Is digital Sagrada as satisfying without a bag full of dice?
Android, iOS, & Steam
# of Players
Dire Wolf Digital
Sagrada is a dice drafting game from Floodgate Games with the digital version coming courtesy of Dire Wolf Digital. Players attempt to fill in their unique stained glass window by selecting from colorful dice, being careful to follow the constraints their window places on them. The game plays out of ten rounds of drafting, at which point both public and private scoring conditions are tallied and the player with the most points wins. A game typically takes about ten minutes.
Sagrada begins with each player selecting from one of four window options they are randomly dealt. Windows are five by four grids where each square will need to hold a die. The window can contain a mix of empty, colored, or numbered grid squares. The colored and numbered spaces represent restrictions on which dice can be played in that square. Once windows are chosen, the game begins. The game features a snake draft where the first player selects a die, followed by the second, and so on until all players have selected one die from the rolled set for the round. At that point the player who went last makes the first selection of the second pass through in the round, and it continues in reverse order until each player has the chance to grab two dice. This continues over ten rounds, rolling one more die than there are players, and each player drafting two. After ten rounds, scoring occurs.
Scoring comes in four phases: public objectives, private objectives, unused stones, and negative points for empty spots on your window. Public objects are randomly dealt each game and consist of things like two points for each one-two pair on your board or five points for each column in your window without repeating colors. Private objectives in the base game are limited to “total up your dice values of this color.” If you get the blue dice card to begin the game, you will want to prioritize selecting higher numbered blue dice for your window. You get a point for each unused stone, we’ll get into what that means shortly. Finally, each player loses one point per empty window space which can occur due to poor planning or dice rolls.
A couple of key points are how you place dice and the tool abilities. When placing a die, the rules are simple; it cannot be orthogonally adjacent to a die of the same color or number. These constraints are for all dice, then any window-specific space restrictions are considered on top of this. Tools are special abilities that players may use throughout the game. They can be things like “select a die then reroll it” or “move any die on your window.” Tools are paid for using stones which each player collects at the beginning of the game based on the difficulty (read: constraints) of their starting window. A more difficult window means more stones but also more, tougher restrictions on die placement.
That’s actually probably all there is to explain in Sagrada. This is typically the spot where I mention how I skipped over some minor points, but I think I’ve actually covered everything. It is a simple game, but a very popular one and for good reason; it’s a lot of fun. Placing dice early on is typically very easy, even if you can only place new dice adjacent (orthogonally or diagonally) to existing dice after your first (there is a rule I forgot, darn it!). This changes quickly as your window fills up and the baseline color/number restriction starts to interact with the specific window constraints. Actually filling your entire board is totally achievable, but it will take some work. This often means using the tools available in a given game, but these cost stones which, if kept, are worth points. Do you pay two stones to allow yourself to make a play? That’s two potential stone points, and an empty space on your window is only a negative one, but if it triggers one of the objectives it is going to be worth it…you get the idea.
Sagrada is a game that I had previously owned in physical form. It didn’t quite mesh with me despite containing a lot of aspects I typically enjoy (hello, dice drafting!). Getting to play the game digitally has given me a new appreciation for what it offers. The tough, tense decisions that play out in this game are fantastic. If you find yourself unable to fill your board, you will inevitably blame yourself for taking the more difficult board at the beginning, but you wanted those extra stones! My only real complaint, gameplay wise, is that the private objectives are boring. This is fixed in expansions, but those aren’t available digitally so the private goals are very limited in the app.
Barrier to Entry
The first time you launch Sagrada you will be prompted to try the tutorial. The tutorial walks you through a few turns of the basic die placement rules, then explains the scoring conditions and allows you to play a few turns. Finally, the Tools are explained. Sagrada is a straightforward game and the quick tutorial fits well. In game, the tools and scoring cards can be expanded so you can see exactly what they do, these are typically the most confusing part of the game. The game also highlights the dice you can actually use and where a selected die can be placed. All of this is unnecessary for experienced players but acts as a great, seamless learning tool for players who are learning the game.
Look and Feel
The controls in Sagrada are as simple and intuitive as you would hope. Drag a die onto your window, or tap then select a space for it to go. The tools are all activated via tap. When you are done, the game requires a confirmation while allowing an undo if you change your mind. Note that some tool actions cannot be undone, but the game warns you of those actions before you take them. There isn’t a lot, control-wise, going on here, but it all works well with the only exception being that it is very difficult, on mobile, to swipe to see your opponent’s boards.
