Sanctum Board Game Review & Ultimate Guide

The once-great city of Sanctum held a secret long-forgotten beneath its feet… the Jade Sarcophagus. Trapped within is the demon lord Malghazar who was imprisoned and forgotten. 

The city of Sanctum has fallen quiet now as reports begin appearing of monsters and demons on its borders. 

Four brave adventurers head towards the city of Sanctum. 

Sanctum
  • Dice Manipulation
  • Inspired by "Hack & Slash" genre of video games.
  • Build your hero as best as you can to defeat the Demon Lord

Brief Overview of Sanctum

Sanctum Board Game

Sanctum takes its inspiration from the hack-n-slash genre of video games. It definitely gives off a Diablo II vibe. 

That being said it’s a weird mixture of dungeon-crawl, dice, and RPG mechanics that meshes amazingly well together. 

Up to 4 players will fight their way through demon-infested lands to the heart of the city where the Demon Lord has taken hold. Although everyone takes on the Demon Lord together, only the player with the most health at the end can be crowned the victor. 

Versions & Expansions

Did your gaming buddies flake-out at the last minute? No worries. Czech Games just put out the print-n-play rules for single players.

They’ve done a fantastic job rebalancing the rules for only one adventurer and still manage to have a prebuilt difficulty-setting. There are some minor differences in how the game is played but the major difference is how the final boss plays out. The more you rest throughout the course of the game, the harder the final boss will be. 

Thematically, that’s fantastic. If a hero in a story said, “Nah, I’ll get there when I get there. There’s too much loot to be bothered fighting the boss now.” then, of course, the Big Bad Evil whatever is going to gain a ton of power while it’s hanging out in its evil lair. It definitely brings a sense of urgency and challenge to the game. 

The solo rules can be found directly from CGE’s website here.

Unboxing Sanctum

Sanctum Minis and Boards

When you open the box, you’ll find: 

  • 3 double-sided boards
  • 2 info boards
  • 4 player boards 
  • 4 quick reference cards
  • 4 Player minis
  • 84 Demon Cards
  • 33 Demon Lord Cards
  • 24 Skill Cards
  • 12 Skill Tiles
  • 24 Dice
  • 100+ Tokens and Gems

The components look amazing. The minis are cool-looking and unpainted. They hold up by themselves, so even if you aren’t a pro painter, they’ll be good-to-go right out of the box. 

The player boards are some of the niftiest I’ve ever seen. They’re designed after old-school RPG player inventories with equipment cards sitting right on top of the player.

Did you get better armor? Place that bad boy right over your character to equip it. It’s just a cool nod to the hack & slash video games they’re paying homage to here. 

How to Play Sanctum

Sanctum Board and Card Demo

Setup

Sanctum is one of those games that takes ages the first time you set it up. There’s a lot of fiddly bits that need to be done and there are specific things that go on the board, depending upon the number of players. It’s not too hard to figure out but you’re going to be referring to the rule booklet the first couple of times you get it out. 

3 Double-Sided Boards

Sanctum comes with 3 big double-sided boards that serve as the map. Not every side is going to see use depending upon the number of players, but everyone will always hit the first and last board. 

Game Overview

Sanctum takes place throughout several acts. The number of players depends on how many you’ll need to slash through (complete) before you face the Demon Lord in Act VI. If you’ve ever played Diablo, you’re definitely going to feel a nostalgia kick. 

Turns

On a player’s turn,  they’ll have 3 possible options: move, action, rest.

Move

When players move, they’ll take their pawns and put them into the first available space after the furthest player. It’s a constant game of leapfrog that will always put you out in front when you move. 

Action

This is where you get your hands/dice dirty. Combat is actually pretty cool. It’s very reliant on dice but even those of you cursed by the dice gods will still find success. 

Before you start a fight and roll those dice, you have a choice to juice-up like the roided out dudes at the gym. Drinking potions before a fight regenerates stamina that you’ve used and can be the difference between life or death. 

Next is everyone’s favorite: rolling dice. Your dice values aren’t necessarily set in stone. You’ll have access to equipment and abilities that allow you to alter your dice values by a point or two. 

After you have your initial roll, you can check to see what kind of monsters are following you, and assign dice to the hitpoints of the markers. If a monster has 2 spots for dice, then you need to hit it with 2 dice in order to kill it, and the value of dice has to match up with the value on the monster card. Rolling high with all sixes isn’t necessarily the best thing in the world if all the values on your monsters are 2s or 3s. 

If you manage to fill up all the monsters hit dice as they’re following you, then congrats! You smashed through those baddies and get to level-up and get your loots. 

Each monster is worth a different number of experience points that can be turned in for levels and new abilities. 

Rest

Now that you’ve beaten up some baddies and gotten ahold of that sweet loot, it’s time to take a break. One of the actions that you can choose to take is rest. This lets you restore your stamina and focus tokens which you need to use your special abilities. If you gained equipment from killing monsters, you’ll be able to equip it by spending the tokens you get from killing monsters.

So what happens if you have a whole board full of useless equipment because you’re just a monster-slaying machine? Each piece of equipment you don’t need can be turned in for a potion of your choice. 

PRO-TIP: Often times in games, I’ll save every single item because “I might need it later”. 

