The last time I reviewed a game by Todd Sanders, an incredibly prolific one-man-band of a designer, I was checking out Odin Quest, a game that absolutely captured my interest on first sight and has been a favorite solitaire title since. When I saw the art for They Who Were 8, I was once more engaged, deeply curious about what kind of game there would be beneath the stark aesthetic and the tantalizing fragments of storyline.
And unfortunately, the answer wasn’t what I hoped it would be.
They Who Were 8 is a game that, at its core, has some unique concepts going on. In the main version of the game (which is to say the 3-4 player non-team setup, more on all this later), players will each represent 2 gods. These gods will form partnerships with the gods of the players to their left and right, meaning that each player is part of two teams. While this implies a certain level of cooperation, They Who Were 8 is still a competitive game, with only one winner. How can that be, you ask? Let me tell you.
Over the course of the game, players will use action cards to manipulate two kinds of tokens – Glory tokens and Infamy tokens. Moving these tokens, adding them and subtracting them, is the entirety of the agency which players will have as they play the game, and everything always comes back to these tokens.
The goal of They Who Were 8 is to have one of your two gods be a member of the pair at the table with the most Victory points. However, the winner of They Who Were 8 is the player whose god is in the pair with the most Victory points, but who themselves has the lesser amount of Glory in the pair, i.e. the more humble god of the winning pair.
The flow of each turn is simple enough – in turn order, each player will play an action card from their hand of 3. As mentioned, resolving these cards will add, subtract, move, or otherwise manipulate the Glory and Infamy tokens present on the gods.
After each player resolves their Action, all players pass a single card to their neighbor, then draw a fresh card to fill their hand of 3. Once this is done, the first player marker moves, and play continues until either all Glory or all Infamy tokens have been distributed. At that point, the most glorious team is calculated, and the more humble of the pair is the winner.
Now, there are some real positives I want to draw attention to before I wade into why we found They Who Were 8 not to our taste. First, we all love the aesthetic and presentation. While they aren’t the easiest to shuffle, the huge tarot-sized action cards look great (Todd Sanders has a really unique graphic sensibility that we all appreciate) and the art on the tiles and the snippets of story that each piece of flavor text suggests hints at a fascinating world that I feel would be a solid spot to set any Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
Second, the core concept, of teammates working together and yet there being only one winner, is a fascinating, potentially brilliant one. By making you partners with your neighbors but still evoking competition, Sanders creates organic tension in the turn-by-turn shifting of these little tokens, which is an excellent thing indeed.
On the other hand, and setting an unfortunate counterpoint to this last comment, these decisions don’t really amount to much. There’s little that goes into your strategy – it is known, precisely, what everyone’s shared goal is, and the scale swings quite wildly as the luck of the draw puts cards into players’ hands at random. Every time we tested They Who Were 8, we found the same thing – the first 3 quarters of the game didn’t really mean much, and the winner was always determined in a sudden crush of actions within the last turn or two. There was no sense of buildup or of tactics – we idled, we idled, we idled, and then BAM, the game is over and then someone wins.
Further, the game was, for us, boring at 2 players. Without that delicate balance to tease between allied gods, They Who Were 8 loses all substance, with the luck-driven nature of its core more obvious than even in the 3-4 player games.
There are other nit-picks – some may feel there are too many icons (that didn’t bother us), and some will complain about the annoyance of constantly shuffling a very small pile of large cards throughout the game (also didn’t bother us), but our greatest criticism of They Who Were 8 was that, in the end, it simply didn’t entertain us. We moved some tokens, activated some gods, and then the game was over and no one, win or lose, ever felt like they had done anything particularly clever or stupid. The game doesn’t present enough interesting decisions to warrant its place on our shelves, which is a damn shame.
We wanted to love this one, but it simply wasn’t in the cards.
(Gameosity received a review copy of this title. We were not otherwise compensated.)