WBG Score: 6/10
Player Count 2-4
Published by: Exclusive Games
Designed by: Pierre Crouet
Have you heard of the Gadianton robbers? No, me neither! Well, a quick google search has taken me to the most reliable source on all things on the internet, Wikipedia. I am now reliably informed that they were a secret criminal organisation from Central America referenced in the Book of Mormon. Check it out here.
OK, history lesson over, let's talk about the game.
Gadianton is from first time designer Pierre Crouet. The idea of the game is that you play as one of the Gadianton thieves. You are trying to sneak into the city, steal some crowns, and get back to the safety of the jungle before the guards stop you.
Once the board is laid out, place the four guards onto their spots around the center of the city. Deal each player two actions cards and the chosen amount of crown objective cards. You can take more or less depending on how long a game you want. This is entirely up to you but there is a suggestion on the outside of the box, not the rules strangely, to guide you based on player count and desired game length. The crown objective cards will show you a coloured crown that you need to steel from the city and bring back to the forest.
Each player will then place their chosen colour of robber onto an outside red space and the game can begin.
How to play
On your turn, you will roll two dice. The regular six sided movement dice and also a second dice that determines who moves. The movement dice will show an image of a robber, or a robber and a guard with or without a line between them, telling you if you are moving just yourself, yourself and the guards, or yourself or the guards.
Your aim is to move into the central spaces, pick up a coloured key, followed by a crown of the same colour, and then return the crown back to any outside red space in the forest. You will do this for each crown objective card you have. Key first, then crown. Then run away! On your turn, you can play any two action cards you may have to boost your move, before drawing one more action card and the play then passes to the next player.
The components for this game are very nice. Out of the box, you need to add stickers to the guard and thief pawns. But it's fairly simple, although the stickers are not quite sticky enough in truth and do need a good hard press down.
Each thief comes with its own set of three "crowns." These are used to represent specific actions such as hiding or putting a guard to sleep, and they fit nicely onto the top of the pieces. But when done, they do look neat! Look, I even lined the stickers up!
Playing the game is very simple. Like many roll-and-move games, there is limited strategy to be deployed, and a lot of luck based on the die roll. The variety in this game comes from the other movement die which dictates who you can move. In our first few games, we only ever moved ourselves, largely ignoring the guards. Rushing to get the crowns we needed and then out of town! This does not lead to a fun game. Its just a race, with dice rolls determining who wins.
In later games, we realised you did need to mix your movement up, and control the guards too. It is interesting how the guards only move when you as the player wants to move them. And if one player starts to move one or two guards around, in an attempt to scupper your plans, you really need to start thinking about doing the same in retaliation. But in truth, if all players avoid this, you can create a quicker and simpler, but also quite dull game. However, if all players embrace the guards, then there is a LOT more game here.
There are 12 ways in and out of the city, and the game gives players four doors you can use to block these. The doors can only be moved or opened with the door card as one of your actions on your turn. You will usually only ever have a couple of cards in your hand and there are only a few door cards, so as much as this is a nice addition, it just doesn't happen enough in the game. Being able to use the doors to block another player is very hard. Even if you do get a card and are able to place one, your opponent can either use a card themselves to move it, or simply move towards another exit which will not be that far away. It will rarely slow down your opponents, if at all. I think you either need more doors, more door cards, or less ways in and out of the city.
I like the idea of messing with the other players though. I just wish this was easier to do in the game, and more encouraged. There are two ways you can fight other players to take their crowns, if they have one, or make a guard do this for you. If you are ever next to another player you can embark in hand to hand combat. Although this is sadly just a dice roll off. Or more interestingly, you can shoot an arrow at another player using a very cool distance measuring system based on your attack die roll.
