Thank you for checking review #31 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this game in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of Unearth
Unearth is a game designed by Jason Harner and Matthew Ransom and is published by Brotherwise Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 30-60 minute play time.
Long ago, your ancestors built great cities across the world. Now your tribe must explore forests, deserts, islands, mountains, and caverns to find these lost cities. Claim the ruins, build places of power, and restore the glory of a bygone age.
Unearth is a bend-your-luck game of dice placement and set collection. Designed by Jason Harner and Matthew Ransom, it plays in under an hour with 2-4 players. Each player leads a tribe of Delvers, represented by five dice (3 six-sided, 1 four-sided, and 1 eight-sided). Players take turns rolling and placing dice in an attempt to claim Ruins.
The game’s elegant core mechanic is accessible to players of all skill levels. High rolls help players claim Ruins, while low rolls help players collect Stones. This opens two paths to victory: claiming sets of Ruins or using Stones to build Wonders. Delver cards help you affect your dice rolls or dice in play, and Wonders can grant abilities that impact the late game.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
The game sets up in a very similar manner to a game with more players, with three exceptions: ten cards are removed from the Ruins deck instead of five, there are four Wonder cards available (2 per player +2), and only four Ruins cards are revealed at a time instead of five.
The game plays simply. A player’s turn has two actions, one optional and the other mandatory. First, a player may play any number of Delver cards, which can do things such as change the value of dice rolls, modify dice values on current cards, reroll dice showing a specific value, and more. Then, a player must roll one of their five dice onto a Ruins card. They announce before the roll (unless they play a Delver card stating otherwise) what card they are rolling onto and place the rolled die onto that card. If the value on the die is 3 or lower, they take a stone off that card (or, if the card has no stones, a random one from the stone bag). Then, they check to see if the value of all dice on that card is greater than or equal to the “Breaking Point” on that card.
Once a card breaks, the player with the highest-valued die gets the card and all other players draw a delver card for every die they had on that card. Ties on dice are broken by taking the highest-sided die with that value, and the next tiebreaker would be to look at each of those players’ second-highest valued die. If there is an unbreakable tie, both players draw delver cards and the Ruins card is discarded.
Stones collected are placed in front of a player, and you earn a Wonder by creating a circle of stones with a space in the center (it’ll take 6 stones to accomplish this). Some Wonders require certain combinations of colored stones, and the best Wonders need all six to be the same color. Play continues until the Ruins have all been explored, including whatever appears for the End of Age card that is at the bottom of the Ruins deck.
Points are scored for each Ruins colored card (having 3 reds are worth a lot more than 2 reds, for example), having a set of each colored Ruin card, for Wonders built, and for having 3 or more Wonders built. The player with the highest score wins.
This game looks great on the table. The dice aren’t special, but they are colorful. The stones, apart from the blacks, are vibrant in color as well and have great design in them. This is the kind of game that people will stop to look at as they pass by, because it really catches the eye.
I really like that you are rewarded both for high and for low rolls in this game. High rolls help earn the Ruins cards, which are usually the primary source of points in a game. Low rolls get you stones, which can be a viable path to winning provided you can get Greater Wonders or special ones worth a point per stone of a certain color. Yes, the high rolls are usually preferred but it is nice that a low-roller can still feel competitive in this game.
Tying in with the dice rolling would be those Delver cards. Each player has some to start, and they serve as an excellent catch-up mechanic because you get one for each die on a card that you didn’t win. These allow you to manipulate and reroll dice in some fashion, making your rolls more (or less) effective as needed or affecting what your opponent has out there. We’ve found this helps to keep scores close by the end of the game, as one player is able to use these to close that gap in points.
How many board games do you see using d8 and d4 in there? Not that many, which is yet another way that this game does something unique to make it stand out. Everyone is used to chucking those six-sided dice for games, but there is something fun about tossing a d8 and satisfying about watching that d4 drop. Having one of each also gives you a way to try and shoot to break a Ruins card or to be nearly-guaranteed to earn a stone.
