Publisher: Days of Wonder
Designers: Asger Harding Granderud & Daniel Skjold Pedersen
Duration: 45 min.
Rumors have been spreading at the port… there is treasure to be found! Unfortunately, there are 2 problems: the first is that you’re not the only one to hear about it, and the second is that not only are monsters inhabiting the waters, but the deeper you go, the more oxygen you’ll need, and there’s limited supply. On the plus side… there’s some pretty good crew looking to join the hunt, and the biggest treasure is to be found in the water: Atlantis!
Deep Blue is the latest release from Days of Wonder, most famous for Ticket to Ride and highly known or great game components. Deep Blue is a family level strategy game with some push-your-luck elements. So does this new release keep up with the legacy that Days of Wonder has offered in the past? Read on and find out!
What’s in the box?
Inside the box there are 10 boats (2 per player colour), 5 treasure chests, 15 wreck tiles, 50 crew member cards, 5 player boards, a large amount of VP tokens, a cloth bag, 31 gems in various colours, 6 starting tokens, a diving bell pawn, a cloth bag, 7 scenario cards, a diving board and one big main board.
Are the components amazing? You betcha! The board and components are bright and colourful, and the use of blues or the water is a gorgeous turquoise. The quality is top notch (especially the boats) and the fact that each player gets an awesome treasure chest to store all their goods is just awesome. There is also a amazing insert to store all this that allows easy setup and teardown. Overall, the components and presentations get a perfect score (if I had a score… hmmm… 10/10 treasures? Diving bells? Buoys?)
So how do you play?
To set up Deep Blue, place the board between the players. Each player gets their colour player board, boats, starting cards and a treasure chest. Place the gems on the top corner of the board as indicated, and any remaining gems go in the bag. Sort the treasure coins aside, and the form a draw pile and draw the top 4 cards and place them on the markers next to the board. Place the 6 starting wreck tiles face up on their respective spots on the board, and then the remaining tiles randomly face down on the remaining spots. Each player places their 2 boats in the harbour, and then place the diving board and bell within reach… now you’re all ready to begin diving for treasure!
Deep Blue has movement and hand management mechanics during action phases. Unlike a deck builder, you will always place new cards into your hand and there is no draw pile: cards will either be in your hand or in the discard pile. Cards can have more than one function: they can be used for money, movement, or during dives. During the game, you will do one of 4 actions per turn:
- Recruit a crew member: play cards from your hand with money symbols and/or starting tokens if you have any, and buy a card beside the board. The cost is on the spot above the card from $1-$3, and you can only buy one card per turn (meaning if you spend $2 and buy a $1 card, you don’t get any change). Alternatively, you can spend $4 to remove all 4 cards from the buying pile if you don’t like any of them, draw 4 new cards and take any one of those instead. Any new purchased cards go directly into your hand. Also, and +gem symbols revealed on a newly drawn card will add the respective gem from the board into the bag immediately when the card is drawn.
- Sail: play cards from your hand with the movement (propeller) symbol to move one of your 2 boats. Add up all the movement points and use them for one boat or split them between 2 of your boats. If you move any of your boats on a wreck tile, place it on a bonus spot on the tile (if it’s face down, flip it first). If you stop on a buoy, you don’t do anything at the moment.
- Rest: You shuffle your discard pile, and draw the top 3 cards and place them in your hand.
- Dive: If you are on a face up tile, you can begin a dive for treasure! I you have boats on 2 different wreck tiles, decide which one you want to dive and place the dive pawn on the tile. Now all players that are EXACTLY one move away may rush to the dive site to join in, but they don’t get to anchor on any of the bonus spots of the dive tile. Now the dive can begin!
The diving is the main part of the game, and then all the points are scored. The player who started the dive is the dive leader, and they grab the dive board and the bag of gems, and excitement ensues! They will start to draw gems one by one, and apply each effect as it’s drawn. The gems all have different effects, some good… some bad!
I’ll start with some of the bad… the black and blue gems! The blue gems mean oxygen levels are going down, and the black gems mean deep sea monsters! If they are drawn they are placed on their respective spots on the side of the dive board. The first black or blue gem is a freebie, but serves a warning… the second gem will require you to resurface! But… there is a way to counteract it. If you are in a bonus spot of the dive tile that defends against the threat, or have a card that does, then you can keep going! However, cards are always played in order starting with the player who initiated the dive, and if they can’t defend then everyone must resurface and the dive is over.
