Aug 02

All That Glitters – A Review of Delve

Quick Board Game Reviews That Pack a Punch. No Rules, Just Opinions. 

Brave Delvers from across the realm have journeyed to seek their fortune within the dungeons of Skull Cavern.
Gold, treasures, and perilous encounters await behind every door! Grab your gear, sharpen your swords, and
watch out for those kobolds!

In Delve, players guide their band of adventurers through the dungeons of Skull Cavern. Each turn place a
dungeon tile and an adventurer, exploring the dangers below and searching for loot. When a room or corridor is completed, Delvers must fight for their share of the gold and treasure. But if a player manages to complete a
room alone, they must overcome dangerous encounters before collecting their riches.

Delve combines tile-laying and an immersive narrative experience in a new and exciting way.


The gameplay is surprisingly simple. Play a tile, draw up a tile, place a delver on one of the rooms. Each of your party members has the ability to roll some combination of white, red, or purple dice as listed on the delver, so consider who you wisely. Each of the different color dice gives you more focus on rolling either loot or swords that you will use to a defeat an encounter or another player. Determine the winner of the encounter, sword or loot rolls and divide up the spoils accordingly. The accessibility of this game is one of its big pluses. If you are a fan of Carcassonne, I can see this game having a lot of appeal.
Players take turns placing tiles as they explore the dungeon and, if they choose, placing a delver in one of the rooms on the tile they just placed. The delver is placed face down, so opponents have little idea what they might be up against if they decide to join you and grab a piece of the pie. Once the room is complete, it gets resolved. If more than one player is in the room, each flips their delvers over and rolls the dice shown on them, and whoever rolls the bestest gets the most stuff. If you’re by yourself, your neighbor draws a card from the encounter deck and reads it to you, giving you two options to choose from. Hopefully, you have the right delvers in place to make it a success!

Layer Ameri-thrash elements on top of a solid Euro-style tile laying game, and in essence you have Delve. What Delve does that’s a little different is making the area of control a contest of dice rolls, so there is a little extra layer of strategy. I think it elevates the tile laying genre, and by including encounters it does a pretty good job of freshening up the mechanic. Where it fails is in making the player feel like their decisions matter. The encounters are such that you can outright fail by making the wrong choice. Most of the time you are still rewarded with something, but in the end it makes you feel like you are at the mercy of the Delve gods. Couple that with lucky dice rolling and there’s a lot of random in this game.
Delve often feels like Carcassone for the Munchkin enthusiast. The tile-laying and area control elements are fine. There are interesting decisions to be made when considering when to complete a room, not just with regards to maximizing your encounter opportunity but with timing as well. Building a big room might get you a lot of loot, but time might run out before you get it finished. But each complete room is usually resolved by rolling a fistful of dice. That is … what it is, but you might get unlucky by placing the wrong delver, flipping the wrong card or by choosing the wrong resolution. In those instances, you can almost see the game smirking at you while shrugging its shoulders.

I grew up on Dungeons and Dragons, so it was one of the main draws for me in backing the Kickstarter. The brief encounters give me a bit of that D&D feel by seeding recurring enemies throughout the deck creating a bit of a narrative. They also present interesting challenges when making decisions on which action to take. They can be completely random, which makes me feel like my choices are secondary. But with dice chucking and the ability to spend experience to mitigate the luck, it does a good enough job of adding a dungeon crawl theme to a tile laying game.

Delve’s dungeon diving theme is one of its bright spots. The scenarios in the encounter deck are varied and interesting, and several feature recurring creatures and characters, which can create a fun little story while you’re playing. But a lot of times I was wishing I had an actual party of adventurers to handle these encounters, not just a delver or two. The strength of RPG adventuring is a party that can be tailored to handle anything they come across, giving each member a moment to shine. Delve doesn’t offer much more than dungeon cosplay, which isn’t necessarily a sin, but random solutions for random encounters means you are often making random decisions.

There really isn’t much art to talk about in Delve. The tiles themselves look redundant, boring, and full of barely distinguishable color delineating light pink walls, tan corridors, and the yellow/gold rooms. The art on the box, faction mats, and player pieces are fun, and I wish it was shown more. Plenty of games add fun little illustrations on tiles. It seems like a missed opportunity.

Missed opportunity indeed. The tile design fluctuates between boring and confusing. The tan corridors and gold rooms are often hard to distinguish from each other, which is a big problem as there are strict rules about placing corridors. Tiles with a flaming sun icon on them will advance the game timer track, but suns seem like an odd choice for a dungeon crawl. Why not, like, use a skull or something cool? The faction illustrations are a bright spot, but they aren’t used to their full potential.

So there’s a $40 MSRP on Delve, and it feels a little bit on the high side. I am not sure the gameplay is compelling enough for me to spend that much, even though I did back the KickStarter. I don’t think the production quality is as good as I would have liked. They did a good job of adding in extra encounters and treasure cards after the Kickstarter ended, so that is great, but I am a little underwhelmed at that price. Knock $10 off and it’d be in the ballpark.
When you take the boring art, random gameplay and production issues into account, then $40 certainly seems on the high side. This type of game would be an insta-buy at that price, were it done right. The encounter deck is a pretty fat stack, so you won’t run into a lot of narrative repetition. The dice are nice and chunky, too. The problem is I already have games that do similar things much better, so I don’t see a ton of value here or even a place for it in my collection.

Ofta. I feel like there is a kernel of a great game here, but I don’t feel there was enough development done. I enjoy the encounters and rolling the dice, even though some of them are nonsense. The visual aesthetic of the tiles is not great. The rule book was hard to use, and it didn’t reference all the different corner cases that came up in the cards. I didn’t care much for fighting other players. The only part of the game I really want to explore is the encounters, and that means I’d most likely play this at 2p so there is less interference with my doing them. This is almost a 2 for me in the sense that I am not sure I really want to play this game anymore. I will play Delve at 2 players, so I am going to give it a provisional 3. After that, I am not 100% sure I am going to keep it. I think this game deserves a home that can appreciate its better qualities.
By now, you’ve probably deduced I really don’t like this game. Honestly, I’m a bit disappointed, because the theme is lovely and I really do think deep down under all the crusty layers of cheap components, random nonsense, and lackluster art, there’s the chewy center of a good game. The little stories on the encounter cards are nice, and I like the hidden worker/area control business that the rest of the game hangs on, but everything else feels underdeveloped or unloved. In the end, I can’t think of a single reason I would ever play this again when I have both the simple, elegant, charming classic Carcassonne and the beautiful story-telling bits of Above and Below on my shelf. I’m giving this game a 2, and I wish Matthew and whoever he finds to play 2-player with him the best of luck.

The Dukes of Dice Rating System
1 = Poorly designed but playable. Not necessarily fun.
2 = Game has some merit but has significant detractions.
3 = Game is okay, not exciting. Will play in the right situation.
4 = A good game. Worth playing, just not all the time. Belongs in the Duchy.
5 = A great game, will rarely turn down a play of it.
6 = An all-time favorite that is a contender for the top 10

If you want to connect with us you can find:

Matthew on Twitter as @uncouthtooth or matthew@dukesofdice.com

Matt on Twitter as @matosowalker

Join the discussion in our Board Game Geek Guild on this review HERE

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