Review: Sun, Sea, and Sand: Paradise or Vacation from Hell?

Sun, Sea, & Sand Designer: Corne van Moorsel
Publisher: Cwali
Players: 2-5
Ages: 10+
Time: 45 mins
Review by Jonathan Franklin
Sun, Sea, and Sand is a great game and one of my favorites from all of 2010, but first a multiple choice test.You are on a vacation to Mexico and have a spare day.  Do you:

a. go for a hike and check out the forest?
b. go to the bar and enjoy a cerveza after shopping?
c. go to the beach, set out your umbrella and bronze yourself on the sand?
d. go swimming
e. go buy a resort and start to run it, appealing to groups who choose the other four options?

If you chose any of the above, keep reading, but as a player, you get to play e.

Sun, Sea, & Sand is a great mid-weight worker placement game.  I have as much worker placement fatigue as the next person, but SS&S adds something special.  Where you choose to place your worker determines when you will get her back.  The game is elegant, colorful, involves some planning ahead, and comes with four different types of meeples (hikers, shoppers, sunbathers, and swimmers) – more on them later.

You have up to five family members.  Each one can be sent off to do one of four tasks: build cabanas, build signs, build attractions, or round-up guests.  After all available family members are sent off to work, a backpacker shows up and stays at a resort if there is a room or on a beach if there is no room.  After that, everyone earns their income and resets for the next round. If you sent a worker off to build cabanas, that worker won’t return to your stock for two weeks, so each player will have a different number of actions each turn of the game, depending on how many of their family members are doing multi-week chores.

Cabana building is quite simple.  Send someone off or two weeks to build cabanas and spend money earned during previous rounds. Your worker can build 1 cabana for $ 1, 2 cabanas for $3, 3 for $6, or 4 for $10.  You need cabanas to house guests and you need to house guests to raise money.  You *will* be building cabanas.

Signs earn points and help snag backpackers.  Building signs is a one week action so you always get your sign builder back for next turn.  This is a nice part of the design because no placement feels wasted.  It might not be that exciting an action, but advertising is a good thing.

There are 8 weeks in the game and there are eight boats carrying tourists to your island.  You can plan ahead by seeing who is coming to the island in later weeks.  The designer included lots of extra boats, so each game will have different tourists.  If you want to book guests from future weeks, your family member does not come back until that boat arrives.  If you book guests for the final week in the first week (a really bad idea), you have given up an action for the entire game.

Finally, get awesome attractions to keep people at your resort for extra weeks.  All attractions get you extra income by keeping more guests at your resort, but they also earn prestige points, except for the bar, a red attraction, which get you an extra buck for each person staying there.  Don’t forget that if people at your resort stay for the attractions, they still need a cabana to sleep in.  If you have four people in attractions and four new arrivals, you need 8 cabanas.

That is the game, but does not really explain what is so neat about it.  Building a sign keeps the worker busy for one week, but signs snare backpackers and score points at the end.  Building cabanas takes two weeks, but holds tourists who earn income.  When building cabanas, you are balancing money vs. turn efficiency.  Building attractions keeps guests around longer, which is great, but the more guests hanging around, the more cabanas you need to house them.  In addition, most attractions score end game points and go up in price as they are bought.  Sounds great, right?  Well, building attractions keeps your family member busy for three weeks!

So you have some cabanas and plans for signs and attractions.  That is not really gamer bling.  The coolest part of the physical game is that there are not generic tourist meeples.  Instead, there are four kinds of meeples, sporty green meeples, rotund red meeples, sunbathing yellow meeples, and swimming blue meeples.  Each one likes to spend time in a different zone of your resort.  A red attraction will just keep the red meeples there another week, not green, yellow, or blue ones.  As a bonus, the meeples are physically different, not just the same meeple painted with difference colors.  Some have commented that the cardboard is a bit thin.  I think that is silly, but throw it out there for the sake of representing views I am aware of.  Oh wait, did I mention that the first player marker is a real sea shell? Cool.

There are slightly odd aspects to the game.  First is that the backpacker takes time, yet does not often affect the game in an important way.  I don’t mind it, but would love to know if it addresses a game play issue, is chrome made of hemp, or just adds a bit more meat to the enterprise.

Second, the scoring for the game is based on the final round, so you are playing the game to set up for your final week.  You want money each round, but really start to commit family members to the week 8 boat at around week six because week 8 is so important.

Finally, you are not placing attractions adjacent to each other.  You are spacing them out, often touching at corners, because open spaces between attractions count as ‘landscaping’ and earn additional points.  I’m all for theme, but sometimes feel like the designer sat down and tries to figure out how to get a game design feature to fit with the theme.

End game scoring includes prestige points from attractions and signs, number of guests, and number of contiguous zones (landscaping) between attractions.

