Sunday, November 26, 2017

Dave Reviews: Classy Dig Dug


When participating in an archaeological dig, remember that all good ruins were built on a strong foundation of victory points.

Unearth is a dice worker placement game of placing... dice... workers... start over.

Unearth is a cross between games like Colony, where dice are rolled and then used strategically based on their rolls, set collecting games like Coloretto, and generic worker placement game #168. The difference between Unearth and those games is that one worker die is given a ruin to visit, then rolled, rather than the other way around. Then you collect sets of ruins, preferably of the same color, although different colors are ok if you get one of each color, and the stones build into wonders...

Unearth is an easy game to understand but a harder one to explain without having it in front of you.

The game is set up with a tableau of ruins and wonders. Each ruin has three aspects to it: points, color, and stones. When you place a die on a ruin, if you roll a 1, 2, or 3, you can take a colored stone off it; if there are none left, you instead take one randomly out of the bag. If, at any time, the total of the dice equals or exceeds the points on the ruin, the ruin goes to the person with the highest individual die (think Smash Up bases but with a different first place condition). All dice on the ruin are returned to the players, and anyone with dice on the ruin that doesn't win it gets one Delver card for each die they had there. Thus, where in Smash Up you might avoid putting points on a base that you have no chance of winning to force your opponent to invest more resources, sometimes you may want to put more dice on a ruin you won't get to either get more Delver cards (which are fairly strong) or just get back the dice you already have there (you can't re-use a die if it's on a ruin unless you have no dice left to roll).

Where collecting ruins rewards high rolls, stones relate to wonders and reward low rolls. Stones are placed in front of players in a hexagonal pattern. You don't need to create a hex with your first six stones, but after the first goes down, all stones played need to touch at least one already in front of you. All the wonder cards on the table have a certain color pattern that must be met in order to take that wonder and its associated power or points. These are chosen randomly, but there are also greater and lesser wonders available every game; greater wonders go to anyone who makes a hex of six same-colored stones, while lesser wonders are created by six stones that don't match each other or any pattern available. Lesser wonders are the least valuable, while greater wonders give the most points but may not be as good as wonders with certain abilities—this must be decided by the player's priorities.

Oh, and I didn't mention yet that the dice are different sizes. Every player uses five dice—a d4, three d6s, and a d8. Anyone familiar with those dice types will see the design here right away. You roll a d4 when you want to win a stone, and a d8 when you want to win a ruin, with the understanding that unless you play a Delver card that lets you manipulate the roll, there are no guarantees it will turn out the way you want. You also always have to consider the fact that when you roll those dice, especially the d4, it may take time to get them back, and plan around that if you have a particular strategy in mind. In general you don't want to give opponents sets of cards, but since everyone has the ruins they win face up (with a single face down ruin dealt out at the start of the game), you have a pretty good idea how much it will hurt you to give away a ruin as a trade for getting back dice and Delver cards.

There are several ways to score, all of them coming at the end of the game. Wonders are worth points, plus five bonus if you have at least three. Sets of the same color of ruin become worth substantially more points—if you can collect a set of five, you'll probably win—but if you're collecting a set everyone can see it face up, so that's harder to accomplish. Get a five color rainbow and that's five bonus points. Trying to get both bonuses is tricky but possible; trying to build wonders while winning a set is harder still.

This multiple-paths-to-victory type of game always carries the risk of making people prone to analysis paralysis. For the most part, Unearth doesn't suffer from that. If it happens, it's generally due to wanting to play Delver cards, especially if you're holding several. Early on you only have a couple, so it's not an issue, and late you're just going to dump them because it's obvious the game will end soon, so even when it happens it's usually in about the same third of the game (depending on the players, of course), which isn't too bad. It's also mostly contained to newer players, as veterans will have a better idea when they want to play their cards, especially if they have the odds figured out.

That ability to figure out the odds gives players a way to win through skill in a game that, using dice, is inherently set up to have some random outcomes. It's easy to understand, with enough play that it should take several games before any sense of sameness kicks in. If you reached into a bin of sub-one hour games and pulled this out, consider yourself very lucky.

Score: Thirteen super shiny rocks out of fifteen.

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