Reviewed by Kevin Whitmore
SAGRADA (Floodgate Games, 1 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 40 minutes, $39.99)
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Curious, looked up “Sagrada” on the internet, and discovered that it is a reference to a large Roman Catholic Church in Barcelona, “The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família”. (BTW, construction began in 1882, and the church was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. I’ve never been there, but it sounds like an impressive place.
Sagrada, the game, comes in a perky colored bookcase box. The box artwork clearly communicates the theme with a beautiful stained-glass design, and proclaims at the bottom, “A Game of Dice Drafting and Window Crafting”. Opening the box, you will find several brightly colored dice, some impressively thick player mats, and various other play materials, including a good number of playing cards, all in all a very attractive graphic design.
Each player will use an ornate mat with a stained-glass design which dominates the top two-thirds of the mat. This design has no game effect but it sure looks nice. The mats are color coded (but not dramatically), discerning the green and the blue mats is subtle. Each player will be dealt two double-sided “window pattern” cards. A player will decide which of the four patterns to work upon during the game. This offers each player a decision. Some patterns are easier, but will limit the scoring options. Others are more difficult, but offer additional “favor stones” (more on those in a minute). The various elements of the possible patterns are described in terms of shade or color. Shade is the thematic way of describing the numbers on the dice. A “1” would be the lightest shade of any color, while the “6” would be the darkest shade possible.
Once everyone has decided the pattern they will play, the patterns are slipped into the player mat. Pretty neat! Now, the game can be easily started. The game comes with enough dice to support 4 players. If you are fewer, you will draw fewer dice out of the supply bag. In addition, seven cards will help guide your priorities. Each player has a hidden objective card tied to one of the colors of dice in the game. You will want to attain as many high numbered (darkest shades) of those dice on your player mat. In addition, three public objectives will be posted. Everyone can score on these, so you will be able to assess how you are doing with these as the game progresses. Finally, three “Tool” cards are revealed. These tool cards are cleverly named after tools stained-glass artists actually use. Later in the game you may want to use a tool card to help you out of a jam with your design.
Play of Sagrada is straightforward. There are ten rounds to the full game. In a four-player game, nine dice will be pulled from the supply pouch at the start of each round. After rolling them, the start player (which rotates) will select one, die he or she wants to add to their pattern. In clockwise order players 2-4 each also select one die. Then, player 4 will select a second die, and anti-clockwise (3-2-1) the other players will select their second die. This routine will be familiar to people who play Settlers of Catan. There will be one remaining used to mark the completion of a round on the Round Board.
In a game with 3 players, just seven dice will be pulled, and just five dice in a two-player game. But note all of the dice are always placed in the draw bag at the start of the game. This means in games with fewer than 4 players some variances of color distribution will occur. Sagrada is also playable solitaire. Solitaire Sagrada has a different set up. This reviewer has played Sagrada in four-player games, due to the popularity of the game but some players view Sagrada best as a two-player game.
So the game is easy to play. Grab a die, and place it! And initially it is pretty easy. Each pattern will be different, and you must start on a side and keep your design to one mass. The pattern will give guidance about which shades (numbers) or colors of dice you want to use. However, there is one key rule to Sagrada which induces angst: “Dice may never be placed orthogonally adjacent to a die of the same color or the same value”.
Each pattern has a 4×5 grid. Often several spaces have no mark, allowing a player flexibility about the die to place there. But with the neighboring die rule, new constraints appear with each placement. In some ways this reminds me of the problem offered in Hishahi Hayashi’s clever game Rolling Japan (and its sequel Rolling America). Once you place a die into the pattern, you cannot normally move or change it. However, at the start of the game you received 3-6 favor stones, and three random tool cards were laid out…
There are a lot of different tool cards and each game will be different as to what comes out of the shuffle. If you are fortunate, you may find a bad situation on your pattern that use of a tool card may alleviate. For example, a tool card may allow you to change the shade (value) of one of the dice, or allow you move a die elsewhere on the pattern. If a person is the first to use a tool card, they simply place one of their favor stones on the card and then follow the instructions. Otherwise, all other players will need to use two favor stones to use a previously used tool. Since you will only have 3-6 favor stones, you must consider which tools might be most important to your needs, and whether you must ensure you are the first to use a tool (due to having an odd number of favor stones).
Upon arrival, I took Sagrada to a game party I was attending. I personally find Sagrada to have an appealing theme, and at the party I had many interested people keen to try it. The bright dice and fresh theme were enough to convince people to sit down and play. The game box claims Sagrada is a 20-40 minute game. At least with new casual players, I found it more likely to take most of an hour.
One play did reveal an issue with Sagrada. I had a color-blind player, who struggled with discerning the color hues of the dice. But otherwise, most everyone seemed pleased with the game experience. Mostly, everyone I have played with has been able to fill in their entire pattern, but occasionally a pattern has been one-dice short of a full pattern.
I have found the game play of Sagrada tends to be a bit quiet. People need to analyze their pattern, evaluate the dice available – and which ones your opponent’s might nab, as well as consider whether a tool might be useful. It is a nice little puzzle that plays out within an hour’s time.
However, Sagrada does have a couple of faults. First of all, the score track is the one point of graphic design I strongly dislike. It is very busy, and the “50+” sides of the counters are difficult to see. Also, the score track is on the back side of the “Round track” used to track the ten rounds of the game. I suppose this is reasonable, but I mildly dislike having to dump the dice off the round track in order to score the game. But my biggest quibble is the scoring for the secret objectives. Each player has a secret color, and he/she will get points equal to the sum of those dice in the pattern. I found this to be heavy handed. If you are lucky, you will grab a few 5’s and 6’s in your color. If you are unlucky, only 1’s and 2’s will be available to you. Personally, I would have preferred the scoring for the secret color be tied to the “number of dice” you collected.
But, scoring quibbles aside, I give Sagrada a thumbs-up. To be sure, if I am playing with serious gamers, I may opt for a more strategic game. But if the order of the day is for something a bit lighter, Sagrada is a colorful, bright and fun option. – – – – Kevin Whitmore
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