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.

Please log in or make an account to post a comment.

Supporter11 months ago

I played about half of a game of this at BGG con. I found it to be a fun game. The skills tree was interesting. Moving gems to unlock skills while those gems also act as your ability to use those items. The immediate gratification of creature kills to get treasure is fun.

I did have a thematic problem with the game in that I was a barbarian, but the best item I found to wear was essentially a mage cloak. Other than that, it seemed like a solid game. Much like a board game version of Diablo.

11 months ago

Maybe it's a barbarian who found his inner mage XD

Supporter11 months ago

There are only 4 heros right? How differently do they play? 

11 months ago

The variation per play comes from their skills (which obviously significantly alter how you plan your combat) but also which order you level up your skills in matters a lot too. Saving up XP for the strong stuff means you often have to forgo the little quality of life upgrades, changing how you approach each battle.

Supporter11 months ago


11 months ago

It's a really cool upgrade system

Supporter11 months ago

I was afraid that the characters would be close enough to each other that if would feel samey after several plays. But, you do make it sound good and fun. 

Unfortunately the theme doesn't really grab me. So, I'd be down to play it, but am unlikely to buy it. 

Supporter11 months ago

This game looks great!

11 months ago

It is pretty great.

Linked Games