Monday, October 15, 2018

Spirit Island Jagged Earth Preview: A First Look at the New Kickstarter Expansion from Greater Than Games



Exciting news this week! The Spirit Island Jagged Earth expansion launches on Kickstarter October 16th, 2018. I had the chance to preview and play this upcoming release from Greater Than Games multiple times this week, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Update: the Kickstarter is live here.



Our Spirit Island collection keeps growing. First there was the base game, which debuted in 2017 and turned the traditional narrative of the conquering colonists on its head, allowing players to take on the role of island spirits determined to keep the colonists at bay through any means necessary to preserve the serenity of the island. My husband and I picked up the game at retail (having missed the Kickstarter window) and fell in love with it immediately, enthused to work together as powerful spirits and put the invaders down. Next, we added the Branch and Claw expansion. This expansion (also part of the original Kickstarter) expanded the board, added new spirits and powers, new blight cards, new fear cards, new scenarios, and a new adversary. It also introduced events and new mechanisms for defending the island against the invaders in the form of tokens (beasts, wilds, disease, strife). Fantastic! After that we were lucky enough to snag one of the rare retail copies of the Spirit Island Promo Pack that added two new powerful spirits which have proven exciting to play. Spreading fire across the island to torch the invaders as the Heart of The Wildfire spirit is very cathartic.
And now, we have had the pleasure of previewing the newest expansion, Jagged Earth.
The full Jagged Earth expansion includes 8 new spirits, aspect cards that change the innate powers of the four base game core spirits, over 50 new power cards, more than 30 new event cards, 2 new adversaries, new scenarios, new event cards, new fear cards, new blight cards, new boards (which allow for both 6-player game play and variability in the layout of the board for smaller player counts), reprinted high quality tokens to replace or add to the sets provided in previous releases, a new type of dangerous token (badlands) to ward off invaders, and new gameplay variants to spice things up (combining adversaries, playing with an Archipelago,  or playing with larger islands). Quite an extensive list, eh? Priced appropriately, this expansion should move quickly for the publisher on both Kickstarter and (eventually) retail channels.
Typically, in my reviews, I discuss the artwork for a board game release because when done well, it’s something that often draws me further into the game. Greater Than Games has a solid reputation for high quality artwork -  on the box cover, the rule book, and across all the game components. I’ve no doubt Jagged Earth will meet or exceed the aesthetic standards Spirit Island and the other expansions have set but I’m unable to comment on them in this first look preview as the advanced review copy I received from GTG to complete my review did not include finalized artwork. Likewise, the components included in the advanced review copy are prototypes, so an evaluation of their quality is not applicable.
The rule book, even in its draft release, is well written and clears up many questions players might have when first using items (such as powers or spirits) added with this expansion. Additionally, new rules have been added to smooth game play. One such rule is to resolve only the bottom-most event on the event card drawn during the first turn. This was a popular house rule for many players as reported on BoardGameGeek so it’s nice to see GTG took that feedback and incorporated it into the official rules. The rule book included with Jagged Earth also provides clarification for several previously published rules from the base game or the Branch and Claw expansion. There were only two items*** we had questions on during our entire gameplay this weekend and I sent off an email to GTG requesting clarification.
Jagged Earth plays well under both two and three player games (we haven't had the opportunity to play yet with 1, 4, 5, or 6 players). Just as in the base game, some spirits are much more defense-oriented than others and so care must be taken during the selection process to ensure there will be balance among all spirits chosen. If one opts for a solo game, most, if not all, of the defense-oriented spirits are off the table for selection, as a strong offense must be part of any winning strategy. One of the new spirits provided in the Jagged Earth expansion is Finder of Paths Unseen.
This spirit offers the ability through innate powers and its hand of starting powers to move invaders, Dahan, beasts, and presence around the board. We found it to be extremely powerful in partnership with a strong offensive spirit such as Heart of the Wildfire or Lightning’s Swift Strike. With either pairing, Finder can shift invaders to lands for the other players to destroy or can shift Dahan to lands with new Explorers to quickly decimate the invaders.  Finder also holds the innate power to isolate lands from the explore action. Combined with the ability to prevent explorations, builds, and ravages using the tokens in the Branch and Claw expansion, Finder provides a way to keep ahead of the invaders at every turn, shifting and isolating them before they can grow too numerous to be devastating.
Another spirit debuting in Jagged Earth is Many Minds Move As One. Like Finder, this new spirit is high on defense. In particular, Many Minds harnesses the beast tokens to concentrate their power to induce fear in invader occupied lands and allows for the team to skip invader actions.
Win Condition for Spirit Island Jagged Earth: Varies based on scenario, but typically involves ridding the island of a portion or all invaders while avoiding the loss conditions.

