Dale Yu: First Impressions of Sonora  

 

Sonora

  • Designer: Rob Newton
  • Publisher: Pandasaurus
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Pandasaurus

The Sonoran desert spans areas of Arizona, California and Mexico.  It is known for beautiful vista and iconic fauna such as the saguaro cactus and the organ pipe cactus.  While I’ve never been there myself, it has long been on my list of places that I would like to visit someday.   Sadly, right now, there’s not much travel going on in my life, so those plans are on the backburner.  And while there also isn’t a lot of boardgaming going on right now, Sonora has provided me with solo and two-players games to allow myself a chance to imagine a trip there.

 

I have long been a fan of roll-and-write games (and flip-and-write, and tick-and-write) with many different entries in that genre being reviewed on these electronic pages.  Sonora is an interesting subspecies of the genre, being the first Flick and Write game that I can remember. From the back of the box: “players flick wooden discs onto a game board representative of different vibrant landscapes across the Sonoran sands. Each area encompasses a different unique game, so skillful aim is required to play in the region of a player’s choosing and score points on your dry-erase sheet! But watch out for other players eager to bump discs to score points for themselves.”

 

Each player gets their large laminated score sheet and a dry eraser marker in their color.  Each player also takes a set of 5 numbered discs in their color.  The gameboard, with its four different quadrants, is set up in the middle of the table.   Each quadrant corresponds to a different portion of the score sheet.  There is also a recessed hole in the center of the play area.  The game is played over a number of rounds (between 5 and 7) – with the length of the game being decided upon prior to starting.  A start player is chosen, and the game begins with the cliff dweller area being in front of the start player.  The players should arrange themselves so that each of them has a different launch zone in front of them – if play is on a square table, this should happen naturally.  Each round is split into two phases: 1) Flick. 2)Write.  Interestingly enough, this is where the name of the game genre comes from.

In the Flicking phase, players take turns flicking disks from the launch zone in front of them into the board area.  There are three rounds of flicking, with each player flicking two discs in the first two rounds and then flicking their single remaining disk in the final round.  The players try to put the discs in particular regions of the board – because in the next phase, the discs will be used to write on the scoresheet in the regions matching their location on the board.  Any disc which is on the line between regions will end up in the region which has a majority of the disk on it.  Any disc which falls in the center hold is put aside and can be used in any region of the scoresheet.  There are some bonus zones (circles) in the playing area; if your disc touches any part of a bonus area, you will use the benefit of the bonus area instead of the underlying region. 

 

Discs that are flicked off the board are simply disqualified and not used; but if your disk flies off the board after being hit by someone else’s flicking, you get a chance to reflick that displaced disk.  [Note, there is a super fun advanced rule which prohibits you from directly flicking into the area closest to you – your disc must first travel out of the nearest region, and it can only land in the near region if it ricochets there.]

 

Once all the flicking is done, then the players convert their discs on the board into marks on their score sheet.  The cliff-dweller area must be resolved first, and in player order – as this is the only part of the board where timing matters.  Once this is done, the other three areas can be scored by each player individually and in whatever order they choose.

CLIFF-DWELLER (yellow lizard) – each player first totals up their point value for this area; summing up the numbers of their discs assigned to this area as well as double the value of any discs on the two cliff dweller bonus areas on the board.  Play in this region is done from most points to least, with tiebreaker going by current player order.  There are 8 groupings of hexes in this area, ranging from 5 hexes to 22.  For each point of influence, you can cross out any one hex in this area.  You score points for completely finishing one of the eight areas, with a special bonus going to the player who finishes each particular area first.  There is also a special ability granted to the first player to finish an area as printed on the board.  All other players who finish that grouping can score the lower score for that area.

 

CANYON (orange fox) – There is a irregular grid of white squares on the scoresheet and a 2×2 square of them is outlined in black.  Based on the number of the disc in the area, you can then draw a shape corresponding to that number OR LESS onto the grid of white squares such that the newly drawn shape is orthogonally adjacent to a previously outlined shape.  The goal here is to enclose as many possible specimens of the 3 different cacti – don’t be confused when the rules tell you that you are trying to collect sets; because by the example, this isn’t true at all, you’ll score each of the cacti types individually.  There are also a few special abilities that you can take advantage of as you encircle them.

