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Too many reviewers say the game lacks punch. Yet, our three-player (up to six can play) game proved Diver convincingly achieves balance and promotes playability.
Diver takes more than beautiful components to become playable. We found the decisions on what tanks to purchase and the movement with the deeper parts of the ocean challenging. Our small tanks could be purchased for 20 units, the medium tanks for 40 units, and the large tanks for 60 units. The contract cards with six assigned fish photos to fulfill and circles for slide show snapshots proved difficult to obtain. You could only obtain two snapshots, with one being the assigned fish if you preferred, for each turn. It took three snapshots or two turns to give a lecture in the bar.
The silhouettes of the fish were difficult to ascertain at times. One fish from a distance and its coloring looked like another one. It was fun to charter a boat for 20 units (You start the game with 120 units) and choose the appropriate air tank. Once we mastered the mechanics of the game, the air tanks and their numbers made more sense. You take your colored flipper and move it down one notch on the appropriate oxygen cylinder each time movement occurs. Let's say you have a blue streak on the board with -6. You have a nine on your air tank for your movement. You are allowed to only move +3 because of the subtraction. That kind of analysis can play havoc with making sure the player can return to the boat before all the air is used up. Two of our players did not return to their boats in time, and they were forced to pay 60 units instead of 20 when chartering another boat.
Once you had three snapshots of different marine animals, you could give your lecture. That experience entitled you to 120 units on the next round. You win the game by how many units are accumulated throughout the play rounds. Your goal is to achieve six different assigned fish pictures, which are worth 200 units apiece. The snapshots are worth 40 units apiece.
The event cards make the game more balanced. The explanation of the event cards in the English rules helped tremendously. I would like to have seen the event card explanations better alphabetized for ease of reading, though. As one of the three players commented, you are winning the game at one point and losing at another juncture. One event card worked well for all us, the one that gives you an extra snapshot for the bar lecture. That card, also, if held at the end of the game, gives you 40 units the same as any other snapshot obtained.
Boldness can get one in trouble fast with the game. You think a dive is possible with a small air tank, and then the trip back to the boat doesn't occur. In certain deep waters when seeking a turtle assigned fish picture, I should have gone with a heavy tank instead of a medium tank. Also, the marking of the red arrows for the currents forces the diver to take a long route to reach the prized photo. Fortunately, another player drew an event card for storms, and we were all forced to return to the boats by the shortest route.
As I viewed the other players, they continued to accumulate assigned fish pictures up to four. In a desperate move, I returned to the Dive Center and decided to purchase a heavy tank and swim some distance for the specially decorated fish. Also, with only two boats in the game, I was forced to make that decision. You may, also, if the boat is in dry dock, hitch a ride with a fellow diver. The catch becomes: Is that fellow diver going in the same direction you are? You still have to pay 20 units to the bank for the privilege of hitching that ride. Only three divers can ride in any given boat.
Some major holes in the rules occurred, and house rules had to be quickly instituted. Here are some of our major consternations:
The game reached a climax when one player achieved five assigned fish pictures. The other players had secured four assigned fish pictures. The game was called because of the lateness of the hour with the following scores: 1,160 units, 1,040 units, and 1,020 units. Those close scores tell us the game turns out with fairly good balance. It is not so much competing with other players as competing with yourself. You experience a technique similar to the ones with railroad games. The group agreed, in spite of the frustrations, Diver had more going for it than simply filling air tanks and looking for handsome fish.
You probably wonder if that long swim worked. It did, because the heavy tank gave me just enough air to find the assigned fish and return to the Dive Center. As one of the players commented who had scuba dived, the realism of the game was apparent throughout the evening.
In this game you and your fellow players are scuba divers looking for that perfect combination of undersea snapshots. The variables are oxygen tanks which come in various sizes (the larger cost more and let you stay out longer), the random board setup (the board consists of a central island which is surrounded by six randomly positioned areas of currents and reefs) and random event cards.
First, the low points - For the non-German speaker, the cards are all writing with no pictures to aid the memory as to what the card does, so the first couple of games will involve a lot of looking back at the translation. In addition, this is a game of run-around and get objects before someone else does. There are very few strategies that succeed for this game. The random event cards try to spice this up a little, but they truly are random and usually end up just muddying the waters. Enough random event cards later, the players figure out who have the most money left after acquiring the appropriate pictures and a winner is declared... and promptly look for some other game to play.
With that said, the good points - the components are the most beautiful I have seen in years, possibly some of the best ever. The board is bright and colourful. The jigsaw puzzle assembly of the board for variety is clever. The playing chits have really nice photos of sea life. The plastic boat and aqualung pieces are large, sturdy and colourful. The box has a molded storage bin for each piece. A lot of thought went into the presentation. Way to go guys.