Visually, the app is bright throughout, matching the colorful dice that are the centerpiece of the game. There is nothing extraordinary about the visuals. This is just fine, but it is also a minor letdown compared to Dire Wolf’s 2019 games. Again, there is nothing wrong in this department, saying that graphics didn’t blow me away is the biggest of nitpicks.
A nice touch feature that will be a major component for some is the inclusion of a colorblind mode option, accessible via the settings menu. This mode adds gradient patterns to the backs of the color dice and spaces in the game.
Online play will look familiar to anybody who played Dire Wolf Digital’s 2019 games. You can play a casual (async) or live game. Games are started in a lobby and can be optionally password protected and you can add AI players as well. You can invite friends through an oddly placed friend screen which is found in the setting section of the app. The casual games have working notifications. There is also a local pass and play mode and online leaderboards.
Playing online before the official launch, but after it launched in other countries, has been a fairly negative experience, unfortunately. I was able to easily set up my first game, casual against a friend. There are a few issues about how the app handles loading games and notifications. On Android, apps will stay “on” as long as the system doesn’t need to shut it off to do other things. If you are playing an async game and your opponent plays quickly, you can often try to load the app again while it is still “on” from your last session. When this happens in most apps you are often forced to wait for a reconnection period to the online servers, this is normal. In Sagrada, this waiting period happens, inevitably fails, and then you are booted back out to the menus with an error message and forced to reload. The net result is that it is significantly faster if you manually force the app to close between plays. This does not make for a great experience. Despite the issues, I am able to complete a games, and they are naturally a lot of fun.
Sagrada online is a mixed bag, unfortunately. The clunky way the app handles disconnections often adds up to a huge delay between clicking a notification and actually getting to take your turn. The game is entirely functional, but overall not a terribly user-friendly experience. Given that it is such a light, quick game with very short turns, the lengthy wait time between clicking your notification and actually getting to play feels much longer than it does in other games.
Single player games can be played as one-offs against AI or through a campaign mode. Single games allow you to choose player count and the AI difficulty which can be easy, normal, or hard. I’ve had a bit of a mixed bag with the AI. On hard, I have games where I easily won, and also a a few losses. I have won more than I've lost, so I wouldn't say it is super difficult, but it's not overly dumb either. Generally, it seems as though the AI will make sound decisions given the chance, even if they aren't brutally efficient. I will add that the AI takes their turns quite quickly, even on hard difficulty, which is always nice to see.
The campaign assigns you a window and sets you up against AI. You earn stars based on what place you finished, which go towards unlocking new campaign levels. We never mind seeing campaign modes, but this is a super light addition that doesn’t add a whole lot that you can’t get from playing separate AI games. Still, we would also prefer too many features to too few, so this isn’t a knock on the game at all.
The game was updated post-release to include a solo mode. In this mode, you select two of four dice each turn and the two you don't select are placed on the top of the board and the sum of those are the score you must beat. There are some other wrinkles compared to a normal game, but my two takeaways on this are 1) it's nice to have more unique modes like this and 2) this particular mode is absurdly difficult.
The physical game has some expansions which aren’t currently available in digital form. The unfortunately named “5-6 Player Expansion” actually does quite a bit more than adding new players. Its best addition, in my opinion, is adding new private scoring goals which offer much needed variety besides totaling a specific color of dice. It would have been really nice to see these cards, at the bare minimum, added as a small in-app purchase or even in the base digital game. As it stands now, however, the app is solely the base game.
The Wrap Up
Dire Wolf Digital did a fantastic job with both of their 2019 port; Raiders of the North Sea and Yellow & Yangtze. Sagrada is the first of their 2019-announced ports that falls firmly in the “light, breezy” gameplay weight. Fair or not, the expectations of playing a digital version of a game like this are different than playing Raiders or Yangtze. Both of the aforementioned games had similar online disconnection issues, the underlying system was likely fully reused in Sagrada, but waiting twenty extra seconds to play a lengthy Raiders or, especially, Y&Y turn is a different thing than waiting for Sagrada.
Overall, it’s easy to lose focus of the bigger picture which is that of another really well made digital port. Decent AI, campaign mode, leaderboards, pass-and-play, solid visuals, great controls, etc. It is a really nice package when you view it as a whole. Connection issues are a nuisance if you primarily play online, but totally meaningless for offline players. Elsewhere, the lack of the additional goal cards from the expansions seems like a really easy addition that would go a long way to adding depth to the game.
Sagrada is a very strong digital implementation. It gets nearly everything right, with some specific exceptions.