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Treasure Island Review

Quick Look: Treasure Island

Designer: Marc Paquien
Artist: Vincent Dutrait
Publisher: Matagot
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 45 - 60 min

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

tl;dr: Hidden movement without the movement. A true hide-and-seek experience with mounting tension and player screens. PLAYER SCREENS!!

Getting to the Game: Setup for Treasure Island involves taking a LOT of pieces out of the box. Maybe too many. My main gripe with this game is just how fiddly it is. There are rulers both big and small, a huge compass (circle-drawing, not N/S/E/W, though there are those as well), dry-erase markers, and discs of varying sizes. Lay out the board and have the player playing as Long John Silver (LJS) sit at the foot of the board (on the South end). All the other players get their miniature, a character sheet, a mini-map, and a note board. Give all of the tokens, and I mean ALL of them, to LJS. 

Now, this game is the hide-and-seek you used to play at the playground during recess, but now it's find-the-buried-treasure. LJS will choose a location on the map to bury his treasure. There are some rules as to where it can't be, but for the most part, anywhere on the map is fair game. From there, that player starts the game locked up in a cell while the others try to suss out the hiding spot. After 19 turns, if none of the pirates have found the treasure, LJS breaks out of jail, and heads directly for it himself. If he gets to it before the others, he wins.

Playing the Game: Each turn, depending on which day it is according to the calendar board, LJS has to give all the pirates a clue which will generally rule out large swaths of the map. The key is to give out clues that rule out portions of the board that most pirates have already determined don't have the treasure, to buy the most time. The pirates all have varying player powers which is going to make this cat-and-parrot game seem all but hopeless to the person behind the big screen--but here's where things get interesting, and maybe overly rough: the player pirates also feel like there's no way to win. 

In our games, without fail, the player playing LJS has felt like they are giving out clues that are too helpful, ruling out HUGE portions of the board, all but hanging a giant neon sign on the buried loot saying, "MAYBE DIG HERE!!!" Interestingly, the players have, with very little exception, also felt that their search circles are too small, and that they can't possibly cover enough ground before their mutinied captain escapes and beats them to it. The players might have the right of it, as Long John has won in all the games we played. 

In my opinion, what gives the players the edge in this one (despite the evidence) is that each clue is chosen from three total, and almost always both eliminates and confirms sections of the board. As hunting pirates, you have to look at BOTH aspects of a clue. If LJS draws concentric circles on the board, narrowing down your hunt, you have to consider both the clue given and what was NOT given. If LJS says that the treasure isn't NE or SW of a given pirate, consider why those two triangles were given. It takes a certain level of deduction to take the clues up to that analysis, but IMHO, that's the only way to really get the edge over the captain.

This game is also a little bit imprecise. It's fiddly, as above, and any wavering when drawing a circle or line will change the game by quite a bit. As the pirate circles aren't exactly massive, it's important to set some table rules. What do you do if the treasure point is VERY CLOSE, LIKE ALMOST ON TOP OF, the width of a marker. Do you take that as close enough, or do you force the pirates to use their precious turns to overlap their circles? The latter will force bitterness at the endgame--in our first game, in the very last move before I, as Long John Silver, was about to win, the pirate drew a circle that just barely, and I mean barely missed the treasure (see below). I didn't give it to the player, but when I revealed where it was, that player was salty as ever a sea dog could be.

Overall, I think this game could work wonderfully with the right group. You have to be willing to give a little to the imprecision of the game, or buy razor-sharp dry erase markers, and establish right up front that this is going to be a game of millimeters. My preference is for the former. This is a game, after all. The hidden-location of the treasure paired with players semi-cooperatively ruling out locations for each other, but knowing only one of them can win serves up some amazing tension, especially as the map gets smaller and smaller, and people start feinting their searches to throw the others off. The imprisoned captain can ratchet this tension up by giving out secret clues to players in order to gain abilities for himself, a delicious bit of seesawing. When John finally breaks out from the black tower they've been stuck in, everyone is going to be paying a TON of attention--he's limited to the same turn structure as a pirate at that point, so they have to be careful not to give away too much.

Artwork and Components: Dutrait's art is absolutely phenomenal. The attention to detail on the giant map board is so great, you'll spend downtime between turns just trying to see everything. The individual pirates feel distinct, and their player screens are adorned with some really excellent depictions. Overall, the art is top notch from the rulers to the box insert.


Speaking of the box insert, it's terrific. There's a "hidden" flap that holds all of the captain's pieces separate from the rest, and overall the box makes good use of space. The actual acrylic rulers and discs all feel good and durable, but you'll want better dry erase markers with higher precision. The giant compass for circle-drawing actually works pretty well, a testament to a well-made piece. It anchors to the map with a suction cup, something you think will spring loose but hasn't yet for us. The minis are fine, and the addition of wooden turn order discs is great, even if you have to sticker them yourself.

The Good: Hunt-and-seek feels great. Long John's turns, despite being unable to move or really interact with anyone else, still feel impactful and fun.

The Bad: Borders on (and possibly lands in the realm of) too fiddly. Both sides feel like they're going to lose. Long John can't win until the game has gone on for a while, whereas the players can win randomly at any moment. Relies too heavily on dry erase markers, which could die and need to be replaced.

Score: Treasure Island does an Admirable job of what it sets out to do: it's a buried treasure game with mechanics that feed that goal. Whether or not it's successful at that goal is mostly up to your crew. It's a crucible not unlike cursed treasure, in that you'll get what your heart desires; players willing to embrace the spirit of the hunt are going to find a great little game here, with lots of fun moments. Rules lawyers will find plenty to feed their aims as well, leading to frustration for the entire table. I'm giving Treasure Island a score of Bounteous.

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Nicholas Leeman - Reviewer

Nicholas has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.

See Nicholas's reviews HERE.
Treasure Island Review Treasure Island Review Reviewed by The Madjai on January 17, 2019 Rating: 5

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