It was a Friday morning in early February. Like any responsible college student, I was sleeping in later than I should have. At the disgustingly early hour of 8:00 AM, I was awakened to a phone call from Patrick Nickell, a local gamer friend and the creator of “The Lost Dutchman” and founder of Crash Games.
In a groggy, half awake state I answered. Pat informed me how the shipment of “The Lost Dutchman” copies was arriving about a week earlier than anticipated, and he needed an extra set of arms to help unload 8 pallets of games into his garage. Initially, I was unsure whether I would be able to help him, because I had to work that day, but when he mentioned he would pay me in lunch and free board games (my one weakness), I suddenly developed a severe flu that would prevent me from doing any work. And I totally wasn’t faking it. I mean, of course not.
Anyway, long story short, I helped Pat move the games into his garage, and he kindly gave me a copy of the game, and even signed it for me. So what is the game like?
For starters, the theme, for those of you who don’t know, revolves around an Arizona legend of a lost mine filled with treasure. Thousands have tried to find it, but no one has succeeded. Now it’s your turn to take a crack at it.
The components are top notch. Normally, game boxes are not a source of commentary for me, but the box for TLD is the best quality I have ever seen. It is thick, sturdy, and very durable. Inside the game, you get over 100 hex tiles that have a nice indent in them to make them easy to pick up. There are 6 dice: 5 standard d6s, and a slightly larger d6 with the numbers 1-3 and the Action Icon. Each player also receives two well-crafted meeples and a player board with four numeric character traits. The rulebook is nicely detailed to look western, and its contents are pretty comprehensive.
The setup takes about 10 minutes, but it can be done while explaining the game to newbies. It is fairly straightforward; a hex grid is set up with each “space” being a stack of 5 hexes. Thus, the board has a three-dimensional feel, and, I must say, I love the thematic element of “digging” for treasure. In addition to the hex grid, a large map tile is placed in the center of the table, as something of a secondary board, with which players interact as they progress on their treasure hunt.
The flow of play is quite simple. Roll the action die, move one meeple along the hex grid accordingly, resolve the tile on which you stop, and move the other meeple along the map board toward the Dutchman’s Mine. If a player rolls the Action Icon, he may attempt to “bury a treasure” he has already acquired, meaning it is guaranteed to be his for the remainder of the game, or he can move the Dutchman Ghost (another nice meeple) to another player’s treasure as an offensive move. The tiles players stop on can have any number of effects, good and bad. Since Pat made a video about these, I won’t go into extensive detail here, but be sure to check it out if you’re interested!
Usually, players will find Treasure tiles or be faced with Creatures or Challenges. When confronting the latter, players will need to make skill tests based on their current strength in one or more traits (Vigor, Ingenuity, or Foresight), plus 1d6 versus the Challenge’s target number. Depending upon the outcome, players normally gain rewards or sustain injury.
The game plays very quickly, and can end in one of two ways:
1) A player reaches the Dutchman’s Mine and defeats the Dutchman Creature, if he is there, or
2) Players uncover 6 “Water Level Drops” tiles, which act as a game timer.
At the end of the game, the player who has collected the most gold wins.
There is little downtime in between turns, and players are actively engaged in the game, even during other’s turns. Finding the Dutchman’s Mine gives a player a bonus 15 treasure at game end (that’s a lot), but it does not necessarily mean that they will win. It is very possible that someone else could pull a surprise victory by having collected enough smaller treasures or completed enough challenges. (Just because you catch the Snitch doesn’t mean you automatically win.) In the most recent game I played, my opponent found 27 treasure before I found any, and I still ended up winning. There is also a nice scoring mechanic where, if you overcome multiple challenges of the same type, they will each have a greater reward at game end. For example, if I defeat a single Rattlesnake, it will be worth 4 treasure at game end, but if I beat 2, I would get 10 treasure at game end, because now they’re each worth 5 instead of 4.
All in all, the game is very enjoyable. The strategy is there, but TLD is by no means a brain-burner. While there certainly is player interaction, it is not the primary aspect of the game. The challenges are difficult enough that you often think, “If only my Vigor trait was 2 higher!” To me, this is a good thing, because it presents the plays with some tough decisions. Do you bank on rolling a 6 this turn, or do you take your time, perhaps losing some ground to your opponents, to build up your character’s stats a bit? TLD has lots of replay value. It is a lightweight game, to be sure, but it’s theme is original, it’s gameplay is smooth, it’s components are excellent, and, most of all, it’s fun.
Glad you woke me up, Pat.
I can’t do a review of TLD without mentioning the pack-in bonus game, “Goldfield Gully.” While I will not go into detail on it in this review, do know that TLD gives you more for you money with an extra game included.