A Review of Sleeping Gods

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Sleeping Gods is a cooperative exploration and campaign game with an adventure/story book! We were just talking about Sleeping Gods last week in our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games and it made the #5 spot! Well, it did arrive this week and we have been playing the heck out of it! It also arrived with an expansion: the Tides of Ruin (see below).

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Even though the box says 2-4 Players (see below), the game does have a solo mode.

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The art is very “Ryan Laukat” and this is obviously another beautiful game from Red Raven games.

Unboxing

This game is CHOCK FULL of beautiful components.  But, at the end of the day, it’s really a storybook game.  See the massive storybook below.

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The Storybook is thick and full of text and story.

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You explore map that comes out:

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This is also an exploration game: you go to locations on the map and slowly explore this world.

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There are SO MANY cards, boxes, tokens, containers.  It’s actually a bit daunting.

First Play

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Luckily, there’s a quick start guide in this book.  You can play through a walkthrough, then a few parts of the introductory scenario without having to “really” get into the rulebook. 

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Basically, you play as the crew of the ship Manticore, exploring this world.  Now, you are always playing a FULL CREW of 8! No matter how many people you have, there are always 8 characters of the crew (see above) in play.

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Take a look above at my first set-up.  You can see the map, the exploration book, the 8 members of the crew, the rulebook, the quickstart, some tokens and cards, the ship board, and a bunch of other cards in the box to the left. THERE ARE A LOT OF COMPONENTS!

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The intro scenario did a pretty good job of walking you through one game.  It wasn’t perfect: I had a few questions as I played and some of the phrasing was confusing.  I’ve said this before: after the Tainted Grail first play, I think I am little spoiled!  The Tainted Grail walk through was so good!  Don’t get me wrong, I am very glad for the Sleeping Gods walk through.  I was up and playing my first few rounds pretty quickly.   It gave me a “sense” of the game.  Unlike Tainted Grail, where I felt more confident to dive into the game, I actually felt a bit intimidated after the walk through … (foreshadowing) … there seem to be an awful lot of rules to keep track of!

Rulebook

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The rulebook is  … good enough. It’s fairly well laid-out.  It does the components on the first few pages:

It felt like the components pages could have been a little better.  There are SO MANY components to this game, and a lot of times the components page didn’t seem to describe everything.  It was fine, I got through it and the unboxing and putting it together.  It just seemed a little … incomplete. 

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I hate to say it, but the rules felt a little incomplete over all.  I think the Index (see above) is an indicator.  I went looking for all sorts of things in the index, and they were never there.  So, I ended up SO MANY TIMES just searching the rulebook for what I wanted.

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Don’t get me wrong, I learned the game from the rulebook.  It’s fairly easy to read.  I just think the rulebook skimps on a lot of edge conditions.  For example: when it describes the combat (later on), it seems like it just describes “the basics” of the rules and puts all the elaborations of the rules in the examples.  I’m all for great examples (which the game has), but instead of actually explaining a few rules it simply deferred to the examples … “Here: this will show you how it works: I am not going to try to describe it”.  For instance, I felt like the “slashing” element of combat was poorly described.  I had soooo many questions about how it worked, but the rules were minimal.  I sorta gleaned how “slashing” worked in the examples.  You might say, “Why are you complaining!! You understand it now, right?”  Yes and No. Because I got an operational definition of the rules, but that doesn’t help me internalize what the ACTUAL rules are: it’s just how they are applied in the few examples.  An operational definition takes up more intellectual capacity than a simple abstract explanation.

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In the end, what killed this game for me was how many times I said to myself: “Argh, where is that rule?”

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I learned the rules.  The rulebook looked good.  I could play the game. 

Solo Game

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Not sure why the box says 2-4: The game very easily sets-up as a solo player.  The solo player takes control of all 8 crew members.  The main scaling difference is that the ship board has two sides: one side for 1-2 players, and the other for 3-4 players.  This just controls how many resources (usually command tokens) you get per turn. See below.

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What is this game?

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At its core, Sleeping Gods has four main elements:

  1. It’s a campaign game: the game keeps going.  You can’t really just sit-down and play a one-off session easily.  You have to continue the story where you last left off.
  2. It’s a Storybook game, where you explore the world (on your ship, using the map) and read from a Storybook, either overcoming challenges or engaging in combat.
  3. The crew overcomes challenge
  4. The crew engages in deadly combat

As the game unfolds, the players move around on the map, take encounters from the storybook, and either engage in a challenge or combat.

