Spirit Island: Jagged Earth Expansion Review

Jagged Earth is an expansion for the Spirit Island board game. The base game is required to utilize the content found in Jagged Earth.

You can find a video version of this review here: Jagged Earth Review (Spirit Island Board Game Expansion) – YouTube

Overview

Jagged Earth is a truly massive expansion to Spirit Island. It adds additional variety to nearly every aspect, from more powers, a roster of new Spirits, and a bunch of new mechanics. There is a large degree of overlap between mechanics introduced in the previous expansion, Branch and Claw, and Jagged Earth.

To be clear, you do not need Branch & Claw to play. However, it introduces four of the token types featured in Jagged Earth as well as event cards. It is the perfect companion. If I’m being totally honest, Jagged Earth can feel awkward and janky without it. Don’t let that scare you off, Jagged Earth is absolutely huge on its own.

Components

Jagged Earth comes with a ton of components that more or less match the core game blow for blow in quality. Stacks of cards, cardboard Spirit panels, two new modular island tiles, and a ton of plastic, wood, and cardboard tokens.

The pieces are on the cheaper side relatively speaking. This does help to keep the cost of the game down to attainable levels. That’s important as it grants a wider audience the ability to partake in both the core game and multiple expansions.

That said, it’s not as if the quality is poor. Most components are sturdy and should last forever as long as you take care of them. Sleeve your cards, be gentle and leave the Cheetos and drinks off the table.

The one exception is the new element tokens. Some of them can start to peel, but it’s relatively minor. All of mine are still usable and should be for the foreseeable future.

So what do you get? It comes with 24 Major power cards and 33 minor power cards. With 30 event cards, it more than doubles the amount introduced in Branch and Claw. 10 new Spirits are included, which is an incredibly generous roster and 41 unique power cards split between them. You get two new modular island tiles, which makes the game playable with 5 to 6 players.

There is an absolute downpour of tokens. From additional invaders and Dahan, to more of the same tokens introduced in Branch and Claw. There are new element markers, and the brand new Badlands tokens. It also comes with Six aspect cards for base game Spirits. 8 new fear cards, 7 Blight cards, 2 adversaries, 3 scenarios, and a smattering of player tokens and reminders are included.

As far as box contents go, Jagged Earth is one of the most generous expansions I’ve encountered in board gaming. Once it hits the table, its presence can’t be ignored and Spirit Island absolutely feels larger with it. It’s not an expansion you forget about, you always know it’s there.

Tokens and Events

Jagged Earth adds five new tokens and brand new game-changing event cards. Now, four of the token types and the event card mechanic was introduced in Branch and Claw. To prevent from repeating too many points, I’d advise you to check out the relevant sections of that review. But I’ll sum up the important bits here.

The tokens and event cards work together to add even more depth to the game. Tokens are additional mechanics from roaming Beasts, deep Wilds, infectious Disease and, inner Strife among the invaders. All four give the players additional tools to work with and are great additions to the game.

The events add a random element to the game. Making it less predictable, but also making the island feel alive. Every turn events cause the Invaders, the Dahan, and perhaps even the island itself to act. I praised the event cards as the key addition Spirit Island direly needed. But, Branch and Claw only added 25, and more variety was needed. Jagged Earth adds 30, which is slightly better. Combine the two, and it’s perfect.

The one token exclusive to Jagged Earth is the Badlands token. It is somewhat of a double-edged sword. Badlands cause Dahan and Invaders to take more damage from any source of damage. They are supposed to signify hard living conditions.

The mechanic itself is great and another tool the players can use, but you must also be wary of it. The implementation is a bit rough. There are a lot of confusing little interactions that are possible with Badlands. It can take a while to come to grips with exactly how the token works.

In every other part of Spirit Island, I’ve always been able to look to the theme to parse out how a mechanic works. Almost every aspect of the game makes sense in a thematic context. That didn’t really work with Badlands.

