Review - Sagrada
Artist: Peter Wocken
Publisher: Floodgate Games
Player Count: 2-4
Sagrada is a competitive puzzle game where players take on the role of artists trying to create stained glass windows in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. On their turns players draft and place different coloured dice on their personal player boards. Games of Sagrada are short and although there is a lot to the puzzle at the game’s heart, the rules are simple enough for anyone to play.
How to Play
To setup a game of Sagrada, players are given a window frame player board, a random personal scoring card, and two random double-sided window pattern cards. Players select one of the window patterns and slide it into the window frame. Each window frame has a difficulty level that corresponds to a number of “favour tokens” (a currency used to purchase special actions). Players are given the number of favour tokens marked on their window pattern. The round track is placed in the centre of the play area, three random “tool cards” (special actions) are placed within reach of all players, three random public scoring cards are also placed within reach of all players, and all dice are added to the dice bag. A first player is chosen, and the game is ready to be played.
Each round the starting player draws a number of dice (two for each player plus one additional die) and rolls them. Beginning with the starting player and moving clockwise players may take one die and place it on their player board. This continues until it reaches the last player who takes and places two dice. Play then continues counter clockwise until all players have two dice, snake draft style. When placing dice, players must follow certain placement criteria. The first die of the game must be placed on an edge or corner of the player board. After that, all dice must be placed either orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to a previously placed die. If the space has a colour or number restriction, placed dice must conform to these restrictions. In addition, two dice of the same colour or of the same number cannot be orthogonally adjacent.
On a player’s turn, they may take an additional action to use one tool card. Players choose one of the three tool cards and use the special ability written on it. Players pay for using the tool card with their favour tokens. If they are the first to use the tool card they pay one favour token, placing it on the tool card. If the tool card has already been used, they must pay two favour tokens to use it. Once all players have drafted two dice, the remaining die is placed on the round track to keep track of how many rounds have been played. The bag is passed to the next player in clockwise order and that player is the new starting player. The game ends after ten rounds and scores are counted.
Players can flip the round tracker to use it as a score tracker. Players score for each of the three public objectives, their personal objective, and unspent favour tokens. For each empty space on the player’s player board, they lose one point. The winner of the game is the player with the most victory points. Ties are won by the player who gained the most points from their private objective.
The core puzzle of Sagrada is its biggest draw. Drafting and placing dice gives the puzzle an emergent quality as it morphs and shifts, providing new challenges of you own making as the game progresses. There is real strategy and forward planning required for Sagrada. This forward planning is mostly in the sense of putting contingencies in place to mitigate a bad dice pool later in the game rather than planning several turns ahead (more on that in the player variability section).
At times it can feel like a bad dice draw is entirely out of your control. In these instances, the tool cards provide a good mechanism to mitigate bad luck and give players more control over their situation. The fact that the price of them increases if someone has already used them and since the favour tokens are worth victory points at the end of the game means that players cannot use them every turn and never fully rely on them. The choice of window pattern at the start of the game gives you a different number of favour tokens depending on the difficulty of the pattern which also allows the game to balance its difficulty fairly. Tools are central to the balance of the game and are applied in an elegant manner.
Sagrada is a game of minimal player interaction, the most enjoyable thing about it is the puzzle that forms as you place dice. In a sense this makes Sagrada largely a multiplayer solitaire game, with other players rarely providing more than a mechanism to ensure randomness and a score to beat. This isn’t necessarily bad. Sagrada plays on the same gameplay loops as roll and write games, like Railroad Ink, where your decisions and hubris eventually catch up with you leaving the entire group groaning in the last few turns as inevitably all the dice are wrong. Of course, this means that if high levels of player interaction are a must for your group, this game probably isn’t for you. A similar but more interactive choice might be Azul, but only at two-players.
Ultimately, the gameplay loop and puzzle at the heart of Sagrada are deeply satisfying. If this is a genre of game that you like and if the lack of a lot of player interaction isn’t a problem then the Sagrada’s gameplay won’t let you down.
Sagrada is designed to work with two to four players and it broadly succeeds in doing this. That said, different player counts do have a distinctive feel to them. At two players it feels like players have a lot more control over the game. This comes from the fact that if you’re the first player, there will be less dice drafted before you get to choose one again. It is also much easier to predict what the other player will take by looking at their player board. This also means that it is easier to hate draft at two players, though this only really becomes a viable strategy in later rounds, and rules regarding where you can place can often stop you from being able to hate draft even if you see the opportunity. For example, if you notice that if you leave your opponent with a red dice and a six they can’t place either but the other dice is a two and you can’t place that anywhere on your board. Thus, at two players Sagrada has much in common with Azul, although it’s significantly less cutthroat.
