- Designer: Ryan Laukat
- Publisher: Red Raven Games
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 13+
- Time: 1 to 20 hours
- Played with a full campaign with review copy provided by Red Raven Games (total 13.5 hours)
(This will be mostly spoiler free – but I will talk in vague-ish terms about our campaign experience. I will be sure to leave out any major spoilers, but it would be impossible to not give some details along the way. If you don’t want even mini-spoilers, I’d recommend not reading further).
“Are the stars unfamiliar here?” she asked, and the sky grew suddenly dark, the star’s patterns alien and exotic. “This is the Wandering Sea. The gods have brought you here, and you must wake them if you wish to return home.”
In Sleeping Gods, you and up to 3 friends become Captain Sofi Odessa and her crew, lost in a strange world in 1929 on your steamship, the Manticore. You must work together to survive, exploring exotic islands, meeting new characters, and seeking out the totems of the gods so that you can return home.
Sleeping Gods is a campaign game. Each session can last as long as you want. When you are ready to take a break, you mark your progress on a journey log sheet, making it easy to return to the same place in the game the next time you play. You can play solo or with friends throughout your campaign. It’s easy to swap players in and out at will. Your goal is to find at least fourteen totems hidden throughout the world. Like reading a book, you’ll complete this journey one or two hours at a time, discovering new lands, stories, and challenges along the way.
Sleeping Gods is an atlas game. Each page of the atlas represents only a small portion of the world you can explore. When you reach the edge of a page and you want to continue in the same direction, you simply turn to a new page and sail onward.
Sleeping Gods is a storybook game. Each new location holds wild adventure, hidden treasures, and vivid characters. Your choices affect the characters and the plot of the game, and may help or hinder your chances of getting home!
Welcome to a vast world. Your journey starts now.
—description from the publisher
So, as recently as a few years ago, I would have run screaming from the idea of a cooperative campaign game. When they first became prominent, I had a number of negative experiences with cooperative games, and I wasn’t enamored with the genre at all. A few times spending an entire game session being quarterbacked around was more than I could deal with… Then, more recently (due to the pandemic), a regular group that played through most of the Andor games, some solo exploration in 7th Continent, a rousing play through Pandemic Legacy: Season 0, and a neat online-only play of My City has me rethinking both cooperative games as well as legacy/campaign games.
I don’t regularly search KS for the newest campaigns, so I honestly knew nothing about Sleeping Gods until a few weeks ago. But, some conversations with some gamer friends had this title brought up repeatedly. Aldie (from BGG) is playing through this solo, and my online Andor group was chattering about it, thinking that we might see if this could be played remotely over Zoom. And… my in person local group had such a good time with Pandemic Legacy: Season 0, that we were looking for another game to be played serially as a regular opener to the group.
For any or all of those reasons, Sleeping Gods seems like a good fit for one or all of those groups. We got a copy, and my in-person group dove right in. I will try to explain the experience of getting started with the game, trying to avoid spoilers, as Sleeping Gods is a huge undertaking. We managed to play a full campaign, and I will outline our experiences of those sessions as I try to review the game – knowing that our completed campaign probably revealed less than 10% of the game’s content to us!
When you first open the (large) box, you’ll see an intimidating 40-page rule book, but just behind that is a Quick Start Guide. The way the game is set up, some of the rules can be learned straight from this Quick Start Guide with the introductory missions setting up both the story and the main rules. It is still recommended that at least one player read the full rule book; and I was able to spend an hour poring over the rules prior to our first session. It’s a good thing that I did this pre-reading! Because, I’ll make no bones about it – the quick start guide is a sham. It definitely is a quick start, it gets you thru setup and the first two player turns, but then it leaves you in the middle of the sea, and you literally don’t know the rest of the rules. You essentially still have to read the full rulebook to know your other options… and I’d almost have preferred the rules to be in a single book because the current setup could lead to some serious issues in a first session if the group expected to be able to learn as they go…. That being said, you CANNOT SKIP THE QUICK START. Why? Because you need it for the start of the story and other setup things.
