Once upon a time, an American sniper single-handedly won World War II. At least that’s the case if you’ve played any of the Sniper Elite series of video games. Now Rebellion has bought its digital IP address off the table so you too can guide a single super-powered stealth sniper to victory against three squads of German defenders (see on amazon). Or this time, to make sure it’s a competitive game, the Germans might actually win.
What’s in the box
While there’s no bloody ray-tracing or kill-cams in the transition to the tabletop, you do get 10 ink-washed military miniatures to play with instead, and they’re still great ones. feast for the eyes. Nine sit in three sets of colored bases to represent German squads, each with an officer. The other is the sniper himself for the times he is visible on the board.
They are set up on a board that shows an underwater enclosure on one side and a launch facility on the other. The maps are well drawn with clear walls, elevation and iconography to facilitate smooth play. There are also two mini-maps for the sniper to move about in secret, and a shoddy dry-erase pen to mark his way.
Bags of plastic cubes and decks of cards round out the component manifesto. One deck is for sniper weapons, one for specialist soldiers, one for solo board game, and the last deck is for sniper objectives. They are all of good quality and a nice touch, the set of targets is printed to make it look like the kind of playing cards used by Allied intelligence to send information to prisoners of war.
Rules and how it is played
Sniper Elite is an asymmetrical hidden move game. A player controls the sniper character, who secretly deploys and moves off-map to try and hit two randomly drawn objective spaces on the board. The others control the German defenders whose job it is to hunt down and kill or delay the sniper so that the round count ends before he can achieve those objectives.
While up to three players can control German teams, it may be best to play one-on-one. Two German players must share a squad, while three run the risk of one player dominating the others.
If the sniper moves more than one square and there is an adjacent guard, he must alert his opponents that they heard a noise. In turn, their list of actions includes tracking and searching. The first allows them to specify a single space and the sniper must reveal if they are there. With the latter, they can nominate three spaces and the sniper must say if they are in one of them, but not which one. A squad can also sacrifice its two actions to perform a sweep that tells it if the sniper is in the same region of the board.
This is the basic dynamic that drives the game. The sniper has 10 rounds to complete one objective, then another 10 for the second. Given the convoluted walls and doors of both maps, the sniper will be a minimum of seven or eight spaces away from any objective at the start of the game. So even under ideal circumstances, crawling along one space per turn will leave them with very tight time pressure. And the longer they take, the more the Germans can use these scout and search actions to locate the sniper. Each passing turn increases the tension on both sides.
To try to clear a path and reduce the number of enemy actions, the sniper can, of course, sniper. This uses a weird mechanic where you announce how many tokens you’re pulling from a bag, requiring as many aiming tokens as there are spaces to the target. But alongside these tokens are recoil tokens, which are misfires, and noise tokens which can reveal your location. Some conditions add tokens to the bag, such as completing your first objective, which adds a noise token to indicate heightened alert status.
While drawing chips is taut and blind pulling is a good way to simulate the possibility of noise attracting attention, the boards are just too small to feel like a sniper. Nothing like the open-world feeling of video games: you’ll tend to favor short-range shots in tight spaces to reduce the number of tokens fired. As a result, it is rare that the result of a shot is in doubt. Instead, the major risk is revealing your position which, while exciting, seems like a missed opportunity.
Shooting, however, is only part of the game, and in all other aspects Sniper Elite: The Board Game is very effective. It’s a very well-done old-school hidden move, with the sniper being cornered and slipping through the darkness again and again, unlike Mind MGMT’s slow-burning puzzle.
Thanks to the hidden information, both parties grapple with the constant feeling that they are only one step away from losing. The sniper player is under too much time pressure and constantly has to risk giving clues, but it’s up to them what risks to take. German players, meanwhile, must use these bits of information to close in, block key routes, and hurt the sniper or run time.
To add to the fun, sniper and German squads get specialized maps from a decent number of options to vary things up. For the sniper, it’s things like an S-Mine that they can secretly place on their map that kills any hapless German soldier that gets in there. They, in turn, have squad specialties, like a medic who can keep a sniper-downed soldier in place and on the board twice per match. There is even a German sniper who can fire back using the sniper’s shooting bag. Overall, there’s plenty of variety to aid in long-term replayability.
For more coverage, check out our picks for the best board games to play in 2022.