Full disclosure: A review copy of Sonora was provided by Pandasaurus Games.
This one almost got away from me. I’ve been meaning to get to it for a week or so, but all the Kickstarters just overwhelmed my schedule. And there’s still more to go! A bunch of games coming in August. Exciting times, but doesn’t leave a lot of room when you’re only publishing two reviews a week. What can you do. Anyways, Sonora! Let’s check this game out.
In Sonora, you’re experiencing the desert! It’s … more colorful than you remember. But this experience drives you to check out four major regions of the desert to see if you can have something resembling a profound, points-driven time. I’m like, eighty percent sure this is the lore. Your opponents seek to do the same, so you’ll have to outwit them on four fronts if you want to make a place for yourself in the desert. Will you be able to outscore your foes?
Setup is surprisingly trivial. Set out the board:
Each player should take a player board and a marker:
Give each player a set of tokens in their color; choose one player to be the start player and give them the big token:
You may want to decide in advance if you want to play 5 / 6 / 7 rounds, depending on how long you want the game to be. The first player should rotate the board so that the Cliff-Dweller zone is closest to them. They’ll start flicking from there, and you’re ready to go!
A game of Sonora is played over 5 / 6 / 7 rounds (depending on how long you want the game to be!), as players work to score points in four different areas of their player boards. Do well, and you’ll have carved out a victory in the desert! At its core, this game is a roll-and-write-style game, but the interesting thing is rather than roll boring dice, you’re going to flick numbered tokens to various spots on the board to try and earn points towards sections!
On your turn, you flick two of the tokens from your quadrant into the board. They stay where they land until they’re moved by another of your tokens or another player’s tokens. Once players are down to a single disc, they just flick that one on their turn to end the round.
If, at any point, a disc falls into the center, it’s immediately removed and then assigned to the scoresheet. Place the disc on that quadrant to keep track of it until the Scoring Phase.
At the end of the round, if a disc is overlapping any of the Bonus Zones, it counts for that bonus! Even if it’s only touching the border. That said, it only counts towards the bonus zone, not the original scoring zone. Similarly, if your disc overlaps two scoring zones, it counts towards the scoring zone that more of the disc is in.
If you flick your disc outside of the board, you lose it! Note that if you knock someone else’s disc off the board, their owner gets to re-flick it.
When you score, you can score each of the four possible areas, depending on where your discs are. If your discs are in an area, you score it as follows:
The Cliff-Dweller Ruins score via majority! When you have discs in this zone, you sum them all up and may cross out that many hexes. If you complete an entire grouping first, you may take the top score value and all other players cross off that space on their boards. Now, players can only score the bottom score value for that grouping.
Discs in the canyon score individually, by drawing the shape that corresponds to the disc’s value for each disc. You may rotate them or flip them, but they can’t overlap any previous entered shape and must be placed adjacent to an existing shape. As you cover cacti, cross off the topmost cactus on the scoreboard on your board. At any time, you may downgrade your disc to a lower value if you so choose (using a 3 as a 2 or a 1, for instance).
The Creek Bed also scores discs individually; you use them to build paths down the creek to potentially score points. Each disc allows you to move that many spaces down the creek. Cross off the spaces one by one, but then circle the last one; you’ll get that benefit or score that many points at the end of the game. You’ll notice some paths branch, but you can choose which branch you want to explore now, and go back on a different branch with another disc (you may start from any crossed-out space). Unlike the Canyon, you may not downgrade your discs here; if you can’t use a disc, it’s forfeited.
Finally, the mudcracks. This zone is also summed, and you use the discs here to essentially “purchase” zones in the hopes of surrounding cacti and other bonuses. If you have 7 total in Mudcracks, you may cross off a 2, then a 5, to use the full value. If you have leftover points, you may put them towards crossing off any of the boxes at the bottom of the zone, one box per point.
Over the course of the game, you may earn bonuses one of two ways: either as a result of some action in your scoring zones, or as a Discovery Bonus elsewhere. Zone-granted bonuses must be used immediately, but when you get a Discovery Bonus, you choose what kind of bonus you’ll earn and may save it for later. You may use more than one bonus per turn.
End of Round
After completing a round, pass the first player marker to the left and rotate the board such that the Cliff-Dweller Ruins are in front of the new starting player. The starting player always has the Cliff-Dweller Ruins in front of them.
