Ambiguous things are a perfect target for prejudice. But also for curiosity. Is Sunda to Sahul a board game that looks like a puzzle or a puzzle with some board game elements?
Sunda to Sahul simulates the colonization of early Australia (Sahul) by Indonesians (from Sunda). The sea and the islands are represented by puzzle pieces of water, forest and shore. By placing pieces with matching edges, players make a different board every game. The key concept of the game is a "node", the point formed by corners of a group of pieces surrounding it. In land nodes (points in the middle of forests), the player who places the last piece may place a spirit token (representing mythological aboriginal totems) on that node. These spirit tokens have a one-point value, doubled if the island they're in is completed. That's the basic game. But Sunda to Sahul is not a puzzle just because it has puzzle pieces.
There are several alternative ways to play the game. Modularity isn't limited to just the board but also for the rules of the game. Players can introduce water rights (for lake nodes), tribes (stacks of spirit tokens that multiply their values), cooperation tribes (players helping each other to develop their tribes), challenges between tribes (using dice to resolve conflicts and replace other tokens for your own) and resources (animal and plant markers who give points to the controller of an island). Not enough? Each combination can be played either in turns or simultaneously. Can't find anybody to play with? Play it alone, don't forget it's also a puzzle. You can try to form a certain image or try to make high scores by playing alone with nodes. The combinations of mechanics are like a puzzle that every gaming group has to solve in order to appreciate the game.
Just like any puzzle, it takes time for you to enjoy it. Besides the learning curve of the puzzle patterns, there's also an affinity curve. After the initial curiosity, some of my fellows found the game a little boring, trying to find the right piece to complete a node. The more you play, the more the puzzle side of Sunda to Sahul becomes intuitive and the more the game side becomes strategic. As the curiosity vanishes, ambiguity loses its dangerous face, Sunda to Sahul is a puzzle when we're looking for a puzzle, and a game when we're looking for a game. For the experienced player it's like having the best of both worlds.
Sunda to Sahul is the first release from Sagacity Games. After the boom of German board games, it would be hard to think that we could find games with better quality components. However, Sunda to Sahul comes in a very sturdy box and with puzzle pieces made of wood. A gorgeous production! Playing such a well designed and produced board game makes me wonder how many other great games will be produced not only in German, France or the United States but also in other countries of Oceania, Asia and South America. May Sunda to Sahul be just the first of wonderful Australian board games, and a example to other designers and companies all over the rest of the world.
- Eduardo Loureiro Jr.