Kickstarter Preview: Samhain

Samhain is a new worker placement game on Kickstarter. It is the First Century B.C. and Julius Caesar is knocking on your door with a couple of legions of his friends. It is the Night of Samhain, and deep in the forest, the Celtic tribes are preparing by pleading to their gods for aid.

In Samhain, each player is a leader of a clan and hopes to bring their clan into power and be placed in charge of the resistance against Rome . In order to appease the gods and prepare you need to place clan members strategically. Each god has specifics needs, requirements and gifts. And they can be fickle…

The village consists of 15 cards which belong to the influence of five temples. Each temple and the cards associated with the temple represent one deity. As you visit and take actions on the cards in each temple’s region, you gain influence in those temples. At the end of each round, points are scored for those players controlling the temples. Romans know how to breed distrust and have attempted to bribe each clan in the form of gold and resources in order to corrupt them or lead them into disarray.

Set up for Samhain is simple. Shuffle and deal out the five temple cards. Then shuffle and deal out the fifteen village action cards next to its corresponding temple card. The result is a 5×3 grid of action cards with Temple cards making an additional column. Temple cards are not visited by your workers. They are used to track the devotion to each deity. Each action card has two possible actions — one light and one dark. Each temple has two tracks —  one light and one dark. Both will be needed to win.

Each player gets a certain number of workers and during the set-up of the game will be placing them onto action cards. Players also receive two of each resource (gold, wood, and stone). These will represent the Roman attempts to bribe or corrupt your tribe. Resources are kept secret and need to be managed carefully. As at the end of the game, if you do not have at least the same number of resources as you started, you will be considered corrupted by the Roman bribe, lose the game, and never be invited to St. Patty’s day ever again.

When players set out the initial placement of their workers, the first clan member to be set on a card earns two devotion points on the corresponding temple. Each of the following will only earn one devotion points. The number of starting workers depends upon the number of players. In a four player game, each player starts with two workers to place. The player can determine whether they wish to  place their devotion points on the light or dark track and place a cube there accordingly. The next player will place their first worker on any action card and two devotion points on the appropriate temple card and track. This continues until all starting workers are placed.  

Samhain is played over 4-6 rounds depending upon the number of players. Each round alternates between daytime and nighttime. This determines whether you take light or dark actions on the action cards. Thematically, I assume that each deity has a light and dark aspect and depending upon your need you will pray to the one most helpful to you. On the daytime turns, players can take the card’s light action. On nighttime turns, players will take the dark action. Players can also take the “off” action for the cost of one MP (a resource, devotion point, or one victory point). So a light action can be taken at night with a cost or a dark action taken during the day.   

The game is played in two phases.

Action Phase: Players must select a worker to move (optional) and activate (mandatory), resolving an action and then exhausting the worker. Once all workers have taken their action (or penalty for not being able to take their action) they can add new workers to the board or pass. When taking an action, players can move to an adjacent card or stay put and then take the light or dark action. Once the cost of the action is paid and the effect resolved, any other players also on that tile resolve the same action. 

To expand your clan you spend MP equal to the amount of workers out on the board plus one. So, if you had three workers and the board and wanted to add a fourth, it would cost 4 MP. That could be any combination of four resources, victory points, and devotion points.

Throughout the activation phase of the game, players will collect will-o-wisp cubes due to penalties or the actions taken on the cards. Once all the cubes are collected, the will-o-wisp is activated and the player with the most has to sacrifice a worker and place them in the graveyard. Then all the cubes are returned to the supply with an additional MP for each cube.

Once the round is done and everyone has passed the end of round phase begins. Players score points according to their position on the devotion tracks. On daytime rounds, you score the light track and during nighttime rounds, you score the dark. The leader on each track earns 2 victory points. No points are earned for a tie. The round marker is advanced, the first player token is passed to the player to the left, and all workers and items refreshed for the next round.

The End Game

My first impressions of this game are mixed. It feels as if the entire game hinges upon the player’s initial placement of their clansmen on the board rather than . Players need to be able to examine the layout and then find the optimal spot to start, essentially having 2-3 moves planned already in succession. Outside of that, the entire game feels like an endless repetition of moving and then activating. The will-o-wisp mechanism was interesting and provided some press-your-luck entertainment which reminded me of the arrows in Bang: The Dice Game. Not enough to redeem the repetitive game-play though. The tighter resource management was also an novel mechanism. Each player is provided with a starting set of resources but they need to be sure they end with that amount or lose the game automatically. While the mechanism was neat, I didn’t like the instant lose for not managing your resources well. Similar to the initial set-up, Samhain is unforgiving to new players and you will likely find yourself elbows into a game and realize there is no way to get the resources needed to avoid end game elimination.

Like many Kickstarter games, Samhain shows potential but is underdeveloped and came off as uninspired. It feels like the designers tried to streamline a 90 minute game into half that time and somewhere along the way lost whatever made the game interesting. However, the price point is low enough to take a chance if you are enamored with the Celtic theme, then go for it. Otherwise, pass on this one and hit up Minerva from Pandasaurus Games instead. It is pricier but the resource management is more forgiving, the tile placement is satisfying, and you get to play the Romans.


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