#28 Soulaween (2019)
Designers: Shi Chen
Artist: Tzu-Hsuan Fei, Ke-Ching Chang
Publisher: Play With Us Design
Player Count: 2
Time: 20 minutes
Soulawhat? Soulaween was inspired by Deathigners. Deathwhatnow? Here’s a video to help you out.
Soulaween is a two-player abstract game for ages 6 and up. Players take on the roles of teachers and students at Death God School. Players take turns arranging escaped souls in order to line up four in a row and seal them in magic jars. The first player to seal or “reap” three jars wins the long-standing tradition of the Soulaween Tournament at Death God School!
For what few components there are, Play With Us Design certainly gives the players quality components. The cloth soul mat is made of microfiber—the same material used for those cloths designed to clean eyeglasses. It’s fairly durable, keeps the weight of the box down, and is washable. I know this because I spilled BBQ sauce on my friend’s copy; we washed it out later that night, and it looked brand new. It didn’t even smell of the delicious grilled scallops I had earlier. The main soul tokens are made of wood, which gives the game a great tactile feeling. There are quite a bit of the smaller tokens; however, they’re all made of that clean-looking white cardboard commonly used in Taiwanese board games. The large tarot-sized character cards look great and the artwork really pops off the table. The double-sided player aids are efficient, clear, and language-free. Even though Soulaween is a small box game, the strong art direction really lets this game shine on the table. Soulaween has that “it factor” that will make passers-by stop, watch, learn, and yearn to game, but we’ll come back and expand on this later.
On your turn…
Soulaween comes with two rule sets—a base game and advanced game. However, both the base and advanced rules follow the same structure. The two players will alternate turns. Each turn will follow three steps: (1) Put, (2) Flip, and (3) Reap. Each game is played to 3 points. The first player to reach 3 points wins. Soulaween plays differently from Othello. Players play and score off of both red and green.
1 . Put - Place a soul token in any unoccupied square on the 4x4 board. Players may choose to place the token panicked soul (red) or tamed soul (green) side up.
2 . Flip - After placing a soul token not the board, all orthogonally (horizontally & vertically) adjacent tokens will be flipped.
3 . Reap - After the active player has flipped all orthogonally adjacent should tokens, if there are four tokens laid out in a consecutive unbroken line (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally), then the active play MUST remove said pieces in said chain from the board and score one point.
If after flipping there are no chains to reap and no more soul tokens or unoccupied spaces, then all the soul tokens matching that of the last placed soul token are cleared off the board and placed back into the general supply. Play then continues as normal.
It is possible for two or even three lines to appear after tokens are flipped. If this is the case, the active player may choose which line to “reap” and leave the remaining lines on the board. You may only reap one and only one chain on your turn. This means if you formed two chains, your opponent may score the unremoved chain—so long as they don’t break the formed chain you generously gave them. The first player to receive three points wins!
For advanced play, the six other character cards will be used. Players randomly draw a character card and play it and its corresponding tokens in front of them. There are three factions with two characters each, so it is possible for players to each draw the same faction.
Little Death & Papa Death must reap three chains as per the normal rules; however, the must score one of each of their three tokens: needle, scroll, and scythe. To score the scroll, Death must chain four soul tokens in a quart shape anywhere on the board—9 possible configurations. To score the scythe, Death must chain four soul tokens in the shown L-shape—16 possible configurations. To score the needle, Death must chain four tokens as per the normal rules—10 possible configurations.
Osiris and Anubis reap chains as per the normal rules—10 possible configurations; however, after they reap a chain, their opponent will receive a handicap. If the Egyptians reap a red chain, their opponent may not reap a green chain until the next scored point. If the Egyptians reap a green chain, their opponent may not reap a red chain until the next scored point.
Example One: Anubis reaps a red chain and received the red canonic jar. Little Death can now only reap tamed souls (green) tokens. If Little Death successfully reaps the next chain, Little Death may now reap both red and green souls again.
