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SANCTUM
A Boardgame Adventure to Find Hell for 2-4 Players  Aged 12+  from CGE by Filip Neduk
Did one of the artists for this game also create the art for Diablo? 
Artists: Frantisek Sedlacek; Ondrej Hrdina; Jiri Kus; Rene Roder; Lucas Binda

SANCTUM is a semi-cooperative fantasy adventure where up to four characters have been charged by their King to enter the labrynth of the Jade Sarcophagus and free the land of the Demons who, under the reign of the Demon Lord, are creating havoc and mayhem in the City as they ready the way for their Lord to begin his long-awaited reign, one City at a time.

These characters: The Huntress, the Outlaw, the Slayer and the Dancer, are represented by 4.5cm high figures in single colour plastic. The Huntress is in Green plastic, the Outlaw is in Light Brown plastic, the Slayer is in Red plastic and the Dancer in Blue plastic, all miniatures are beautifully detailed, and should you be so inclined there is a photo on page 3 of the rules that give some ideas as to how the characters can look when expertly painted.

Apart from the models there is a host of components, a mixture of plastic tokens and cardboard tiles and cards.  The main game-board is made up of different boards (there are three boards in the game box) that form the track the characters have to take to reach the Demon Lord; the number and side of these boards that are used depends on the number of players - the boards are marked for different number of players.

There are too many components for me to identify each of them, and besides that wouldn't say much about the game, just the pieces. I will say they are all good quality with excellent artwork and made to last through regular playing. 

There are four characters and each has their own specific game board. Apart from the characters pictures on the board they all have the same information, with the exception of the diamond shapes down the ledt-hand side. These show the Special Abilities the characters can attain during play; there is a minor irritation (it's not what I would call a problem) with these in as much as they are printed too dark to easily distinguish, especially under regular house lighting. Thankfully you have a separate card, a sheet that is the same for each player on one side but contains the Special Abilities detailed on the flip side. It would have been nicer had these ability icons had been printed as clear and bright on the player boards, though once you have played a couple of times, especially if you play the same character each time (we don't recommend this by the way), you will become familiar with them.

Note: not all characters have the same number of Special Abilities.

 

Special abilities are on cards and tiles on the right of your player board. Each of these also contain Focus and/or Stamina tokens and power-gems. Throughout the game you are given opportunities to move the gems up the board, through any tiles or cards above them, until they reach your power level supply. Once all of the gems are removed from a card or tile that card/tile is placed in the appropriate position on the other side of your character board and the tokens removed to their colour coded supply bubbles - you need to do this as quick as you can and early on in the game to ensure you get extras that these cards/tiles give you for the rest of the game.

There are similarities to the computer game 'Diablo' in as much as the characters have Health (Red) and Mana (Blue) - here known as Stamina and Focus - and they travel through underground passages filled with demons of different capabilities and skills. By killing the demons the player characters can build up their board with different weapons and armour. Sometimes, just like in Diablo and other computer and card games, you have to lose something to gain something; for example you start with a + or - 2 Focus ability in your right-hand weapon. Another weapon might give you -1 + 3 Focus, so you have to decide whether plus/minus 2 should be swapped for plus 3 / minus 1. You get this type of dilemma throughout play though obviously there are times when a swap is obviously better.

To use your Stamina and Focus values you have to place the correct coloured counters on them. Once they have a counter on them they cannot be used again until the counter is removed, and the only way to remove counters from your board is to take a Game Turn of Resting - that is your complete Turn. However, when you rest you can also rearrange your character's equipment, adding and swapping new equipment from your supply as possible.

 

So how do you get new equipment? You have to fight and defeat demons.
When you take a step from one movement space to the next (characters move in single file) it is possible for gaps to be created in the line because you always move to the front of the line when you move your character. Most of the spaces have a symbol that represents one of the three decks of demon cards. Dependent on the type and number of demon symbols that many demon cards from the respective deck/s are placed on the board - there are no specific spaces for them you just have to put them where they don't cover the trail spaces.

The lower level demons always appear in pairs and there are always 5 sets of demons on the travel board for the moving player to encounter. A set can be one or two cards, thus if you select to take a set with a pair of cards you have to take both of them. You can only see the backs of the demon cards but there is information on them to show what piece of equipment you will gain from them - eventually - so when you take demon card/s they are placed on the left top panel of your board and continue to stay face down. You do not fight them on the Turn you encounter them. Weirdly the demons do not attack you at any time unless you choose to fight them in which case all the demons in your panel fight at the same time.

You have to be sensible about the game, the gung-ho approach will not work, so if you leave demons in your panel it is usually better to rest or fight than move and add more demons. If/when you choose Fight as your option for your turn you must fight all of the demons in your panel. 

  

Demons have no special abilities but they do have one or more dice shown on their cards. The number on these dice are the numbers you need to roll with your character's dice - you have to match the numbers exactly. For instance if the demon card shows a 5 it can only be defeated by a 5, a 6 is no use even though it is greater than the required number. If you still have Focus abilities and Focus counters you can use the counters to change the numbers on the dice you rolled, though you cannot split one Focus ability between two dice.