End of Game
After the agreed-upon number of rounds, total your scores, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
For this one, it’s congestion. As you increase the player count, the board doesn’t get any bigger; it only gets more crowded. This increases chaos and entropy and makes the last shot (and the player order) increasingly vital. It may not be worth taking a tricky shot early in the game, now, if you’re not going to be able to convert on that and turn it into points or a bonus because everyone else in the game is going to try to knock you off that high horse (even unintentionally). I prefer a more strategic game (just in general, see, other reviews), so I tend to prefer this at two. I still enjoy it at higher player counts, for certain, but I think that I am really, really excited by a good play in this game, so I kind of like the lowered entropy so that there’s still a chance I’ll actually get to keep my good shot, you know? I suppose there’s some level of influence that higher player counts places on Cliff-Dweller racing, but I think there are enough zones that players tend to stay out of zones where other players already have gone. I haven’t noticed there being a lot of contention in those spaces unless some player really gets lucky on the bonuses and drops like, 10+ in Cliff-Dweller in one turn. And then that’s not really influenced by player count; that’s usually just motivated by spite. And that’s good at any player count, I’ve found.
- Going after bonus spots is a decent move. It essentially drastically increases your impact on each turn, so you might as well try to make sure your pieces end up there. Other than the Creekbed, more points in a location is generally always very good.
- If you do go after bonus spots, though, your opponents will likely try to knock you off the bonus spots. As they should? They don’t want you getting those bonuses. To that end, I try to go after bonus spots with my last few flicks, to try and disincentivize the tomfoolery of my opponents. Does it always work? No, of course not. But it’s a nice idea.
- Knocking your opponent off a bonus spot is good, but using their piece to stop yours so that you end up on the bonus spot is better. This is the real power play; use your perfect flick to bump them off a bonus spot and claim it for yourself! They won’t love you for it, but, you’re here to win, not to make friends. Though if you can do both, you always should.
- If you really want to mess with your opponents, use your Flick and Swap abilities to subvert their expectations. The clutch move is flicking a 5 onto the Creekbed bonus (a pretty bad outcome). Most opponents will just leave your token there so that you’ll suffer the consequences, until you use a Swap to move a much better token onto that spot after the round ends! It’s a smart use of bonuses; you should make the most of yours.
- For the Creekbed, high early values are good, but you may want to get more fine-tuned control over where you move later in the game. Yeah, too high towards the late game and you may end up skipping combo bonuses for other locations or some points that you might want. Splitting 1s and 2s towards the end of the game is more optimal, in my opinion. Early in the game you just want to power down to where the good stuff is.
- For the Mudcracks, you can pretty much never go wrong with high values. Just spend spend spend until you’ve got the cacti you want surrounded. If you end up with weird remainders, just blow it on bonuses.
- Cliff Dwellers is similar; the more you have, the more you can potentially earn. You really want to swoop on a few of those bonuses before your opponents can get them; some of them are pretty clutch, even early-game.
- The Canyon is probably the most fickle; you’ll definitely want a variety of numbers depending on the shapes you want. Thankfully, you can always downgrade, but higher values are often more useful elsewhere rather than being used for downgrading (unless you want multiple of the same shape). Be mindful of your goals before flicking!
- Overall, leveraging the values you get is good, but turning them into combos is going to be critical if you want to win. You want to be able to turn a split 4 on Creekbed into a 5 in Mudcracks and a 4 in the Canyon so you can get a Discovery Bonus in one that turns into more for the other so you can turn that back around and get a Creekbed Bonus that lets you push for a bonus 4 points, or something. And that would just be off of one disc. Imagine the possibilities!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Can technically be played remotely! At two players, it’s not too bad. Suzanne and I made it work! I would flick and then she would replicate the board state on her side and vice-versa. It’s extremely laborious to do, so I wouldn’t recommend doing it at more than two, but it was a lot of fun to be able to play it against a real person, albeit remotely.
- I really like the art style. It’s such a cool styling of the desert; I really love it! I wish I had like, a poster version of it or something. I think the lack of outlines really works for it and the color choice is just, perfect. The graphic design is really nice, too! I hope to see more from Tom Goyon in the future.
