The Money Pit of Oak Island: Review

Nope, he’s not reviewing the four-season long History Channel TV series. But, Fairway did get a copy of The Money Pit of Oak Island game to review. Oak Island is a Canadian island and the famed location of an elaborately protected treasure. And, for far less money than’s been spent in search of the real treasure, see if he can reveal the mysteries of this famed location. 

The Money Pit of Oak Island is a two- to six-player deduction game in which players are competing treasure hunters seeking to reveal the mystery of Oak Island.  The game is now available on The Game Crafter.

Initial Impressions

  1. The game draws a lot of the details from the actual mystery including the map on the oversized, six-fold board.  The source material is a treasure trove of content.
  2. The setup was on the tedious side: lots of sorting cards, folding (!) cards, etc. Keeping the cards sorted would definitely help between plays.
  3. The game itself is multi-faceted game of Clue: you travel to different locations in search of matching runes corresponding to the relic you’re seeking and three different artifacts.
  4. The art is reasonable enough.

The game play

At the start of the game, each player is given role which includes a screen and a tent marker.  Each of the various roles is in search of four things: three buried artifacts and one relic. And each role is seeking mostly different ones.  The information about what relic a role is seeking is hidden information and encoded in a series of runes.  The object of the game is to reveal all the required artifacts and find the relic that matches the runes.

Along with a role, each player is given an amount of money, a couple of Tool tokens and a Worker token.

The setup is a bit involved, but in essence, the game consists of seven different relics, a series of events, and a set of Worker and Money Pit cards.  Each of the seven relics are scattered around the map of Oak Island and are represented by a deck of dig site cards.  Each dig site consists of four “dirt” cards, a set of rune cards specific to the particular relic, and, at the bottom (initially) an artifact. The runes overlap so that you need more than a few to determine which site has which Relic. Then using little folded Relic pouches, each dig site deck is created, placed in the pouches, the pouches are shuffled, and then the dig sites and pouches are randomly placed around the board at the various map locations.

Money Pit cards are the action cards.  These are shuffled and placed into a draw pile.  There are a three “oak platform” cards which when all are drawn cause events to happen. The Event cards are random events that alter the rules of the game and, often, force dig piles to be reshuffled.  The Worker Cards are a deck of cards that will provide you with additional powers and actions as you acquire them.

To play, players take turns drawing cards and taking actions.  On your turn, you draw the number of Money Pit cards equal to the number of “tool” tokens you have and then, optionally, move your tent marker to a dig site. After you move, you take any of the following actions equal to the number of worker tokens: play a Money Pit card, move to another site, use a Worker Card, dump dirt, or discover a Relic.

Most turns consist of playing Money Pit cards. These cards have the basic actions of the game: dig, double dig, worker auction, and tool sale.  When digging, players draw the top card from their location’s dig site and then does one of the following: if it’s a dirt card, it’s placed in their player area (used when using the “dump dirt” action to put it in another dig site); if it’s a symbol, information is recorded for future reference and it’s discarded face down, and if it’s the artifact, it’s revealed if that’s one of the ones you need otherwise, it’s discarded face down.

The “Tool Sale” card allows the player to buy tools or if they want, offer another player the opportunity to buy a tool as well and get the tool at a discount.  Tools let you draw additional cards.

The “Worker Auction” card allows players to bid on a Worker Card. The Worker Card gives a special power and also allows the player to take a worker token thus earning an additional action a turn.  The auction is a one-bid auction: starting with the player who initiates and going clockwise, each player places a bid for the worker or passes.  After one bid, whoever bid the most (i.e., the last bidding player), takes the Worker card and token.  Many of the Worker cards have actions that can also be used on the player’s turn.

The other important action is “Discover a Relic.”  To do this, the player must be at the dig site and the dig site deck must be empty.  The player then sacrifices a worker token, and reveals the Relic Card and the artifact card at the current dig site.  This happens, in essence, to win the game since the player is revealing the Relic they were seeking once they have enough runes to be sure of the correct Relic. The game ends when all four things sought have been revealed the the player.

The game can also end if there are no more event cards or there are not enough Money Pit cards to draw a full hand. If either of these end conditions were triggered, you just played a really long game in our experience.

On the green

The game has a lot of potential. I think that’ll find a willing fan base:

Theme.  Oak Island itself is pretty interesting game subject matter. The popularity of the TV Show is a good indicator of that. The game captures some of this mystique.

The game also has a good sense of self-deprecating humor. Among other things, players are seeking relics which are things like a Rusty Tin Can.

Game play. The deduction aspect of the game worked pretty well. In some ways, the game is a more-inspired version of Clue.  The basic deduction works by travelling various dig sites, unearthing runes and artifacts until you have narrowed down the sites to the 3 or 4 sites that contain the things that you are searching for.  The game captures what I’m certain is the real feeling of frustration of the actual treasure hunters feel when dig sites are reshuffled, when players dump mounds of dirt into a pile and so on.  For reasons below, the designers really need to figure out how to focus on this part.

