Inner Sanctum – A Look Under the Hood [Prototype Game]

Inner Sanctum

Designer: Ben Burns
Publisher: New Comet Games
Game Type: Card (Prototype)
Prime Mechanic: Set Collection
Available for Purchase: NO

Recently, I had the chance to play a prototype of Inner Sanctum, a forthcoming release from New Comet Games. As both a playtester and reviewer, I want to caution readers this game is not in production and some aspects will change or at least are subject to change. Some of our observations from our playing may have an influence on the final version of the rules and product overall. Let’s get on with the review, shall we?

WHAT IS INNER SANCTUM?
At its core, Inner Sanctum is a set collection card game with decidedly Illuminati or New World Order theme that runs throughout. For those that may not know, set collecting is a mechanism whereby a player seeks to collect, in this case, cards, in specific suits, names, etc. Mechanically, it’s more similar to games like Rummy than to say Magic the Gathering. Inner Sanctum uses card names and specific art for suits.

GRAPHICS
This is hard for me to assess at this point because I was giving a not-final copy version of the game to playtest. With that said, I was underwhelmed at the graphics as they were presented to me in this version of the game. I have brought up my concerns with Ben and he assures me that an artist will be “prettying” up the graphics before the final production version.

COMPONENT QUALITY
Again, this is hard for me to assess at this point because I was giving a not-final copy version of the game to playtest. I believe and I could be wrong, but I think the prototype was physically produced by Game Crafter. As prototypes go, the component quality was rather good. The cards were not flimsy and the required cardboard tokens (corruption) we thick and durable. If the final professionally produced product is similar in quality, it will be durable and ready to stand the test of time and repeat playing.

GAME OVERVIEW
Gameplay is pretty straightforward. Players are racing to get to level 7 first to win. Each game turn or round is played in two phases. In the first phase, Control Phase, players are working to collect sets of cards from either the draw deck or the top of the discard pile. Each round they are permitted to take two cards and subsequently play an action as well. Action cards do provide some “gotcha” moments in the game but serve to slow down your opponents in their attempts to collect cards. Once a player reaches eight they may and by the time someone reaches ten cards, they must call for The Gathering. The Gathering ushers in the second half of the turn.

The Gathering begins with some tableau clean up by discarding played action cards. That is followed by everyone placing their sets of 3 or more cards face down on the table. All sets are revealed simultaneously. For each set revealed, the player with the most cards in each set gains a level, some corruption tokens, and a favor token for each corresponding set. All the cards are collected up, to include the discard pile, and a new draw deck is shuffled. Play continues in this way until someone reaches level seven or they are eliminated from the game for having too much corruption.

Corruption is a mechanical element that seems to simulate the forces of dealing with a vast global conspiracy network and those impacts on a person. It’s also an element that must be managed wisely; as actions are performed, levels are gained, and favor tokens are used, corruption is accrued. Each player needs to weigh risk versus reward when it comes to performing actions and favors to ensure they do not get too much corruption. Corruption also serves to force players to call The Gathering earlier (at 8 or 9 cards instead of at 10) it also keeps players from holding as many cards over from turn to turn as they could in the earlier part of the game. Again, these seem to simulate the pressures of the theme. A player reaching 35 corruption is immediately eliminated from the game.

Favor Tokens are earned when you gain a level. Each token type (base on the “suit”) grant the user particular benefits but costs 2 corruption to use it. Again, a risk versus reward.

Action Cards, as mentioned above, primarily serve to slow your opponents down by forcing them to discard one or cards in a particular “suit”. Other cards have more immediate effects. For example, Sell Your Soul puts you as a character into a status where for two turns you are not affected by other player’s action cards, but it comes with a price – 5 corruption tokens. Other action cards can move corruption to another player and one, a game-ender action, allows a player with one card in every “suit” to play the card, take 20 corruption and if they still have less than 35, they win. As you can see the action cards do several different things.

GAMEPLAY
I played the game twice with different players each time. Each game was dynamically different each time we played. During one gameplay with mostly MtG players, the game was super competitive and each player strove for every “gotcha” moment they could muster. Much like playing MtG. Another game was more Inner Sanctum – A Look Under the Hood [Prototype Game]subdued with players trying to manage their corruption more responsibly all while trying to keep other opponents always one level behind them. Action cards factored heavily into the game with the MtG players, but that same tactic (applied by me) did not do so well in the more subdued game with players looking for strategies and advantages.

I would like to note that while playing, we ran into a situation where a player was voluntarily calling for the gathering without having any sets of cards to then lay down. The call was driven by a rule that permitted players under certain circumstances to voluntarily Call the Gathering once they held a certain number of cards even if they did not have any sets.  I addressed this concern with Ben and I have been assured the rules has been rewritten to reflect that if a player voluntarily Calls the Gathering, they must have at least one set of cards.

The first game, for me, was not nearly as fun as when I played with non-MtG players. I personally prefer a game to take a more strategic tone over a hyper-competitive tone. The first game ended with me eliminating all other players through their collection of corruption. During the second game, no one was eliminated for corruption and every player had 4-6 levels with the winner obviously reaching 7.

WHAT I LIKED
d10-1 Solid rules that were very clear
d10-2 Gameplay is relatively short, each game playing in about an hour or so
d10-3 The game makes you think in terms of strategy and risk vs. reward
d10-4 Two paths to win (levels or Calling the Dark One) 

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
d10-1 The ability to call the gathering even if you didn’t have any sets to put down (made the game longer)
d10-2  I’m not a fan of the prototype art
d10-3 Action feel flat and not very actiony (is that really a word?)

FINAL THOUGHTS
Inner Sanctum is an interesting thematic take on a very old game mechanic. Will it be a game for everyone? I’d like to think so, but I suspect it will not. My reason for that determination is I feel that many of the card players out there (TCGs) will find it lacking in the tempo of the TCG games they happen to like. I know, I know, this is NOT a TCG in any way, but card games, in general, appeal to card players. For the rest of us, I think the game will be received with mixed reviews (kind of like mine). Some are going to love it for the mechanics, theme, or whatever draws them in and hooks them. Others will find the game (in its current form) fun, but leaving them wanting a more thematic connection to the mechanics (this is where I’m at) or wanting a more competitive game experience. For me, mechanics and theme need to be synergistic and Inner Sanctum is not quite there for me. Given the chance, will I continue to play Inner Sanctum? Absolutely! Gameplay is different each time, it’s relatively quick playing, easy to learn, and oozes with theme.

 ~ Modoc

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