Sagrada is a light strategy game about building beautiful stained-glass windows, released in 2017 from designers Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews. Players will draft colored dice and place them into their window, as they try to take advantage of scoring goals while still obeying the restrictions on placement. The player that can most effectively fill their window and create scoring patterns will be the winner!
Each player has a window board that has a grid of four-by-five squares for placing dice. The game takes place over ten rounds, where each round gives players the opportunity to add two more dice to their window. The first player, which rotates from round to round, will draw dice randomly from the bag equal to twice the number of players, plus one. These dice are rolled for all players to see. At this point, players will draft the dice, starting with the first player, and snaking backwards with the first player making the final selection. The one (or more, if players passed) die that remains is then moved to the round track to mark the end of that round.
Dice in Sagrada are six-sided, and come in five different colors. There are several rules for placing the dice you draft in your grid:
- The first placement must be touching one of the sides of the window (you can’t just start building a window in mid-air).
- Each subsequent die must be placed next to a die that is already in your window, though this includes being diagonally adjacent.
- Dice of the same color cannot be played orthogonal to each other (diagonal is allowed).
- Dice of the same value cannot be played orthogonal to each other (diagonal is allowed).
Additionally, each player has a unique window card that they slide into their board at the beginning of the game. These cards will specify extra restrictions on certain squares, forcing spaces to require a certain color or value. When drafting a die, players always have the opportunity to use one of three tool cards that were randomly selected at the beginning of the game. Each tool provides a special ability that can range from modifying the value of your drafted die by one, to moving dice around in your window ignoring certain restrictions. Using these tools will cost skill tokens, which are allocated at the beginning of the game depending on the difficulty of your window card.
Play will continue with first player rotating clockwise, and starting a new round. After ten rounds, the game is over and every player’s window will be scored. There are four different elements that score:
- Private Objectives – At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a private objective that assigns them one of the five colors. During scoring, players will earn points equal to the sum of all dice in their window of their color.
- Public Objectives – At the beginning of the game, three random public objectives are revealed, similar to the tool cards. Each of these specifies a way that all players can score points, such as having columns of all different colors or having pairs of dice with values of threes and fours.
- Skill Tokens – Any skill token that a player did not spend to use tools will earn them one point.
- Empty Window Spaces – Each empty space in a players window loses one point. The grid has 20 spaces, so a player must play both of their dice in all 10 rounds without passing to avoid any penalty.
Once each of these areas has been scored for each player (using the scoring track that is conveniently on the back side of the round track), the player with the most points is the winner!
What Is It Like to Play?
Sagrada is a very “puzzley” game. The restrictions on placing the dice in the grid are very reminiscent of Sudoku, and I could see there being a strong correlation of people liking both. The game starts off feeling very easy, but quickly becomes a tricky puzzle as your grid becomes more and more constricted by the decisions you have already made. The use of a snake draft for selecting dice adds the interest of trying to determine which dice are most important to take right away, or which ones you think your opponents are likely to want. Here are some examples of some of the mental dialogue you might encounter while playing Sagrada:
I could play this green four on this space that needs to be green, or I could play it on this space that needs to be a four. Either works, but I think the four-restriction is the better choice because it is adjacent to another space that already has green dice next to it. Adding a green die adjacent doesn’t restrict things any more, whereas playing it on the green-restriction prevents me from playing a four in the space next to it.
I really, really need a blue six… and miraculously two of them got rolled! I have second pick, and then the two players after me will draft four dice before I pick again. Do I take the blue six now, or do I assume that one of them will probably still be there for my second pick? It looks like the next player’s secret goal might be blue, so there is a good chance she will take one… It isn’t worth the risk, I’ll just take one now.
It is the last turn, and I can’t play any of the dice with my current restrictions. That said, I could use a tool to manipulate my board and make it possible. Is it worth losing two points in skill tokens to use the tool that someone has already used? Well, it would allow me to fill in a space which eliminates at least one negative, but it actually would also give me another pair of fives and sixes, which is a public goal that provides two points. I actually will come out one point ahead using the tool, so I might as well do it.
There are a lot of things to balance mentally to play Sagrada effectively, as you must have a strong awareness of keeping all of your restrictions in check, while simultaneously trying to maximize your points via the private and public goals. It is not uncommon for new players (and even experienced players, at times) to realize that they accidentally played something that made it impossible to play in another space. I have looked down at my board and seen that three turns ago I played a purple five right next to a space that needs to be five due to my window card. Sometimes there are tools that can help remedy this situation, but other times you just have to bite the bullet and do your best to work around that mistake. While all of this sounds really cerebral, I should emphasize that I (as well as people I have played with) actually find Sagrada to be a very relaxing game to play. Yes, your brain will definitely be chewing on all of the little decisions and considerations there are to make, but the overall flow of the game is very soothing as you just casually draft dice and try to fit them into your little puzzle.
