Calvin reviews SANCTUM: a roaring action hack-and-slash board game of monsters and loot
Sanctum is an odd beast. Simultaneously a game about making monsters explode into loot and a demanding engine builder which forces you to take risks if you want to survive.
This dichotomy of design is why Filip Neduk is on my Designer To Watch list, and I’m assuredly going to be acquiring everything he makes from now on - after Adrenaline's heart-thumping frenetics supercharged both my euro and thematic sensibilities, he’s now back with Sanctum, a hack-and-slasher about charging into battle against a demon lord and his monstrous hordes.
The game has put a ton of work into making it feel awesome to play.
It’s a challenge for me not to type constantly type SANCTUM in all caps because it makes me feel METAL AS HELL. Those two monsters over there! I slay them with my epic sword! They give me shiny new experience points and armor which I can use the experience points to equip! I also get an awesome new skill that makes my potions EXPLODE.
If the above sounds like a lot happening at once - well, yes - but Sanctum put a ton of work into its user interface to make fighting, looting, and leveling up all work together with tactile charm.
Enemy cards tell you how much XP they give and what type of item they carry, so if you need a new ring or a new chestplate, you know who to hunt. Defeating them lets you flip over the card, slide it onto your character board, move some XP tokens off your skills to learn them… just thinking about it makes me want to play Sanctum again.
Making enemies explode into showers of loot never gets old.
Be warned for your first play: at first Sanctum feels nice and relaxed. You can fight monsters at your leisure, you don’t need to take risks, you just get loot and level up.
If you do this you will smack face-first into the end boss like a snowball upon the anvil of hell.
The Demon Lord is NOT messing around.
To have a chance at defeating the boss requires that you push yourself in the early game, taking more risks and forging ahead of the other players to try and claim the best rewards - although honestly there isn’t very much player interaction in Sanctum, which depending on you can be an up or a down - I’m personally trying to find a way to mod the game to be co-op-able, perhaps with larger packs of monsters - but the core experience is svelte enough and sleek enough to keep me wanting more regardless - especially trying out all the classes and their cool skill combos.
While Adrenaline’s shoot-hide-reload loop focuses on combo-building massive damage turns, Sanctum continuously elevates you, transforming what could have been a simple engine builder and imbuing it with great theme and visuals - at least until you smash face first into the boss.
If you’re looking for a eurogame with high theme and low player-versus-player conflict, Sanctum is sleek, fast, and utterly compelling. My one must-get from Spiel 2019, and I’m so glad I did.