You can certainly force the idea to make sense, explaining how harsher living conditions can make surviving an attack, or disaster more difficult. But it’s not quite as clean as the rest of the game.

Spirits

Jagged Earth adds a whopping 10 Spirits, all with unique and varied playstyles. All the additions Jagged Earth brings are important. However, the giant stack of Spirit boards is definitely the one that stands out the most. Spirits are the stars of the show after all, and Jagged Earth went all in.

Much like the other Spirits, every single one brings brand new ways to play, and they feel pretty balanced. Jagged Earth really plays off of the game’s strong thematic nature to make every Spirit feel the way they should. Any confusion can usually be cleared up by thinking about what any given power or ability does in the game’s world.

It’s a design principle I will always admire Eric Reuss for, and Jagged Earth continues the tradition.

Volcano Looming high can only place presence in mountains, stacking them up high and exploding them for massive effect.

Lure of the Deep Wilderness captures the luring call of the unknown. Breaking settlements down as the invaders wander away, never to be seen again.

Shroud of Silent Mist flows around the island. Obscuring it and eating away at everything it touches. Preventing the invaders from healing until the right time to wipe it all away.

Shifting Memory of Ages can swing great power pulled from years and years of knowledge. While it can also share that knowledge with other, younger spirits.

Many Minds Move As One uses the beast tokens as swarms of insects and small animals. They converge, inflicting terror and driving the invaders away.

Stones Unyielding Defiance makes the earth unbreakable. Simply ignoring the effects of the blight, as the Invaders struggle to live off the land that refuses to submit.

Fractured Days Splits the Sky literally alters time. Changing circumstances from past, present to future, leading to a crazy amount of potential effects.

Grinning Trickster Stirs Up Trouble feels like playing the mischievous trickster from Norse Mythology, Loki. As the trickster spreads strife tokens through the invaders and unleashes random powers, just to see what happens.

Vengeance As a Burning Plague unleashes epidemics among the land. It is a violent rebuttal to the invader’s presence by using disease tokens.

Starlight Seeks its Form is a spirit for the most advanced player. As its ethereal nature can be molded into nearly any playstyle you can imagine. You literally build this Spirit as you play.

All 10 of the Spirits feature unique powers, new playstyles, and fantastic artwork. Each and every one invokes the game’s theme in how they play. There is massive variety when combined with the core games Spirits. Combined with the event cards, this means a near infinite amount of playtime to master them all at varying difficulties.

Other Stuff

Jagged Earth adds new major and minor powers, Blight cards and fear cards. I noted in my review of the base game that the fear and blight decks needed more variety. Both expansions have added to them.

The powers themselves add additional variety to the game. It helps every game feel different, as your pool of tools and the variance between them grows. Some powers such as Haunted by Primal Memories and Territorial Strife use new tokens. Cards like Mesmerized Tranquility use the Isolate keyword cutting a land off from the others, hampering exploration.

New major powers like Irresistible Call and Draw Towards a Consuming Void can have massive impacts. But even smaller powers like Angry Bears are still fun. I really enjoy powers like Weave Together The Fabric Of Place, which are a little more outside of the box when it comes to game effects. Either way, the improved card variety makes the game more enjoyable and replayable.

The element markers are a nice way of tracking single turn effects that give you elements. Having two new island boards not only gives you more variety but also allows you to play with larger groups of friends.

The rulebook is pretty massive and honestly a bit awkward and confusing. Since Jagged Earth is playable without Branch & Claw but uses words and mechanics from Branch & Claw. There are three different formats in the book and even icons on the cards. They signify which rules are new, which rules are from Branch & Claw, and which ones are from the base game. It’s difficult to parse it all out.

The rulebook also has some neat optional rules though. There are varied board layouts, playing with an extra board, or even forgoing the use of tokens or event cards. I honestly don’t recommend that. Both the tokens and events are fantastic additions I can’t play without, but the option is there.

