22 July 2019
In Swordcrafters you craft a sword. Out of cardboard, sadly, and the blade you’re going to create has a strange blocky quality that looks more like a child’s construction toy or something from a mid-‘90s Final Fantasy game, but it’s an actual 3D sword with four sides, each studded with gems in the way that regular swords aren’t. At all.
Put that aside for now. You’re going to make your sword by slotting cardboard tiles together, so the sword will have four sides. Essentially you’re building four columns, and the tiles you put on each side will depend on (1) what tiles you can get, (2) how long the other sides are and (3) what victory conditions you’re trying to complete. Here’s the nub of the game: it depends.
You get your tiles each turn by cutting them. Yes, it’s clever; mechanic as metaphor, all that. You lay out a random selection of tiles in a grid, then the first player splits it in two, horizontally or vertically, and the next splits one of the halves, and so on. Then you go round again, each taking one of the chunks. It’s a game version of that way of splitting cake between kids, and it works really well. There’s a huge first-player advantage, but that’s based on who takes one particular tile, so it all functions.
Then you build your sword, which is really satisfying. The tiles are robust, the grooves well cut; it all holds together surprisingly well. You can even swing it about a bit. No idea how long it’ll last, but I’m optimistic.
And then you score. In the basic version of Swordcrafters there are three ways of getting victory points: longest sword, sword quality (sets of gems per side) and sword magic (particular gem combos, on cards). This works fine. It’s a decent game in vanilla form, but this review is for the Expanded Edition. It contains so many Kickstarter stretch goals so that getting them all back in the box is a genuine struggle.
More importantly, it adds another three routes to victory points: sword mastery, relics and tips. The clever part is that you’re not supposed to use them all at once. You mix and match. The rulebook even includes advice on which ones work together particularly well.
Each one completely changes the tone of the game. The core cut-and-decide mechanic stays, but the combinations of gems you’re trying to create, either turn by turn or at the end of the game, goes upside down. Relics are particularly great, sword tips a little disappointing, but they all bring their own flavour and add longevity.
Swordcrafters looks like a kids’ game and it’s simple enough for the family, but there’s both breadth and depth here – and length too, because the funnest part is seeing who’s got the longest. Come for the displays of potence, stay for an intriguing and delightful game experience.
PLAY IT? – YES
Swordcrafters is packed with novelty, charm, intelligence and thick cardboard. It’s unique and a lot of fun.
Designer: Adam Rehberg, Chris Neuman
Artist: Rodrigo Camilo Alves De Almeida
Time: 20-30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products.