Delve Deeper: Review

Just One More Turn…

During the first World War, teams of men would dig extensive networks of tunnels under battle fields to attack the enemy lines from below. Sometimes, groups of tunnelers from opposing sides would run into each other as their tunnels would meet, and fighting would ensue. I can’t imagine what a war deep underground would feel like, dealing with dark, cramped, and dangerous environments, with little room to move. Spending weeks or months without seeing the sun. Fighting enemies with whatever is at hand or constantly worrying about your tunnel being blown-up.

I mention this because at its best, Delve Deeper brings such images to mind, only with a more lighthearted, often comical approach. And it delivers many such moments. Delve Deeper, the first release by new indie development group Lunar Giant, runs on a pretty simple premise. The king of the dwarfs loves loot, and wants his loyal dwarf minions… err citizens to dig deep into the earth and find as much swag as they can carry for their monarch. The catch is that in order to help motivate the diggers, he’s setup each dig as a competition between different teams to see who can get the most loot.

The fighting happens automatically. Sit back and enjoy.

You control a team of 5 dwarfs and must tunnel through various maps, fighting monsters and opposing teams alike, as you try to gather treasure and mine expensive ores and gems. You team will be made up of a combination of miners, fighters, and scouts. Each class has its own strengths and weaknesses which must be balanced against the type of trouble you expect to find on a dig.

Tunneling works by placing a single hexagonal tile featuring a predefined path on the map, making sure to line it up with existing tunnels around it on the hex grid. There are three different layers of earth to dig through: dirt, stone, and deep. Each layer set has its own tunnel tiles, varying in numbers and options. For instance, the stone layer has the largest selection of tile types with up to four diverging paths on some of the tiles. In contrast the deep layer has fewer choices, and no more then three divergent paths per tile. Deeper layers have better loot and tougher monsters. It all sounds a lot more complicated then it really is. It’s similar to many modern board games that use tile pieces to build the game board as you play, and Lunar Giant happily admits to their board game roots and inspiration.

A proud haul. Now who's gonna' carry it all to the surface?

When you run into other teams is when those images of World War I tunnel battles come to mind. Though the battles operate on classic RPG fighting mechanics, they run automatically which means both sides immediately take turns attacking each other until there is a definite victor. If your dwarfs loose, they are knocked unconscious for a turn, and drop all their loot for the enemy to sweep up. When they recover, they will only have 1 HP. As you get deep into the mines, it can become increasingly difficult to get to one of the few healing points. But even with a single point of health, the strategic player can impede an entire team of dwarfs or an army of monsters at a good choke point.

Run away!

Speaking of armies of monsters, you will soon find the baddies numbers growing exponentially. Monsters spawn in unlit parts of the tunnels every turn. The only way to light a tunnel is to end your turn with a dwarf in that part of the mine, at which point they will place a lamp there. The longer the game goes however, the larger the number of monster spawns. In games with fifty or more turns, you will soon be outmaneuvering scores of goblins and slimes. Often the best approach is to avoid large groups of monsters and hope they go for the other teams instead.

The game has equal parts strategy, puzzler, and board game all worked into a fresh and original package. Strategy is knowing when to fight and when to run. It’s building your enemies’ mines for them so that they dead-end or lead to a hoard of monsters. Puzzles come in the form of building your mines to maximum efficiency, planning many turns in advance how you will lay out your tunnels for better movement and defense, and being able to react to an unexpected tunnel piece placed in front of you by your enemies.

He's so boned.

Great loads of fun aside, the game does have some rough spots. Certain aspects of the UI can be messy, forcing extra mouse clicks to get through layers of menus when a single button would have sufficed. Some of the rules and controls are poorly explained in the tutorial as well. I didn’t realize that pressing F12 for instance allows you to play in full screen mode until I read about it in an online forum. It’s just not documented anywhere in the game.

The game comes per-packaged with a level editor, which though serviceable and much appreciated, is unnecessarily difficult to use. Simple drop down menus and a copy paste option could go a long way in increasing its usefulness.

Zoomed out map view. Check out the pic at the bottom for a large, full map.

The game also begs for extra content. More monsters, new classes, different races, new tunnel types, consumable items, the ability to collapse tunnels, and online multi-player (currently only supports hot-seat) are just a short list of things that you will find yourself wanting. Don’t misunderstand me though, as Delve Deeper is a complete package. At $5, you’ll feel like you robbed the developers. It is however a great price point with which to introduce people to the game. That said, I would gladly pay $20 for the sequel if they just added some extra content and gameplay options. Lunar Giant has promised continued support and patches for the game, so I expect some of the rougher edges will be ironed out soon.

If you like strategy and that just-one-more-turn quality in your games, Delve Deeper is a great choice. If you are a fan of intelligent board games, you will love this. If you just like clever and different games with great comical writing, beautiful pixel art, and an unbeatable price of five freakin’ dollars, then get this game. Support Lunar Giant so we can get similarly brilliant titles in the future.

There are dwarfs in this picture. Well, they were there a second ago.

The game is currently available for the PC through various digital download services, plus Lunar Giant’s site. An XBox version is expected in June.

Click to see a fully developed mine. BIG picture!

Demo download

Lunar Giant

Note: When I talk about the extra’s this game “needs,” I realize the developers are just a few people with day jobs. What they’ve pulled off is very impressive as is, but has the potential for so much more. I’m already a fan, and I want to see it succeed and grow!

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About Armand K.

Digital Color and Retouching.
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