Thoughts:  I loved Sun, Sea, and Sand and would happily play it almost any time.  It is a nice, clear, thoughtful game that has some worker placement, no auctions, lots of choices, the need to observe what others are doing, and no deck building.  Perfect for a gaming vacation.

Greg J. Schloesser:  The Essen offering from Cwali. This is one of the better games released by Cwali in the past few years. Lure tourists to your resort, expanding the resort in hopes of extending their visit. Interesting game that requires proper planning and some timing. Should be good for both gamers and families.  I enjoyed it. Rating: 6.5.

Ted Cheatham: This one is a strong mid-weight game.  Money and timing are very critical in this game.  As the game draws to a close you must plan ahead for the upcoming tourist season or you will be lost.  I have enjoyed my playings.

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: I really like this game and is one of the game I’m playing often with my family. It is an easy to learn but deep game with really close decision: for me a really good hit from Cwali like was Factory Fun.

Larry Levy:  I’ve noticed that for a lesser known game, SS&S does a really good job of impressing people.  It’s a perfect information game that still doesn’t feel dry – no mean feat.  It’s also interesting to see designer Corne van Moorsel feature the passage of time in this game, just as he did with last year’s BasketBoss.  Overall, I’m quite pleased with the title and consider it one of the better games of the year.  My one complaint is that it lacks a bit of excitement, but it’s still consistently enjoyable.  I like it.

Doug Garrett: The last two Cwali games – BasketBoss & Sun, Sea, and Sand – are hits for me.  The latter has been described well above, and fits nicely in that ‘will interest gamers, but is not too difficult for families to pick up and enjoy.  I also love the fact that the red meeple tourists (the ones who love “comfort” according to the rulebook) are fat compared to the sea (blue), beach (yellow), and sporting (green) tourists.  The theme fits nicely, though our group wondered about the fact that buildings are built and can house individuals immediately, but the people sent to DO the building are gone for 1-3 weeks…Hmmm.  I love it.

Patrick Korner: My group felt that SS&S was only ‘okay’, which resulted in my selling my copy after only one play. It works, it’s reasonably well balanced, but it didn’t feel like it added anything tremendously new to the worker placement genre. Given that I already have a glut of worker placement games, this one just didn’t bring enough to the table to have me reserve shelf space for it. Mostly we felt that it was a little too dry, which is a common complaint with Cwali games – occasionally the mathematical underpinnings show through a little too much.

Joe Huber: I must agree with Patrick on this one.  I gave it a second play, with only three players (as compared to five with my first play) to see if it was any more enjoyable, but found it more tolerable than actually fun.

Dale Yu: Like many of the other Cwali games, I was intrigued from the start with the concept/theme of the game.  I liked the idea of planning how to get guests into your resort and then how to keep them there.  The game works fine, and it implements the passage of time mechanic as well as any other.  There are some interesting moments trying to figure out the math of how long you can afford to have your workers doing things in order to be free when you need them next.  But, the game just seems to lack that certain pizazz.  All the mechanics work fine, but it’s not a game that I’m drawn to play again.  Of course, I did play it five times before moving the game on in a trade, so it’s definitely not bad!

Nathan Beeler: I’ve come to realize that I’m a something of a Corne van Moorsel fan.  BasketBoss, Factory Fun, StreetSoccer…all favorites.  And now Sun, Sea & Sand, a game that I love, but not without some reservations.  I do expect that that it will be very samey after many more games.  After all, the only thing that really changes from game to game is the type and number of tourists.  That should mold a player’s strategy each game, as should adapting to other players’ actions.  But at heart you always win by getting and holding onto more tourists.  For now, I still get a thrill from the decisions to be made.  It’s a game that I leave feeling like “I could have done that better”.  To me that’s fun.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it!  (4) Jonathan Franklin, Tom Rosen, Doug Garrett, Nathan Beeler
I like it.  (6) Larry Levy, Andrea Ligabue, Mary Prasad, Mike Siggins, Greg Schloesser, Ted Cheatham
Neutral. (4) Dale Yu, Valerie Putman, Joe Huber, Patrick Korner,
Not for me… (0)

Easter Egg: If you like StreetSoccer, add Champions 2020 to your want list!
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3 Responses to Review: Sun, Sea, and Sand: Paradise or Vacation from Hell?

  1. barbasol says:

    I LOVE the theme of this game, and the gameplay looks quite appealing, but I can’t get past the somewhat ugly components. Mostly it’s the technicolor red/green/yellow/blue… I’m sure they could have color coded things a bit more subtly. So instead of a buy, this is on my “try first” list…

  2. sounds like hotel samoaa

  3. Larry Levy says:

    Thematically, it’s almost identical to Hotel Samoa, Jonathan. However, the gameplay is completely different.

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