I’m always impressed when designers pack a whole lot of game into a very small box. That is exactly what you get with Sobek. The entire game fits into a box that is smaller than a 1980’s cell phone, yet contains a board, pawns, a deck of cards, tokens, corruption tiles, and a lot more strategy and game play then you’ll ever find in a game of Monopoly.
Sobek is an Egyptian theme game, but don’t let that sway your opinion in either direction. This game could easily be skinned in any theme, heck, you could have a martian themed game of Sobek with just some tweaks in art work. What should sway your opinion of this game is its interesting game play. Your goal is to acquire sets of cards of a given commodity, but you want a set that is also worth something.
In Sobek, a single type of commodity can vary from being worthless to being extremely valuable. For example, there are fat cows and there are skinny cows. Fat cow cards are worth scarabs (money) while skinny cows are not. After all, who wants a skinny cow? Well, maybe you do, if you want to complete a set of cows and already have some fat ones. You see, you can only lay down a set (and thus reap it’s rewards) if you have at least three of that type in total. So if you have two fat cows, maybe you are willing to pick up the skinny cow in order to finish off that set and reap the rewards. It’s not as good as picking up another fat cow, but it’s better then nothing.
Tossing some skinny cows in the mix also can raise the overall amount of money your set is worth. After all, is anyone really going to notice one skinny cow when you take them to market?! Nah, they are going to see all those succulent fat cows! When scoring Sobek you count up how many scarabs are visible in your set and multiply it by the total number of cards in your set. So you might have only two scarabs visible in your hand, thanks to a couple of fat cows, but have a total of five cards in your set. Even though the skinny cows aren’t bringing any scarabs into the picture, they help with the multiplier, thus making your set worth ten points.
So how do you get these commodity cards into your hand? You take them from a track of cards that are available, but be careful or the corruption required to get exactly what you need, and screw over your opponents, might crush you in turn. Sobek is played in rounds, each round a line of commodity cards are played onto the table, face up, in a row. Each player is compelled on his turn to take a card from the front of the line. But what if they don’t want that card? Well, they don’t have to take it, if they are willing to become a little bit more corrupt. A player may take a card further down the line (within the first four cards), if they would prefer, but all of the cards before it are going to count against them in the form of corruption. These extra cards are placed under a black, scarab shaped, tile with your color on it. This is your corruption pile. It’s pretty unwise to let your corruption pile get too big, because the person with the most corruption is going to lose points at the end of the round. So corruption is a delicate dance where you take as much as you dare in order to get the cards you want, but attempt to stay under how much your opponent has. It’s just like Washington D.C. politics, everyone expects and accepts that you are a little corrupt, as long as you are not the most corrupt person in town.
There are also action cards in the game, which are intermixed with the commodity cards as possible cards you can take from the line up. And this is where my one piece of criticism comes in: These cards have symbols on them, rather than words, to explain what they do. Because of this, my players were continually referencing the rules, trying to figure out and remember what these cards did. While I understand that the symbols were opted for, over words, in order to be able to print this game in many different languages, it made the game play far more unwieldy than seemed necessary. My suggestion for future printings? Include player reference cards for these symbols. That way players can discreetly compare their cards to their player card whenever they need a reminder, rather then having to request the rules. Continual requests for the rules not only announced that a player was debating using a card, but it also slowed down the game immensely.
Overall, my players enjoyed this game. It wasn’t very difficult to get everyone comfortable with the rules, and we had a really good competitive game on the first try, which I cannot say for all games. The groaning and sneering that took place when we took cards that others wanted was fun, as was the cat and mouse game of “who has the most corruption?” As a bonus, because of this games’ size, I can certainly see it traveling with us for future playing.
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