When I was in college (long, long ago), I visited the real Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Spain. (I was studying abroad and doing a lot more “abroad-ing” than “studying.” Sorry, mom.) The experience is something I treasure, so when a game based on the gorgeous stained glass windows of the basilica appeared, I knew I had to give it a go, if for no other reason than to take a trip down amnesia lane.
How It Plays
Sagrada is a dice drafting game in which players are attempting to create a beautiful stained glass window for the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. Over ten rounds, players will place dice into their windows and try to gain the most points by completing their window and accomplishing public and private objectives.
At the beginning of a round, a number (determined by the number of players) of dice are drawn from the bag, rolled, and placed into a draft pool. Beginning with the start player, play moves clockwise around the table. On their turn, a player may take both actions described below in any order. They may also opt to take only one action, or none and pass their turn.
Action #1: A player can take a die from the draft pool and place it into their window, subject to the placement rules. In short, the first die must be placed on an edge or corner space. All other dice must be placed adjacent to an already placed die. Colored spaces can only contain dice which match that color, a space showing a number can only contain a die matching that number, dice of identical numbers or colors can never be placed next to each other, and white spaces are wild, as long as the die you place there does not violate any of the other restrictions.
Action #2. Use a tool card to invoke a special ability. Tool cards are paid for by using favor tokens. At the beginning of the game, you are given a number of favor tokens which correspond to the difficulty of your window card. When you want to use a tool, place your favor token(s) on the card and then use the ability. If you’re the first to use a card, it costs one token. After that, other players may use the same tool, but it costs two tokens.
Play continues until everyone has had a turn. The round then continues in reverse order with the last player taking another turn and play now moving counterclockwise around the table until everyone has had a second turn. This ends the round.
Any unused dice are placed on the round tracker and a new set of dice is drawn from the bag. Play begins again and continues in this way until all ten rounds are complete, at which point scoring is conducted.
Players receive points for any of the three public objectives they completed, as well as the sum of the dice indicated on their private objective card. One point is awarded for each unspent favor token and one point is deducted for each open space on a player’s window. The player with the most points wins.
A Window to Fun, or a “Paneful” Experience?
My hopes were high for Sagrada. On the surface, it looked like everything I want in a game. Simple ruleset, quick set up and tear down, attractive components, and enough decisions to make or puzzles to solve to move my brain into another gear. So, were my hopes met?
Oh, yeah. But that may not be true for you, so let’s unpack it a bit.
Sagrada reminds me of Roll Player, which was likely my favorite game from 2016. Like Roll Player, Sagrada is a dice optimization puzzle where you’re trying to place dice so that you achieve your objectives and thus earn points. Sagrada is much simpler than Roll Player because it strips away all of the excess “stuff” involved in creating an RPG character. There’s no buying of cards, collecting armor, matching a backstory, or building up traits. Sagrada leaves you with… A puzzle.
I was a little afraid that it would be too simple, that after having played Roll Player I’d feel like Sagrada wasn’t enough for me. I was wrong. While Sagrada doesn’t have the extras of a game like Roll Player, what it does have is a compelling, thinky puzzle that plays in a relatively short timeframe.
Sagrada starts out deceptively easy. Take a die and place it on your window. At the beginning of the game, the window is open (heh) for you to place a die almost anywhere. But as you play on, that window closes (double heh). Placements get harder and harder as you struggle to meet the placement requirements. Every die you place narrows your options for the next die. Sometimes, depending on the dice available, there might not be anything you can place.
Of course, you’re not merely trying to complete your window, although that’d be great since you lose points for every open space on your card at game’s end. You have public and private objectives to complete for points, as well. Maybe you’re trying to create columns with no repeated colors within them. Or trying to get sets of each color die in your window. Or gaining points by totaling total of all the pips of one die color in your window. Whatever it is, these goals give you big points, so as you’re stuffing dice into your window, you want to keep an eye on the goals.
The trick is to try to leave yourself enough openings so that you have options in later turns. But that’s far easier said than done, particularly if the dice are being unkind, as dice are wont to do.
The tool cards can help you out because they let you manipulate the dice or break some of the placement rules. But they present another wrinkle in the puzzle. If you use a tool at the beginning of the game, it costs fewer favor tokens. But if you wait until you’re really desperate, it might cost more if another player has already used it. When do you go for the tools? You’re only going to able to afford a few during the game, so you have to use them wisely. Plus, since you get points at the end for every unspent favor token, it’d be great if you didn’t have to use them at all!
Sagrada has, to me, the same replayability as many abstracts. It’s re-playable because the puzzle is always different. Yes, the tool cards, window cards, and objectives are different each game and these boost the replayability. But I think even without those things (or if they stayed the same each game), the puzzle would still warrant multiple plays. The dice are always going to come out differently, so that alone would make every game different. The goals and tools are merely icing on the cake.
So are there any cons? Sure. As with anything, your taste may not match what the game is serving up. If you don’t like games that feel mostly solitaire-ish, Sagrada probably isn’t for you. There is very little interaction in the game unless you intentionally take a die that your opponent needs before they can get it. (Or use a tool card to change it to something they can’t use.) This is a valid strategy, but solving your own window is often difficult enough within the limited turns of the game without trying to screw over an opponent, as well. The only time it really works well is when taking a die you can use also hurts your opponent. If you have a choice between two dice that will work for you, then taking the one that also hurts an opponent is (usually) the better choice.
And, of course, there’s the fact that dice introduce a luck element into the game. You never know what colors and numbers are coming out of the bag each round and it is possible to get nothing you need. You can mitigate bad luck somewhat with a tool card, but only if you can pay for it. If bad luck strikes round after round, you’ll quickly run out of favor tokens and be stuck. If this sort of thing bugs you, Sagrada isn’t for you.
Sagrada also brings out the worst in AP prone players. Trying to decide where to place a die and thinking through all the future what if’s really stymies some people. The game is best played at a brisk pace, making the best of what you have right now. Sure, you want to try to leave yourself some openings for future turns, but you don’t want to grind the game to a halt while you think through the probabilities of eight turns in the future. If you play with AP prone people, this might not be a game for you. (Unless you’re willing to put them on a timer.)
The thing I noticed about Sagrada from my plays is that it seems to be a love it/hate it type of game. Very few people I played with or talked to about the game felt “meh” about it. They either loved it or disliked it. Some cited the randomness inherent in anything with dice as a turn-off. Others don’t like puzzles and hated that this felt like Sudoku in dice form. And some really disliked how light it is. They were more interested in something heftier, like Roll Player or The Voyages of Marco Polo.
But those who loved it, really, really loved it. They loved that a simple to learn and play game gave them the brain grind of solving a difficult puzzle without overwhelming them with rules and options. Or taking all night. They loved the theme, the components, and the family-friendliness of the whole package.
I fall into the latter camp. Yes, a meatier game like Roll Player has its place in my heart. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy lighter romps, too. Some days I just don’t want to work that hard. I want to chill out with pretty dice and play with friends or my husband (the game is excellent with two players, by the way), but I want something that will exercise my brain, too. Or I want something I can drop on the table at a family gathering that isn’t Uno. Those are the situations where Sagrada really shines. I highly recommend Sagrada if you’re looking for a reasonably quick, beautiful, family-weight game that will challenge your brain without breaking it.