It’s well known at Board Game Quest HQ that I don’t have any friends. The reasons for this are now being discussed. Is it just that every other person in the world doesn’t live up to my high standards of friendship? Or is it more to do with the logistical complexities involved in maintaining a successful platonic relationship? Truth? I can handle a lot, and most people actively avoid contact with me unless they have to. (Be sure to join our Discord channel if you want to know what it’s like to chat with me in cyberspace! It’s not great!)
So, in addition to my duties as the site’s full-time movie producer, I’m also one of the people who handles any game made specifically for two players. (And even that only works because I can get my wife to play games with me. Technically, she doesn’t even count as a friend.)
Sobek 2 Players is a reworking of the original four-player Sobek (which I haven’t played since, again, I only know one person). It is designed by Bruno Catala, the designer of the original game, and also by Sebastien Pochon.
Sobek 2 Players is a collectible game in which both players will take tiles from a common market into their hand. Before the game starts, the tiles are placed on the market in a fun, if somewhat inconsequential way, starting from specific spots on the board and filling them up in a clockwise direction. It’s pretty neat how it works, though I couldn’t figure out if there was a mechanical reason why players had to fill the board this way.
On his turn, a player may choose one of three options: Take a tile from the marketplace, play a set of three or more of the same tiles from your hand to your personal play area, or use a character tile they previously purchased for its one-time power.
When taking tiles from the market, tiles can only be selected from a specific row, column, or diagonal on the board at any given time. The direction in which players can choose tiles is determined by the ankh pawn. Depending on which tile was taken last, the ankh will be positioned based on the markings on the previously selected tile. So, for example, if a tile your opponent has just taken has vertical marks on the top and bottom edges, only the tiles in that column will be available on the next player’s turn. The only time the position of the ankh is determined by the players is when they choose a character tile from the board (or sometimes with certain one-time abilities that the characters can provide).
If the ankh ever points to empty spaces or there are no tiles available to take, the players refill the board and move the ankh to the center after taking the tile. Players are also not limited to choosing only adjacent tiles. They can go as far down the indicated line as they want, but any tiles they miss will be added to their corruption board. The player with the fewest corruption tiles at the end of the game will receive a point bonus.
The second thing players can do on their turn is to place a set of identical goods in front of them. Sets played must contain at least three tiles, and any additional similar goods added by players on later turns must also be in increments of at least three. If you purchase a Sobek statue tile, it acts as a wild symbol and can be part of any set. Whenever players choose this action, they also take a pie token from the edge of the board. These are incredibly powerful events that range from granting bonus points in the form of deben tokens, extra moves, or taking extra tiles into your hand. These pie tiles are limited, so it’s worth laying out sets early in the game.
The third thing a player can do on their turn is to use the abilities of the characters. Most characters in the game can also be added to sets depending on what type of item the character sells in the market, but this is done as part of the last action and does not trigger abilities. Basically, this is a violation of the course of the game or the provision of additional tiles. Some of these are attacks on your opponent that add corruption or cause them to drop tiles.
The game continues in this way until there are no possible moves left on the game board, after which the players add up their points. Points are awarded based on the number of bonus tokens that players have in addition to the goods in each player’s zone. These scores are based on their number multiplied by the number of scarab symbols visible on all tiles in a particular good’s tile set.
The two-player-only gaming space is getting more crowded every year as designers take some of their most beloved games and rework the mechanics. 7 Wonders Duel is probably the most successful example, but there are also games like Yokohama Duel and the upcoming Splendor Duel and Tokaido Duo, both of which I’m curious to try. Sobek 2 Players is an interesting situation for me because I have never played the original despite it being developed by one of my favorites, Bruno Catala.
I am happy to report that I really enjoyed this version of the game. This is one of the rare games that actually has more depth than you might think just by looking at it. Generally, games look like they are complex and then turn out to be quite simple in the types of decisions and actions that players can take. Sobek 2 Player, on the other hand, looks like a very simple two-player game with a relatively small footprint, but then has some interesting layers related to the type and use of tiles, as well as the timing with which players must complete certain actions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a difficult game by any means, but it has more depth than I expected, even if more or less every move plays roughly the same.
The game also has good pacing, as not only are the moves fast, but there is also a logical flow in the arc of the game. Selling goods early gives players these bonuses, but it also means that players will have to have a more restrictive strategy for which tiles they go after. Wait too long to sell any items, however, and you’ll miss out on these potentially game-changing games.
There were some design features that I didn’t quite understand. The setup is odd and more like a gimmick than a functional process. (The rulebook even has a very special section for describing moves, but in reality, players can probably just fill the board any way they like and it won’t make much of a difference.) The character tiles, which are obviously the most powerful, are displayed on market face down. None of these characters are negative, and for the most part they seem to be level-headed, so I found it odd that this information was classified. I guess it creates some sort of element of luck where getting a lot of corruption for a power that doesn’t fit in with someone’s plan is a waste of a turn, but to be honest, it just felt like they should show up face up, so that players can decide, based on the information they have, whether or not to use corruption to achieve more.
I enjoy Sobek 2 Players about as much as I expected, which is always good. I’m not sure if it rises to the level of something like 7 Wonders Duel, but there are few games of this or any other type. It’s a simple pack collecting game that uses an interesting market selection mechanic. It’s also small enough to act as a travel game, something that can’t be said for other games in the two-player-only category. (It’s not very small, but basically all you need is a board and a little table space.)
Final score: 3.5 stars. An above-average two-player game that is an interesting approach to pack building and holds its own among games of its type.
• Easy to learn and play
• Good strategic depth
• Interesting mechanism of market options
• The setup is more cumbersome than it should be.