With his dying words, Blackbeard revealed to you the location of his buried treasure. But curse his wretched ways, he also told every other pirate to ever hoist a Jolly Roger. Now the race is on! Can you protect your ship while scuttling all others? Find out in this 30 minute game for 2-5 players, aged 12 and up, which is out today from Renegade Game Studios.
In the box, you’ll find:
- 5 Pirates standees
- 5 Bow tiles
- 5 Stern tiles
- 68 Deck tiles
- 21 Explosion markers
- 63 Fuse tokens
Each of the pirate standees in Sabordage is unique and features a comically intimidating pirate. The artwork on these standees and all the tiles is really outstanding, thanks to the illustrator, Djib (aka Jean-Baptiste Reynaud). The standees have a captain’s wheel that is affixed to the standee via a plastic hub, allowing the wheel to be turned to select a number, 1 through 9, on the standee. This is part of gameplay for placing tiles. This hub presented one of our first hiccups. The cardboard on the standee and the wheel were too thick or the plastic hubs too weak to hold the wheels on. So three out of five characters weren’t entirely functional. What’s more, the standees weren’t designed very well because the plastic stands had to be placed to the extreme edge or off the standee in order for the wheel to be able to spin, unobstructed.
The bow and stern tiles are standardized, top down views. On each deck, there are tools that pirates might be using to repair their ships and the sterns include the colored flag of each pirate captain; the detail is pretty fantastic. The deck tiles are all double-sided, the backs are all the same, an innocuous masted segment of a ship, which masks the business side of the tile. There are three different types of tiles that have cannons on them, three types of defenses, and three special tiles.
The distribution of deck tiles is as follows:
- 4 Treasure tiles
- 4 Pipes
- 4 Rotten tiles
- 4 Long cannon
- 4 Double Shot cannons
- 4 Short cannon with a boarding plank opposite
- 6 Short cannon with armor opposite
- 5 Short cannon on each side
- 5 Two short cannon on one side
- 2 Two short cannon on one side, spring opposite
- 4 Two short cannon on one side, armor opposite
- 4 Two short cannon on one side, one short cannon opposite
- 2 Spring tiles
- 4 Bombard with armor opposite
- 4 Boarding planks
- 4 Boarding planks, armor opposite
- 4 Boarding planks with a fuse icon (fuse icon is not part of gameplay for this tile)
The explosion tokens are slotted and can be joined together to make neat little 3-D explosions. The fuse tokens are tiny and all have the number one on one side and two on the other, in a different color.
How do you play Sabordage?
Setup is a breeze (a friendly tropical trade breeze). Each player chooses a captain standee and the matching stern, along with a bow tile and two deck tiles, mast side up between bow and stern. All tiles are lined up, facing the same direction. During the game all the tiles may move as the ship grows and shrinks, but the stern serves as the base and does not move.
Explosion tokens are set to the side, as well as the fuse tokens. The deck tiles are shuffled (mast side up) and placed within reach of the players. The game is now ready to begin.
What’s the Goal of the Game?
Play takes place over three rounds, called tides. Players add tiles to their ship and destroy tiles from others’ ships. The player with the longest ship at the end of the game wins.
How to Play Sabordage
Each tide has three phases. First is resupply. Players each draw 4 deck tiles, blindly.
Next comes the building phase. Here, captains select a tile from their resupply hand and play it behind their stern, mast up and with the action side of the tile hidden. It is important during this placement to orient the tile appropriately. Since tiles often have cannons only on one side, or some similar situation, the tile must be placed so, when flipped, the action is shown for the direction the captain desires.
At the same time, the captain adjusts the wheel on their standees’ helm to show where in the ship the tile will be placed. For instance, the position just after the stern would be 1 on the wheel, after the stern and the first deck tile would be 2 and so on. Tiles are revealed and placed according to the captain’s wheel. Any cannons receive fuse tokens. Players then pass their tiles and tiles are built a total of three times per tide. Extra tiles are discarded. There is one exception to tile placement. The rotten tile is placed after everyone else has placed their tiles during that building phase.
Last, after all three building phases, comes the boarding phase. Here, players first fire their cannons. Any cannon with a fuse of one fires first, destroying any tile it hits (tiles with defenses excepted). Place an explosion token on the tile it hits to track damage. (There is going to be a lot of damage.) Destroyed tiles are then removed. Next cannons with a 2 fuse fire, destroying the tiles they hit. Again, place explosion markers and after all cannons have fired, remove damaged tiles.
