Take on the role of a ship captain diving for treasure in Deep Blue, the latest game from Days of Wonder. But be careful–your fellow captains are there to try to hone in your dives and may grab the best crew before you can.
What Is Deep Blue?
Deep Blue is a game for 2-5 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It’s currently available from Amazon and other fine retailers for about $50.
In the game, players compete to complete a series of dives for sunken treasure. Combining elements of deck building, press-your-luck, and resource management, you get a relatively light-weight Euro-style game with a lot of strategic depth.
Deep Blue is GeekDad Approved!
Deep Blue Components
As you would expect from a game from Days of Wonder, the components in Deep Blue are of the highest quality.
In the box, you’ll find:
- 1 Main Board
- 15 Wreck Tiles
- 5 Plastic Treasure Chests
- 7 Scenario Cards
- 10 Boats; 2 each in 5 colors
- 50 Crew Cards
- 1 Dive Site Board
- 1 Plastic Diving Bell
- 6 Starting Tokens
- 31 Plastic Gems
- 5 Player Boards
- 1 Cloth Bag
- Victory Point Tokens in 1, 5, 10, and 20 denominations
The board is a beautifully illustrated map of the area just beyond a fictional harbor. It has routes around a bunch of islands, and 15 spots for the wreck tiles. There’s also a space on the edge for the crew member market, a spot to put the extra gems that will eventually go into the bag, and a starting harbor space.
The wreck tiles are all heavy-duty cardboard, illustrated with pictures of undersea wrecks (mostly boats, but with the occasional plane and even, just for fun, a UFO. Also in the mix are 4 Sunken City tiles, which trigger the end of the game. Each tile (except two) have anchor spots on them to provide bonuses for the first crews to arrive.
The plastic treasure chests are a cute addition. As players gain victory points through the game, they place them in the chests, making it essentially impossible to have any real idea of how anyone stands in the game. They’re well made and seem sturdy enough to withstand years of play.
The scenario cards provide a bit of variation over repeated plays. They’re printed on lighter but still durable cardstock.
The boats are definitely the cutest part of the game. They’re miniatures of what I assume are commercial fishing vessels (sorry, I’m not a boat person) and come in 5 pairs of boats, giving each player 2 boats of their color. They are all the same except the color, but have a surprising level of detail given how small they are.
The crew cards are standard poker-size cards. 20 of them provide the starting decks for each player, while the other 30 make up the crew deck. Each has a name, icons representing how it can be used in the game, and possibly a monetary value that can be used to buy crew. The 30 cards that are in the crew deck can also be subdivided into two groups. Twenty of the cards are crew that either help with movement or gain points on dives, while the other 10 are crew that provide protection from some of the dangers of the deep.
As with the other components, the artwork on the cards is really great.
The dive site board is used during dives. It’s the same heavy cardboard as the main board, and has four sections: a place at the bottom for the gems players score with, a left side for blue gems, right side for black, and a big open space in the middle for displaying the gems as they are played.
The plastic diving bell is the somewhat useless component in the game. It’s meant to be used to declare that you’re initiating a dive, but honestly we’ve never had any confusion over that and wouldn’t have missed it if this component weren’t in the game.
The starting tokens are heavy cardboard pieces meant to even out the initial phase of the game by giving a little extra money or movement to the players who go late in the turn order.
The plastic gems are the treasures you’ll be pulling up from the deep. They are all that weird shape that game manufacturers have all decided to start using for gems. They come in 7 colors and are unevenly distributed: there are 9 silver, 5 gold, 4 black, 4 blue, 4 purple, 3 red, and 2 green.
My only real objection to the game’s design is with the gold gems. Rather than use a bright shiny gold, the game uses a very dull gold, and these pieces can be very hard to distinguish at a quick glance from the silver, which is also a dull, matte color rather than being shiny. It’s not a deal breaker for the game by any means, but I do wish the designers had made a different choice with those colors.
