This Jagged Alliance: The Board Game review was made after playing through the campaign one time. We were sent a copy of this game by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
What is Jagged Alliance?
Jagged Alliance: The Board Game is a cooperative tactical combat game based on the popular video game series. This is a campaign game in which you are mercenaries hired to free a nation from an evil dictator.
Jagged Alliance Gameplay
Your goal in Jagged Alliance is to complete a series of scenarios and eventually defeat the dictator. You’ll do that by fighting the dictator’s armies and making your mercenaries more powerful along the way.
Each scenario’s map is made up of sectors (the square tiles), and each sector is made up of areas with different terrain types. You’ll be moving from sector to sector attempting to liberate those sectors by defeating all of the enemies that show up.
After you’ve set up a scenario, there will be face-down Spawn cards in each sector. Spawn cards list the specific types of enemies that are located in the sector and possibly some hidden encounters that you’ll need to reveal and deal with. When you enter a sector, you’ll flip the Spawn card and place the enemies and encounter tokens in their designated areas.
There are two phases in each round of the game: the Player Phase and the Dictator Phase. During the Player Phase, you’ll move around the map and use your weapons and other gear to fight the enemies. There’s no set turn order in this game; you can switch it up every round. During the Dictator Phase, the threat level usually increases, an Event card is revealed, and the dictator could counterattack if the threat level reaches certain points on the Threat Track.
Each mercenary has a pool of stamina cubes that represents their action points as well as their health. Most of the actions you take cost stamina points, which push those cubes to the Fatigue section of the track. When you’re injured, the cubes are moved to the Wounds section. You get some cubes back from the Fatigue section at the beginning of each turn, but you need to be healed to get cubes back from the Wounds section of the track.
Your mercenary will get knocked down or possibly killed if you ever have to move a stamina cube to the Fatigue or Wounds section on your board and you don’t have a cube to move. This is why you usually want to have at least a couple of cubes available at the end of each turn. If your mercenary does get killed, you’ll get to activate a new one at the start of your next turn, but you’ll lose half of your stuff. If all of the mercenaries are knocked down or killed at the same time, you’ll lose.
Your weapons and other items list the number and color of dice you can use during your attacks and on defense. You simply choose the gear you want to use, pay the stamina cube cost if there is one, and then try to roll a certain number of successes. You’ll get Loot cards for defeating enemies and liberating sectors throughout the game.
Once per turn you can also use a Command action. The main Command actions are cooperative actions, such as healing, giving stamina, and moving other mercenaries with you (Group Move). You can also use a Command action to train local rebels to help you when the Dictator attempts counterattacks or to bribe enemies to lower the threat level.
After you’ve completed your turn, all of the enemies in your sector activate, potentially shooting at you and/or your teammates. Enemies’ cards list their stats (movement speed, attack power, range, etc.) and what they do when they activate. After every mercenary has activated, you move on to the Dictator Phase.
Most of the scenarios also include missions, which are basically side quests that usually make the scenarios tougher until they’re cleared. You’ll also have to deal with the dictator’s lieutenants, who have ongoing abilities and abilities that make it tougher to liberate their sectors.
You’ll beat a scenario if you complete all of your objectives (usually by liberating specific sectors). You’ll lose if all of the mercenaries are knocked down at the same time, if you run out of mercenaries, or if you fail to defend against one of the dictator’s counterattacks. If you lose, you’ll have to play through the scenario again, but you do get to keep any of the Loot cards you’ve gained and you collect any rewards for the goals you’ve completed.
After you’ve completed a scenario, you’ll gain new cards from the A.I.M. (Association of International Mercenaries) deck and they’ll be added to the Market. These cards can be new weapons, allies, income from the locals, and other things. Between scenarios you can buy and/or sell cards, swap gear with other mercenaries, or even choose to swap in different mercenaries.
I definitely did not cover all of the rules here. For more info on the game, take a look at the Jagged Alliance rulebook on BGG.
Check out more campaign game reviews!
