With Halloween approaching, game fans usually start looking to spooky and horror themed board games to play with friends and family. Some of these will be family games that can be enjoyed with your little ones. Then there are those more gruesome ones aimed strictly at adults who love horror and want to feel the chills running down their spines on the spookiest night. This year, IconiQ Studios took inspiration from the “SAW” film franchise (the latest of which, SAW X, recently released in the UK) to bring us a fully-licensed thrilling new board game that is designed to tint our gaming tables in crimson red. The timing is perfect for the season, and you can follow the Kickstarter campaign here.
What Is Saw And What Are The Jigsaw Trials?
(Spoiler alert mode: on) For those who do not know, SAW is an iconic franchise that has become a staple for all horror fans due to its blood-soaked stories with a strong introspective focus. The main character of this series, John Kramer, is a former engineer who survived a suicide attempt and came to appreciate life. Being surrounded by a lot of people who did not value their lives as much as they should, he decided to kidnap and make them face life-threatening challenges in order to survive. How far can we go to make people appreciate their life?
Considering the complexity of these challenges, and the fact he cut jigsaw pieces from his victims, John became known as “The Jigsaw Killer”. Interestingly, Jigsaw's games are not designed to kill but instead to test how much people value their own lives. In particular, Jigsaw pushes his victims to decide if they are willing to do anything to stay alive, including killing another person or mutilating themselves. One of the best lines of the first movie in 2004 perfectly describe John's thinking as “"Live Or Die. Make Your Choice”.
"It will be like finding a needle in a haystack (SAW II)" – Components
Before we start looking into the box, I would like to mention that I have only tried the Kickstarter preview copy of this game. As such, components, and artwork could change by the time the game gets to tables. After the needed disclaimer, I would like to begin by saying the components of this game seem to have come from the mind of Jigsaw himself due to their clever design. They are also very thematic reminding me of a puzzle-in-puzzle which build upon the intricate picture generated by a criminal mastermind.
For starters, the game doesn’t have a gaming board. Each player starts with a large character card, a hand of cards, and a plastic workbench. This last one is aptly designed to hold your character card and three cards you can use to build traps against your opponents. The character cards act as a barrier to stop other players seeing the trap you are building, but they are double sided which means they can see your traits – the important information required to build the best traps to take you down. These traits include Corruption, Greed, Violence, Addition and Obsession and they are designed to represent the weaknesses of the chosen character.
I quite love how functional this design is as it allows the game to have minimal space requirement on the table without impacting gameplay. Big shout also for the plastic workbench that is very detailed and has the name of the three parts of a trap engraved on it as a player aid.
The other main components of the game are the Characters Jigsaws that look like cardboard mini figures with removable limbs. As you may imagine by the name and the theme, these parts are all
linked to the body by Jigsaw connections and allow players to remove and swap them to represent the damage taken during the game. The damage tokens include two X-ray versions of the limbs to represent mild and severe injuries, and a final one to be used when a body part is severed. On top of the character jigsaw there are also 10 blood tokens that are needed to keep the player alive.
The other big portion of the game components are the cards. The deck includes a total of 123 cards of five different types: tools, search, trap parts, Billy and special. All the art on the cards look great although the trap cards are my favourite. In particular, I love the fact that each card contains a portion of the description of a trap and when you put them together you can read it to describe the challenge to your opponent. This is much more complex than is seems as each card lists only one third of each of the three lines that describe a trap thus a very consistent combinatorial effort must have gone into making these cards work.
I think the box and the rulebook deserve a final quick mention. The rulebook in particular is among the clearest I have seen in the last few months. The detail I caught immediately is that all rules are taught by Billy the Puppet himself reminding me of the records the victims found in the movies. When I was reading the rulebook, I swear I could hear him saying "The rules of our game have been made very clear. You need to abide by those rules (SAW III)”.
The box is also a great piece of design as it packs a lot inside of it. There is also something mesmerizing on a largely white game box as it stands out massively on my shelves where all other board games are very colourful. I really hope the colour will not suffer too much from being carried around and exposed to light although it is true a worn box may add to the theme.
"How You Play The Cards You're Dealt Is All That Matters (SAW IV)” - GamePlay
Since the first movie in 2004, Jigsaw had to face the reality that he will not live forever. Willing to ensure his ethos will continue beyond his death, John has been looking for a worthy apprentice to continue his job among those who survived his games. In the game “SAW: The Jigsaw trials” players will take the roles of John's potential successors.
Trapped together in John's old workshop, players will prepare traps for the other contenders and attempt to solve those prepared for them in order to demonstrate they have what it takes to be the next Jigsaw killer. How do you win? Of course, by surviving and being the last player standing as this is SAW. So, let's get started and let's play a game.
SAW: The Jigsaw Trials is pretty easy to learn. Once setup completed, players take turns to draw 3 cards, to play them and to place them on their workbench in order to create a trap to challenge one of the opponents. Each trap is made by three cards including a Mechanism, an Object, and an Escape. Players can change the trap composition freely and they can use it to challenge their opponents by using a “Billy” (the Puppet) card. Of course there is a limit of how many cards you can have in your hand, and this reduces as you take damage to your hands.
Each trap will test an opponent on one or two of the main traits listed on the character card. In order to overcome the challenge, players will need to spend cards to increase their starting value on their traits to match the trap requirement. Failing to pass the Trap test will result in a number of damages to one or more body parts. As there is no healing in this game, all damage is permanent and once a limb is severed the character will start losing blood every turn. As there are ten pints of blood in a body (and 10 tokens in the game), the game becomes a tense rush to beat all the opponents before you bleed out.
The mechanism of the game surely favours the first player to set-up a trap as they will likely be the first to deal damage to their opponents but it also promotes the players to outsmart the others apprentices by designing more effective traps and being able to exploit their opponents
weaknesses. The game is clearly built by setting the cards as the biggest asset and forcing players to carefully decide which one to keep and which one to discard at every turn.
"Game Over (SAW)” - Final Thoughts
The very first impression I had after playing a few times is that SAW: The Jigsaw trials is a game clearly not for the faint of hearts. If you think of it, this is a game where you aim to cut your opponents limbs in order to kill them before they kill you, thus it should not be surprising that the game is rated 18+. At the same time, this is a game designed to create tense gameplay that may keep you as on your toes as the original movies did, and as such will be ideal for everyone looking for a bit more thrill in their game nights. And believe me, this game really hit the right spot on this!
Overall, I think SAW: The Jigsaw Trials, is a beautifully designed game with deep strategic side and a rich gameplay. The feature I liked the most is how the components have been designed to work together to create a flawless gaming experience. From the player board to the information on the cards, I found all the details to be just as they should be and as good as needed to enjoy the game. On the gameplay side, I think a big strength of this game is the high level of replayability and the strong need to carefully strategize your way to victory in each game. Both of these aspects are related to the work done to create a well-balanced deck of cards that is rich enough to allow more than 2000 possible trap variations but also hiding some key and powerful cards.
Personally, I feel quite lucky I had the chance to play this game as I really loved it. And if anyone does not think so, let's play some games and change their mind!