Treasure Island is a brand new deduction board game with a heavy pirate theme, published by Matagot and designed by Marc Paquien. As the lore goes Long John Silver is a bit down on his luck. His crew has tied him up in the black tower and is badgering him with questions, attempting to unveil the location of the treasure. Will a member of the crew become rich or will Long John Silver escape and reclaim the loot? Well, 2 – 5 players will find out in approximately 40 minutes. Let’s find out how it plays.
At the start of the game players take a miniature, with the Long John Silver player getting one and the crew players getting at least one – based upon the player count. Players then take the matching character shield, pen colour and player card, alongside a double sided map and a note board. Crew players place their miniatures onto the board, circling 2 miles around their designated starting locations, before Long John Silver chooses where to hide the treasure. It cannot be placed in deep water, mountain regions or in the crew starting zones, otherwise the player is free to choose where to hide it.
After doing this Long John Silver removes the district hint card that features the district where the treasure is hidden before passing out a district hint to each player. This is only one of the 11 districts but gives each player some unique starting information. Drawing a hand of three starting clue cards Long John Silver must then truthfully play one of the clue cards and follow its instructions.
Clue cards, whether they are starting or black spot clues, reveal information about the location of the treasure. Some clues will see information drawn onto the board, circling crew members/ triangulating points, while others simply reveal more district hints. None are good for Long John Silver to reveal but with some careful planning you can try to overlap clues to give less away. Clues won’t be given on every crew member turn, some will even give Long John Silver bluffing tokens that allows given clues to be either truthful or not.
At the start of the game with only a district hint and one truthful clue to go on the crew members will need to spread out and search. The pirate token at the back of the crew jumps forward advancing the day count, potentially triggering a Long John Silver action such as giving a clue. Next, the player indicated by the token is allowed as many actions as the current day has stars – one for the first couple of turns before increasing to two.
Players can take a long move action, the distance determined by the player character and measured with a ruler; take a short movement of 3 miles and perform a small search from where they stand; perform a large search from where they stand or take a special action. Special actions are slightly different for each character ranging from performing a large search anywhere on the board to gaining additional district hints. Potentially the most important special ability, which everyone has, is to once a game check one of the clue card tokens. This enables the player to see if Long John Silver has told the truth or played a bluff token for a single clue card, though he could have told the truth either way!
Part way into the game the day event will make the crew place Long John Silver’s miniature into any black tower on the board, with him escaping on the 17th day. This means the crew have this long to locate the treasure before Long John Silver joins the mix trying to reclaim his own treasure. If at any point in the game a player performs a search and the X mark of the treasure is within the zone, including pen thickness uncertainties, that player has found the treasure and wins the game. There are no ties or group wins, only one pirate can take the treasure!
It takes a game or two for players to know the potential types of clues given out and their importance. If it is your first game expect to make errors if playing as Long John Silver. This is because going into the game without knowledge of what can come up can sees clues you’d deem not overly helpful shout out the answer as soon as another clue is given. After a learning game, or if the Long John Silver player has experience, a balance is found and the game really gets going.
There are many aspects of hidden movement games in Treasure Island, without any movement of the treasure itself. The game does one thing differently though and it helps players of all experience levels get into the game. Right from the beginning each player receives some information about the location, similar to having cards at the start of Cluedo (Clue). Some hidden movement games can be frustrating if for the first 30 minutes of play you are chasing a ghost with absolutely no idea where the player could be. It is entirely possible to still be galloping around like a headless chicken but at least you have something to go on.
From the offset you’ll need to be using the information provided and deducing. The search zones are on the small side so you’ll have to draw from what others are doing and where they are searching, keeping players engaged even when it isn’t their turn. If you see other players starting to dart off in one direction then information they have received has clearly lead them that way, so perhaps it is wise follow them. At the same time if they are wrong you’re potentially being dragged away from the treasure!
When being set up the game looks like an all against one experience, Long John Silver versus the crew. However, it isn’t long into the game when the crew will start to think about sharing as little information with the others as possible, even making suboptimal moves to throw others off. This creates an interesting dynamic that is different each game of when the crew start to go rogue from the “all” group. While the game is playable at 2, it naturally loses this dynamic, and it feels like an important aspect is missing.
The search area tokens are at times a little fiddly to use, for once not due to being too small to use. At times players can have positioned the search zone millimeters off and be rewarded with nothing, so some flexibility from the Long John Silver player is required. Combine this with the fact there is no grid to work with on the main board means it can be tricky to perfectly keep track of things. The theme however gives the game components somewhat of a free pass. Pirates scrawling on a map wouldn’t be accurate. Thematically this is an era where compasses and stars not computers and satellites were used for navigating, so some inaccuracy actually makes the game more accurate to the theme.
There is one component issue that cannot be disregarded due to the time period which the game portrays. The pens included match the different characters colours, which is a nice way to distinguish their movement and searches on the main board. Unfortunately, a couple of the colours pop from the board less than others. The main board has two sides a bright colourful side and a more muted browny map. On the more vivid side blue can get a tad lost, while on the reverse the orange colour tends to stand out less. I cannot comment on how heavily this affects colourblind players but it does make some players double check the board from time to time.
The theme sets Treasure Island up for greatness and the gameplay does a solid job of keeping the game at that level. The inaccuracies caused by the components will undoubtedly put some off, whom look for a “perfect” deduction game. As with any pen related game these will eventually dry out, but new pens may then circumvent the colours issue the game has. Overall, there are not many games that capture a theme in such a mesmerizing way. Using the pens on the board is an odd but awesome element that keeps information on show in a visually pleasing way. If you are remotely drawn to the pirate theme, or deduction of clues, Treasure Island might be the find you’re looking for.
[Editor’s Note: Treasure Island was provided to us by Asmodee for the review.]