Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Delve: Here's a Game, Let's Review It

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website - and I should have shared it with you here a while back. But this blog has been dormant for six months due to work, life and the pursuit of happiness. 

  • Designer: Richard Launius & Pete Shirey
  • Publishers: Indie Board & Card Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Ages: 14+ (my 12 year old does just fine)
  • Games Played: 4 (with a review copy provided by Indie Board & Card Games)

There’s A Dungeon - Let’s Crawl Through It

We are all treasure-hungry clans of adventurers, seeking to loot a dungeon filled to the brim with gold and magical goodies. I’d make fun of this unbelievably overworked storyline… except I have (by my count) 15+ games in my personal collection that are some variation on that exact theme. He who lives in glass dungeons should not throw stones.

The game structure of Delve is pretty straightforward (and leans heavily on the Carcassonne model). Players (ahem, adventurers!) take turns playing a tile from a hand of 3 tiles to the board to create rooms and corridors. They may place one of their five heroes on the tile they just placed. If a room or corridor with heroes in it is completely closed, it is resolved to see who gets the gold & precious objects. The only things that must match during tile placement are corridors, which makes it easier to sculpt the dungeon in ways that help you close off rooms.

If there are heroes from more than one clan (aka “player”) on a closed room, they dice off to determine who gets a share of the treasure. (The dice are custom dice and have both swords for fighting & coins for gathering extra loot.) If a single clan is present, they instead have to work their way through a card from a “choose your own adventure” deck to see what they manage to acquire.

The game goes on until (a) a certain number of tiles with sun symbols are played, or (b) when the gold deck runs out. The clan with the most gold wins!

The Seafood Gumbo Game Design Paradigm

I had the privilege of living in SE Texas for a year… right on the edge of the bayous and Cajun country. I learned to love boudin, etouffee, and gumbo. All of them involve the mixing together of a bunch of different ingredients/flavors to make something spicy and delicious.

The same design paradigm is common in board games - examples include Lisboa, The King of Frontier, and Walnut Grove. The recipe is similar: take 2 or more design elements and bolt them together to build a playable game. (My good friend and fellow OG writer Jeff Myers calls them “Frankenstein” games - hence my use of the word ‘bolt’ earlier has even more resonance.)

Delve is very much in this school. You’ve got:

  • tile-laying that is very similar to Carcassonne: The Castle
  • “Choose your own adventure” cards that are similar to Runebound (and other adventure games)
  • Dice-resolved combat (see pretty much every adventure game ever published)

There’s a Dungeon - Let’s Expand It

This will come as no surprise to any gamer who’s ever seen a classic fantasy adventure game - there’s already an expansion. Delve: Perils Awaits adds more adventure cards and more treasures to the game - which is actually a nice to expand replayability and variety without adding any problematic new design elements to the game.

The Trouble with Quibbles

I’ll get to my reaction to the game as a whole in a minute - but I do have a couple of component issues that need to be mentioned.

First, the player pieces are nice plastic squares with a sticker on them denote the particular dice that they roll. However, they are too large to fit comfortably in the majority of the rooms that are created by laying tiles. This problem is worse when you’re attempting to claim a corridor.

I’m not sure there’s a good solution for this - but the size of the pieces caused confusion a couple of times in our games… and the “it doesn’t look right” thing bothered me every time I played.

My second issue is the odd color choices made for the custom dice and the player piece stickers. In less than perfect lighting conditions, I have a very difficult time telling the blue & purple icons apart.

Different Strokes

So, with those quibbles out of the way, we get to the 64,000 gold piece question: what did I think of the game?

I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into Delve and the combination of the various elements… the game works. I think there’s a tug of war in the design between the controllable elements (the hand of tiles, the choice of which tile to play, the placement of clan members) and the random elements (the tile draws, the dice combat/adventure resolution) - and that tension is exacerbated with more players and the subsequent loss of player control that is inherent in any multi-player game. No surprise - I like it best with 2 players. (Note: I feel the same way about Carcassonne.)

Delve is a perfectly playable game - the design functions as promised and there are actual decisions to be made. That said, it’s one of those games that falls into the “won’t refuse to play but probably wouldn’t suggest it” category.

For me.

On the other hand, my 12 year old gamer son finds it exhilarating and enjoyable. He’s asked to play multiple times. He likes the “choose your own adventure” aspect of the game, which is more prominent in 2 player games.

Your mileage may vary.

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