Full disclosure: A review copy of Sobek: 2 Player was provided by Pandasaurus Games.
Editor’s Note: Very disappointed to hear about the recent allegations of toxic conduct happening at Pandasaurus Games.
Back into the wide, wide world of two-player-only games! This is one of my favorite types of games to review. There’s a lot here, a lot to try, and a lot of variety. It’s also a particularly tough area for games, just because there are a lot of board games that exclusively work for two players. It can be crowded, but that’s kind of what makes it fun to explore! You get to see how different designers try to deal with the problems in their own way and how they work in a fairly compact space. Constraint breeds creativity, to some degree; that’s why I like Button Shy so much. But let’s check out Sobek: 2 Players!
In Sobek: 2 Players, players take on the roles of warring guilds of merchants doing deals in the shadow of the ongoing construction of the Temple of Sobek. If you’d like to be the best, you’ll need Sobek’s favor, but you also can’t always get the best deals and the most money by doing your business entirely above-board. Corruption doesn’t necessarily please Sobek, though, so you might find that he takes his favor elsewhere should you delve too deeply into the mercantile underworld. Which player will be able to make a name for themselves?
Pretty straightforward, once you lay everything out. First, set down the Market Board:
Then, shuffle the Starting Tiles:
Give each player two, then place four of them face-up on the center four spaces of the Market Board. The remaining two tiles are returned to the box. Then, shuffle the remaining Goods and Characters into a pile:
Fill the Market Board! Generally, you start from the tile with the symbol and go clockwise, then move out a layer and repeat. The center four tiles have already been filled, so, you can skip those. Then, shuffle the Pirogue tokens, placing five into the left slots along the side of the board:
Place the Deben tokens into the bag:
Give each player a Corruption Board:
Set the Scoreboard and Score Tokens aside until later:
You should be ready to start! Choose a first player at random.
Sobek: 2 Players is a game of tile collection! Your goal is to collect tiles, get groups, and then sell those groups of tiles for points! However, only Scarabs will help you get those points, so make sure you get a few of those as well! Taking too many tiles will earn you Corruption for your greed. Try to manage it all if you want to win!
On your turn, you can do one of three things: take a tile, play a Character, or sell a set of Goods. To start the game, however, the first player must take one of the four center tiles and place the Ankh such that it is oriented the same way as the brown lines on the outside of the tile taken.
To take a tile, look at the current position of the Ankh token. It denotes a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line, and you may take any tile along that line, if you so choose. That said, any tiles between the Ankh and the tile you take are taken as well! Those tiles are placed on your Corruption Board. They may cause you problems at the end of the game.
Again, the Ankh should be placed so that it is oriented the same way as the brown lines on the tile taken.
Some tiles have a Deben token on them. When you take that tile, instead of adding it to your hand you may remove it from the game and gain a random Deben token from the bag.
Other tiles are Character Tiles! When they’re taken, you may orient the Ankh as you like. That said, the Ankh must be pointing toward at least one tile.
There’s no hand limit! Take as many tiles as you’d like.
If there aren’t any tiles along the Ankh’s line and you want to take a tile, you must refill the market following the same steps as the setup process. Fill as much as you can with the remaining tiles, as usual. Then, choose one of the four center tiles, add it to your hand, and then orient the Ankh in the empty space as usual.
If the draw pile is empty, you cannot refill the market (and consequently, cannot take a tile).
If you want, you may play a Character from your hand, activating its ability. This uses your entire turn. Some let you take tiles, draw tiles, steal tiles, or even force your opponent to discard tiles. Use them wisely!
To earn points, you can sell a set of at least three Goods of the same type, placing them face-up near your play area. Each Character has a Goods Icon on their tile; you can use those tiles in lieu of a Goods tile of that type (but you won’t be able to use the Character ability). Selling another set of at least three Goods of the same type adds them to your existing set, but the first time you sell a set of a type you must sell at least one Goods tile.
Sobek Statues are special! They count as any Goods type.
Every time you sell a set of Goods, you may claim one of the five Pirogue tokens on the left side of the board. When you do, use its ability, and remove it from the game. These let you do things like take another turn, add Scarabs to certain sets, or even add Corruption to your opponent’s board.
End of Game
The game ends immediately when a player cannot perform any valid action. Once that happens, players start by tallying their Corruption!
