Robert Seater
United States
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I help designers improve their games.
Bermuda Crisis: Discovery Dawning, 2nd Edition

Bermuda Crisis is a hidden gem that has been around for several years. It has just been revised and is being re-released via Kickstarter as a 2nd edition. The 2nd edition has a few rule changes and, more importantly, a graphical overhaul that makes the game much easier to learn, the cards much easier to interpret, and the whole thing much prettier. I will not be explicitly summarizing the rules, but I’ll be describing many of them in the course of my assessment.

My overall rating:
(7/10) if played 3-4 player
(3/10) if played 2 player

If you don’t like negotiations revolving around open trading and the occasional threat of direct attacks, the game will probably drop 1 star for you. While those elements are core to the game, the rest of the game is still engaging even if those are not your thing. If you particularly like the weirdly dark theme, the game will probably go up 1 star for you.

General Idea
The flow of the game revolves around drawing resources cards, trading them with other players, and using them to build camps, buy one-use cards, and complete objectives. That sounds ordinary, but several twists with all of those aspects make the game feel quite unique.

Clever Twists
(1) When draw your 4 resources each turn, you can split your draw as you see fit between two different decks – common and rare. While you could, in theory, draw more rares than commons, the costs in the game (and presence of open trading) reinforce the notion that commons are, in fact, more common. The two decks add an interesting tradeoff every turn of the game, that relies both on what you are doing now, what you plan on doing down the road, and what you think other players are doing.

(2) There are three camps you can build, and each can be upgraded three times, and each upgrade can unlock one of several different special powers. So, while the core rules are easy to grasp, there is a large state space of possible situations, combinations, and strategies you can pursue.

(3) There are several decks of special cards you can pay to draw from. Some decks are positive, some are aggressive, and some are powerful but give you a vulnerability. Depending on your strategy, and how you are responding to other players, you may draw many of those cards or almost none.

(4) There are two very different ways the game can end. The main way is by collecting points, representing monetary investments in the region. However, every time someone draws an ‘artifact’ resource card, the doom track advances. If the doom track reaches the end, points are irrelevant and instead you count up your unused special action cards. So, depending on how you think the game is likely to end, you will need to pivot your strategy and vary how you are leveraging your infrastructure. Also, as the doom track advances, certain spaces will tell everyone to draw from certain decks, thereby forcing players to at least sample the variety of stuff the game has to offer.

(5) Almost everything in the game is tradeable, which makes things quite dynamic and serves as a balancing factor. Many of the decks you can draw from have a high variance in what you might get – it’s not that some cards are bad, but most cards are specialized. So, while you can definitely formulate and pursue a long-term strategy, executing that strategy requires keeping an eye on what other players are doing and what they desperately need. The end result is that players have a strong incentive to trade a lot, but the trading rounds don’t take forever – the cards are often specialized enough that you don’t have to spend all day figuring out who would want it.

(6) One of the decks you will draw from is the catalysts, which are goal cards. Each is worth only a few points, but you get a new one whenever you accomplish the old one. They require you to do small but slightly weird things to snag those extra points. These cards further encourages trading, as players find themselves in shifting specialized situations. They also make a nice balance between tactical pressures (that change dynamically as you draw new catalysts) and strategic play (that remain constant based on the camps you plan to build). They also add a lot to the theme by implying some of the weird things that are going on and oddball characters who are involved in them.

(7) The game’s setting is a unique and dark world where corporations are attempting to unravel mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle, and discover a lot of weird and interconnected stuff. The setting emerges as you play through the catalysts (goal cards) and other cards you draw, which I find a great way for it to be embedded in the game. You can dive in without understanding the setting at all, but it is well-integrated, and by the end of the game it really comes to the surface and shines.

Overall Positives and Negatives
The game manages to give you many paths to follow without having a high rules overhead up front. There are entire stacks of cards you might not buy when pursuing one strategy, although they tie into the rest of the game so you will sill need to be thinking about their impact. That said, by the end of the game, you can get a bit overwhelmed – not by the number of rules, but by the number of cards that can end up in your hand or in play, if you pursue certain strategies. You can end up have 10 cards in hand, play 5 of them, then draw 5 more…a lot of text to potentially process!

The different strategies seem to be well balanced, if you use them in the right context. However, in my plays of the new edition, I have found that the doom track usually ends the game, which I worry could undermine much of the cool variety and diversity. That may have just been the play styles of the players involved, so I’m not ready to make a judgment yet. If that is in fact a problem, it can be easily patched by just starting the game with one more ‘stability’ point, thereby requiring an extra loop on the doom track.

The game does not really work 2 player. The review copy I got says 2-4 players, and I tried in with different player counts. With 3-4, it works great, and the dynamics I described above shine. With 2 players, much of the game just doesn’t make sense. Catalyst cards that require a certain type of trade to be made are nearly impossible to accomplish, and the direct attack cards become obvious plays instead of political maneuvering. Stick to 3 or more players, and you’ll be fine.


Caveat: My history with the game
I first played a prototype of the game around 2007 when I reviewed it as a submission for a publisher. I helped the designer develop and revise the game. The publisher fizzled out and didn’t end up printing the game, but the designer was undeterred, did some more work on the game, and produced it on his own. He recently sent me a review copy of the 2nd edition and asked me to write a review.

edit: grammar
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