Saturday, 9 September 2017


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

The Sanssouci Palace is in Germany, and some call it the equivalent of the Palace of Versailles. The name is French and means "free of worry". It is meant to be more a rest and relax place than a seat of power. The Sanssouci boardgame is designed by Michael Kiesling. In this game you build the garden of the palace, and try to impress visiting noblemen.

Everyone has a player board like this. It is double sided and the two sides have different starting setups. The player board is the garden of the palace. There are 6 rows and 9 columns. The first row is fully built up. A few other spaces are built. At the top, right along the palace building itself, is a row of noblemen. These are the people you are trying to impress, one nobleman per column. Every turn you must escort one nobleman to a new location. The new location must be in the same column, but further down.

Everyone has a same deck of cards. At the start of the game, you shuffle your own deck and draw two. Every turn you play a card then draw a replacement. The game ends after you have played every card. Every card will be used exactly once. You use a card to claim a tile from the main board to place on your player board. The tiles are various types of decorative structures you can build in your garden. In this photo, the card on the left lets you claim a tile from the orange or blue rows of the main board. You must place the tile on a corresponding orange or blue space on your player board. The card on the right lets you claim a spiral structure. Sometimes if a specific structure type is not available on the main board, your card becomes a joker and you get to pick anything. These are usually golden opportunities. You are much less restricted.

This is the main board. In the centre there are five rows with two tiles each. You claim tiles from here. Whenever a tile is claimed, another is randomly drawn to take its place.

There are strict rules about placing tiles. When you take a tile from the main board, it comes from a specific coloured row. You must place this tile in the matching coloured row on your board. Also the tile is of a specific structure type. You must place it in the column of that type on your board. In essence, there is only one legal placement for any tile you claim. After placing a tile, the second action you take to complete your turn is to move a nobleman. He must move to a new spot which is further down in the same column, but he doesn't have to move in a straight line. He can take a roundabout way as long as there is an uninterrupted path to his destination. The nobleman scores points depending on which row he stops at. The further down he stops, the more points he scores. In this photo, two of the nobles on the right have started moving.

In this photo you can see a nobleman who has taken a roundabout way to reach his final destination. The third nobleman from the right has reached the bottom, and you can see his column is not yet completed. To get to his current location, he has taken a detour down the spiral structure column (second column from the right).

Now if you look at the tile above him, you will notice that instead of a garden structure, there is a portrait of a gardener. Gardeners are on the backs of every tile. When you take a tile from the main board, and the location on your player board where it is meant to be placed is already occupied, you get to flip the tile (to become a gardener) and place it at any location in the same row or column as the original intended location. This can be very handy, e.g. when you desperately need to fill a location for which you don't have the right card. However, there is also a drawback. Noblemen do not stop where a gardener is at work, i.e. you won't be able to use that location to score points.

When you place tiles, they need not connected to the palace, e.g. those two at the bottom right are currently isolated. Eventually you will want to connect all of them, to allow noblemen to visit the high value locations.

This was near game end. That nobleman in the middle had only taken one step, but I had great plans for him. I would make sure before the game ended he would walk all the way to the 6VP location at the bottom of his column. He would go left to take a long route, but he would get there. During the game I played, I focused much energy on filling the 6th row and building connections for the noblemen to get there. It was only halfway through that I realised I should have put some effort on the 5th row as well. Ideally I could get a nobleman to score both the 5VP and 6VP locations of his column. 5VP was significant.

After the game ends, each completed row and column are also worth points. That's another thing you can aim for.

The Play

Sanssouci feels like a solitaire game. You are all building your own gardens, creating your own paths, and attending to your own noble visitors. However there is some subtle player interaction. You want to watch what tiles your opponents need from the main board in addition to knowing what you need. If there is something an opponent desperately wants which is somewhat useful to you, you probably want to snatch it. If there are multiple tiles useful to you, you can prioritise which to get first by evaluating how sought after they are by your opponents. You can play without thinking about these and just worry about your own player board. The game still works. This is one reason Sanssouci works well as a family game. You can play it casually.

You get a soothing satisfaction from seeing your garden take shape and the paths link up. You will have a rough blueprint in mind. Every round, you take a small step in turning your blueprint into reality. Sometimes you are forced to change your plan, because you don't draw the cards you need or the tiles you need are not available. Sometimes you change plans because an easier path presents itself, or you just want to mess with someone else's plans. Every round you get closer to what you envision.

You don't have that many cards for the whole game, and each card can only be used once. You know you won't fill up the board. It's a question of how well you work within the limitations and how you make the best of what you draw. It is an interesting challenge. Since the deck is a fixed deck, you can somewhat plan ahead. You know the cards you want will come sooner or later. You can hold on to a card for the best moment to play it. You can plan your garden building taking into account cards you know you will eventually draw.

The Thoughts

Sanssouci is a mid-weight family game. It is a peaceful game. Planning the garden you want to build and then executing your plan step by step are satisfying. Throughout the game you score points every round, so your scoring marker races around the score track against those of your opponents. There will be pressure to keep up. You need to plan your moves a few turns ahead to maintain a steady progress. Two secret objective cards given at the start of the game also create different incentives to players, resulting in variety.

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