Each player starts with some Gold dice and One Silver die. They gain the Silver die by an action taken during play, then it is always with them.

Players also have a Rage tile (or 2 depending on the character). These can be used to turn one die to a required number.

Clever and thoughtful use of your dice and abilities should mean that right up until the final battle against the Demon Lord you should lose very few life points - in all the games we have played no one has managed to lose more than 3 life points (and that was only once). 

In this you can liken the game to the original Talisman game by Games Workshop. You drive forward, have encounters, kill monsters (demons) gain equipment and then have to face the dreaded Demon Lord at the end.We have played about 6 times with three or four players and have yet to defeat the Demon Lord - his minions are so strong and once you are in combat with him you are not allowed to rest which means once you have used your Blessings (they give extra Focus and Stamina) and have all your Armour covered up by tokens you are as good as being nekkid with just a wet lettuce and a stick of celery to protect you. 

 

Each player has NINE cards to defeat before reaching the Demon Lord himself - not that we'd know what to do if we met him because he is usually having a Flame Grilled breakfast at Buggered King while his minions take us to the cleaners next door - so far it is impossible to get close to him. This is where the game changes from being a superb adventure with luck (die rolls falling just right) thought and skill to a die-roll fest where nothing of what you have done to this point counts for very long - no matter how well prepared you think you are, the chances are you aren't!

The concept of the game is brilliant. The building of the character and the way the demon encounters are concluded is a clever piece of thoughtful games play, in fact everything up until the last board gives you the feeling of the possibility of a good ending, and then crash! It all just gets spoilt. Every player, without any hints from us has come to basically the same conclusion, 'great game, lousy ending'. 

 

SANCTUM is so good for the first 45 minutes, that even after playing it through and knowing what is going to occur for the last 15-30 minutes, you want to play it again just to experience the entertainment and enjoyment of the first five/sixths of the game. Because of the variation of demons and the excellent manner in which they appear and then combat eventually occurs each game seems like a different adventure. Sure you are doing the same things but your choices can always be different. There are three options for the player each turn, one only of which can be chosen:

Move: which means you reveal demons onto the board as stated by the space moved onto, then you take demons, choose one or a pair (you cannot split pairs) to add to your own board (top panel). Sometimes your move will land you on a treasure chest at which time all demons remaining on the board are flipped over and every player gets a free choice of one piece of equipment to go straight into their inventory.

Fight: Roll dice, Attack (by spending the dice as necessary) Block damage from any demon who survived your attack, Gain Levels and Items (flip the defeated demon cards over into your inventory. Now you can see exactly what they were carrying. You may have known it was a weapon, but until the demon is killed you didn't know which weapon it would be.

Rest: Return your tokens from your body, armour and gear, equip new items and/or swap items around from character to inventory. You can do this as many times as you need as long as each item worn has the required gem/s on it when you end your turn. You can also buy potions, using items from your inventory.

 

Every thing is so well worked out to run smoothly, quite simply, yet with an aire of excitement and occasional derring-do (for example; taking a chance on defeating a demon so that you can rest next turn and wear/use whatever that demon was carrying).

After each exhausting but fun (to a point) game we have questioned whether the Demon Lord should be a tad easier. As most of us were or are role-players whose characters have faced and fought Dragons and worse we appreciate that the Demon Lord is not a demonic pussy, but a powerful entity, a god who should not be regularly defeated by a rag-tag and bobtail group like ours. But in D&D etc there is One Demon Lord and he is attacked by a group using many different types of attack and all his minions fought before he deigns to pop his head out to see what the noise is, have been cut down or blown apart by as many as 6 or 8 powerful adventurers. 

In SANCTUM each player has to fight off so many enemies in solo combat that by the time they are ready - if they ever are - to face him, the majority of the group has already died.

Perhaps it would be an idea to introduce a Rest period about halfway through the nine encounters? That shouldn't make too much difference, but it would give you a fighting chance by allowing the return of your used Focus/Stamina counters and to change any equipment? Or maybe a semi-rest where you get 50% of your Focus/Stamina counters back but cannot change any, or only change one, piece of equipment. We haven't tried these yet but are currently thinking up ways to give us a better opportunity for a fair(ish) fight that we have a slim hope (rather than none) of winning. We certainly do not want to make it easy, but for a game with such enjoyable game play it is a pity that it all comes down in the end to lucky dice rolling.

Of course there will be players out there who are adept at defeating the Demon Lord and wonder what I am prattling on about - to those heroes I can only tip my hat and give them credence for being better than us. The thing that really counts though is that even without a win under our belts we are still enjoying the lead up to the slaughter. If at the sixth attempt you don't succeed then think about rewriting the rules in your favour, or keep trying, the choice is yours. (as noted above we are seriously thinking of the latter - that Demon Lord is going down by hook, crook or AK47) 

Certainly SANCTUM a mostly likeable fantasy game. Is it good value for your $50.00 - $60.00? That's a question you will have to answer for yourselves. I can only say we have played it 6 times and have not won once, but we also haven't given up. So currently it would amount to $10.00 a game session with more on the near horizon, and in my book that is good. On my coffee scale (about £3.50 a cup) I would have to give up about 15 cups of coffee and for this game I would happily do that.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015