Siege of Sunfall: Review

What do you get when you combine a post-apocalyptic future, farming, and war? The Siege of Sunfall. Today, Fairway takes a look at this recent Kickstarter delivery from Grey Gnome Games. See if he and his band of mini-meeple fighters can survive. 

Siege of Sunfall is a a two- to six- player bidding/bluffing game from Grey Gnome Games and designer, Jonathan Bouthilet and featuring the somewhat gritty art of Derek Bacon. I backed this project when it was on Kickstarter. The game also beat one of mine in a game design challenge. I’ll try not to hold that against him.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. It’s clear right away that there’s a lot going on in this game. To call it a bidding/bluffing game actually understates the interesting complexity.
  2. The almost washed  out, post-apocalyptic art is both fitting and a bit unnerving. I wonder if it will appeal to as many people as it might turn off.
  3. While there’s some good complexity, the game is actually relatively straightforward to play and easy to get started. The consequences of your choices aren’t readily obvious though.
  4. The game is semi-cooperative but in a reluctant sort of way.

Game play ^

In Siege of Sunfall, players control a camp of survivors attempting to score the most resources by the end of the game. To do so, players must allocate their survivors in such a way to fend off (and capture) marauding attackers called Raiders as well as to train better units and acquire yet other resources.

The game is played over a series of rounds. At the start of each round, a “Raid” deck is constructed of a certain number of Raid cards (depending on player count) and one “Siege Ends” card. These cards are shuffled together placed face down in a draw pile.  The Raid cards will be revealed one at a time until the Siege Ends card is drawn. At that point, the round ends.

At the start of the game, players are given a settlement card, a starting population (a set of mini meeples) and a screen.  The settlement card is placed behind the screen and contains locations in which your population can farm or train during the rounds.  Before the first Raid card is revealed, players can secretly place a population in one or more of the available settlement spots. These meeples won’t be available for the round, but will generate resources or specialized meeples at the end of a round.

Once everyone has made their settlement selections, the raid begins. The top card of the Raid deck is revealed. Most Raid cards are Raiders. Raiders represent an incoming attack on the players’ settlements that they must collectively repel. Each Raider cards have a strength value, a Raider type (Defensive, Ranged or Assault), and a set-collection reward.

To overcome a raid, the players must collectively pledge enough of their population such that the total exceeds the Raider’s strength. Most of the population are worth just one point.  Specialized troops can be worth three points when used against a raider of a certain type. The specialized troops get their bonus in a sort of rock-paper-scissors evaluation: ranged (blue) beats defensive (yellow); assault (red) beats ranged (blue); and defense (yellow) beats assault (red).

If the players succeed, then the player who bid the most will collect the card. Players are trying to capture sets of Raiders, either: three of one kind (e.g., three defenders) or one of each kind. Once they do so, the cards are immediately turned in for the sum total of all the reward icons, usually more population and a few resources.

If they’re not successful, the players lose and the player who bid the least is out for the remainder of the round — they return any unused population to the pool and won’t collect resources for surviving the siege.

From time to time, siege cards will also include bonuses. These bonuses are bid on just the same way. The bargain, of course, is whether the sacrifice is worth the bonus.

When the siege ends, surviving players gain resources for any left over population meeples as well as bonuses for any meeples placed on the settlements.  A new round begins by allocating population meeples to all the players, creating a new Raid deck and starting over with placing populations on the settlement.

The game ends when there are not enough Raid cards to form a new Raid deck.

On the green ^

Semi-cooperative. I’m always skeptical of semi-cooperative games. The incentives usually feel off. That’s not the case here at all. All the players were pleasantly surprised at how this works. Players all recognize the mutual goal: survive the sieges. Players all recognize their own individual goal: commit enough population to a raid, without over-committing (so you don’t run out), without under-committing (so if you do lose, you’re not out), but only at times that make sense (do you really need that card?). It can be a fantastic little trip to crazy town at times.

Yay, a no-lying blind-bidding/bluffing game.  Again, I struggle to approve games where the primary mechanic lavishes rewards on things like lying. But this game isn’t that. The rules don’t say how much coordination is or is not permitted. We played permissive, and that opens the door for a player to back-stab another. However, in practice, doing that is a one time choice with severe consequences for that player in the game.

Push your luck.  One other fantastic feature of the bidding mechanic here: it’s also got a bit of push your luck. You don’t know when it’ll end. The location of the “Siege End” card is only sort of known: it’s shuffled into the back half of the deck. That means you can try to “guess” where it is and adjust your bids accordingly.

Play time.  The game plays quickly once players figure out the bidding. Our early rounds were slow as players tended to over-analyze the situation.  Most players found a bidding groove and strategy which made individual raids move along at a nice clip.

On the fringe ^

I created a special section for this game. I was torn by the washed-out, faded, over-exposed, comic-like art during the campaign. I recognize that art is subjective and there are likely fans. Having now seen the game in-person, I can imagine it might turn off some people. For me, I was not drawn into the game by the art. I get that it’s supposed to feel like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but there was something not quite right about it.

Where it comes up short ^

We had two minor complaints about this game.

Tiny meeples. First, while I liked the little army meeples, they’re tiny! This makes bidding in your hand easy, but it makes keeping track of them hard and makes them hard to subitize. On more than one occasion, we had players who thought they bid an amount different than was in their hand. Whoops.

Defeat of Intuition. Second, we felt like aspects of the game made learning the game was needlessly hard. The game itself isn’t actually all that hard. But there’s so many little things going on, the consequence of which, is somewhat hard to discern from the rules. For instance, take the set collection mechanic. Whether it’s a good idea or not to “win” a particular Raider card is opaque: the frequency of the sets isn’t obvious, the particular raider deck is randomized, and the reward is unknown. This makes explaining what to bid or why the player should bid that hard. The game also defeats the player’s intuition that “winning is always good.”

The same thing for whether to allocate troops to the fields or specialized units. Whether a particular troop is going to be helpful isn’t really knowable. But players defaulted to doing it because it seems like the right thing: spend one now to get a three next round seems like the only good choice. We wondered whether more plays would alter this behavior — it didn’t seem to. So then the question is whether there’s ever a situation in which a player wouldn’t do it.

In the Hole ^

Siege of Sunfall is a nice spin on a bidding and press your luck game. The fact that players are forced to work together, but in a completely selfish way, converts it into a bit of a psychological game too. The core game engages players in some tense decision making with difficult strategic choices.

Seige of Sunfall is in the hole for a Par. ^

 

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