The player boards are there mostly to store your discards. They’re thinner cardstock than the other boards, and display the boat, the four possible turn actions, and a place for the discard deck.
The cloth bag, used for drawing the gems during a dive, is fine but nothing at all remarkable.
The victory point coins are standard cardboard punchboard tokens. The rulebook doesn’t give an exact count or breakdown of the coins.
An element of games that doesn’t get commented on enough is storage. Days of Wonder is definitely one of the big manufacturers that does very good box inserts, and Deep Blue is no exception. The plastic tray fits every component perfectly, There are compartments for the boats and victory point coins, and each treasure chest has its own space. The wreck tiles have a space perfectly sized for them, and there are two spots for cards, allowing you to easily keep the starting decks separate from the main deck. The starting tokens and diving bell fit nicely under one of the decks of cards, while the gems sit on top of the other.
The insert provides a smaller recessed area to hold the diving board and player boards, and the board was sized to fit snugly on top of everything else, which should keep the components in place if the box is stored vertically.
How to Play Deep Blue
The goal of the game is to end up with the most victory points after a dive is completed on the fourth Sunken City tile.
Place the board in the middle of the table. Shuffle the six starting wreck tiles and place them face up on the spaces with the yellow buoys, then discard from the game the tile with the giant hermit crab; this represents an initial “dead space.” Then, take the other nine wreck tiles and distribute them in the remaining spaces, but leave them face down.
Place the dive board, diving bell, and victory tokens to the side of the board.
Place colored gems in the top right corner of the board matching the pictures on the board. Then take the rest of the tokens and put them in the bag.
Pick a scenario card and place it next to the board.
Each player picks a color and takes both boats, the matching player board, the starting deck, and a treasure chest. The starting player (chosen however you normally choose them for games that don’t say) is ready to go, but the other players take starting tokens, with the second and third player taking one and the other two taking two.
Finally, shuffle the remaining 30 crew cards and place the facedown deck below the $4 slot on the board. Then deal the first four cards, placing one face-up next to the $3, each $2, and the $1 slot.
Page 4 of the rulebook has one of my favorite rules of all time: “The starting player goes first.” So glad the starting player doesn’t go last or something.
On each player’s turn, they can do one of four actions.
Deep Blue uses cards to represent the boat’s crew. Crew members allow you to move, collect bonuses for finding gems on a dive, and buy additional crew. Everyone starts with the same four crew members, so there’s a deck-building element in the game that allows you to build up a crew for big bonuses and more movement.
On your turn, you can buy a crew member in the $1, $2, or $3 slots. If you buy one of them, the other ones are shifted to the left and a new card is dealt in the $3 slot. If you don’t like any of the face-up cards, you can also chose to pay $4 to discard all of the current cards and draw four new ones, one of which you can take.
The money in the game is provided via other crew cards, many of which show either $1 or $2 icons. Players other than that start player also have one or possibly two starting tokens that can be used once (they are discarded from the game when used) for an additional $1 each.
New crew members are added to your hand immediately. Cards (but not start tokens) are discarded to your player mat and will eventually become available again.
If any crew member card is drawn from the deck and has a gem icon in the bottom right corner, that gem is immediately taken from the supply on the board and added to the bag. This not only increases the number of good gems, but is also the only way that green and purple can be put in the bag at all.
The Sail action allows you to move your boats. Movement is also provided by crew cards. Any card that has a propeller icon can be played to move your boat. You can play as many cards with propellers on a turn as you want. If any have a multiplier you can move additional spaces. If you still have a starter token, you can also choose to discard it for an additional move.
Movement is along the printed paths on the board. Each wreck tile, buoy, or empty space counts as one space.
You can freely divide your movement between your two boats, so you can give all of your movement points to one boat or split it between them however you wish. Any space can accommodate any number of boats, and you can freely move through spaces with boats, either yours or other players’.
