The Sonoran desert stretches out before you, a kaleidoscope of colors in every direction. From sun-bleached ruins of civilizations long-gone to the stretching canyons that yawn from the earth, from the creek bed where precious water still trickles to the mud cracks which spider out on the bone-dry earth, the vistas are truly breathtaking. Now it's up to you to dive deep into this wild landscape and uncover the secrets of the desert in Sonora.
Sonora, for one to four players by Pandasaurus Games, markets itself as the world's first "flick and write" board game (a spin on the popular "roll and write" board game genre). In the Flick phase of Sonora, players take turns flicking small wooden discs on a board divided into four sections: the Cave Dweller Ruins, the Canyon, the Mudcracks, and the Creek Bed. Once everyone has flicked their discs, players move onto the Write phase of Sonora. Using dry-erase markers on laminated boards, each player notes where their discs landed, and then makes decisions and assigns points in each of the relevant quadrants of the board.
Each quarter of the board serves as a sort of mini-game, with disc-points assigned strategically. In the Cave Dweller Ruins, players race to be the first to fill out clusters of nodes, to be the first to score top points (everyone else has to take the runner-up points if they score the same node cluster). In the Canyon, player points are transposed onto various polyomino shapes, which are drawn onto a crossword puzzle-esque grid of blocks. For the Mudcracks zone, players must decide where to mark their points to encircle various cacti. And on the Creek Bed zone, players need to choose which branching paths they'll commit to when awarding their points. All in all, these four sections feel connected enough to make sense together but different enough to really reward players who dedicate their attention to one specific quadrant.
What really worked for me in Sonora is the mixture of dexterity and the need to carefully plan. Dexterity, if you're unfamiliar with the term, just refers to games where you have to actually use motor skills to get results in a game (i.e. flicking discs to land on a specific space vs. just rolling dice). Yes, by the time all players have flicked their discs it may seem like your plans have been scattered to the winds, but each scoring section still requires you to think critically with the points you have available. This creates, in my mind, an interesting tension: what you want to do when you start flicking your discs and what you can do once the discs have all settled. If each scoring section were exactly the same or had simpler mechanics, there wouldn't be much to really puzzle out here. But really being forced to think about how to spend your points elevates the experience.
I struggled, initially, to understand the rules as written in the rulebook. But that's because my copy of Sonora included an older version of the rulebook which was a bit less user-friendly. Pandasaurus Games is one of the best when it comes to customer service, and they were quick to create an entirely new rulebook, available here, that greatly simplifies the learning process. This new rulebook will ship out with new printings of the game (in fact, if you purchased a version of the game with the old rulebook, you can request a brand new print-out of the revised rules by emailing [email protected]).
Sonora sits in a middle-space when it comes to complexity. It's head and shoulders more strategic than most dexterity games, but it's also lighter than many strategy games. For my gaming group, this fits a perfect sweet spot for when we want to goof off a bit but still want to use our brains. And with a fairly quick playtime (all of our games lasted around 35 minutes), it's easy to fit in before or after a longer tabletop session.
The Bottom Line
Sonora was a big surprise for me. I'm not usually a huge fan of dexterity games, but the intricacy of the scoring systems in each of the four zones really scratched an itch these kinds of games never scratch for me. I loved squaring off against my opponents, squeaking out little victories, and suffering setbacks as these discs knocked around. In much the same way a snake will strike or a hare will sprint for a moment in the real Sonoran Desert, Sonora offers moments of chaos, and then moments where the dust settles, all are quiet as the points are tallied, and a new round of activity springs to life again.
Get This Game If
- You're looking for a new spin on the "roll and write" genre
- You want a game that combines the chaos of a dexterity game with some strategic thinking
- You've always wanted to flick discs in the desert
Avoid This Game If
- You like your games devoid of any need to use motor skills
- You're looking for either a lighter dexterity game or a more complex strategy game
- You forgot your sunblock
Sonora retails for MSRP $29.95 and is available at most friendly local game shops and via Pandasaurus Games.
The copy of Sonora used for this review was provided by the publisher.