- To me, the stamina/action system is the easily best part of Jagged Alliance. You not only have to think about how many stamina points to use for your attack actions, you also have to worry about how many you’ll have left over in case you need to take any wounds. The coolest and toughest moments come when you only have a few cubes to work with and you have to decide whether or not it’s worth it to use your most powerful weapon to try to take out an enemy. It’s just an excellent system.
- I always like when co-ops have variable turn order, and it definitely makes sense to have it in Jagged Alliance since you often want to be able to set each other up. For example, you could be using the one mercenary who has the ability to move the group two areas instead of one, which could then set up another mercenary to use their best weapon from a more advantageous position. Without variable turn order, you wouldn’t be able to pull off that type of combo as often.
- I can’t tell you for sure if this game stays true to the source material since I’ve never played any of the Jagged Alliance video games (I’m pretty sure all of the characters and weapons are from the games), but I can tell you that the designers did a fantastic job of making this feel like a turn-based tactics video game in board game form. This is the type of game I wanted (and expected) when I first heard about XCOM: The Board Game.
- There are a lot of tough decisions to make, which is great. Not only do you have to think about your stamina, you also have to factor in things like your weapon’s range, the terrain, your chances of actually defeating the enemies based on the dice you’re rolling plus modifiers, and any abilities the dictator and the lieutenants have.
- It’s also hard not to like the amount of freedom the game gives you. You don’t have to move in any predetermined direction and you don’t have to clear out all of the sectors or get all of the available rewards to move on in the campaign. Again, that makes sense for this type of game.
- It’s great that the game requires a lot of cooperation. You need to talk about where everyone should move and you need to use the right Command actions at the right times. You just have to make all of those tough decisions together if you want to win, especially in the later scenarios.
- There are plenty of mercenaries to choose from and their skills and abilities definitely do make them all feel unique.
- “Unlocking” new A.I.M. cards is always exciting. You know it’s going to be good stuff, but the surprise is finding out what kind of good stuff your team got. Plus, you know you’ll need it because the enemies just keep getting tougher and tougher.
- I appreciate that the combat system is very simple and that I don’t have to worry about any weird line of sight rules. Combat is still interesting and intense, but it’s nice to always know that once I’m in a sector, any enemy can be the target as long as my weapon has the range to reach them.
- The campaign is replayable since there are multiple scenario paths you can take and you can play against different dictators. Plus, the Spawn and Loot cards are randomized, which definitely will change how the games play out.
- My biggest knock against this game is its rulebook. An index would have been awesome because it’s not easy to quickly find the rules that you need. There are also quite a few rules that aren’t crystal clear, which is odd to me because this really isn’t a complex game. I will give the designers credit, though, because they’ve been very active on the BGG boards answering everyone’s questions.
- A separate double-sided rules reference sheet would have been great. That would have allowed them to add other important rules that aren’t covered on the back of the rulebook.
- I’m pretty disappointed that there aren’t skirmish setup options for each scenario. I feel like it would have been pretty easy to do just by adding in a list of available cards for each scenario and giving players some money to spend.
- The mercenary boards were all warped when they showed up. I normally wouldn’t point this out, but it seems like everyone has had this issue.
- It’s odd that they didn’t include miniatures for all of the mercenaries in the game (6 miniatures, 13 mercenaries).
I think Jagged Alliance: The Board Game is a very solid co-op and definitely worth getting if you’re a fan of the video game series or you want to play a legit tactical combat board game. The stamina system is amazing, the game looks great on the table, and watching your mercenaries get stronger as they try to deal with an angrier and angrier dictator is very cool. The rulebook isn’t great, but once you learn how everything works the game plays smoothly and there are plenty of satisfying moments both during and between the scenarios.
I’m looking forward to playing through the campaign again with some different mercenaries and a different dictator. I usually switch groups when I play a campaign game the second time around, but all three of the people I played Jagged Alliance with are all in to play through it again… and that makes me like the game even more.