One of my pet peeves in gaming is people who demand themes in their games. Who really cares? Give me a bunch of great mechanisms, slap on some nonsense theme about collecting varieties of olives or rearranging boats at a Viking harbor and I’m all set.
Imagine my surprise when I was sent a micro game to review and I discovered it actually had a decent-ish theme. I didn’t even know that was possible!
Skulls of Sedlec is for 2-3 players, takes just about 15 minutes to play, and—remarkably—has solid thematic ties. It’s designed by Dustin Dobson.
At the start of the game, all 18 cards will be put into a Graveyard (the game’s thematic name for its market) consisting of six stacks with three cards each. One of these cards will be flipped face up. On each player’s turn, they can do one of three things: Dig, which involves revealing the top card of two stacks in the Graveyard; Collect, which has the player selecting one card from the Graveyard and adding it to their hand; or Stack, which is how a player can take a card already in their hand and add it to their personal, pyramid-shaped tableau (also confusingly called their Stack). Players have a hand limit of two cards, so the decisions about when to Dig and Collect are important.
Placement rules when going into the Stack aren’t terribly restrictive, but each player must start on the bottom row and then add adjacently. The stack can be added to vertically at any time so long as there are two cards—bodies?—directly underneath the added card. The cards themselves score based on interactions with other cards. Priests, for instance, score two points in a row, but only one priest can score for each row, while Criminals score for being adjacent to Priests, clearly seeking some forgiveness after being buried (seems like it might be too late at that point).
Play will continue this way until all players have a six-card pyramid (nine-card pyramid when playing with only two). Then everyone totals up their Stacks to declare the best scull-stacker of the bunch.
The decision space in Skulls of Sedlec might seem limited at first, but despite only having access to three options each turn, the timing with which players do things is very important. Not only do players have to decide how much information they want to reveal in the Graveyard, but they also need to appropriately time when they place the cards into their Stack; while some cards are useful at any time based on what’s already been played, others—like the Nobles, who only score if others are beneath them (theme!)—are often worthless until later in the game.
Calculations like this, while not as intricate as heavier games for sure, elevate the decisions in this game above the typical micro game. Every game is also guaranteed to play differently because of the order the cards come out into the Graveyard market (which is an odd expression to say).
To a degree, SoS (great abbreviation) is something of a push-your-luck drafting game. (I guess most drafting games have an element of push your luck to them; the stalling of taking certain cards until they’re more beneficial.) At three players, the graveyard reveals itself pretty quickly, and building one’s own scoring tableau will be a more tactical experience as players have to adapt to what’s appearing much more quickly. With two players, players can be a little more patient and hope to collect better cards.
I went into Skulls of Sedlec expecting a micro-game experience similar to most others and I was pleasantly surprised that it offered a deeper experience without adding any complexity. It’s also fast-playing and each game is different enough that it’s one of the rare fillers that holds up even after repeat plays in the same sitting. Plus: it’s a filler with an above-average theme. Unheard of!
Final score: 4 Stars. A simple, strong design that offers considerable depth despite its filler status.
• Despite good iconography, art style on cards is repetitive and uninteresting