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[Review] Saboteur

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Joined: 03/23/2011

When the rules were explained to me of Saboteur (Z-man Games, 2005 – Frederic Moyersoen), I immediately thought that the game seemed like a combination of Waterworks and Mille Bornes, two games I absolutely despise. The dash of Werewolf that seemed to be in the game didn’t impress me that much, and I grumpily settled in for the “same old, same old.”

I was quite surprised – the game was actually pretty good. I made some dreadful mistakes the first game, but the second game was even better. Because the game can support up to ten players, some have called Saboteur the next Bang! I’m not sure that I’d go that far, but the game is a good combo; it takes the best part of bad games and makes them into a playable, enjoyable game experience. I tend to think of it as “Werewolf lite”, although there are significant differences. Since a lot of my game sessions are with large groups, Saboteur will see a lot of play – an alternative to our endless Bang! playings.

The theme of the game involves a bunch of dwarves who are digging for treasure (shocking!) However, some of them are greedier than the rest and want to sabotage this noble project, keeping the gold for themselves. Three piles of cards are shuffled - an action pile, a nugget pile, and a dwarf pile. The dwarf cards show a picture of a dwarf, and four of them have the word "saboteur" on them. The number of dwarf cards used for a game exceed the number of players by one, and there are a certain number of saboteurs mixed in. (one for 3-4 players, two for 5-6 players, three for 7-9 players, and four for 10 players). Each player is dealt one card, which they look at secretly. This way, players know that there is at least a certain amount of saboteurs in play, but they don't know exactly how many. Three goal cards are shuffled and placed face down on the table, seven card widths away from a start card. (The three are one card length's space apart from each other). Each player is dealt a certain number of cards (depending on number of players), with the remainder forming a draw deck. The youngest player goes first, with play proceeding clockwise around the table.

On a turn, a player has a few options:
- They may discard a card, face down, to the discard pile, and draw another.
- They may play a path card. Many of the action cards show paths through the mines. These paths may be a single path across the card, a "T" crossing, a normal crossing, or a dead end. When playing a path card, the path must match up to all other cards it touches (it must touch one). Players (the ones who aren't saboteurs) are trying to connect the start card to the treasure card (one of the face down cards) on the table with one completely unobstructed path. Once the path reaches one of the goal cards, it is flipped over. If the goal card shows gold, the round is over; otherwise players have dug to the wrong spot and must continue to dig.
- They may play a rock-fall card. This card allows them to destroy one path card in play.
- They may play a map card. This card allows them to secretly look at one of the three treasure cards.
- They may play a disaster card on another player. There are three disaster cards, each showing a different disaster (icon): pickaxe, lantern, and mine cart. A player who has a disaster card in front of them may not play a path card until the disaster card is removed.
- They may play a repair card on themselves or another player. The repair cards have one or two icons on them; and if one of the icons matches one on one of the disaster cards, the repair card cancels the disaster card.

Play continues until either the treasure is reached, or until the deck is exhausted, and everyone has passed. At this point, the good dwarves win the round (the treasure was found), or the saboteurs (the treasure was not found, and the deck ran out). If the good dwarves won, a nugget card (showing one to three nuggets of gold) is turned over for each player in the game; and starting with the person who connected the final path, each player takes a card of their choice (good dwarves only). If the saboteurs won, they get three nuggets worth of gold. The next round then begins, with the dwarf cards re-dealt to each player. The player who has the most gold after the third round is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: Z-man games has done a tremendous job in importing this game and held true to nice components. The cards in this game are going to get used a lot, and therefore are of high quality. I like the artwork on the cards - the artwork on the Saboteur cards especially makes me smile, as the dwarf gleefully and dementedly is sabotaging the operation. The layout looks cool as you slowly build a network of tunnels. The cards all fit easily in a small box with a lid.

2.) Rules: In every game I've played, someone invariably asks during the first round either, "How do I know if the card I got is a saboteur", or "What does the word on my card mean?", at which point I have to reshuffle and re-deal, after explaining. So don't forget to explain that to everyone! The rules are written well on a folded sheet of paper, fully colored and illustrated. I found that the game is fairly easy to teach, but I usually have to play a few example cards for some folk to catch on. What's neat is that people can catch on pretty quick, and I've gotten a lot of "non-gamers" to play the game.

3.) Roles: If the saboteurs reveal themselves too early, they will easily be stopped by the other players, as I found out in my first game. In fact, it seems like the saboteur has it hard, period. But a clever saboteur will breed infighting among the real dwarves and help out until the time is right to show their true colors. In fact, the Saboteur reminds me quite of bit of the traitor in Shadows over Camelot, playing the role takes about the same skills. The only problem I've noticed with this is that some new folk just obviously impede other player's progress, which means that they'll have disaster cards played on them the entire game. After doing this once, people learn quickly, so perhaps a learning round should always be played with new people. One of my friends from Origins insisted that the Saboteur never won - I've seen them win more often than not in my groups.

4.) Stupidity: Have you ever played Bang! and seen the Sheriff kill a deputy on the first turn? Well, those same folk can mess this game up - I've seen people randomly play disaster cards on other folks for no reason at all, and that can slightly mess game play up. Fortunately, the game does allow revenge…

5.) Variable roles: I think the game has a neat concept in that one never knows exactly how many Saboteurs there are. When you are a saboteur, you are always wondering - is there anyone else helping me? Or am I alone? That causes play to be neat, as you try to catch other people's eyes, to see if they are also a saboteur. This gives the game a bit of a "Werewolf" feel, and one that I think will cause it to be around a while.

6.) Nuggets: At first the nuggets seem to be a superfluous scoring mechanic, but on closer observation, they are a help to the saboteurs. Since the good dwarf who connects the final card gets more gold than anyone else (probably), then all the good dwarves will want to be that person; and some contention may occur. This is certainly useful for the saboteurs.

7.) Fun Factor: I had one female player complain about the fact that she sat half a round out because of disaster cards played on her. So I asked if she wanted to play anything else, and the answer was no - she was eager to finish the game. That, to me, means that the game went over well, because everyone was laughing, accusing, and generally having a good time. I've played this a number of times, and each time it's been quite fun. It's not as thematic as Bang!, so it will probably get played less, but it's certainly a better game; so I'll push it more, and I know people will enjoy it.

I won't go as far as to say that Saboteur is a "must-own" game, but I can't think of too many reason NOT to own it. It handles up to ten people, scales well, and everyone has a good time. The only other game that currently fits in this category is Bang!, and I like having variety. I'm pleased that this game is in my collection, as I know it will see a LOT of play over the year. Teenagers enjoy it, adults have fun - it's almost like a Shadows over Camelot experience - just quick and easy. Ah, forget what I said earlier - go buy this game!

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"

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