HMS Dolores Review - The Shipwreckers Dilemma

Eric and Bruno together on a game? Has that been done before? That is an interesting pairing to say the least. One has a thing for giant miniature games lately and the other is well known for quirky twists and that hint of chaos in his lineup. HMS Delores is the birth child of such a pairing and it seems to be flying under the radar for most people. Maybe it's the name, it's not exactly something that screams out "try me" much like all the games simply named after a location (talking to you Euro games!).

But while at Essen you're there to try out games so this was a nice quick demo to get in and out of. Turns out HMS Delores is an advanced take on the classic Prisoner's Dilemma - that old show of hands contest as you wonder whether the person opposite you is willing to share or is playing you for a fool to take everything. I saw it once as a game show and I was enraged - the dilemma is a cool concept, but as a game show when money is on the line, when you basically watch the worst of humanity at play? That's horrible! How do some of those people sleep at night, how are they not shunned by their fellow co-workers and friends when they see how much of a back-stabber they can be? I digress, but can this work as a nice simple filler without breaking up friendships?




Designer: Eric Lang & Bruno Faidutti
Publisher: Lui-Meme / Asmodee
Age: 10+
Players: 2-4
Time: 10-20 minutes
RRP: £13.99


Wouldn't Want To Be On That Ship!


From the Asmodee Website:


Tonight, a merchant ship travelling from Cardiz, the HMS Dolores, has been buffeted about in a vicious storm. Following the lure fires of the shipwreckers, the Dolores has crashed and broken on the rocks of Breton. Crate after crate are now washing ashore, just waiting to be seized.

In HMS Dolores, a fast-paced card game designed by Eric Lang and Bruno Faidutti, two to four players take the roles of these rival shipwreckers, competing to recover as much loot as possible from the shore-bound wreckage of the Dolores.

The cargo up for grabs is represented by cards of seven different suits, each signifying a different type of loot. Each player or shipwrecker’s crew begins the game with several cards face-up in front of him or her, organized by suit. Then, negotiations commence as the shipwreckers decide whether to Fight, get First Pick, or make Peace with rival crews. Once the sun rises, the shipwrecker with the highest score wins the game!

HMS Delores is an advanced take on the classic concept of the Prisoner's Dilemma, but adding a little extra twist to it. Players negotiate between each other as to how to divide up the loot as it washes ashore, then count to 3 and reveal their hands in one of three guises; peace, war or first pick. The outcome depends on the combination:




Both players say “peace.”  Each player takes their own cards.

One player says “peace” and the other says “war”: the player saying war takes all of the cards.

Both players say “war.”  Nobody gets any cards.

One player says “first pick” and the other player says “peace:” the first choice player picks a card, and the other player gets his the remaining one or two cards on his side.

One player says “first pick” and the other player says “war”: the first choice player picks a card, and the other player takes all of the cards.

Both players say “first pick”: all four cards are discarded, and then both players must discard one set of goods from their stacks.


Not Our Most Lucrative Find


You're not getting a lot of real estate here, basically a box of cards and a rulebook. Thankfully the price point is quite low and the artwork is as expected, pretty gorgeous to look at. It's at the upper level of how big the box needs to be especially as the insert within begs the question as to what they were thinking in its design. We're used to seeing folded card in a box, but not in this fashion, it's just outright inept. Chuck it and bag up the cards.


Talk Your Way Out



HMS Delores is really all about the negotiation and bluffing. If that's not your style, then stop reading now. The player interaction is at the highest level here where you have to discuss what you each want from the loot available considering all the time how that transaction is going to affect your score. Extroverted players will roleplay, trash talk on other turns and shout loudly upon betrayal after betrayal, it's definitely not one to play in a quiet environment, but you can't help it. Unfortunately I've yet to convince anyone to actually chant "DO-LOR-ES" when revealing their hands.


There's a neat little twist in the endgame scoring, which is aided even more by a variable endgame trigger, something which I'm not seeing a lot these days sadly. You're scoring only the highest and lowest sets you have with ties also being counted. If you're lucky enough to have all your sets the same, they score double, to which I've achieved a 6 set bonanza of 36 points before! The scoring system doesn't make much sense thematically, after all why would you not want as much loot as possible when you're out to make money? But it does work very well in a gaming sense. You'll get to a stage where you actually don't want to pick up certain cards and this will influence your negotiations. Many a time I've got my ideal score already laid out and I'm trying to deliberately cause a full discard when it's my turn.


There's not a great deal of variety in the cards themselves with only 9 Message cards in total of which 5 are used each game. These grant one-off special actions when used on anybody's turn and thankfully they're not game-breaking at all, in fact some of them can cause some amusing outcomes. It's a little annoying though to have no text whatsoever on the cards to explain what they each do though. To teach HMS Delores I have to explain each card as it comes out of the deck from the rulebook, which is already being used as a reference guide for the hand gestures. I realise they wanted to keep the graphic design simple, but even a few symbols might have helped.



Rush In, Grab The Loot, Get Out!


HMS Delores can be best compared to the likes of Coup or Skull, a quick filler game relying heavily on social deduction mechanics where you have little to no information to go on other than how much you trust the other person. A game can be taught and wrapped up in 20 minutes even with 4 players and there's an element of luck involved. But I would rather play this over those two - it seems to just run so smoothly and quickly with very little downtime, though with 4 players you will have one player you'll never interact with directly, but that won't stop you butting in on their conversations. Like all social deduction games though, if the group plays this in a flat manner, it will fall flat.


Verdict


HMS Delores is a clever little card game that doesn't have a ton of strategy, but relies on a little bit of luck and lots of negotiation and betrayal. It's all about your interactions with the other players and that's what's fun about it. The scoring system is interesting even if it doesn't make much sense thematically and the variable ending trigger creates enough tension to keep you wanting just one more turn.

It's not too expensive either even though it's basically a small box of cards with very nice artwork and you can teach and wrap up a game in 20 minutes with little downtime. So it fits nicely alongside all the other social deduction filler games and I dare say is actually better than some of them out there. It can fall flat with the wrong group, if you don't take lying personally and let yourself go a bit, then give HMS Delores a try.



BROKEN RATING - 7 Crates Of Decent Grog


If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/


YOU WILL LIKE HMS DELORES IF:


You enjoy social bluffing games like One Night Werewolf, Skull, Coup etc.


You want a quick filler game for a small group.


You want a game with few rules and smooth gameplay.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE HMS DELORES IF:


You don't like lying - you need to be able to back-stab frequently.


You find the scoring system goes against the idea of getting loot.


You find the capped player count restrictive.


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