Star Wars: Battle at Sarlacc's Pit
Areala checks out an old-school Parker Bros. Star Wars boardgame!
on Saturday 15 September 2007
by Areala author list print the content item create pdf file of the content item
in Reviews > Tabletop Gaming Reviews
comments: 0
author awarded score: 65/100
not rated -

Heading back to 1983 and a more innocent time, Areala stumbles upon a boardgame that recreates the classic Sarlacc Pit battle from Return of the Jedi. The only question: is the Force strong with this one, or should it suffer a slow digestion over the course of one thousand years?

I was digging through my games for something nifty to discuss when I found a square box that I had thought lost to time. But no sooner had I laid eyes upon it then I knew I had to pull it out for review. And thus, we turn our Intelligent Gamer eyes toward Star Wars: Battle at Sarlacc's Pit (that's Parker Bros.' usage of "Sarlaac's", not mine).

In the 1980s, most board games were flat, two-dimensional offerings with limited 3D usually in the form of the small tokens used to mark players or itty bitty buildings with varying degrees of detail. While most of the game itself took place on the board, all the exciting stuff generally took place off-board: dice rolling, wheel spinning, money changing hands and so forth. Sure, there were the occasional exceptions, but often these lacked in the gameplay department or just sold poorly by being competition to the old standards like Life or Monopoly. It is from this frame of reference that I approached the review of BaSP so as to be fair to its time period. Also having fond memories of playing this game as a child, I wondered if my experience as an adult would be similar.

First, though, a bit of background. As noted in the summary, Battle at Sarlacc's Pit was released in 1983 after Return of the Jedi. Its rules state that it is for two to four players, ages 7 to 12, and after messing around with it a bit, I tend to agree. The game was quite intended for the younger set, and while this is not a bad thing, it is probably not something that will keep a group of adults occupied. On the other hand, it's the perfect thing to throw at a group of younger kids while the assembled adults partake in something that requires more in terms of strategy or mental prowess like Trivial Pursuit or Risk.

The rule sheet is slightly larger than an 11"x17" sheet of paper when fully unfolded, and roughly 8.5"x5" when folded up. Half of the rule booklet is dedicated to assembling the board, and there is a good reason for this - Battle at Sarlacc's Pit is played using the entire bottom half of the box as well as a number of cardboard stand-ups and fold-outs. Creating the board is great fun, and whoever had the wonderful idea of turning the bottom of the box into the Sarlacc Pit itself deserves a big high-five. After all, in every other game, when you eliminate pieces from the board, they usually get tossed back into the box anyway. Why not include that as a gameplay mechanic? More on this later.

In any case, the "board" itself is a cardboard model of Jabba's sail barge--simplified, naturally, but still pretty cool looking, and covered with hexagon spaces. The barge "hovers" over a cardboard Sarlacc Pit that is formed from two cardboard fold-outs that are placed into the lower lid of the box, and held aloft by another pair of folded, vertically-placed cardboard pieces so it rests just above the yawning maw of the Sarlacc Pit. A note to purists here: this is pre-Special Edition Star Wars, so there is no beak or flailing tentacles to ruin the experience.

Setup complete, players then proceed to place the 10 Gamorrean Guards, Nikto, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt in their proper spaces on the barge. After that, each player selects a hero (Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, or Chewbacca) and puts him in the detention area, the draw deck is shuffled and placed in the provided tray (another excellent idea, since with two card-holding areas, it provides an easy place to discard cards as well as draw them, and can easily be moved around the table without disturbing anything for players who can't reach it), four cards are dealt to each player, and play begins with the person to the left of the dealer.

The object of the game is ultimately the downfall of Jabba the Hutt, but in order to do that, the players have to clear the board of all ten Gamorrean Guards and both of Jabba's personal guards, Nikto and Boba Fett. Only then can someone challenge the fat slug himself. Play is quite simple: during her turn, a player plays one card from her hand, face up, and follows the instructions. If the card has a number on it, she moves that many hexagons on the board. If it is a "Force" card, she chooses any number between 1 and 6, and moves that many hexes. And if it is a Direction card, the player follows the instructions--"Move to any space", "Swap places with any player" and so forth.

