Ever since I discovered legacy games, I haven’t wanted to play anything else. Regular old board games feel primitive compared to the games like Pandemic Legacy and Betrayal Legacy, which evolve and change over time. Like video games, legacy games have campaigns that tell one continuous story, with each session functioning like a level. Upgrades and penalties your characters acquire carry over between games, and most will even have you make permanent alterations to the game board. The first time a legacy game asked me to tear up a card I was both terrified and excited. Now, I only want to play board games that tell you to destroy the components. There’s nothing quite like playing a tabletop game that can only be played once. Playing them with friends is an unforgettable experience that I highly recommend.
The downside of being a legacy game lover is that there aren’t very many of them. Once you get through Betrayal, Risk, Werewolf, and the three seasons of Pandemic, there isn’t much else out there. This month, Funko Games is ending the drought with Jurassic World: Legacy of Isla Nublar, the publisher's first legacy game, and subsequently, its biggest game to date. I played through the entirety of Legacy of Isla Nublar over several months and I was consistently impressed by the quality of the materials, the scenarios, and the variety of gameplay. It’s not my favorite legacy game ever, for reasons I’ll get into, but as a huge fan of both the genre and Jurassic Park, I loved Funko Games’ take.
I’ve praised Funko Games and Prospero Hall’s games for many years because of how successful they are at capturing the essence of the IPs they work with, and Legacy of Isla Nublar is no exception. The theming and artwork throughout the game, from the box to the board to all the materials you’ll discover from session to session, are phenomenal. The designers have adopted a pulpy adventure aesthetic that fits perfectly with Jurassic World. You’ll find a consistent style across all the cards and assets, including my favorite element: the story guides that look like 1930s comic books. I had an especially hard time tearing the cards at the end of each game because of how beautiful they are.
If you’ve played other legacy games, a lot of what Island Nublar does is par for the course. That’s not surprising given it's Funko’s first legacy game, but it's nice to see a language start to develop within the genre. When you open the box you’ll find envelopes and boxes that you’re not allowed to open until instructed to by the game. This makes it easy to set things up and learn the rules right away, since there's only a few components to work with. Each adventure introduces new rules and mechanics that build on each other. Isla Nublar ramps up quickly, adding in a small rulebook’s worth of new systems every time you play.
Like other Legacy games, this can make remembering the rules and where you’re at in the story between sessions difficult, but Isla Nublar does a few clever things to help keep you on track. Every new rule is outlined on a card that goes into an alphabetized key ring that anyone can quickly reference. I’ve never played a game that turns the rulebook into a pocket encyclopedia like this, but it was exceedingly helpful. Isla Nublar also broadly tells the story of the Jurassic Park series. You start out on the island with very few resources and eventually develop it into Jurassic World. I loved playing through each scenario and trying to anticipate what was going to happen next. While the story is familiar, Isla Nublar has a lot of twists and turns to keep things exciting.
Isla Nublar’s greatest strength is how far it leans into the evolving nature of legacy games. In the first adventure, the board is totally empty. A grid of 18 squares represents the different sectors of the island, there’s a few landmarks like mountains and lakes, and you have a couple predetermined habitats for some dinosaurs, but that’s it. Early on, you’ll start adding structures, roads, and fences to the island, organizing it in a way that’s safe for your dinosaurs, your staff, and eventually, your guests. The transformation the island goes through from adventure to adventure is quite remarkable, and even more impressive, it’s entirely unique to your group. No two Isla Nublars will look the same in the end. You have a lot of control over how you design the island, but as you might expect, there’s a lot that’s outside of your control too.
Keeping in theme with Jurassic Park, Legacy of Isla Nublar is a RNG-heavy game. Card draws and dice rolls determine things like objective progression, weather events, and where your dinosaurs roam on the map. Adventures typically center around mitigating disasters. You’ll start with a high priority task like rescuing Hammond’s grandchildren or repairing a generator before your dinosaurs break out of containment, and each round will throw you a massive curveball that forces you to react quickly. You can plan out everyone's next moves ahead of time to efficiently deal with each problem, but as soon as the next round starts, a helicopter might crash nearby, forcing you to divert your attention. Isla Nublar never lets you feel like you're ahead of the game. As soon as you feel like you’re on track to win, something tragic inevitably happens. A bad roll or draw can often be the difference between success and failure. And while failing to finish your objectives won’t necessarily set you back that far in the next adventure, it certainly doesn’t feel good.
Isla Nublar is more demanding than I anticipated, particularly when playing with fewer than four players. While fewers players get more moves to make each turn, I found that more players could simply spread out further and deal with everything it throws at you better. Playing two-player can be frustrating, especially when something sudden and urgent happens and neither player is close enough to deal with it. Managing the huge amount of tools and items you acquire throughout each adventure can also be overwhelming with just two players. I have played a majority of the other legacy games with my partner, but both of us found that Isla Nublar did a fairly poor job of balancing difficulty for smaller groups. I have to recommend you play this with three or four players.
Another aspect that has a huge impact on the difficulty is how you design your island. Making the wrong choices about where to spend your points and what to build can make future adventures feel nearly impossible. While it's tempting to buy perks for your characters or hire employees to help with tasks early on, not buying fences for your dinosaurs can be detrimental. Maybe it should have been obvious that containing the T-rex is a high priority, but the game doesn’t indicate which upgrades are more essential than others, it just presents a menu. It’s fun to strategize with your team about how to spend your points each round, but this is the first legacy game that’s made me feel like I explicitly made wrong decisions.
Speaking of tasks, I have to touch on some of the non-story objectives you’re required to complete, because I expect they’ll be fairly divisive. Beyond the big goals like rescuing characters and developing the island, you’re also required to do these menial tasks like organizing press gifts in the visitor center or sequencing genomes in the genetics lab. These tasks are represented as mini-games that are sometimes logic puzzles and sometimes pure RNG. Typically, a player will need to dedicate multiple turns just to travel to these facilities and solve these puzzles. In terms of completing adventures, these objectives hold equal importance to the more story focused objectives, yet they feel tedious and somewhat meaningless to do. Once again it's easier to manage all these things with more players, but whoever is tasked with sorting boxes in the visitor center while the others run around the island herding dinos is going to feel like they got the short stick.
Legacy of Isla Nublar is not without its pain points, but the totality of the experience was largely positive for me. If you enjoy strategy and planning, you’ll find a lot to love here. There’s so much set up and wrap up in each adventure that I found we were spending more time in the planning part of the game than actually playing it, but I think a lot of players prefer it that way. For its first legacy game, Funko Games really swung for the fences here, and I have to appreciate the love and effort that went into this, even if I prefer other games in the genre. If you’ve already played Pandemic Legacy and you have three other people to play with, Legacy of Isla Nublar is worth the table time at your weekly game night.