The issue here is you need to get to one of the orange guard towers and have an arrow action card to do this. The guard towers are located in-between the entrances and exits to the city and so are a little out of the way. With only a D6 to control your movement, every movement space counts. And then of course, if you do sacrifice your movement to move yourself or a guard to a guard tower space, your opponent can anticipate this and simply move out of range, knowing you can only shoot a certain distance. But even if there is no time for that, you still as the attacker need to roll high enough to reach them. The risk/reward just doesn't quite work for me, and so I started to avoid even trying to do this which is a massive shame.
Other action cards available allow you to slow other players down by forcing them to miss a turn, which is a good way to try and shoot someone. Stopping them from running away You can also gain a master key meaning you can claim any colour crown without first picking up the right key from the board. But there is also another card that really makes heading to the guard towers such an avoidable tactic. You can play a card that breaks an opponent's bow before they even shoot but after they commit to trying to fire at you. I understand the designer wanted to give some control to the defending player, but there is so little incentive for the attacking player to even try, this seemed like the wrong choice. We need more cards to help the attacking player, not the defending one.
I love the art though, and the clear, text free cards do look great. It does mean you will use the reference guide in the rule book for the first game to remind you what they all mean. But there are only 12 cards and they all make sense. Below you can see a card that allows you to add two extra movement points to your dice roll, and one that lets you sneak through gaps in the city wall. They are all mostly self explanatory.
Essentially this is a race game using dice to control your movement. Roll-and-move is not a very popular mechanic, and I feel that if you are going to make a game using this as your main part of the game, then you need to bring something clever and new to the table. Or at the very least have some other ways to mitigate your luck from the dice. This game does have a +2 card for movement and a plus 2 for fighting, but I don't think this is enough. There are quite a lot of the movement cards in the deck, so you will get them a lot. But I feel the game could do with more things to help other than just these cards. Perhaps areas on the board that activate certain things. Spaces you could go to that allow you to increase your movement, or take more shortcuts. The game needs more take-that, and more encouragement to interact with other players and the guards. Perhaps there could be a variation where someone plays as the guards Hunt for Mr X style. Or maybe it is just me and the way we were playing it?
I enjoyed the race element of this game. It certainly creates a nice level of tension which I do enjoy in games. Tension often comes from a race or luck based games, and this is certainly present from both of these factors. he main issue I have with the game is that alongside the tension comes either satisfaction from winning, or frustration from losing. That may sound simple, but most games for me don't punish the loser as much as this game. Anyone who has played a game with me would testify to the fact that I really don't care if I win or lose. But losing this game is just annoying.
On one occasion, I was one space from victory. I had collected two of my three required crowns, and was in possession of my third. I needed a roll of four to get to the final spot and win. I was close to another player in a similar situation as we had previously tried to interfere with each other. I rolled a three and had no +2 card so ended my turn one space from victory. The other player then battled me on their turn, won through no more than a higher attack roll than me, and disposed me of my crown. They took the crown for themselves, as they luckily had the same objective for the same coloured crown. They subsequently won one turn later, moving with my crown to their final space. I was still a good few turns away from being close to finishing my task essentially having to start the search for my third crown again. All the work I had done to get the final crown being made irrelevant with one dice roll. This just felt disheartening to me and the winning player said it felt unjust and unsatisfactory for them to win this way.
If it was a short game, fine. Rack 'em up and go again. But this was the end of a 50 minute game and left me feeling quite dejected and the other player awkward and like the game had ended when they had not deserved it. If you like this sort of take-that, and all players buy into this, then I can see this game being a real hit. But for me, it left me not really wanting to play without some house rules that would stop this happening again.
Overall, this is a nearly game for me. It has great art. I love the theme. But I think it could perhaps have benefited from more play-testing to find its place a little more. There are so many games made every week, it is hard for each one to stand out. The standard for games has moved on at an incredible rate, which is a good thing. This game 20 years ago could have been a real hit, and even today with a few tweaks could still do the same. But it definitely lacks something for me to cut it in the current climate of games. That said. If you are a fan of roll-and-move games, this has a genuinely absorbing theme and interesting implementation of the way the guards move. And there certainly is a lot of tension created from the race to the end.