The art.  The art was passable and some of the art was more interesting than others. The board and relics, for example, was well done.  Other places it was on the boring side, things like Worker Cards.

Where it comes up short

While we definitely had fun playing the game, it is definitely a little rough around the edges.

Worker auctions & Money.  The worker auctions weren’t great. It almost inevitably meant either the first player bidding way too much or the last player winning since this was a one-and-done bid process. We were genuinely left wondering either: why wasn’t this just done as a blind bid or just made less frequent and done like tool sales: either the player can get it at a high price or others can get some at a discounted price.

The introduction of the auction felt out of place.  And the way it works, using the auction felt like giving another player an advantage inevitably one of the opponents was the beneficiary.  At low player counts this mechanic was especially broken.

Money also seemed not to be an issue.  Tools were fixed price and tools are what give you digs and double digs.  Buying lots of tools to get the digs & double digs seemed to be the most effective/efficient strategy because even if you couldn’t use all the ones you drew, you’d at least deprive others of getting them. And tools were a fixed cost. At no time did anyone feel money-oriented pressure.

Also, while an end condition could be triggered sooner by deploying a lot of draws, I don’t think this adequately stops players from selfishly playing. The consequence of depleting the deck is merely that everyone loses.

Setup.  I could see some people unhappy with the setup to play time to pay off ratio in this game.  Unless you’ve done a good job packing up from a previous play or have played it enough to remember the setup of the dig sites, it’s a bit tedious.

Play time.  I think 45 minutes a player is a pretty good estimate. And there are some particularly troubling things about that estimate. In particular, there are two or three things that make this game longer than one would expect: first, getting to the bottom of a dig pile to reveal the relic or artifact is actually a lot harder than it might sound.  It’s pretty frustrating to be close and then not draw any dig cards. Events that force reshuffles are infrequent, but typically occur toward the middle/late portion of the game when dig piles are low.

Second, artifacts aren’t tethered to any other game play mechanic. They’re literally dispersed randomly among the dig sites on the board.  You can’t deduce where an artifact is by any of the digging clues. It’s just at the bottom of the pile (initially). And when someone finally discovers an artifact, the decision to discard it face down means someone else is going to have to dig it back up again.  And, depending on where you are in the game, there might be reasons not to reveal your own required artifact so you have to dig it up again even though you know where it is!

Unweildy discard piles.  So cards are face down in the discard of dig sites. Not only does this add to confusion, it also makes reshuffling a bit annoying and errorprone.

Other thoughts

This game needs to focus on digging for the treasure and assembling the clues!  All the other things tended to take away from that part.

Why isn’t this a worker placement game?  This game would probably be an amazing worker placement game. Give each player worker meeples (equal to their worker count), let them pick from among limited options: digging at a dig site (digs limited by your “tools”), recruiting, drawing action cards, etc.  There are so many of the existing mechanics already in the game, it’s really not a stretch. Right now, players are really deprived of much of the opportunity make their own decisions about how to expend time and resources.

Similarly, while money wasn’t much of a thing in our games, you could even keep the money aspect of the game: certain number of “free” workers and some additional ones available for purchase. You could even make it so that you’d have to budget your spend to make it over the course of the game.

Artifacts and Relics!  Okay, so the game breaks one really important rule for me: I don’t like games that force me through needless hoops.  In two of the games, I’d deduced the location of my relic and knew the locations of all my artifacts.  But to win the game, I needed to reach the bottom of the applicable dig pile and also reach the bottoms of other dig piles (for unrevealed artifacts even though I knew where they were).  That meant all I did was spend turns trying to dig as quickly to the bottom of four piles. And because in one of the games, I shared artifacts with other players, I had to do it in a way that didn’t let them win based on my hard work. Not cool.

We struggled with why this wasn’t more streamlined.  For example, with respect to artifacts, why not just keep the “relic” face down on the relic spot on the board?  That way when someone reaches the bottom of that dig site, they can look at that card secretly and place it face down.  It’s now known to the player, and unknown to everyone else. The dig pile can then be shuffled again and other players can go do the digging.  The end game can be triggered by properly revealing all three required artifacts.

For relics, the same thing: once you’ve discovered the location of the relic, or you believe you know it, allow players to announce they’ve discovered the appropriate site.  The winner is the player that has all three artifacts & relic site.

In the hole

For anyone looking for a game that captures the allure of the treasure hunters on Oak Island, this is a game for you. The Money Pit of Oak Island also has something to offer fans of Clue and other mystery-style deduction games. For us, while the game is rough around the edges, it was fun enough to largely overcome some self-inflicted negatives. The subject matter is also deep and rich and intrinsically interesting. These factors definitely add to the intrigue of the game.

The Money Pit of Oak Island is in the hole for One over Par.


Fairway was provided a copy of the game in order to write this review. He was not otherwise compensated for this review.

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