I really love building with those stones. The spatial element takes this game and adds a new layer to it. And how you are building with those stones will determine the points potential coming from your wonder. Do you try and get all six of the same color for the high-scoring Greater Wonders? Do you try and make the right combination for one of the four specials? Or do you just nab Lesser Wonders and use those to supplement your points? This aspect takes what would be a fine game and makes it even better.
Some of the wonders that get drawn aren’t useful over the course of a game. Most of the games we played there were 1-2 that might get snagged, but for the most part the focus goes on either Greater or Lesser Wonders. There are some that are really good, while others just don’t appear to be worth the effort it would take to earn them.
I felt the same about the End of Age cards. Some are great, making you have to roll a ton of dice to earn that card and get a big batch of points. But nothing is worse than needing 1-2 stones and seeing the +1 to all die rolls card come out. Some of them are going to be cards you enjoy seeing come out to mark the end of the game. Others will leave you disappointed. I do appreciate the variety, though, rather than always having the same card appear at the end.
Regardless of the Delver cards and the stones, this game is still a dice-rolling game at heart. That means, in spite of the ways you can manipulate things or get rewarded for low rolls, this game can still get swingy. The last game we played, I took the first 4 or 5 Ruins cards because she wasn’t able to roll anything above a 3, no matter which die she used. She wasn’t enjoying that experience, which is something you always risk encountering in a game where you roll dice for results. So, in spite of the great mechanics in there to supplement the dice, this is still a game that dice-haters might not enjoy.
Tying in with the above, there are far too many moments in the game where it feels like luck is as important, if not moreso, than skill. Perhaps that might change if you could always roll first and then place the die, allowing you to adapt your decision based on what is rolled. But having to choose before rolling makes the luck factor increase. Most frequently the decision of which card to roll on it based on needing a certain stone color or that Ruins color to add to your set, not based on what else is actually out there for possibilities.
This game is one of those games I hadn’t expected my wife to enjoy. After all, the core of the game involves rolling dice, something she isn’t a big fan of. Her initial reaction, upon seeing dice, was to groan. Her first play was peppered with complaints about rolling the dice. But that ended by the time that first game finished. Much like Castles of Burgundy, another dice-rolling game she likes, there are plenty of ways to manipulate and modify dice rolls. There are even rewards for rolling low (and many times when you’re just as happy to roll a 3 as you would have been with a 6).
So in the realm of dice games, this one gets a seal of approval through the various methods in which you are rewarded for both high and low rolls, as well as the Delver cards and how those are distributed in a catch-up mechanism. The removal of cards from the Ruins deck makes it so you can’t be sure what quantity of each color you might see, especially in a 2-player game. That can make some colors really valuable if there are a lot of them to collect, while others become worth less since they are scarce. The stones and the wonders provides a nice building aspect to the game that complements the entire system well.
The biggest problem with this game is that it is just another really solid game amidst a plethora of other solid games. For those who love rolling dice, this is going to be a must-have. It is easy to teach, quick enough to play, and something that will easily find its way to the table time and again. Yet there is nothing remarkable about the game to set it apart from some of the other games that fill the same time frame.
This is not a knock on the game in any way, as we truly enjoyed every play of the game, but for our tastes this one isn’t likely to see a lot of replay. That is no fault of the game itself, but rather a fault of the overabundance of good games out there. Even though my wife doesn’t mind the dice so much in this one, I know she’d prefer a game that isn’t all about rolling dice. And if I’m going to pick a game she’s playing just because I want to play it, I’d likely pick something a little heavier on the weight scale.
Would I recommend Unearth? Absolutely, especially if you enjoy rolling dice. It is a very well-crafted game that features a nice and balanced system. Like any dice game, there will be times when someone rolls really hot and claims a ton of Ruins. That can’t be completely avoided, no matter how many Delver cards you possess. This is a game even the dice-averse can play and enjoy, although they may not want to play it often. It is a great game that everyone should at least seek out a chance to play it, because this game delivers.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.