Strictly speaking, this game by Bruno Cathala and Sébastien Pauchon is Sobek: 2 Players to distinguish it from Bruno Cathala's 2010 game Sobek (GameWorks), which was a set collection card game with a similar Ancient Egypt theme, but people are unlikely to confuse the two. In this tile game, players are selecting tiles from a market, collecting sets of at least three matching tiles, and then trading them in for points; the points being worked out by multiplying the number of tiles by the number of scarab symbols on the tiles, just like in Bruno Cathala's Kingdomino and Kingdomino Origins (Blue Orange).
The game is named for the Ancient Egyptian crocodile god, and the iconography and art from Xavier Gueniffey Durin carries forward the Egyptian theme, tho' Sobek is essentially an abstract game. It's played by laying tiles out onto a 6 x 6 grid. Tiles with resources are all face up; those representing 'Characters' are face down. On your turn, you take a tile and replace it with the wooden Ankh piece so that the arms of the Ankh point in the direction indicated on the tile you removed (left/right; up/down; corners). The next tile has to be taken from the row/column/diagonal indicated by the Ankh. You can take any tile in the line but if you pass over any tiles to reach the one you take, then those tiles go onto your Corruption board. At the end of the game, there will be at least one bonus point token (value 3-9 points) drawn from the bag by the player who has the fewest tiles on their Corruption board.
When you take a resource tile, you know precisely what you are getting. By contrast, you won't know what Character tile you are getting till you select it. The Character tiles each have affiliation with a specific resource so they can be used to contribute to forming a set but you'll probably want to use them for their special power. Doing so takes a turn, so is an alternative to drafting a tile.
The other alternative to drafting a tile is to cash in a set (ie: play it from your hand to the table). This doesn't irrevocably lock in its score because tho' you can't usually add tiles to a set that's previously been laid, you can make another set of three or more of the same resource and the sets are then counted together: so, for example, one set of 3 wheat tiles with two scarabs would be worth 6 points (3 x 2), but adding a second identical set of wheat would give you six wheat tiles with four scarabs and so would be worth 24 points. There are incentives (bonus tokens) for the first five sets cashed in.
Tho' the rules are simple and quite intuitive, Sobek is a two-player game with a lot of depth. The choice you make when you draft a tile affects the choices you are opening up to your opponent. This means you can find you are accurately planning two or three turns ahead in the expectation that your opponent will take a tempting adjacent tile and open up a tile for you that you need to complete a set. There are push-your-luck judgement calls to be made over when to put down a set - especially after all the incentive bonuses have been claimed. Often it will be better to hold onto sets in the hope of making them larger before putting them down but you need to watch out for Character powers that can steal tiles from your hand or make you discard tiles to your Corruption board!
Tho' the board is refilled periodically, the game ends abruptly if any player is unable to take an action (there are no tiles in the line to which the Ankh arms point and there are none left to refill, they don't have any sets to place down and they have no Characters they can play). The other player will lose any unclaimed sets with which they are left and any other tiles go onto their Corruption board. That means both players need to be wary of the game ending and, indeed, hastening the game end when you are confident you are ahead is part of the strategy of play.
The result here is an easy-to-play two-player game that will keep players coming back for more. Our one gripe is that a 'hand' of tiles isn't as easy to fan as a hand of cards. If you have a couple of tile racks, you may well want to press them into service. Take two each of the four racks that are routinely supplied in a standard set of Scrabble (Hasbro). That will probably suffice.
Sobek is published by Catch Up Games and distributed in the UK by Hachette Board Games.
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