Gold! Glorious gold. Jumping into any given fantasy world, there is usually nothing more coveted than this precious lump of lustrous metal (keep away with your mithril quips!). Not a single thing can be compared to its sheer splendour. Its tantalising twinkle has been the envy of many, especially for a saboteur. From Smaug’s gold hoard in Middle-earth to King Midas’ wish of wanting to turn everything he touches into gold, to Auric Goldfinger’s love of gold in the adventures of James Bond: gold is highly coveted no matter the location.
In Saboteur, you get to discover just how precious gold is to you. Are you working together with your fellow dwarves to share the gold, or are you out to sabotage the other dwarves to keep the gold for yourself? After all, you deserve it, right?
Trust No One...
The aim of the game is simply to dig your way to the gold. It is as effortless as that. Such a simple, charmingly easy game to play out. Just lay your tiles down in jolly co-operation and dig your tunnels towards one of the possible treasure cards. You just take turns placing cards down and then just- hang on. Why has Markus just broken my pickaxe?
At the start of the game, everyone is dealt a face down role card that you keep hidden from the other players. Some people are miners, and some are saboteurs. So, you never really know who you are working with, or against. This is where the magic happens. Everyone works very peacefully together for the first few turns until Sandra suddenly does something slightly off. Then your anxiety trickles in. Is she a saboteur? But she helped on the last turn! “Sorry guys, it was the only thing I could do.” Oh, there we go, she is on your side after all. But then Markus breaks her lamp in response. What do you do now? Was Sandra messing you up deliberately? Is Markus onto her? Or is Markus the saboteur, using this opportunity to his advantage? Now your anxiety is really creeping up the back of your neck. All you can do is play out the next few turns and see what else happens.
So, after a brain-scratching few turns, you finally manage to get to the treasure. That glorious, glittering globule of gleaming gold. That sneaky bugger Markus ended up being the saboteur after all. You and Sandra each get some gold for working together successfully. Yay! You can all go back to being friends again, right? Not quite.
Rinse and Repeat!
Saboteur is played over three rounds. This is where the game truly does shine through. Shines as bright as the twinkle of a newly discovered gold vein. Drool. After the first round is over, everyone spit-cleans their pickaxes, dusts off their lanterns, cleans out their mine carts, and draws a new randomly assigned role card. But here is where that magic I mentioned earlier truly blossoms. It essentially does not matter who is the saboteur in the second round. No matter what happens, you're still bitter with Markus for rock sliding your crossroads on the last round, so you convince yourself that he is the saboteur again, just to get some sweet, sweet revenge. You and Sandra work together in perfect harmony to break all of Markus’ legs equipment and stop him from messing you up again. Where do you think Randell Terry got the inspiration to coin the phrase “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”? He play-tested this game. Quote me on it.
Do not even get me started on the third round!
If the saboteur(s) manage to hinder everyone’s approach to the gold and make it unattainable, then they all win some gold instead. The winner of the game is obviously the biggest gold hoarder whoever has managed to hold onto their sanity the longest. Nobody cares how much ghoulishly gloomy, gag-inducing, garbage gold you have.
There is something to be said about simple designs on a card game. Elegant? Boring? Minimalistic? Clean? Who cares!? The game is not designed to be ogled over. You are going to be spending much more time staring intently into Markus’ face to try and pick up on any subconscious indications as to whether he is out to rob you of your precious gold or not.
Saboteur is a great little game. The amount of player interaction you get from what is essentially just a deck of cards is staggering. It is the perfect little filler game for your gaming group. Playing with the maximum of 10 people does not even extend the playtime by all that much. What it does do, however, is inflate the madness. You start the game but a mere 7 spaces away from the middle treasure card, the other 2 are above and below this one. So, it is almost guaranteed (in a 10-player game) that all the saboteurs have shown their hand to stop the miners from reaching the treasure card before it ticks over into the second turn. With the increasing popularity of hidden role games, this can also act as the perfect little game to introduce that mechanic to people.
Most people start their gaming journey with the likes of Catan or Ticket to Ride. But I started mine with Saboteur. I was introduced to the game about 10 years ago by an actor friend of mine. He was, of course, naturally amazing at being the saboteur. And it was remembering this game that kick-started my interest in board gaming last year. I now have more games than I have space to store them. Not bad for a cheap little pocket game, eh? From my personal experience, I can say with confidence that this game can be a great way to introduce people to the hobby. Give it a swing!