If this movement places a player in a hex next to a guard, she is allowed to challenge the guard. Despite movement cards that might allow otherwise, all ten Gamorrean Guards must be defeated before one can fight with Boba Fett or Nikto. To fight with the guard, the player simply draws a card from the draw pile. If she draws a Jabba the Hutt card or a Direction card, she loses the fight and moves her piece back to the detention area of the barge. If she draws a Force or number card, however, she wins the fight and (this is the fun part) gets to knock the enemy piece off the side of the skiff and watch it slide down the sloped sides of the board underneath and into the hole of the Sarlacc Pit. Anyone who cannot imagine this being fun needs to get out more often; when was the last time you got to experience hurling a squealing, green-skinned pig creature into an enormous, gaping maw in a board game? That's right--never. Also note the practical upside to this: after you've killed everything on the board and ended the game, it's ready for instant clean-up. Make sure you imitate the howl of Boba Fett as you throw him over the side, and if you have more crude playing partners, feel free to allow one of them to let out the belch afterwards. It's OK, really...it's role-playing.

Finally, at the end of each player's turn, they draw enough cards to return their hand to four, and the turn passes to the person on the left.

Each enemy killed is worth points: Gamorreans are worth 1 point, Boba and Nikto are worth 2 each, and Jabba is worth 4. Each time you waste an enemy, you take a point card of the appropriate value to help you keep track, and at the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.

The game really is that simple. The enemies never take an active role in attempting to stop our heroes, existing simply to stand at the edges of the skiff and get kicked overboard. Likewise, the players are not allowed to fight with one another or otherwise interfere with one another in any way except for the occasional "swap places" Direction card. There are some minor rules for when Jabba moves around on his special "throne" area at the front of the barge, and how you have to dispatch him (Jabba cannot be killed unless your character either plays a Force card from his hand, or else lucks out and attacks Jabba, then draws one as his top card from the draw pile), but that's really all there is to it.

It is this simplicity that makes Battle at Sarlacc's Pit so hard to rate properly. On the one hand, it's a very fast-playing game unless you get some truly atrocious card draws among all players, and even then it's probably going to be over in less than 30 minutes even with four players. The lack of strategy makes it an ideal introductory game for younger players, but the cardboard bits cannot stand up to much abuse and thus adults should probably supervise at least the set-up and take-down sessions. An adult who plays will probably enjoy the first play-through, but won't be chomping at the bit to play again. Younger players though, as I can attest, will have no end of fun digging out all the plastic baddies from the Sarlacc Pit, setting them up, and playing again and again.

The only other real complaint I have against this game is the soft plastic figures themselves. For the 80s, they are molded adequately though Luke's small lightsaber and Nikto's axe are likely to get broken if mishandled and on my copy of the game, Boba Fett's legs sadly broke from his feet on the base. What really annoys me about them though is the atrocious painting job they were given. Considering the work that went into designing the Sarlacc Pit board and skiff, it almost seems like a slap in the face to see figures with as wretched a painting job as these poor guys got stuck with. The lone exception is the Gamorrean Guards, but these fall into the realm of "merely adequate" instead of "abyssmal" like their counterparts. If you are so inclined and have the tools, a quick white undercoat and some detail brushwork with a colour besides black will go a long way to bringing some much-needed life to the heroes. Others may decide to swap out the provided figures with some from the Star Wars Miniatures game. But the fact remains that these are some of the ugliest miniatures ever seen, even by 1983 standards. Oh well...at least they didn't give us a bunch of multi-coloured "pawn"-style tokens like Sorry or other like games.

Other nitpickers may balk at the idea of including Princess Leia among the heroes instead of Lando, when in the movie she was pretty much bound to Jabba until R2 cut her chains while Calrissian was getting down and dirty with Luke, Han and Chewie, but having her as a playable character is cool for two reasons: first, she was the one who killed Jabba in the film, and second, it gives a female player a female avatar. How freakin' cool is that for the 1980s?

In summary, Battle at Sarlacc's Pit certainly hits all the right points for a game made for the 7-12 crowd, and it's a simple and fast-playing game that you can probably convince everyone in the family to play with you at least once. Adults will want to pass on a second play-through, and I can't imagine taking it as my contribution to my weekly game night, but as I can heartily attest, whether you win or lose as a kid, there's nothing like setting it all back up just so you can knock more Gamorreans into the Sarlacc a second, third or even fourth time. If nothing else, it gives you an excuse to make belching noises during a game, and I cannot think of any other title off the top of my head that will let you get away with that. ;) Given all the pros and cons, I'm giving Battle at Sarlacc's Pit a rating of 65. If released in this day, considering products like Star Wars: Epic Duels and the actual Star Wars Miniatures game do a similar concept better, this one wouldn't be hardly worth your time. But in 1983, this was fun and fresh, and still would be for the younger Padawans in your home.



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