The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Sabordage
Sabordage, designed by Romeo Hennion and illustrated by Jean-Baptiste "Djib" Reynaud, was originally released in 2016 by Superlude and distributed in France by IELLO. It has now been picked up for North American release by Renegade Games, and hit retail in early April.
The French word sabordage translates to the nautical term scuttling, meaning "to sink a vessel deliberately by opening seacocks or making openings in the bottom." This fits the theme of the game fairly well, as your goal is to construct the largest pirate ship while simultaneously sabotaging your opponents ships. However, you will be impeding your opponents with cannonballs, not by opening their seacocks.
The game plays two to five players -- although I’d recommend three or more -- in about thirty minutes. It mixes drafting, simultaneous tile placement, and direct conflict over three rounds of play, called “tides” in game vernacular.
Each tide, there is a resupply phase, where players draw and look at four tiles, followed by three building phases, where players will simultaneously select and play one tile onto their ships and pass the remaining tiles to the player to their left (or right, during the second tide). After the third building phase, the fourth tile gets discarded and the boarding phase begins. During the boarding phase, cannons are fired, treasure is collected, and ships are boarded. Some tiles have armor that protects against cannon fire, or springs that return the cannon fire to the opponent that fired it, but unprotected tiles are destroyed during this phase. Treasure tiles that don’t get destroyed will collect extra tiles that will grow the ship during the end game, and boarding tiles that aren’t destroyed will steal tiles from the opponent’s ship they face.
There is a rule which is not immediately intuitive, but necessary for the game to work mechanically, called “The Earth is Round.” This means that the first ship and the last ship in the row, in addition to shooting at their neighbors, are also adjacent in a wrap-around-the-table kind of way with each other, and fire at each other as if they were adjacent.
The game is language independent, with icons for the four types of cannons, three types of defenses, and three types of special tiles. This works fine once players are familiar with the weaponry and defenses on the tiles, but can create a bit of a learning curve. The rule book does have an improvement summary on the back page with reference pictures, which is helpful, as each weapon interacts differently with different defenses. For example: The short cannon can be sent back by a spring or stopped by armor, but the long cannon can only be stopped by armor, and the bombard cannot be stopped by either. Also, the long cannon keeps destroying tiles until it hits armor, and the bombard skips over a ship when it is fired.
Needless to say, the combination of simultaneous actions and not knowing what or where your opponents will place their tiles creates a fair amount of chaos, but not enough that you feel your decisions are meaningless. Tactical thinking and outmaneuvering your opponents is rewarded, and crafty ship creation does determine the winner more often than not.
Pros: The game’s cartoonish take on the pirating theme, along with its colorful artwork by King of Tokyo artist Djib, make for a cute and accessible game. The 68 deck tiles are of very solid quality. The game plays well with up to five players, and is quick even at higher player counts due to its simultaneous action elements. The game also features an expert mode, with additional rules using the sailors that are drawn into the artwork of the deck tiles -- although this adds to the iconography that needs to be learned.
Cons: This game is chaotic and focuses on direct conflict, which will turn off players that prefer longer term strategy and less confrontation and interactivity. Playing Sabordage at two players requires each player to control two ships, which is not ideal. “The Earth is Round” rule is not super intuitive or elegant, and as such, I try not to put younger players at the edges when playing. The rule book appears to be translated directly from the original French rule book, and is not great, with some awkward and vague phrasing throughout. The pirate dials that are used to select where the deck tiles are placed come with clips to stand them up, however the clips have a tendency to impede the dial from turning unless placed awkwardly at the edge of the dial.
Sabordage is really about fun moments of nautical destruction. Imagine this scenario with me -- You select a short cannon to be placed on a row where your opponent has a treasure that has been collecting tiles, because you want to knock it out. But at the reveal, she places a pipe in the same row you placed the cannon. Now during the boarding phase, the cannon shoots through her pipe, hits a spring on the next ship, caroms back through the pipe, and strikes the cannon that just fired it, exploding that tile from your ship. If you have a group of people that would all get a good laugh out of something like that -- including the person it happened to -- this will be a great addition to your collection, especially considering it plays up to five well and takes only around half an hour to play. I know I’ll be keeping it in my collection to play with both my family and some friends who are fans of lighter, more interactive and chaotic games.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Sabordage from Renegade Game Studios.