The Revenge of Long John Silver: A Treasure Island Review
3-5 Players, 45 Minutes, High Complexity, Medium Strategy, Ages 10+
Avast, me hearties! Come close and let this salty old seadog tell you the treacherous tale of one Long John Silver. Mutinied he was, and taken prisoner by a crew hungry for treasure, but that rascally old pirate wouldn’t give up the location of his riches that easily. The crew bickered amongst themselves, eager to betray each other and take the treasure for themselves, and ol’ Long John fed into their paranoia, giving them each different clues, some of which weren’t even true, to distract the crew long enough that he could escape and take the cursed gold for himself… In Treasure Island, you get to play as a pirate scrambling across a Caribbean island, trying to claim Silver’s treasure for yourself, or you can play as Silver, handing out the vaguest clues you can, and occasionally even lying through your teeth to throw the crew off the trail long enough for you to escape the brig!
Pirate costumes not included (although that might be the only thing...)
Treasure Island (based on the famous novel by Robert Louis Stevenson) is an asymmetric game, meaning gameplay is completely different depending on which side of the table you sit on. Up to four players can join the treasure hunt, moving their pirates across the map and drawing circles on it with dry-erase markers to represent the areas they’ve searched. One player gets to play as old Long John himself, choosing which hints to give players, and occasionally, totally lying about them. The whole thing amounts to a giant game of hide-and-seek on a beautifully detailed board depicting a tropical island, complete with forests, volcanoes, lagoons, beaches, villages, and a whole bunch of hiding spots!
The map is beautiful, and full of very secret...secrets.
The roles in the game are dramatically different, and you’ll definitely want to play the other side after you’re done with your first game. Each of the pirates receives a unique mini and a screen to hide their clues, scribble notes, and mini-map of the island. Each of the pirates has their own unique set of skills and abilities to help them reach the treasure first, like Anne Bonny’s pet monkey which allows her to search a small area anywhere on the island without moving there first. Meanwhile, Long John Silver gets to decide where to hide the treasure and which clues to give out, which can be surprisingly difficult. Silver has a hand of 3 clue cards to choose from, giving away such information as which pirate is within nine miles, whether the treasure is in a particular district, or which of two pirates is closest to the treasure. On top of this, Silver also can lie about up to two different clues as the game progresses. Pirates can verify if a clue is true or not, but it will take one of their precious actions- time they can scarcely afford if they want to beat their friends to the punch (and the chest!).
It’s also worth noting that everything in this game is dry-erase, meaning you’re not only encouraged to draw all over your respective maps, it’s actually necessary in some cases. As Long John Silver drops hints for the players, he will draw them out on the big map in the middle of the table. As the game progresses, the map will slowly become covered in cryptic symbols and scribbles to help the pirates narrow down their search, and the players have rulers, compasses, and even a caliper to help them accurately map out where the treasure isn’t on their own, private mini-maps. The interior of the game box is decorated to look like a treasure chest, and given how nice its components are, it was like pulling out real treasure when I first opened the game for the first time, discovering plastic rulers, a tiny cardboard chest that actually opens, and even a real compass for drawing quick circles on the game board.
A typical late game player area. At this point, I have a pretty good idea of where the treasure...isn't.
Overall, Treasure Island is practically unique in terms of mechanics. It’s a competitive game, but players slowly become more cooperative and willing to share their information as the game progresses. It’s an asymmetric game, but everyone has the same win condition. It’s a hidden movement game, but the “hide-r” chooses a hiding spot at the beginning of the game and can never move. More than anything, it’s fun. Every game presents a little mystery that you get to solve (or exacerbate) and it hearkens back to games of hide-and-seek on the playground, with just a touch more sophistication and strategy. If that sounds like fun to you, then I highly recommend checking out Treasure Island. Arrr.