If you end your movement on a face-up wreck tile, you need to select which scouting spot you want to take. Scouting spots provide bonuses during dives. If all of the scouting spots are already occupied by other boats, you simply end your movement on the tile.
If you end your movement on a facedown wreck tile, you flip it over and then select an anchor spot.
As you play cards, either for money, movement, or during a dive, they are placed face-up next to your player board. At the end of your turn, you place all of the cards you played facedown on the designated spot on your player board.
As your action for a turn, and thus your entire turn, you can choose to rest. To do this, you take your discards, shuffle them, and then draw the top three into your hand. This is the only way to get used cards back to use them again.
You can choose to use the rest action if you have three or fewer cards in your discard, in which case you simply draw all of them.
Diving is the main mechanic of the game and the way in which you earn points.
As their action, any player who is on a wreck tile can announce they are initiating a dive. They take the Diving Bell and place it there (but as I mentioned above this is basically an unnecessary step).
Before they begin the dive, other captains can rush to the spot. Any boat that is within one space of the tile on which the dive is about to happen can move, for free, to the tile. This happens in turn order, so whichever player can rush to the tile who is first to the left of the current player moves in first, and then the second person, and so forth. That’s important because the tile is almost certainly going to have open scouting spots, and each captain moving into the spot is going to want to claim one. There’s never a negative aspect to taking an scouting spot, so if one is available you’re going to want to grab it. However, while wreck tiles have a limited number of scouting spots, they can accept an unlimited number of boats, so you can still rush to a dive even if the scouting spots are taken. (Although you may decide not to rush to join the dive–more on that later.)
Once everyone is in place, the active player becomes the dive master and takes the dive board and the cloth bag. Then, they begin the dive by drawing a gem from the bag and placing it on the board. (Note that the suggested starting scenario card has players draw two gems at a time.) They next take the gem and place it on the designated spot on the dive board: either on the row at the bottom with the gems, or on the first spot of either the blue or the black tracks, depending on the color of gem drawn.
Now, every player has the option to play a card from their hand if they are eligible. In the image above, a total of five gems have been drawn: 1 blue, 1 silver, 2 gold, and 1 red. So, players involved in the dive could have played the card from their starting hand that awards 2 points for a gold gem, or a card like Raquel that awards 4 points for a red gem. They could not yet play their starting card for points for silver, as it requires 2 silver gems, and they would not yet need to play Zoia or similar cards that protect against blue hazards, as only one of those gems has come out so far.
Once everyone has played a card, the dive master chooses whether or not to continue. If they continue, they draw a second gem from the bag and place it on the board, then allow everyone to play a card, and so forth.
At any point in the dive, if a second black or second blue gem is drawn, the divers have encountered a problem. Black gems represent sea creatures that attack the divers, while blue gems represent problems with air tanks, although these thematic details aren’t terribly important.
When this occurs, every player, starting with the dive master, can try to defend themselves from the hazard. There are two ways to do this. First, if you chose to park your boat in an anchor spot on the wreck tile that has either a blue or black bonus spot, you can move your boat off the space into the middle of the tile and continue with the dive. Or, you can play a card from your hand that protects you from the hazard. There are 10 such cards in the deck, divided evenly between blue and black protection.
If a player either cannot defend themselves, or chooses not to, they must surface, which means they no longer participate in the dive. If the dive master has to surface, the dive immediately ends whether other players can protect themselves or not, but if players other than the dive master surface the dive can continue if the dive master wishes.
The dive master can choose to end the dive at any point as well by simply announcing that they are done.
Once the dive ends, voluntarily or not, every player involved in the dive scores points. First, all players, whether or not they were forced to surface, score points for any cards they played.
Then, all players who completed the dive–anyone who wasn’t forced to surface–scores points for the gems played based on the dive board and their scouting spots. Each silver gem pulled scores 1 point, each gold scores two points, and each red scores 4 points. Green and purple gems never score at this point. The only way to get points for those is to play a card during the dive.
