Sagrada takes its name from a place, the ‘Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família’, aka Gaudi’s vast, unfinished church in Barcelona. The game tasks you with creating stained glass windows through drafting dice and they’ve gone the extra mile to make this a tactile treat.
You start the game be selecting a window card. There are 12, each double-sided, and on it is a pattern of colours, numbers and white spaces which will become crucial in your task. The game could have left you with just the window cards, but instead it comes with four wonderful cardboard frames that your card slides into, each notched to secure dice and give the window vibe a firm, 100 per cent upgrade. Then each player takes a private objective card (these are all ‘add the pips on dice of a particular colour’), and public objective cards are laid out (e.g. columns with no repeat colours.)
Columns, colours? Here’s how you play. There are 10 rounds, and at the start of each one dice are drawn from a bag: two dice per player, plus one more. There are 90 dice, each D6 but of five different colours, and when they’ve been randomly drawn from the bag players take it in turns to select one and add it to a slot on their window card.
The twist is that you have to put dice next to another one diagonally or orthogonality (unless it’s the first die of the turn, then it’s against the edges), but you can’t put the same colour directly next to each other, you can’t put the same number on the dice directly next to each other, and the dice have to fit in with the colours and numbers shown on your window card. So you take it in turns to pick and play dice (moving clockwise first, until the last player takes two dice and you work back anti clockwise until you’ve taken one each), discard the remainder, and continue for 10 turns, aiming to fill your window.
Dice, Beautiful Dice
Two brilliant things are happening here. Firstly, you are constantly battling to achieve your objectives, working with what you’ve got (and yes, it is luck based), by fitting different colours and numbers alongside each other. A stain glass window has you building a pattern, and this does too, albeit to a far more arcane requirement.
What else is happening? The dice! They are clear, coloured and look wonderful, almost glowing as you place them. The fact they’re slightly transparent and being built up in a large cardboard window really gives the game an odd beauty as you put it all together. Add this to the fact all the game components carry the theme through, and you have a wonderful aesthetic and a tactile treat.
There are other rules. Before each game a number of tool cards are drawn, and these can be tactically played to swap dice, re-roll dice and other benefits that can really help at the close of a game. Scoring is done by totting up all the objectives and reducing scores for blank spaces in your window. That said, while the game looks and feels wonderful and light, the Sagrada theme does feel a bit pasted on to the gameplay: there’s the nagging doubt in your mind that stained glass windows get cut and shaped not built out of leftovers. Yes the dice look like clear glass, but you don’t feel you’re building a window, rather than fighting to create a filled colourful puzzle card.
The game’s looks and design give you a feel of rich atmosphere, but not of a finished window. It’s a subtle distinction, but worth mentioning.
This is a swift game to teach, and in general terms a quick game to play. It’s a feast for the eyes and a puzzle for the mind, but luck does play a major part. Even with the tools, it’s possible for the dice you need to simply not appear in the last few turns, before players even get a chance to block you. It’s a puzzle, but not a balanced one every time, and that’s going to annoy people.
I’m sure someone good at probability can show this isn’t true, but Sagrada feels more prone to luck than the game it’s frequently compared to, Azul. Both share a richly tactile and visual nature, both came out around the same time, both can fit into your collection, although I suspect only one will call to you. For me, Sagrada has the visual and thematic edge, Azul the gameplay.