I love a good psychologically screwed up game, and the ones that stress you out while playing are even better. If you like experiencing your games at the edge of your seat (or, the edge of your mind in this case), then Sanitarium should certainly make its way onto your radar. Sanitarium is designed by Aaron Belmer and published in 2012 by Asmadi Games. I picked this up at a local game store right before the holidays, and I was thrilled to open it up and play.
Out Of The Box
The contents of the box start with a rule book and a creepy paragraph on the front cover, setting up the atmosphere in which the game will take place. This book contains breakdowns of simple game play, what each token does, and the types of cards that you will encounter. Included are 9 hallucination cards, 13 safe things cards, and 54 hallway cards. Next is a set of 4 player tokens, 4 shadow tokens, and 3 six-sided dice. The last items you will find in the box are 4 larger cards with the game scenarios, which we will talk about in just a moment.
The art on the cards is harrowing and captive, and was designed by Dirk Tiede. On these, you will find ghostly figures, restrained patients, dark eerie hallways, and strange items. Even rooms, which are safe havens, don’t provide much comfort upon looking at the details. Abandoned rooms, random items strewn about, and peeling wallpaper still gives you the sense that nowhere is safe – even from yourself.
Playing The Game
Before cards or characters are dealt out, your first task is to choose your scenario. The scenarios are as follows ; Simple Escape (2-4 Players. 1 winner), We Leave Together (2-4 Players, co-op/shared victory), Paranoia (2-4 Players, hard mode, 1 winner), and Split Personality (1 player with 2 personalities). Once a scenario is chosen, follow its Setup rules for the distribution of Safe Things and Hallucinations.
The rest of the setup is basic for all scenarios. A random room and one Dark Hallway card are taken from the deck. The room is the starting area of the game, placed in the center of the table. Each player then places one new card from the deck on the table, making sure to line up the white lines on each card (these are doors). Players may look at the opposite side of these cards, which may contain events, or items, but must be placed face down. In the setup stage, any additional Room or Dark Hallway cards must be discarded. Once all players have placed a card, the starting player places the Dark Hallway card with the first Shadow token on it. All discarded cards may then be shuffled back into the deck, and you are ready to play.
Each turn has 4 basic actions that can be performed. To start off, a new card will be added to the Sanitarium, this is called Creeping Darkness. As mentioned before, these cards can be placed anywhere on the board where the door marks line up. Next, the dice are rolled to determine the player’s AP (action points). What happens with these dice depends on the scenario. For example, in Simple Escape, one die is chosen for your AP. The difference of the other two dice is the number of spaces which Shadows must be moved. So, after you have rolled and determined what happened with those dice, Shadows will move. Once this has happened, You may then take your actions.
Moving costs 1 AP. One move action means you pass through one pair of connected doorways. If you are in a Room, you can jump to any other Room in the Sanitarium for 1 AP. This does not count for Dark Hallways. Search actions also cost 1 AP. When you search, you may look at what is on the opposite side of the hallway card you are currently on. If you choose to pick up the card, a new card must immediately be drawn and placed where the picked up card was. Item cards are placed in front of you, while Event cards are kept hidden in your hand until used. Some items you pick up may match your Safe Things cards, which means they are now protected. Any number of Event cards may be picked up in a turn, but only one Item may be taken.
Shadow creeping up on you? The card you are standing on has no use? You need somewhere else to run. You may spend 2 AP to Expand. This means you will draw an additional card to place in the Sanitarium, and must be placed adjacent to the card you are currently on. During each scenario, there are chances for you to pick up more hallucinations. You may spend your entire AP die to Concentrate, which allows you to gain 2 elusive Sanity points that can be used to escape or to get rid of a hallucination. These can also be disbelieved by discarding Items or Event cards with enough Sanity points to match the hallucination’s power.
We keep talking about Shadows, but what are they really? Shadows manifest when Dark Hallway cards are placed. The first time or two that you play, it is advised to use no more than 3 shadow tokens, otherwise it can become overwhelming, and quickly. Shadows may not jump between rooms, but will move towards players by the shortest path available, and they stop when they catch a player. If you are caught, you are forced to flee to the nearest room, and make a horror check. This involves rolling two dice to match the scenario’s horror check. If you succeed, you managed to flee without problems. If you fail, a new hallucination is added to your list of things to keep track of. You may have no more than two hallucinations, but will be forced to discard Item or Event cards if this is the case. There is no way to disbelieve a Shadow, but you are safe from Shadows if you are in a Room, or sharing a space with another player.
Each scenario describes its escape conditions, and escaping is a free action. One must keep in mind, though, that the deck is a game clock. If the deck runs out of cards, and the win conditions have not been met, the Sanitarium shuts down, you are locked inside, and there is no means of escape. The Sanitarium has won.
In short, I love this game. I have not found many games that I could enjoy with a partner or group, and find the same terror (or excitement) while playing by myself. While there are many things to keep track of while playing the game, I believe that Sanitarium would be a great game for almost any gamer. It has a nice balance of chance and strategy in which the player will find a new challenge in every time the game is played, no matter the scenario. It is guaranteed, though, that one thing will be lost for sure in this game ; the Shadows, or your mind, so play wisely!