Vibrant themed board games might be my new favorite genre, a genre that doesn’t actually exist, but we can pretend. Deep Dive from Flatout Games and AEG by designers Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, Shawn Stankewich is an absolute explosion of colors where you and up to five other players push your luck to collect sets of food and play as a waddle of penguins!
What’s in the box?
There are 160 ocean tiles in five shades of blue where the darkest shade is the deepest part of the ocean, 18 wooden penguins in yellow, green, blue, purple, magenta, and orange, 1 start player and last dive token, and the rulebook. Honestly it is kind of meditative to punch out all the pieces in a board game before setting up for the first time, and I really appreciate when the games come with the Ziploc baggies for players to use.
The colors for the food and predators are incredibly vibrant and the art by Dylan Mangini, while small is detailed and easy to identify. I think having the yellow be darker would have helped when trying to glance down the table, but as usual, everything was of a high quality material so it was easy to punch the pieces out and pick them up. The penguins are adorable and I was very tempted to draw eyes on them.
How’s it play?
Playing Deep Dive is very easy. Players take turns flipping over ocean tiles to see what they reveal. The tiles are spread out across the play area in five columns face down with the lightest blue to the left and the darkest blue to the right signifying the five ocean depths. Players turn pieces over to see what they show. If there is open water with bubbles, you must dive again. If there’s a rock, you can take that to skip a depth on a later turn or dive deeper. If there’s food, you take it and score points, or dive deeper. However if you reach a predator, your turn ends and you’ve lost one of your penguins (no!!!).
The goal of Deep Dive is to collect sets of different food tiles to score points, making decisions along the way about how you navigate the increasingly treacherous waters filled with the predators. Depth 5 has 11 sharks and 12 squid for example however during play there is less as a random number are taken out of the depths before the game actually starts.
Interestingly, if you have a trapped penguin you can bypass the depth that the penguin is on, or bypass a depth by using the rock if you found one earlier and took it. Ostensibly this means that if you manage to get open water in the first four depths, your turn would only end for that round if you land on a shark in depth 5 or land on a squid, which you could then choose to take.
One exception to the movement rules is that if you collected a rock tile on a previous turn, you can at the start of your turn ingest the rock to start your dive at any depth. Dang! If you chose to resurface with a food tile and end your turn, you’ll place the food tile faceup to create columns based on their color in order of pink, green, and yellow. The predators are orange.
If you encounter a predator, the penguin is trapped but creates a distraction which allows the others to pass by. However! If your third and final penguin encounters a predator, all three must retreat to the surface and can bring a single faceup food or rock tile from any of the depths that you had a trapped penguin.
Deep Dive ends when the last remaining facedown tile is flipped in any of the five depths of the ocean (so it doesn’t have to be the last remaining tile of the entire set). When this happens, the active player completes their current turn and then everyone has one final turn.
The player with the most points wins, but if you did not complete your set, you only get half the points for that row so it’s important to try to finish the rows.
As I mentioned, I’m a huge fan of themed games that are super vibrant because I want to like what I am looking at, and Deep Dive is gorgeous. The dive mechanic for collecting the sets is really entertaining because by taking out pieces at random each game, you never quite know what to expect. Will it be a bubble piece? Is that another rock? Are you about to land on some food? And oh no is that a shark in depth 5? As more pieces are flipped over, Deep Dive requires more strategy to get through.
Its current rules are also very adaptable if you want to extend the gameplay time or just do rules crimes, which I am always excited to try. Instead of taking pieces out, you could leave all the pieces in and see how many times you get stopped by a shark in that last depth (oof). You can also just play until every single tile has been flipped over, which should allow for many sets but more chaos as you try to decide how far you want to go while flipping since you can’t use tiles that are already face up to dive (though you can use the rock).
Overall, Deep Dive is a lot of fun and one of those games that you can travel with. You also don’t actually need as much room as I thought to spread out the pieces because they don’t have to be spread out a ton to still be laid out without touching. I also really wanted sushi, not gonna lie…
Images and review copy courtesy of Flatout Games and AEG
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