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Sunday, 17 February 2019

Friday Filler: Deep Sea Adventure

Deep Sea Adventure is tiny game of desperate survival in which a disparate diving team make a series of dives on a wreck despite a lack of air. Published by Oink Games, it follows in a wave of Japanese games that began with Love Letter and continues to this day. Designed for two to six players, aged eight and over, it combines themes of nautical exploration and treasure hunting with pick up and deliver, resource management, and push your luck mechanics. The story is that several rival poor divers want to dive on some underwater ruins, but individually lack the means. They have banded together, shared their budget, rented a rickety submarine—including just the one air between them, and have three attempts to bring up as much treasure as they can. The deeper they dive the more valuable treasure they will be able bring up, but should they run out of air, they will drop their treasure, and have to try again on the next dive. The diver with the most treasure at game’s end is the winner. For a tiny game, Deep Sea Adventure comes well appointed. The components include a wooden Explorer or each player and an Air Marker to indicate how much air is left in the tank; a Submarine Board with twenty-five spots showing how much air there is left in the tank; sixteen blank tokens; thirty-two Ruins tokens divided into four Levels of eight each, from low to high; and two six-sided dice, each numbered one to three twice. The Ruins tokens vary in value from zero to fifteen and at the start of the game are laid out in a line, starting with Level One and ending with Level Four. This ensures that the more highly valued Ruins tokens are to be found at a greater depth. Each players’ Explorer starts on the Submarine. Starting with the player who has been in the ocean most recently, a game turn consists of four steps. First a player reduces the amount of Air in the Submarine by the number of Ruins tokens his Explorer is holding, then he decides whether he will continue onwards into the depths or turn back and return to the Submarine. Then he rolls both dice to move his Explorer, the number rolled being reduced by the number of Ruins tokens he is carrying, and lastly, an Explorer can Search, which means he can do one of three things. Either do nothing; pick up a Ruins token and add it to the ones he is already carrying, replacing it with a blank token; or place a Ruins token on a blank token, typically to drop a Ruins token that has a low or no value. The players continue taking turns until either everyone has made it back to the Submarine or the air in the Submarine runs out. The round is then over and a new one can begin. Any Ruins tokens an Explorer has successfully brought up from his dive are kept by his player and added to their score for the end of the game. If however, the Submarine runs out of Air, any Explorers still in the water have to drop whatever they are carrying and make a mad scramble back up to the Submarine. Any Ruins tokens so dropped, sink to the ocean floor where they accumulate in piles of three Ruins tokens each. In subsequent turns, each pile of Ruins tokens counts as one for carrying purposes. Any blank tokens added to the line of Ruins tokens are removed and the break in the closed up—the Explorers know not to search there. Play continues like this for a total of three rounds, at the end of which the players count up the value of the Ruins tokens hauled up from the bottom of the sea and the player with highest total is declared the winner. Now the Air in the Submarine does not start being used up until the first Explorer picks up a Ruins token. So the Explorers are encouraged to go deep in order to get the most valuable Ruins tokens, but go too deep and the rival Explorers may be able to return with Ruins tokens that are less valuable than the deepest ones which you are diving for, potentially using up all of the Air before you do. What starts out as a gentle fall into the ocean depths rapidly changes character as soon as someone picks up a Ruins token, then it becomes a desperate bid to get some treasure and get back to the safety of the Submarine. Hindered of course, by the weight of whatever Ruins tokens have been picked up which reduces his movement. The heart of the game is not just the ‘push your luck’ element, but also holding one’s nerve. Just how far down do you send your explorer before you or someone decides to grab a Ruins token—more later in subsequent rounds if one or more Ruins tokens have been dropped—and decide to return to the Submarine. This will trigger a mad dash as the other Explorers grab their own Ruins tokens and attempt to rise to the Submarine before the Air supply is depleted. Physically, Deep Sea Adventure is nicely appointed. The Explorer pieces are done in wood, whilst the Ruins tokens, done in cardboard, are clearly differentiated in terms of colour and shape. So the Level 1 Ruins tokens are done in light blue and triangular, the Level 2 tokens are square and marked in a slightly darker blue, and so on and so on. What this means is that they are easy to identify and whilst their exact value will not be known until picked up, players will be able to tell which Ruins tokens are of a greater value. The rules themselves are clear and simple to read, such that the box can be opened and a first game played in five minutes. If there is a downside to Deep Sea Adventure, it is that there is relatively little variety to its game play—go as deep as you can before you or another player make a mad dash scramble for the sanctuary of the Submarine. What this means is that you are not going to bring Deep Sea Adventure to the gaming table too often, but it adds variety and well done theme in terms of its design and its play.

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