Jackal Archipelago is a Kickstarter game and that is based off of Jackal, the best-selling strategy game in Russia in 2012, 2013, and 2014. You play as pirates who are trying to explore islands and are trying to get as many gold doubloons back to your boat before the other players. It’s almost like a reverse Carcassonne South Seas, where the island-themed tiles are already laid out face down, and each player will flip them over one-by-one until every tile is flipped over.
I first started playing Jackal Archipelago on Tabletopia and it was really fun. The basic concept of moving to a tile, flipping it over, and completing the corresponding action is straightforward. The age range starts at 6 years-old, but I believe with some assistance, a 4 or 5 year-old may be able to pick up on the basic premise pretty easily.
Each player receives a boat token and 3 pirate meeples that stand on top of the boat token to begin the game. An island is assembled from square tiles using the layout provided in each of the 4 island boxes. An island will consist of beach tiles, which are pretty safe, grass tiles, which can reward you, but have risks involved, and finally mountain tiles, which are high-risk and high-reward.
Your boat can move on the perimeter of the island, but only as many spaces as there are pirates on it. Pirates can only move 1 space at a time to an adjacent tile, and must explore the tile on which they land. Exploring consists of flipping over the tile and resolving the effects shown on the other side. This could be something good like discovering gold or something bad like falling into a pit or getting lost.
When you discover gold, you have to use your next turns lugging each doubloon back to your boat without losing it. Hazards and other players can make you lose your gold, so be ready to fight your way back. If another player moves to a tile that you’re on, you’re sent back to your boat and you lose any gold you were carrying. If you end up in the ocean while holding gold, it is lost to the sea forever. You can only carry gold onto previously-explored tiles, so be sure to plan your escape route carefully.
One unique aspect of the game is that it plays as a campaign over the span of 4 islands. After each island has been completed, any players who have collected 3 or more gold doubloons are allowed to draw a bonus card. This bonus card will give a special ability to one of your pirates for the next game/island. You mark this pirate meeple by wrapping a corresponding sticker around it that matches the pattern of the card.
It’s possible to have an entire crew of pirates with special abilities by the 4th island which makes for an interesting game. If you happen to find yourself without some fellow pirates to battle, there are single player challenge cards provided in the game as well. These outline certain island layouts and challenge you to complete a task in X number of moves.
The packaging is a unique shape, so it will be easy to spot on your shelf and the custom-shaped meeples are a nice touch. I like the continued gameplay aspect where your pirates with special abilities could help you explore the next island, it keeps the game fresh. If you wanted to play with younger children, you could always just play without the special abilities and then the concept would be pretty easy.
If I had to list any flaws in the game, it would be the special ability stickers. In the review copy I received, they were a little difficult to get on and off the backing. My worry is that using them over time will eliminate the adhesive and render them useless after a lot of games. This may be corrected in the final print, but I did want to mention it as a potential improvement point. I do really like the idea of the matching sticker ability, but am worried about longevity. Perhaps a wooden hat or stand to place the meeple on would be a better long-term solution.
Overall, Jackal Archipelago is a fun and light game. If you’re looking for a ongoing filler game, a way to introduce new players to the hobby, a game to play with your kids, or just trying to relive a past life as a pirate, it’s definitely worth checking out.
If you’re looking for a heavier strategy game, this won’t have much to offer you. As with any tile-laying or tile-flipping game, the luck-aspect is pretty high. The real strategy is planning to get the gold back to your boat and how to thwart your opponents from getting gold to their boats.
If you’re looking for a light-hearted game to enjoy with friends and family, this a good choice for game night. Be sure to check out their Kickstarter campaign and back them to receive your copy.