Most dungeon exploration games come with pre-fab maps and, quite often, miniatures that you lead through the depths, looking for treasure and adventure. Delve lets players collaboratively build the dungeon’s layout as they play as well as offering treasure and adventure for all; as the dungeon grows and rooms form, players will compete for loot and treasure and make the most of their jaunt down into Skull Cavern before the sun comes up. If you want a little Carcassonne-meets-Above & Below-meets-D&D then Delve has that wrapped up for you.
Early on in the game, most turns will be players laying dungeon tiles and choosing to place their adventurers on the map should they wish. This is the most “Carcassonne” feel to the game, where you’d like to claim a spot in the room – and especially have the most firepower in there in case it ends up in a battle with another player once the room closes. Unless there’s a torch present on one of the tiles in the room you’re in, you get to put your character tile face-down, which adds a little bit of mystery and a slight bluff to this action- maybe you’ve got your brute in there to really smash stuff up, or your thief to sneak about. Muhahaha.
After a few rounds and enough tiles are placed, rooms start to complete – this allows players to either fight each other (where multiple players have pieces present) or take on the narrative adventure deck (if they were the only player present in the room). I like this part of balancing out “do I want to fight other players for loot, or finish this room up on my own and take my chance with the deck?” Obviously the larger the room, the more loot (gold) and treasure (cool items) – but the more chance you’ll have competition for those sweet sweet shiny things. Still, it’s really hard to avoid the lure of the adventure deck (more on that later). If you end up sharing a room, that space is divided between players and ends up in a fight – all players will reveal their character/s and roll the types/number of dice listed in order to resolve who wins the fight (and also maybe some extra loot or treasure!) – that’s it! Take what you’re owed, and it’s all resolved.
When you finish up a room on your own, the player on your right will read out the short scenario on an adventure card drawn randomly from the deck for you. Without knowing if you’ll have to fight or pass a test, you have to decide between one of two options to resolve the card. This reminded me a lot of the “choose your own adventure” parts of Above and Below – and, of course, it feels a little like a dungeon master giving you options in Dungeons & Dragons, the outcomes of which are a mystery until you dive in and try. From avoiding traps, to stumbling across monsters or even encountering bards, there’s a lot of great little adventuring snippets in this deck. It’s big enough to not exhaust in one game, either. (Although if you played this frequently, things might become familiar).
Most of these adventures will be tests – a little different to fighting with fellow players. Depending on what you choose, you may just end up with a reward – a “success”. You could also lose something – an XP token, a random gold card – which can be a little frustrating, but this will often come with a “success” flag to picking that option, in which case you’ll gain loot/treasure from the room as per single player room resolution rules. I like that failure isn’t always a “take things away from a player” penalty and there’s usually going to be something to make up for it anyhow. The lure of adventure and unknown rewards is definitely strong with this narrative deck, and it’s fun enough that I have even enjoyed seeing other players go through their encounters. I especially liked reading them out for the players next to me – on occasion, throwing a silly voice into the mix.
I’ve mentioned the room resolution rules a few times. Either for multiple players or just one, the steps are fairly straightforward – and I’ve gone over what happens overall above. (Make sure to use that track when you’ve rolled dice! It’s so helpful.) My only concern was that I did feel like I needed the rules handy for each time this happened, so it could be worthwhile having a summary of this on the (unfortunately flimsy) player aids, in lieu of some illustration for example. A good player aid means once the game’s learned, the aid is all you’ll need. But truly, the game is easy to breeze through once you’ve learned to play, otherwise – it’s just the fellow dungeon delvers you have to watch.
With any game where you’re drawing cards and rolling dice, there’s an element of randomness. While there’s enough player control over each turn (tile and character placement) you can’t control what’ll come up in dice results or on the flip of a card. I don’t like my gaming experiences to be too random, especially with games much longer than 30 minutes – Delve’s randomness works with the theme of the game, and there’s also slight factors that mitigate it should you choose to. Asymmetric player powers allow you to tinker with dice rolls, placing certain characters in rooms with certain symbols gives you bonuses to fighting results, and XP tokens can be spent to boost the amount of dice you roll. But if you like complete control, this might not be your jam. I think mostly what frustrated me was not strategically being able to collect types of treasure – there are some items related, that boosts points end-game – but the items themselves are all pretty good, I realize it’s not a big deal in the end. Just gimme the treasure!!
While a few components aren’t 100% (the aforementioned player aids, plus the stickered characters bother me) the game will stand the test of time and table. Plus it has some pretty cute art – I like the details on the icons, treasures etc in the cards – but also the 4 player factions are illustrated really well. More of a cartoon fantasy than the horror/grim dark fantasy of other games. The cutest kobolds I’ve ever seen! Once the game’s all finished, the map looks impressive on the table too – and totalling up all your treasure looks fabulous with the pop of golden coins from the cards.
At the maximum player count, the game doesn’t feel like it drags – tile placement’s quick and there’s excitement when a room resolves. While there is a finite narrative deck, and only 4 player factions, you may become familiar with aspects of the game on repeated plays, but that hasn’t bothered me with another “choose your own adventure” game like Above and Below. With the asymmetry of the player powers, and the variety of the tile placement, in addition to the narrative deck, I think I’ll come back to this to scratch my dungeon delving itch. If this combination could sound like it’s a little too much of everything in the game stew, but I’d say give it a taste and see before you make up your mind!
If you’re interested, we’re having a giveaway of Delve, plus the small expansion Delve: Peril Awaits (including new adventure and treasure cards). Just email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the subject line “Dice & Delve” and we’ll draw a winner in two weeks (on November 3rd 2017).
Delve is a tile-laying adventure game for 2 – 4 players, playing in approximately 45 – 60 minutes. Designed by Richard Launius and Pete Shirey, it has art by Gong Studios and is published by Indie Board and Cards. Thanks to IBC for the review copy of this fun title!