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Subject: Accessible but limited rss

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Zoe M
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In many ways, this game has a lot going for it. It's simple to explain, fits into a small box, and can accommodate up to ten players. This alone is enough to ensure that it sees more than its fair share of play time.

The concept is also pretty appealing: Each player is a dwarf working in a mine, digging tunnels and trying to reach gold--except for the ones who are saboteurs and actually want to hinder everyone else's progress. This is a bluffing/deduction game, which is generally my favourite kind: player roles are hidden, so you don't know who's working with you and who's working against you.

As I mentioned before, gameplay is very straightforward. Each player has a hand of cards, consisting mostly of tunnel pieces. On your turn, you play a card and then draw a new one. If you're not a saboteur, you're trying to advance the tunnel toward the three endpoints, one of which contains gold. If the tunnel forms a continuous path to the gold, then the regular miners win. If the deck of cards and the players' hands are exhausted first, then the saboteurs win.

Besides tunnel pieces, there are a few other types of cards that add a bit of variety to the turns. Maps let you look secretly at one of the endpoints to figure out where the gold is, and hazard cards let you hinder the other players: you can break their pick or their lantern, which prevents them from working on the tunnel until the problem is fixed. There are also cards for fixing the broken tools and for destroying part of the tunnel. I should note that I love the artwork on the cards; there are all sorts of cute critters and random objects that bring the tunnel pieces to life.

So, how does it all come together? Personally, I tend to find the game a bit disappointing. I like games where there's a lot of choice on every turn, but Saboteur turns are very limited. You have very few cards to choose from, and a very small set of options for using the cards that you do have. This means that the deduction/bluffing aspect isn't as fully realized as I'd like; if the saboteur is doing their job effectively, it will usually be pretty clear who they are. I've played games as saboteur where I tried to do something useful and misleading on my first turn and found that the other players had practically won by the time my second turn came around.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the game is the incentive for people on the same side to turn against each other: when the miners reach the gold, it's distributed only among those of them who are not currently suffering from a broken tool, so harming your ally can result in more gold for you. Unfortunately, this is also connected to what I see as the game's greatest weakness: if you aren't able to repair yourself and no one wants to help you, you may have to miss multiple turns and spend a lot of time just sitting there without participating in the game. Needless to say, this can get pretty boring. I'd much prefer full-out elimination, where at least you know that you're done and can go get a snack or something, to this state of paralysis where you're forced to sit there doing nothing.

Despite these serious flaws, though, I would say to anyone considering a purchase that I think you'll get your money's worth. Saboteur is very inexpensive to begin with, and short play time and simple rules mean that it's easy to get this one out on the table. Basically, Saboteur is a good filler, and if you don't come to it looking for deep gameplay then you probably won't be disappointed.
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Good review, although Saboteur is one of my favorite light games. I play with three rules variants:

1. "Werewolf," before a round everyone closes their eyes, Saboteurs open their eyes so they know who each other is. This allows for cooperation, one being obvious and the other being subtle to confuse loyal dwarves.

2. Center card farther away. By one space. Makes the center card harder to get to, and also prevents two Goal cards being revealed by a single play.

3. If the dwarves win, only the dwarves with unbroken tools get gold. Creates incentive for loyal dwarves to sabotage each other, and thus open themselves up for accusations of disloyalty.

Strategy-wise, I think the best thing one can do is not play hyper-efficiently as a loyal dwarf. Ideally, you want to play as badly as possible while still finding the gold. This is because you want there to be as little difference as possible between the appearance of your play when you are loyal, and the appearance of your play when you are disloyal. This is what will allow you to get away with it when you're the saboteur.

Hidden Role games are an interesting beast that pose some unique design challenges. If there is one obviously good move, then not taking it immediately exposes you as the traitor. On the other hand if there are no good moves at all, or they are so opaque as to be effectively non-deducible, then gameplay is effectively random and there is no way to deduce the identity of the traitor.

Saboteur suffers from the former a little, but gets around it a bit through hidden cards and short rounds. By having short rounds with multiple assignments of loyalty, you can create a "style of play" like the one I refer to. This would be very difficult in something like Battlestar Galactica, which, while an excellent game, is too long to create that kind of strategy over several rounds -- in order to do this, you'd either have to play multiple games in a night or play repeatedly with the same group regularly.

Any, back to Sab: Once everyone figures out that the best strategy is to lowball it as the loyal dwarves, then it becomes a much more dynamic balance between the two sides and the focus is put back on bluffing and psychology. Which is to the game's benefit, IMO.
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Zoe M
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Great suggestions, thanks! I'll definitely try being a bit less efficient as a dwarf and see how it goes. I really like the idea of the Werewolf modification too.
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.308 Jake
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Dunyazad wrote:
Maybe the most interesting aspect of the game is the incentive for people on the same side to turn against each other: when the miners reach the gold, it's distributed only among those of them who are not currently suffering from a broken tool...


This is not the main rules. This is a variant. The incentive in the main rules is to be the first dwarf at the gold so you get first pick of the gold. But all Dwarves still get something.
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Zoe M
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trippercook wrote:
Dunyazad wrote:
Maybe the most interesting aspect of the game is the incentive for people on the same side to turn against each other: when the miners reach the gold, it's distributed only among those of them who are not currently suffering from a broken tool...


This is not the main rules. This is a variant. The incentive in the main rules is to be the first dwarf at the gold so you get first pick of the gold. But all Dwarves still get something.


Well, I guess the fact that I find it the most interesting aspect of the game explains why we quickly moved on to the variant and forgot about the basic rule. In a game with a lot of people, I don't think it's really possible for one person to control the timing of the end that precisely. Maybe the best you can do is give hazards to the other dwarves, just like you would when playing by the more cut-throat rule, but with the basic rule there's less at stake and therefore less incentive to do this.
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Steve Duff
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I think it's much more than a "variant". It's listed in the rules for handing out gold as an optional rule. Variants tend to be things that are tacked on afterwards, published later, that sort of thing.

It's clear that right from the start someone knew the game needed this rule. I'd guess there was some disagreement on how "optional" it should be, thus leading to the way it's referred to in the rules.

Personally, I think it's mandatory. You absolutely need a reason for good guys to sabotage in the game.
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Get Funkadelic
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dysjunct wrote:
Good review, although Saboteur is one of my favorite light games. I play with three rules variants:


I've played with and without variants 1 and 3 and have had the fun factor increased for all increased when the variants are in place. Those two variants, at least, should be the default rules. I'll have to work the second into the future games.

The only downside I have with this fun and fast filler game is that it plays best with 5 or more. Playing the game with three or four just isn't the same.
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