Challenges

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The challenges are fairly straight-forward: you get a difficulty and type: say you need SAVVY 5 to overcome a puzzle.  You commit some of you characters: each one you commit gives you +1, but it costs FATIGUE (too much FATIGUE and you are useless).  Draw a card: if the cards + your SAVVY extra is over, you overcome! Otherwise something bad happens.   The card above shows a 6, so we didn’t actually have to commit any crew members to help! 

At the end of the day, the cards you choose are numbered from 1-6, so it’s essentially like rolling a 6-sided die.

If you spend too much FATIGUE, your crew becomes useless and you have to head back to port wasting time.  If you spend too little FATIGUE, the challenges will overwhelm you and the FAILURE EFFECTS will start to catch up with you. 

It can be a bit daunting to figure out when you should spend FATIGUE and when you shouldn’t. 

And it’s soooooo slow to heal fatigue unless you have gold ….

Combat

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Combat is this game is very interesting.  When you fight, you “slash” and do damage across the grid at the bottom of the card: it’s an “abstract” representation of the body! So, if you do, say 4 damage, you have to put all damage in adjacent squares.  It represents the “continuous motion” of an attack, which is real interesting!

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You can see the results after a few attacks.   You can “also” hit the neighbor too!!  If you want, you can do damage to an adjacent monster on an adjacent square! It’s as if your “slash” started at one monster and ended on the other.  

I have to admit, I’ve never seen this before!  I thought this was a real original idea!!  I kind of liked it!

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As combat happens, you “pass off” the combat to one of your comrades: once you have spent all 4 of your combat tokens, the monster (if still alive) may attack.  There’s even an interesting idea that you can “spur on” your comrades and give them plusses as well!  See the token below?  If she hits the monster and “damages” a diamond square on the monster, she can pass her token (which gives +2 to hit) to her next comrade!

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Combat works like challenges: you have to overcome their difficulty to hit and do damage: again, think of rolling a 6-sided die.

Although I like the “slash” idea, it wasn’t very clearly explained in the rules.  And after doing combat a few times, I felt a little drained.  Combat is a lot of work.

Quests

The core of the game is the quests and the exploration.  As you explore the world, you’ll get quest cards that help direct where you go next.  This is BIG WORLD with a lot of quests and a lot of things to explore.

Why I Don’t Like This Game

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I have been playing Sleeping Gods many times over the past week.  I have left it set-up on my table so that I could go play every few hours.  Every time I played, I would grumble to myself and say “I hate this game.” Why?

  1. Randomness.  There is too much randomness.  There’s randomness in the Fate flips (it’s equivalent to rolling a 6-sided die), there’s randomness in the event deck (What evil thing do I have to deal with?), there’s randomness in the storybook.  Every turn, randomness just pours down on you.  There are ways to mitigate some of that randomness, but the cost is often too high (see Scarce Resources below)!  I can’t tell you how many times I just “took” the event without even trying because the costs just seem so high. 
  2. Not enough Choice.  When you go to do your 2 actions on the ship board, you have four choices.  But do you?  I did market choice maybe once (because I never had enough gold, see Scarce Resources below) and Port just a couple of times: but you can ONLY do those two actions if you are on a space with a market or port!!! So, 99% of the time,  you just travel or explore.  It costs fatigue if you want to go more than 1 space at a time, and many times spending the fatigue wouldn’t matter if you rolled low!  And then, exploration brings up a random event which usually beats you up literally or figuratively (see Randomness above).  I wanted/needed a “rest” action, or “hunt” action or anything that would have help me plan more.  (You can sorta get the first action, but you can’t do it again).
  3. Scarce Resources. In the hours and hours I played, I never once felt like I had any surplus of resources.  I was ALWAYS just barely scraping by!  My most sensational moment was when I beat a demon and got 5 gold … which I think HAD to spend ALL OF IT back at port to heal the five party members who were dead/close to death.  There’s other ways to heal, but they are all so slow!!!   The command tokens allow you to do things, but they were always so scarce!  A random encounter would beat you up (“Hey, you get bit by a snake. Take a venom.”), and then you’d spend your command tokens just to deal with the repercussions of that event.  I would have an encounter and get beat up, and go back to port, spending almost ALL of my resources to get my crew back up to snuff.  I never felt like I was doing even thing but barely keeping my up.
  4. Work.  This game felt like work.  I felt like I was doing my taxes.  I was hoping that feeling would go away after a few hours of playing and familiarity, but no, it didn’t.  There were always so many tokens to keep track of (command, fatigue) and 8 characters (!) to manage and ability cards and the ship board and the event deck and the adventure book and the so many little rules.  The game has so many little fiddly rules to keep track of: this is why it feels like doing taxes: “I need a command token which I get next turn, but the doctor had command tokens already on his board so I have to clean his board so I can heal the snake byte, but only if I have enough command tokens.”  Every action seemed to have so many preconditions and governing rules, it just felt like work keeping track of all it (consulting the rulebook and just following up and managing the tokens).
  5. No Stand Up Moments.  I played all the way through the first  event deck.  There were no stand-up moments where I cried “Hurray!”  Even after beating the demon, I just sighed inwardly because I knew I had to heal my crew, and it was going to cost everything I had.  I just always felt like I was barely keeping afloat: I did not have fun.
  6. No Sense of Humor.  This game is very serious.  That’s fine and dandy, but the lack of a sense of humor just reinforces how much this game feels like work. 

