Alice and Charlie were now ready to join us, so we went for a five person game. Jim went to his game shelves and found a game we had last played back in April of 2004, Die Sieben Siegel.
Jim and I both remembered that previous game, where choosing the saboteur ended up being a no-brainer. When explaining the rules, Jim mentioned this along with the rest of the game play. We decided to try a practice round, and Danielle, as first bidder, jumped on the saboteur role right away. Alice was trying the greedy strategy, and took seven tokens. As it turned out, Danielle had lots of red cards in her hand which let her trump all sorts of tricks. Alice only got two of her seven, leaving her with 14 points (one of the tokens was white). But Danielle had something like 9 points, because she only managed to give away one of her black tokens.
And this illustrates the rule we got wrong in the game. According to the rules, the black seals are worth 3 points (and points are bad), but only if you get one for taking a bad trick! For the saboteur, they're only worth 1 point! This means that in the practice hand, Danielle scored 3, not 9, and in the rest of the hands, the scores were different as well.
With five of us playing, we decided to play five hands. In the first one, Danielle dealt, and Alice, bidding first, took the saboteur. After everyone had made their predictions, she realized that no one had taken any red tokens! She then made the sensible lead: a low red card. That forced everyone to follow that lead, and one of us ended up having to take that unwanted trick. That someone was Charlie, and he was forced to do that twice, leaving him with two black seals. Dave, on the other hand looked like he was going to end the round with his one green seal, until Alice lead green for the last trick. No one else had either green or red, so Dave's overcard won the trick, and Dave ended up with no points for the round.
In the second hand, Charlie passed on the saboteur, so Dave took it. But as he played the hand, he realized that his hand was too good as the saboteur, and he ended up only giving away two of the black seals, one each to Danielle and Alice. This time Jim and Charlie had made the good predictions, and finished the hand with no seals, and therefore no points.
In the third hand, both Dave and Jim pass on the Saboteur, so Danielle took it, because she wanted to prove she could do better with it than in the practice hand. It turned out worse, since she was only able to give one token away, to Jim. Jim, for his part, was also stuck with a colored seal, and 5 points. Alice was gradually figuring out the game, and ended the hand with no seals, and no points. By the end of this round, the scores were very close, with scores of 8 - 9 - 9 - 10 - 14.
In the fourth hand everyone was apparently scared off, because no one took the saboteur. There were sixteen seals claimed during the predictions, so we were at least one overbid. Danielle ran into problems, though, because her hand had too much trump, and she ended up taking three unwanted tricks, for 9 painful points. Charlie was left with two seals in hand, since Danielle took his tricks, while Alice (for the second hand in a row), Dave and Jim all finished with 0 points.
In the final hand Danielle thought she had the perfect hand for a saboteur, so she jumped at it. Besides that, there were 15 seals claimed, so theoretically everyone could make their bids (except saboteur Danielle, of course). But no one played nice this hand. Dave trumped Jim's yellow trick, and Alice trumped Dave's purple trick, and Danielle wreaked havoc with the tricks as well. She was left with two black seals, but Charlie had one and Jim had one, and Dave was left with two seals, one of which was white, so everyone had a high score this hand. Well, everyone did, except Alice, who once again finished with 0 seals, and 0 points. And so , when we added up the scores, Alice had the easy win, with 9 points, 5 ahead of Dave in second place.
Afterwards, once I got home and realized after checking the rules that we had messed up, I looked at the scores to see how the numbers and rankings would have changed if we had played the saboteur's black seals correctly. As it turns out, Alice still won, and the margin was still 5, and the relative placements (first through fifth) were the same. But Dave and Alice would have had four fewer points, and Danielle's score would have been 10 points smaller.
Given our interpretation of the black seals' impact on the saboteur's score, it makes sense that this session the saboteur wasn't the no-brainer that Jim and I thought it would be. Still, even with the proper scoring, I'm not sure that being the saboteur is always the right call in a five player game. In the last game we only had three, and it seemed much harder to make accurate predictions because much smaller cards could win tricks, so being the saboteur seemed like the safe play every time. But in this session it worked, and I really enjoyed the game.