Sanctum

2-4 players, Competitive, Demon Slaying Loot Snatching

Designer: Filip Neduk

Artwork: Jakub Politzer, František Sedláček

Publisher: Czech Games Edition

Release Date: 2019

Origin Story

Goodness, this one popped on my radar months and months ago when I started hearing squawking about a Diablo-esque board game. I’m gonna preface this review and tell you that I am a HUGE fan of the Diablo series of videogames. So, when I heard there was a board game that even slightly resembled those, I was just a tad bit excited to say the least. In any case Czech Games Edition was kind enough to provide a review copy for me to peruse and take through its rounds. Read on to find out the ups and downs and ins and outs!

Overview of Gameplay

In Sanctum you and up to four players will be partaking on a grand adventure moving through different regions collecting and destroying demons, all the while gearing and leveling up for a final confrontation with the ultimate demon lord. This however is not a cooperative experience, even though there are no instances of battling the other players, you will want to be the best at demon slaying overall. To accomplish this great feat players will alternate turns deciding whether they want to move and collect demons to battle, fight those demons or rest and level/gear up.

Let’s discuss this a bit more in detail. Each of these three actions are super simple and yet……..they can be VERY strategic in play. The board tiles are made up of a singular path with spots to place your player mini. So, when you take the movement action you will just pop your mini to the head of the line of other minis and draw up that spot’s demon cards. These cards will be added to the board tile you are on and then you get to pick up the particular set of demon cards to add to your character board. There will always be five sets of demon cards to choose from on the board of varying power and color, which I’ll explain more in a bit.

The next action is the fight action. If you already have some demon cards on your player board you can opt to fight them instead of moving and collecting more. To do this you will roll your dice that you have acquired (player start with just two dice but can eventually get up to six including their special die). You then match up any of your rolls with the indicated dice value on each demon card. If you don’t roll what you need you can mitigate those rolls by altering their face using your loot cards or your basic player board. For example, each players starting board starts with the same mitigation aspects. Your left arm space has a “change one die + or – 1” and your right arm has “change one die + or – 2”. You would simply move one of your “focus” tokens to cover the particular space you want to use and voila! You can change the die to that sum. Also, each player has a rage token they can use once to change one day to any face. These rage tokens refresh if you ever have any left-over dice that you cannot use and enemies that are still alive on your board. After placing your dice on demon cards to wound them, if you are able to cover each dice symbol needed on a demon card, you destroy the demon! If not, then the demon will attack you and hit you for the value of blood drops on its card. In that case you will try to defend against that attack by manipulating your “Stamina” tokens much in the same way you did with your “Focus” tokens on your board. For any hits you could not defend against, you will lose that much health. Now, health is SUPER precious as it is your sole deciding factor if you win or lose this game, so you want to protect it with everything you have.

On the other hand, for all the demons you were able to destroy you get two rewards! First is that you can manipulate the particular listed gems that are shown on the demon card. These gems are basically the leveling up/skill tree system the game has going on. On each player board the entire right-hand section has cards and tiles that have new abilities to unlock and more stamina and focus tokens to add to your pools. Demons are of three different gem types/colors, Green, Blue and Red. So, for example when you destroy a green demon that shows two green gems on its card, you get to move two green gems UP on your skill cards section. Once all the gems are moved off one of the skill cards/tiles, you get to collect that new skill and add it to your ever-growing repertoire.  There are also white gems that act as “wilds” and can be moved instead of any other color. Now, if you ever move any of those luscious gems up off the top most card/tile they are then in your gem holding bag ready to be used to equip collected loot.

The second reward you get for destroying a demon is that sweet, sweet loot! You will take the demon card you just vanquished and flip it and on the opposing side you will find your random loot drop! You then place this delicious loot in the bag space on your player board, collecting more and more loot as you go on. Which then brings us to the last action, Resting. When you rest you can move any spent stamina and focus tokens off spaces on your board back to the general pools to be used again in future battles. But, more importantly, you can equip all that succulent loot that you have been collecting IF you have the required gems! You see, each piece of loot requires at least one particular color of gem to be equipped which you do know in advance based on the color of the demon card, (eg. a green demon card will have green gems to move and green gems to equip.) Once you get all the loot equipped to your hearts desire (which opens new and exciting dice mitigation abilities) you can then choose to sell off any old loot you no longer want or need for potions. Potions allow players to remove focus or stamina tokens back to their general pools BEFORE they roll for battle. These can be very useful for continuing to move, collect and fighting while not having to rest as much but you can only hold four potions total.

