If there is a problem with IELLO's "SAPIENS" it is that it is only for 2-4 players, which means that only 4 people can enjoy it at a time. SAPIENS was designed by Cyrille Leroy and developed by Catch-Up Games. The illustrations by Marc-Antoine Allard really whet the gamer appetite, especially if you like tile-laying games with clever and different mechanics. The front cover draws you to the game, the back cover develops the interest further, and once the box is opened the components continue that feel-good emotion, being colourful, sturdy and plentiful. Everything about SAPIENS points to it being a likeable game, and this is before you have read the rules; once you have read them and begun playing you will think you are in tile-laying Utopia.
To begin with the players select a colour and the pieces that go with it, pretty standard fare, and one is given (by however means) the Start player token tile. Players also receive two halves of a Personal Player Board which fit together jigsaw style. These boards are printed on both sides so that every game can be different and naturally in every game all players are working off different boards. Around the edges of the Personal Boards are Caves; these are covered randomly by player pieces - Mountain tiles which have the icons of the different scenes - Feast (bone), Water (wavy blue on white), Picking (white tree on green background), Camp (tent on orange), Ritual (rock on grey), Hunt (mammoth tusks on brown), Fight (fist on red) and Fire (white flame on yellow). Throughout the game players collect Shelter Points and Food points and each player has a score marker for each on the score track. You win the game by having the highest score on the lowest piece, it doesn't matter if it is Shelter or Food, so balancing your collections and keeping the two markers as close to each other and continually moving on the score board is the best tactic if you can manage it. At the end of the game the highest scoring marker - the one furthest along the score track - for each player is removed from play leaving the winner to be the player whose second marker is now farthest in front. It sounds confusing when I write it down but it is a actually a clever mechanic to ensure players work towards two goals throughout the game.
Players place long tiles (called "scenes") onto their board in the manner similar to Dominoes, end to end or side-end to top or bottom end etc, ensuring that where they join the ends are the same, or at least of the same colour (some of the art may be a little different so go by the colours). All Scene tiles are designed in two halves, again like Dominoes, with the exception that there are no tiles with the same scene at each end.
When the tiles are played they will usually generate points (called Food Points). Of course the tiles are subject to a few placement regulations and cannot be placed so that they only touch by the very corner (no diagonals). On the Personal Boards are printed numbers which give bonuses as long as the correct tile is put in place.
SAPIENS is a family friendly game that is also an excellent challenge for core boardgamers. It has all the elements of a regular tile game with indications that Dominoes (as previously mentioned) had been prominent in the designers mind at some point during the game's initial creation. Although I have mentioned Dominoes please don't think it is just that game with icons instead of dots (or spots) as it is far more than that. Using the game play for Dominoes as an example is just a just an easy way for me to convey the game mechanic. SAPIENS is simple to learn and to teach, which is generally a good sign for any game but it is also thoughtful and creative, a pleasure to play, competitive without being slow and painstaking, and exemplary in it's design and production - the rules booklet being a fine example of how a rules booklet should be like. Be sure to read through the Scene Bonuses before playing your first game, don't just start and read them as they come up. There are game rules within these bonuses that are not actually mentioned in the body of the rules - the Bear tokens being a good example of this.
This is a superb game for players aged 10 with opportunities for one-upmanship, for thoughtful play and for clever use of the scene tiles. The different Personal boards and the randomness of the Scenes ensure the challenge and freshness is maintained for every game, as do the quality of the components make it durable for long term playability. As far as the pieces go, the icons on the tiles are all good and clear - with the possible exception of the Mammoth head and tusks which looks confusing when viewed from a variety of angles, but it's brown and that's what actually denotes its use. The food tokens, T-Bone styled Mammoth meat steaks, fit the bill perfectly, in fact I think the only trick the developers missed was to have the "first person token" as a flat piece of card without a stand. Having a stand makes no difference to its use or the gameplay in any way shape or form, it just looks that much better standing up.
Just something you might like to consider. I have a fair number of boardgames as you can well imagine, the same as many of my readers I would think. Because of volume and space, as well as traveling to friend's homes for game evenings, my games are often stored or ported on their sides rather than being kept flat. The plastic insert for the box has been designed to hold the various and numerous tiles but they are not held particularly firmly and thus when the game is carried around and then opened you are confronted with a mess and a clean-up job. I have taken the insert out and instead now use a few zip-loc bags (baggies) for the pieces. This keeps them separate and safe and easy for each game to begin without several extra minutes of setting up. My personal view is that games manufacturers and publishers should include a reasonable number of baggies (zip-locs) instead of wasting production money on specially designed and made (and virtually useless) blown-plastic inserts. This is just my opinion and is open to discussion.