If the player who did not end the game has any valid sets of Goods remaining in their hand, they’re removed from the game (and are not scored). Both players then place all remaining tiles in their hands on their Corruption Board. The player with the fewest total Corruption gets a boon! They get a free Deben token, plus one additional Deben token for every 3 Corruption that their opponent has more than they do.
Then, total your score! Each Goods type earns the number of Goods tiles of that type times the total number of Scarabs on Goods of that type. This does mean that some Goods may earn you 0 points. Then, add in the total value of your Deben tokens. The player with more points wins! If there’s a tie, the player with less Corruption wins!
Player Count Differences
None! Exclusively a two-player game.
- Watch what you leave for your opponent! They might just end the game. This is imperative. You should make sure your opponent has Character tiles in hand or try to keep track of what they’re taking, to some degree, so that you know if pinning them in one spot on the board is suddenly going to cause them to end the game. If they end the game and you’re not expecting it? Well, that’s how you end up losing.
- While selling a set of Goods with no Scarabs isn’t ideal, you can usually get a few more Scarabs later in the game. Plus, doing so quickly can get you a Pirogue token, which might actually be worth more than a couple points here or there. It may be worth doing some early worthless sales and then trying to buff them up with Scarabs down the line when you have Sobek statues or Characters that can assist. The one challenge there is that selling the Goods makes it pretty obvious to your opponent what you’re going to be going after later, which predictably might work against you.
- Carrying a lot of tiles in your hand is cool and all, but it leaves you extremely vulnerable to bad outcomes. There are a number of Character tiles that force you to discard down to six tiles, and all discarded tiles go to your Corruption Board. That’s bad. Also, your opponent ending the game (or you being forced to) also pushes tiles to your Corruption Board, which, predictably, also bad!
- Sometimes a little bit of Corruption goes a long way! Take the tiles you need. Having one or two Corruption may not be all that bad (and it likely won’t earn your opponent a random Deben token, which is a relief). It may be worth taking a little bit so that you can guarantee you get the high-value tile that you need to boost your score.
- Dumping Corruption on your opponent is pretty funny, though; you can score a lot of points that way. Again, you gain a Deben token at the end of the game for every 3 Corruption your opponent has over you. That can add up pretty quickly if you do things like playing the Pirogue token that forces them to take a tile of your choice and pick a tile way on the other side of the board. That’s mean, but that’s almost two free Deben tokens for you later in the game. Find ways to force your opponent to take Corruption, if you can. Just watch out! There are also Characters that can remove Corruption or let you steal tiles from your Corruption Board. You might be helping them inadvertently.
- Make sure you’re aware of the Character abilities; your opponent can surprise you if you don’t know them. As you might have guessed, there are a lot of abilities. It’s pretty easy to get caught off-guard if you don’t know what they do or what the Pirogue tokens do. Thankfully, the player aids tell you; make sure you’re using them during the game and looking things up so you’re not surprised when a tile doesn’t do what you want (or when it does something you don’t want).
- Sobek Statues are pretty helpful if you can land them. They’re essentially wild. If you get three or more of them, you can add them to a Goods type that you’ve already scored, which can be pretty clutch if you already have a lot of Scarabs there. In general, though, it’s just nice to have wild Goods so that you can complete sets quickly (if you’re in a hurry to score points, which it usually feels like you are).
- Remember scoring is multiplicative! Getting Scarabs for Goods you have a lot of or adding Goods where you have a lot of Scarabs can really boost your score quickly.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art style is pretty fun! It’s cartoony without, like, being played for laughs? Just a nice, pleasant animated style. Everything has a nice colorful life to it, which I appreciate. It’s a good-looking game, which is kind of a must for me, these days.
- This is pretty quick to play, which is nice. Every turn is pretty simple, at its core. You either take a tile, play a tile, or play a set of tiles. As a player, the subsequent effects can give me pause, granted, but the actual core game itself moves pretty fast. For a short two-player game, that’s kind of ideal? You want players moving at a pretty good clip, especially if it means one of them can make a mistake that gives their opponent an opening.
- The Character tiles have a lot of fun and interesting abilities. A lot of them, including a few that I didn’t actually properly differentiate until my second or third game. But I digress. I appreciate that they’re played face-down, so you don’t know what Goods type they are or what ability they have until you pick them up. It makes picking one a much riskier move, and I enjoy that. Sobek: 2 Players is supposed to be a tight game of trade-offs and consequences, and adding in some hidden tiles makes me, the player, feel that much more.
