"The realm is safe for now...but the sword of protection was broken in battle. The King has called on you to help craft a new Sword of Protection. Craft the sword that will defend the realm!"
Designer: Adam Rehberg and Chris Newman
Artist: Rodrigo Camilo Alves De Almeida
Publisher: Adam’s Apple Games, LLC
Category: Abstract Strategy, Puzzle
Player Count: 1-5
Price: $35 for the base, $49 for the expanded edition
The Lord of the Rings. The Three Musketeers. Star Wars. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. You can toss a sabre in any direction and hit a pop culture touchstone where the main characters throw down with swords. Adam’s Apple Games has wisely tapped into that with their latest game, Swordcrafters. But instead of crossing rapiers at dawn, players will be slotting gems and putting together a 3D sword, competing with each other to replace the broken Sword of Protection. May the best crafter win!
There isn’t any objectionable content in Swordcrafters. Near the end of the game players will have a three-dimensional (albeit cardboard) sword, which some might feel tempted to “play” with or pretend to attack other players. The game advises against this.
Swordcrafters is not a complicated game. From the grid of available tiles, players take turns making “slices” which divide up the gems into groups. A slice can be horizontal or vertical, but cannot make a turn or cross through two separate groups of tiles. Once everyone has made a slice, the first player chooses a group of tiles, and it goes around the table until everyone has chosen. Then players slot the tiles into their swords. If a player picked up the tile with the forge on it, they become the new first player, and a new set of tiles is laid out. After six rounds, swords are scored based on their “quality” (the largest set of continuous matching gems) and “magic” (three objective cards that give points for different sets, pairs, differences, and number of gems). At times, it can be difficult to score your objectives on a three-dimensional sword. Six victory points are also given to the crafter with the longest sword.
It doesn’t sound like much—the rule book is two pages—but it’s easy to enjoy this game. I love games where you can craft something tangible, or create a visible difference in the play area or landscape. And it doesn’t get much more visible than making a (cardboard) sword. Adam’s Apple Games intentionally made the tiles from thick cardboard, knowing that they would take a little more wear and tear from being slotted in and out of swords every game. All of the pieces feel like they should last, and thankfully you don’t need to take apart the hilt of sword, which is two cardboard pieces for the grip slotted into a plastic pommel. The sword guards you can change out each game as they come with a gem slotted in them. It’s also worth noting that you don’t need to know any of this sword terminology to play or enjoy Swordcrafters.
The first player token carries a lot of weight since you not only get to make the first slice, but you also pick your tiles first. Often the groups of tiles left after all the slices are done aren’t even, and the last player to go may end up with only a couple tiles. Just because someone goes first a few times doesn’t guarantee anything, though, as the second and third players can easily get just as many tiles or thwart their plans. Also, players need to keep in mind the “magic” cards that act as objectives for all the players to attempt. These can easily sway the final score if players have been savvy with which tiles they’ve gotten over the course of the game. It’s not enough to just get a bunch of tiles if you’re not progressing your sword’s quality or getting ahead on the magic cards.
Included in the game are single-player rules, which pits the player against an opponent with a predetermined length and number of each gems. The backside of the single-player cards tell the player which slices to make (horizontal or vertical) and in what order. It’s not quite as much fun as playing with friends, but it’s a good primer to the game and lets players practice their crafting. On the last page of the rules, Swordcrafters includes a few different suggestions for variants including the single-player rules and dual-wielding. I would include a house-rule variant where the first player designation was more of a curse than a boon, and after making all the slices the round of choosing tiles went in reverse (so the first player makes the first slice, but chooses their tiles last).
Overall, Swordcrafters is an enjoyable, light game. The magic cards add a layer of complexity and have two different sides (basic and intermediate) for those looking for strategy. While it’s fun to craft and hold your sword aloft, shouting, “There can only be one!” or “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” I ended up being a little surprised at the simplicity of it all. Swordcrafters feels a lot more like Bejeweled than I expected, which I think will be a positive for some and a negative for others. I went into it imagining the scene from Return of the King where they forge Anduril, but left thinking more of the scene in Wreck-it-Ralph where they make Penelope’s race car.
A review copy was provided by Adam’s Apple Games
+ Light and easy to play
+ Get to craft and hold a sword
+ Magic cards add layer of strategy
- Might be too light for some
- Scoring a 3D sword can prove difficult
- Going last only gets you 2-3 tiles sometimes