While the mechanics of playing Sagrada feel the same from game to game, things are really kept fresh by the various random elements in the setup. For starters, each player is dealt a random private goal that gives them a specific color to target. Then they are given a random window card, from which they can select the front or the back. But then the largest source of variety comes from the three random public goals and three random tool cards. The goal cards really can change the feel of the game, as one session you might be completely focusing on color variety in your rows and columns, and another it might be all about capitalizing on different pairs of shades (the values of the dice). The tools have a similar effect where some games may provide capability to move dice around that have already been placed, and other games might have abilities that aid in drafting, but the dice in your window are completely locked. All of these aspects of variable setup is what keeps the game from feeling stale for me, and so I give it high marks for replay value.
I have played at all player counts from 1-4 (yes, I spent some time with the solitaire mode), and I think the game works great across that range. There is definitely a different feel with four players, as you are rolling 9 dice every round as opposed to just 5 dice with two players. Additionally, a four player game ensures that all the dice in the bag are drawn, which ensures that every player has equal chances of seeing dice that match the color of their secret goal. In a two player game, it is very possible one player just has more of their color drawn which can feel a bit unfair. This could be easily solved by removing a certain amount of dice of each color before the game to scale the distribution, though that is not an official variant, and I prefer just allowing that randomness in my two player games.
And then there is solitaire mode. Even playing Sagrada with a group feels much like multiplayer solitaire as everyone is completely absorbed in their own little puzzle, so it seemed like a solo mode is a natural fit. The play is fairly similar, with the interesting twist that the undrafted dice that are placed on the round track actually define the target number that you need to score to win. This creates an interesting dynamic where you are trying to avoid allowing high-value dice going undrafted, something that you can mitigate through your own selection as well as the use of tools which require a certain color die to activate (there are no skill tokens in this mode). If there is one thing I learned about solitaire Sagrada, it is that it is hard. I lost my first couple games, scaled back the difficulty to the “easy” mode, and still lost some more. After thirteen solitaire plays, I finally won! There is definitely a lot of randomness that keeps the odds against you in this mode, but there more I thought about it, the more I felt that it is a good thing. Even traditional variants of solitaire with a deck of standard cards maintain their interest because winning seems like such a special occasion. That elusive win factor is definitely present in Sagrada, and I can assure you that I was fairly pumped after I won that thirteenth game.
The most similar game that comes to mind is Roll Player, which has comparable game mechanics centered around drafting dice and arranging them in a personal player board, though it is not quite as light and accessible as Sagrada. Other light games that have players working on their own “puzzle” might include Patchwork and Cottage Garden, two of Uwe Rosenberg’s games that explore the usage of “polyomino” (or “Tetris-style”) tiles to fill a grid.
It will take a minute or two to deal out private goals, have players select a side from a random window card, and deal the public goals and tools. Once players are familiar with this setup, things are up and running in no time.
Sagrada is a game with very intuitive rules that make it easy to teach. The basic restrictions on the colors and values of dice are simple to understand, and none of the additional elements (window cards, public goals, tools) are very complex. Even with new players, it is feasible to have the game up and running in 5-10 minutes.
Things to Like
Each time a player drafts a die to place in their stained glass window, there are a lot of interesting considerations they may ponder. Trying to figure out which die will fit into your window while leaving you with the most flexibility moving forward is not trivial, and players that enjoy more strategic games should find plenty to chew on mentally, especially once you add in the scoring objectives on top of the normal placement restrictions. Players need to be flexible though, as each round presents a new tactical puzzle of randomized dice that may or may not be what they had been hoping for. The fact that Sagrada has these kinds of more weighty decisions while still being easy to teach and playing in well under an hour is a big plus.
While Sagrada presents decisions that are complex and satisfying for players that prefer strategic games, it also has a simple enough ruleset that players can still play effectively without any brain-burning. So one player at the table might be considering every option, calculating probabilities while weighing all of the different scoring objectives to make a decision, while another player might pick a die simply because they see that it fits in a spot on their board without violating the basic restrictions. Each player is having a very different mental experience, yet both can be having just as much fun playing the game.
The amount of direct player interaction that is desirable in a game is very subjective and also situational based on the players involved. I think the non-confrontational and “multiplayer solitaire” style of Sagrada is a strength because it really increases its accessibility. It is one of those games that I feel comfortable playing with just about anybody. The rules are simple enough that most anyone can learn it, the focus on individual puzzles can appeal to people who aren’t drawn to the competition of games, and seasoned gamers will still appreciate the interesting decisions the game has to offer.
