I knew things had gone pear-shaped in Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar when a T-Rex busted its way into the lab like a particularly motivated door-to-door salesman. Especially because the only thing standing between me and oblivion was a geriatric John Hammond, armed with nothing but his boundless enthusiasm and a lone cattle prod.
This is the kind of nonsense I play the best board games for. And after some time test-driving an early copy, Funko's Jurassic tie-in (which is live now on Kickstarter (opens in new tab), FYI) delivers. Although there are a few teething troubles that will be familiar to anyone who's played big hobby games before, Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar has enormous potential. In fact, it seems to be making good on promises that resulted in it becoming my most anticipated board game of 2022.
"You crazy son of a bitch, you did it"
- Game type: Cooperative strategy
- Players: 2 - 4
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Lasts: 90+ mins
- Ages: 10+
- Price: $120
- Release date: Oct 22
- Play if you enjoy: Horrified, Pandemic
Developed by Prospero Hall (the team behind Disney Villainous and the original Horrified), this ode to the franchise is what you'd call a 'Legacy' game. To translate, that means your actions have consequences. Not in a "go to page 15 and read a cool but otherwise-inconsequential epilogue" way, either. Rather, it allows you to physically and permanently alter components. That ranges from placing stickers on the board to tearing up cards.
If you've never encountered a Legacy game before, this idea may fill you with scepticism and no small amount of anxiety. Does that mean you'll only be able to play it a few times before it becomes a glorified paper weight? Considering Jurassic World Legacy's $120 price tag (which isn't out of the ordinary for games of this size, I should add), your worry is understandable. But don't panic. Alongside a tutorial you can repeat as often as you like, the story missions give you a replayable endgame mode using your now-unique board. Basically, players spend the campaign creating their very own board game.
I've yet to see how compelling this mode is after my short amount of time with Jurassic World Legacy, but that isn't a common approach for most Legacy games. Instead, they're usually a one-and-done deal. That makes the idea a welcome gesture, regardless of how it turns out.
So far, I have confidence it'll live up to the potential. While there's a learning curve, The Legacy of Isla Nublar plays with systems that are interesting enough to make it one of the more engaging cooperative board games out there long-term. Namely, you're never able to do everything you want in one round - there are just nine actions shared between players, so strategizing is essential.
In addition, it leans on the Catch 22 nature of Horrified that made that game so compelling. Civilians will almost certainly get in harm's way, so you'll have to balance your objective with saving them - if they're eaten, this adds a randomly numbered token to the 'Consequence' tracker. Collecting too many of these causes an instant failure, much like Pandemic. I can see this becoming a real conundrum to wrestle with in more high-stakes sessions.
Much like the movies, keeping guests and staff safe isn't your only concern either. It's also a good idea to scout the island's sectors for items or to see what the park's dinosaurs are going to do when they activate later in the round. Are Velociraptors set to hunt nearby characters? Will some herbivores wander across T-Rex territory? You can nip in and use a 'Herd' action to neutralize that threat before it happens - temporarily, at least.
While we were mostly able to brute-force our way through the tutorial because few dinos or civilians ended up in play, I doubt that'll be the case when the real game gets started. Dinosaurs are tremendously dangerous in Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar (to the point where defending against all their attacks is very difficult), so letting them run rampant in favor of your mission is a sure-fire way to lose.
Hold on to your butts
Throw in mini-games and you're left with a lot of juggling. These games-within-a-game are centered around specific buildings, and the tutorial challenged us to beat a classic Legend of Zelda-esque crate sliding task before rearranging genetic code tokens into a specific order. While neither is revolutionary, they're fun additions to the formula. Both eat up actions like no tomorrow as well, so balancing them alongside everything else Isla Nublar has to offer gives a lot for tacticians to wrestle with.
All the same, there is a downside: the tutorial arguably bites off more than it can chew as a result. Even though the rules are well written, precise, and accessible, there's a lot of stuff to navigate here nonetheless. You've got the main rulebook, a mini-booklet containing the tutorial's objectives and setup, a hefty ring-bound set of flash cards with more detailed rules, extra boards to represent buildings... It's somewhat overwhelming. Indeed, constantly bouncing between them to double-check something isn't ideal and slows things down. Although you'll get there in the end, I'd recommend at least one person knowing the mechanics backwards before introducing them to others. It'll make for a much smoother experience.
Fortunately, there are worse things than poring over this game's components at length. As with everything by Prospero Hall, the attention to detail here is superb - few other studios manage this level of thoughtful polish. Modelled after 1950s pulp comic books that inspired the films, Legacy of Isla Nublar nails that to the point it feels like in-universe promotional material for the park itself. This eases you into the world and builds immersion right away.
Sure, the worth vs cost ratio of this game will vary from person to person. However, you won't be disappointed by how it looks.
You won't be too intimidated by its contents either. Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar is less overwhelming than other Legacy titles I've tried. Whereas the likes of Gloomhaven come with more components than you'll know what to do with when you lift the lid, this one feels more organised - it's better at holding your hand.
This is true even of the rules themselves. They encourage you to go and play a round before coming back for the next section, and this drip-feed of info makes it much easier to get into. It's also less likely to scare off players that aren't as used to mammoth board games for adults.
The tutorial mission is the perfect case in point. Pitched as a dream-sequence that won't have permanent ramifications, it introduces gameplay elements one by one so that you'll be good to go once you're finished.
With all that in mind, I've come away from my visit to the dino theme park much more impressed than John Hammond's original guests in the movie. Perhaps they'd have changed their tune if they'd seen him do battle with a T-Rex...
Reviewed with a press copy of Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar sent by Funko. For more on our review process, read up on how we test board games and tabletop RPGs.
While you wait for the game to come out later this year, don't forget to check in with these board games for 2 players or the best party board games. It's worth taking a look at the latest board game deals as well to see if you can't save a little cash along the way.