Treasure Island Review

Treasure Island - Matagot - $60
Overall
4.3
  • Play (Mechanics)
  • Presentation (Art/Quality)
  • Plan (Rules)

Summary

A semi-cooperative one-vs-many deduction game where you get to draw all over a map with markers and scribbles as you try to narrow down where a rascally pirate has hidden his treasure. You’ll be working together for the most part, but only one person can sail away with the gold.

Pros

  • A very tactile game: you get to draw and scribble all over the place.
  • A quick-moving game with no downtime.
  • All these wonderful toys to play with.

Cons

  • The compass is nearly impossible to use correctly.
  • Marker colors can be difficult to see.
  • The rulebook doesn’t present the rules clearly.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t read Treasure Island. Back when it was most likely assigned to you in middle school, I read The Great Gatsby. It was obvious my school’s teachers didn’t talk to each other because the next year I had to read The Great Gatsby again. And the year after. So when I hear “Treasure Island”, my only knowledge of the story involves hazy recollections of Muppets. So I have no clue if what’s in this game reflects anything from the actual Treasure Island, but that’s absolutely fine because this game is a joy to play.

Lots of drawings near the center of the board. The orange and green pirates are close to one another. All around them are circles and lines drawn on the board by the players that indicate in which direction they believe the treasure may lay.
Two pirates hunt for buried gold in Treasure Island

So, to the game! One player is Long John Silver, who has buried a chest full of treasure on the island. The others are pirates (or crew members?) who are searching for the booty! Long John has marked his map with the location of the site while the others move their pieces around the board, drawing on the with colored erasable markers, narrowing down the potential hiding spots of the gold.

See, Long John Silver is imprisoned in one of the towers on the island and gives out hints to where his treasure is buried. Most likely, this will be a truthful clue he’s giving and you can be certain that the treasure is within five miles of either the blue or orange pirates! Or perhaps he’s bluffing and, if so, you might need to spend an action to privately verify if the hint was truthful instead of searching… Or you can act on that information and move and search around your immediate area by drawing on the board.

The turn order board and played clues. Wax tokens with truth and bluff icons are placed face-down underneath. On the board, certain areas of the island have been ruled out with a black marker's hatchlines.
Clues left by Long John Silver — but can you trust he’s telling the truth? The turn order markers have been painted before applying clear stickers. We recommend you do this as well.

Yes! You use markers to draw on the freakin’ board. You’ve got rulers, search area templates that are always just smaller than you’d like, a compass that has a difficult time staying set to the same distance, and directional templates to help you puzzle out where the treasure might be. By midgame, there will be so many lines and circles and scribbles all over that board, you’re sure that you’ll know right where the treasure is! But as the pirates work together to narrow down the treasure’s location, they start to remember one thing — they’re not in this hunt together. Only one of them is going to walk away with the prize.

And then Long John Silver escapes. No more hints. No more clues. Just you frantically digging up the island while Long John runs around the map, trying to get to his treasure before you can steal it from him.

All this plays in about an hour. Even with five people at the table, there doesn’t seem to be much downtime — you’re always looking at how the island changes, what the other players are doing, where they’re looking.

The red pirate figure stands inside the "large search" circle template on the game board. Markings of earlier searches by the blue pirate can be seen.
The red pirate about to search in a large area using one of the game’s templates.

There are a few downsides to the game: every single review I’ve seen or read for the game say the compass isn’t built well enough to draw a circle properly. Actual play verifies this, but it doesn’t ruin the game: roughly-drawn circles are simply roughly-drawn circles. The colors for the markers provided aren’t that great, but an investment in chalk markers in bright colors (get the ones for darkly-colored whiteboards) help out a lot. And the rulebook makes the game seem much more difficult than it is to play. (We’re talking 2000s-era Fantasy Flight Games rulebook quality here. Folks: editors do much more than just fix punctuation.)

A comparison of chalk markers with the markers provided in the game.
That’s a chalk marker used in the woods. The marker provided with the game is on the path. As the game goes on, we found lines drawn with the chalk markers were easier to see.

Overall, a fun, fast-playing deduction/bluffing game that’s great for families and friends. One bit of advice: the role of Long John Silver is a bit more demanding than the treasure hunters’ players’. If you have someone in your group that likes scheming, being a cluemaster, or enjoys teaching a game, have that person play him for your first game.

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