By Tim Hange
This review is a summary of an audio review by Get on Board. Click here for the full audio review (from episode #11) ›
I can’t recommend Sagrada. I’m going to start the review right there, knowing full well that this is a dissenting voice from a myriad of positive reviews and comments. Let me say also that this is a reluctant non-recommendation, and that if you love this game for all of its beauty and innovation, then enjoy it! Don’t let me sway your heart with my critique. Stop reading now.
Usually, when I lament that “I really wanted to love this game”, it is because an attractive theme or idea grabbed me, but opening the box reveals all style, and no substance—lazy design sold under a glitzy cover. This is NOT the case with Sagrada. In fact, Sagrada is, for me, the most valiant effort at a game design that just doesn’t quite get there.
What’s amazing about Sagrada:
Why didn’t I divide these up? Because they are all so well integrated, that it’s hard to talk about one without touching upon the other! In Sagrada, players are artisans, constructing stained glass masterpieces. That in itself would be an original enough idea, but it’s the implementation that is really striking. Players draft colorful, translucent dice and placed them in the insets of their super-thick, glossy sheened, colorful “window-frame” player boards. Just look at this game! It is drop-dead gorgeous. Who wouldn’t want this on their gaming table?
The mechanics are interesting as well. You begin the game by choosing a design template that slides into your window frame. The template has certain restriction rules which combine with the standard restriction rules of the game (same colors and same numbers cannot be placed orthogonally adjacent). Three “bonus objective” cards are also laid out, adding to the scoring options of the game (ie. Pairs of 4’s and 5’s, or a column with no duplicate colors will earn bonus points). Each player also gets a “secret” objective card indicating that all the dice of a particular color will score points. Some tool cards are chosen, and players receive gems that can be placed on the tools to use them. Tools do interesting things like letting you break the placement rules of the dice.
The starting player for the round then chooses a number of dice out of the velvet bag equal to the number of players plus one, and rolls them. Players draft clockwise beginning with the first player, and then again counter-clockwise, beginning with the last player. If you are having difficulty placing a die, you may need to pass, or spend some of your very limited gems on a tool that opens up some more options for you. You play a set number of rounds to fill your board, and then count up your points (the pips of the dice color in your secret objective, plus the scoring conditions that you matched).
That all looks and sounds so lovely. What’s not to like? Well, for me, something in the gameplay just falls flat. Here is my best shot at articulating the problems:
What doesn’t work for me about Sagrada:
Secret objectives that aren’t really secret.
It’s pretty obvious, pretty quickly, what dice color your opponents are going for. The scoring possibilities for your own color are the highest in the game, so you can’t let sixes slip by if they are in your color. Usually by the end of round one, it’s obvious what everyone is going for. This just feels like a dangling mechanic that has no real use.
Decisions that just aren’t that interesting.
You do have choices in this game, but it usually doesn’t take too long to suss out what the best option in front of you is. Do some of your decisions bite you later? Maybe, but often it’s “well, the dice rolled differently than I thought” rather than “I had the agency to solve the puzzle in a better way, but didn’t see it”.
The foregone conclusion.
In the end, it seems to me that equally skilled players are able to take advantage of the scoring options pretty evenly, so what it boils down to at the end of the game is simply how the dice rolled out of the draft. This is particularly true for the “private objective” dice. If you happened to pull mostly fives and sixes in your color, and another equally experienced player pulled mostly twos and threes, you will likely win this game. This is the CORE issue I have with Sagrada. It gives you the illusion of choice, but when all players are choosing equally well, it really just comes down to luck.
And maybe that’s OK with you. I mean, if you like board games as activities, and just want to gather around a table, with a beautiful, thematic game that doesn’t tax anyone too deeply, and if nobody’s too concerned about how what they do affects the outcome, Sagrada is a great game to put on the table.
My disappointment comes with how CLOSE Sagarada came to greatness. With a bit more polish at the core of the gameplay, this could have been a game with tense decisions, better agency, and even some aggressive interplay. In the end, despite elegant aesthetics, perfect theme, and innovative ideas, the gameplay at its core feels inspired, but unpolished. It’s a game that to me, screams for a version 2.0.
I’ll concede that I’m clearly in the minority here. People seem to love this game, and if you do, GREAT! So much of it deserves that love. If any of these concerns resonated with you, however, you might want to find a way to play it before you click “buy”.