Halloween is just around the corner, opening up the season of watching spooky movies and dressing up. That’s why Bojan and I absolutely had to visit the booth of Iconiq Studios Games at Essen Spiel 2023 and check out the SAW: The Jigsaw Trials board game. Let’s just say we weren’t disappointed – the game is downright evil, and we loved it.
What’s SAW: The Jigsaw Trials About?
Jigsaw doesn’t have a long time ahead of him, so he needs to find a successor, and that’s where the players come in. They take on the role of Jigsaw’s apprentices stuck in his workshop, set one against another, with only one winner emerging as the next Jigsaw.
We also had the pleasure of talking with Luke Melia and hearing about the game from its designer. You can check out our interview here.
How Does the Game Play?
As you may expect, the game’s key mechanic is TRAPS! As an aspiring Jigsaw, you will construct them for other players and try to escape from those they set for you. Traps are cunningly crafted from three components or card types which are mechanism, object, and escape.
Unfortunately, you have to play fairly and give people a chance to escape your devious contraption. After completing a trap, you’ll present one of the players with the challenge and watch them sweat trying to get out of the mess you’ve gotten them in.
As you can see from the image above, each card has some lovely flavor text (as lovely as an acid bathtub trap can be). All of the trap card combinations in the game will give you a meaningful paragraph about the predicament you are currently in.
This inspired design choice involved a lot of spreadsheets with fields filled out with gory ways of trapping your fellow player and the team had to manually check each of them! There are over 2,000 combinations of these traps, so you’ll need plenty of playthroughs before you even scratch the surface of the SAW board game.
Where SAW: The Jigsaw Trials really shines is in how you go about setting up these traps. Each player will have his own set of stats, which are not your run-of-the-mill D&D characteristics, but rather your flaws that other players around the table know about your character (as they are clearly visible from both sides of your character sheet) and should try to exploit.
I really like that each character has their own story, which, along with clever design choices that went with cards sets the tone of the game or opens up a lot of narrative for the players. The story and the tension will keep players invested as they try to keep their protagonist alive and those of the other players decidedly less so. How might you survive in such a game? Of course, by having cards with tools that will make escaping the traps much easier. Since you’re in Jigsaw’s workshop you’ll find plenty of items to help you out or other fiendish contraptions that might make the trap easier or more difficult to overcome.
So, what happens when you take damage from a trap? You’ll have to showcase the injuries you’ve taken by updating your character, replacing noninjured limbs with those that show how much damage you’ve taken, or that show just a stump where your arm was just before you plunged it into an acid tub, for instance, so you could escape with your head on your shoulders.
Taking damage will affect your hand size, and how many cards you draw, and depending on the injury to your character, it will affect how many turns you have because you’ll lose health each turn if you don’t do something about it!
When we talked with Luke, he explained that the game has a mechanic that will keep players from piling on one another, which is great as nobody would be happy to be eliminated early in the game.
Closing Thoughts and Iconic Studio’s Kickstarter
If you are a fan of the SAW series, supporting the game on the soon-to-be-launched Kickstarter campaign, is a no-brainer. I personally am not a fan of the horror franchise, but I am a big fan of what Luke Melia cooked up here and I definitely want to “play a game”. While it may miss this Halloween, I do not doubt that the game will become an instant horror board game classic when it launches.