With that said - who should buy this? Someone who is very into scuba diving or underwater photography.
I guess the bottom line is: great components in search of a game.
Diver is a big, beautiful game about scuba diving to take pictures of special marine life for a magazine. Diving is expensive, though, so the players must also take pictures of common underwater fish in order to raise money through educational slide shows. During the game, each of 2 to 6 players will take multiple dives, and the player with the most money at the end is the winner.
The variable board is put together from separate pieces to make up a large circle. The assigned fish (designated by color) are placed in specific spots on the board, while all the slide show fish are placed randomly on other spots. The board connects to make multiple sets of interconnected movement spaces. You can either dive directly from the beach or choose to take one of two boats, although it is impossible to reach the assigned fish by diving directly from the beach.
Each player is given a "contract" with pictures of the six fish they need to photograph. These fish are each located in a separate dive area, although depending on the board configuration two could theoretically be snapped in a single dive if the rules allowed. As a result, each player must dive at least 6 times, but because you need oxygen to dive and only start with limited funds, you will need to take a few other short dives to take pictures of the "slide show fish" to fund your deep-sea adventures.
At the beginning of each dive, you must choose to purchase an oxygen tank in one of three sizes. On each tank, a series of numbers is listed and these numbers dictate the number of spaces you can move each turn. When you run out of numbers, you run out of air and had therefore better be back on the beach or boat else pay a fine. In addition, you subtract the starting depth from each movement allowance. For example, if the next number on your tank is a '5' and you are starting in water with '3' as the depth, you can move two spaces that turn.
You must land exactly on a fish in order to take its picture. If you take the fish, you put it on your contract in the appropriate place (assigned fish or slide show fish). You only have space for 5 slide show fish, but once you have 3 you can hold a lecture on your return to the beach and be paid. This is how you fund additional dives. The last feature of the game is the event cards. Many of the board spaces have red dots, and when you land on a dot you take the next card and follow the directions immediately. As you would expect, these can be good or bad. Most of the event cards deal with money (requiring you to pay or giving you extra) and movement (slowing you down or speeding you up), or give you free slide-show fish. Once one player has taken pictures of all six of their assigned fish, the game ends and everyone is paid for the fish still on their cards. This, plus the money collected throughout, is the final tally.
The strategies in Diver center around three issues. First is the decision of which size oxygen tank to buy for each dive. Large tanks cost more but keep you moving longer, necessary to reach some of your assigned fish swimming in deep water and cover the contingency for bad event cards. At the end of the dive, you turn in the tank independent of how much air you've used. Wasted tank space is therefore wasted money. The next area of strategy centers on your movement. This includes which dive site to visit (although if you are not the first person in the boat you go with the leader, so choose carefully), as well as where you end each move. Since you subtract your starting depth, it is sometimes beneficial to take an indirect routing in order to land on a shallow space, offering you further movement on your next turn. You also must land exactly on your fish to photograph it, which can necessitate circuitous movement. The third area for strategy is overall money management, which includes how often you opt for a short beach dive versus a boat dive in order to get slide show fish for a money-earning lecture. The event cards also play a large role here, since you can be stuck with a fine that will crimp your plans if you're living dive-to-dive.
Diver is very nicely produced, with excellent components and high quality materials. The theme is interesting, and the subtle strategies can make the difference between doing well or poorly. The variability of the board makes each game a little different. Despite this, though, the game is not too enjoyable for several reasons.
First, on each dive you are only allowed to take two photographs, and only one of these can be of your assigned fish. This constraint is inconsistent with the theme and becomes quite irritating. It seems to be added only to ensure the game isn't over too quickly which makes the dive decisions more critical. There is limited player interaction, one of the features that for me makes games enjoyable. Other than trying to make sure you're at the dock when a boat is available, you really are out to just take your own photos quickly and there isn't much happening when it's not your turn. Since a boat must be filled before it returns to the dock, you can be stuck waiting in the boat for multiple turns while your diving partners are still swimming back. For the high quality of the production it baffles me that the contract cards are not in color. This makes it annoying to match your assigned fish with their colored markers on the board. Also, I can't shake the feeling that the event cards were added after the basic system was devised as a way to spice things up as opposed to being designed as an integral part of the game. They certainly make the game variable but in a too random manner. Lastly, Diver is expensive due to its high production quality.
I want to like this game due to its beauty and theme, but the weaknesses far outweigh its strengths. Summed up in a word, Diver is simply too shallow!