Designer: Damian Andrews & Adrian Adamescu
Publisher: Floodgate Games
Year Published: 2017
Players: 1 -4
Playing Time: 30-45 mins.
I love logic puzzles. Give me a grid and a few statements like “Jenny and Todd skipped the movie theater, but one of them likes apples” and I’ll be good for hours. And don’t ask how many hours I’ve put into “The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis,” one of the best educational computer games ever made. Sagrada is both a game and a logic puzzle, so it ticks all the boxes for me.
Your job in Sagrada is to construct a stained-glass window. Instead of glass, you use colorful translucent dice. But you can’t just place dice willy-nilly. You have to follow the logical rules that govern the game. First: all dice (after your initial one) must be adjacent to another die. Second: dice cannot be orthogonally adjacent to a die of the same color, or to a die showing the same number. Third: Each player starts the game with a pattern that they must follow, which will mandate the color or number of the die that must be placed in certain squares of the grid. If your bottom right corner has to be blue in the pattern, you know that the die just above it, and to the left of it, can't be blue, or else you won't finish your window. Voila! We have a cute logic puzzle.
Sagrada isn’t just a logic puzzle. See, you don't have unlimited access to dice. Instead, you and your opponents have to draft them. The first player draws 2n+1 dice from the bag where “n” is the number of players. Then they roll those die. That player selects one of those dice and places it in their window. The rest of the players go in turn taking one die each until the last player's turn, who picks two dice. Then the other players go in reverse order selecting their second die until just one die remains. That die gets added to the round tracker, and then the second player gets to draw 2n+1 dice and roll them. After ten rounds the game is over.
This dice drafting mechanism is captivating and infuriating. It's excruciating to see the exact die you need get snapped up by another player before your turn. But you can see all the available dice, so you can try to predict which might come back to you for your second pick. Initially, your window is a blank canvas and almost any die works. By turn 4, you start realizing one or two earlier decisions have made your current situation a lot more difficult. And as you try and solve those problems, two more spring up, and suddenly you have a critical hole that you can only fill with a red 3. And then no one draws any red dice from the bag for four rounds in a row, which seriously defies the laws of probability and physics, and WHY HAVE THE DICE FORSAKEN ME GAAAAAAAHHHHH!
So how do you win? Simple: score the most victory points. Like many Euro games, the way you score points changes slightly each time you play. Before the game starts you reveal three random goal cards from a small deck. These provide some direction for players as they build their windows. You might get a card that scores you 2 points for each pair of dice in your window showing a 1 and 2. Or you might get 5 points for every row of dice in your window that are all different colors. With hundreds of possible combinations, every game feels pretty fresh. Each player also has a secret goal that scores you points equal to the total value of all the pips for one color of dice in your window. You’ll want as many dice as possible of this color to maximize your points.
Sagrada is also one of those rare games that began as a Kickstarter but was so successful that it is now available in retail stores. Multiple expansions have joined the base game on store shelves. Sagrada combines the best of both worlds in many ways. The player boards are actually two pieces of cardboard glued on top of each other, with the top one die-cut to create a grid that keeps your dice in place while you're playing. It's not strictly necessary for the game, but it does make it a more enjoyable experience. But these high-quality components don't translate into an exorbitant increase in cost. Sagrada rests at a reasonable $39.95 MSRP. With great components, rather simple rules, and a good price point, Sagrada has become one of my favorite games to give as a present.
As much as I love Sagrada, there’s one awkward piece to its otherwise masterful structure. In addition to the goal deck, there's a small deck of "tool" cards. These tools allow you to break a rule in some way to help you build your window. For example, one tool lets you move one of your dice to another part of your window ignoring the number mandated by your window pattern. So if I put a red 3 next to a space that demands a 3, I can use this tool to move a yellow 1 from somewhere else to that space. Other tools let you swap a die you just drafted with a random one from the bag, or with one of the dice on the round tracker. These tools are essential to the game’s design. They let you correct for early mistakes and mitigate poor options during the draft. The number of times you can use tools each game is based on the difficulty rating of your window pattern. Simple patterns will only let you use tools once or twice, while difficult ones give you three or four uses.
Tools become more valuable late in the game, but by then your window is pretty complicated. If a tool lets you swap two dice, then you have to look at all 16 dice on your board to find a swap that obeys placement rules while also allowing you place one of the dice available for you to draft that round. That could be pretty difficult. You’re essentially trying to solve a logic puzzle in your head by visualizing new patterns of dice. And, for many players, this means they’re going to spend a long time thinking as the game goes on. I don’t think Sagrada would be as much fun without these tools. They’re absolutely essential to actually complete the more difficult window patterns. And it is fun to break the game's rules in a clever way to score a bunch more points. But they also make the game drag on at the end.
So, tools and I have a love-hate relationship. Despite this, I adore Sagrada. It’s easy to teach to new players but also offers significant strategic depth. Once you’re familiar with the game’s logic and better understand what you need, you can pay more attention to your opponents’ windows. You can draft offensively to take dice other players need or leave them with options that don’t fit their window. You may even figure out another player’s hidden objective and deny them some points that way. Sagrada is a fantastic game for any player old enough to grasp its inherent puzzle. You should play this game.