Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Inka & Markus Brand


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

"Are you kidding? Shall I really draw on the gameboard with a pen?" This are words you can hear quite often from the other players after you have explained the game Saint Malo. And indeed, it takes a moment's effort to set the pen on the board and draw the first line. The last time I did so was in my youth, and at that time we played Dampfross, a game which was quite successful in Germany and won the SPIEL DES JAHRES awards in 1984. However, while the old game included wax crayons, the newest game from ALEA uses non-permanent pens. RAVENSBURGER had been hard pushed to find pens on a water basis which comply to health and safety regulations, and the pens included in Saint Malo indeed can be wiped off much better than the old wax variant, but on the other hand the lines easily tend to smudge if you should move your hand carelessly over the board...

In the game we are the mayors of cities, and we try to build up our cities on an initially empty 7x7 city grid. Each player has his own city and for this an individual gameboard. Next to the city grid we can find a bank, a lumber storage and a track for our victory points. Finally there are summaries of the most important game rules. With our pens we can draw lumber in the storage, coins in the bank and goods, walls, churches and people for our city. But how do we know what we are allowed to draw? For this we have to focus on the other game material: dice. Six-sided dice with symbols for everything we are allowed to draw.


On our turn, we may roll the five dice up to three times. Following the traditional mechanism of many dice-rolling games, dice with symbols we want to keep can be put aside, but the may also be re-rolled in a later roll. After our third roll, we must decide to use one of the five normal symbols, and the number of dice showing this symbol tells us how many and which kind of matching resources or buildings we may draw onto our board. Before we do so, we can rotate one or more dice. This costs us two of our coins, and payment is made by simply crossing them off in the bank on our player board.

To store logs in our lumber storage we need money, too, so there also must be a way to get money back. But this is not too easy. First we have to add goods crates to our city with the matching symbols. For this we simply draw rectangles in free city squares for every goods symbol on the dice. After that we have to place a merchant (a circle with a "M" in the middle) in an adjacent city square for three head symbols on our dice. As a result we may draw a new coin in our bank for every crate that is adjacent to the new merchant.

There is a similar sequence for building houses. First we have to store logs in our lumber storage (one for every house we want to build), then we have to roll three times the head symbol to be allowed to place an architect (a circle with an A) in our city and finally we may draw up to three houses adjacent to the architect. Again, we cross off the used logs. For this effort we are rewarded with our first Victory points (three Victory points for every house we have just built).

A special case are churches. The number of dice with the cross symbol determines the size of the church which we can build in a free city space, and the size is written in the middle of the church symbol. At the end of the game, we are given victory points for an ascending series of churches in our city. The longer the series the more victory points we get. If, however, there is a gap in the series, only the churches with the lower values count for our series, the larger churches score nothing.

With the actions described so far everybody can happily construct his city, only dependent on luck when rolling the dice. However, all these game elements give no chance to interact with the other players - a common shortfall of many dice-rolling games. Now we come to a small element that allows us to interact with our opponents: it can be found on the dice as well, and it is a pirate symbol of crossed swords. For each dice with this symbol, we have to mark a box on the main board in the middle of the table. Other than with the other symbols, we do not decide for or against the pirate symbol, but we must mark the boxes in addition to our normal choice. Whenever the last box of a "pirate"-row is marked, it comes to a pirate attack. The pirates attack with a certain strength, and its exact value can be found next to the finished row (it increases with each following row). In this attack each player must sum up his defence strength to see whether he is able to ward off the attack. To defend ourselves, we can build soldiers to our city (again with the head symbols) and city walls with dice showing a wall symbol. Of course, this must be done before the attack. But if - despite all defensive efforts - our strength does not reach the pirate's strength, we will loose 5 Victory points as a result of the attack.

We have played some games in which the pirate attacks significantly influence the game result. Especially if a player concentrates on building defences early in the game, he can later use the pirate attacks to weaken his opponents. It should be noted here that dice showing the pirates symbol are not "locked", but they can be re-rolled with a player's second and third roll. Thus, you can try to roll as many pirate symbols as possible, if you think you are the only one who has the strength to withstand the attack. In other games, the pirates did not have much influence on the results, because all players had problems in building up enough defences or everybody was stronger than the pirates. Only if the players follow a different tactic it is clever to use the pirates to hamper the other players.

Saint Malo is a solid and catchy game from the successful Brand family. New players easily will find their way into the game. The first two or three rounds they will be awed and begin carefully to draw their first lines on the board, but afterwards they will simply enjoy the way to build up their cities. However, due to its specific design game materials like counters or figures are missing in Saint Malo. This leads to the question whether ALEA was on a tight budget when creating the game, or if the use of the pens is a move to make the game more interesting. I think the latter was the intention of the game designers, and I think it really worked well. However, a slight glitch can be seen in the fact that the enthusiasm damps with every new game. After some games, Saint Malo is reduced to its simple game concept. It still works fine, but there is nothing really new in this game. We have seen quite a lot of other games with dice and symbol elements in the last years, and in my opinion there are stronger games among these than Saint Malo. Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed playing Saint Malo, especially as a family game, but I think there is not enough substance to satisfy you over a longer period of time. So you best can take it for the last dance on a gaming session (if a dance of one hour is acceptable for your group). Especially the surprised stares from new players are worth to present it ever now and then!

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Copyright © 2013 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany