And now for something completely different:
Saint Malo is a new game in the alea Medium Box series, designed by Inka and Markus Brand. The Brands won the Kennerspiel des Jahres last year for Village, and Saint Malo seems to reinforce their standing as fairly innovative designers. It’s for 2-5 players, and takes 45 minutes to play. The game is essentially a city-building experience where you’re rolling dice and placing features around your board. The big difference here is that there are now tiles – you draw your city as you go.
There’s not a whole lot in the game – a main board, five city boards, five erasable markers, and five dice. The main board goes in the middle, and each player gets a city board and a marker. The youngest player begins with the five dice, and shades the roofs of the three buildings above lumber storage to indicate that she is the start player.
On your turn, you roll the dice Yahtzee-style – in other words, you have up to three rolls and you can reroll any dice that you wish in each roll. After the third roll (or whenever you decide to stop), score the dice. There are six possible symbols on the dice – log, goods, wall, cross, head, or pirates. Pirates must always be scored, and you’ll choose one of the other five to score. You can also change dice to the symbol you want to score by paying two gold per die. When you spend gold, you just cross it off from the bank. Three coins are already printed on the board in the form of blank circles as your starting money.
LOG: If you choose this symbol, you draw logs into your lumber storage. This action costs 2 coins. Two logs are already printed on the board.
GOODS: Add one goods crate (rectangle) to your city per symbol rolled. All goods crates you place in a turn must be connected to each other. You begin the game with four already printed on the board.
WALL: Add one wall per symbol rolled. Walls must be added to the outer edge of your city. As soon as you finish an uninterrupted line of five walls between two towers, you gain the bonus of the tower that points to that wall – two coins, 3 VP, a level 1-3 person of your choice in an empty space.
CROSS: Build a church. You’ll put a number 1-5 in the middle depending on the number of crosses, and you may use a lower number than crosses rolled. For example, if you roll 3 crosses, you can build a level 1, 2, or 3 church (just one church though – no splitting). These are worth points at the end of the game for an ascending set of churches – 1 for a level 1, 4 for a level 1+2, 8 for 1+2+3, 13 for 1+2+3+4, 20 for 1+2+3+4+5. In other words, if you have 1+3+4+5, you’re only going to get one point.
HEAD: Add one person to your city (circle with a letter in it). Depending on the number of heads rolled, you can add certain people (including those from lower levels)
- One head gives you a Citizen. This immediately scores you one point.
- Two heads adds a Soldier and a Priest to your choice. A Soldier increases your defense by one when Pirates attack. Priests score 1 VP per adjacent existing church (including diagonally). You don’t score extra when you add a church next to an existing priest.
- Three heads adds an Architect and a Merchant to your choice. An Architect can spend up to three logs to build houses (one log = one house). One of the houses you build must be adjacent to the Architect, and the houses you place in a turn must all be connected to each other. Each house scores three points. Merchants give you one gold per adjacent goods crate (including diagonally).
- Four heads mean that you can now add a juggler. This gets you two points per adjacent person type (including the juggler himself).
- Five heads give you access to a noble, which is an immediate seven points.
PIRATES: For each pirate symbol rolled, you mark off a pirate box on the main board. There are six rows, with 4-10 boxes depending on the number of players. When a row is finished, the pirates attack all players. The first row means the pirates attack with a strength of one, 3 for the second row, 6 for the third, 8 for the fourth, 10 for the fifth, and 12 for the sixth. Your defense consists of one for each soldier in your city, plus two for uninterrupted wall between towers on the edge of your city. If you win or tie, hooray! Nothing happens. If you lose, you cross off a cannon, on your board, which costs you five points at the end.
A couple of things to note – you don’t have to use all symbols you rolled, and you can only add to empty spaces. Also, pirate symbols may be rerolled.
The game ends at the end of a round where one player has filled in all 45 spaces of their city (so all players get the same number of turns). Players add points to what they have already accumulated: +5 if you have filled all city spaces, +1 for every two coins you have left, +1 per log you have left, +1-20 for ascending church series, and -5 for each crossed off cannon. The player with the most points wins.
At first glance, this game looks like a boring city building game. However, the use of erasable boards makes it a bit more interesting to me. It doesn’t seem like there needs to be erasable boards – it probably would have played just fine with tiles, wooden coins, and the usual Euro standards. Instead, production costs seem to have been taken way way WAY down by just allowing people to draw their own “tiles”. The $35 MSRP it’s going for right now seems really high since all you’re getting is boards, markers, and dice. But, what do I know.
The game makes me think of Roll Through the Ages, another Yahtzee-like game with some building aspects. Saint Malo probably has some more visual appeal due to being able to draw your own city instead of just marking boxes. However, there’s probably a place for both of them. I’d go so far as to say that, like RTTA, this game should garner some recognition from the Spiel des Jahres committee – at least a recommendation, if not an outright nomination. Thanks for reading!
- Saint Malo at BoardGameGeek
- alea edition Website (in German)
- Dice Tower review of Saint Malo
- Cat & Mouse presentation of Saint Malo (with other city building recommendations)