The role that luck plays in dictating the winner of a game varies on a spectrum from luckless abstracts like Chess, to games devoid of any skill such as Candy Land or Bingo. There is no “right answer” to how much luck is appropriate, and every player will have their own personal preference. When I consider this luck to skill ratio in a review, I base my evaluation on what I believe the game is trying to achieve. In the case of Sagrada, I see it as a really strong and accessible gateway game with enough strategic and tactical interest to keep more experienced gamers engaged. With that in mind, I think the luck factor in Sagrada is perfect. A lot of reviews have mentioned how the private color objectives are really swingy, and it is true. One player might just get lucky and have lots of high rolls in their color, while another player’s color always comes up low. While this can be frustrating, the reality is it helps to level the playing field for players of different levels of skill, which is perfect for a gateway game. In other words, in a good gateway game, the best player shouldn’t always win! I have played multiplayer Sagrada over ten times now, and I have found that more skillful players consistently finish with higher scores, but I appreciate that there is room for luck to help out a less strategic player, keeping that accessibility really high.
Sagrada looks great on the table, with all of the colored dice filling in the detailed stained glass player boards. The boards have recessed slots for the dice so they fit in nicely without getting knocked around. I have a few minor nitpicks with the components (in the next section), but overall they are excellent.
Things to Dislike
The small colored dice look fantastic and work really well in the slots of the player board, but I have still run into some issues with them being inadvertently flipped. Both when the dice are waiting to be drafted, as well as when they are sitting in the player boards, a slight knock can cause a die to flip to a different value, and players may not remember what it was previously (or might not even notice). It can also be a little difficult to play a die into a slot that is already surrounded by other dice without flipping any of them, particularly if a player has larger fingers. A small gripe really, but one that I have had come up several times during my plays so far.
With all of the restrictions that are in play, it is very easy (and common, especially with new players) to accidentally make a move that blocks another space from being used. For example, playing a red die adjacent to a slot that requires a red die due to the window card will make it impossible to play there. This isn’t much of a problem since it is the player’s own fault, and the consequences aren’t very severe as you can often make up the points in other ways or even remedy it altogether with a tool card. That said, with Sagrada being such an accessible gateway game, it isn’t ideal that there is a high chance of a new player doing something that makes them feel stupid. I am quick to explain that mistakes like that are very common and they shouldn’t be hard on themselves, but it is worth knowing that an early mistake might leave a bad taste in a new player’s mouth (especially if they are a bit of a perfectionist).
Game Design Perspective
Drafting as a game mechanic has been gaining huge popularity during recent years, with 7 Wonders really leading the way in bringing that style of gameplay to a larger audience. This popularity has resulted in more games exploring other ways to use drafting, and dice drafting is an inevitable spinoff. A lot of games have used dice as a way to provide randomized tactical choices. For example, a game like The Castles of Burgundy has you roll two dice each turn, which limits your action choices, rather than just leaving all options available. This makes for gameplay that is very focused on tactics, as players are not pursuing what they believe to be the best strategic choice, but rather trying to identify the best choice out of the limited options that were randomly made available to them. There is an addictiveness to this style of gameplay, because with each roll you are wondering, “what am I going to be able to do this turn?” Each time the dice for a round of Sagrada are rolled, every player is eyeing the pool of dice and figuring out what options they have. A simple snake draft adds interest as players need to prioritize and make assumptions about what dice will make it back to them for their second selection. This, once again, emphasizes how elegant of a game mechanic drafting is. It packs in a lot of interesting decision-making with almost no rules overhead. At this point, drafting has kind of been exhausted as an isolated and primary mechanic (Sushi Go! pretty much streamlined it to as pure of a format as possible), so it will be interesting to see how game designers continue to come up with new variants moving forward. What kinds of resources can be drafted besides cards and dice? What styles of drafts can be introduced besides around the table and snaking? How can you mask the drafting mechanic behind other formats while still maintaining the goal of distributing resources in a way such that selecting from a pool of options defines the options for another player? It is all interesting to think about it, and I think, similar to how Sushi Go! was able to distill card drafting to its purist form, Sagrada is very close to a pure and simplified implementation of dice drafting.
Sagrada provides a fun and interesting puzzle that is extremely accessible and will appeal to players with a wide range of strategic preferences. Those who enjoy working on their own little puzzle independently will especially feel at home in Sagrada, but I think its best niche is for seasoned gamers that want a game that they can introduce to their non-gaming friends and family, while still providing enough meat to satisfy their desire to play more complex games.
Enjoy my review and wanting to pick up Sagrada? Consider buying through my Amazon affiliate link and I will get a small kickback on your purchase.