I think, having been both castigated and praised for his use of, let's say, 'svelte' game boxes over the years, it seems Tim Fowers was happy to break free from those chains with the capaciously chunky Sabotage: co-designed with Jeff Krause, a thematic follow up to his highly successful co-op, Burgle Bros. (Fowers Games). Not only do the large minis, thick tokens and other components fit easily back in the box, there are even two GameTrayz they can slot into, which is great if you store games horizontally.
Sabotage is a 2-4 player hidden movement team game which sees the surreptitious Spies try to prevent the villainous Villains completing some nebulous nefarious plot which involves Doomsday Machines and Generators. Each side starts by picking a pair of characters from four and setting out their dual-layer player boards, dice and multitude of cubes, most of which are used for tracking upgrades. The two 4x4 game boards - hidden by the substantial box/shield contraption that also shows each team's progress toward victory - are set up identically, though can be changed from game to game.
Each round, both teams program two sets of 2-4 moves in advance but the Villains always resolve first which means, if they're successful, the Spies' turn can be frustrated or even negated. The Villains' main objective is to reveal Spies - five times and they win - while powering up Generators to get extra actions; they upgrade those Actions by spending a die. The Spies need to disable eight parts of the Doomsday Machines, a task made more difficult by the fact that doing so reveals their location, as does the Scan action which gives them their upgrades.
Starting Actions include Move & Scan, Hack, and Stun Gun; while each of the eight characters has access to five more Advanced skills they can unlock – tho' only three are used in any one game. The Actions are powered by dice - the numbers rolled are shared by all - with more mitigation cubes gained when your adversaries 'score'. As with any hidden movement game, guessing the location and predicting the actions of your opponents using the limited information you have is key.
Sabotage succeeds in providing a tense adversarial experience or, in less foofy terms, it's a blindfolded food fight in a phone booth. That 4x4 grid is so small it makes the nuggets of information which cross back and forth over the screen so important. Crucial then, that you employ disinformation - a Slide here, a Hologram token there - or you'll find your team caught out all too quickly.
We had some rules issues when playing; the rulebook - so big it could use a side table to itself - did not answer some of the questions that arose, either soon enough or at all. Looking up queries on BoardGameGeek, we found an updated rulebook, which seemed a big improvement. It was interesting to note that two thirds of all posts on the game were in the Rules section – Space Cadets: Dice Duel (Stronghold) 31.3% and Captain Sonar (Matagot) 32.5% for comparison in genre. Now that a full description of each skill has been included, the rulebook is far more useful.
The game raised a tidy sum on Kickstarter, which explains the pleasantly overproduced components; if you could match the quality of Ryan Goldsberry's stylised art, the minis would be full of character when painted. Unpainted, they merge in amid the machines; although, if you did paint them, those GameTrayz slots are so tight the paint might chip.
The characterful Sabotage is a - literally - solid addition to the small but growing category of hidden movement team games, filling the lower player count niche left by Space Cadets: Dice Duel and Captain Sonar; it is less frantic than the former and better paced than the latter. Given how cramped the board is, you certainly won't be drifting around aimlessly here; in fact, there's a good chance a spy is sneaking up on your Doomsday Machine already...
(Review by David Fox)