When you set up the game, you get out the atlas – this is the map of the Wandering sea, and you start on pages 2 and 3. The crew of the ship is distributed amongst the players. In our 4-player group, this means that each of us gets two crew members to control, and the captain, Sofi Odessa, remains in the center where any of us can control her. As the game is played, each player controls their own two crew members for actions and combat. A deck of 78 Enemy cards is taken out of the box, and left in numerical order. There are also adventure cards, which you may be directed to reveal through the course of your wanderings.
There is a ship board which is also placed in the center of the table. At the top is a picture of the ship with six rooms. Five of these rooms have action spaces on them. The bottom of the board has an area for the event cards and then a player aid for the turn actions. A bunch of tokens (for damage, fatigue, synergy, etc) are placed on the table, and you’re pretty much ready to go exploring! To set up a campaign, an Event deck is created – this is 6 mild cards on top of 6 perilous cards on top of 6 deadly cards. These 18 cards will be cycled through three times in the campaign. Essentially, each player turn, one Event card will be resolved (with an exception at the end of each deck).
The game has a lot of things to read. Though you won’t need it for the introductory scenario (as the story passages are in the intro rulebook), the rest of the story is found in a 172 page storybook. As you move through the world, you’ll be directed to certain paragraphs in the book – these will give you a small part of the story and then you will have choices or fights, and then depending on how that is resolved, you will be directed to a different passage or you will return to the ship, and that particular action will be over.
There are 4 phases to a player’s turn: Ship Action, Event, Take two Actions, End of Turn
Ship Action – there is a meeple on the ship; it must be moved to a different room, and then the action of that room is resolved.
- Bridge – draw an ability card, gain 4 command markers, and then remove any command markers on crew members
- Galley – Draw 2 ability cards, gain 3 command markers, and you may discard one ability card from your hand to remove a fatigue marker from any crew member
- Deck – Gain 3 command markers and then draw 1 to 3 search tokens – you can stop whenever you want; once you stop, you take all the damage icons that you have revealed as well as the bonus from any ONE tile
- Quarters – Draw 1 ability card as well as 5 command tokens. Also, remove 3 command tokens on crew members or adventure cards
- Sick Bay – Draw 1 ability card and gain 5 command tokens. Restore 1 health (i.e. take away a damage marker) to any crew member.
2] Event – Draw the top card of the event deck and do what it says. If it is ongoing – place it next to the ship and it stays there until the criteria are met for it to disappear.
3] Two Actions – there are four possible actions (travel, explore, market, port) – the same action can be taken twice
- Travel – move the ship around the board. Do a Craft challenge to figure out how far you might be able to go. Flip the page in the atlas if you have to
- Explore – explore a red circled location and read the storybook matching the location. This will give you a choice, a fight or a challenge. Keep going until you get to the “return to the ship” part of the story
- Market – if your ship is in a sea region with a marker – draw 7 card from the market deck and you can buy as many of them as you like.
- Port – if you are in a sea region with a port, you can take actions to heal the crew, heal the ship, remove fatigue from crew or gain experience for your crew members.
4] End of Turn – pass the Captain marker.
There are a few other components I should explain now.
First are the command tokens – these are light blue wooden hexagons – they are gained in ship actions, and they are used to equip ability cards, to power special abilities on your crew card, to activate adventure cards or to pass combat tokens to other players. There is a pretty small fixed supply of these, so you will be gaining them, and likely will then have to spend them in order for your teammates to be able to get some on their turn.
Second are the challenges – There are five different skills (skills, cunning, savvy, perception, craft). When you face a challenge, it tells you the trait and the number strength of it. Crew members with the icon have a single point in that skill per icon seen. To use that point, the character takes a fatigue icon marker. You can recruit multiple crew members to participate; but each takes a fatigue. Then an ability card is drawn and the number in the fate icon is added to the total. This number can then be modified by discarding ability cards from any players hand with a matching icon for a +1. If the crew total is equal or exceeds the challenge number, they are successful.
Finally, let’s talk about fighting. Sleeping Gods uses a unique system where each monster is depicted on its own card and has a 3×3 grid of possible hit locations. Groups of enemies are laid out next to each other so that their hit grids are next to each other. In each round of fighting, each crew member gets a combat token, and they can be played in whatever order the group decides (and you can pass them amongst each other by spending command tokens). You choose a target and then first do an Accuracy challenge against the enemy’s block status.
