Today’s Little Big Game Review for the Daily Worker Placement is shining a spotlight on Sobek: 2 Players, published in North America by Pandasaurus Games (who provided Little Big Thumbs with a review copy of the game), with a design from the team of Bruno Cathala and Sébastien Pauchon. The game’s artwork is provided by Xavier Gueniffey Durin, who has contributed to immensely popular games such as Seasons, Tokaido, and the Similo series.
The pedigree of the design team is hall of fame worthy: Cathala is known for co-inventing evergreen titles such as Shadows Over Camelot, 7 Wonders Duel, and Mr. Jack. Pauchon created the delightful Jaipur, as well as older classics such as Yspahan (later reimplemented as Corinth) and Metropolys (which will be seeing a standalone sequel in the near future).
Speaking of sequels, you might be wondering about the name of the game. “Sobek: 2 Players” sounds like it might be a sequel in its own right, and you would be correct! Back in 2010, Bruno Cathala created the namesake title for 2 to 4 players, Sobek, which uses many of the same mechanical building blocks we’ll be learning about momentarily. To learn about the decisions behind trimming the player count down to just 2 players and many of the other tweaks made to this new product, take a peek at Bruno’s designer diary on BoardGameGeek!
For today’s review, we’ll glance at how the game is played, and share some of our gameplay experiences and critical thoughts towards the end of the piece.
The bulk of the game takes place within a grid-based Market board, littered with goods tiles (ebony, wheat, fish, ivory, marble, and livestock) and face-down character tiles. At a glance it seems to be a wide open playing space, but the addition of the Ankh token changes everything!
We’ll come back to the Ankhy Tonk Man in just a moment…
Similar to Ticket to Ride’s flow of collecting or playing cards, the decision space of Sobek 2 Players has a deceptive simplicity – either collect tiles from the Market board, sell a group of tiles for end-game scoring, or play a character tile to execute a special action.
The Ankh token points in two opposite directions, which dictates which tiles may be collected from the board. Grab the closest tile in either direction for free, or collect a more lucrative tile further away and pay a corruption toll. Any tiles that are skipped between the Ankh and the target tile are also removed from the board and placed into a corruption pile.
Corruption is key at the end of the game, which we’ll address shortly.
The second possible action in the Sobek 2 Players is all about selling a set of tiles from one’s hand onto the table. To be clear, the concept of selling is purely thematic, as the act of playing these tiles only pays out points at the end of the game. Akin to a game of Rummy, these sets must include at least three tiles of the same type of good, and in addition to the goods tiles themselves, players can include Sobek Statues (which acts as one of any goods type), or a character tile (noting the goods icon in the top left corner).
Collecting several tiles of the same type is important, but equally so, players need to be watching for tiles that offer Scarabs. The bulk of a player’s points will likely come from these sets: Multiplying the number of tiles in a set by the number of Scarabs will determine the score for that set.
Every turn in which a set is sold presents the opportunity for a bonus action, called Pirogue tokens. If you’re like me and were not familiar with the term Pirogue, it’s defined as “a long, narrow canoe fashioned out of a single tree trunk”. Understanding that definition helps to clarify that these tiles are docked at the side of the board. The location of these tiles plays no mechanical significance in the game, but like many other elements, helps with a bit more thematic immersion.
Once a set is played, the active player looks at any and all remaining Pirogue tokens, and selects one to be played immediately. The Pirogue actions may offer a player bonus points at the end of the game, inflict additional corruption on their foe, or maybe even grant the player an extra turn right then and there! One particular token can be placed on any tile on the board, forcing the opposing player to move the Ankh there, with no other options for that turn. This tile could demand that a player collect an unwanted tile, and maybe even collect several corruption tiles along the way! It’s the one truly nasty Pirogue tile in the game, and some players may want to leave this one out to make for a less confrontational game.
The final possible action is playing a character tile, and this element of the game is likely what will determine whether this is a game for you or not. Unlike the Pirogue tiles, these cannot be removed from the game, and include two characters that are straight up NASTY. The Thief tile does exactly what you might expect – steal a tile from your opponent’s hand, including any unplayed character tiles. If a player has more than six tiles in hand, the Scribe will force a player to discard all tiles over six. These tiles are not just discarded from the target’s available pool, they are added to that player’s corruption pile!
Other character tiles offer mostly positive benefits for the active player: Removing corruption from their own pile, collecting any goods tile from the Market board, or perhaps gaining a free Pirogue action. The threat of an unplayed character tile adds a lot of tension to the game, which will factor into my final thoughts further down into this article.
Sobek: 2 Players immediately comes to an end when one player is unable to take any of the three possible game actions. No character tiles or sets of 3 or more goods in hand, and the Ankh token pointing in directions that offer no tiles for collecting. The circumstance for this to happen doesn’t necessarily require a barren Market board, and a combination of fate and clever decisions could end the game much earlier than one might expect.
Any remaining sets are discarded at this time, with all outstanding tiles being placed in each player’s corruption pile.
In addition to scoring any bonus points and sets of sold goods, bonus points will be awarded to whichever player has the least amount of corruption. If the difference between the corruption pile is less than 3, only one bonus coin is earned, with an extra coin collected for every three corruption separating the two piles.
Let’s wrap up this article with some final thoughts on Sobek: 2 Players.
To illustrate these thoughts, I’ll share my experiences with two primary opponents who joined me in playtesting the game. One rival nearly quit playing the game after the first instance of negative interaction.
To paraphrase their commentary:
“Wait … You had options that could have benefitted yourself, and you CHOSE to punish me instead? Please don’t ask me to play this game ever again.”
Not a strong endorsement, to say the least.
However, my second opponent had a very different reaction. As the momentum of the game shifted back and forth throughout the match, a palpable tension rose up from the table. There was a bubbling excitement between us, and it wasn’t clear who was going to come out victorious until the very end.
Their post-game comment:
“We need to play this game again … RIGHT NOW.”
Knowing your most frequent foes will determine whether Sobek: 2 Players is a good fit for your game shelf. For a pair of players that enjoy a highly interactive game with the potential for moments of unexpected negative consequence, Sobek: 2 Players is really, really, really good. For a game that typically only takes 30 to 45 minutes to play, it offers juicy decisions at nearly every turn, with genuine moments of drama.
However, for every player that enjoys that roller coaster of an experience, there is another that will be deflated by the potential for backstabbery, which tends to happen by overt choice rather than a random game mechanic.
For myself, I have regular players at my table that live for those moments of delicious tension, and I relish them myself. Sobek: 2 Players will remain in my game collection, and I expect it to be one of my most-played two player games of the year!