Saturday, August 26, 2017

Dave Reviews: A Game About The Safest Dungeon Ever


Four fantasy races (we'll call sellswords a race. And wraiths, too). One slowly expanding dungeon. A billion bags of gold that mostly aren't worth a damn thing. Treasure chests that sometimes feel worth the effort.

Welcome to Delve.

Delve is Carcassonne meets Above and Below and... anything where you fight people.  Here's the Carcassonne part: a dungeon begins with one tile, and players begin their turns by adding a tile adjacent to any already on the board. If you put a tile down, you have the option of placing one of your five-member team on a piece of that space, be it a room or a corridor. Once a room or corridor is finished, the players with pieces on that room or corridor determine what happens next.

Above and Below analogy: if you're the only player with any team members on the area just completed, you don't automatically get the gold and treasure in the area. A quest card is drawn with a small story and two action options. This is nifty in that you always have to strategize around how many pieces you want in an area; two will beat the vast majority of quest challenges barring terrible rolls, but if you wait to get a second piece down, an opponent can very easily decide to jump in and challenge your ownership of that space.

Generic Fight Stuff analogy: if multiple players have pieces in a completed space, they roll dice appropriate to all of their characters present. Most swords takes all the treasure and half the gold. Next gets half of the remaining gold. If there are a third and fourth player present, they keep getting half of the remaining gold after each take. Apparently dungeon logic in Delve's world demands something be left behind after a fight. But if you have the highest number of coins on the dice, you get a free gold card (or treasure if you get 5+ coins). In this way it's possible to get treasure out of a room that has no treasure for the winner.

Each race (group, whatever) has a slightly different team composition; there are mages, leaders, brutes, and thieves, and each side has two of one of those classes (e.g. wraiths have two mages, one leader, one brute, one thief). Each class rolls the same dice regardless of their team. The teams also have special abilities they can use by spending XP; players receive three XP at the start of the game, with the potential to gain a bit more during the game (or occasionally lose some without spending it).

That's the game. Somehow the designers decided all this complexity warranted a rating of 14+. It wouldn't even be 14+ if there were tits. Eclipse is 14+. Battlestar Galactica is 14+. This can be played effectively by an eight-year-old.

Whatever, right? An age rating doesn't matter. I bring it up, though, because this is a game that very much feels like the designers might have thought there was more game here than is in fact the case. There's a bit of play with deciding what character to place on a given tile, but outside of the obvious placement of mages on rooms with magic pillars, you generally just want to pile strength on strength. Thieves are weaker fighters, but even using kobolds (with two thieves), you need multiple people in a room to have any chance at sneaking an extra treasure out. If you have two or more characters in a room and lose, even an extra treasure is less of a win than a slightly better than usual consolation prize. Losing most of your fights but getting an extra gold card every time is not going to win you the game.

Playing the dice odds doesn't do much for you unless you're the sellswords, who need to decide whether or not to spend an XP for a massive combat boost before rolling. Trying to figure out the chances you'll win a fight only really matters if you're about to finish a room, and trying to decide if you'll beat the quest if you're alone is almost impossible because of the variance in the challenges. You can play a completely reasonable game and just get shell-shocked by a battery of quests nastier than what your opponents get. On the other hand, you do have the option of avoiding quests by getting into fights, so it's not as though you must offer a sacrifice to the mechanic to have a chance.

Delve is not a bad game. The tile placement is very engaging, as long as you're comfortable with the placement rules and the fact you can break them through spending XP. If, by chance, a room explodes in size and you get a giant brawl going, that's pretty fun to watch, and it'll have about as much of an effect on the end result as a giant brawl in a giant, treasure-strewn room should. Learning that taking a room on your own is not free money is important, and adds another layer of 'what do I do here' to the proceedings.

Would play again? Yes. Would play a lot more? Not unless I find some hidden gems in the design that I missed before, and right now I can't imagine what that would be.

Score: Eight shiny but ultimately useless treasures out of eleven.

No comments:

Post a Comment