24 October 2022
World War II Sniper duels meet battleships
Scope Stalingrad takes place during the Second World War and sees German and Soviet troops engaged in tense battles in the ruins of Stalingrad. Your aim is to either reach a certain number of objective points or to take out all your opponent’s snipers.
Scope’s production is, in a word, perfunctory. The two decks are compromised of a mix of stock images and the occasional cropped black & white photo. The graphic design is readable but lacks character or atmosphere. In an era of crowdfunding-led component bloat, it’s certainly good to see games dispensing with unnecessary miniatures or expensive first-player markers, but here the art style feels undercooked rather than crisply minimalist – a functional prototype rather than something you feel excited about unboxing and laying out on the table.
The core Battleships-esque dynamic is easily grasped: lay out your cards facedown in a grid (you can play longer, more complicated games by using bigger formations) then you take turns either switching the positions of some of your cards, or taking a shot at your opponent. When you fire, you pick a facedown card in your opponent’s grid and reveal it. If it was one of their soldiers, that card gets removed from the game. If it turns out to be an empty area or a decoy, the shot missed.
Either way, the player who fired must place a ‘BANG!’ card over a 4-card quadrant of their grid containing at least one of their snipers. This represents the noise of the shot giving away a sniper’s rough position. Now, when your opponent returns fire, they have at least a 1-in-4 chance of taking out one of your snipers. So by risking an attack, you’re weakening your own position.
It’s a neat mechanic that doesn’t get to shine in the basic game. The only move you can make to advance your position is shooting, you don’t feel the tension of whether you ought to risk a shot now. You literally have no choice. In the advanced version of the rules, it works better. Certain cards function as scouts – which get to reveal cards without giving away their position – as machine guns or mortars – which attack like snipers but with limited range, and they’re exposed when they attack – or your officer, which gives you an extra move to switch card positions. You can even rush the enemy’s position with infantry.
This means that exposing your sniper is a choice rather than a necessity. While your officer is alive, you can fire your mortar – which gives away its exact position – then move it to one of the adjacent zones (or bluff and keep it where it is). While you have scouts, you can peek at enemy cards without giving away any information at all. Losing your officer feels like a genuine disaster – it means you can’t move your machine gun or mortar after firing them, which all but guarantees they’ll get sniped.
The instruction booklet suggests various ‘scenarios’, compromising different unit compositions and objectives, as well as different sizes of playing field. What with these plus basic and advanced modes, it can take a while to get a sense of what the core game actually is, and where best to start. It would have been helpful – and perhaps the creators or fans will make this in time – to have a series of missions that combined the various possibilities into a coherent campaign with gradually progressing complexity.
An entirely facedown tableau is a bit fiddly when you’re dealing with this many units. You’ll find yourself continually picking up cards while trying to shield them from your opponent. It shows why a classic like Stratego opted for playing pieces with the unit pictured on one side instead.
For a game built from two 30-card decks containing only 8 distinct cards, Scope manages to concoct a surprisingly fun little guessing game of positional warfare. But whereas compact card game designs like Love Letter or Button Games’ wallet series use restriction as an asset, in this game it feels a bit thin, like we’re getting the skeleton of a great game but no meat.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Sniper Elite…
Sniper Elite is the other obvious thematic cousin: Scope is far more basic, but also quicker, with a shorter setup and teardown, so if your only opportunities for warfare are bitesized, it might fit the bill.
Designer: Juan A Nácher
Publisher: Draco Ideas
Time: 25-40 minutes
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