Players will continue on with this through a few different boards with the demons getting stronger as they go but with better loot as well. Once players get to the final Act they will have a showdown with the demon lord and this is where the gameplay changes up quite a bit. The meat of this battle happens on each players own respective player board and each player will draw up and place a total of nine of these special demon lord cards, five of which just show two particular dice faces each and the other four are hidden with some devious action and more die faces to achieve. Players will set their mini on the first of these cards starting from the left and start rolling their dice much like how you would defeat the prior demons. Once you get the required die faces needed you move your mini to the next card, flipping the hidden ones and resolving the devilish action and then utilizing the remaining dice they have to try and resolve that card. They keep on going until they have exhausted all their dice and then the demon lords gets a turn.

The first thing that happens is you will take damage based on how many of those pesky blood droplets are showing on cards that have not been defeated. There are two drops on each showing card and a random value on each hidden card (although if the cards are still flipped and hidden you don’t take that damage). You, of course, can defend using your stamina/focus abilities. Then you will flip over a couple of those hidden cards from the deck and resolve both cards one at a time. These basically just hinder your fight even further and make it more challenging for you. After that, you collect your dice used during the last round and start again trying to make it as far as you can. Players HAVE to get all the way to the end of their respective cards and beat the last one if they have any hope of winning. The player who not only beats all the cards AND has the most total life remaining is declared the victor! But honestly, if you even survive the fight by beating the demon lord, give yourself a pat on the back cuz this beast is TOUGH!

Components/ Game Board

The game board is comprised of a few different double-sided pieces that you lay next to each other to create the ever-growing pathway for the players. These tiles are ok quality, I have already encountered some warping and have had to give them a bit of a bend to flatten them a bit. They also are opened edged so some fraying might happen over time and I obviously would have preferred wrapped edges to prevent this. But perhaps an even bigger board would be each players respective player board. These babies are mammoth in size and you will be doing most of the gameplay via these. There is a lot going on with each of these and they work really well! Not only do they look really cool but the layout is very nice as well so they are easy to understand.

The general components are overall pretty good with the standouts being the four character miniatures! I was blown away when I gazed upon these beauties. They have some incredible detail and they have actual detailed bases! Each one is a different color to easily differentiate them apart but more than that they are completely different sculpts. My favorite being The Outlaw, this guy just looks incredible with his arched sword and mini crossbow AND his base is all rocky and has a tombstone leaning next to him to really give the miniature that extra “oomph”.  The cards are pretty basic mini style and have no special finish on them and are slick to the touch. That said, I have no qualms with their quality and think they work just fine with almost no warping to be seen.

The dice are pretty meh however, I mean, don’t get me wrong I think they work just fine for general play but I have personally already ordered some more “thematic” acrylic red and black volcano speckled dice to replace them. For a game where you will be rolling dice almost every moment you only want the best. The dice included are smaller than regular size (which is fine) and made of a very light weight wood with golden pips on most of them and silver pips on four of them. The silver pipped dice are meant to represent each character’s special ability that unlocks another die. Although during play I found that the silver and gold are SUPER hard to differentiate and honestly, didn’t really matter. You could use any die in the silvers place and it works the same with the only difference being when you use the die. Now, all that said, I normally don’t order “upgrades” to my games UNLESS I REALLY like the game so keep that in mind.

Box/Storage

The box and storage are ok. There is a small insert that holds each miniature and some of the components but you will want to bag up most of the stuff to keep it organized. There are only three compartments in the small insert to hold components and there are many, many more different items than that so it’s kind of up to you on how you want to store them. Personally, I keep all the starting components for each different character in four individual bags for ease of setup. Then I put the cards and other random board setup items in the three insert spaces. The small insert also comes with a topper so the stuff doesn’t get all mixed up if storing the game on its side.

Other than that, the board pieces and manual just sit in the wide-open box with the small insert atop of them. Nothing mind blowing but also the game isn’t SUPER expansive so an elaborate insert really isn’t needed either. The box itself is rather thin I noticed with the lid already making those ominous sounds if the sides are stretched too much. Be sure to be careful with this when opening as it would be a shame to have a tear in the corner of the lid.

Visual Appeal /Theme

If you’ve ever played the Diablo franchise videogames then you already have an inkling of an idea around the theme. If not, then in a nutshell there was once this demon lord that reigned over the land until some heroes came and vanquished it, locking it in a tomb under the city of Sanctum. Now the beast has been released and is wreaking havoc upon the land again and it’s up to these four heroes to save the day. Each hero does have their own little background which is interesting enough although doesn’t incorporate into the game at all. There is also an angel that is assisting the heroes through the game by basically giving them more dice to roll once they reach certain points in the game.

Visually the game looks spectacular! The artwork on the game board pieces is exquisite with each location having very detailed scenery such as the starting tile with the ship and harbor and country-side or climbing up the snowy mountain with the cascading river below. It’s all incredibly beautiful to behold and the different meshing of colors used to paint these scenes is wonderful. The demon cards artwork is also well-done although there are only a few different styles of demons but that doesn’t bother me in the least considering you are in it for the loot! There is a plethora of different illustrations of loot cards to discover and each one is interesting to look at and the fact that they all have unique names makes it even more exciting to collect. Of course, as I already mentioned earlier my favorite thing is the miniature sculpts. I am just really in love with these four miniatures as they are very detailed and bring great life into the characters.