If you succeed, you place a number of hits equal to your weapon’s strength, starting anywhere on the opponents hit grid and then moving orthogonally. You can even splash over onto a neighboring card, though the majority of the damage must go on the initial target. If you cover a synergy icon, you give your synergy icon to another crew member, granting them a one time bonus that can be activated in battle later on. The enemy dies if all its hearts are covered. If not, it attacks back. All the team’s combat tokens are used, and then if the enemies are still alive, they get one more end of round attack.
In our first session, we didn’t know how things would go, so we just set it up and planned to play until we either decided to take a break or got to a good stopping point. FWIW, it’s pretty easy to stop at the end of any player’s turn. There is a log sheet where you save the status of the ship in written form, and you can bag/box up all the cards/crew/etc in a way to be able to recreate the game state later. We did this once, it took about ten minutes. On the next break, as we have space to do so, we just left it set up on the table for a week and immediately resumed next time…
We got so engrossed in the story that we ended up playing for the whole duration of the game night – about 4.5 hours total. There were a few times where we thought we might pack it up, but we just couldn’t stop exploring. We ended up playing through the entire event deck once, and as that signaled a third of the game, that seemed like a great place to call it quits for the night. There is actually a 19th turn in that third, as you do take a turn without using an event card – but instead reading a passage in the book…
At the end of that first session, we had collected 3 totems, and had a BUNCH of quests to complete. We had chosen mostly to explore around, and I think it was more dumb luck than anything else whenever we were able to collect a totem. Only in our online chat the next day did we figure out that we really could have taken better notes and had a better overall strategy. (I’ll save those thoughts for now and put them in a spoilery section later on).
However, as we needed better notes, I took 45 minutes to sit down and essentially re-read the places we’d been – this was easy enough to do by laying out the cards we had and looking at the meager notes we had made on the map on the back of the log sheet. The system that I started using then continued throughout the rest of the campaign.
The next week, we reconvened, and again played though the entire game night. After another 3.5 hours, we had obtained 6 totems total through two-thirds of the game. We had one crew member run out of health points in a fight, but otherwise, we have done OK with the fighting/surviving. We got much better at managing the command tokens and figuring out how to not be fatigued all the time. Having command tokens available to use really helped us work better as a team as we could more easily contribute to challenges.
We had agreed upon a course of action – that is, trying to focus on a single quest and working towards solving it before moving on to something else – and that seemed to work well for us. There is so much info out there, we’re at no shortage of quests, and we keep running into new ones – but having this plan of always moving towards a quest is good. We still find new quests, but there is more a sense of purpose/accomplishment rather than random wandering/exploring. Interestingly, we found the same number of totems in this pass through the deck, though we wonder if some of this is because the first quests are easier just to get you started successfully….
So quick back of the napkin calculations – and this involves a fair amount of estimation because I haven’t read things we haven’t actually encountered… so i don’t know for sure how much content is left at places we don’t think we’ve fully explored
There are 18 atlas pages total in the main box.
At the two-thirds mark, we have explored (by my estimation)
90% pages 2-3
80% pages 16-17
25% pages 12-13.
So about a total of 4 pages of content of the 18.
Though it’s really less than that because we’d have to go back and poke around in a lot of places to find that remaining percent; it’s not like we can go directly back to find stuff. Many locations have different story paths based on what quests you have; so there are plenty of locations we have to return to (and depending on my note-keeping, we may or may not know for sure where to go!)
We finished the campaign in the third session – this last session going about 4.5 hours – in part due to more combat. The fighting seems to be the part of the game that takes the longest; but that’s OK as I also find it quite interesting. There is a lot of problem solving going on here, and figuring out how to use the synergy tokens is often the difference between life and death. Figuring out how to use splash damage can be really helpful, as well as mitigating the end of round damage/status token distribution…
We made it to an ending – but it’s really just a continuation. There is still so much to see in the world of Sleeping Gods, and the game pretty much just tells you at this point that you need to get back out there and explore some more! And, I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing that again at some point. Well, at least I will (as I’m the one who owns it) – because I might end up doing a solo campaign – though right now I’m leaning away from that as I really liked the group experience.
