In the last year, I’ve gone in over my head on board games. From my personal collection to playing with friends, I always wind up getting involved with heavier games that take hours to play. While I don’t personally mind, it’s difficult to find time in the schedule for a bunch of late-20-somethings to dedicate that kind of time. When Swordcrafters arrived at my doorstep, I was thrilled to finally have a quick-play four player game for my roommates and I that wasn’t Catan or UNO.
Swordcrafters is a game from Adam’s Apple Games where players compete to craft the best three-dimensional sword from a pool of two-dimensional tiles. Gameplay and setup are quick and easy. Each player has a sword hilt and pommel in front of them while two hilt guards are randomly dealt to each player, each one with a colored gemstone on it. Then magic gemstone tiles and sword components are arranged in a grid in the center of the table, varying in size depending on the number of players. The score tracker board gets set to the side and everyone chooses their player icons: green helmet, orange shield, red hammer, blue axe, or yellow sword. Lastly, draw three sword magic cards and place them in view of everyone, then you’re ready to play.
Total play times runs about half an hour and runs for six rounds, each with three separate phases.
In the first phase, players each take a turn ‘slicing’ a section of the tile grid into two. Starting with the first player and going clockwise, each person will take turns ‘slicing’ the tile grid into two smaller groups along a vertical or horizontal line across the tile grouping. Each turn will divide existing tiles into smaller and smaller groupings. If you’ve done this correctly, there will always be one more group of tiles than the amount of players.
Once everyone has had their turn slicing the grid, there will be one more group of tiles than there is players. Starting with the same player that opened phase one, phase two has players choose a group of tiles that were just created. The later in the round players go, the less likely it is that they’ll be able to collect the tiles that they wanted.
In the last phase, players will use the tiles they collected to assemble their sword. Using every tile that players acquired in phase two of the round, players assemble their four sided sword, attempting to line matching gems side by side for extra bonuses in the scoring round at the end of the game. Once all three of these phases have been completed, unclaimed tiles are discarded and a new grid is formed for the next round.
If it wasn’t already clear, the earlier in the turn rotation that a player goes, the more of an advantage they have. To balance that out, there’s the Forge tile that gets placed into the tile grid during each round. This one little tile can change the game’s standings quite quickly. Any player that can grab the Forge gets the first turn in the next round, granting them top pick of sword components during phase two.
The game’s strategy is fairly simple and essentially boils down to two primary approaches: Compete for the Forge tile to get first pick, or sabotage the first player’s efforts by slicing their desired tile group into smaller pieces, potentially robbing them of key components.
After all six rounds have been completed and there won’t be enough tiles to create another grid and the game is over. Now, players will move on to scoring. Everyone is expected to stand their swords upright on the table, x victory points are awarded to the player who constructed the largest blade. Next, players will gain two victory points for each matching gem in a row on each of the four faces of the sword. However, players will only be able to count these points once per face, so which set of gems you count toward your score will make or break your standings at this stage.
The last part of scoring are the magic sword cards. If you recall, we drew three of these cards during setup that have been untouched until now. Each of these cards has an illustration of one or more gems found on your sword and a set of three numbers below. Players will add up the total number of gemstones on their sword that match the card and determine who falls in first, second, and third relative to the icons presented. The numbers on the magic sword card are the amount of victory points awarded to each player, written as ” [First] | [Second] | [Third]”. Once points have been awarded to players for each of the three cards, whoever has the most victory points on the board wins.
Swordcrafters is a bit light on strategy for my personal tastes, but still makes for a great family or light social game. The game mechanics themselves are simple enough for young children to grasp, but end of game scoring may require a helping hand for younger ages.
What makes this game such a good fit for families is the friendly competition. Nothing about building your own sword ever feels malicious or targeted toward another player. The components themselves are sturdy and can survive being handled by children, but it’s important to note that Adam’s Apple Games strongly advises against swinging constructed swords around to prevent injury.
But this is not a game that I expect to be playing often with my regular group. Even with the Forge tile shifting starting players each round, the opening player each round has such a high advantage that it feels a little unbalanced. Having all of the scoring objectives laid out before play makes it easy for players to obstruct progression for their opponents, without having enough alternative strategies. It still results in a fun time, but after a few plays, Swordcrafters will likely feel like it has run its course.