Sandbag Review

Sandbag Review

Sandbag is a hot air balloon themed trick-taking game where players are trying to avoid taking tricks. The colorful, high flying balloons each contain numbers and plays like most trick-taking games that you’re familiar with. However, cards that are won are counted against the player and after 3 rounds, the lowest score wins. Jump in and let’s see if this card game soars or needs to stay grounded.

The Setup

Sandbag supports up to 5 players and cards will be evenly dealt among the players at the start of the game. Players have to first decide which two cards they will give away. You’ll pass one card to your right and one card to your left. Your neighbors at the table do the same.

Sandbag - player hand

With all the cards in hand, players will choose 1 “sandbag” card, placing it facedown in front of them. You’ll eventually play this card as part of a trick, keeping it facedown. It’s essentially making sure that you don’t win that trick.

You’ll place two more cards face up in front of you in your “basket.” These cards are important because all the face up basket cards will dictate what the trump color is. If these two cards remain face up until the end of the round, you’ll add those points to your round score. During the game, players are able to use these face up cards in front of their opponents as part of tricks, swapping the card for one in their hand, laying it face down.

Sandbag gameplay overhead

A Rocket to the Moon

The gameplay in Sandbag will feel familiar for fans of trick-taking games, but there’s a skill to intentionally loosing tricks. Players have to follow the lead color that was played and the trump color can shift, even during the course of a single play.

This shifting trump color is based on what card colors/values are showing in the players baskets. Since these cards can be claimed by other players, the trump color can change and you can even have two active trump colors at the same time. As you get later in the round, it’s possible to not have a trump color because all the face up basket cards have been claimed.

Based on the number of players in the game, rocket cards are introduced to the game. These award the player who won the trick negative points, which can greatly reduce the players score. Players who are holding these rocket cards cannot win them since they’re the lowest values in the game. It’s smart to pass these cards off to your neighbors at the start of the round.

Sandbag - rocket card

Players earn 1 point for each card they won during the round, negative points for each rocket card, and the face values of any cards that were left face up in their basket. After 3 rounds of Sandbag, scores are tallied up and the player with the lowest score wins the game.

Full of Hot Air?

It feels like each time I introduce a player to the trick-taking genre, the immediate response is “that’s too luck based.” Good trick-taking games are a mix of the luck of the hand and the skill of the player as they find creative ways to shed cards. Sandbag is no different, it just feels unnatural in your first game.

I’ve taught Sandbag a handful of times and the game seems to click on the second game for most people. After a single play, the response I hear most is “I need to try that one again.” There’s a rhythm to Sandbag that you have to find and it’s not immediately apparent.

Sandbag - swapping cards

There are specific rules on how and when you can swap a card from the face up basket cards of your opponents. This is the toughest hurdle when teaching the game. You have to find opportunities to shed those higher cards when you can, possibly swapping them with your opponents basket cards when necessary. Once this concept is understood, Sandbag is a game that can really soar.

Sandbag is a game that is very hard to make a judgment call after a single game. The more I’ve played the game, the more I’ve understood how to off-set a bad hand of cards. Changing the trump color mid-play is so satisfying, especially when it forces another player to win the trick they felt safe in losing.

Final Thoughts

Sandbag is a game that could really suffer if it’s taught poorly. I had a friend completely pan the game after sitting through a confusing teaching of the game. There’s a complexity here that isn’t bad, but something you need to get used to. This doesn’t mean the game is “difficult,” it’s just not intuitive. This is something that I’ve heard multiple times when teaching.

Sandbag - scoring

I don’t think that Sandbag is reinventing the genre, but it is a nice addition. It feels fresh enough to keep in our collection, but it’s never going to be the card game that I pull out with new gamers. Erin was one of the few people who immediately fell in love with the gameplay which was awesome to see. Her love of Sandbag means that it will hit the table often in our house.

If you’re willing to give the game a couple plays before casting judgment, I think Sandbag will be a good addition to your game nights.

Sandbag is being released at Origins 2024 from Bezier Games. You can find it at your local game store this Summer and online through the Bezier Games webstore.

This game was provided to us by the publisher for review. Read more about our review policies at One Board Family.

Highs

  • Gameplay feels fresh, yet familiar
  • Players ultimately control the trump color
  • Earning rockets can erase a couple bad plays

Lows

  • The nuance of the game takes a couple games
  • Not a great fit for newer gamers

Complexity

2 out of 5

Time Commitment

2 out of 5

Replayability

3.5 out of 5

Ryan Gutowski

I'm a huge fan of strategy games and pretty much anything that involves "city building". My love of board games goes back to my childhood and passion for building relationships with others.

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