A Spirited Addition To An Already-Great Game

Greater Than Games recently announced a new expansion for their hit anti-colonizing game Spirit Island. The Kickstarter racked up half a million dollars in the first 48 hours, but if it flew past your radar, here’s what you need to know:

To learn more about Spirit Island’s base game, check out our review here!

Spirits Are High For This New Addition

Jagged Earth adds a whole lot of new content to the game: New Events, new Fear cards, two new Adversaries to play against, and a whopping twelve new Spirits (counting stretch goals and promo packs), plus all-new Aspect cards to change how the old Spirits play. The expansion also comes with two more island tiles - why? Because Jagged Earth supports up to six players! It also includes a number of alternate rulesets, such as playing on an archipelago (fragmented island), playing without events and/or without tokens, and (gulp) combining Adversaries. 

Speaking of events and tokens, while Jagged Earth does use rules and mechanics that were introduced in the previous expansion, Branch and Claw, you don’t need to have that expansion to play. 

GTG sent us a sort of sampler platter of Jagged Earth: Two Spirits, sixteen Aspects, and two extra board tiles so we could try the new, larger format. It was enough to get a taste of what’s to come. 

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The Archipelago format looks especially interesting, and would give Finder of Paths Unseen a place to shine.

So, What’s To Come?

The two Spirits that GTG gave us were Finder of Paths Unseen, whose main trick is linking and isolating areas of the island - more on that soon - and Many Minds Move As One, a Spirit of swarms who runs on Beast tokens. We tried the two Spirits out in a basic game (not using Adversaries or any alternate rules) and found them difficult to use well, but pretty interesting.

Finder of Paths Unseen really seems geared toward larger games. It is very weak on offense -  if it ever destroys Invaders, even by moving them, it must sacrifice a Presence on the board. That’s okay though, because it isn’t meant to be a destructive Spirit. Finder really shines as a support, helping get other Spirits where they need to be while moving Invaders to areas where they won’t do any harm.

Its starting powers are a bit underwhelming on their own, not to mention confusingly worded, but there are some exciting possibilities. For one thing, Finder has the unique ability to place its Presence anywhere during its Growth phase. It can also pay 1 Energy at any time to declare that two lands it has Presence on are adjacent for the turn, no matter where they’re located. Do you need some heavenly artillery from Lightning’s Swift Strike on the other side of the island? No problem; set up your Presence correctly, pay one energy, and you’re all set! Finder definitely plays strangely compared to some other Spirits, but its ability to be everywhere at once is a huge boon to your team. 

Oh yeah, and its Presence track looks like this

Many Minds Move As One is a more aggressive Spirit that works a bit like Sharp Fangs Behind The Leaves, but still feels completely different. It takes a bit of setup and some careful positioning - both of your own Presence and of your Beast tokens - but Many Minds is able to harass and kill Invaders with swarms of insects and birds. Just be prepared to do a good bit of prep work; not only do you need Beasts to fuel your abilities, many of them require you to have sacred sites as origin points. 

Many Minds Move As One is a pretty versatile Spirit, sort of the Red Mage of Spirit Island. It can do a bit of damage, it can cause a bit of fear, and it can protect the land with Defend, Strife, and simply by making the Invaders skip actions (A Dreadful Tide Of Scurrying Flesh is both extremely useful and very fun to say). It can easily step in to fill almost whatever role is needed, but it does tend to struggle against cities unless it has backup from a more focused damage-dealer. 

The Aspects are tweaks that you can make to existing Spirits which change some small but fundamental part of them. 

In short, the two Spirits and sixteen Aspects that they gave us each add a new dimension or strategy to Spirit Island. They aren’t just reskins, it really feels like they earn their place in the game.

 

Many Minds… Don’t Always Move As One

The part of Jagged Earth that I’m less certain about is the option to play with 5-6 players. Of course it’s only an option, and it doesn’t take anything away from the rest of the game by existing. However, if you were planning to purchase Jagged Earth just so more people could play, then use caution.

I’ve found that the sweet spot for Spirit Island is three players. That’s where there’s enough opportunity for teamwork and player interaction, but not so much going on each turn that the game becomes unwieldy. Four players is totally workable, but it needs an experienced group of gamers that works well together, and even then you’d better be ready for a long game. 

It gets exponentially more difficult to coordinate more players, making sure that you’re covering all your bases without stepping on each others’ toes. Coordinating everyone’s actions becomes tedious and time-consuming, and that’s not even factoring in how long it’ll take for Invader actions and Events across six island tiles. We’re approaching Twilight Imperium levels of complexity and time investment here (our games have clocked in around the 5 to 6 hour mark) - which is certainly not a bad thing in itself, just make sure you’re aware of what you’re getting into.

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Is It Worth The Money?

Yes.

Sorry, the Editor-in-Chief said I have to be more specific. 

At $59 for the most basic pledge level, Jagged Earth alone costs as much as a standard board game. However, when you look at what you’re getting for that money, it’s well worth the cost. Jagged Earth alone comes with almost as much content as the base game, and the Aspects make even the older Spirits play like new again. If the measure of a game’s worth is how many times you’ll want to play it, Jagged Earth adds much more than its price in replayability. 

It also strikes a fine balance between adding new concepts and mechanics without unbalancing the old ones. Some of the new Spirits, such as Finder of Paths Unseen, might be a bit harder to slot into a game than others, but every Spirit serves a purpose without making the others obsolete. Much like Netrunner did (RIP), Spirit Island’s expansions grow the game laterally by adding new ideas and new ways to play, rather than relying on power creep to keep people buying expansions.

So, is it worth it? Obviously the decision is up to you, but I would drop the money without a second thought. In fact, I was seriously eyeballing the $175 tier to get the base game plus both expansions and all the promos, even though one of the other Sprites and Dice guys already has all of that. The only reason I didn’t was because there’s really not much point to having more than one copy among your gaming group. 

You can check out the Kickstarter for yourself here.