- The flicking mechanics are a lot of fun! I really like how this game is done. Bumping other players’ tokens to try and land on bonus spaces or knock them into inconvenient areas can be huge. A late-game 5 in the Creekbed? That’s almost guaranteed to waste another player’s swap. And that’s cool that you can think about the strategy of a roll-and-write game in such a spatial way. I really love the flicking mechanics.
- Players can quickly progress to the advanced rules. They’re not too much more complicated, which I also like. It’s always good to have a gradient, but it seems like this one moves straight to “you’re ready for the next thing”.
- It has the same combo-y feel of Ganz Schon Clever, which I always liked. Combos just feel satisfying! It’s nice to have them. And this game has plenty of them! Even more satisfying because they require you to think along different spatial lines to be successful, which is a nice little workout for my brain. Big fan of how this one turned out.
- I really enjoy how spatially-focused the sectors are; it provides a nice challenge. I love spatially-focused games in general, but I like that each is its own unique spatial problem as well. I hope they’re working on making more modules for this game, because, I think they’ve really done great work here.
- Flexible game length is good, in my opinion. It lets players have more granular control of their gameplay experience, which is never bad. Your scores do increase drastically with longer gameplay, though, in case you care about that for stats tracking.
- Getting a good shot feels awesome. It’s the kind of game that everyone’s just impressed when you land a perfect shot, and I love that kind of thing in games. I saw someone land a token between two other tokens such that it didn’t knock anyone off the bonus space. It was amazing! It’s a really good feeling to land a clutch shot, and games that reward precision like that are only going to get more satisfying as you play them more. It’s no ICECOOL, but it can hit similar high points, in my opinion.
- It can be difficult to remember where players started, especially if you’re rotating the board. This is a problem best solved by keeping the first-player token in front of the player whose turn it is and remembering that the first player always starts on the Cliff-Dweller Ruins. If you move the first-player token, you’re hosed. So don’t do it!
- Increasingly high levels of congestion as the player count increases does make me tend to prefer lower player counts. I like the precision of landing an excellent shot more than the chaos of just bouncing around, so I definitely prefer this game at two.
- It’s a bit tough to keep track of your progress when you’re playing four different games at the same time. This is a place where taking notes on the sheet helps a lot. I also make sure to remove each token when I’m done accounting for it, so that way I don’t get more confused by various actions I still need to take. Circle things you still need to use, then erase or cross the circle out when you’re done with them. It’s hard to wrangle all four categories simultaneously since they’re mostly so spatial, but if you like spatial games, you’ll love this stuff. If you don’t, well, then a lot of this game is going to be a challenge for you. Either way, have a methodical process for taking your discs each round and you should mostly be okay, unless you have a bunch of split actions and bonuses.
- It’s also hard to keep track of the outcomes of split actions. If you get, say, a Double Hawk (which lets you advance twice in the riverbed section) and then activate a Discovery Bonus on one of the branches which leads to … you get the idea. There’s a certain point where you start to forget which level of an action you’ve resolved fully. I think I just need to take better notes on my scoresheet, but that’s a lot of mental overhead for a player.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Sonora is a ton of fun! I really like how interesting this is, and I think this is a great launching-off point for a genre. It’s sort of how, like, drawing cards became a de facto subgenre of roll-and-write games, yeah? I can see more dexterity elements and board types becoming a fun spin on just throwing dice. It’s nice because it’s not quite as random as cards or dice (even though cards have the advantage of a predictable distribution) as your skill level grows; eventually, you’re going to be able to make the shots that you need to make to nail the combos you want. It allows for a particular sense of progression that isn’t just strategic; it’s the development of a genuine skill. And I think that’s awesome. Imagine various spins on this formula. Add ramps, walls, holes; you could really change up the style! Smaller discs, larger discs, discs with higher values but smaller radii? There’s a good amount of potential if you give players, designers, and developers a lot of flexibility. And I think Sonora is a good example of how promising those developments look. It does a lot of things well, but I think a major success is its presentation of a new type of gameplay experience that’s pretty solid! I would love to see people experiment with it and see what turns out. This particular game is quite fun for me (albeit a bit complicated, score-wise), so I’m excited about the prospect of more variations. If you’re looking to experience something new, or you just like dexterity games or spatial games, I’d definitely recommend checking out Sonora! I think it’s a blast.