Sobek: Two Player Temple Construction
Over a decade ago, famed designer Bruno Cathala released Sobek, a 2-4 player memory, hand management, open drafting game. It did well, but eventually faded away. Last year Cathala worked with Pandasaurus Games to bring back a re-engineered version for only two players. New methods for drafting tiles, new set collection mechanics, and, of course, a limitation of two players makes this a very different feeling game, while still holding true to its roots.
Does this reimagination please the Egyptian gods, or is Sobek: Two Players destined to be buried?
Give each player a Corruption board and two of the Starting tiles and reveal four more to put in the center spots of the Market board. Shuffle the Goods and Character tiles together into a single pile. Place new tiles from the stack face down until you have filled the board, starting on the upper left of each inner circle and proceeding clockwise. At the beginning of the game, this means start at the “2” in the image below. Flip over the Goods tiles ONLY.
Place five Pirogue (tear shaped) tokens face down in the spots on the left side of the Market board.
Put the Deben (coin) tokens in the bag and give the starting player the Ankh. It’s time to build a temple!
In Sobek, your goal is to get more points than your opponent by capturing sets of tiles with scarab icons on them. You’ll do this by moving the Ankh in the direction it’s pointing to land on the tile you want to draft.
The starting player will choose one of the four tiles in the center to place the Ankh on, and take that tile. Rotate the Ankh to match the dark lines on the sides of the tile.
After the first turn, players have three choices on their turn. They may:
- Take a Tile from the Market
- Sell a Set of Tiles
- Play a Character
Take a Tile
Players go back and forth, taking tiles from the market by moving the Ankh in the direction it is facing, taking the tile into their hand, and reorienting the Ankh. Players must put any tile they pass over on their way to their desired tile onto their Corruption board. Finally if the tile has a Deben icon in the upper right, they can discard the tile to take a Deben token from the bag instead of taking the tile.
If a player puts the Ankh on one of the character tiles, they take it into their hand as if it were a good.
If a player cannot move the Ankh tile because there are no available tiles in the line the Ankh is facing, remove the Ankh, refill the board clockwise as before, and place the Ankh on one of the middle four tiles, drafting it, and continuing.
Sell a Set
When a player has at least three of a certain good (or two plus a wild, etc) they can play them into their tableau. If the player already has a set of that resource, they can add those new tiles to it. At the end of the game, each different resource set will score: the number of tiles times the number of scarabs.
Every time a player sells a set, they make take one of the five Pirogue tokens. They’re never replaced, so after players play five sets, they are gone.
Play a Character
The last thing a player can do on their turn is play a character tile from their hand. Every character has special abilities. You can find explanations on the player aid.
The game is over when a player has no available move:
- The Ankh is pointing to only empty squares, AND
- The draw pile is empty, AND
- The player has no sets to sell, AND
- The player has no character to play.
Everyone scores their resources, and the player with the least Corruption (counted by the number of tiles on the Corruption board) gets a bonus. Add the values of the Deben tokens for each player. Whoever has the most points wins!
I was intrigued when I first saw Sobek, both by the art and the cool Ankh pawn. Playing the game as demoed was a great experience as well.
Unfortunately, that same experience wasn’t quite as great on my own table. There’s a lot of things to manage in Sobek, from a fairly onerous setup to the pirogue tokens to a decent amount of board management when it starts running out of tiles. Sobek as a set collection game is fine, but some mechanics feel tacked on. My best guess is that these were added to push the game along.
For example, players should build the strongest sets possible. So, why bother playing anything until you have a huge hand? This is where the Pirogue tokens come in, rewarding the first five sets played. Of course, we often forgot them. There is no mechanical reason for them to be tied to set completion, other than an additional motivation.
Similarly, the Deben tokens seem to only exist to force players to make a choice – Do you want a random amount of victory points or do you want to try to finish a set? The allocation of Deben tokens on low scarab tiles seems like a way to try to make those tiles seem worth more.
Sobek is… fine. It’s not a bad game, but with so many new and interesting things coming out, it feels pretty plain. There are better set collection games on the market with more streamlined mechanics. We’ve reviewed a bunch.
Pandasaurus Games provided us with a promotional copy of Sobek for this review.
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Sobek 2 Players
Age Range: 10+
Number of Players: 2
Playtime: 20 minutes