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Subject: The Unscrupulous Diver's Dilemma rss

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Michael C
United States
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Deep Sea Adventure’s central conceit is equal parts cheeky & campy: you set out to dredge up sunken treasure, only to be crammed into a sub with your competitors, because none of you had the finances to get a sub otherwise. This shared air supply means the more treasure you carry, the faster you expend your air, and the slower you move. There’s no time to take a breather, though, because if you are too trusting, chances are someone else will have the last laugh and use up your last gasp for you.

When the means & responsibilities are shared but the rewards are not, then such petty behavior is only natural. (Thus the punning title)

Oink Games has given us an expertly produced and numerically finessed game that has shown me (& hopefully you!) that roll-and-move games needn’t be met with a po-faced or dismissive attitude. Its achievements are not especially grand, but I do quite enjoy a small game executed perfectly.

How to play:

Deep Sea Adventure only requires a series of binary decisions, so it’s easy for anyone to sit down, set it up, get playing within minutes. Taking the time to drill a few details is well-worth it though, so players can forecast and anticipate things just a little more, in the interest of fairness.

The facts:

The game is played over three rounds, with each round ending if either the air supply reaches zero, or all players have returned to the sub. (N.B. If the air hits zero, the current player still finishes his turn). Players get to create the board by laying out the treasure tiles, numbers face-down, starting with the lightest, three-sided, least valuable and progressing from there. Movement is dictated by the roll of two six-sided dice, each with values ranging from 1 to 3 with equal representation on the faces. There are four treasure types, with eight in each set. The first is worth anywhere from 0 to 3 points, the second 4 to 7, the third 8 to 11, and the last 12 to 15, with two of each number present in each set. Everyone shares 25 air each round. The path gets shorter each round, as the treasure tiles are snatched up.

Last person to set foot in an appreciable body of water starts the game. (In order of eminence: ocean, lake, river, puddle, shower)

On your turn:

1. Reduce the air supply by the number of treasure tiles carried.
2. Decide whether to turn back before you roll. You can only turn back once.
3. Roll both dice and move that amount (minus the number of treasure tiles carried, minimum zero). Skip over other players.
4. After movement, if you are standing on a treasure tile, decide whether to pick it up, replacing it with a blank tile if you do. If on a blank tile, decide whether to drop one of the treasures you’re carrying.

When you pick up a treasure tile, you cannot look at its numerical value unless you make it back to the sub. When the round ends, all players inside the sub may then look at their treasure tile values. Any blank tiles are removing, shortening the path. All players still outside lose their treasure, which is grouped in threes and placed at the end of the path. These stacks of three are still worth all of their printed points, but only count as one tile with regard to the air supply and encumbrance. The next round begins with the player who was furthest out from the sub at the previous round’s conclusion, or if all players made it back, the last player to return.

Highest score at the end of three rounds wins.


There’s an old wives’ tale that if you cook a toad in water, heating it ever so gradually, the toad will boil without ever noticing its predicament. This game’s design is like that story insofar as it benefits from a few small good ideas which add up to make something pretty surprising & delightful. The amount and value of the tiles must have been carefully considered, because each round gets more tense and more rewarding as the safer, lower hanging fruit are removed from the board.

If a good shot of espresso has excellent mouthfeel, Deep Sea Adventure has a very good game-feel, once sampled during play.

In Deep Sea Adventure, none of the decisions are especially torturous or opaque, but it is still interesting how deviant or flippant ways of thinking can guide how things unfold in-game, and even hold the success of other players hostage. I like these qualities very much in a lightweight game, that it allows for sociability and the free, playful expression of volatile emotions under relatively low, aleatory stakes.

In several situations a high roll is feared rather than desired. Most players think to themselves, “Okay, this first round I want at least one square (4-7) tile, then I’ll call it quits and turn back”. The breakpoints between tile zones mean that high rolls can be painful, since any distance you travel outwards adds to the return trip. Because you hop over other players, overshooting or underperforming on a single dice-roll can be a pretty dramatic miss-step.

Players who try to gulp down the air supply might want lower rolls to delay their return to the sub, since they most are only carrying treasure tiles of piddling value, in the hopes of being one of the few to return.

Trying to venture out far in early rounds is generally a death-wish, because the other players will turn back sooner and take more tiles to end things earlier, thereby punishing cupidity. Though it is possible that, in a spirit of abiding trust, each player would only take one very valuable tile and turn back, experience tells a different story. While similar, the game isn’t exactly a Prisoner’s Dilemma because some players will have poorer rolls than others, providing plenty incentive to scuttle the current round as quickly as possible.

Thus, there is some pretty nice groupthink around when to take tiles and turn back. I love games that have elements of social experiments which naturally arise as a result of mechanics. (Stuff like the Resistance can also be great, but its social strengths are explicitly written in & required, rather than emerging from ruleset implications & player behavior.)


This game has a lot going for it. It’s accessible, fast, and funny, in both a jovial and slightly mean-spirited way. It’s easy on the eyes, portable, and quick to set up. It has the spirit of collective bargaining and neighborly competition. It is not especially serious or fraught with heavyweight strategy, but is a great option for when I want to banter and let my mind wander a bit, while still seeing a bit of drama or story develop on the board.

Deep Sea Adventure is how I prefer theme in a game: handled deftly. This as opposed to reading out from a booklet or gesticulating/emoting emphatically to get 'in character', both of which strike me as heavy-handed and laboring under a kind of prefab imagination. In Deep Sea Adventure, the theme is just barely, indelibly present as a kind of loose rubric for players to express themselves. As much or little as they like, for I've played this wordlessly and it still carries itself winningly.

Give it a try if you can! I imported this one from Oink around a year ago at cost, but now we’re fortunate enough to have it available via both amazon and the geek store.
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