First Impressions: Unearth

Probably one of the more time-consuming processes in the lives of us Triad Gaymers is the selection of a new board game when visiting our local game store. There are 3 of us, all with varied interests, ways of gaming, and preference on different game mechanics.

Seriously, we usually plan at least a full hour when making the trip with the intention of buying a board game. We look at everything from the latest expansions of games we already own, games we’ve played with other people that we don’t own, or what’s out from new local game designers.

There is a lot of hemming and hawing, and we’ll be honest: it is a struggle.

So for us to land quickly on a board game selection and run with it is extremely rare in the Triad Gaymers household. However, we took only about 20 mins to enthusiastically decide that we wanted to purchase Unearth from Brotherwise Games, who we later found out also made two of our favorites, Boss Monster and Call to Adventure.

Unearth was designed by Jason Harner and Matthew Ransom and is (in it’s base set) for 2 – 4 players for ages 8 and up, and takes anywhere from 30 – 60 mins to play. The game involves a great deal of strategy, a dash of resource management/set collecting, and some luck and randomization that makes it a great deal of fun.

In Unearth, each player takes on the role of a tribe of people from a ruined civilization attempting to rebuild themselves to their former glory. Each player delves in to the tattered remains of their civilization in attempts to claim ruins, find stones, and build new wonders to restore their former grandeur.

In a turn, a player will look at the available ruins and the stones contained within, and choose one to delve into by rolling one of their available dice in their pool (1 x d8, 3 x d6, and 1 x d4) . Players place their die on the ruin in the hopes of eventually claiming it or perhaps claiming one of the stones in the ruin. Similar to the game Smash Up, once the sum total of dice reach a certain threshold (as indicated on the ruin card), one of the tribes with dice on said ruin will win the claim.

When resolving each players claim on a specific ruin, the game’s tie-breaker mechanic comes into play, adding even another fascinating layer of strategy. It’s not enough to just have the highest number among the dice, but in case of a tie, the “size” of the die (maximum amount possible) as well as the number of dice can be considered.

Choosing which die you’re going to commit and where before you can even roll it proves equally frustrating and exciting. However, it certainly makes for intriguing game play, according to Alex.

A somewhat unique mechanic about Unearth that really stood out for us was that the game rewarded both high and low rolls. Higher rolls had a better chance of claiming the ruin. Rolls of a 1, 2, or 3, win you one of the stones that the ruin holds, allowing you to build wonders instead. 4’s were pretty much out of luck as a result (though the expansion, Unearth, Lost Tribe, seems to address the dilemma of a roll of 4).

Those who are failed to claim a ruin are rewarded with Delve Cards, which can affect dice in a number of different ways, adding another fascinating layer of strategy. This catchup mechanic is a great touch, especially if you’re like Belmont who has horrible dice rolling luck.

Another thing that we found helpful about the game is that your strategies really do need to be more self centered. Like another favorite of ours, Tokaido, the game does hinder those with a strategy of blocking other players from resources. While it does prevent players from scoring point, it also doesn’t allow players with this strategy to get any meaningful advancement. This keeps the game fun, fair, and appealing.

While attempting to claim ruins, each tribe is also attempting to build wonders with the stones they collect. Some wonders grant additional abilities, while other are just straight up points toward winning the game.

At the end of the game, the player who earn the most points from their wonders and ruins is the winner. Strategy options are plentiful and very layered, especially mixed with the randomization during the games set up about what ruins and wonders are available through out the game, as well as what the game ending End of Age card will do to the overall game (random every time).

One of the things that we were instantly in love with this game is the card art by Jessie Riggle and the figure art by David Pietrandrea. The whole thing has a great combination of the video game Journey and the flat edges of Minecraft, and we are here for it.

Another nice touch in the art and presentation of the game was the flavorful accents with the ruins art of actual real world ancient civilizations architecture. Not only did this make the game much more aesthetically awesome, but also helped with Belmont’s color blindness in identifying sets of ruins that he might want to collect.

From the tokens to the cards to the figurines of the Delvers, the entire game is physically well-constructed, compact (which we desperately need in a game nowadays) and honestly, just straight up delightful.

2 pts for my stones, or other peoples?

Game play was super fun, but we would be lying if we didn’t run into a couple of interactions between some wonders and Delve Cards that we found very confusing and were definitely not covered in the FAQ included in the rule book. Now, what we took heart in was the fact that based on the FAQs, the creators obviously foresaw some weird interactions and took time to try and explained the layers in a way that made sense. They also did provide a sort of definable “spirit” of the cards to help make mutual decisions as to how certain cards and certain wonders would interact with each other and the effect they would have on the overall game.

The expansion, Unearth: The Lost Tribe enhances the game with not only adding the ability to have a fifth player (a great boon to a throuple that has a lot of couple friends) as well as a flavor mechanic of the Delvers discovering the darkness that was bound by magic into the stones. The expansion also adds a “response” card that players can play when rolling a 4 when delving into the ruins. Throw in a solo play / campaign mode as wells as some new stones with interesting mechanics, and a whole new layer of fun complexity is added to the game.

Overall, Unearth is an amazing blend of strategy, randomization, and luck all packaged in stunning and engaging art with a great deal of replay-ability regardless of the number of players. Its expansion only enhances its awesomeness even more and we look forward to playing it many times in the future.

Check out Unearth from Brotherwise Games

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