Sanssouci is a tile laying game set in the Prussian palace gardens of the same name. It’s designed by Michael Kiesling and published by Ravensburger.
Players are tasked with laying out a formal garden including summer houses, woods and mazes, by drafting 9 different types of tile from a common pool. The player with the highest score wins. Games last no more than 45 minutes and cater for 2 to 4 players.
The game’s components are very high quality, with some of the thickest tiles I have ever seen. If the tiles were a little smaller and a bit thicker they would be cubes. The only negative is the half sized cards, but they are only shuffled at the start, so I don’t see this as much of a failing.
Each player gets one of the, (slightly different), garden boards, places their nobles at the top of the board and takes their 18 garden cards. The garden tiles are shuffled, (there are extra tiles for higher player counts), piled face down onto the central board and laid face up to make the initial pool. Finally the player markers are placed on the score track and everyone is dealt two personal goals. These goal cards give a bonus based on the end game position of two of your nobles.
How do you grow your garden? Sanssouci is a very formal place. The 9 columns take one of the 9 types of garden only, e.g herb or rose, and the 6 rows are colour coded. In the game your options are tied down tight and the player who best finds a bit of room inside the straitjacket is going to win.
Here’s what you do on each turn. Feel free to marvel at the restrictions:
- You draw two cards and play one. The card will either have two colours on it or a type of garden, oh and there is one wild card (whoop!).
- 10 garden tiles are laid in twos across five colours. Pick one dictated by the colours on the card or the type of garden depicted.
- Place your chosen tile. It has to go in the column that matches the garden type and the row colour has to match up too. In other words: there is just one space that your selected tile can go.
- Move one of your nobles down the garden to score points. It can be any of your nobles. They have to finish in the column they started in and can’t pass through any unfinished bits of the garden, (unfinished gardens are bad for your opera slippers). The further down the garden your noble gets, the more points they score.
- Deal yourself one new card and place a new tile on the central board.
So far, so limiting! Fortunately the designer threw in two rule breaking tweaks:
- If there are no tiles that match your garden card you get a free choice as if you had a wild card.
- If the tile space in your garden is already filled, then you can flip the tile over to its gardener side and place it anywhere in the same column or row. A noble can pass through a gardener tile, but not finish a move on it. This is a good way of linking bits of your garden or finishing rows and columns for end game bonuses.
Making best use of these two tweaks is the key to winning the game. Getting as many free selections as you can is going to get your nobles down the board, where they score more points and free you up to fill rows and columns.
Play continues until you run out of cards and tiles. Final scoring adds bonuses for completed columns and rows as well as points for your personal goals.
Playing with Three
The game plays well with 2 to 4 players. There might be a little more waiting time in a 4 player game, but it’s not really noticeable. The amount of interaction in the game is zero, so adding more players in doesn’t introduce a take that mechanic as you fight over the potting compound.
How easy is it to teach the game?
A turn has a rigid structure; play a card, pick a tile, place a tile, move a noble, draw a new tile for the pool. This makes it pretty easy to teach.
Can complexity be scaled?
If you wanted to make this more friendly for a younger child you could skip the tweaks and make the placement in the garden a bit more free form.
Can you handicap other players? Do you need to?
A points handicap of -10 would level the playing field.
How likely is your child to flip the table half-way through?
Your table is safe. This is a peaceful game, that is occasionally frustrating when the right tile won’t turn up until the end of the game.
What do I think?
Sanssouci is a fairly light game. It’s not going to tax your brain for hours, but it will provide some good entertainment and tight scoring. I think of it as a push-your-luck puzzle game. There aren’t enough tiles to complete your garden and you’re not guaranteed to get the right tiles in the right place. This throws some interesting decisions your way. Do I complete a row, or try and get my nobles down that little bit further? Can I force a gardener tile in to create routes for my nobles?
If you want an experience that replicates the heady joys and mechanics of garden design, this may not be the game for you, (even though the artwork is delightfully detailed). On the flip side, if you like to play a game accompanied by a sweet sherry and a shortbread, then it’s worth checking out. Is it exciting? No. Is it innovative? No, but it does it deliver a light thinkiness with close finishes. Perfect when you want to wind down of an evening.