Designed by: Adrian Adamescu, Daryl Andrews
Publisher: Floodgate Games
Playtime: 20-40 Minutes
Review copy provided free of charge by Esdevium Games.
The variety of themes which game designers can find ways of slotting mechanics into never ceases to amaze me. Sagrada is all about using dice to craft stain-glass windows, and while the theme is fairly superficial it does lead to some rather stunning components and a strong presence on the table. But the most important thing of all is that when you open the box you’re greeted with ninety brightly colored dice and a handy-dandy bag to put them in. Ninety dice! What a time to be alive, eh?
Once you’ve perused the concise rules, which are written across just four pages, each player will be given a chunky cardboard frame and two dual-sided window patterns, of which they need to select one and then slide it seductively into their frame. They then get a few favor tokens based on the pattern they chose, an objective card and possibly even some verbal abuse. Is that just me and my mates, then? Right.
Whichever player has been selected as the chosen one, also known as the first player, grabs dice from the included bag, taking two dice for each player plus an extra one. He or she then performs the complex and potentially dangerous task of rolling those dice, forming the draft pool. Then, each player will get the chance to draft a single die until the final player is reached, at which point the order reverses and everybody gets to pick one more, with that last player actually getting to grab two in a row due to how this words, offsetting the fact that they had a more limited choice. The last die has to live with the fact that nobody wanted it, and gets placed on the round track in order to keep track of the round. Obviously.
As you draft die from the pool you need to place them into your window, but there are some complications to consider. White spaces can have any die put into them, while colored spaces have to have a matching color placed into them. Any grey slot with a number is referred to as a shade, and as you may have already guessed only die with corresponding numbers can be put there. Got that? Good, because there is more. No die can be placed orthogonally next to a die with a matching color or number. Don’t worry if you don’t know what orthogonally means, I had to Google it, too. Basically, you can’t place them to the left, right, bottom or top of a matching die, although diagonally is fine.
At some point you’ll come across a situation where none of the dice sitting on the table really make sense for your lovely window, so it’s important to know that you’re free to pass when it comes to your turn to draft. Empty spaces at the end of the game take points away from your final score, but sometimes it’s best not to jam a die into the window if it’s going to leave you struggling later.
Okay, so far we’ve established the basic do’s and do nots of placing dice, but now we get to the meat; scoring. Firstly, each player will be given a private objective card that scores points based on the sum of one color of dice, thus if you have the green card you’ll tally up all the numbers shown on green dice in your window. This can be the biggest source of points if you manage to snag plenty of fours, fives and sixes, and importantly you get to choose your window pattern after seeing your objective card so that you can pick whichever card and side makes the most sense. There’s also going to be three public objective cards that award points for doing things like having five different colors in a row, or not repeating numbers in a column or for sets of specific digits.
To help three random tool cards will be placed on the table at the start of the game, and these are where your favor tokens come into play. Basically, these cards allow you to shift dice around, often breaking the basic rules of the game by letting you ignore color or number restrictions. Other tools may let you re-roll dice in an effort to get something more helpful. The first player to use a card pays a single favor token, while the following players must use two tokens instead. This is important because in final scoring each uunused token is worth a bonus point.
Hopefully, by now you can see the puzzle that Sagrada presents. Not only must you work around the window pattern by adhering to its limitations and ensuring that you don’t jam yourself into an inescapable corner but that you also have to constantly be considering how to maximize points. It’s surprisingly easy to pop down a die without realizing that it’s going to make the next turn or two a nightmare. That’s the strength of the game: it’s easy to learn but quite tricky to be good at, and that appeals to me. It’s the kind of game I could introduce season gamers and complete newbies to and be quite confident that they would both enjoy it.
Since we’ve covered how to play the game lets come back to the components I mentioned near the start. While the three types of cards are nothing to write home about the chunky card player boards are beautiful, and I love how you slot your pattern into them. Once you’ve decorated your window with colorful Sagrada has a very powerful presence on the table, grabbing the attention of anyone who happens to pass by. I can vouch for this as I played it in a pub several times and people always stopped to ask about it.
There’s also a solo mode included where each turn you grab four dice from the bag and get to draft two, with the remaining dice being added to the round tracker. At the end of the game these dice on the tracker board will be added up to create a score you have to beat in order to win. Another alteration comes in the form of the tool cards where you can have anywhere from one to five of them depending on the difficulty level you want. However, these tool cards can only be used once each, and instead of spending favor tokens, which are removed entirely in solo mode, you instead place one of the die from the draft pool on it, provided that it matches the indicated number or color shown on the card. Not only does this allow you to utilize the tool card power itself, but it also lets you get rid of an extra die, taking points away from the final score you must beat.
It’s a surprisingly enjoyable solo mode bolstered by the fact that it plays very quickly. I was blitzing through a solo match in around 15-30 minutes, and it’s reasonably difficult, too. I lost my first few attempts quite badly. With that said it’s not perfect because by removing the favor tokens you no longer get rewarded by taking a harder window pattern.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’m pleased to say Sagrada works well with all four players sitting around the table. Indeed, it plays great regardless of the player count, with three or four people providing a wider choice in terms of the dice on the table, and the two player game creating a slightly bigger challenge since you’ll only be getting five dice to pick from at most. Both have their strengths.
If I was going to pick a few nits then I’d say it’s the luck factor. Depending on the patterns, private objective cards and dice it’s possible for some players to get lucky, the whims of chance giving them high rolls of the color they need in order to snag big, big points. Still, I never felt as thought luck was playing too large a part in proceedings.
Going into Sagrada I was a little unsure of what to expect and whether I was going to enjoy it or not, but having now played about a dozen games I can say with complete confidence that I thoroughly enjoyed every match. It’s a compelling puzzle that isn’t needlessly complex, the rules being easy to grasp yet hiding satisfying depth as you contemplate where each die should be placed to score the most points. Of course, it’s fair to say that I’m something of a sucker for these types of games, but I firmly believe this is something almost anyone can enjoy, acting as a great introductory game for newcomers and an engaging time for the experienced player too.