So did we win? Who knows. The rules just tell you to find as many totems as you can. In an earlier KS draft of the rules (still available on BGG), the goal there is stated to find at least 7 totems – and by that now-obsolete measure – I guess we succeeded, as we found 9. When you consider that there are 140+ totems to be found though – there’s still a lot of gaming left in this box!
So how does it play? It feels like a choose your own adventure book mashed together with a D+D campaign. So I guess I should also talk about the book now – it’s easy to read and navigate. In general, the chapters are linked numerically to the location numbers on the map, with different sections being noted as decimals of that. I.e. Location 2 starts at chapter 2 in the book, then based on choices, you might read 2.1 next, or it might tell you to go to 2.7.
As you move around the book, it is admittedly hard to not spoil some stuff, esp as important text is often in bold and italics, often at the end of a section. And your eyes are trained to pick up on stuff like that so you don’t miss important stuff. As we live in the computer age, some of me wishes that the paragraphs were more randomly arranged in the book – like a choose your own adventure – sure that means more flipping back and forth, but also much less chance of spoilage. Or…. have the book in a computer app where you hit a button to read a particular passage.
Anyways, whenever you explore a map location, you go to the book and read the start of that numbered location. There are choices, some determined by previous experience… (keywords found on quest cards that you have obtained). If you have MOFONGO, read 2.4. If you have TURBONIUM, read 2.9. Otherwise you have three choices, if A, read 2.1, if B, 2.2, if C, 2.3, etc.
So the story is driven in sorts by your choices, but in other ways is on rails. Some locations let you choose which path to go down, others give you no choice but to read on. Interestingly, sometimes your decisions take you down one-way paths. Othertimes, a challenge may present itself, the same resolution always happens – if you pass the challenges on the way, you get the reward. If you fail the challenges, you still get the reward, but you also take damages or get some other penalty. In this way, the story will always move forward when it needs to. But, if you take damage or get status markers, you’ll have to figure out how/when to spend actions/resources to get rid of those obstacles. There are some interesting decisions to be made at times where you might decide to not contribute to a challenge (i.e. not place any fatigue markers) because the known penalty for failing isn’t worth the added fatigue.
I found that the story is interesting, but very much in a patchwork sense. As there is no real direction as to what order you will explore things in – the overall story is told in a series of vignettes, usually centered around quests. But, it’s up to you to put together the pieces that you learn to try to get the full story behind why the Gods are sleeping…
I think the game works really well in the multiplayer sense. We decided that in our group, the Captain (the active player) pretty much could make the decisions on their turn – sure, they could ask for input, but in the end, they did whatever they felt necessary. We learned along the way that we needed to both spend command markers as well as save them. In one way, you can’t hoard them – there is a fixed supply, and if you keep them, your teammates might not have any available to gain. On the other hand, if you spend them all on your turn, you have limited ability to help out on someone else’s turn as you need them to jump in the action.
There is a nice scaling balance between multiplayer and solo. (I did try a few rounds solo just to see what it’s like). In the solo game, you control all of the characters all the time. You do not need to spend command markers to use anyone, you just fatigue them and use them. However, you are still limited to just a hand of 3 cards. In the multiplayer game, you must spend command tokens to use your character on someone else’s turn, but the group has the possibility of N*3 cards, and this gives a lot more flexibility in return for having to spend the command on other things.
In our multiplayer game, we ended up settling on a distribution of labor that we found more efficient. Each of us had a job, and we kept it through the campaign. James Nathan was by far the best (most entertaining) reader, so he always had the book. I took all the notes and had the status markers. JP managed the enemy and quest decks, and Craig manned the ship, the cards we had near the ship as well as the goods. This kept us moving along at a good clip and made it harder for us to forget anything as each person had their job for each turn.
Let me talk a bit more about the rules. A long time ago (near the start of this review), I mentioned that I didn’t really like the Quick Start Rules – because they kind of left you hanging… Overall, the rules are fairly decent, but they are still lacking in places. Though the book is 40 pages long, there are unfortunately a number of things that aren’t covered. For us, the biggest omission was Artifacts. They come on a token, and they are listed in the manifest, but no other mention is made about them. It would have been nice to have some details about what they were and how they worked. We have also had some issues with Enemy abilities, especially Venom. The rules could have been more complete for this.
