Sometimes it feels like in conflicts that we’re playing by different rules or goals. In the last game I wrote about (Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate), a player becomes a traitor mid game and gets their own rulebook.
“And now for something completely different”.
In Saboteur, the other players might be your allies, or they might be your enemies with a completely different goal in mind. You don’t know. Identities are secret.
You’ll have to judge their actions- was that really the best card they could play? Did they have to send the tunnel careening to the right? What did they see when they looked at the map? What do they know that you don’t? This isn’t as subtle as Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, but it’s not as backstabbing as say Munchkin or Redshirts. This is something different- three rounds of trying to get the most gold, but some players have different goals in mind for getting the gold.
In Saboteur gnome miners are working their way towards one of three spots in search of gold (the other two are coal). The miners quickly discover there are saboteurs in their midst. The saboteurs will be creating dead ends, causing rock slides, and breaking equipment – halting progress on the mine.
Here’s the breakdown:
Play time: 30 minutes
Here we go- I’ll rank it on Accessibility, Mechanics, and Engagement.
Simple concepts rife with opportunity for overthinking abound in this game. This is something that even younger children could enjoy – make sure to bring your poker face, though. I think this game would be as big of a hit with kids as Incan Gold, but when I played it was all adults. We had a great time, though it did get competitive and there was some smack talk!
As I do not have a poker face, being the saboteur was a challenge for me – should I own my identity and openly subvert the tunnels? Or should I carefully misdirect? I tried both. Neither one panned out well for me! As a mom, I should probably develop this skill better.
The cards, though on the small side, are very distinctive and don’t have much text. There are character cards, tunnel cards, gold cards, and equipment/action cards. The character cards depict gnomes. The run of the mill gnomes are good. The saboteurs have a banner scrawled across indicating their deceptive natures. That’s the only text on the cards. The action/equipment cards have icons indicating if they are to break or restore equipment, look at the “map” and view a gold card, and clear or cause rockslides.
The tunnel cards conjure images of Carcassonne, but the placement is much more strict. Being rectangular cards, and not square tiles, they are designed to be placed two ways instead of four. They must be placed in the confines of a rectangle leading towards the hope of gold at the far end. I say hope because unless you draw a map card, then you won’t know what lies ahead.
There aren’t a great deal of small pieces. There’s gold divvied out at the end of each of three rounds, but these are cards.
This game was engaging even with seven players. I had to watch their reactions as they took their turns, and their reactions to others’ turns. Did that progress toward the gold frustrate this player?
The turns are short (relatively), and the game flows well. There was one indecisive player who was encouraged to play more quickly (by her son and not me). I tried to kind of plan out my turns in advance, but with any placement game with hidden hands that can be a challenge.
While I really enjoyed this game, there did appear to be some design challenges. I mentioned earlier the cards only work two ways. Well, on top of that limitation, there isn’t much that can be done about a bad hand: if you replace a card in your hand, you’re sacrificing one of the limited cards in the deck. The deck is not replenished by shuffling. I had a hand during one round of mostly identical cards. It made my plays quite limited.
The other critique I would offer is that there seemed to be an imbalance of equipment cards. This offered the awkward situation of knowing who the saboteurs were yet being unable to do anything to prevent them. There were a few rounds that we lost to the saboteurs because miners with broken equipment can’t build, and we didn’t have the luck of the draw.
I don’t think either of these issues would be an easy fix. Reshuffling extends the game, and if given too much time it would be much easier to win. Also, the cards really have to be placed North or South. If they were tiles that would be one thing, but fitting into the imaginary grid was important otherwise the tunnels wouldn’t line up.
One unique aspect was divvying our the gold. If the miners win, gold cards are passed around without a word. Some cards are worth more than others. When saboteurs win there are less shares, so it’s also less complicated.
In Conclusion: This game was a lot of fun for kids. I think it would be great for a camping trip or a sleepover.
It was also very enjoyable for our adults game night. Games that accommodate larger groups and smaller groups easily are a tall order.
With the expansion, this game can accommodate 12 players. The expansion also allows for two player games. I might get that for my husband and I.
This game is available on Amazon and this post is #notsponsored.