Example Two: Anubis reaps a red chain and received the red canopic jar. Little Death can now only reap tamed souls (green) tokens. Anubis then successfully reaps the next chain; Anubis reaped a green chain and received the green canopic jar. Little Death may now reap green souls again, but can no longer reap with red souls until the next scored point.
Hei Wuchang & Bai Wuchang reap chains as per the normal rules—10 possible configurations; however, they have an added step in their turn order. At the very end of each of their turns, they must decide if they will be Bai Wuchang (white) or Hei Wuchang (black) on their next turn. While playing as Hei Wuchang (black), they will flip orthogonally adjacent tokens as normal. While playing as Bai Wuchang (white), they will only flip over diagonally adjacent tokens and NOT orthogonally adjacent tokens. At the very beginning of the game, the player may choose to play as Hei Wuchang or Bai Wuchang for their first turn.
The most common complaint I’ve heard from people (and one I slightly agree with) is that there are too many tokens. Not including the 16 soul tokens, which are mandatory to play the game, there are 24 tokens in the game: 6 for each of the three pairs of characters for advanced play and 6 for the base game. I’m not sure why there needed to be 6 tokens for the base game as 5 would have been fine. The same holds true for the Egyptians; 5 tokens would have been enough. I’m not sure why Hei & Bai Wuchang (the yin yang characters) couldn’t use the same tokens as the base game. This would drop 24 tokens to 11 tokens—far more manageable. Now, I admit this is nitpicking in the extreme; however, having 24 small cardboard tokens and 16 large wooden tokens vomit out of a tiny box every time you play can be troublesome—especially when hunting for the one correct token to use. I’ve resorted to using five different tiny plastic bags to make set up less of a chore. I’m not sure why there needed to be a character card for the base game either. It looks cool, but it serves no functional purpose.
There was also a lack of iconography on the character cards. New players thought the icons on the player aids would appear on the character cards—nope. This again is nitpicking as after a good look at all the cards, it should be blatantly obvious which character card belongs to which faction. While the tamed soul graphic is adorbs, it really was a missed opportunity as having icons for each of the factions could have helped out players. Some new players, myself included, thought Teacher Vulture belonged to the reaper faction—Little Death and Papa Death.
Having as many tokens as Soulaween does, I would have liked to have seen a Hei & Bai Wuchang token. During the game, it can be quite confusing which side the Wuchang player is—Hei or Bai. While rotating and reading the character card isn’t that difficult, having a token for added clarity would have eliminated this problem. It would also serve as a welcome reminder to the Wuchang player that they have an added step in their turn order. I eventually made my own token, and as anticipated, it tremendously helped newer players.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the reaping limit rule: You can reap only 1 chain per turn. If there are more than 1 chain, such as 2 parallel chains or a cross, you have to choose 1 from them to reap, and leave the remaining soul tokens on the mat. You may be laughing, but it happens more often than you think—at least in my games. In fact, I have both won and lost a game due to the rule.
Calling the base game “simple mode” and the advanced game “standard mode” just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Nitpicking done.
Taiwanese publisher, Play With Us Design, is known for their gorgeous artwork and small boxes—bigger than the standard Oink-sized game. Last year’s set collection card game, Wonderland XIII, sold out at Essen and got a ton of praise for its art design. Last year’s other title, Vita Mors, not only received rave reviews for its art direction but also received praise for its attempt to create an action driven (as opposed to language driven) social deduction game. Soulaween is by far their best game to date. You don’t have to take my word for it either. There was a line at their booth during the 2019 International Book Expo in mid-February. People waited in line for the game and to meet the artists. It was the biggest surprise at the 2019 Taipei Game Show and is currently my forerunner for the best Asian board game of 2019.
That’s not to say the game is perfect. There are some nitpicks I have in regards to Soulaween: slightly too many tokens, no iconography on the character cards, and no Wuchang token.
