Mitch T / Dale Y: Review of Sagani

Sagani

  • Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
  • Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Played 4 times with review copy provided by Eagle-Gryphon

sagani

In the beginning there was Patchwork and Habitats. And then Uwe Rosenberg took aspects of both games (Habitats was designed by Corné van Moorsel), yielding Nova Luna, labelled as a joint design of Uwe and Corné. And then came Sagani, a revised version of Nova Luna. Before we discuss Sagani, we’ll say a little more about the Sagani family tree.

Patchwork2

Patchwork was essentially a pentominoes game (fitting shapes onto a 9×9 board). However, it brilliantly incorporated a slick economy and selection mechanism. All of the pentominoes are placed in a circle and on your turn you get to choose one that is 1-3 places in front of your travelling pawn. Each pentomino has a cost in buttons which are essentially end game points and a time factor which determines how far you advance a second pawn on a spiral track, determining whose turn it is.This dual economy was seamlessly integrated into a delightful pentomino placement challenge. Indeed, Patchwork spawned an entire family tree of Uwe’s placement games, including Indian Summer, Spring Meadow, and Cottage Garden. A second branch included a variety of additional games (Patchwork Doodle, Second Chance, and others), mainly different in the pentomino selection mechanism, and the scoring possibilities. I (Mitchell) have not explored these games as I was perfectly happy with Patchwork. 

Habitats is a delightful tile placement game, with a pleasant wildlife park theme. Animals and flowers have habitat requirements, signified on the tile, and to score the tile you must fulfill habitat adjacencies. The scoring possibilities provide interesting challenges. Habitats also features an unusual tile selection process. You move your pawn around a grid of tiles and choose a tile based on the position of your pawn, resulting in a nifty dance with your opponents. The tile placement mechanism (adjacency requirements) became the basis for both Nova Luna and Sagani.

lunanova

Nova Luna integrates this tile placement mechanism with the time movement process of Patchwork. As you move your pawn around a circle of tiles, you pay for your selection with time points that in turn determine player order. 

Finally we come to Sagani that takes the same tile placement mechanism, modifies it, and replaces the time economy with a simple drafting process. Hopefully you are now sufficiently up to date and we can proceed to a more detailed description and discussion of Sagani, including some comparative comments on its predecessors. 

Sagani was a term first described in the sixteenth century by Paracelsus in his De Meteoris; the term given to his nature spirits.  According to Paracelsus, there are four categories of elementals, which are gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders. These correspond to the four Empedoclean elements of antiquity: earth, water, air, and fire, respectively. These elements are found in this game as well – and players try to balance these elements (as dictated by their tiles) to complete tasks, and ultimately, score victory points.

To set up the game, the 72 spirit tiles are shuffled and split into three facedown drawing stacks.  A supply of 5 tiles is placed face up where all can see them.  The background color of the tile tells you what element it belongs to (orange=fire, blue=water, green=earth, white=air).  The backside of the tile has 1-4 colored arrows on it pointing in various directions.  The front of the tile shows spirit as well as the VP value of that tile (which is tied to the number of arrows on the other side).  The players take Sound discs in their player color and place their matching scoring marker on space 0 of the scoring track on the board.  A supply of Red cacophony discs is also placed on the table.

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During the game, each player will form their own area of tiles, trying to accomplish the goals found on their tiles.  On a turn, a player chooses a tile from the display (with one exception case to be discussed in a bit) and then places it orthogonally adjacent to any other tile in his display.  The tile can be rotated in any direction when it is placed; however, once it is placed on the table, it cannot be moved nor rotated any longer.  When you place the tile, then take Sound tokens equal to the number seen on the tiles and stack them on the middle on the newly placed tile.  If you run out of tokens, you must use the Red Cacophony tokens instead – for each one you must take, you immediately lose 2 points on the scoring track.

Now, look at the arrows on the newly placed tile – if there is a tile matching the color of the arrow in the direction of the arrow (does not have to be adjacent, can be any distance away, can even be through a gap in the tiles), then cover the arrow with a token from the center of the tile.  Also be sure to now look at any arrows which may be pointing AT the newly placed tile as those might need to be covered as well.  If you cover ALL the arrows on a tile, you can then recover any discs on it (both your color and Cacophony discs), flip the tile over and score the VPs seen on the other side.  The VPs are always 1/3/6/10 for 1/2/3/4 arrows on the back.  

