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The players slip into the role of dwarves in the mine searching for gold. Suddenly a pickaxe breaks and extinguishes the miners' lamp. The saboteur has struck. But which of the players is the saboteur? Find the gold first or direct the sinister actions of the saboteur. After three rounds, the player with the most gold wins.
As I write this review, Saboteur's 'All-Time Sales Rank' sits at 3031st. And that just ain't right. And so, taking pleasure in being the first person to write a review for a game on this site, and hopefully introducing this cute little game to you, I invite you to read on.
Okay, Saboteur belongs in the class of games known as 'light card games'. I, for one, am not the biggest fan of this group (which includes brain-dead classics like Uno) but occasionally stumble across a real gem (a quality offering like Coloretto). Saboteur would lean toward the excellent side of this category. Light, easy to learn, quick turns, some interaction, a clever twist -- these are the qualities to look for in light games like this. Saboteur pretty much scores in every department.
The setting isn't novel: players are dwarves digging through the mines looking for gold. The twist is that there are Good Dwarves...and evil Saboteurs, who are bent on stopping the Good warves from doing their work! And the worst part is, no one is sure who is who! But I am getting a head of myself...
A 'start' card is set at one side of the table, and 3 'finish' cards are set at the other side. Players need to imagine a 9 x 5 grid of cards, with the start card at the center position of one side of the '5', and the 3 finish cards at the top, middle, and bottom spaces of the other side of the grid. Now one of those finish cards has GOLD! but the otehr two have near worthless coal. The catch is that those finish cards are face down: none of the players know which card is which. The Good Dwarves need to try and find the gold, of course, but the Saboteurs will try to stop them.
First each player is secretly dealt a Character card depicting either a Dwarf or a Saboteur. (The exact number of each changes with the number of players.) In this respect, Saboteur might very well be called BANG lite! (More on that comparison later.) No one has any idea who the other players are, and to complicate things more, players can not be 100% sure how many Saboteurs there are. Ie: in a 7 player game, there could be 3 Saboteurs, but there may only be 2! This creates some tension as Good Dwarves start smashing each other, suspecting the worst of one another!
Next, players are dealt a hand of cards (the number varies with the number of players) and begin the game. On your turn you may play ONE card (either to the board, onto a player, or into the discard pile) then draw one card back into your hand from the draw pile. Now most of the cards are 'path' cards (not unlike 'road' tiles in Carcassonne, and looking a lot like the Ravensburger game 'Labyrinth'). The start card has paths going in all 4 directions, and when a player plays a path card, he adds it so that the path he is adding extends a path that can be traced to the start card. The Good Dwarves need to try and get to the other side of the board quickly, and will almost immediately try for a straight line. Enter the Saboteurs. You see not all the path cards are good. Some are dead ends, others are 'T's that make a path more difficult to build on, etc. So the Saboteurs will create as many winding detours as possible. But that isn't all! There are also Special cards!
'Broken' cards depict one of the three tools the dwarves need (mine cart, latern, pick) in a damaged state; these can be played on any player and it prevents them from laying any path cards. 'Fix' cards depict the same tools, and can also be played on any player (including yourself), and 'fix' the tool of the hindered player so that the Broken card is removed. 'Map' cards allow the player to look at ONE of the Finish cards to see what it depicts. 'Cave-in' cards allow a player to remove ANY one path card from the table (so Good Dwarves can remove obstacles, and Saboteurs can remove vital connections from the paths.)
When (and IF) the Good Dwarves reach the finish card depicting Gold, the Good Dwarves win and each get Gold cards: the catch being that the more recently you have had a turn, the more Gold you get, creating some competition even amongst the Good Dwarves, as they all want to lay the last card, or be closer to that person! If they do not reach the Gold by the time the cards run out, the Saboteurs win and get a set amount of Gold.
So players are extending the paths through the mountain, casting suspicion on one another, trying to figure who's good and who is bad (Saboteurs need to be sneaky or they'll end up with a bunch of broken tools!), breaking each others tools, all in an effort to win.
The rules are straightforward, the gameplay is short (about 8 minutes a round), the hidden 'teams' is something I really like in a game, and the player range is 3-10 players! If this is sounding like BANG lite, I think that is a fair comparison to make. It's strips all the difficult and fiddly actions off of BANG, throws in a need path-building mechanic, and ends up being very light and a lot of fun. The game is VERY simple, but the wide player range and the nature of the teams, makes the game a good addition for families and non-gamers, and for game groups looking for large group filler. (Increasingly chaotic with more players, but not in a bad way -- or at least not in way that really violates the essence of the game.)
Saboteur won't win any MENSA awards (actually, some really brainless games HAVE won MENSA awards!) but is finds a happy medium as an accessible hidden teams game, and (at least for light card games) snappy, interesting, and unique gameplay. Buy a copy. This game is great for what it is, and judging by the reaction of my non-gamer friends, Saboteur is going to get a LOT of gameplay!