This fantasy adventure themed game from CGE attempts to distill the hack & slash roll-playing game (RPG) experience that video gamers spend dozens of hours playing through, into a competitive (though players never attack each other) board game taking roughly two hours. It sounds impossible but actually designer Filip Neduk has done a very good job of it.
The gameplay is simple and accessible; so much so that you can learn as you go without needing to learn all rules before you start. Each turn you either move (to the front of the queue, towards the city of Sanctum) and choose which monsters will pursue you; fight the monsters pursuing you; or rest (regaining the stamina and focus that fuel your abilities, and allowing you to equip the items you’ve gained). Even with just these three options, the decisions each turn are varied and challenging. Nonetheless, even with the full complement of four players taking turns to make their decisions, the game flows swiftly, as turns can mostly overlap each other: there really isn’t much down-time, even with beginners.
Where Too Many Bones (Chip Theory), Mage Knight (Wizkids) and, to a certain extent, Roll Player (Thunderworks) take up the RPG theme in different ways, Sanctum gives you the experience of levelling up your special abilities (according to simple skill-trees unique to the four characters) with each fight, and also picking up loot from the monsters you kill along the way. This creates plenty of interesting decisions so that you’ll never play exactly the same game twice, but it should be noted that there are no scenarios, so the ‘story’ is the same each time.
Speaking of narrative, the plot is a straightforward case of ‘heroes versus evil incarnate plus his minions’, but if there’s a lack of originality here, it doesn’t feel like a problem. Although the striking box image looks dark and sinister, the game itself doesn’t feel that way: you’re just trying to equip your character the best you can for each fight, and hope to become strong enough by the end to prevail in the extremely tough final battle.
Sanctum is well paced and compelling from start to finish, and even though mechanically it’s essentially a dice-manipulation risk-management strategy game, and tho' some elements might not seem wholly thematic, you always feel like you are on an exciting adventure. The artwork (by Jakub Politzer and Frantisek Sedlacek), components and iconography all do their jobs very well, enhancing the experience. Even the box hints at the classic videogame Diablo (Blizzard Entertainment). There is very little player interaction – mainly just trying to gain achievement bonuses ahead of each other – which might be a drawback for some but it makes for a friendly atmosphere among players, who can help each other out with advice without worrying too much about adverse consequences!
From your very first play, you'll find Sanctum is a gripping and rewarding experience that will soon have you hooked; yet another similarity to videogame RPGs...
(Review by Matt Young)