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The Disney Jungle Cruise board game couldn’t have come at a better time. With COVID-19 making it difficult to get near vacation spots like Disneyland and halting the release of a movie adaptation starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, it’s nice that we can at least enjoy one of Disney’s most iconic rides in tabletop form.
That’s because it’s exactly like the Disney parks’ Jungle Cruise, for better or worse. For starters, it’s crammed with the daddest of dad jokes that make the ride so memorable. It’s also got references to iconic scenes like those bathing Indian elephants or the rhino menacing explorers stuck up a tree. But that’s all superficial. Much like the ride itself, the Jungle Cruise board game is more of an ‘experience’ than a strategic adventure. While that doesn’t make it one of the best board games (or the sort of board game for adults you keep coming back to), it does provide a chilled-out hour or so that fans should enjoy and kids will love.
The Disney Jungle Cruise board game follows the same premise as the ride – passengers go on a dangerous trip through the rainforest with a funny yet inept skipper, meeting all sorts of perils along the way. Except in this case, you’re the skipper… and you’ve got to lead your crew to safety. The more passengers and cargo you get over the finish line, the more points you’ll have. The skipper with the most points at the end wins. Simple.
Well, almost. That task is harder than you might think. True to the story of the ride, things always seem to be going wrong on the Jungle Cruise. In fact, the dangers you’ll encounter (ranging from a pride of lions to man-eating piranhas) are represented by the four cards you’ll draw after moving up the board’s river. As dictated by their difficulty rating, these encounters will lose you a set number of passengers or pieces of cargo.
Unfortunately, trying to speed past them won’t help.That’s because the number of cards you need to face is equal to your movement dice roll. Let’s say you rolled a three. Yes, this means you can move three spaces ahead of the competition. But you’ll also have to face three of the four cards you drew. Slow and steady is better as a result: the faster you move, the riskier things become.
This is where tactics become important. Each encounter card tells you which side of the boat it affects, and they all have a difficulty rating that states how many dice you’ll roll to decide the number of passengers – if any – that fall overboard. As such, you’ll probably want to choose the lower risk cards whenever possible, or the ones that affect an empty side of your boat. It’s a juggling act that makes things more interesting.
The eighth wonder of the world
To heighten the tension, you’ll need to be selective with whoever you sacrifice as well. Your passengers are made up of four families, and one of them is due to become the new owner of the Jungle Cruise company. Get members of that family to the end and you’ll receive extra points. The problem? You don’t know which family has won the contract, and it changes every time you play. To narrow things down, you’ll have to take detours and uncover clue tokens scattered along the board. Like classic board games such as Clue / Cluedo, they’ll tell you who isn’t getting the contract. That means you’ll need to use the process of elimination to work out who you have to protect – and all without tipping off your opponents. This adds texture to gameplay, especially because your adversaries might not have seen the same Clue tokens you have. This offers a chance for sneaky misdirection.
That’s about as complicated as things get, though. Which isn’t a bad thing, of course; it’s ideal for a younger audience or adults who want to relax rather than stress over complex rules. It’s just not a game that’s going to entertain you for long if you’re expecting something a little more strategic (if that’s the case, you’re better off with Disney Villainous and Marvel Villainous). There’s not a lot of replay value for much the same reason. The Jungle Cruise board game is more passive, much like the ride itself. Although that reduces the appeal for those who want to be challenged, it’s perfect as a board game for kids or a board game for families to enjoy together.
Especially thanks to its good-natured sense of humor. It’s very endearing. For example, each encounter card features events and art inspired by the ride itself (ranging from crashed planes to the eighth wonder of the world, “the backside of water”), and all of them bear a unique joke that Skippers in the Disney parks actually make. It’s nice that these puns aren’t repeated across multiple cards too, even if the artwork is; it’s a sign of care and attention, offering a more premium feel.
That’s true of artwork in the Disney Jungle Cruise board game in general. It’s a real beauty, with theming that captures the ride itself perfectly. It’s humorous and exaggerated, but also stuffed with fascinating details taken straight from Disneyland / Walt Disney World. Equally, the boat movers themselves are chunky and detailed, not unlike those in the Villainous series or the Disney Villainous expansions.
This gives the Jungle Cruise board game something special for fans like me. Although the gameplay might not be quite as exciting as the events it discusses, lovers of the Disney parks will appreciate everything that accompanies it (it’s a good chaser after the Imagineering series on Disney Plus). Additionally, it’s a great choice of game for families to play with their children. It’s simple enough to get the hang of quickly, but offers a dash of complexity to give older kids and adults something to think about.