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Fine Sand Review

Quick Look: 

Designer: Friedemann Friese
Artist: Harald Lieske
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 1-4
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 30 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Fine Sand is a new deck-deconstruction game from the designer of Power Grid. It's a light, quick tableau builder in which you build cards from your hand using other cards from your hand as money. All players go simultaneously. The game ends when a player draws all of their remaining cards at the start of their turn. Whoever has the fewest cards in their hand and deck wins.


Rules and Setup:
The rulebook contains 7 pages of basic setup/rules, 3.5 of the fable variant, and 1.5 of solo rules. Learning from the book is fast and easy. Teaching it only takes a couple of minutes. Setup for the first game takes seconds because the decks are presorted and don't require shuffling. Everyone starts with the same cards in the same order.

Each player gets a player board, a deck of presorted cards (each deck has a different symbol), a disc, and a ring. Place the symbol card and yellow card with your symbol next to you. Draw six cards for your starting hand. Place the ring in between the 2A and 2B spaces on your player board. Place the disc on your draw deck, and you're ready to go.

Theme and Mechanics:

In Fine Sand, your goal is to get rid of all of your cards. Whoever has the fewest cards in their deck at the end of the game wins. You get rid of cards by building and offloading them.

Build by paying the cost at the top and placing it into your tableau in the column of the matching color. Sandcastles go above your player board. Coin cards are worth the stated value, all other cards are worth 1. So to build a card that costs 6, you might discard a 3 coin card + 3 additional cards, or a 2 coin +3 coin +1 other. Eventually, fable cards add coin tokes.

2. Offloading, which is the ability afforded by your starting yellow card. To offload, place any card face-down on the symbol card of your left neighbor. At the end of the round, after discarding down to your hand limit, if all symbol cards have at least one card on them, everyone must draw the top card from the offload stack bearing their symbol. Offloading is one of the most important things you do each turn. If you offload and others don't, you successfully got rid of a card. If everyone offloads, you get another card to build or use as a coin on your next turn. In many cases, it's better to offload than build.

Each round, all players will simultaneously:
1. Place their wooden disc in the center of the table to indicate they are going.
2. Draw
3. Either build or draw more cards. Move the ring marker to 2A or 2B to mark which you did.
4. Discard down to your hand limit.
5. Use Yellow card abilities (i.e., offload).
6. Place their wooden disc on top of their draw pile to signal they are done.
7. Check to see if all symbol cards have at least 1 card. If so, take the top card into your hand.

The numbers on your player board and built cards determine the power of the action's effect. Green cards give you more cards at the beginning of your turn. Red cards help you build more cards. Blue cards let you draw more with the draw action and/or give you a bonus build with this action. Purple cards increase your hand limit. Yellow cards give you another ability you can use on your turn. Sandcastles are cheap to build, but otherwise useless.

The starting decks have 4 cards of red, green, purple, and blue plus one yellow card that allows you to discard one to draw one. Their cost ranges from $3-$10. The non-yellow cards all have different costs, but mostly the same actions (+1 build +1 draw, +1 hand limit). Each color has one costly card with an improved ability ($1 discount on building, +2 draw, +2 hand limit). Sandcastles cost $1-3.

The box says this is a game about building sandcastles. That is false. You get nothing for building them. There are no points. Whoever has the fewest cards in their deck and hand at the end of the game wins. Primarily, this is about building a tableau of increasingly powerful actions and remembering to offload.

If you choose to use the Fable element, some of the cards in everyone's deck will change after each game. The winner reveals cards from their deck until there are 3 with numbers in the bottom corner. Those 3 are removed from all decks and replaced with the top 3 of each player's Fable deck. The fable cards randomly replace numbered base cards, so your favorite card might be forever replaced with one that you hate. I didn't care for the substitutions. Some cards were okay, but my whole group agrees that it was more fun before the fable cards.  


Turns go very fast. Everyone is going at the same time, so there's very little sitting around waiting for others to go. You get your cards, build if you can afford anything or draw if you can't, maybe offload, maybe discard. In the first few rounds of the first game, the decks are set up so that you can build something useful each turn. Once your discards are shuffled into a new draw pile, and forever after, it's mostly driven by luck. You get one mulligan on the initial draw, but if you are unlucky on your second draw or screw up in any way, it's easy to fall behind. There is frequently a runaway winner and nothing to balance it out. If not for that, it would be a good family game. 

Artwork and Components:

The component quality is excellent. Coins are wooden tokens. Cards are clear and have a linen finish. The insert is simple, but everything fits well. Harald Lieske's artwork isn't particularly breathtaking, but it works. He's the same guy that did Puerto Rico, Dominion, Catan, and many others.

The Good:
Plays in around 30 minutes. Turns go quick. Easy to learn and teach.

The Bad:
Runaway winner issues. The decisions didn't engage me. I like this game less every time I play it.

There's little card variation in the beginning, and new cards are added too slowly to keep it interesting. There's no benefit to being the winner who does the replacing. Card deletion is random with no strategy to it. Nothing particularly interesting added. Having to update 4 decks after a 2-player game is annoying and seems a bit wrong.

Final Thoughts:
It irks me that the theme is building sandcastles, but you can win without building any sandcastles. There are 9 sandcastle cards, so you'll probably build a few, but it would be better to offload as many as possible. It would be easy to design a game where your cards are resources, and you deconstruct your deck by using those resources to build something. Here, you're spending money to hire people, to hire people, to hire people, to hire people to maybe make a little pile of money on the beach. Deep in the Fable deck, there are some expensive sandcastles. Cards like that become hot-potatoes, which get offloaded every round. They aren't even a good stumbling block. You just get the same card back every round. 

Fine Sand didn't do it for me. It kind of felt like the evolving-game gimmick was the justification for the design, and the mechanics were secondary. The balance is screwy. Once somebody gets ahead, it's just about impossible to catch up to them. That makes winning dissatisfying.

For Players Who Like:
Deck deconstruction. Tableau building. Quick, light games.

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Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Fine Sand Review Fine Sand Review Reviewed by S T Gulik on September 05, 2019 Rating: 5

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