It took us a while to figure out the Double/Triple hearts on the Enemy cards. The explanation is found in the rules, but not where we expected as we couldn’t find it as we were playing and required some digging in the rule book and on line between our sessions. There are MANY questions about the rules – many of which are answered in the KS forums as well as on the BGG forums. There is now a file on BGG of official Errata – but it’s still hard to find stuff. There is a also at least on thread on BGG concerning typos, but i haven’t looked too close because spoiler city.
Yet, for all those complaints, we managed OK. We had to make some decisions on the fly, but our group felt like we made the right choice in those cases. In the end, we just played the campaign to have fun. Maybe we missed something here or invented a rule there, but we thoroughly enjoyed our 13+ hours in the universe of Sleeping Gods, and that’s probably what matters most. I got a good chuckle that the 40pg rulebook can be condensed into two sides of 8.5×11 paper (done wonderfully by Universal Head).
OK finally some minor spoiler-y thoughts about gameplay – nothing here will be a big content spoiler, but it might tell you a bit about how the game works. If you want to discover all this on your own, skip down to the ratings.
As a spoiler separator, here are the lyrics to Sleeping by The Band
For the life we chose in the evening we rose
Just long enough to be lovers again
And for nothing more, the world was too sore to live in
Sad old ships, a morning eclipse
I spent my whole life guessing
Then I turned from the sun, and saw everyone searching
The hoot owl and his song will bring you along
Where else on earth would you wanna go?
We can leave all this hate before it’s too late
Why would we wanna come back at all?
Cobwebs on my pillow, I’m found in the willow
I’d spend my whole life sleeping
To be called by noon is to be called too soon today
The storm is passed, there is peace at last
I’ll spend my whole life sleeping
Now there’s not a sound, no one to be found anywhere
The shepherd and his sheep, will wind you to sleep
Where else on earth would you wanna go?
To a land of wonder, when you go under
Why would we want to come back at all?
OK – Here are some tips that we figured out in our first campaign that might be helpful.
1] the map on the back of the log sheet is not enough to take notes. I’d recommend tracking keywords to locations. I do it both ways, I write the words on the map for a visual record, but I also keep a manual spreadsheet of keywords. So, if I know I need “FLEETWOOD”, I can see if it’s on the map. Or I go to “F” on my spreadsheet and see that location 122 wants “FLEETWOOD”. My note taking system is cumbersome, and requires double notation, but it works really well for me. It has helped us keep on track and we can “efficiently” try to achieve a goal once we know what we should be doing.
2] The map is useful for keeping track of locations that you have adventured in. For now, I circle locations we have been to at least once. If the team feels the location is fully adventured, we “X” out the number so we’re not tempted to go back. You could do this on the back of the log sheet. I just made color copies of the atlas book to use so I can write all my notes there.
3] Also, keep track of potential quest solution locations right when you get them. The cards do not have a full set of clues on them (usually doesn’t tell you where you found the quest, so a clue of “the thingy is found to the southwest of here” is meaningless without that initial reference point). So, while it’s nice to know that the hidden cabins is in the mountains, having a post-it note on the card that says “page 16, likely #70, 192 or 24” is much more helpful, especially if you don’t go looking for it until next week.
4] As I mentioned earlier, managing the command tokens is key. You want there to be enough available for everyone to draw them as needed at the start of their turn, but you also want to hold enough in reserve so that you can join in on other player’s turns. Remember that the rules state that you can spend them at nearly any time. This helps both for management as well as last minute help.
5] When exploring, I’d recommend picking a quest and working on that to completion. It’s too easy to just want to explore every location fully before moving on. Yes, you’ll save some actions on not having to travel as often, but you might not get as many things done. We managed to get 9 totems in our first campaign. I have heard of groups who only got 2 or 3 because they just kept trying to explore everything to completion. I suppose you can do whatever you want, as long as you’re having fun, who really cares?! But, if you want to get totems, and the rules suggest that this is a goal – try to keep yourself on track.