 

CREEK BED (owl) – Each disc is counted individually here.  Starting from any previous endpoint, you cross off a number of spaces in the creek bed equal to the number on the disc- unlike the Canyon, you cannot downgrade the number.  You may not move through any previously used spaces.   You circle the next unoccupied space on the track after you have crossed out the required number.  You will score points at the end of the game equal to all the numbers in your circled spaces.  If it is impossible to use the entire value of a disc, you simply discard that disc and do not mark anything in the Creek Bed area for that disc.

 

MUDCRACKS (Rabbit) – You sum the total of all the discs you have in this area, doubling any discs that are on the rabbit bonus spaces.  You cross off nodes in the Mudcracks up to the sum value of your points for the round.  Each node must be connected/adjacent to a previously crossed off node.  Draw in the line between each pair of connected nodes.  You will score points at the end of the game for each shape which is enclosed fully by lines.  There are also some bonus columns at the bottom of this area, each square here costs 1 point to use.  You generate the bonus at the bottom of the column immediately when the column is fully marked.  Generally, you’ll use the extra points at the end of a turn here when you can’t cross out any other nodes.

 

Bonuses – along the way, you might capture bonus rabbits (6 pts), foxes (4 pts) or owls (#).  There is an area in the center left where you can circle the captured bonuses, and then you cross them off as you use them.  The rabbits and foxes give you an extra 6/4 pts in their respective areas and the owl lets you cross off anywhere from 1 to 5 spaces (and then circle the next space on the track).  There are also triangular icons which allow you to reflick a disc which did not land where you wanted it to end up as well as square swap icons which are used at the start of the Write phase to exchange the position of any two of your discs – in order to get the right number in a particular quadrant or bonus area.

At the end of the round, turn the board 90 degrees to move the first player for the next round (so that the Cliff Dweller section is in front of them).  At the end of the final round, the players sum up their scores in the four areas (as outlined above).  The player with the highest score wins.  Ties go to the player who captured the most bonus animals.

 

My thoughts on the game

 

Well, it’s a very interesting idea.  I love flicking games – Crokinole is amongst my favorite all time games, so the game does appeal to me from that standpoint.  Flicking the discs to the right parts of the board is not as easy as you might think, and frankly, the whole thing becomes a traffic jam at the end of a 4-player round as there will be as many as 20 discs contained in the area!  It’s hard to predict what you will hit and where things will end up at that point.  Because of this chaos, I think I might prefer the game at 3 for the increased control.  But, this is conjecture, as we only had a few test runs where two of us each flicked in 10 discs each just to see how things worked with a full player count.  I have yet to get the game to the table with that maximal player count.  I have definitely liked the game at 2p but there is a lot of empty space on the board – and this maybe makes it easier to get discs in the center slot because there is less that ends up in the way?

 

Each of the areas of the scoresheet plays a little differently, and I still haven’t figured out if I’m better off concentrating on one or two areas and trying to max out the scores in those – or if I’m better off taking the balanced approach and scoring in the middle range in each.  I suppose that the individual games and vagaries of flicking will end up determining my strategies more than a fixed train of thought.  I have found that I like the puzzle of the canyon the most followed by the mudcracks – but from a somewhat careful look at the sheet, it appears that each of the areas has an equal opportunity to score well for you. 

I would say that remembering to pick up the animal bonuses is key (at least for me) as they essentially give you an extra disc worth of value, and that’s something that is hard to turn down.  It’s a lot harder to predict if you can get the double bonuses from the flicking board, but you definitely have control over the ones on the score sheet.  And when you figure that generally each player is going to get the same 5 discs each round, figuring out how to get the additional value of an extra disc will surely help set you apart from your opponents.

 

The rules are laid out fairly well, but there are a number of typos/discrepancies in the rules which could confuse people unwilling to cross-reference them.  The mudcracks scoring in the text on page 9 gives one value (12pt) for the highest scoring cactus while the example and the score sheet offer a lower point value (6pt).  In this case, we used the rule from the example, and scored each as 6pt. Second, the Rabbit bonus on pg 10 and in the playing areas of the board are listed as 5pt in the text but the graphics in the rules and on storage area of the sheet show a graphic with 6pt.  There is no example showing the usage of this, so it is completely unclear which value we should use.  We house ruled 5pt, but it was completely unclear to us what the correct rule should be.  I would like to see if I could get these questions answered before playing again so that we know if we are playing with the rules as the designer intended.