This is where the scouting spots come into play. If you are on a silver scouting spot, you earn 3 points for each silver gem, rather than 1. Gold scouting spots give you 5 points per gold instead of the normal 3, and red spots give you 10 points instead of 4.
Once any points are awarded for completing the dive, the dive master gets one last bonus: the number of points printed on the middle of the tile. This happens regardless of whether or not the dive master had to surface.
After all of the points are given out, the tile is discarded from the game, all of the gems are returned to the bag, and play continues with the next player’s turn.
This press-your-luck element of the game is one of the more interesting mechanical elements. With each draw from the bag, the dive master potentially scores more points, but unless it’s one of the fairly rare instances where they dive alone, they are also giving their opponents points. And if they are forced to surface before other players are, then it’s possible the other players may score a lot more points, since even though the dive ends at that point, those players who haven’t surfaced will be able to score from the dive board. There are also cards that can only be played after six or eight gems, so while you score a lot of points for them, you of course have to keep playing long enough for them to get drawn.
The game ends immediately when the players dive on the fourth and final Sunken City tile. This happens whether or not the dive was successful. This can create an interesting scenario as well. It’s possible that you may uncover the fourth tile but not feel like you’re ahead, and so choose to not dive on it. However, you cannot prevent another player who thinks they are in the lead from moving to the tile and initiating the last dive, so most likely not diving would only delay the end by a turn or two.
At this point, everyone dumps the point tokens out of their treasure chest and adds them up. Whichever player has the most wins. If there’s a tie, the player with the most crew cards in their hand wins.
Why You Should Play Deep Blue
Overall, Deep Blue is a very fun game. It’s easy to learn and plays relatively quickly, but has a lot of strategy and a variety of mechanics that will likely appeal to a broad range of players. For instance, I’m a fan of deck builders, so the aspect of collecting the crew cards definitely grabs me. But at the same time I can’t afford to sit in the harbor and collect a crew while my opponents quickly spread out and dive on a bunch of wrecks and get a huge lead before I even get started. And that’s where the single-action limitation really hits you. It’s hard, for instance, to get far enough away from other players to dive on a wreck by yourself, but once you move you have to wait a full turn before you can dive, giving the others a chance to get close.
The most interesting choice you face through the game is whether or not to rush to a dive. It’s tough to sit and watch the others rack up a bunch of points while you get nothing, but if you wait, you can dive on your tile on your next turn. Yes, the other players will only be a tile away and can rush to your dive, but they will mostly likely be out of cards, giving you a chance to outscore them and possibly complete the dive by protecting yourself while they’re forced to surface. But you also have to weigh the fact that dives are essentially random, so you could choose not to join a dive and watch your opponents get a bunch of points, and then on your dive draw two straight black gems and end up with nothing.
That said, the game does have two issues. Neither are enough to keep me from recommending the game or from continuing to play it, but both need to be mentioned. The first is what I brought up in the Components section above: the decision to use a matte finish on both the silver and gold gems, making them needlessly hard to distinguish, particularly if you play in less-than-perfect lighting situations.
The second issue is that the theme of the game isn’t really carried through some parts of it, most especially the scoring. When you dive, you are said to be bringing up treasures, but the treasures are a bit abstract. The rules say that “Red, Gold, and Silver Gems represent treasures that divers can bring to the surface. Green Gems represent mysterious artifacts and Purple Gems represent antiques.” And the dangers–sea creatures and oxygen issues–are also represented by gems. That the different good things are all gems is strange, but that the bad things are also gems makes no sense at all. I understand the need to use things that all feel the same so that they can be drawn blind from the bag, but this level of abstraction is quickly lost on players – everything is simply a “gem.” Tokens or something else that actually showed “treasures,” “artifacts,” and “antiques” would have carried the theme better. And the reward for any of this is Victory Points, represented by … coins? Why aren’t they called coins?
Still, those are things I’m willing to forgive if the game play is good enough, and it definitely is with Deep Blue.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.