Long before I became enamored with the dice and cardboard infused world of board gaming, I spent countless hours of my youth playing video games in the Final Fantasy series. Two of my favorite games from the series were Final Fantasy VIII (I know, I know, boo-hiss and all that…) and Final Fantasy IX (if you don’t like Final Fantasy IX, I don’t know if we can be friends), and both of them had a card-based mini-game in the form of Triple Triad and Tetra Master respectively. I enjoyed playing both of those card mini-games so much that I would occasionally boot up my PlayStation just to play them, and so it comes as no surprise that I find myself enjoying Sellswords, designed by Cliff Kamarga and published by Level 99 Games, so much.
The core concept of Sellswords is relatively simple. Each player has a hand of six double-sided tiles, one side colored red, the other side colored blue. Each tile has a number on each of its four edges and, in turn, each player places one tile on the table adjacent to any other. If a tile is played next to an opponent’s tile, the numbers on the touching sides of those tiles are compared. If the tile played has a higher number than an adjacent opponent’s tile then the adjacent tile flips to the playing player’s color.
The game is played over two rounds with scoring happening after each round based on how many tiles each player controls in each row and column. The player with the most points at the end is the winner. If that’s all there was to Sellswords, it may have been a fun distraction to try once or twice but ultimately would have been boring and forgettable. Thankfully, Sellswords has multiple layers of depth and strategy built on top of this basic foundation that add a huge amount of fun to the game while keeping play-time short and the rules easy to learn.
For starters, each tile shows a unique character with their own special ability. These character abilities morph the game from a simple game of comparing numbers into a tactical strategy game where tile placement, facing, location and relocation, and spatial awareness become necessary considerations for effective play. Clever players can use these special abilities to overcome numeric disadvantages and shift the board into configurations that are more likely to benefit them. Only 24 of the game’s 50 unique tiles are used in each game of Sellswords, which dramatically increases the game’s re-playability as players will constantly get to experiment with different combinations of abilities as they play.
Sellswords‘ drafting phase is yet another layer of strategy that benefits the game, as it neatly skirts any luck-of-the-draw issues that 50 unique characters and abilities could present. At the beginning of the game, 12 random tiles are dealt out onto the table. Players take turns drafting one tile at a time into their hands until each player has drafted 6. After the first round is played through, another 12 random tiles are dealt on to the table and a second round of drafting takes place. Since all of the tiles on offer are open information for both players, it is imperative that players not only draft the tiles that they think will work best for them but also consider which tiles their opponent has drafted and how other, still available, tiles could work in tandem with the tiles already drafted.
Agonizing over which tile to draft in order to create a winning hand is fun and bluffing and counter bluffing in an attempt to trick your opponent into staying away from the tile you want to draft next is a riot. The one downside to the drafting mechanic is that experienced players have a gigantic advantage over new players. While experience is almost always an advantage, it is especially advantageous in Sellswords, as experienced players will know exactly which combinations of tiles are especially effective based on the tiles on offer for that round.
Fortunately, with only 24 of the 50 included tiles being randomly selected for use each game, it can take quite a while before players are familiar enough with the game that they can see a winning combination immediately from the wide variety of possible draft layouts. This also means that, while new players can blame inexperience on a devastating loss, more experienced players have nothing to blame but themselves. Independent of skill level, the card drafting is fun and it’s exciting when you are able to craft a winning team. While it is very satisfying to see your drafted tiles perform well, it can be equally heartbreaking to see your well-placed tiles flip and your hard earned points slip through your fingers into the hands of your opponent when they make a clever move.
Sellswords is kept fresh via the inclusion of four different starting tiles. Each of the starting tiles changes the rules of the game, which in turn significantly effects how effective certain abilities are. The Niflheim tile adds tile chaining to the game which adds a ton of chaos and gives the players even more to consider as they place each tile. The Ragnarok tile sees players removing tiles between rounds which can have a significant effect on end game scoring, and the Yggdrasil tile has players forgo drafting altogether in favor of a draw two, keep one mechanic. These seemingly small rules changes have a huge effect on game-play and allow players to not only shake things up to keep the game interesting but also to tailor the game to their tastes.
A note on “chrome”: Sellswords uses a chibi art style that is perfect for the game, and the tiles form a neat mosaic on the table once two rounds have been played. The tiles themselves are good quality card stock and the size and shape make them very easy to shuffle. The rules come on a single, folded piece of paper which makes referencing character powers a snap.
The bottom line:
While it mostly likely wont form the core of an entire night of gaming, Sellswords is a great game for players looking for a quick to play and easily portable game. Sellswords is a great ‘filler’ game to play between other heavier games or to take on the go as it can be set up and ready to play in a matter of seconds. Sellswords offers enough depth and variety, especially with the alternate starting cards that change the rules of the game, that it offers a great amount of bang for your buck.
Get this game if:
You enjoy head to head games.
You have fond memories of Triple Triad and Tetra Master from the Final Fantasy VIII and IX video games …
You want a great filler game to take on the go or to play between other longer, heavier games.
Avoid this game if:
You dislike card games.
You dislike card drafting.
The rulebook for Sellswords can be downloaded here.
The retail boxed copy of Sellswords used for review was provided by Level 99 Games.
Sellswords is a fun, portable and quick to play game. With the amount of unique powers, and four different starting tiles that change up the rules, it has great replay value.