Hands on with Sumer at PAX Unplugged 2018

PAX Unplugged was created to give non-digital games a place to shine in a landscape where screens dominate. That is not to say digital games are not welcomed on the floor, contrary to this if you looked closely enough there were several booths whose only offering do not involve dice, meeples or cards. One of these booths at this year?s event is Studio Wumpus and their first title Sumer.

Making the claim that they were the only video game at last year’s PAX Unplugged piqued my interest and made me set up an appointment. Situated in the 1800 aisle, the Studio Wumpus had a very minimalistic booth with some very comfortable bean bag chairs. It is there where I was met by Misha Favorov, one of the key members of Studio Wumpus to get some time with their digital board game. Sumer is a game where four nobles vie for the blessing of the goddess Inanna so they can rule the ancient land of Sumer. To curry favor with the goddess, these nobles must fulfill the offerings Inanna declares at the beginning of the year. As one of these nobles you will rush to gather the resources needed to complete these offerings. The noble with provides the most goods will in turn get the most favor points. Once the offers are complete the year will end in which an auction will take place that will allow the players to bid on new places to gather resources. One might think…why pay when I can let the other players shell out, will to counteract that mindset the devs instituted the following perks for the auction winner. The first, the winner decides where the resource could be collected so that if you wanted to ensure that you get first dibs, you can place the resource close to your starting point. The second advantage in ownership, if the resource requires payment, those costs would be waived. Once that is completed these phases will continue until the end of the game, in which the noble with the most favor points will be crowned king.

Resource management board games normally have to be an asynchronous affair, but with a game, you don?t have to worry about hands clashing and you can truly have a free for all. I enjoyed the fact in Sumer I can plan my route and if I can fast enough can ruin my opponent?s plans. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the auction mechanic really adds another layer of strategy to the game. Do I bid on a pottery kiln and place it far away from the player who seems to go after clay or do I get an extra worker for the year so I can gather more resources?

My first playthrough was against 3 A.I. nobles in which I handedly defeated by actually baking the most bread. I never gained majorities in the offerings but put enough so I would get bonus points for being the first to provide an offering and the last to provide a good. I was able to win several auctions which enabled me to stack my area with resources so I could place my workers and end my turn quickly earning some bonus currency. My second playthrough with 3 other human players I placed second as I attempted to put more into the offerings and abandoned my bread strategy from the first ai only game.

Sumer is still in Early Access on Steam and is available on the Nintendo Switch. Studio Wumpus is looking to implement online play on the Steam version and hopes to explore that for the Nintendo Switch. As someone who travels with the Switch a lot, this title will incentivize me to pack an extra pair of Joy-cons so I can have these contests to declare who will be the next king of Sumer!