- The Pirogue tokens also have a pretty good set of abilities. These are interesting in a different way than the Characters, I suppose. There’s a certain level of balancing speed vs. strategy, here. When you take a Pirogue token, you get it for selling a set of Goods, even if that set scores you nothing at the moment. Now, there’s the question of selling things early to get useful Pirogues and using them to set your opponent up for a later loss. That’s interesting! I think they have more strategic value (as opposed to the tactical value of the Character tiles).
- The abstract strategy elements of the game are interesting! I really like how a tile determines what you can take next. I generally like that, though; one of my favorite quick abstracts, 7th Night, does a similar thing. The card you play determines where your opponent starts from. Here, the tile you take determines what line of tiles your opponent gets to choose from, which has some neat strategic implications. It’s also just a smart way to make things challenging in a small space, which I like.
- I also appreciate that the set collection is partially tempered by the number of Scarabs you can get on the tiles. I’ve ended games where my opponent didn’t have any Scarabs on their tiles for a Good of one type, making it worthless. Even then, maybe they got a Pirogue from it that was valuable to them? Maybe they didn’t! Hard to say. I think that’s kind of what makes it all fun, though.
- The big ankh is striking, if nothing else. I do enjoy a large token in games, and this one has some utility to it, which is nice as well. Since it’s obviously pointing in some direction, it has a lot of in-game utility, which I appreciate.
- The reset pattern is … particular. It’s just one of those things I take for granted, since the game fills the tiles on its own on Board Game Arena, but having to do it myself feels a bit annoying?
- Accidentally ending the game quicker than you expected is a bit messy. That can happen if you assume your opponent has the tiles to sell or a Character to use and you’re not totally paying attention. This can even work a bit against you if, say, you leave your opponent in a spot that they must end the game and you weren’t expecting them to. Now, a bunch of tiles end up on your Corruption Board, they get a bunch of Deben tokens out of the deal and they win the game. It’s … not my favorite outcome, but I suppose it’s the appropriate punishment for an inattentive player.
- Is Sobek: 2 Players really the best … name for this game? It just struck me as odd; almost inexplicably so. It doesn’t really flow well, either, which is why I’m so confused by it.
- You can end up in a bad spot if you don’t take the time to explain the Character abilities and the Piroque tokens. It’s on the player aids, but it’s nowhere in the rulebook, which is kind of odd. It mostly tripped me up because I tried to learn the game and then play it on Board Game Arena. Since the abilities weren’t in the rulebook, we just kind of had to learn it on the fly. It wasn’t too big of a deal, but I can imagine this being an issue for more competitive players. Even though it’s explained on the player aids, I’m surprised this didn’t make it into the rulebook.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I’ve been pretty pleased with Sobek: 2 Players! It’s a bit of a weirdly-literal name, but I suppose Sobek was already taken. Sobek Duel? Whatever. Sobek: 2 Players smartly manages to hit one of the sweet spots of two-player-only gaming in that it’s tight, aggressive, and the game can flip on you at any time if you’re not paying attention. That makes it a bit dangerous to play asynchronously over BGA, but hey, I like to live dangerously when it comes to the occasional board game with my friends. I appreciate the abstract strategy / set collection hybrid gameplay here, and I think that your tile choice determining where your opponents can select their tiles from next adds an extra strategy wrinkle to the game that I quite enjoy. I love having to decide if I want my ideal tile and, by doing so, if I want to provide my opponent with an equally-ideal tile for them. These duel games are the ideal place to have difficult player tradeoffs, and I think Sobek: 2 Players does a great job with it. The character abilities are also fun, and there’s a good bit of random chance that you have to deal with along your way to the finish line. Resetting can be somewhat painful (since there are some specific rules about how resetting the tiles works), but if that’s my biggest gripe with the game, I’m probably enjoying myself pretty well. Add in a bright and colorful art style and you’ve got a pretty engaging two-player game. It plays pretty quickly, too! It helps that each turn is essentially “take a tile, sell a set, or activate a character”, and those choices have complicated consequences but they’re not particularly complicated on their face. Plus, I’m always looking for more fun two-player games. If you’re down to get a bit aggressive with your friend, you enjoy some challenging set collection, or you just love an Egyptian theme, I’d recommend playing a round of Sobek: 2 Players! I’ve quite enjoyed this one.
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