Now what about the good gems? If you draw a good gem, such as silver, gold or any other points, they stay on the dive board and you keep drawing. However, you may also have cards that will give you points when cards are drawn (this is the only way to get points for purple and green gems). If the criteria is met on your card, you may play it and get the points right away regardless if the dive fails or not. The dive will continue until it fails or the dive leader decides it’s too risky… if the dive ends before threats force you to resurface, everyone still left in the dive gets the points from the gems! But if you are forced to resurface, then no one gets any points… too bad! Hopefully you got some points from cards tho! Also, the leader will get the VP from the dive tile if the dive is a success.
Take the coin value of the points and secretly stash them away in your treasure chests… and then the game continues! If any Atlantis tiles come up, after the dive they will be placed in the bottom left corner of the board. When the last Atlantis tile has been completed… the game will end! Everyone will count their treasure, and the player with the most points wins!
Is it any good?
Just by looking at the box art for Deep Blue… I knew I wanted to try this game. I love press your luck mechanics, and diving for treasure just seemed to be a good theme for that mechanic. But as we all know, good themes and pretty art don’t always make a great game. So does Deep Blue have anything behind it’s pretty exterior?
As luck would have it, there’s a pretty awesome game underneath that gorgeous exterior. Deep Blue has some great mechanics, but I think my favourite has to be the hand management. I love when games have multi-use cards, because it adds a nice layer to the game. Do I want to use this card to buy more cards, or should I use it to move? Or do I save it for a dive and get more points? It adds a nice level of strategy that I really enjoy and makes the game more fun and intense. I also like how when you buy a card, you get it right away. Because this isn’t a deck-builder, you won’t be cycling through all your cards a lot, and its nice to get a card knowing you can use it right away, not waiting to draw it like 5 rounds later or so.
The press your luck mechanics are great as well, I do like how you can rush to a dive site if you are next to it, at the expense of giving up bonuses. Also the dive is a lot of fun… some people may not like being part of it and not being the leader and having someone else have the say on wether to stop or go, but there is still the tension of picking the gems out of the bag and the anticipation. It’s also fun when you get to play cards, and knowing no matter what happens you’ll still get those points.
The game is also very simple to teach. It may look like a lot is going on, but it flows very nicely and the mechanics all make sense. It’s a game you can bring over to your family’s house that has already played something like Ticket to Ride and not worry about it being too challenging, as well as over to your game night and have the gamers enjoy it. It’s also not very long, yet keeps you engaged the entire time. Your first game may take you an hour or so, but the more you play, you can get it down to that 45 minutes that the box says.
The game also provides some variability with the Captain’s Log cards, which change up a rule or 2 to the gameplay. They’re pretty good, and some are more fun than others, but it’s nice that they are included. It’s also nice that it has a variable setup each game, because you never know when the game will end and it makes each dive more interesting.
Again… the components are great, but the theme really shines. It’s not super thematic, but it really does feel like you’re diving in the deep without being able to see or know the dangers, and there’s always a risk. The art really make the game stand out, and it’s what I expect from a Days of Wonder game and more. It may just have some of the best components from Days of Wonder, especially those nice ships and the treasure chests.
Is there much bad to say about Deep Blue? Well, because of the press your luck mechanics and how they’re done, it really works a lot better with more players. The 2 player game just feels like you’re off doing your own thing sometimes, even though you do have 2 ships to move around. But with more players, there’s always the excitement of rushing to join a dive or having others join in yours, and the 2 player game really lacks that excitement.
Also, as much as I love the press your luck and the team diving, if you’re not in the dive you’re just kind of watching, and it can get a little boring between turns (especially at that 5 player count. Luckily, this happens very rarely and turns go by so fast that its not usually an issue, but it can crop up. I found 3-4 to be the optimal player counts.
Deep Blue really feels like vintage Days of Wonder, a gorgeous looking game with simple mechanics that everyone can get into, yet offers gameplay that satisfies everyone. After games like Five Tribes and Yamatai (which I love and are some of my favourites), its kind of nice to see the company go back and make something simple yet engaging that everyone can enjoy. Deep Blue is another amazing release from a amazing company, and one you should definitely play at your next game night.
- Truly amazing presentation and components
- Simple rules and easy to pick up, great for families and gamers alike
- Fun press your luck mechanics
- Really great hand management mechanics, and knowing when to play the right card is key
- Variability with the Captain’s Log cards
- The game never feels long, and has the perfect balance of length and weight
- Sometimes you can be waiting a bit for your turn when you’re not involved in dives
- Good at 2, but really needs more players to shine
*Thank you to Asmodee Canada for providing a copy of Deep Blue for this review, and you can find more about them and their games by clicking here.*