Time: ~25 minutes
Times Played: 26
I love abstract games. They are my absolute jam. When Azul came out, I watched one review of the game and immediately drove to my local store to purchase it and since that day in late December, we’ve played Azul 85 times (as of this writing). But my love of abstracts doesn’t end there. Patchwork is another hit in our household and I’m very fond of Santorini and Blokus. Photosynthesis has been a blast and there’s a soft spot in my heart for The Duke, Quoridor, and Through the Desert, among others.
Needless to say, when I saw Sagrada I knew it was going to have a place in my home.
You can’t mention Sagrada without talking about the beautiful components first. There are a few games that really draw people in when they see it for the first time and Sagrada has that due to the artwork, color, and components. The stained glass holders are a sight to behold. They are large, colorful, thematic, and thick. I have no worries that anything in the box is going to be damaged unless I deliberately set out to ruin it myself. The spaces for the card and the dice in the holder are perfectly cut and once completed, the design is great to look at due to the transparent dice. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m staining glass when I perform the actions (it is an abstract game after all) but the look of the game creates that impression before, during, and after gameplay.
Sagrada is a dice drafting game that takes a simple mechanic and adds a strategic flair to each action as you have to take and place the dice you selected in such a way to one, maximize points from objectives and two, not hinder your ability to place future dice. That forethought and strategy are why I love this game. So many games get easier the longer you play them as your engine gets built or your bonuses stack but Sagrada, like other abstract games (Azul and Blokus come to mind) tightens its grips on players and their decision making with each die placed on the player board.
Sagrada also includes variable objectives that add variety to each game. The private objectives (sum of the pips of a particular colored die) will remain the same but the different public objectives ensure that each game feels different.
That is even before Tools are mentioned, which are randomized and allow players to perform rule-breaking actions (for a cost). Tools are situational and some are better than others but they are typically not to be neglected and can help get players out of a squeeze.
As this is a drafting game, there will be frustration as you see the dice you desperately need snatched ahead of your turn. Sagrada implements a snake drafting system so if you’re the first player to choose in a round, you’ll also find yourself picking last as the order works its way back to you. For example, in a four-player game the order would go A-B-C-D-D-C-B-A. Tools are a decent way to mitigate that problem but there’s only so many times you can pay for that game-changing action. That payment depends on the difficulty of the stained glass piece (card) you are working on. They range from three beads (which you use for payment) up to six. The higher the number, the more difficult the piece is to complete.
The game lasts ten rounds and once points are tallied, the player with the most wins.
I really like Sagrada. It’s accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike due to the easy rules and guidelines. I don’t think it’s the easiest abstract to learn but that’s only because it introduces Tools and objectives, which tend to distract and slow down first time players. They might understand how a Tool works but don’t really grasp how it’s helpful to them until it’s too late. The premise of the game though is simple and players can jump right in. The scoring is straightforward and while players may not get the Tools initially, they know what they’re doing on turn one. With the added bonus that the game plays quickly, not getting everything right the first time isn’t too bad as you can just play again.
Sagrada does a lot of things right and reaps a lot of praise for its gameplay but there are a few things that rub me the wrong way.
I’m not a fan of the objectives that have players angling for the sum of all pips of a particular color. It can swing the game heavily in one players favor and the layout of a players card (the player with the goal or an opponent) can influence the dice chosen far too much. For example, if my objective is to grab purple dice but my opponent has the card with five purple dice needed to complete the card, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to grab what is needed and that doesn’t include the randomness of the dice being pulled and rolled. Couple that with an opponent having the same objective but for yellow dice but no one has the card with yellow squares, then their odds are dramatically improved at fulfilling their objective. There’s too many mitigating factors for me to personally enjoy that objective. It also becomes painfully obvious who has what color when players start grabbing sixes left and right. So many points are scored from just this objective that it trumps most of the other objectives.
The ten other objectives are fine and encompass different degrees of difficulty. The only ones that I take issue with are the sets of pairs objectives only being worth two points per pair. I feel like that should be worth three since no other objective is that low (in fact, the next lowest is four points per) and it typically directly interferes with completing other, more worthwhile objectives (like different values in a row/column). Why waste time on something that minuscule in value?