 

The scoresheets are a nice laminated stock, and the markers write and erase on them perfectly.  The scoresheets are doublesided which is nice, but part of me wishes that an alternate set of scoring areas was available on the reverse to give us different challenges to play with.  But, by no means am I fatigued of the scoresheet setup yet – I just think this is possibly a lost opportunity.  The artwork is very thematic in earth tones and chunky graphics that really evoke the desert.   Finally, I really like the way that the box insert holds everything in place underneath it for storage while also providing a nice stable base for the playing area when the game is in play.

 

Thus far, as a 2p game, it has been an enjoyable diversion. I like the puzzle solving combined with the dexterity – even if you have the best plan in your head, you still have to get the discs to the right spot.  There is some competition for areas with your opponent, and there is enough empty space to allow you to target your opponent’s discs if you want to try to knock them off of an area where they currently reside.  We have found that adding in the advanced rule – not allowing yourself to directly flick your disc into the quadrant closest to you –can made the game more challenging; though it does make it a lot harder to use the bunghole strategy to get wild disks.  I love the idea of the flick and write, and I look forward to playing it more in the weeks/months to come. 

 

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

James Nathan: I’m not sure I had enough control over the ultimate placement of the discs.  Sure, you can hit the middle, and that was reasonably achievable.  You can also, well, just aim for a corner, but heading out towards the middle for a 2x’er or a shot that misses the middle means you’re target practice for the ensuing players.  But maybe that’s fine. We can have roll and writes with limited ability to control the die results, and the effect here isn’t too dissimilar -but mechanically, your dexterity skill doesn’t seem valued enough to make it feel like it’s testing that skill.  The different areas were fine, and I was a sucker for the Canyon, partially as it felt the most interesting. 

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral. James Nathan
  • Not for me…

 

 

Solo Game

 

There is also a solo game here – where the player flicks 3 full color sets of discs (15 total discs) into the board area, and then the player selects one color set for himself, one color set for the AI, and one to be unused this turn.  The player can choose the order in which to flick all the discs.  In each area, the AI uses rules surrounding areas with small black squares that somehow hinder your progress in each area.

 

It’s an interesting puzzle of sorts because you are mostly in control of all the flicking; so you can decide ahead of time which discs you’d ideally like to end up in which areas.  Sure, you can’t control all the crazy ricochets or random discs that somehow end up in a bonus area you didn’t intend – but I do think you end up getting to decide mostly which numbers go where.

 

I don’t know how else you could do this by yourself – but I feel like maybe I have too much control over which disc ends up where.  I tried flipping all the disks over and flicking them without knowing which color went where, but that was a disaster as there was definitely not enough control at that point.

 

The solo game was really good for getting more familiar with how and where to flick the discs, and it did help me get a good feel for how I’d like to approach the different scoring areas.  I am assuming that the goal here is to score the most points (or at least beat your previous score), and I would have liked some sort of rubric in the rules to let me know how to gauge my success (or failure) based on my score.

 

I was glad to be able to play the game solo to learn how it works and to experiment a little with the different areas, but I’m not sure this is a version that I’d come back to.  The game works much better for me when other people are involved.

 

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • Not for me…

 

 

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dale Yu: First Impressions of Sonora  

  1. Brandon Kempf says:

    I hopped in and left my thoughts on the game a bit too late. Here we go, clearly a not for me game.

    I love flicking games, and I adore roll and write games, so why did this one go over like a lead balloon? First off, the rule book is overly verbose, like no reason in the world it should be that verbose. Then, on top of being verbose, they are vague at points like Dale said. It’s really an unforgivable thing to make me read a book like that and then still have questions about what I am doing in game after reading. At least tell me everything, spell it out if I gotta read that much. But the big thing is, the board is just too damn small. I don’t care if the wooden discs are smaller, the area is just too small to give anyone any sense of skill. It’s a “flick and pray you get what you want by the time everyone is done flicking” game. Also, it doesn’t matter where they land, you are gaining something positive, which seems to be the way they have decided to give flexibility to the players. You may as well just drop all of the discs at once on the board and just everyone score it from there. Everything looks nice, until you start marking up your player boards, then it becomes kind of hard to read in a lot of places. If you can sink it in the hole each time, more power to you, although I don’t really think that’s the way to go either as you will never benefit from the doublers that are on the board. All in all, a huge disappointment at two players and utter chaos and idiocy at four players.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s