Welcome To Skull Cavern!
Delve is a dungeon-building game designed by Richard Launius and Pete Shirey and is meant for two to four players with each game lasting approximately sixty minutes. The object of the game is to lead your team of adventurers through the dungeons of Skull Cavern collecting as much treasure as you can until the game ends, where the winner is the player with the most treasure and gold! Delve plays using a tile-laying mechanic alongside narrative driven cards in a unique and interesting way.
How To Delve
Each player will choose one of four different factions – Sellwsords, Kobolds, Wraiths, and Forestfolk and then collect their corresponding player mat. The player mats are your reference sheets for the game as well as information on the faction you have chosen, telling you what delvers you have on your team (each faction has a different configuration of delvers) and also what your faction’s special ability is. The delvers tokens are split into four different types – leader, mage, brute, and thief – and each delver will be useful in different ways as you explore Skull Cavern.
Everything for each faction is colour-coded, for example, the Wraith's delvers and cubes used for the combat and spoil tracks are white while the Forestfolk’s are yellow. There are some neatly designed combat dice split into 3 colours – white, red and purple – which will be used during battles, fights or tests as they appear throughout the game. Each delver type also has its own amount and type of dice printed on their token, so make sure you optimise the use of your delvers!
Each turn a player will take two of the dungeon tile pieces and proceed to place one next to an already existing dungeon tile, thereby creating the dungeon as the game progresses. Each tile must match up to the other – for example a corridor piece must connect to another corridor tile to be played – and once you have decided where to put your tile, you then have a choice of placing one of your delver tokens facedown on a section of that tile so other players are unaware of your delver’s type. Placement of your delvers is paramount to the game, as the different compositions on each tile will make them useful in different capacities – battles, tests or fights.
At the start of the game, each player will be given three xp tokens. These can be played to help a player on their turn in several ways. You can spend an xp token to discard dungeon tiles in your hand and replace them with other tiles from the draw pile. This is especially handy if you are trying to finish a room off but don’t have a tile in your hand to do so. You can also spend xp to ignore the normal corridor placement rules, giving you extra options when deciding where to place your tiles. Before you enter a dice rolling situation, you can spend xp to add two extra white dice to your dice pool guaranteeing a better chance of victory. You can spend xp to retrieve a delver that you have previously placed if you decide they would be more useful placed elsewhere in the dungeon. Finally, each faction has their own unique special ability on their mat and these abilities can be activated whenever stated on the faction mat by spending an xp token.
Splitting The Loot
Once a room has been completed – no more tiles can be played to add to the room – the players then decide how the loot in the room will be split. Tiles with gold bags on them will provide one gold card, which will have different gold values on ranging from 1-3, whereas tiles with treasure chests on them will provide a treasure card. Treasure cards vary in use and effectiveness – some will need to be played immediately upon collection where others have a one-time use allowing you to play it when necessary and resolve the action on the card. Treasure cards also have a point value which will add to your final point score.
How the loot is divided up between players is determined in two ways – if more than one player has managed to place a delver/s in the room during their tile placement phase then a battle will occur between those delvers occupying the room. Each player will reveal their delvers and then starting with the player who completed the room they will collect the dice indicated on their delver tokens and roll them. Each player will then place their coloured cubes on the game board in the numbered spaces that match their dice results by adding the combat (sword symbol) results and spoils (coin symbol) results and placing the cubes on each track respectively.
The player with the highest combat result will receive all the treasure cards in the room and half the gold, rounded down. The player with the second highest combat total receives half the remaining gold, rounded down and the player with the third highest total receives half again, rounded down. If there is a fourth player in the room, they will receive nothing!
One thing to remember during battles is that some tiles will have a magic rift symbol on them – if a mage is present in a room with a magic rift icon on it then the player will receive plus three to their combat total. Ties for places are resolved in player order starting with the current player. The player with the highest spoils result receives an additional gold card if their total is between one and four, but if their result was five or higher then they receive an additional treasure card instead. In the case of spoils, a tie will result in nobody receiving the additional cards.
The game takes an interesting twist if only one player has occupied a room with delvers – the player to the left of that player will draw an Encounter card and read the story text on the card aloud to the player who occupies the room. Each encounter card will have two possible options for the player to choose from, with the end result of each option being kept secret from the player – for example, you may need to choose between negotiating with a Dwarven princess you have encountered via the card, or deciding to fight her royal guards instead. Each option will resolve differently, sometimes ending in direct failure or success.
Other times a fight or test will take place where you will need to roll the total dice indicated on your delver tokens in the room against a combination of dice shown on the encounter card, and this will decide whether you have succeeded or failed. In the case of a success, you will collect all the treasure and gold cards indicated by the icons on the tiles that make up the room and also any other bonuses that the encounter card awards the player. In the case of a fail, you collect no treasure cards but do collect half the amount of gold cards in the room, rounded down.
The encounter cards make Delve feel unique, adding a role-playing element to the tile placement mechanic. They also use witty and humourous recurring characters, for example the bard that appears on several of the encounter cards more resembles a hulking barbarian than the traditional foppish stereotype, and the mad warlock is always a treat to find yourself up against. Once a room has been completed one way or the other, all players will collect their delvers so they can place them once again on new tiles played.
The End Of The Delving
The game will enter the end phase when the sun marker on the game board reaches the last remaining space – certain tiles have a sun symbol on them, and when these are placed the sun marker advances one space – or when there are no more cards left in the gold deck. The game will end when it becomes the first players turn again, giving everyone an equal amount of turns in the game. To determine the winner, players will add up the value of both their treasure and gold cards and the player with the highest result is the winner! If there is a tie for winner, the player with the most treasure cards will be declared winner. If there is still a tie after that, the players who are tied will share the victory between them.
The faction mats in Delve are made from thick solid card and colourfully designed, with each faction standing out from the other yet all maintain the same cartoonish flair. This is also present on the nicely designed delver tokens which are made from a thick plastic to ensure longevity. The dungeon tiles are solid and clearly illustrated – the room colours are vastly different so players won’t get confused about where rooms start and end and the icons on the tiles are large and easy to identify. The game board is also made from the same quality card as the faction mats and functions perfectly for the players, from showing where to place the three different card types in the game to easy to follow combat, spoils and sunset tracks. The cards in Delve aren’t of a great stock, but in terms of functionality for the game everything is clear and easy to understand. The best component of the game though has to be the dice – they are large, simply designed with long life ensured by indented colour coded icons making it easy to work out dice roll totals.
Delve is a tile-placement game like no other – introducing the role-playing style of the encounter cards is a great way to keep this genre fresh and also adds a much-welcome humourous side to the game. The light-hearted feel is evident through all parts of the game, from the cartoonish artwork to the comedic encounters and even the layout of the rule book which is short yet concise and even includes a quick start guide on the back to help players remember key gameplay. Richard Launius is once more on form designing Delve, with many mechanics of the game being recognised from his other works, particularly the design of the encounter cards. The battles between players over the various loot in the dungeon is also well designed, ensuring that almost no player is left empty-handed and therefore helping the game maintain an even balance between the players.
Delve is an easy-to-pick-up light-hearted game, fun for all the family and although the game recommends age fourteen plus many younger players could also enjoy the Delve experience due to its presentation and artwork. Both the amount of encounter cards and dungeon tiles also guarantee many varied playthroughs of Delve.