Sunda to Sahul
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Fifty thousand years ago sea levels were much lower than today. Parts of the Indonesian archipelago were joined to the mainland of Southeast Asia to form Sunda. New Guinea and Australia formed the continent of Sahul. Between these ancient continents lay thousands of islands and vast stretches of deep water. It was here that mankind made the first perilous crossing of open water as they colonized the islands from Sunda to Sahul.
Sunda to Sahul is inspired by these epic journeys. It is a fast paced and exciting strategy game, based on a unique set of laser cut jigsaw tiles with which you discover a different set of islands each time you play. Each player takes the role of an ancient spirit, guiding their people as they colonize the unfolding archipelago. You can cooperate with other players and share the spoils or you can take up the challenge and go for total domination -- but take care or you may lose it all!
The game works well for two to four players and for a single player there are a number of intriguing puzzles based on the jigsaw tiles.
I hate jigsaw puzzles, because I find them boring and monotonous. However, Im still intrigued by them and am fascinated at how the pieces fit together. My wife, on the other hand, likes puzzles, so she was pleased to hear that I had acquired a new game, one that combined puzzles and gaming Sunda to Sahul (Sagacity Games, 2002 Don Bone). Even though initial reports on the game were high in praise, I was slightly apprehensive, and wondered if puzzles and games could be mixed successfully.
And to my surprise, Sunda and Sahul accomplished this goal. Not only is it a fun and difficult solo puzzle for those who like such things, but Sunda and Sahul makes an excellent game for two to four players. In particular, my wife and I found it a very fun, relaxing time to spend an evening together. There are several ways to play the game, outlined in the rules and each method of playing has a different feel to it and all of them are quite good. I found that I enjoyed one way of playing with my wife, while another method worked better with my gaming group. This makes Sunda to Sahul a very versatile, unique game one that should be added to most gamers board game libraries.
In the basic game, 136 different puzzle pieces are shuffled and placed face-up on the table. There are about 10 different pieces, and they all fit together rather ingeniously. Each tile shows a combination of land and water, so that when the pieces are connected together, many islands are formed. One piece that consists of all water is placed in the middle of the board, forming the play area. Each player then takes a set of spirit tokens of their color, with the amount determined by the number of players playing the game. The youngest player goes first, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.
On a turn, a player can place two tiles (puzzle pieces) on the board. As in games like Carcassonne, other players may give advice about where to place the pieces, etc. Puzzle pieces must fit together to work, and land must touch land, with water connecting to water. If a player forms a land node (a place where corners of each of a group of tiles all meet in such a way that the tiles totally surround that point), then they may place one of their tokens on that node. Because of the shapes of the pieces, there are nodes that can be formed by three, four, five, and even six tiles.
The game ends when one player has placed all the tokens, when all the tiles are placed, or when everyone agrees that no more tiles can be placed. All players total up their points with tokens on completed islands worth two points, and all others worth one point. The player with the most points is the winner!
There are many advanced rules that can be incorporated into the basic game to add complexity.
- Water Rights: If a water node is created that is totally surrounded by land (creating a lake), a player can claim it. At the end of the game, each of these nodes is worth 5 or 10 points, depending on whether the island is completed.
- Tribes: After creating a node, a player may place one of their tokens on the island to form a tribe. If other players have already formed a tribe, the player may start their own tribe, or attempt to join a tribe already on the island. If joining, they must get permission from the head of the tribe the player with the most tokens in the tribe. Tribes can challenge each other, with dice used to determine the winner. The player who rolls the best on the dice (very similar to Risk style of combat) removes the top token from the tribe they were fighting. At the end of the game, each tribe token scores points for every other token in the same tribe, and double that amount if the island is completed.
- Resources: Six resource markers, with values from five to 10, are placed face-up next to the table at game setup. Whenever a player places a token on an island, they may add a resource chip to that island. Resources may only be added, however, if the number on the resource chip is less than or equal to the number of all other tokens on the island. At the end of the game, each resource chip scores the points on it for the player with the most tokens on the island.
- No Turns game: Players can opt to play simultaneously. If they do this, each player has their own private tile pool, rather than one large communal one. Play occurs the same as the basic game, except that players are all placing tiles at the same time. Players may raid an opponent, but taking a tile from any other player, but then must sit back while that player takes two tiles from them.
- Puzzle game: If only one player is playing, they can try to use all the tiles to form a group of completed islands (harder than it sounds!), or try other puzzles that are found on the companies web site.
