Once upon a time, a lone American sniper single-handedly won the Second World War. 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 to the tabletop so that you, too, can guide a single super-powered stealth sniper to victory against three squads of German defenders (see it at Amazon). Or this time, in order to ensure it’s a competitive game, the Germans might actually win.
What’s in the Box
While there’s no ray-tracing or gory kill-cams in the transition to tabletop, you do get 10 ink-washed military miniatures to play with instead, and they’re still excellent eye candy. Nine slot into three sets of colored bases to represent German squads, each with an officer. The other is the sniper himself for the times he’s visible on the board.
They’re set up on a board that shows a submarine pen on one side and a launching 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 on in secret and a poor-quality dry wipe pen to mark his path.
Some bags of plastic cubes and decks of cards round out the component manifest. One deck is for sniper weapons, one for speciality soldiers, one for solo board game play, and the final deck is for sniper objectives. They’re all good quality and in a nice touch, the objective deck 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 Plays
Sniper Elite is an asymmetrical hidden movement game. One player controls the sniper character, who deploys in secret and moves off-map to try and reach two randomly-drawn objective spaces on the board. The others control the German defenders whose job it is to hunt down and either kill or delay the sniper so that the turn count runs down before he can complete those objectives.
While up to three players can control German squads, it’s perhaps best played one on one. Two German players have to share a squad, while three runs the risk of one player bossing the others around.
If the sniper moves more than one space and there’s an adjacent guard, he has to alert his opponents that they’ve heard a noise. In their turn, their roster of actions includes spot and search. The former lets them specify a single space and the sniper must reveal if they’re there. With the latter, they can nominate three spaces and the sniper has to say if they’re in one of them, but not which. A squad can also sacrifice both its actions to do a sweep that tells them whether the sniper is in the same board region.
This is the basic dynamic that drives the game. The sniper has 10 turns to complete one objective and then another ten for the second. Given the convoluted walls and doors of the two maps, the sniper will be a minimum of seven or eight spaces from any objectives at the start of the game. So even under ideal circumstances, creeping along one space per turn will leave them very tight time pressure. And the longer they take, the longer the Germans can use those spot and search actions to pinpoint the sniper. Every passing turn escalates the tension for both sides.
To try and clear a path and reduce the number of enemy actions, the sniper can, of course, snipe. This uses an odd mechanic where you announce how many tokens you’re drawing from a bag, needing as many aim tokens as there are spaces to the target. But alongside those tokens are recoil tokens, which are duds, and noise tokens which can reveal your position. Certain conditions add tokens to the bag, like completing your first objective, which adds a noise token to indicate the heightened state of alert.
While drawing tokens is tense and the blind pull is a good way of simulating the possibility of noise attracting attention, the boards are simply too small for this to feel like sniping. There’s nothing like the open-world feeling of the video games: instead, you’ll tend to favour short-range shots in cramped spaces to reduce the number of tokens drawn. As a result, it’s rare that a result of a shot is in doubt. Instead, the major risk is revealing your position which, while exciting, feels a bit of a missed opportunity.
Shooting, however, is only one part of the game, and in all other aspects Sniper Elite: The Board Game delivers handsomely. This is old-fashioned hidden movement done very well, with the sniper being cornered and slipping away into the darkness over and over, unlike the slow burn puzzle of Mind MGMT.
Thanks to the hidden information, both sides grapple with the constant sense they’re only one step away from losing. The sniper player is under too much time pressure and must take constant risks of giving away clues, but it’s up to them what risks to take. The German players, meanwhile, have to use these crumbs of information to close in, block key routes and hurt the sniper or run down the clock.
To add to the fun, both sniper and German squads get speciality cards from a decent number of options to vary things up. For the sniper, it’s things like an S-Mine which they can place in secret on their map and which kills any unfortunate German solider that blunders into it. They, in turn, have squad specialities, like a medic that can keep a soldier shot by the sniper in place and on the board twice per game. There’s even a German sniper that can shoot back using the sniper’s shot bag. All in all, it’s plenty of variety to aid long-term replayability.
Where to Buy
For more coverage, check out our picks for the best board games to play in 2022.