Sniper Elite: The Board Game Review – good rules deliver endgame drama
I love my Sniper Elite like I love my grilled brisket – low and slow. Naturally, my biggest question when supporting this franchise in table form was how long a session would take. Could I complete a game in less time than it takes to fight my way through one of gaming’s lavish long-range banquets of death?
Well yes. From start to finish, which includes learning the board and playing on one of the two base maps for Sniper Elite: the board game, I completed a single player mission in about 90 minutes. With up to three additional players (controlling the Sniper and up to three patrols of three guards each), Sniper, designed by Roger Tankersley and David Thompson for Rebellion Unplugged, can still reach an hour or more, but the game has a preset time limit to prevent missions from continuing indefinitely. If the sniper cannot complete an objective within nine rounds of turn-based activity, he loses.
So the goal really isn’t to shoot and kill any of the officers or guards. It is simply a matter of reaching two points on the board before the time runs out. It’s a hidden moves game, in other words, and thanks to a few thoughtful rules, the Sniper player rarely ends a round completely undetected or unhindered. The net result is that most late game moves Sniper Elite: the board game may be a skin of the teeth proposition, where the same action earlier resulted in less suspense and less consequence.
The sniper tracks their movements using a small dry-erase card and a grease pen. The Defenders (by the way, there is no Nazi imagery in Sniper Elite: the board game) use tracking cubes to mark areas where the sniper may be. If the sniper moves two or three spaces – which he will need to do late in the game – he must inform a defending player that his nearby guards have heard something.
Fortunately, defenders aren’t limited to passive tactics to flush out the Sniper. They can use their turn to declare one of three actions that can reveal whether the Sniper is present in their sector, in three adjacent spaces, or in a single space next to them. Caught in the open, any attack against the Sniper automatically inflicts a wound; two injuries and it’s game over. Evasion is nearly impossible with two guards within attack range; if the Sniper is revealed, it usually becomes a tense showdown between you and me.
The sniper fires his weapon by naming the number of tokens he wants to remove from the shooting bag and then shooting them at random. The sniper bag tokens – Aim, Recoil, Noise and Suppression – combine to kill, thwart or even reveal the sniper’s position. This means players who pride themselves on being a one-shot, one-shot sniper should stay aware of bag odds. The game starts with six Aim tokens (needed to kill), three Knockback tokens (can waste a shot), and two Noise tokens (waste a shot). and give the location of the sniper). These are added and subtracted based on the results of other events leading up to the shot. (The solo version of Sniper Elite: the board game the player adds tokens to the shooting bag for an extended move, for example.)
All of this combines to deliver a very strong rhythm and tension. During one game, I took out a guard at the door of my first objective without revealing my position at all. But of course, I hadn’t considered the layout of this room, and my exit took much longer than expected. As the clock ticked, I was spotted by an officer standing in a railroad car three squares away in a direct line.
I needed three Aim tokens to kill him; I chose to randomly draw five tokens and only got two of the ones I needed. I didn’t have enough time for a second hit, so I fled. Luckily, everyone was covering potential objectives at the other end of the map; I was able to run towards my second objective without worrying about who was hearing me. If I had gotten up to fight the officer and probably received a wound in the process, I probably would have lost.
Playing with friends is preferable to playing solo, and doesn’t take much longer, even quibbling over what line of sight actually entails or losing track of where someone is or is supposed to be to be, what one would expect from a deck in which two cards are held. The single-player rules, by Dávid Turczi and Noralie Lubbers, are a fairly capable delivery of the core game’s core gameplay loop. But the random, card-driven way Defenders search in solo play can leave some wins feeling like a cheap chance of the draw.
The maps themselves are well-balanced and well-illustrated, with surprise choke points, slow-moving danger zones, and even high ground occasionally coming into play spontaneously. Once I realized that I was not, in fact, adjacent to a guard; I had scaled a catwalk, and the closest access was two spaces behind me, so I was well on my way to escaping. The 1 1/2-inch plastic miniatures are individualized and richly detailed, with no barrels or flimsy rifle appendages; you can attach colored discs to their base so you know which sector they are assigned to.
As a Sniper Elite fan for nearly a decade, Sniper Elite: the board game provides the same endorphin hit of satisfaction when I see someone first, eliminate them, and immediately move out with the rest of the patrol helpless to find me. I’d say it even reinforces some of those valuable lessons, especially about prioritizing objectives over kills, for the next time I pick up the video game. I spent about five hours on the first level of Elite Sniper 5 because I was trying to kill everyone. Sniper Elite: the board game revealed that killing isn’t necessary to have a good time.
Sniper Elite: the board game was reviewed with a final copy provided by Rebellion Unplugged. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.