Jagged Earth adds aspect cards for the four low complexity spirits in the base game. Each aspect card replaces or adds a new ability to that spirit, bumping its complexity up or down. They aren’t strictly more powerful either. They are more of a side-grade, simply giving you even more variety and choice when it comes to those Spirits.

Three new scenarios are present. Elemental Invocation, which allows Spirits to add elements to their lands that they can then use it at the cost of bumping up the overall challenge.

The Great River Forms the Ocean tiles into a large river. It plays like a tower defense game. The Spirits must stop the migrating towns from reaching the edge of the island.

Despicable Theft has the Spirits working with the Dahan. You have to uncover hidden thieves before they escape off the island with valuable artifacts. On the adversary side, The Habsburg Monarchy and the Tsardom of Russia join the colonization effort.

The Hasburg Monarchy runs a livestock colony, migrating around to healthy parts of the island to devour. While Russia threatens to hunt the beasts of the land to extinction with dangerous explorers.

The scenarios and adversaries are fun to play against and add even deeper variety and replay value to Spirit Island.

Verdict

Jagged Earth is a huge, meaningful expansion. I truly can’t understate that. It’s important that I get across just how great of addition it is. Some of my rhetoric is less than positive. This is largely due to the strange split-up nature of the base game, Branch & Claw and Jagged Earth.

The expansion adds a ton of content and new mechanics, especially if you don’t own Branch & Claw. But it benefits directly from already owning Branch & Claw. To be perfectly clear, the 10 new spirits alone sold me on Jagged Earth. They are wonderful to play as, but the game also adds immense variety to existing aspects such as power cards and a variety of new tokens.

The Badlands token is confusing at first, and the rulebook is a mess. But the largest flaw of Jagged Earth is the absence of Branch & Claw. It makes it feel awkward and incomplete if you do not have it, but not due to a lack of content. It’s due to the fact that it directly plays off of everything Branch and Claw introduced.

Part of me truly believes that at one point in Jagged Earths’ development, it was actually going to require Branch & Claw and that was changed later. I almost wish it had. It would have avoided a lot of strange complications. However, I absolutely understand why it didn’t. That’s quite a big buy-in.

So I’m going to break my own reviewing tradition a little bit. Further below you are going to find my individual summary of Pros and Cons and a score of Jagged Earth as an individual product. But I’m also going to leave you with this very important opinion that I’ll likely expand on in future articles/videos.

Spirit Island, combined with both expansions Branch & Claw and Jagged Earth, is a 10/10 board game. The buy-in of all three can be a little scary, but this is a game that will last a lifetime. It’s replay value is nearly infinite. Spirit Island is one of the most mechanically cohesive, deepest, thematically strong, and insanely fun games you can find. It works great at any player count, from 1 to 6. The game’s solo value is fantastic.

The complete package is by and far my favorite board game. I’m not sure anything will be able to bump it out of my number one spot. If that day ever comes, I’ll be very excited to see what can manage such a feat.

Pros

  • A whopping 10 new Spirits that are unique, fun and balanced
  • Five new tokens, one that is brand new to Jagged Earth and all of which deepen the game
  • The event cards are a complete game changer and exactly what the base game needed
  • Two new island tiles allow for 5 to 6 players from the original maximum of 4
  • Three new scenarios and two new adversaries add even more replay value to a game with a nearly infinite supply of it
  • The aspect cards are a great way to change up the four low complexity Spirits found in the base game
  • Additional power, blight, and fear cards enhance the game with more variety
  • A ton of content is packed into the box

Cons

  • The Badlands token is awkward to learn and use with some thematic failings the game doesn’t normally have
  • The fact that Jagged Earth uses Branch & Claw mechanics, without requiring Branch & Claw is awkward and messy
  • The rulebook is difficult to parse, largely due to the games complicated relationship with Branch & Claw
  • Taken alone, 30 event cards isn’t enough when one is used every turn.
  • The element tokens can start to peel pretty quick