The one major concern some gamers have universally had is that they could play Soulaween with literally a piece of paper and 16 coins. Why should they pay for Soulaween? They’re not wrong. However, they will miss out on the stellar production Play With Us Games has put into Soulaween. The components are topnotch. The cloth mat does not only add the right about of friction for the wooden soul tokens, but is also washable and made with microfiber. That’s right. Gamers with glasses can use the playmat to wipe their glasses clean. The wooden components and all the tokens add the perfect amount of tactile feel to the game. Soulaween is even color blind friendly. Stay woke, Soulaween.
Soulaween could have been a game about flipping flapjacks. Hail Beezelbub, it isn’t. Although the theme is pasted on, it is fully fleshed out onto every single one of the components. While some of the tokens add no functional purpose to the mechanics, they do create and build a strong narrative that really ties the whole game together. Soulaween has that “it factor” that will make passers-by stop, watch, learn, and yearn to game. Throw in the added online comic “Soulaween: Behind the Scream” and the video series Soulaween is based on (Deathigner), and it’s easy to get swept away by the depth of Soulaween’s charm.
The art is great. The tactile feel of the components is great. Yet neither of those is Soulaween’s greatest strength. Soulaween is the 10-minute portable abstract game you’ve been looking for. I doubt I will ever play Hive again. Soulaween has such a low entry point, anyone can play: spouse v. spouse, parent v. child, teacher v. student, classmate v. classmate, bar patron v. bar patron. Anyone. The short playtime and portability allow it to be played anywhere and squeezed into the tightest of schedules. It’s been less than a month, but I’ve played against players from age 7 to 53. Everyone quickly understood how to play the game, the strategy behind the game, and wanted to play Soulaween again and again and again. I even hosted an impromptu Soulaween tournament at a bar; it’s that infectious. If you follow me on social media, you should know I have taken Soulaween with me on several trips by now. I’ve played it on a train, in an airport, in restaurants, in bars, on a plane, on a mountain, in a park, and even in a zoo.
The advanced game is quite tricky at first, so I do strongly recommend beginning with the base game before exploring the character cards. The advanced game definitely adds a lot of replay value with the unique player powers. Playing against Osiris or Anubis can be quite brutal if they’re able to score a canopic jar. You’ll quickly see the board transform into one kind of color as they will exploit their power; it’s a nightmare. Being able to flip diagonally adjacent soul tokens as Bai Wuchang is far more powerful than you realize and is incredibly hard to defend against. Playing against Death can be frustrating to defend against as you will have to train yourself to see all the possible shapes he can score.
Exploring Soulaween is an adventure and a joy. I cannot recommend Soulaween enough. Play With Us Design will be attending Osaka Game Market in March 2019 and should be attending Tokyo Game Market later in June. Soulaween has proven to be a success at both the 2019 Tapei Game Show and the 2019 International Book Expo. It will continue to crush the expo scene throughout this year. You can follow Play With Us Design on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to make sure you don’t miss out on getting your copy of one of the best Asian board games of 2019. Soulaween. It’s hell, but it’s damn good.
Explore the rest of the comic from the Japanese Game Market site HERE: Soulaween: Behind the Scream!
Gamer: Cardboard East STRONGLY recommends Soulaween for gamers who love portable abstracts or wear glasses. (Hello, microfiber cloth board!) It’s that classic boutique Asian board game—a simple rule set with tough decisions. The tiny box is an added bonus for portability. Excellent components, strong art direction, and even stronger gameplay make this a shelf staple for years to come.
Family: Cardboard East STRONGLY recommends Soulaween for family game nights. True, it is strictly a two-player game; however, the low-entry point allows this to be played by anyone: spouse v. spouse, parent v. child, teacher v. student, classmate v. classmate, bar patron v. bar patron. The short playtime and portability allow it to be played anywhere and squeezed into the tightest of schedules. I cannot recommend it enough.
Party: Cardboard East does NOT recommend Soulaween for the party environment BUT strongly recommends Soulaween for the bar environment. If you follow me on social media, you should know I have taken Soulaween with me on several trips by now. I’ve played it on a train, in an airport, in restaurants, in bars, on a plane, on a mountain, in a park, and even in a zoo. You can play this anywhere.