This game is not for me.  I don’t like living in this world.  I like games where I can do some planning and try to do my best to mitigate the randomness. Sleeping Gods is just too random for me. All I did was keep the randomness under control to keep a steady state, but there was very little growth.  I realized I was done with this game for good when it completely discarded all the ability cards I had installed onto my characters at the end of the first “round” (first time through the event deck)!  I had scraped and struggled to install even a few abilities, and it just took it ALL away without warning.  And this kind of thing happened ALL THE TIME.   I felt like I made no progress and I was frustrated. I had no fun.

Conclusion

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Sleeping Gods is a beautiful game with beautiful graphic design and beautiful components. The First Play book is good (although not quite as good as Tainted Grail), allowing you to get into the game quickly. The rulebook is decent/”good enough”. The world created by Ryan Laukat shows a lot of care and imagination!! The storybook, which explores this world, is chock full of neat little vignettes that are fun to read. A lot of people on BoardGameGeek really like this game: if you go here and see, it (at the time of this writing) Sleeping Gods has an overall rating of 8.8/10. A lot of people (in their comments) even say this is Ryan Laukat’s best game!

I personally do not like this game and plan to sell it as soon as possible. It’s too random, there’s too little choice, the resources are too scarce, the game feels like work, and there’s no stand-up moments that make me emote. BUT: I am in the minority here! Please temper my reaction with other reviews you might find on BoardGameGeek.

If you are looking for a Storybook game, look instead to the Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games for alternatives! You’ll notice that I do recommend another Ryan Laukat game in there: Near and Far! If you want a completely silly game with a sense of humor where you don’t care if it’s too random (because you just like living in that world), I would recommend The House of Danger.

6 thoughts on “A Review of Sleeping Gods

  1. I feel so relieved to read your review! I’ve anticipated this game so much, pretty sure it would be the game of the decade for me, so excited when I finally got my hands on it and then I played it….big crash. I feel exactly the same as you in all points. It’s like I am being punished for expecting too much… this is soooo frustrating!! And what adds to the frustration is this promess of an immense story/adventure (seeing the size of the storybook) that you will never get to live because of how painful it is to play the game, and how much work is needed to go through just a couple of quests (I think I will just go through the story ignoring challenges before I get rid of the game). How could you want to go through new games after the drag the first one was?! This is a huge disappointment and the game has so many obvious flaws that I was really questionning my reviewing ability when I saw its success on BGG. So thanks for your review!!

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  2. Well, more and more people seem to notice that the game isn’t that happy go lucky adventure game.

    The first things I noticed were the 4 port actions. They should have been on the ship card.

    Laukat posted even an Easy mode to mitigate it a bit, but the straitjacket of command token flow already depresses me.

    It almost feels like he stole the idea from someone else but didn’t fully understand the gameplay.

    The fact they fucked up the rulebook and published errata before I got the box.

    Clearly this game has not been tested at all. Previous iterations were tested sure, but not the final one.

    Also the storage boxes: you must remember or look up in the rulebook what goes where. Why no content text on them?

    I’ll just houserule that any port action is free.

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      1. Also, you played on Normal mode, not easy mode.

        There’s also walk in the park mode, simply declare every combat a victory but discard an event card. That way you can simply enjoy the story.

        That said, the mixups with I vs 1. Page numbers on a CYOA book that make zero sense instead of section ranges on the bottom, too much table footprint, having to write fixes on adventure and market cards and in the rulebook, it’s a failed product.

        So why am I keeping it? Because after all those fixes the diamond inside shines.

        The most common mistake is approaching this as a board game. It’s not. It stands on its own and is best enjoyed like a 8yo with his very first LEGO set: curious.

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      2. When I first played it, which was right after it came out, i didn’t know of an easy mode: I think the easy mode was an online ruleset. ( I don’t have the game anymore, so I can’t check).
        So, I could only judge it using the rules as given. Having said that, I could see the game maybe being funner in an easy mode.

        Liked by 1 person

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