Today's First Play is brought to you by the letter S for strategic and slow-paced, the number 2 for two players, and the letter A for more anxiety than an American voter watching Trump somehow, SOMEHOW manage to keep the practical joke going. Read on for 2 To 4 Players' First Play of Sovrano, by Cambium Games.
Oops, no sorry. That's my Print and Play copy. Sorry. Ahem. Being a Cambium Game, Sovrano is...
If the first thing you say when you look at Sovrano is "Oh great it's chess..." with the same inflection with which you might greet that one classmate at the school reunion who set your pants on fire during high school, then Sovrano is probably not for you. It draws heavily from the old game of movey piecey over here, takey other piecey, checkmate I win. If, however, the first thing you say when you look at Sovrano is "Oh great it's chess..." with the same inflection with which you might greet that one classmate at a school reunion with whom you used to go out and set other peoples' pants on fire during high school, then I encourage you: take a close look at Sovrano. It's not chess, oh no. It's devil's chess. My wife, when she played this with me, said she had never experienced more anxiety playing a game than she experienced playing Sovrano. In fact, after a few games of it, she said she wouldn't play with me anymore; she was getting too antsy and so I had to find others to play it with me. IT WAS AWESOME.
The main objective is simple: get the most points at the end of the game (or kill the other player's emperor). How do you score points? Simple again. If you have any pieces occupying the "Tower-spaces" (they're the spaces that look like towers) at the start of your turn, you get a point for each one you occupy. The game ends either when a player's Emperor has died, or when a player can move his Emperor to the "Throne-space" (that's the one in the center with a crown, not a throne, I would like to point out, Cambium Games, NOT A THRONE) and survive until the start of his or her next turn. When that happens, that player scores three points and the game is over. So, you could potentially capture the Throne-space and still lose. But of course, being the savvy gamer you are, you wouldn't.
During your turn, you have to move at least one but can move up to three pieces. Each piece has laws governing how it moves, much like chess. The Guards can only move forward, back, or side to side, no diagonals. That is also the same method they use to take pieces. The Emperor can move to and take pieces from any adjacent space, much like the King of chess. The Archers, however, are the key, the lynch-pin of the game. They move similarly to the Guards, but they can only attack diagonally, up to two spaces away. Most of my games ended up with my using the Guards to deny my opponent access to areas and forcing his units into the sights of my Archers and then taking them down by arrows. A very satisfying experience. If it seems overly simplistic, don't worry. I haven't yet revealed the part that really made this game worthwhile for me: each piece is only allowed to move one space at a time. While this might seem like it would make the game exceedingly slow, take another look at the board. The pieces are already almost touching. A few turns, and there's already going to be conflict. The one space movement of Sovrano is what sets it apart most from chess, in that you have to think so far in advance of your actual turn, you have to plan ten, fifteen moves ahead in order to accomplish your goals, because it will take that long for you to maneuver all your pieces into the positions you want and then, oh no your opponent did not just move that Archer there that completely ruined your plans, but it's ok you can just adjust and OH NO I forgot about his other Archer and now I've lost my Archer.
Each turn will see you deliberate over how best to move your troops, and each decision will have weight and consequence. "If I move here, then that opens up this side of the board, but if I don't move here, I leave that Guard completely exposed." There will be times you will watch helplessly as you realize your opponent's plan cannot be stopped. But there will also be times where the opposite is true, where your strategy paid off and you confidently stroll in and take your rightful place on the Throne while your opponent looks on in envy. Games can turn from victory to defeat very quickly, as one wrong move can mean the end for your entire plan. Much like in chess I found myself making a move only to realize after it was over how stupid it was, which only proves that a) I am dumb and 2) each move must be made with great care and precision. But these mistakes are short-lived; games of Sovrano take between 15 and 30 minutes, so you can always have a fresh start.
I had an absolute blast playing Sovrano. I hope that you won't look at it and think "It looks too simple." It's not. I hope you won't think "It's just a smaller game of chess." It's not. It's stress-inducing, anxiety-causing fun made from a tree, and it is available on Kickstarter now.