At three and four players the game functions in broadly the same manner except players may feel like they have less control over the dice pool in rounds where they are the starting player. Successful hate drafting also becomes more of a challenge as you are contending with more information (more player boards, more dice, etc…) and there are more dice for players to choose from (except for the starting player’s final die). This change in how the game feels is more noticeable at four players than at three. Finally, higher player counts will force players to be more reactive. Planning ahead becomes more difficult the more players that will take dice before you. This makes it harder for players to decide their turns ahead of time and can slow the game down a bit, especially with players prone to analysis paralysis.
One odd quirk of two and three player games is that some of the dice will not come out of the bag. This means that more of one colour might come out than another colour. This seems like a strange design choice as it could disadvantage a player with a private objective reliant on red dice, or a window pattern reliant on more red dice, if less red dice come out. The actual effect game to game is likely to be minimal but it still seems like an unnecessary imbalance in the game’s design.
Which player count you will prefer largely comes down to your own preferences. If you like highly interactive the game works at best at two. If you’re conflict averse and prefer to focus more on your own puzzle three players may be the sweet spot for you, where forward planning is somewhat possible, but interaction is still minimal. That said I would happily play Sagrada at all player counts.
Sagrada has pretty generous levels of variability which really helps the replayability of the game. Each game sees three different public scoring cards chosen out of a pool of ten. These public scoring cards drastically change the focus of the game in a noticeable way which changes the way players have to think. Similarly, the tool cards (of which there are twelve) change how players can approach mistakes and bottlenecks from game to game. In addition, the game comes with twelve window pattern cards, which are double sided, for a total of twenty-four player board puzzles to solve. Combined, this means that each game of sagrada can feel very different.
Obviously, dice drafting as a mechanic adds a further significant random element which ensures that, even with the exact same combination of window patterns, tools, and public scoring, games will play differently and players will be faced with different interesting decisions.
One slight low point in terms of variability is the personal objective cards which are always the same, score points for the value on all your “X” coloured dice. There’s one for each of the colours of dice in the game and, to be honest, they feel like an afterthought. They neither drastically affect the choices players make, nor do they have (what I assume is) the desired effect of increasing player interaction by encouraging players to guess each other’s private objective and increasing the amount of hate drafting.
The theme of Sagrada is quite novel. The idea of using dice to create a puzzle game about competitively constructing stained glass windows is the sort of thing that at first might seem odd but it’s also a perfect fit. Stained glass windows give the player boards a natural finite space within which tight, simple mechanics can drive gameplay. Stained glass is also something that is instantly relatable, at least in many predominately Christian and Muslim parts of the world. In using the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona as its setting, this game eschews any focus on religious imagery that could have been at the heart of a stained glass construction game. This is in keeping with the abstract design of the stained glass windows in the Sagrada Familia and it makes the theme more inclusive. The abstract nature of using small cubes (dice) as facsimiles for glass also allows the game to fit well with the setting.
Choosing the Sagrada Familia also allows the game to move away from some of the staid and stale themes of Gothic and medieval Christian imagery that permeate much of board gaming. These can often be quite dark and sombre, Sagrada instead captures a bright modern feeling that fits with the modern interior of the Sagrada Familia (more photos). The overall design seems tied to this tone which is closely tied to the location and theme at the heart of the game.
Art and Components
Component quality for Sagrada is excellent. I have no criticisms of any of the components. The player boards are a stand out piece, being made of very thick card board and dual-layered to allow the window patterns to slot in and allow the dice to be easily placed and held in place. The dice are beautiful. Colour choice on the transparent dice is excellent, they are easily distinguished at a glance and the colours look great together on the player boards. One minor quibble about the dice is that they are very small and can be a bit fiddly to pick up and place if you filled all the spaces around them. This isn’t much of an issue for most people but might be if you’re playing with people with dexterity issues.
The art and colours on the player boards are beautiful and are consistent with the dice. Scoring cards are functional and clear. Tool cards have a nice aesthetic, but it is not always clear from the illustration on the cards what they do. The related action is detailed at the bottom of the card though so that’s a very minor issue. Overall, it’s hard to expand much on the art and components beyond saying that they are sturdy and beautiful.
Sagrada is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played and as I’ve mentioned in other reviews, a beautiful game is easier to get to the table. When you get it to the table it’s also a joy to play. The puzzle is consistently engaging, and the high level of variability means that the game doesn’t become stale. It’s probably not a game for people who require a lot of player interaction from their games but otherwise it’s hard to find fault with it.