Sleeping Gods is Exactly What I Want from an Exploration Game
Sleeping Gods launched on Kickstarter right after I had spent far too much backing other games. In an unfortunate moment of responsible judgement, I skipped on the Kickstarter, destined to yet again experience the KS FOMO. That is until our friends at Red Raven Games provided us with a review copy and now it doesn’t leave my table.
In Sleeping Gods players take on the role of Captain Odessa whose crew aboard the Manticore was sailing to New York only to be swept away by the torrent of a massive storm. When they come to, their ship has run aground and they find themselves in an unfamiliar land. It takes little more than a moment for the crew to encounter strange beasts. A cackling old informs them they’ve stumbled across the Wandering Sea where the ruling gods have fallen into a deep sleep. In order to return home, the crew of the Manticore will need to unearth the god’s long lost totems, awakening the gods, and hoping they are benevolent and will return the crew home safely.
The first thing I noticed was how well organized Red Raven’s newest game was. Sleeping Gods comes complete with a series of separate boxes that makes it easy to store and organize the campaign. In a market where organization is becoming secondary enough to publishers that expensive third party solutions are considered near accessories for some games, this small gesture left a huge impression on me before I even knew what the gameplay was like.
Like many other recent campaign games, Sleeping Gods includes an excellent walkthrough tutorial that teaches the basics of the game mechanics. While tutorial scenario is helpful to guide new players through the general turn structure, a read through of the full rulebook is strongly recommended. There’s a lot of terminology and a lot of information to reference in game. If players aren’t familiar with all of the components ahead of time, Sleeping Gods can be a real drag of an experience. But if players take the time to read through the rulebook and play the walkthrough scenario before diving into their campaign, they’ll discover a rather brilliant experience.
The turn structure is an interesting one where on their individual turns, each player will take on the role of Captain Odessa and issue orders to her crew. To represent whose turn it is, players will pass the Captain token around the table which inevitably lead to a lot of this. On those turns, the Captain player gets to decide what the entire crew is doing.
Each player starts their turn by selecting one of five ship actions and places the ship action token on that spot. Each of these actions allow the active player to gain an ability card and add it to their hand. In most cases these actions will also grant players command tokens that can be spent on valuable actions. Each time the ship action comes up, players must select an action that’s different from the previous option. The options and effects are:
- Bridge – The active player draws on ability card, gains command tokens, and returns all used command tokens to the supply pool.
- Galley – The active player draws two ability cards and gains command tokens. If players so choose, they may also discard one ability card from their hand to fatigue from one crew member.
- Deck – The active player gains command tokens and also may draw search tokens. Players may also draw up to three search tokens, one at a time. This can award players with valuable resources like money, materials, or food. But it also has the potential to deal damage as well.
- Quarters – The active player draws one ability card and gains a number of command tokens. They can also remove three used command tokens and return them to the supply pool.
- Sick Bay – The active player draws one ability card, gains command tokens, and heals on damage to any crew member.
Over time, The Manticore will take damage from various sources be it an event card, story event, or just natural wear and tear from travel. Unless otherwise specified by even text, players choose which of The Manticore’s rooms take damage. Careful planning is required as each room only has two slots where they can take damage and if both of those slots are damaged, players can no longer use those rooms and gain their valuable benefits.
Once the active player chooses and resolves their ship action, they will then draw and resolve an event card. Many event cards put strain on the crew’s resources but give players the choice of where they want to place that burden.
As the last part of a players turn, they can perform two of the following actions:
- Travel – Using the Craft skill, Travel allows the ship to relocate the ship to a new region of the Wandering Sea. Travelling often comes with the additional challenge of needing to do a skill test, or risking damage to the The Manticore.
- Explore – Exploring allows players to engage with one of the locations in the ship’s current region. To explore, players will read the storybook entry that matches the location number on the map and make the story related choices that drive the game forward.
- Visit a Market – Some regions will contain Markets. As one of the players’ two actions on their turn, they may visit a market location that’s exists in the ship’s current region. The active player draws 7 cards from the market deck and can purchase any of those ability cards.