Some comments on the game
1.) Components: After seeing this game, I am impressed how an independent game company has put out components that are equal to, if not superior, to most of the big name game companies. The main component of this game is obviously the puzzle pieces, and they are incredible. They are very thick, and fit together very snuggly. The artwork on them looks really nice, and its a lot of fun to see the map as it slowly assembles across the table. Whats even more impressive is that I dont think theres an identical piece, and that makes each game fairly unique and original. The tokens used for players to build tribes, claim nodes, etc., are nice sized cardboard tokens, each a different shape and color, making them easily distinguishable. A small scoring board is included with the game, so that advanced games can be scored, with up to 399 points possible. The scoreboard is unique looking and fits in with the overall jungle island theme. Everything fits well in the bright blue, sturdy box, and a large plastic bag is provided to keep the puzzle pieces separate from the other components.
2.) Rules: The rules are among the best Ive ever seen. The booklet includes many color illustrations, along with examples, etc. What I liked the best was that the rules progressed from the basic game to the complete game, explaining one concept and rule at a time, building on previous rules. I had absolutely no questions after reading the rules, and they have answered every problem (which have been almost none) that we had during games. The game is easy to teach and learn, and people who are puzzle maniacs will pick it up quickly.
3.) Puzzle or Game?: This leads to the obvious question If I hate puzzles, will I hate this game, also? From personal experience, I can say with conviction that while I hate puzzles, I like this game quite a bit. One thing that helps is that there is no right piece for a particular place, because every open spot can host a myriad of different pieces. I had fun trying to find the best piece for each spot, and several times would help the other players (of course, I then punched myself in the head for helping the opposition). Puzzle addicts should not fear that the game is too easy, however, as the single player rules allow them to have a rather difficult challenge.
4.) Simultaneous or not? I personally dont like the simultaneous play that much, because it makes the game very frantic, and I enjoyed Sunda to Sahul more as a leisurely activity. However, people who hate analysis paralysis should beware, as that is a very easy thing to find oneself falling into when playing this game. Players can always put a time limit on other players, or can pick the simultaneous mode. I find it impressive that the game handles both methods equally well.
5.) Basic or advanced? Is the basic game good enough? The answer is a resounding yes! Are the advanced rules worth it? Another yes breaks the silence, because both the basic game and advanced game are equally fun. More thinking is done in the advanced game, and the luck of the die adds a small random element for those who like a little luck in their games. There are strategic options in both, as players seek to finish their islands, and prevent their opponents from finishing theirs.
6.) Theme and Fun Factor: The theme, exploring and discovering islands, is very prevalent as players slowly build many islands. A sense of wonder can be felt as the map slowly unfolds upon the table. This adds up to a lot of fun. Players can have frenzied, wild fun with the simultaneous play, or peaceful, wondrous fun otherwise. Either way, the game is jam-packed with fun!
If this game is indicative of games coming out of Australia, then I hope to see many more. Sunda to Sahul is one of the most innovative, original games I have played this year. I found it a wonderful activity to partake in with my wife, and yet a good game to bring to my gaming group. Sunda to Sahul is certainly worth your time, whether or not you like puzzles, and I encourage all gamers to give it a try!
Sunda to Sahul is the first game released by Sagacity Games. Designed by an Australian, Don Bone, its title refers to the ancient landmasses that almost connected Australia and South-East Asia some 50 000 years ago. Sunda to Sahul is actually a family of games, that can be played solitaire, or by up to four people. At its heart, Sunda is a competitive jigsaw puzzle: it comes with 136 wooden jigsaw pieces that show bits of tropical islands and their coastline, and that can be assembled in a variety of ways. There are 10 tile shapes, and between 6 and 16 terrain configurations on the tiles (depending on whether the tile shape is symmetrical), which makes 136 unique tile configurations (the set could have been 20 bigger if peninsulas - tiles with two isolated bits of sea had been included). The fun in the game is trying to use these pieces to build bigger and better islands than your opponents.The one-player game works as you might imagine. You are challenged to assemble these tiles into a series of complete islands forming one continuous board. There are also some smaller puzzles given in the rulesbook, with more promised on the company web-site (sagacity.aires.com.au). These smaller puzzles are quite difficult. The simpler ones show a picture of a completed island, but have no piece borders illustrated. This is how a conventional jigsaw puzzle is done, but conventional jigsaws usually have more variation in the picture than just tropical jungle and coastline. The occasional animals and people on the tiles, plus small variation in foliage and coastline are the only clues to work with. It took my brother and I about 10 minutes to do a 14-piece puzzle of this type. The next level of difficulty shows only the coastline of the island, with one piece outlined in the middle for scale and as a starting point. These are seriously tricky puzzles