Some, if not most of you have probably seen the board game “Othello” at least one point in your lives. If you’ve been fortunate enough, you might have actually played it. It’s pretty simple really: trap your opponents’ pieces between your own to flip them to your color. “Sellswords” has a similar theme in that both players will be trying to get as much as their color showing as possible in order to score more points and win the game. The kicker here is that instead of black/white pieces, players will be laying down hero tiles that each have their very own special abilities. Before I go any further, I’d like to thank D. Brad Talton Jr. and JR Honeycutt from Level 99 Games for sending me a free copy of the game for review purposes.
The game includes 50 double-sided Hero tiles, 4 double-sided Terrain tiles, and 1 Rulebook.
Setup & Gameplay
Firstly, players will separate the Hero tiles from the Terrain tiles. The Hero tiles are shuffled with 12 being dealt to the center of the table. Beginning with the starting player (who will choose either red or blue), they’ll pick up the hand of 12 tiles, choose one, and pass the hand to the other player. The other player does this same with the remaining tiles. This drafting process continues until each player has 6 tiles. The Asgard tile is placed on the table as a starting point, though players can opt to use another terrain tile instead (each of which list special effects) to mix up the game a bit. The starting player goes first.
On a player’s turn, they’ll place one tile from their hand adjacent to an existing tile. The placed tile should always show that player’s color (red or blue) and the tile can be rotated anyway they’d like. After the tile is placed, the player will apply any relevant abilities…some are optional, some are mandatory, some are continuous, and so on. Once the ability has been resolved, the active player will look to see if their newly placed tile is touching an enemy tile (of the opposite color) and compare the numbers of the touching faces. If the newly placed tile has a higher number than the existing tile, then the latter is flipped to the active player’s color. There are no chain reactions (unless otherwise specified) and players need not compare tiles of the same color.
Once all 12 tiles have been placed (a row or column cannot exceed 5 tiles), players will score each row and each column separately. The more tiles they have in a row/column, the more points they earn (there’s a chart in the manual). Each player’s round total is then recorded on a piece of paper as their score for the first round. Players then play a second round leaving the board exactly how it is, drafting 12 new cards like before. At the end of the second round, you’ll end up with a 5×5 grid and another scoring phase will occur. The player with the most points totaled from both rounds wins the game!
Editor’s Note: The above doesn’t cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you an idea as to how the game is played.
Having played “Sellswords” a few times now, I can safely say that it does compare to “Othello” in a roundabout sort of way. Hero abilities and the scoring mechanic (counting rows/columns individually instead of the summing the colored pieces) will give “Othello” veterans something new to think about. Using another terrain tile besides your basic “Asgard” tile will also keep you on your toes. The Niflheim terrain tile, for example, forces players to compare numbers of any flipped tiles in addition to the placed tile (normally chaining isn’t allowed/legal). When it comes to variety, “Sellswords” doesn’t disappoint.
My mind immediately went to “Pixel Tactics“, another game I reviewed for Level 99 Games, as soon as I started checking out the Hero tiles. This is most certainly not a bad thing, considering how unique and flavorful the characters in “Pixel Tactics” are. Their abilities are pretty varied too…the Paladin, for example, has a continuous ability that “bolsters” all numbers of any tiles it touches by 1. Rukyuk, on the other hand, has an optional ability that lets him compare the numbers in one direction on the first two tiles instead of the first one. It might be a good idea to review these characters before you start playing to get an idea as to what they’re all capable of.
In terms of difficulty, “Sellswords” is what I’d call “moderate”. Understanding how a turn works takes no time at all, but trying to figure out how a special ability might interact with other Heroes might give one pause. “Pixel Tactics” suffers the same obstacles, mainly due to the fact that there is a lot of “wordplay” going on all at once. This learning curve is something that players will simply get used to over time and I have no doubt that younger kids will have very little trouble adapting…in fact I highly suspect they’ll adapt more quickly than older non-gamer adults will.
Do I recommend “Sellswords”? At the $15-$20 price tag, yes. The ability to rotate Heroes so that different numbers face different directions, combined with their abilities, gives the game a lot of replayability. Since only 24 heroes are used at a time (12 for each round) and 50 are included in the deck, you’ll be discovering some really cool and rather strange combinations during the drafting process. I also like the fact that there are different symbols on either side of the cards to help colorblind players who can’t distinguish blue from red. “Sellswords” is indeed a cute little game with plenty of bite and dare I say it, goes above and beyond what “Othello” offers in spades.
Final Verdict: 9/10