Monday, January 27, 2020

Sanctum (Czech Games Edition)

When I was in college, I completely failed my freshmen year. While my peers were making the most of their time, completing courses towards a degree, I was not. I was up until all hours of the night. I skipped classes. I dropped classes. I failed classes. I’d like to say I had the “normal” college experience and did all this because I was too busy partying and drinking. The reality was I was playing video games, primarily Diablo II. I enjoyed the thrill of beating the monsters, honing my skills, collecting the loot, and oddly enough the economy of trading with other players. I eventually transferred schools, received a degree, and became a functioning member of society. I’d like to say I never fell down that rabbit hole again, but then World of Warcraft happened, and then board games happened.

This backstory brings me to the game I am reviewing today called Sanctum. In Sanctum, you and your fellow players will embark on a journey to destroy the Demon Lord. Reminiscent of my favorite hack and slash games, there are skills, gear, and achievements. Though, you and your fellow players all have the same goal, you are also fighting to be in the best position to ultimately be the one best equipped to defeat the Demon Lord. Let’s learn how to play.
1. Place the Hordes Board with the three Demon Decks shuffled and face up in their respective spot.
2. Set up the Act Boards (where the adventure happens) based on player count. Note: you will only need two boards at a time.
3. Place the Achievements Board with the eleven shuffled achievements tiles face-down on it.
4. Place Divine Intervention tiles, dice, and all tokens (Hit Markers, Potions, Stamina, and Focus) within reach of everyone.
5. Have each player select a champion – Huntress, Outlaw, Slayer, or Dancer. Each player will then set up their board composed of a figure, rage tile, stamina tokens, focus tokens, a health counter, two dice in front of them, one dice on the angel icon, one white gem in their gem pool, and skill cards/tiles to make their character.
6. Players will then receive starting bonuses based on player count and turn order.

Game Play – On your turn, you must perform one of the three actions:
1. Move. This is the action you must perform on your first turn to get your figure on the Act Board. After your initial turn, you will advance (move your figure to first open space), reveal demons (per the icon on the space you moved to), take demons (add demons to your queue to fight later), and potentially reveal a treasure chest for loot.
2. Fight. Here you will take potions (if necessary), roll your dice, attack by matching the dice with the monster cards, block (if you don’t kill the enemies), gain levels and items (from dead enemies), and check achievements.
3. Rest. With this action, you restore all your stamina and focus previously used, equip item (that you have matching gems for), buy potions (one for each discarded item), and again check achievements.
The game will progress to Act V where one player must defeat all their enemies. They may then breach the wall and call on others to answer the call. Players can choose to keep fighting their enemies for a time, but eventually all must answer the call. Act VI is the culmination of the final battle with the Demon Lord. The game will continue until the Demon Lord is defeated or everyone is dead.
While no board game will replicate the experience of a game like Diablo II, this one tries its best to. There are your four heroes, who resemble your typical classes of warriors, hunters, and rogues, but they have a dancer hero (not traditional), and they give us an equal amount of men and women classes. The formula of stamina and mana pool is tried and true and present here, as is the tried and true leveling up by killing lesser monsters and collecting loot they drop. At the end, you must face a giant demon who is not named Diablo, but is every bit modeled after him.

There are several aspects I liked about this game, including the art and the components, which are both top notch. The game didn’t need to give us miniatures for the characters, as standees would have sufficed, but it was cool that they did and felt a little more tactile. With that said, if you give me hero minis, a slightly bigger final boss mini would have been cool too! The box is a bit on the large size, but I’m hoping that means expansions (more on that later). Another aspect I liked was the replay value. Monsters will be different. Turn order will be different. Equipment will be different. Dice results will be different. There isn’t unlimited replay value, but it will be different enough each time you play it. Like Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”

With regards to what I didn’t like, I would say that movement is a bit uninspired. Move one space if you’re in the front of the line or move to the front of the line. Branching paths could have been cool or skipping ahead for a treasure chest or create a mini-event on some spots that you could race ahead to and gamble on winning or losing the fight. The winner determination is also anticlimactic. If multiple people defeat the final boss, then highest health wins? That’s kind of a yawn and I want achievements to mean more in that case and not just used to help fight the final enemy.

I have played this game several times now and won one time. I have also tried several different classes and each brings their own flavor to the game and puzzle to solve. This isn’t your typical dungeon crawler, but it is a fun one. I hope that this game has some popularity to it after the initial buzz, because it could benefit from some expansions. Perhaps, we could add a different final boss or an even more epic boss after the current one. There are also easier expansions to accomplish, like additional characters to swap out, different minions, and different gear. Overall, a fun experience and one I’d recommend if you’re a Diablo fan like myself.

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