Rulebook

The rulebook is very well done! It is oversized, not in length but in diameter making it feel almost like a big glossy tome of some sort. It’s written in such a way not to throw ALL the information at you in sections but to give you what you need as you play the game, making it much easier to learn the first time. This is almost a double-edged sword however, when I went through it I got into the game and learned it VERY easily BUT at the same time I didn’t really know what I needed to be focusing on in order to WIN the game. Making my first learning game all about the learning, which is good! Just be warned that if you are whipping this game out for the first time to play with a group, make sure at least one person has already read through and understands how to properly play. This is not a manual to use for a competitive group with everyone learning at the same time.

There are also some very nice reference sheets for each character that explains the basic actions on one side and that specific character’s special skills on the other in great detail. Overall, a very well done and easy to learn game with the reference sheets and manual!

Player Interaction/Fun Factor

I can tell you right from the start that I have had a blast playing this. The way the dice rolling fighting works with the leveling up and looting is SO addicting. This is one of those rare games that after I spent almost two hours playing the first game, I wanted to reset it and play it again. There isn’t any exploration as the board just always moves you forward on the exact same path every time but the loot will always be different and as such the way you can mitigate those dice. And each character is different as well so that just adds to the fun of it all.

The player interaction however is super low. This is very much a competitive solitaire game with each player taking turns doing their own thing with the only real interaction coming from who gets to the end first and having to suffer less of the demon lords attack cards before the final battle. Also, it should be noted that I did experience a run-away leader issue with every game I played. There are these achievement tiles players can collect that will help them in the final battle. However, the first player that reaches the specific requirements for each achievement gets to collect the tile, which pushes the requirements for the next one in line a little further up. So, for example, one of the achievements is whoever has 2 gems of each of two different colors first gets to collect that achievement tile. Once collected the next one in line for that particular achievement is whoever has 3 gems of two different colors. Now, obviously the player who just got the first achievement is already on track to get the next as they are closest to getting it. The other two achievement categories are much the same like this. In all my games it boiled down to one or two players getting the bulk of those tiles and left one or two players without any at all or very, very few. Which in turn during the final battle allowed the players with all the tiles a MUCH easier time defeating the demon lord than those already struggling.

Optimal Player Count/Replay Value

With each different player count you will utilize a different amount of game board tiles. For the full four player game you will go through ALL the tiles getting to see the full landscape before facing the demon lord but playing the two-player game you will skip a couple of the tiles. This is all a nice way to balance the game to give each player enough time to properly collect and equip enough gear and level up enough before the final battle and it work very well!

Even still, if I am playing with others, I prefer the two player count over 3 or 4. The downtime can become an issue playing with four players and since each player is doing their own thing, it boils down to you just watching them roll their own dice to try and defeat their own demons. At two players it moves much smoother and at least the run away leader issue isn’t as prevalent. Now, all that said, even though the game isn’t listed as a solo experience I REALLY love playing this alone. Taking a couple characters and playing them by myself is so much fun! Running and gunning through the demons collecting loot and attempting to survive the final battle is an epic experience.

There is a bit of replayability here as each of the four characters have completely different skill sets and will likely gravitate towards specific loot to maximize their abilities. More stamina-oriented characters will likely want to use weapons or armor that has more stamina options and vice versa for focus oriented characters. There are also a bookoo of different loot options to look for and get excited about although after about three games I think I had seen pretty much all that was on offer. This is a game that has a very nice basis for a few expansions to REALLY liven things up over time.

Positive Final Thoughts

I am so glad this game exists. They perfectly captured that addicting quality of finding loot and leveling up that you see in many RPG based videogames. I love the general gameplay so much and the ways you can mitigate the dice in your favor can be very strategic. The artwork is lovely and even though I surely did not expect it, the miniatures in this game are some of the best I have seen next to CMON games minis.

Negative Final Thoughts

There can be a run-away leader issue at higher player counts and this game is for sure a multiplayer solitaire game. The competitive nature of this game doesn’t really fit as well and I think it would work much better as a fully cooperative game where the entire team is working together to try and vanquish the demon lord rather than working alone to see who is the best.

The Bottom Line

This is an Ameri-thrash game through and through. You will be doing TONS of dice rolls and the action is through the roof. I just love the way all the actions work together to create a seamless experience. I think with a few more loots options (even though there are LOTS) and a coop variant this game would be perfection. As it stands the lower the player count the better, and even though it’s not a solo game per say, I prefer playing it solo with a couple characters. However, even with the few negatives I mentioned it still attains “The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE!”

The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE

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