutenants
ALSO AVAILABLE: UNDERGROUND the Add-On
More adversaries along with additional equipment.
UNDERGROUND is a separate expansion that includes a number of new models as well as all the things and more that you would expect.