When the endless drought wiped out most of the population, our parents fled to the Saltlands. To the point where the heat is just slightly unbearable and with the right equipment you can even walk outdoors. Water is more rare than life. People have adapted, made terrestrial boats and are wading deserts on wings of the wind.
World of board game Saltlands is as far away as we can imagine. A place that has been visited by designer Gergely Krupp and after his return, he gives us the opportunity to see it as well. At least through the game that was published in 2017 as a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. It was supported by 1267 fans, bringing together over 83 thousand euros. The game was released under Antler Games logo.
At the beginning, players choose a cooperative, competitive, or classic variant. It depends purely on them, whether they work together or not. At the same time, rivals also choose one of three difficulty levels. Depending on the number of players, they will create a game map in the prescribed layout. But only few of them are explored at first, while all but starting are placed with image hidden, so nobody knows what is waiting for him in this part of the world. Each of the starting pieces gets some wrecks full of supplies with one random token.
Central tile (with the compass arrows) is equipped with raiders cars, which are the main threat that all participants will run away from. Players then create a starter set of weather cards and rumors, but also prepare three more stacks of cards – delusions, raids and supplies. Only at the end of the whole preparation each participant chooses a character, receives a corresponding board, card, stand, and cardboard figurine that he will put on the starting area on the board. Everyone will also get their landsail card and a set of items for which he has a place on his hero board. In addition, player finds even small inventory to fill during game.
In his turn, player can move once and can do number of actions, such as using cards, collecting chips, trading, or using special character skills. These options are provided from surrounding locations of their characters and also from cards in hand. According to the symbols, they can also draw cards. And that’s basically everything. At the end of the turn, after a player has used all the activities he wants to do, he turns the card out of the damage deck and activates some raiders.
As time goes on, cards increase in difficulty. When all the opponents get their turn, there is one more turn to be completed – player that is currently active gets his second chance. Only then is the end of the round, which always contains one turn more than there is players and the role of the last player in the round is gradually changing. This player is in charge of the weather. Two weather cards are always revealed, older ones being replaced by a new one. This will change power and wind direction.
Wind is the main thing that players will be interested in whenever they want to move on board. And that’s actually the foundation of everything. The machines can not move against the wind and according to the number of arrows they are able to move one or two spaces in its direction. Such a situation easily changes when a player captures some motor vehicles. By paying the fuel tokens, they can move any way they want. In addition, each means of transport has limitations and can not be moved by all the types of environment in the world of Saltlands. Useable terrain is printed as small icons on its card.
However, the player can not hold all the cards. Everyone has a clearly defined hand limit. It can be raised with the right vehicles or equipment. They also allow to collect tokens from neighboring fields on the map.
Fighting between heroes is forbidden in the usual game. From successful raid battles, players can get prey as well as replace the stacked tokens for the equipment cards. To attack, players use one of their weapons, reducing armor of the opponent with its damage, with each hit reducing the number of members of the raiders group by one. As a result of death, the player’s hero can be eliminated from the rest of the game.
Enemies roam the map at the end of each turn of the player and their pawns try to move towards the closest player. However, new enemies appear on the board as if they were going out of the Mad Max.
End gets near only after the last rumour is unveiled. These can be won by rumour action, which allows them to draw top card from this deck. As a result, the escape point travels along the board and only the last clue clearly tells players, where the escape is located. Even before, everybody is trying to collect victory cards to pair their symbols with a secret escape space. Whoever is able to do this, wins. However, no raiders can be on that tile to declare victory. Players, who have completed victory condition, win.
Saltlands is a game from which you will not be wise at first. The rules are so strange that they do not give a picture of the course of the game at all. So it’s hard to imagine how the battle itself will look. You have to be content with the promise that while the players can work together during the game, they can betray others and set off for a solo victory. This element is popular with games.
Unfortunately, while the theme and some mechanisms (especially sailing) are great, the overall impression behind these features is lagging behind. The game somehow lacks the atmosphere we would expect from this post-apocalyptic box. And maybe that’s why we got so little fun.
The game is definitely not a fast one. It all starts with a very long setup, but the battles themselves are just around two hours. And unfortunately there are not enough interesting things happening in the game. There are possibilities to find treasures and to obliterate the raiders for their equipment, but the game is not interesting enough.
Battles do not need dice. However, although there is no luck, overall, players do not have as many tactical options to make a difference.
Definitely interesting feature is the variety of gaming variants you can experience in Saltlands. And from a purely cooperative version without any surprise all the way to competitive variant. Well, then the uncertainty fills all this time. This makes it very easy to adapt the game to the group you spend time in the dry world. Of course, the experience and the playing time differ.
Processing and graphics is what pulls the game up. But then open the rulebook and suddenly everything is different. It’s not easy to learn Saltlands by the way, because it is not chronological, it does not contain any rational examples and jumps between different themes back and forth. And the first impression is definitely marked.
Saltlands is actually a fairly simple game, but some elements are over-combined. For example, victory card conditions and many symbols. On the other hand, there is a great element of betrayal. This could be your main driver. But such a parameter certainly can not be stampen with important category. Saltlands will delight on one side and disappoint on many others.
Saltlands tells the story of a world full of draught and sand. But no one can live in peace, even in this hostile land. Players are attacked daily by the raiders and they have to reflect them together. Each winning duel means some good gear. Players sail on the sand with help of the wind. But the course itself remains behind its theme and you need time to experience the whole game (including setup). But Saltlands remains a slight disappointment.