- Core Mechanics
- Additional Mechanics & Balancing
- Graphic Design
- Key Takeaway
- My Recommendations
The satisfaction of drafting and placing dice to construct perfectly planned formations is the main draw of Sagrada. With restrictions that provide an extra depth of challenge to an otherwise elementary set of rules, and tools that can break these restrictions, it presents an amazingly balanced and competitive gameplay. The cherry on top is how beautiful the game looks. Sagrada is an excellent example of a splendid gateway game – accessible and effortless to pick up, yet with enough depth and replayability to encourage interested gamers to practise and get really good at it.
Before you continue, you may want to refresh your understanding of the rules by watching this short video by Watch It Played.
When distilled down to its purest form, players only need to make 2 decisions – 1. Which die to pick; 2. Which position to place the die. You could play the game with just the basic rules – only building around existing dice and being unable to place dice of the same value or colour adjacent to each other – and still feel contented building a remarkably organised stained glass window. Essentially, these 2 core mechanics of drafting and placing dice and 2 basic rules have already laid a sturdy framework for Sagrada to be built upon.
Additional Mechanics & Balancing
The challenge is expanded by adding restrictions through the Window Pattern Cards and scoring objectives through the Private and Public Objective Cards. With these additions, each decision becomes agonisingly difficult. When thinking about how they could optimising scoring, players now have to consider colour and value restrictions when picking dice. They are also required to remember what is left in both pool and bag of dice to secure options for future actions. Higher level players will even take turn order into consideration, due to Sagrada’s “snake-like” drafting turn order.
Just left like this, the game would seem laborious at best and torturous at worst. In order to prevent players from breaking down from mental blockages, Tool Cards are introduced to the game. These cards allow the players to ignore restrictions, re-roll dice and generally rebel against the strict rules of the game. The function of Tool Cards may seem supplementary at first glance, but I believe that this addition of a 3rd decision-making mechanic has provided infinitely more depth to Sagrada.
But of course, if left to be abused without constraints, Tool Cards would make the experience too straightforward. Hence the introduction of limited Favour Tokens, which are matched by the difficulty of each face of the 12 Window Pattern Cards. Favour Tokens both regulate the use of Tools so that the complexity of the game is retained and rewards experienced players by awarding them with points at the end of the game if unused. Ambitious gamers can challenge themselves by picking the most difficult Window Pattern Cards and forfeiting the use of Tools, and yet still attempt to win the game.
In a game where every single component has an element of randomness due to rolls and blind-draws, it might seem impossible to play the game strategically. Sagrada curbs this issue with the above-mentioned Tool Cards. Tools like Flux Remover and Glazing Hammer help to increase choices in case the first choices are not ideal. On top of that, the number of dice are limited to 18 per colour. Even if all 18 of a certain coloured dice appear within the first few drafts, each player is ensured only 4-5 of that colour. When 20 dice is the maximum that a player can hold, 4-5 of each of the 5 coloured dice is considered balanced.
Compare this to a situation where each player is able to obtain 8-9 of each colour. Every player would simply aim to optimise Private Objectives and ignore Public Objectives. Furthermore, the chances for players to be destroyed by the randomness of the draw would also be higher, since it would be very possible for the coloured dice for their Private Objective to not appear in the Drafting Pool. Reducing the number of mechanic-based components not only tightens randomness of the gameplay, but also reduces the cost of production for the publishers.
That said, having more of other components certainly don’t hurt. Rule-based components such as Objective Cards, Tool Cards and Window Pattern Cards serve to increase replayability of the Sagrada. Different combinations of these components allow players to employ various strategies to earn points and achieve victory. The game becomes more tactical than strategic, and players have to adapt in order to do well.
Beyond the balanced gameplay, players are given a simulated experience of being in a cathedral through the art of Sagrada. The Player Boards are modelled exactly like panels of stained glass windows in the main arcades. Numbers on Round and Score Tracks are illustrated to look like they have been formed using lead and glass. The Objective Cards are decorated with pointed arches which are common features in Gothic architecture. Even the Tool Cards imitate pencil sketches on yellowed paper, which could represent the building plans of architects. Even though the designers could easily leave these details out without affecting gameplay, the overall experience of playing the game is enhanced and players are able to sink deeper into their roles of window artisans.
No matter how well designed your game is, it would be for naught if your players do not understand the rules. Having someone teach you the game is probably the best way to learn, but you may not always have an experienced player guiding you. It is for this reason that graphic design is so important in tabletop games.
Sagrada has clear iconography that is instinctively understood without explanation. Looking at the Window Pattern Cards, players should be able to tell that the colours and dice faces are the colour and value restrictions respectively. The number of circles on the bottom right corner is instantly relatable to the round Favour Tokens.
Exceptional graphic design is most apparent in the Tool Cards. Even though the effects of the tools are concisely written at the bottom of each card, they are also explained through the illustrated instructions. Every single card shares 4 sketched out components – “DRAFT” which represents the action of drafting, “BAG” which represents the bag of dice, a grid which represents the frame of the Player Boards and the framed numbers representing the Round Track. These are darkened or faded out depending on whether the effect of the card are related to these components. Other than that, the illustrations simply consist of arrows to indicate position or value changes, while movement lines directly indicate re-rolls.
While overall production quality of Sagrada is excellent, the components that really stand out to me are the Favour Tokens and dice. Both are translucent, helping the game to achieve the stained-glass look more effectively when light shines through them. The Tokens are also weighted enough to feel satisfying in hand.
Sagrada is an excellent game to study when it comes to balancing a heavily randomised game. The contradictory nature of dice which create an element of chance, combined with drafting as a mechanic which encourages strategic thinking, causes issues of competitive balance to the designer. However, by implementing additional mechanics and rules to allow actions that restrict the influence of randomness, the game becomes tighter and more streamlined.
Sagrada is perfect for gamers like myself that prefer light strategy games with a high skillcap and almost infinite replayability. It is also a good gateway game to introduce to non-gamers due to its impressive artwork and interesting components.
The rules are well written, easy to learn and even easier to play. The game is forgiving enough that you won’t lose with a single mistake, but also punishing enough that you will find it hard to catch up if you choose not to optimise your choices.
New players may flounder a little when playing for the first time, but will definitely enjoy the game enough to want to play consecutive games. My advice is to play using the more powerful Tool Cards like Lathekin, Flux Remover, Eglomise Brush and Copper Foil Burnisher for your first game. These cards allow you to simply correct mistakes and complete objectives.
Competitive and serious gamers that want to reduce randomness even more can even remove excess dice when playing with fewer players. I recommend removing 4 dice of each colour when playing with 3 players, and 8 dice of each colour when playing with 2 players. This will ensure that you have the exact number of dice required to play the game.
P.S. Getting a giant die or stained glass trinket to act as a first player token could add some personal flavour to your copy of the game!
Can’t get enough of Sagrada? Read my First Impressions post, or watch this full playthrough by JonGetsGames! If you would like me to do another study for Sagrada’s 5 & 6 player expansion, let me know in the comments section below!🍺