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SOBEK

Reviewed by Nick Sauer

SOBEK (GameWorks/Asmodee, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 40 minutes; $24.99)

 

Sobek, a card game by Bruno Cathala and published by GameWorks, takes us back to ancient Egypt where players take on the role of merchants trying to profit from the new temple being built to the crocodile deity of the same name. While I am a fan of Egyptian themed games, even I have to admit that the theme for this game is extremely light. However, the basic game play is so solid that this isn’t really a complaint at all.sobek1

The game comes in a small box that includes 63 cards that consist of 54 goods and 9 character cards. These make up the heart of the game. Each player (up to four) gets a corruption tile which mark that player’s color as well as any cards they collect as a result of corruption and a matching color wooden score marker. In addition, there are 12 event tokens and a board that serves as both a score track and marker for cards available for drawing. The scoring track itself is rather novel in that the only numbered spaces are the ones that are multiples of five. The four spaces in between are each marked with one of four Hieroglyph-like figures. The component quality is up to the current standards one would expect from any modern Eurogame and features humorous cartoon artwork.

The goods cards are further broken down into six suits of trade goods. Fish and wheat are the most common type with each good becoming less common down to ivory which is the rarest. In addition to the suit, some of the goods cards also feature one to three scarabs with the rarer suited cards having more scarabs. There are also five amulet cards that act as wild cards. Nine of the goods cards feature a green back which are used to deal out the initial player hands at the start of each round of play. The character cards have a different colored back from the goods cards and show a character with an icon reminder of their special ability and a suit which allows them to be used as good cards in lieu of using their special ability. The event tokens also feature artwork as a reminder of the token’s game effects.

The game itself is played in three (or two) rounds. The start of each round is the same with players being dealt a hand of two cards from the starting green backed goods cards. The rest are returned to the box. The remaining goods and character cards are shuffled and nine are placed along one side of the game board. Goods cards are always turned face up while character cards are placed face down. Finally, the 12 event tokens are shuffled face down and five are randomly drawn and placed near the board.sobek2

A player may perform one of three possible actions on their turn. They may take a good or character from the row of cards, meld a set of three or more cards, or play a character card in order to use its special ability.

Cards are drawn from the nine set up along the side of the board and have a specific order in which they may be drawn starting from the low end of the scoring track. A player may take one of the first four cards in the row. If they choose the first card, it is added to their hand. If they choose any of the other cards, that card is still added to their hand but any skipped cards are taken by the player and placed under their corruption token. The player may always look at these cards. As one can probably guess, getting corruption cards may incur a cost at the end of the round.

Melding cards is simply playing three or more cards of the same suit (or wilds). Once in play, melds can not be added to (except for one of the character abilities) unless the player melds three cards of the same suit again. Additionally, the first five melds allow the melding player to look at the event tokensand play one to gain a benefit or discard one without gaining the benefit. These benefits are minor, such as allowing a player to immediately take another turn (often not anywhere near as cool as it sounds) to moving their marker forward on the scoring track.

Finally, a player may play a character from their hand to use that character’s special ability. These abilities involve manipulating cards in one way or another. These include effects like drawing three cards to forcing all players to discard their hands down to six cards. The powers seem to be reasonably well balanced and not overly powerful as we did see character cards played as goods for melds in their matching suit (instead of using their power) a fair number of times. Some of our players felt the icon reminders for some of the character’s abilities could have been a little clearer. With regular play this should be less of a problem as players become more familiar with the cards.

When a player draws the last card in a row, nine new cards are immediately dealt out for the next player. The round ends when the last card is taken from the final row of cards. Given that there are only 45 cards in the deck after initial hands are dealt, this means the card row will be refilled only four times before the round ends. This is not a lot of time so the game definitely has a fast tempo to it. At the end of the round, any melds players have in their hands are immediately played out sideways. These melds will score but at a lower rate than the regular melds. Any cards remaining in a player’s hand after this are placed under their corruption token with any other such cards previously collected during the round.

The scoring for the game is somewhat novel. A player adds all of the cards in a meld and multiplies that by the sum of all the scarabs that appear on the cards in that meld. This makes the suits with less cards much more desirable as they have larger numbers of scarabs on the cards that feature them. Ivory cards, for example, that have scarabs have three on them so, while there are less ivory cards making them considerably harder to collect, the rewards are much higher for a player who is able to meld them during the round. Any cards that were melded at the round’s end only score the number of scarabs on the cards (if any). Finally, there is corruption.

The players now count the total number of cards under each of their corruption tokens. There are two event tiles that, if they come up, are played against another player to add two to their corruption total. The player with the highest number of corruption cards (or all of the players tied for the highest) now move their token backward on the scoring track one time for each ten points they scored in the round. This is not simply moving the token back one space. Instead, the player looks at the space’s symbol that their score marker currently rest on (numbers count as their own symbols for this purpose). They then move their score marker back to the next space with the same symbol, repeating the process once for each ten points they scored that round. Such is the price for cheating Pharoah.

The round is then over and the next round is set up in the same manor as the first one. If at the end of the second round a player has scored over 100 points the game ends immediately with the win going to the highest scoring player at the end of that round. Otherwise, a final third round is played. The player with the highest total wins! (Tie? Then both players share the victory.)

Sobek was a pleasant surprise for us as the game came out with little to no fanfare. The game has a tight timing element with rounds always ending earlier than you want them to. The corruption mechanism adds a strong push your luck element to the game. Players will always start each round vowing to never take any corruption cards, only to be foiled by overwhelming greed, “Well, I only need to take two corruption cards to get that three scarab ivory. That sounds like a fair trade.” The characters and event tokens add just the right amount of additional player interaction, or more correctly, player screwage to keep everyone on their toes. The game also plays remarkably quickly making it an excellent filler and/or closer as well as preventing it from overstaying its welcome. Sobek may come across as a “cute little card game” but you’ll really want to watch your step to avoid getting bitten in the end. Recommended. – – – – – – – – – Nick Sauer


 

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