Cannons only fire once per game with the exception of the double shot cannon, which reloads both cannons each boarding phase. Other special powers for cannons include the long cannon, which destroys everything in the row until it hits armor and the bombard which shoots over the adjacent ship and hits the tile two ships away. As the rulebook reminds us, the Earth is round so attacks loop. The far right ship will hit the far left ship when aiming right and this is the reason that the long cannon has armor on its opposite side.
There are three defenses, which can shut down attacks. There is a pipe, like the one on every bow tile. This simply funnels any cannon through the pipe, preserving the tile and passing the canonball along to the next ship. Armor stops all cannonballs (except mortars from the bombard) and drops them into the sea. Springs, on the other hand, return a cannonball to its sender, with the exception of the long cannon and the bombard. The long cannon is too powerful to be stopped by a spring and nothing stops the bombard.
The second step in boarding is to collect treasure. Any surviving treasure tile allows its owner to take a discarded tile or tile from the draw pile, which is placed beneath the treasure tile (without looking). At the end of the game, the tile will be revealed to expand your boat. However, if the treasure tile is destroyed during gameplay, all tiles under it are also destroyed. The treasure tile and any tiles under it can also be stolen during boarding. Boarding is the final step of the boarding phase. Here, the boarding plank steals the tile that the plank is adjacent to. Should a tile happen to be targeted by two different boarding tiles, that tile cannot be stolen by either player. Stolen tiles are placed on top of the responsible boarding planks.
At the end of three tides, players destroy all rotten tiles and reveal and place stacked tiles – those from beneath treasure tiles and above boarding tiles. These extra tiles may be placed anywhere on the boat. The player with the longest ship wins.
In addition to these rules, there is a two player variant, plus expert rules, which take three different sailors, printed on some tiles, into account. These sailors grant special effects to players who place these tiles.
Why You Should Play Sabordage
First, the good. The artwork in this game is fantastic and does a lovely job of emphasizing the theme, while remaining fun spirited. The attention to details on all of the tiles and the captains’ helm standees is outstanding.
The game moves rapidly and is pretty enjoyable, especially if you are into “take that” games, which Sabordage has in abundance. There is a fair bit of “if/then” to keep track of in how the tiles interact with each other, but after a couple of games, you’ll have the rules down pat. Remember, it’s important to place fuse tokens because it’s easy to forget what tiles were placed the current tide and which were placed before.
The building phase, especially the third one in each tide, was often met with yells of joy and groans of despair as the final tiles were revealed. A single tile can destroy everyone’s plans while saving others’ hopes. When playing a game, it’s not uncommon for ships to grow long before contracting to almost nothing in a barrage of cannon fire, moving back and forth like an accordion. Because of this unpredictability and constant change, it’s very difficult to predict a game winner until the final round.
That’s not to say the game is without strategy, because it has a good deal of it. Choosing the right tile at the right time, and selecting where to place it, plays a big part in how your ship turns out. You can try to predict what your opponents will do and who they will be trying to attack and, since you know which tiles have passed from your hand on to the other players, you can even guess which tile they might place. But luck still favors very heavily into Sabordage.
One of the downsides is that there are really only eight tiles that can affect anyone besides your immediate neighbors. So if a player outside your range is running away with the game, there isn’t much you can do if you aren’t lucky enough to draw long cannons or bombards.
Next, the bad. At GeekDad we have often heaped praise on Renegade for their high quality of games and excellent design. So it’s disappointing when the standees don’t really work out of the box. Sure, a drop of CA glue will take care of the hubs that won’t stay together and, per Renegade’s suggestion, players can just do without the plastic stands for the helms for the ones that don’t fit. But what’s the point of including them in the first place then? And then there are the boarding planks with fuse icons on them. There’s no explanation for that in the rulebook, nor does it make sense. According to Renegade, there is “no function for the fuse. It is just artwork.” That’s just confusing and seems like a mistake that was overlooked.
That said, Sabordage is a fast-playing take-that game that does well with its pirate theme. In my game groups, some people really enjoyed it, while others weren’t crazy about it. I came down somewhere in the middle. With the right players, it was a lot of fun and the art did such a great job of keeping play within the theme. (Adopting pirate speak helps too!) But I was disappointed with some of the components. Still, Sabordage can be pretty enjoyable.
Sabordage is available today from renegade Game Studios and retails for $35.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.