I also take issue with some of the Tools. There are clearly Tools that are better than others. Sagrada features twelve Tools and with only three available each game, there’s a ton of variability between games. This variability is great but after enough play throughs, you’ll have an idea if the Tools are going to be worthwhile once they’re drawn. Of those twelve Tools, I think four are straight garbage. Eglomise Brush (2), Copper Foil Burnisher (3), Lathekin (4), and Tap Wheel (12) all feature the same premise: moving dice that are already on your player board to somewhere else. Utilizing these means that you cannot draft and will have at least one open spot on your board (which is worth negative points). The idea behind these cards are that if you made a poor placement, you can bring yourself back into the game by utilizing one of these Tools but to us, it seems like such a waste. The game is only ten rounds and if you’re having to use one of these Tools, it means something has gone wrong and that player will probably be on the outside looking in when it comes to the victory circle. Every turn matters and performing a bad placement that requires another turn to fix it will likely have players out of the game. All of the drafting cards are superior to these and not just because it allows players to continue filling their board. They’re more useful and less situational and allow players to fix the randomness that occurs with dice rolling and drawing items out of a bag blindly as opposed to player error.
The last aspect of Sagrada that I want to share my disdain for is the scoring markers. I absolutely love that the row where discarded dice and the score track are the same component just on opposite sides. It takes up so little space and makes point scoring a breeze. It’s awesome and I love it. What I don’t love are the teeny-tiny score markers that don’t have a designated box space and are hard to see when placed on the scoring track. I typically just use leftover dice for each players scoring with a “one” pip showing if they’re under fifty points and a “six” pip showing if they’re over fifty. Unlike my other gripes, this doesn’t impact gameplay in the slightest but for the production value of everything else, I would have thought these markers would be better.
All of that aside, I really like Sagrada. The decision making is fast and important. The game is short but offers a ton of strategy. The game is great at all player counts as well. If you’re playing Sagrada with more people, the only thing that changes is how many dice you’ll see over the course of the ten rounds. This makes the lower player counts (two- and three-players) a touch more random as you won’t see every die from the bag like you would at four. That randomness of dice drawing will either be good or bad depending on your preference. While I play this game at two- and three-players, I think four is the best simply because you’ll see all dice.
I’m actually really excited to see the five- and six-player expansion to see how this plays with more people. My only hesitation’s with adding more players is how much additional time it adds and separating dice out when you want to play with four or less. With four, this game lasts right around the thirty minute mark which is perfect for a game of this depth and weight. Any longer and it might start to overstay its welcome. I also hope the new tiles and challenges and tools are compatible with the base game as I would love more options. The minimalist in me has one remaining worry that the new pieces won’t fit in the original box, which is something I would just have to figure out on my own.
I thought there would be more downtime in a four-player game but players typically know what they want and with the restrictions in place due to their player card, their options are limited. This means that when what they want is taken, they really only ever have a plan B. You don’t have to wait for them to antagonize themselves over their decision making.
Sagrada also features a solo mode that’s available to players. I’ve mentioned with other games that feature this (Gravwell and Clank! spring to mind) that I’m only a solo gamer for heavier games and Sagrada is not that. I’ve tried it though just for the sake of seeing what it’s about and let me tell you that solo mode is punishing. The rules remain relatively similar to playing a normal game but the small changes make it difficult. You can make things easier by adding more Tools but it’s not a guarantee that it will help you. I appreciate the solo mode and I did have fun trying to navigate towards victory but this isn’t something I’ll play again solo and I would not recommend purchasing it just for the solo experience.
I think Sagrada is a great game whether or not you like abstracts. The only part that I could see as being frustrating to players is the randomness of the dice being drawn and rolled.
I have tried to ignore the obvious elephant in the room that is comparing Azul and Sagrada. They’re both colorful abstracts that have had huge success since being released around the same time in 2017. Sagrada is a game good enough to stand on its own (likewise with Azul) and I wanted to spend this time speaking only for Sagrada. With that out of the way, this is a topic worth exploring. The question comes down to the following: Are Azul and Sagrada different enough to warrant owning both? Find out our opinion here.