Strategy tip: Coordinate among players to systematically act on invaders, using the combined powers of all spirits to block, corral, and destroy them.

As with the base game and previous expansions, Jagged Earth remains prone to overthinking and analysis paralysis, particularly when players are in the Spirit Phase. Trying to decide which powers to execute (to pay for them and set them aside) is always difficult for me. I am always looking for the perfect combination that will deal the most wallop to the invaders and/or provide the most defense for the island. The difficulty increases for each additional player in the game as I try to evaluate what I can do in conjunction with their plans. I love the logical puzzle challenge that power card selection presents, but sometimes the other players get a bit impatient with my slow and over-calculating thought process. These things can’t be rushed in my opinion. 😊 Kudos to me during our last game for taking enough time (my husband reports it was an ungodly amount of time) during the event step of the Invader Phase of Round 3 to plan out how to decisively win the game before the Phase was to end. I was able to determine the best targets for the required event actions to destroy the last of the invaders, giving us the victory. And that was a victory against a complex game set up – the base game with the Branch and Claw expansion including event cards, using a spirit from the new Jagged Earth expansion (Finder of Paths Unseen) and another from the Spirit Island Promo Pack (Heart of the Wildfire), adding a difficulty 2 scenario from Branch and Claw (Ward the Shores), and also including a difficulty 2 adversary (England). All that and we purged the island of invaders midway through our third round. Turns out there’s a lot to recommend in slow and calculated decision making!
With all the new content and options Jagged Earth has to offer fans of Spirit Island, I’m sold on this expansion.  As with the base game and previous expansions, there is enough variability in replay through a myriad of spirits, scenarios, events, setup choices, and adversaries to hold our interest game after game. It should make fans very happy indeed. 3 steps to finding your joy through gaming: (1) back the Spirit Island Jagged Earth expansion on Kickstarter (2) wait patiently for it to arrive at your door (3) open and play. Note: For sustained joy, repeat step 3 as often as necessary.  

***For reference, the rule questions we asked GTG to clear up for us (I’ll post a follow up with the answers when we receive them):

1. For the 'Offer Passage Between Worlds' power card for the new spirit Finder of Paths Unseen, it states "When Invaders Ravage, up to 2 Dahan take no Damage". That's different wording than protect so we want to make sure we understand. What happens if an explorer and a town are in the land targeted by this power (total damage potential of 3) and there are 3 Dahan in the land also? Does the card protect 2 of the Dahan and so the invaders concentrate all 3 damage against the remaining Dahan and take it out? Or do the invaders target our two Dahan that we are preventing damage against (because hey, they don't know they can't be damaged) and just waste their 3 damage because it has no effect and our 3rd Dahan is also spared because the invaders used up all their attack power on the other two?

2. For the 'A Dreadful Tide of Scurrying Flesh' power card for the new spirit Many Minds Move as One, it states "For each beast removed (from the target land): Skip 1 Invader Action. We were really confused by this. Assuming we have jungle land in the Ravage spot and mountain in the Build spot, does this mean we can skip one of those actions *entirely* per beast removed (for example, we remove 1 beast and so we skip the build action and none of the mountain lands experience a build event)? Or does it mean we skip one of the events triggered by an invader action per beast removed (for example we remove 1 beast and so we skip the build event in *one* of the mountain lands that would normally be triggered by the build action)? Also, it says clearly in the rules that text effects on power cards refer only to the targeted lands unless explicitly stated otherwise. So, a third interpretation of this power could mean we only prevent invader actions in the land we removed the beast(s) from?  Under that interpretation, if we removed a beast from wetlands but there were no invader actions scheduled for the wetlands we couldn't skip any invader actions. Which of the three interpretations is correct?

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Publisher: Greater Than Games
Players: 1-6 (We played with 2 and 3)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 90-120 minutes
Game type: area control, cooperative
Rating:


Jenni’s rating scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.  

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.











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