GAME REVIEW: Sanssouci

When you play a lot of board games, you’ll start seeing a lot of the same types of themes: zombies, pirates, sci-fi, zombies, pirates, fantasy, dragons, zombies, pirates… you get the idea.  So when a game comes out that has an odd theme, I immediately gravitate towards it.  I must have it!  Well, how about creating your own rose garden in the 18th century?  YES!  I’m in!

Sanssouci is a tile-laying game published by Ravensburger. It plays 2-4 players, is for ages 8 and up and plays in about 45 minutes.  In this game, each player is constructing their own rose garden and will be visited by nobles who will earn them victory points depending on how far they travel into their garden.

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Each player gets their own player board.  This is your garden where you will be placing tiles on.  These tiles will contain various things to add to your garden: like statues, bushes, pavilions, etc. Those items represent the 9 vertical rows in you garden.  9 nobles will be placed at the top of the 9 rows or your garden.

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The main game board will be placed in reach of all players. Stacks of tiles are in the middle of this board, with the scoring track bordering around it.  Each stack has a color by it.  This will come into play when you discard cards to collect a tile.

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Each player starts the game with the same 18 cards.  These cards will have either colors, or a picture of one of the 9 objects you can decorate your garden with.  These cards are how you obtain tiles from the middle of the board.  Shuffle all your cards, then place them in front of you.  Every player draws 2 cards and the game is ready to start.

On your turn, you play a card in your hand, and take a tile corresponding to the card you played.  For example: If you play a card with a white/purple colored flower, you can either take a tile from the white or purple stack.  If you play a card with a pavilion on it, then you can take any pavilion tile on the board.  If there is not a pavilion on the board, then you may take any tile of your choice.

Immediately after you collect your tile, you place it in your rose garden.  It must be in the matching row of both the color of the stack you took the tile from, and the matching row of what kind of tile it is (bush, hedge maze, pavilion, etc.).

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Once you place your tile, you may move a noble in one of your rows as many spaces as you like, as long as he can legally move there (meaning tiles must be placed before he moves in that spot).   You will then score points based on what numbered spot you moved your noble to.  The first row is 1 point, and it goes up all the way to 6.  You then score your points on the score track.  Then you draw another card, bringing your hand back to 2 cards.

Special rule: If you are trying to place a tile, and you already have one in that spot, you can turn the tile over to reveal a gardener.  This allows you to place the tile anywhere in the same vertical or horizontal row.

Play continues until everyone has played all 18 of their cards.  At the beginning of the game, you will get 2 secret goal cards.  The secret goals will have you attempting to move your noble as far as you can in a certain row.  You also get points for finishing rows vertically and horizontally.  Add all of this up, and the highest points is the winner.

I’ll be honest with you.  This was not an easy game to explain.  I’m not sure why.  It was really hard for me to word things, so if it was a bit confusing I apologize.  That’s because this game is not confusing at all.  It a pretty simple game that is really easy to understand.  I also find it really easy to teach, but writing it out like this in a review, was really hard.  I wonder why that is?  Maybe because some of the little details are easier to explain by just showing you.  Oh, well.

Anyway….. what do I think of the game?  It’s one of my favorite gateway games.  I have played this with all kinds of people.  Adults, kids, men, women, non-gamers, hardcore gamers, eurogamers, ameritrash gamers…. you name it.  And everyone I have taught this to has loved it.  There’s something really appealing and satisfying about tile laying.

Everyone is of working on their own board, so it’s a bit of a solitaire game, but you can still take tiles that other people were hoping to nab up for themselves, so there is some interaction in that regard.

The design is really smooth.  I love the rhythm of the game.  You play a card, take tile, play it on your board, move a noble, then score.  18 rounds sounds like a lot, but this game moves really fast.  2 players takes about 30 minutes, while 4 won’t take longer than an hour.  If everyone knows what they’re doing, it can be done in 45 minutes.  The perfect length for a game like this.

I love the theme!  I usually play masterpiece theater music while playing, which adds a fun element to the game.  The artwork has a great, “old-fashioned painting” look to it.

I really like the strategy involved here.  At first glance, you might just think all you have to do is simply lay down a tile and move a noble.  Well, yes, that IS what you’re doing in the game.  But there’s a little more to it than that.  You really have to plan out what tiles go where.  And when!  I love the mechanism of the gardener.  If you figure out a way to flip the gardener on a regular basis, it will open up more possibilities for you on where to place your tile.  You can also have your noble deviate from his path by using tiles from other rows, just as long as he still ends up in the row that he started in.  I love that!

While I do consider Sanssouci a light game, there is a surprisingly amount of depth.  Not too much, but just enough to be satisfying for this type of game.  Of course there’s a bit of randomness with how the tiles come out, but you can control that somewhat by using gardeners to your advantage.  There is also partial player board your can place over your regular player board for an advanced game, that gives you points for playing specific tiles on specific spots.  I honestly don’t think the game needs it, but it’s nice to have that choice, especially if you play it often.

If you’re scared of eurogames because of the dryness, and/or complexity, I recommend trying Sanssouci.  While the theme may appear dry to some gamers, I don’t think it is.  It’s a pleasant, colorful looking game that has lively gameplay, and has a real nice flow and a swift playtime.  I also recommend this if you like tile laying games.  There’s something satisfying when you look at the garden you have constructed at the end of the game.  I have played this many times, and I have yet to be sick of it.  This also makes a great thematic double feature with Rococo, one of my all time favorite games (about making dresses for a fancy ball in the 18th century).

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If you’re looking for a nice, light to mid-weight game that you can play with families, non-gamers and gamers alike… I highly recommend Sanssouci!

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