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Now let us discuss the Intermezzo exception – on your turn, if there is only one tile in the display, you can choose to either place it in your area OR place it in an intermezzo storage space above the board – there are 4 spaces found there.   If you place it in an intermezzo space, you must then flip over the top tile from a draw pile and you are forced to place that tile.  The rest of your turn goes as normal – regardless of the source of your tile that you placed.

But now, at this stage of the turn, the display is going to be checked for replenishment.  If it is empty, it is refilled to a full five tiles.  But… before this happens, see if there is an Intermezzo.  If all four of the Intermezzo spaces above the board are filled; then players may choose a tile from this Intermezzo display (from lowest current VP standing to highest), play it, and score any points if earned.  Players do not have to take a tile, and any unchosen tiles remain in the Intermezzo area.

The game end is triggered when a player hits a VP target as shown on the board (45/60/75 for a 4/3/2p game).  Play continues until the end of the current round so that all players have had an equal number of turns.  The player with the most points is the winner. Ties broken in favor of the lowest marker on a scoring space (i.e. reached that spot earliest). 

There are also two solo games included in the rules.  In the basic game, you simply draw tiles at random and you must play them as they are drawn; there is no Intermezzo.  The game ends when you reach 75 points, and your success is measured by how few tiles you played – the initial goal being to score 75 points with 25 or fewer tiles.  

There is also a much longer advanced solo game where you draw tiles one at a time (Again, no offer display and no Intermezzo).  In this advanced game, you draw and play all 72 tiles.  As you play, you set aside the first five 1 or 3 point tiles you draw.  These will become the final five tiles in your game.  Additionally, once you have at least 5 tiles played, you check for a bonus score at the end of each turn; if you have 2 or fewer tiles face up (that is with arrows showing), you record 5 bonus points to be scored at the end of the game.  At the end of the game, there is a slightly more complicated scoring system.  From your endgame score, subtract the value of all tiles which have not been flipped over, and add the bonus points you have collected. Your goal here is to score the most points.

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Our interpretive comments will now be separated accordingly.

Mitchell: 

My wife and I played Sagani fifteen times. It’s from a genre of games that I describe as light/heavy. What I mean is that if you take a lot of time to contemplate the variables, there are so many options that you can really bog yourself down. Yet there is also a significant random factor. Sometimes the only tile available to you is one that you just can’t use. Each tile simultaneously expands and limits the possibilities of your puzzle. There are times when you can plan several moves ahead and there are times you can’t. To enjoy the game you have to be comfortable with that. Still, as you play the game more frequently you do improve your skill at it. With more experience, you have a better sense of the best way to place your tiles. You also become more familiar with the arc of the game. Some tiles are best placed early in the game and others are more useful later. We didn’t find the intermezzo phase all that helpful. Maybe once a game we wound up choosing a tile from the intermezzo grouping. 

Sagani is best taken seriously enough to engage in an excellent puzzle, but not too seriously that you gum up the works.  If the game stalls it loses its interest. I have not played it at a 3 or 4 count and I don’t think I would want to. Theoretically, Sagani is interactive as you are drafting tiles from a common pool, but unless you are far more adept than I am, you have enough work to do on your own tableau without worrying about what your opponents are doing. There are times when you both want the same tile but you are unlikely to draft a tile to keep it away from your opponent. So Sagani is minimally interactive. 

Given these caveats, we have enjoyed Sagani enormously. It plays quickly (don’t bog down!!!), provides an entertaining and interesting puzzle, and there is reasonably enough variety in the tiles that each game develops differently. 

How does it compare to the other games in the family tree? Perhaps I am too easily pleased, but I like them all. They all offer something slightly different. Patchwork is the most original game and I think has the longest legs. And even though it was the original game in the sequence, it’s pentominoes rather than tile placement. Of the three tile placement games, I wouldn’t rate one as best. Habitats has the most interesting scoring and is probably the most interactive. Nova Luna is reasonably engaging, and then Sagani expands and streamlines Nova Luna. The expansion concept is that tile placement is not only about adjacencies, but also satisfying the directional arrows. I think this gives it more playability than Nova Luna. I am very pleased to play any of these four games and will keep all in my collection. Right now we are playing Sagani and we are very happy to do so. 

