Review: Saboteur

For 3-10 players, Saboteur is a light card game that is part deception and part strategy. Players are dwarves seeking to mine a path to gold treasure. Unknown among the players is that some of them might actually be saboteurs, seeking to thwart the entire operation and keep the gold for themselves.

The game goes through 3 rounds, with the player having the most gold at the end being declared the winner. At the beginning of each round every player receives a role card indicating if they are a simple dwarven miner or a saboteur. An entrance card is put in play a defined distance from three face down goal cards which are randomly placed. Two of the goal cards lead to a lump of worthless ore, while one card is the gold treasure.

During a player’s turn they have the option of placing a card connecting the current paths, discarding a card, or to play an action card. Afterwards they draw one card. The action cards either hinder another player like breaking a mine cart or smashing a pick, or they repair that specific item. If a player has broken equipment cards in front of them, they can’t play any cards (except action cards to repair any broken cards on them). There are even map cards which allow the player to secretly see which of the 3 end goal cards is actually the treasure.

When a path leads to the treasure, special treasure cards equal to the number of players are drawn from a deck. Starting with the player that reached the treasure, they get their choice of treasure cards which have a varying number of gold nuggets. It’s entirely possible that some players will get more treasure cards than other fellow mining dwarves. If all the cards are exhausted and/or a legal path cannot be made to the treasure, each saboteur gets a set number of gold nuggets as treasure while the miners getting nothing. The role cards are shuffled and new cards are dealt to each player for the next round.

The game becomes a fun game of deception. You try to see which opponent might be throwing a wrench into the miner’s plans. If they feel someone is a saboteur, they can try to lock them out breaking their equipment. As a saboteur, you want to try and be subtle with subverting the path away from the treasure.

Not everything is a cooperative effort for the miners though. The player that reaches the treasure first gets their first choice of gold cards. The cards are an unequal distribution of 1 to 3 gold nuggets. Also if any players are saboteurs, the miner that gets to the treasure first will get an extra gold nugget card. So there is a big incentive to try and get to the treasure first (as you’ll likely get more victory points). This might even mean trying to stop other miners so you are the one successfully establishing a path on your turn.

The Good – This is a fun light game with a fair amount of strategy. The rules are very simple and easy to pick up. The game also plays rather quickly taking only 20-30 minutes. The cards are of sturdy stock and the illustrations are pleasant, colorful, playful depictions of dwarves and their mining equipment.

The Bad – While it’s simplicity has some charm, it can be somewhat of a repetitive game. You can get an very bad streak of drawn cards where it’s practically impossible to remove broken equipment played on you. This can be somewhat frustrating. If you are the lone saboteur (which is possible in a lower player count game) and are figured the likely traitor early in the game, it can be disheartening as everyone else keeps dumping broken equipment cards on you preventing you from doing anything.

The Verdict – Saboteur is an enjoyable light game, also a few things really add to the play experience. The role cards used will have one extra card over the total number of players. It’s entirely possible in a lower player count game to have no saboteurs, yet no one will know this until the end of the round. Also, having 3 rounds with new role cards given out at the beginning of each one means a player might not be stuck in a particular role for the entire game.

One really nice twist is that even though all the miners share the glory when a path reaches the treasure goal, the cards are not distributed equally and have different values. So while you do want to be sure and get to the gold with your fellow miners, you certainly don’t share the rewards evenly. This little twist adds some complexity in determining who the saboteurs are. If a player prevents another from reaching the treasure, are they a traitor or are they just a greedy miner trying to reach the gold first?

With a small box, light rules, and being able to accommodate up to 10 people, Saboteur makes for a fun evening. It’s a great filler game and a wonderful way to cap off a night of heavy board games, or make for an enjoyable hour or so by itself.

[Note: There is a slight variation I like using when there are potentially more than one saboteur (5-10 people). Like the Resistance, I add one extra step after the role cards are given out. Everyone closes their eyes and one person announces that the saboteurs open their eyes and find out who else might be a saboteur for that round. Everyone is then instructed to close their eyes again and open them all at once, with the game starting as normal. It can be difficult for the saboteurs to win a round unless they can somewhat work together. This little extra step allows for the saboteurs to strengthen their position when they bluff to the other miner players.]

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