I like my Sniper Elite the way I like my barbecued brisket — low and slow. Naturally, my biggest question when taking on this franchise in tabletop form was how long a session would take. Could I complete a game in less time than it takes for me to pick my way through one of the video game’s lavish banquets of long-range death?
Well, yes. Start to finish, which includes learning the board and playing a round on one of the two base maps for Sniper Elite: The Board Game, I completed a solo mission in about 90 minutes. With up to three additional players (controlling the Sniper and up to three patrols of three guards each), Sniper Elite, designed by Roger Tankersley and David Thompson for Rebellion Unplugged, can still hit an hour or more, but the game has a baked-in time limit to keep missions from continuing indefinitely. If the Sniper can’t complete an objective in the span of nine rounds of turn-based activity, they lose.
So, the goal really isn’t to shoot and kill any of the officers or guards. It’s simply to reach two points on the board before time runs out. This is a hidden-movement game, in other words, and thanks to a couple of thoughtful rules, the Sniper player rarely ends a round completely undetected or unhindered. The net result is that most late-game moves in Sniper Elite: The Board Game can be a skin-of-the-teeth proposition, where the same action earlier carried less suspense and fewer consequences.
The Sniper keeps track of their movement using a smaller, dry-erase map and a grease pen. The Defenders (by the way, there is no Nazi imagery in Sniper Elite: The Board Game) use tracking cubes to mark areas where The Sniper may be. If the Sniper moves two or three spaces — which they will have to do late in the game — they’re required to notify a Defender player that their guards nearby heard something.
Fortunately, Defenders are not limited to passive tactics to flush out the Sniper. They can use their round to declare one of three actions which can reveal if the Sniper is present in their sector, within three adjacent spaces, or in a single space next to them. Caught in the open, any attack on the Sniper automatically deals a wound; two wounds and it’s game over. Escape is nigh impossible with two guards in attacking range; if one reveals the Sniper, it usually becomes a tense you-or-me showdown.
The Sniper fires his weapon by naming the number of tokens they want to pull from the shot bag and then drawing them at random. The shot bag’s tokens — Aim, Recoil, Noise, and Suppression — combine to either make the kill, thwart it, or even reveal The Sniper’s position. This means players who pride themselves on being a one-shot-one-kill sniper need to maintain a strong awareness of the bag odds. The game begins with six Aim tokens (needed to make a kill), three recoil tokens (can spoil a shot), and two noise tokens (spoil a shot and give away the Sniper’s location). These are added and subtracted according to outcomes of other events leading up to the shot. (The solo version of Sniper Elite: The Board Game has the player adding tokens to the shot bag for extended movement, for example.)
All of this combines to deliver some very strong pacing and tension. In one playthrough, I took out a guard at the doorway to my first objective without giving away my position at all. But of course, I hadn’t considered the layout of that room, and my exit took a lot longer than I expected. With the round clock ticking, I was actually spotted by an officer standing in a railroad car three squares away, direct line of sight.
I needed three Aim tokens to kill him; I chose to draw five random tokens and only got two of the ones I needed. I didn’t have enough time for a second shot, so I fled. Fortunately, everyone else was covering potential objectives at the other end of the map; I was able to run to my second objective without caring who heard me. Had I stood to fight the officer, and likely received a wound in the process, I’d have probably lost.
Playing with friends is preferable to the solo game, and doesn’t take much longer, even with quibbling over what line of sight really entails or losing track of where someone is or is supposed to be, which one would expect of a game in which two maps are being maintained. The solo rules, by Dávid Turczi and Noralie Lubbers, are a capable enough delivery of the main game’s core gameplay loop. But the random, card-drawn manner in which Defenders make their search in the solo game can leave some victories feeling like cheap luck of the draw.
The maps themselves are well balanced and well illustrated, with surprise chokepoints, slow-moving hazard areas, and even elevated terrain coming into play sometimes spontaneously. One time, I realized that I was not, in fact, adjacent to a guard; I had scrambled up a catwalk, and the nearest access was two spaces behind me, so I was well on my way to escaping. The 1 1/2-inch plastic miniatures are individualized and richly detailed, with no flimsy rifle barrels or appendages; you can fix colored discs to their base so you know which sector they’re assigned to.
As a Sniper Elite fan for almost a decade, Sniper Elite: The Board Game does provide the same endorphin hit of satisfaction when I see someone first, eliminate them, and immediately relocate with the rest of the patrol helpless to find me. I’d say it even reinforces some of those valuable lessons, especially about prioritizing objectives over kills, for the next time I pick up the video game. I spent about five hours on the first level of Sniper Elite 5 because I was trying to kill everyone. Sniper Elite: The Board Game revealed that killing isn’t necessary to have a good time.
Sniper Elite: The Board Game was reviewed with a final retail copy provided by Rebellion Unplugged. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.