6] When fighting, take a few minutes to plan your attack before you dive in. Figuring out the best way to generate synergy tokens and avoid damage is key. Also, don’t be afraid to use your weakest fighters first. There were a few times in our fights where it seemed best to let a weak fighter go first, block some of the damage creating spots on the enemy, and then “die” in the process of the counterattack. We could heal them later, but this keeps the good fighters alive and able to fight in multiple rounds later. Don’t forget that weapons can be traded between crew members (well not in the midst of a fight), so you might need to see who needs to hold which weapon – often determined by what cards each human player has. It definitely is nice to have a weapon for which you have 1 or 2 cards you can discard for extra damage.
7] When distributing damage, also can either try to spread it out equally (then everyone can heal nicely for a single trip to an inn) OR you just load up one or two crew members; knocking them out of play until you can heal them.
8] While the game can be stopped at the end of any turn; from my experience, I’d definitely recommend as few sessions as possible. Though I’ve been taking good notes; and in fact went back to re-notated from the first session, there is a lot of small bits of info that gets lost as we can’t remember from week to week. And it’s impossible to write *everything* down, so sometimes just being able to remember something that you heard an hour ago is much easier than something read last week. Playing in bigger chunks keeps you in the groove. Also, while it doesn’t take a large amount of time to set up and tear down, that’s still eating into gameplay.
9] I’d strongly recommend a bookmark – especially after a fight. You might spend 15-20 minutes away from the book in a fight, and then, it’s hard to remember where you left off. And, man, you don’t want to scan the page trying to remember where you are because then you might read stuff you’re not supposed to know yet! If there was a KS stretch goal that should have been included, it would have been a bookmark clip for this purpose!
10] Don’t forget to use Alice to draw cards. It’s amazing how often we benefitted from having a card with a matching symbol to just barely pass a challenge.
11] Pay attention to which cards are being equipped to which characters. We did find it quite useful to have players that could give 2 or 3 units of help to a specific challenge type. And don’t forget to use the captain! She can be used freely on anyone’s turn, and she has one of each challenge type to start with.
12] speaking of the captain, when looking at level cards, her’s really seem strong – especially again because they can be used more often. We really felt the strongest level card was the one which allows her to have 3 fatigue tokens.
13] and about the level onwards, don’t forget to get them when you can. They do not count towards your limit of 2 item cards, and they provide extra challenge icons in addition to whatever special ability they have.
14] it’s dangerous out there. I think it wouldn’t be a bad plan to spend a few turns trying not to fight things if only to get some cards to equip onto your crew members. Also, don’t turn down the opportunity to get weapons. You’ll need them to fight some of the stronger enemies as the base weapons on the crew cards are not awesome. That being said, you only have 56 total turns to accomplish your goals, so you can’t really waste too many of them just buffing yourself up.
So, after playing through the first full campaign, I’m still very interested in playing some more. For now, I’ll wait until my game group wants to play again (we’ll probably take a break for a few weeks/months), and honestly, I’d really love to set up a single day where we try to play through an entire campaign at once. Sure, I could play solo, but I really enjoyed the group experience, and I would want more of that. I also don’t necessarily want to explore on my own now as opposed to my other solo hobbies such as reading, baking bread or writing boardgame blog posts.
But, I am fairly certain I will come back, and my notes are all carefully stored in the box awaiting that opportunity. There is still a lot to discover in the box, and I look forward to my next adventures on the Wandering Sea.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Lorna: I have been searching for my perfect adventure game for 20+ years. It’s been a heck of a trial in itself. Talisman and Tales of the Arabian NIghts were some of the first adventure type games that I tried and while both had their fun points they also both ultimately failed for me. I’ve also played my share of RPG, and modern hybrids like Descent and Gloomhaven. None have quite fit being a little battle heavy for my tastes. 7th Continent was pretty close to what I’ve been looking for but a little long for me. I tried Near and Far which I found light. I have finally found my ultimate adventure game with Sleeping Gods, it hits all the right buttons for me being an exploration driven game with a choose your own adventure mechanism. I like that combat and skills checks are relatively simple affairs. Exploration feels most important in this game which for me is perfect. The campaign is long enough to hold your attention and keeps you wanting to play, but short enough not to outweigh its welcome when you need a break from the game. It also works great with just two players which is my current game group size. I agree with Dale, here, Sleeping Gods is just fun.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale, John P, Lorna
- I like it.
- Not for me….