In all my years gaming, there is one experience that stands out above all others as my favourite and that was a my first and only game of Battlestar Galactica. The game amazed me with the level of social interaction that it created, the betrayal, the backstabbing and the fact that nobody believed me when I said I was innocent!
Ever since then I’ve enjoyed hidden role games, Citadels, Resistance, Dead of Winter and of course Saboteur. It may seem like an odd choice to play a game of backstabbing and betrayal with a fledgling group that has yet to bond but in my experience there is nothing that brings people together faster than knowing one of their number is a traitorous git!
A Brief Overview
Saboteur is a fast playing card game in which most players play happy go lucky mining dwarves looking for gold. However one or more treacherous players are Saboteurs seeking to lead the dwarves in circles until they die of exhaustion and dehydration. (No dwarves were harmed in the making of this review).
Each turn players play a card and draw a card. Players can play path cards as long as they connect to the entrance card, they are seeking to create an uninterrupted path to one of the three goal cards, one of which will be the gold. Players can also play action cards, these cards allow them to mess with the other players, breaking or fixing their equipment. A player with broken equipment in front of them cannot play path cards until their equipment is fixed. If they can’t fix it themselves they will have to beg for help from the other players or hope they draw a fix-it card on their turn.
Play continues until the cards run out or the gold is found, whichever comes first. If the gold is found the dwarves split the loot between them, if the deck runs out then the saboteurs win and take the gold for themselves.
The player with the most gold after 3 rounds is the winner.
Why Choose It?
Because I like it. My main reason for wanting to play Saboteur is that it requires a larger player count than my regular group provides. Sure, it can be played with a small number but it works better with more so I seized the opportunity to play it. Of course, if that were my only reason then why not play BSG or Dead of Winter? The answer there is simplicity. Saboteur’s play sequence is Play a Card, Draw a Card. It takes approximately two minutes to explain and a round plays out in under ten. Sure, that first round will be a bit slow and the Saboteurs will have a hard time trying to work out what to do but by round two all the teething problems will resolve themselves.
The first round for us proved a little underwhelming for two reasons. Firstly, one of the players, let's call him Bob, didn’t realise he was a Saboteur. To be honest this is really on Bob, after all the card spells it out pretty clearly in my opinion!
Secondly, because Bob was an idiot, Mrs Bob was left on her own to try and sabotage the group. At a five player count, there is a possibility that there will only be one Saboteur, which can be very difficult. If you make an obvious move to hinder the group you’ll be the target of every possible negative card in the deck. However if you play too subtly the group will take advantage and steam home for the win.
The answer to both these problems can be found in round two. Round one sets up an atmosphere of distrust and each subsequent round builds on that. Equipment Break cards fly thick and fast with players drawing on past rounds as the “reason” why they are attacking each other. In this environment a Saboteur can play much more openly with fewer repercussions.
One last way to help the Saboteurs is to play the Greedy Dwarves variant. In this version of the game, only players without broken equipment share in the treasure, this allows the Saboteur to attack under the guise of simply wanting a bigger share of the treasure and I always play with this rule once players have gathered the basics.
Did They Like It?
Yes, absolutely. As I had hoped the game went down a storm with lots of laughter and backstabbing. The simple mechanisms of the game quickly get out of the way so that the players can concentrate on the social aspect of lying and deduction. The minute the game was over the players demanded a second game and Saboteur has hit the table a few times since then too.
Saboteur is a perfect weight game for new players. It’s simple, play a card, draw a card, but each game plays out very differently as much of the game is about the interaction between players, rather than the cards being played. Because games are short, it doesn’t matter if Bob gets the rules wrong and messed up that round, it’s over in five minutes and we can play again, after an appropriate amount of ridicule. Longer games like Battlestar Galactica can be completely ruined if players don’t “get it”. Also, because of the playing time, the game fosters no ill will, sure the other players are stabbing you in the back, but in five minutes their allegiances will shift and you’ll have to work together, and if you’re a greedy dwarf you can alway break their pickaxe just before you unveil the treasure as payback!