that you will not get out in 20 minutes, but which will not take days like a 1500 piece jigsaw does. These puzzles may suit fans of impossi-puzzles and die-hard puzzlers, but were a bit much for a street amateur like me. On to the games in the Sunda "package". There is a beginner's game, a menu of advanced rules from which you can pick'n'mix, and then a real-time game which may also include any of the advanced rules. All of these games revolve around making a "land node", which is a piece vertex entirely surrounded by other pieces that all show land at that vertex (as opposed to sea). The "Aha" factor of finding a piece that completes an island you have been building is present in all the versions of the game, but the surrounding game structures have a big effect on determining whether the players will have a great or lousy time. The beginner's game doesn't quite work as a game. The problem is this: the only way to score points is to complete a node, which permits you to place a marker that will be worth one point (or two if the island containing the node is complete at game's end). A node can be completed with anywhere between 3 and 6 adjoining pieces. Each turn a player may place two pieces chosen from the entire pool of tiles. The consequence is that each player should be able to score one point a turn, or two points if they are lucky and the other players have left several half-finished nodes. However finding the piece needed to complete the node and score the point may take some time, as on average about one piece in 20 will fit to complete a node. Part-way through her first turn, my 75 year-old Mum said "How long have I got to take my turn?", I replied, "As long as you need", she said "What do you mean? I can just keep looking?!". She was right, it doesn't really make any sense. You will either find a suitable piece or discover that all of the ones you need have already been played, and it is simply a matter of an intensive search to determine which; therefore everyone else might as well help look as otherwise the game takes longer but the outcome is the same. Each group seems to develop its own terminology to help in this search, which is fun, but largely negates any element of sensible competition in the game and perhaps moves it from the category of game to past-time. We solved Mum's problem by shifting to the real-time game, where everyone goes hell-for-leather whacking in pieces as fast as they can. This is certainly competitive, but, as there is no real luck, a small edge in skill can lead to a crushing victory. The advanced rules shift the focus towards diplomacy and treachery by allowing the scoring tokens to be formed into tribes. These tribes may do battle, with the bigger tribe more likely to win, and the consequence that one scoring token changes sides. Playing the advanced game with a 1-minute timer for each turn (not supplied) certainly turns Sunda into a real game. There is some subtlety in the tribe and conflict rules, and they seem to lead to a game of treaties and back-stabbing that somewhat resembles [page scan/se=1378/sf=category/fi=stockin.asc/ml=10]Risk. Strategy in the beginner's game revolves around preventing island completion by others as this doubles the value of their nodes. In the advanced game, strategy is more involved and centres on judging how generous and how trustworthy your fellow players are, so as to find a safe place to form a tribe or a good tribe to join. However, because tribe size is limited to 5 tokens, a "go it alone" strategy seems to be as effective as a strategy of careful co-operation and co-existence. If played with a time limit, good strategy in both beginner's and advanced games becomes subordinate to the ability to quickly identify pieces that will enable you to form a node. The components are both lavish and functional - certainly one of the best self-published games ever made, and equal in standard to any game from a big European publisher. The spirit tokens would have been better with double-sided printing or more distinctive die cut shapes, and the scoring board would have been easier to use if it were base 50 or even base 20, but these are minor quibbles. The wooden jigsaw pieces are very impressive: attractive, close fitting, and sturdy. The rules are clear and straight-forward, and there is a FAQ at the web-site. This is a tough game to evaluate. My puzzling friends didn't like the game as much as I expected because they found it too stressful (this was the timed, and the real-time version) while they did jigsaws to relax. They probably would have enjoyed fiddling with the pieces and attempting some of the puzzles. I can't help feeling the game might have been better marketed as a puzzle and a game. The piece design is very clever, and the way they fit together is intriguing and attractive. The game works when played with time limits and has a quite acceptable duration (< 20 minutes a game for the real-time version; < 1 hour for the game with a 1-minute turn timer). Sunda is not a hard-core strategy-game, but it offers a different and satisfying play experience, and most people that I've played the game with have enjoyed it. Unfortunately the beginner's game, which may well be all that most people try, just doesn't work; while the advanced rules seem to encourage fairly brutal play, not really suited to the family table. The real-time version, which turns the beginner's game into a proper game, strongly rewards players with more skill and experience, rather in the way Ricochet Robot does, but doesn't have any catch-up feature like that included in Robots where lower scorers have a minute to find an equivalent-length route. I think all of this is a pity, as within the Sunda to Sahul "family", most game players could probably find a game to suit them: for me the brew consists of all the advanced rules except the resource markers, with a one-minute limit on each player's turn.