A review of Saint Malo from Ravensburger

Saint Malo is designed by Inka and Markus Brand — designers of the Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Village — and published by Ravensburger.  In this dice rolling, city building game, players roll dice (Yahtzee style) to place items, locations and people into their city. However, unlike other city building games, Saint Malo has dropped all the components (no tiles or cubes) and instead makes some innovative use of dry erase markers and templates. It plays 2-5 players, and takes about 45 minutes to play although it  can go to about an hour with larger player counts. The game is heavy on luck and tactical choices and despite the markers, no artistic ability is needed!



The Rules

This game is a simple implementation of a city building game without sacrificing too much complexity. There is very little in the box: a central board to track pirate raids, 5 player boards to build your individual cities, markers to draw where buildings and people will go and dice to roll and determine what items you can place during a turn. Setup is a breeze: Place the main board in the middle, give each player a marker and a player board. Give the youngest player the five dice and off you go.

Similar to King of Tokyo/New York, Bang!: The Dice Game, Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, and D-Day Dice, on your turn you roll all five dice, keep the ones you want and then reroll the rest for up to three rolls.The dice have six symbols — a log, a crate, a wall, a cross, a head, and crossed swords.  As a quick aside: There are no locking dice in this game. No result is stuck and locked in place: Everything can be rolled again. When you roll a crossed swords (representing the pirates getting closer to a raid) it doesn’t lock and it can be rerolled. If you aren’t happy with your final roll, it costs two gold per die to flip them to a desired result. I like to think of this as bribing town officials. It provides a nice little thematic bump.

Quickly, let us review the symbols on the dice and your options on your turn. After you roll you  choose one result rather than resolving all the results as in Bang! The Dice Game. This makes it more similar to Biblios: The Dice Game (or Scripts and Scribes) except minus the dice drafting. Whatever, here you go.

  1. Logs: Draw the number of resulting logs into your lumber storage (there are two logs preprinted on your board already). These logs are worth victory points at the end of the game and can be used during the game to build houses with an architect. It costs 2 gold to transport the logs using this action so make it worth your while and wait until you get a nice bunch of logs.  
  2. Crates: Draw the number of resulting crates on your board (there are four already preprinted on the board). The crates rolled (not the ones previously placed) must be placed next to each other. Good crates generate one gold per crate when you place a merchant next to them (or diagonally). Gold can be used to flip dice, transport logs, and are worth victory points at the end of the game at a ratio of 2:1.
  3. Walls: Walls can only be added to the outer perimeter of your city. You draw the number of walls rolled anywhere on that outer perimeter. Once a side is completed with all walls (you can build or place other things on the perimeter) a bonus is gained (two gold, 3 VP, or a level 1-3 personage is added to your city). But most importantly the uninterrupted wall will help protect your city from pirate raids.
  4. Crosses: These let you build a single church of varying “strength.” You’ll place a number from 1-5 corresponding with number of crosses rolled. Churches in sequential order are worth points at the end of the game.
  5. Heads: Rolling heads allows you to add people of increasing importance to your city. One head lets you place a citizen for one VP. Two heads allows you to add a soldier (which increases your protection against pirate attack) or a priest (which allows you to score points if placed adjacent to a church). Three heads allows you to add an architect (which uses logs to build houses and score increasing amounts of points — 3, 6, 9, 12) or a merchant (which provides one gold per adjacent goods crate). Four heads add a juggler for two points per adjacent personage type and five heads add a noble who does absolutely nothing but gives you 7 points.
  6. Pirates: Lastly, for any crossed swords at the end of a roll, you tick off one box on the main board. When a row is filled (this differs for the amount of people playing) the pirates come and attack everyone. If you have enough defense to beat the (ever increasing) strength of the pirates, you stave off the attack and suffer no penalty. If you are not strong enough you cross off a cannon off your board which reminds you to deduct five points at the end of the game for every cannon crossed off. You build your defenses with soldiers (+1) and uninterrupted walls (+2).

The dice are rolled up to three times and you choose which of the above symbol to use. So on your turn you can either build a wall, build a church, place a person, place crates, or ship logs to your warehouse. Impetuous pirate symbols are recorded no matter what.

The game is over after one player fills in all 45 of their board spaces. The round continues until everyone has one last turn and the end game points are tallied and added to the incidental points throughout the game (priest, citizens, jugglers, architects, nobles).

  • +5 for having filled all your city spaces
  • +1 for every two coins left in your coffers
  • +1 per log you have left in your warehouse,
  • +1-20 for church series,
  • and a -5 penalty for each cannon crossed off.  

Player with the most points, wins!


The Review

The Reduction of Components: Both a blessing and curse, the components are reduced in Saint Malo. Mostly this is done by a clever utilization of erasable boards and dry erase markers rather than physical components. The box is missing all the cubes, tiles, monies, and assorted goodies standard in a modern board game. This simplification is wonderful in terms of presenting, teaching and playing the game. It works. The dice provide a nice tactile experience and all your bookkeeping is right in front of you. However, the quality of markers is pretty low. They don’t draw well (the ink bubbles and wells up) and if you are a lefty (like myself) you constantly smear everything across the board. This isn’t a huge issue if you replace the markers in the box with something of a better quality.

Dual Scoring: I love games that score points immediately and then score them at the end of the game. It is a very simply way of adding more strategy to the game without adding too much complexity. The pirates also provide a good foil (similar to feeding your tribe in Stone Age or your family in Agricola) and if you don’t keep up your defenses you can lose some serious points. However, loss of cannons and the resulting 5 point end of game point deduction doesn’t kill your chances, you can start trying to rack up big points with jugglers, nobles, or churches to balance it out. This combination of long and short term strategy and tactical thinking (with the random dice rolls) provide a good second step game for people already warmed up to the concept of modern board games.

Very Accessible: The rules are easily explained and after a couple of practice turns, first time gamers will easily get a feel for the mechanic and the rules. If you were looking at introducing someone to the yahtzee mechanism I would recommend Saint Malo over some of the others I mentioned (especially King of Tokyo, where player elimination can hamper the enjoyment of the game for first timers). However, it is a very dry game and will limited player interaction may not have the legs to keep it on the table for repeated play.

The Rub

Saint Malo is a very simple game: Roll the dice a total of three times. Save the dice you want to keep and reroll the ones you don’t. Melding the tile-laying and city building of games such as Carcassonne with the popular Yahtzee mechanism of Bang! The Dice Game or King of Tokyo, results in a satisfying game with minimal components that is perfect for first time gamers but may not have the legs to keep it at the table for too long.
saint malo

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