Dig: Preview

In the second digging-themed game of the week, Fairway plumbs the depths of DIG A two- to four-player card game about unearthing gems and gold and avoiding the baddies.  Find out if Fairway hits a rich vein of gaming goodness or if this game caves in.  Dig is on Kickstarter until April 16, 2017.

DIG is a two- to four- player press your luck, card game in which players delve into “The Hill” in search of gems and treasures.  Games take between twenty and forty minutes.  The game is on Kickstarter.  Note: this game was provided in a pre-production state so some art and components are likely to change.

Initial Impressions

  1. The game has some pretty cute pixel art. It says “8 bit” but we weren’t convinced that the card art all matched that objective.
  2. The game play can be interesting, but there’s a lot of press your luck and not a lot of choices that get you out.
  3. Quick set up and clean up are welcome, but the games themselves felt longer than we thought they should be.

Game play

In Dig, each player is the manager of a mining operation attempting to extract the riches from the “Hill.” The Hill is a deck of cards.  Each of those cards is one of a number of things: treasure, tool, special card, bad guys, cave-ins, or exits. As players delve deeper into their own mine, they’ll start to gather gems and hope to exit the mine alive. The object of the game is to gather requisite number of gems first.

To start, the cards that form the Hill are shuffled together.  Gems, wooden worker meeples, and companion cards are set aside. That’s it, you’re ready to play.

The game is then played over a series of turns.  On your turn you can do one of two things: dig or go to the tavern to exchange your loot for a companion.

Most of the game is spent “digging.”  In general, there are two ways to dig: either for loot or if you’ve gotten enough to acquire workers, into a “gallery.”  In either case, you first declare your intent.  At the beginning of the game, you’ll have no recruits so you will always gather loot.  If you dig up gems and ore, they’re worth a certain amount of crystals.  You can exchange these loot cards totaling five crystals for a worker. You can have up to four workers.

Using these workers, you can start “galleries” by, at first, assigning one of the workers to a card you just dug up.  Once you have at least one gallery, before “digging,” you must declare whether you’re going to continue to dig within the gallery or take a card as loot (or use the loot to start another gallery with another worker).

When you dig in a gallery, cards you dig up are added to the chain of cards.  When you first create a gallery, you assign the dug card to gallery, place your worker on top of it, and immediately get another card to add to the gallery.  Each subsequent card added to the gallery lengthens it.  Every five cards you add to a gallery earns a crystal.  You will get all the goodies of a gallery when you draw and place a card that causes an exit: either stairs or secret room or one of the enemies.  When you exit your gallery, you take all the gems and all the loot.

Note: after writing this preview, the rules were changed for how galleries are closed. The designer has indicated the rules are going to be updated such that another possible action will be to exit a gallery.  In this sense, you have a choice not to constantly press your luck.

Digging to a gallery also risks terrible fates: you can draw a rock collapse or bad guy that steals loot or kills your workers. The Hill also is filled with the occasional useful tool or perk to help ward off the negatives or give you a temporary boost.

In addition to digging, you can exchange loot for recruits with special powers.  The powers let you dig faster or fend off the unlucky draws.

The game ends when a player collects enough of the gems.

On the green

The Art.  The art is definitely has an instant appeal.  For a game about digging in a hill, the main art was bright, cheerful and fun. We wondered a bit whether aspects of the pixel art were consistent across the cards. And, I think someone wondering if the art is truly “8-bit”, but it doesn’t really diminish this appeal.

The Theme.  The theme was great. We enjoyed the idea of digging up a hill represented by cards and grabbing loot while fighting monsters and avoiding cave-ins. This definitely has a good appeal.

Press Your Luck.  This mechanic really works for the digging theme. The idea that pressing on into the hillside might reward you with more goodies is great.  There is a flaw to how this is implemented that I mention below.

Simple and Quick to teach.  We were playing with just a preview copy and the rules are likely to be improved (they were improved a few times already), but the game itself is simple and easy to teach.

Where it comes up short

Player choice. In the version we played, players didn’t have much of an opportunity to decide how to dig. The press-your-luck mechanic of digging in a gallery was mandatory and didn’t give players a way to “stop” digging and collect their loot. The only way to do that was to draw a card that made that happen. This feels like a big mistake.

Note: after writing this preview, the designer has now fixed this issue. We tried it, and it seems be a better result. One concern that we had with this change is that “closing” a gallery every fifth tile seems the best approach since you get a bonus on your initial build (2 tiles when you first start a gallery) and there’s no additional bonus for having longer  galleries.

One fix to this newly generated issue was to grant increasingly large “gem” bonuses for each five tiles.  So the tenth gallery card might be worth three gems, fifteenth would be worth five, etc. 

Rule change from the Campaign Page

Unbalanced tavern.  We really wanted to like the tavern. This is where you can hire companions that will help ward off bad things that you encounter as you dig in the hill. But there’s really only one or two truly worth it: those that assist you in the actual digging.  But “worth it” is also loaded. After you’ve successfully gathered loot from a couple of galleries, you’ve got an abundance of loot to spend and there’s not much else to spend it on. As a result, it was again not so much a “choice” as a “sure why not?” There wasn’t really a opportunity cost to acquiring them.

Companions from the Campaign Page

In the hole

DIG is a fun dive into an underground, press-your-luck game. Just like digging into a mountain (or hill), players are rewarded for taking risks. The interesting use of 8-bit art will definitely get a few eyeballs of people nostalgic for classic arcade games like Dig Dug.  While the game is a bit rough around the edges, we only reviewed a preview and the designer has shown a willingness to make changes. There’s lots of material and theme here that will appeal all kinds of board game fans.

DIG is in the hole for a One over Par.

Tell us what you think!