ACT V

Standing before you are the once-great gates of Sanctum that now stand defiled and corrupted with evil magic. 

Before we get to the Demon Lord, you’ll need to breach the gates. Once a player breaches the gate, you’ll get a new option to answer the Call to Arms. Basically, this means that you’re ready to take on the Demon Lord and you end the rest of your turns until Act VI. 

Players don’t necessarily need to answer the Call to Arms right away, though. They have the option to putz about and pick up some more equipment, but each turn taken to prepare adds another Demon Lord card to the pile, making him that much stronger. 

Act VI

Before Act V ends and Act VI begins all players will get another rest action. This is the calm before the storm. Afterward, the Demon Lord awakens and unleashes a devastating attack. Remember all those Demon Lord cards that stacked up while you were grabbing loot? Before even starting the final fight you’ll need to resolve each one. If players answered the Call to Arms and didn’t waste time, they’ll have to deal with fewer baddie cards. 

Act VI ends with a series of 9 encounters and fights with the Demon Lord. You’ll have to resolve them just like you would normal combat but it must be done one at a time. None of the effects on the cards are good and it can be a brutal fight to stay alive. 

Ending the Game

After the players survive and kill (or maybe not) the Demon Lord, you win! (or lose.)

But in true Highlander fashion, “there can be only one”. The final boss fight is cooperative, but only the player with the most health at the end of the fight is considered the true winner of the game. This can lead to some interesting plays during the final fight. 

Do you fire-off every single ability you have to kill the Demon Lord quickly or do you maybe take a step back and let your trusty companions act as meat shields? It’s completely up to you. 

Your First Game of Sanctum

Your First Game of Sanctum

For your first playthrough, I highly suggest randomly picking your characters. Each one plays differently from their repertoire of skills and going in a little blind is part of the fun. 

The start of every journey has to begin somewhere, right? Usually, it’s going to be the board marked number 1. No matter how many players your first game has, it will always start here at the docks. 

Every player’s first action in the game is to move. You can’t fight anything and there’s no reason to rest since your as fresh as a daisy.

The best way to experience Sanctum, in my opinion, is to just grab a random character and see what kind of abilities and equipment come your way. Usually, during my test runs of games, I just grab the fighter-type character to get an idea of the game, but I decided to change it up with the Outlaw and had a ton of fun. 

My last bit of advice is to use your potions. Seriously, they will save your life. 

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Does Hack-N-Slash right
  • Cool characters and abilities
  • Awesome leveling system

Cons:

  • Needs an intermediate player to explain.
  • Not a lot of player interaction

As a big fan of the genre, Sanctum manages to capture a similar feel to those old school PC games I used to play as a kid. Combat is quick and doesn’t drag out, but still feels like an accomplishment when combined with all the equipment, skill, and abilities of the characters. It’s not a Dark Souls beat down, but you still get a sense of accomplishment after killing monsters and stealing their loot. 

Sanctum does another cool thing by altering the traditional fighter, rogue, wizard archetypes we’ve all come to love. 

Instead, we have the Huntress, Outlaw, Slayer, and Dancer. Even though they could arguably be matched up with their traditional D&D alter ego they come with a fun little backstory and have different enough skills that they all feel unique. They look pretty sweet on the board too. 

The only thing I can ding Sanctum for is that it’s not going to be easy for a newbie to grasp right out of the gate. If you’re completely new to board games or just starting out on your addiction, there are a lot of cool and interesting concepts that can get a little muddly when you first start out. 

If you’ve played any dungeon-crawler, however, this is going to seem pretty straightforward and easy.

TL;DR

Sanctum is a mixture of dungeon-crawler and dice board game. It’s inspired by Hack-N-Slash PC game mechanics and manages to capture a lot of the same feel.

The combat system is very quick and streamlined, and each character has unique abilities and skills. 

The core mechanics of the game offer rapid combat that doesn’t get weighed down with too many stats and numbers but still feels complex enough to be challenging. Sanctum has created very fun equipment and a leveling system that fits in perfectly with its theme and gameplay. 

Conclusion: Verdict?

It’s always fascinating to see when a game grabs onto a theme or inspiration and really runs with it. It can really go either way. Either they do the inspiration justice or they completely miss.

Sanctum takes a very digital concept, the Hack and Slash, and reinvents it in an analog format. That’s a pretty big leap conceptually but what’s most impressive is that it actually feels right. You’ll be running your way through the board, beating up baddies, and turning them into loot along the way. The more bad guys you kill on the way, the stronger you’ll be by the endgame. 

Combat is also done in a really clever way. It’s done extremely quickly through dice mechanics but it’s not at all dependent upon the RNG Gods. Equipment, levels, and abilities all play an important factor in the final outcome of the dice. It’s also very quick to smash through a combat phase and keep on moving with the game once you’re familiar with everything. 

Sanctum
  • Dice Manipulation
  • Inspired by "Hack & Slash" genre of video games.
  • Build your hero as best as you can to defeat the Demon Lord

Have you tried Sanctum? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Drop a comment below and let us have it.

Stats at a glance

Players: 2-4

Ages: 12+

Easy

90 Mins

Publisher: Czech Games Edition

Published: 2019