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The cover for Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar shows a T-rex looming over the gates of Jurassic Park. Photo: Prospero Hall

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Jurassic World board game is the perfect match for a legacy-style campaign

Three trips through Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar and I’m hooked

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The best board games tell a good story, and traditionally that story has always started over again each time you open the game box. Rob Daviau’s Risk Legacy changed that paradigm when it launched in 2011, adding supplemental rules and an evolving narrative that progressed over the course of more than a dozen playthroughs. Its success created an entire genre of board games, with hits ranging from his own Pandemic Legacy Season 1, to the sterling dungeon crawler Gloomhaven, to the charming, reusable Charterstone.

But over the last decade, the best legacy games have all taken popular board games or board game genres and sort of draped a larger storyline on top of them. Design studio Prospero Hall is approaching things from a slightly different angle. It’s next title, Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar, will be the first legacy-style board game ever based on a major motion picture — five major motion pictures, to be exact, as it spans the entire Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment film franchise. That leaves developers with plenty of memorable narratives, characters, and critters to go around.

So what about the gameplay? Fans have been wondering what it will be like since the project was announced in September.

After three sessions with a pre-production copy of the final game, I’m happy to say that Jurassic World is more than just a movie tie-in. This could be the crossover success that brings the legacy genre of board games into the mainstream. Here’s how it works, plus details on where and when you’ll be able to pre-order a copy in March 2022.

The first, tutorial game of The Legacy of Isla Nublar laid out for play. Image: Propero Hall

In Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar, 2-4 players take on the role of iconic characters from the movies in order to recreate their key scenes. Objective-based gameplay runs on an action economy, with players moving around the board and taking actions in any order they choose. One might lead a few guests off toward the safety of the nearby visitor center while another runs past, dodging a carnivorous dinosaur on the way to take a genetic sample from a nearby herbivorous herd. In motion, it feels a bit like a late-round game of Betrayal at House on the Hill. While the titular island keeps the same shape during a given game, dinosaurs and other threats are constantly changing and moving around the map.

The first few games will let you take control of park creator Dr. John Hammond, biologist Dr. Henry Wu, and big-game hunter Robert Muldoon, among others. Those same early games will find you rescuing visitors, dealing with power outages, and locating animals scattered all over the park — essentially reliving the plot of Jurassic Park across two two-hour games, plus a tutorial. On paper that might sound derivative, but a clever system of semi-random event cards makes it so that you’re never quite sure what to expect next. It’s the same sort of tension baked into the semi-random deck of cards in the game Pandemic, but with only five rounds and five cards to pull the tension feels much tighter and more focused.

The game ticks all the right boxes to appeal to existing fans of legacy-style games, as well. New rules, new locations, and new characters are flowing into Jurassic World all the time from a dozen sealed envelopes. That keeps the moment-to-moment gameplay fresh and the timeline moving forward toward the next film. The action economy is fun, makes a good match for the subject matter, and feels well-balanced in relation to the game’s overall level of threat. Player characters can be upgraded between games or scarred by their injuries — not killed necessarily, but effectively damaged in a way that makes you less likely to want to play them in the future. Importantly, the various minigames, which include pattern matching and tableau building among other mechanics, are simple without being dumbed down, engaging without being distracting.

The result is a meaty cooperative experience with a confident pace, one that seems to expertly toe the line between the unexpected and the familiar.

That kind of competence should come as no surprise. Prospero Hall is the same group behind publisher Ravensburger’s hit family-friendly strategy game series Disney Villainous and Horrified. In addition to becoming the in-house designers for Funko, Prospero Hall has recently turned a whole string of mainstream franchises like Fast & Furious, Back to the Future, Top Gun, and The Goonies — even the work of painter Bob Ross — into excellent little board games.

In no way does Jurassic World show any ignorance of the legacy genre or its complexities. In fact, Prospero Hall’s level of mechanical competence extends well into the presentation of the game itself.

Rulebooks dressed up to look like dimestore comics from the 1950s. Image: Prospero Hall
The sideboard shows the smaller sector cards, followed by the larger round cards. Both sets work to drive the action of the game. Image: Prospero Hall
A selection of starting dinosaurs, including the T rex, triceratops, velociraptor, and brachiosaurus

The game begins with four dinosaurs. Up to eight more creatures are packaged inside sealed boxes, waiting to be released into your game.

Every element of Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar feels like an artifact from the 1950s. That starts with the box cover which, along with the various instruction manuals inside, mimics the pulp genre fiction that inspired author Michael Crichton to write the original Jurassic Park novel. The game board matches the theme as well, along with its many cardboard markers. All of them seem plucked from the same fold-out map they handed out on opening day at Disneyland. Even the pack-in organizer — the cardboard thing that holds all the bits in place between games — has the same woven pattern you might find in car interiors or home furnishings more than 70 years ago.

The attention to detail extends from the card backs to the unique, pedestal-mounted miniature scale dinosaurs. Everything feels cohesive and reinforces that shared, throwback theme. But all those bits also serve a purpose, focusing players’ attention back to the island itself, which quickly becomes the centerpiece of the entire campaign experience.

Before each game, no matter the task at hand, everyone at the table sits around for a little while to rebuild the island, spending the hard-won resources earned during the last scenario. In the first few games, players are drawing from simple add-ons like roads and fences. Later on, they’ll spend communal research points to add even more permanent upgrades, including new genetically modified dinosaurs hidden inside sealed boxes. Regardless of your strategy, the map itself will quickly grow to represent your group’s unique experience with the island — and with its inhabitants.

Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar goes up for pre-order on Kickstarter on March 22, 2022. Copies will cost $120, which feels about right for a crowdfunded version of a seven-pound box with this much gameplay inside. But, while I’m largely positive on the first quarter of the game, I still can’t be sure that it will keep its momentum from the first game to the last.

My day-long preview session included three full games, the first of which was designed to be a tutorial. That means I still have nine more games left to go, and plenty of questions left unanswered. How expertly does Prospero Hall transition players from the events of the first film to the events of the second, third, and so on? Of the many mysterious dinosaurs still sealed inside their little cardboard shipping containers, do any of them break the game? Does the final, climactic adventure feel like the worthy culmination of 24 hours of total gameplay? And is the infinitely replayable version left over after the campaign ends any fun to play at all? Failure on even one of those design challenges could cast a shadow over the entire experience.

Of course, we won’t truly know if Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar will be a great modern board game until the final product is out in the wild for everyone to play. Ironically, that’s also the same time we’re likely to know if the Jurassic World franchise is a big enough draw to create more fans of modern board games.

Special thanks to Gift of Games in Grayslake, Illinois for hosting our day-long session.

Update (Mar. 22, 2022): The Kickstarter campaign for Jurassic World: The Legacy of Isla Nublar went live Tuesday as expected. The goal is set at a modest $100,000 and includes only one pledge tier featuring the base game at $120. The campaign ends on April 11 at 8 p.m. EDT.


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