Dive is a game that pretty much passed me by. I had seen pictures of the box, I knew it was pretty, but that was it. So, when I was given the chance to take a look at it, I figured I’d go on a little undersea adventure of mystery! Full disclosure though, I have a pre-release copy so some of the components are not final in my version; Some of the pictures in this review will not show off the game in all its glory.
Under The Sea
So, what is dive? Well, now that I’ve finally played it a bunch, I feel qualified to tell you! Dive is a programming and push your luck game. It also has an element of bidding which you can mix some basic asymmetrical powers into if you should so choose. The game plays 1-4 people and while the box says it takes 30 minutes, I’d say 15 is probably closer to the mark with adults.
When you set up a basic game of Dive, you’ll have a stack of these cool looking see-through rubbery ocean tiles that have pictures of various sea creatures on them. Some of them have holes too. You’ll also have a screen to hide your choices as well as some tokens to place on your player board. Lastly, each player will have a set of tokens numbered one to five with sharks on one side of them.
The goal of Dive is to be the first player to retrieve the sacred stone from the ocean. With this MacGuffin in mind, you’ll be programming up to the next 5 steps of your dive in secret. To successfully program a step, you need to look at the stack of ocean tiles and try and work out what sea creatures are on which depth of the tile stack. If you think there is a shark there, you play your token shark side up. If you think there is no shark on that tile, you play the side without the shark on it.
You’ll do this with all 5 of your tokens. What is really cool is that when you’re looking at the stack of ocean tiles, you can quite clearly make out the top tile and maybe the one below that. But the next tiles are a little murkier and that makes it harder to accurately predict what you think will happen. It is honestly one of the coolest marriages of theme and mechanics that I have seen in a while.
Life Is Better Down Where It’s Wetter
There are also some friendly creatures that can be spotted in the ocean depths. These creatures can nudge you a little closer to your goal. Or they even help you catch up with the player in front of you. Only one player gets to seek out the help of these animals though. That will be the player who plays the highest number token for that tile. You can actually stack your tokens to boost your bid. You can do this if you really want to be the one to get help from these friendly sea creatures. This may help you win the aid of a sea creature, but it will mean you can dive one tile less for every extra token you stack. Some nice risk/reward here.
Once everybody has made their decisions and programmed in their choices, everyone reveals their program, and they are resolved. I really enjoyed this moment of revelation as you get to quickly compare your program to everybody else’s. You can kind of see where people have differed in opinion and it is quite funny when you realise that you may have come to a slightly different conclusion and you may be crashing out of the round prematurely.
To resolve your actions, you grab the top tile and look to see if it has a shark on it. Everybody who chose correctly and placed their tokens on the correct side up is still in the game, so go you! Next, if there is a friendly creature on the tile, everybody who is still in the game compares the number of the token they played. The player with the highest value gets to use the creature’s ability. If it’s a draw, nobody gets to use it. This is why it can be useful to double up a token to make sure you get the bonus action; it can be really powerful when used at the right time.
You repeat drawing tiles and looking at the tokens until there is nobody left with tokens to resolve. Then you start again for another round! It’s really simple and plays quite quickly once you know what is going on.
Down Here All The Fish Is Happy
There is a more advanced version of the game where every player has a special ability fish token. These range from allowing you to boost one of your token values to just obscuring the tile stack to make it more difficult for the other players. That one is a personal favourite of mine!
There is also a more child-friendly version of the game which doesn’t knock you out of the round for guessing incorrectly. Instead, you only get to move towards the sacred stone if you correctly guess if there is a shark on the tile or not.
Lastly, there is a solo mode where you will go up against the village chief. There is a deck of cards with each one being a different program that the chief will follow. These can be pretty tricky to beat as the chief will always move. So, you better be sure you can make out those sea creatures to get a bit of a boost!
We’ve Got No Troubles, Life With The Bubbles
That’s it! Dive is a really simple game, but it does what it sets out to do really well. The main mechanic of looking at these transparent tiles has been really unique to me. I can’t think of another game that does it. While my copy is a bit rough around the edges, the game looks incredible in the pictures of it I have seen online.
My only real worry is that people will start to learn the tiles. Some of them have quite distinct artwork. You may well begin to remember if those tiles have sharks or helper animals on them. You probably won’t be able to do it for most of the tiles, but it will definitely be possible for some of them.
I was really pleasantly surprised by Dive. As I said, I didn’t really know what to expect going in. But what I found was a fun combination of mechanisms wrapped up in a nice theme with some truly excellent components.