Monday, September 10, 2012


We played Sanitarium with two friends at PAX. Since we’re generally not competitive people, we were attracted by the cooperative mode and the short time commitment.

What was interesting about the game was the “board” is constructed every turn by drawing an item card and placing it face down, so the board constantly expands in strange and unpredictable directions as the Bad Guys chase you around. Since the game is about escaping a sanitarium (by collecting your personal totem items and shedding whatever neuroses you’ve acquired), it becomes an exploration of the Psychic Space of a Sanitarium.

Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you about the Psychic Space of a Sanitarium because the game wasn’t very good. There wasn’t any mechanic that hooked me. There was nothing that made me say, “Oh, I’ve got to play another round.” We finished the game and asked, “Wait, how could we have even lost?”As it turns out, the last page of the rules said the game ends when you run out of item cards, but the Bad Guys chasing us were pretty easily evaded or diverted, and even if one “caught” you, rolling dice to pass an increasingly difficult horror check meant nothing because the consequences were not that dire.

The concept of spreading nebulous, hidden information onto a map that connected distant safe rooms was a great concept, but it didn’t go any further than that. Probably without the cooperative goal we would have been reduced to betraying each other (the real monster is MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN), but then we wouldn’t have been playing a cooperative game, which was our #1 goal.