What is Delve: the dice game?

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Delve is a fantastically simple dice rolling game trying to fill the role of a fully-fledged dungeon crawler. In it you lead a party of four standard fantasy tropes through a series of caverns and caves fighting monsters and claiming treasure.

Let’s start from the beginning. Delve is once again a solitaire only, print and play title available for free online though this time introducing the complicated concept of dice. It generally comes in two sheets of A-4 with one taking up the rules and the other taking the place of the board though once you are familiar with the game you can probably drop the rules sheet. The board is a series of connected rooms. You stop in each and must defeat the monsters squatting there before continuing. The combat, which the bulk of the game consists of, involves you rolling six dice and picking your results, “locking” some down and re-rolling others up to a total of three times before making do. All the while you are mentally trying to assign dice to each of your party members. For instance the fighter can uses 6’s to attack with, while the rogue can only use 1’s. The wizard requires a certain amount of the same number and the cleric is looking for a straight. This simple mechanic gives the game a surprising amount of depth as you try to figure out if you should go for the clerics heal, of try to put together the all-powerful spell of demise which requires all six dice to have the same result. Once you have rolled up to three times you deal out your damage and then, in the spirit of friendship, let the enemy have a go. Now their number of dice is determined by how many lives they have left. They usually out number your heroes at the start but will typically have a small attack window such as the Kobolds who only hit on a 6, meaning that although there are twelve of them at the start of that room they will “typically” only get two hits in on your party. Every time you hit the enemy you cross a shield off and likewise for when they manage to hit you. Each of your party has a different number shields with a death coming after all a party members shields are crossed off. Fortunately though you only need one alive after the last room to class the game as a win and the amount of dice you roll doesn’t go down though the abilities at your disposal obviously does. It’s a bit hard to get your rogue to backstab someone when he is decomposing.

Delve has a couple of selling points which make it one of my favourite print and play games of all time. The first is how easy it is to pick up and learn, the second is the replay ability you get just from the simple decision of who gets what dice. Both of these have given rise to my third reason and that is the community that has risen up around the game. Don’t like wizards and giants, fine why not play a Doctor Who version, or a battle of Britain one or even one based around ants working for the glory of the colony. Likewise new maps are constantly being written up which add new elements to the game such as the Tomb of the Pharaoh which adds the option of routinely choosing which route to follow next. Do you rest up or go for the treasure? Did you manage to find your way out or have you gone round in circles and ended up face to face with the Minotaur you thought you’d just beaten?

However  the award for my favourite mod has to go to Nightblair and his ‘Delvebook’ expansion which turns the simple game into a full blow choose your own adventure game, with the choice of heroes to fill out your party, each with different abilities and special weapons to aim for. You start out with a few less dice than usual but the choice of who to choose for each party member role means that you won’t be running around with four rogues or anything while still having your on unique party. The game starts like most good fantasy adventures and almost all bad fantasy tales in a tavern with the options of getting in a good old fashioned bar room brawl, heading to the local bazaar or taking your pick from the local bulletin board. You have four quests to pick from with a general guideline for which ones to pick and in what order so that you don’t end up in a castle in the clouds when you should be helping a farmer keep an eye on his crops and vice versa along with a few optional dragons running around like Omega and Ruby from Final Fantasy 7.

Like most free print to play titles the game and its various expansions and mods is available from board game geek.

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