- Dock at port – If the ship is in the same region as a port, the active player can stop and visit a port. There, players can recover health by resting at the inn, repair ship damage, or spend experience to level up.
Once the active player has completed all of their actions, they will pass the Captain token to the next player (who will then repeat the obligatory movie quote), who can begin their turn by taking a ship action. This cycle of actions repeats until players have either successfully returned home, or met their fate in the Wandering Sea.
Given the campaign nature of Sleeping Gods, the ease of saving and packing the game up after a session sit pretty high up on my priority list. Thankfully Red Raven Games took that into consideration and made it as easy as possible. At the end of a session, players simply record on a save sheet, where their ship is, the last ship action taken, The Manticore’s health, and the cards and command tokens in possession of each player. Any active quests, adventure cards, or resources all get stored together into the provided campaign box. Crew character boards and any tokens active on those characters are stored together, keeping all the relevant tokens together. When it’s time to return to the Wandering Seas, players need only to setup the contents of the campaign box, and re-distribute the character boards.
Arguably even more important than the save sheet is the map on the reverse side of it. Use of this map is crucial to a campaign’s success. With so many regions to visit and locations to explore, Sleeping Gods‘ campaign narrative will naturally involve a bit of backtracking as new quests lead back to clues uncovered earlier in the game. The provided map and legend on the back of the save sheet is a fantastic way to keep track of all the locations players will want to return to later (or avoid altogether).
I can’t emphasize enough the need to take thorough notes. There are so many regions and locations to explore that without notes it’s easy for The Manticore to wander aimlessly, needlessly taking wear and tear damage. Backtracking will absolutely happen. They key is to take efficient notes and maintain a tight grip on resources.
What makes Sleeping Gods such an interesting game is how tight the resource and action management are. Players can spend command tokens at any time to activate an ability. Once an ability has been used, it can’t be used again until the command token has been removed from the ability, usually through the use of a ship action. This mechanic means that, especially in the early game, players will have to be very intentional and cautious in how often they use their limited number of abilities. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to stumble across detrimental status effects like venom that will whittle down health quickly and find yourself without the resources to recover.
Sleeping Gods is a sprawling game of winding exploration that is easy to return to. Resource management is so tight that failure is likely on the first few expeditions. It would be easy to put a good fifty hours into Sleeping Gods before finally finding success and returning home to familiar seas and that’s before the inclusion of the Tides of Ruin expansion.
As much I as I enjoy Sleeping Gods and feel that it includes everything a good exploration game should, it’s still not my favorite and this is where I get a bit controversial. I like difficult games. It’s why I tend to learn toward Awaken Realms games like Tainted Grail and Nemesis. But something about the way Sleeping Gods can challenge players just doesn’t land well for me. I think of exploration games as the genre I want to play when I want a story, or would just want to sip my coffee. They’re my “crossword puzzle genre”.
For that reason, I much prefer 7th Continent. 7th Continent is still a challenging game, but it never quite feels as strenuous as it is. Perhaps that’s because there isn’t a story to be invested in like there is in Sleeping Gods and I’m okay failing. Failing in Sleeping Gods feels bad. It feels like coming to the conclusion of a long video game, only to get the sad ending that doesn’t quite feel worthy of the time you put into it (looking at you The Witcher 3).
But for everyone else who doesn’t have weird pre-conceived feelings about how they want their expeditions to feel, Sleeping Gods is an excellent experience. There’s a lot more world to discover than I expected in a game that takes so little time to setup and breakdown. Red Raven Games has made a fan our of me and I will be following their future projects much more closely.
1 – 4 players.
1 – 20 hours.
Sleeping Gods offers a clever set of mechanics that aren’t necessarily difficult to learn but can be overwhelming for new players. There’s a steady, but short, learning curve that players will need to push through at first. The well organized rulebook is a great resource to make this process painless.
I’ve never been a big fan of the illustrations from Red Raven Games, but the clear iconography and vibrant colors help the game pop nonetheless.
Once you’ve solved Sleeping God‘s riddles, there won’t be much reason to go back. But it will take players quite some time to get that far so you’ll still get your money’s worth.
A copy of Sleeping Gods was provided by Red Raven Games.