I’d like to say a bit more about this notion of light/heavy games. I am particularly attracted to this genre for a variety of reasons. I love semi-abstracts with some random factors. And I enjoy games that can be played in 45 minutes or under. This genre is currently proliferating. There are literally dozens of these games being published. I’ve been casually collecting those that have some nature-based theme—Miyabi, Renature, Zen Garden, Element and Noctiluca. I am awaiting Cascadia on Kickstarter and intrigued to play Mandala Stones and Umbra Via when they are available. Add just a brief scan of BoardGameGeek and you can find dozens more. There is only so much game playing time in a day, or for that matter, a lifetime, so you just make some good choices, and take it from there. If you enjoy this genre, I think Sagani is an excellent choice. 

Dale Y:

Now, I don’t have as much experience with the game as Mitch does (nor with any single game in the lineage – though I have played them all).  For me, they all have their place – dependent on the timing, the game group, and my mood.   For me, I think that Sagani or Nova Luna are the ones that best suit me.  Patchwork is good, but only 2 players.  Patchwork is the only one which can be mashed up with Bamboleo.  But, at least in my life, there isn’t much space for 2p gaming, so I tend to go for the fuller multiplayer version.

Sagani has you construct a tableau, trying to balance the higher rewards of the more complex tiles with the looming penalties of the red stones if you are unable to close out those tiles. You have to have some advance planning skills as well as being opportunistic – luck will play a fairly decent role in the game; oftentimes near the end of the drafting round, you’ll not have access to the colors that you need.  You can only draw off the top of the draw pile when you’re the one deciding on the last tile in a batch, and even then, you still might not have access to the color tile that you want.  Sometimes the Intermezzo helps out, but more often than not, it doesn’t – after all, there’s probably a good reason for people to pass on those tiles in the first (and second… and third…) place.

I do like the planning required in constructing the tableau.  Trying to get the arrows pointing at the right colors is not as easy as it seems, and it takes extra care to be sure that you are growing in the necessary directions to be able to place a tile where you want it.  Nothing hurts worse than waiting for turns for a green tile to then realize that when you’re able to draw that tile, you don’t have the ability to put it in the place where you want it. 

The solo game is an interesting puzzle, and I have enjoyed a few plays in that arrangement.  For me, I think the 3p game is the right count as there is some indirect interaction with the auction, but there isn’t too much time between turns.  In a 4p game, it felt like about half of the turns left me with no desirable choices in the market, and while everyone was in the same boat, it felt like the winner of our game was the one who ended up luckiest with the tiles on those off-turns.  There isn’t much room for hate drafting or defensive drafting as each player is building their own tableau.  For the most part, you’re going to take the best available tile for yourself – there doesn’t seem to be much role for taking a lesser tile to stop an opponent.  (Now, of course, maybe I’m wrong here – but it would suck to try to take a tile my LHO needed, but then run out of stones and have to take penalty points for Cacophony stones as a result!)

Like Mitch, I enjoy all the games, and I still have three in my game collection (for some reason, I never acquired Habitats) – and I’m happy to play each of them – again, dependent on the setting, the opponent and my whims at the time.   They are all different enough from each other to merit staying in the game collection.

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (1 play):Of the three more similar games discussed, I definitely like Habitats the best, at least with more than two players. I haven’t tried Habitats with more than two but I have played Nova Luna that way and I won’t do it again – I am sure it is a fine two-player game but with more you lose the ability to plan which makes the game random and frustrating. Sagani is probably better with fewer than four players (the number I tried it with), but it was definitely better than Nova Luna in this regard. I also like the task rules better in Sagani, as it means tiles some distance away can still affect each other. (Habitats is more similar to Nova Luna in this regard but is still good.) I’d happily play Sagani again even if it won’t replace Habitats for me.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! 
  • I like it. Dale Y, Mitch, John P, Alan H, Dan Blum
  • Neutral.
  • 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.
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