Thursday, June 20, 2024

Kinfire Delve: Vainglory’s Grotto Is An Artfully Crafted Work Of Co-Op Genius

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Incredible Dream Studios burst onto the scene in 2022 with team of veteran video game creatives and a desire to change the tabletop industry. Their first title was Kinfire Chronicles, and with it came a brand new fantasy setting within which they planned a whole host of games and other media. While that game is a hefty storytelling adventure game in the vein of Gloomhaven, their follow up was something a little bit more compact. Kinfire Delve is their planned line of small games that have the ability to mix and match different characters as they release, similar to games like Unmatched. While they’ve got two planned to release this year, today let’s look at the first in the series and my introduction to the world of Kinfire itself: Vainglory’s Grotto.

What’s In The Box?

Kinfire Delve: Vainglory's Grotto  contents
  • 64 Well Master cards
  • 40 Seeker Cards
  • 6 Exhausted cards
  • 38 Progress tokens
  • 4 dice
  • 1 Health Tracker
  • 1 Rulebook

I don’t think I can be be effusive enough about the presentation of Kinfire Delve: Vainglory’s Grotto. Everything about it is expertly made and simply gorgeous whether it’s on the shelf or on the table. The box and components are all well made and the art? From the foil card backs to the unique creatures and abilities showcasing the world of Kinfire Chronicles I don’t think I’ve seen a small box game with better art than this. The work Katarzyna Redesiuk and the art team did with this game should be the gold standard for game design.

How’s It Play?

Kinfire Delve: Vainglory's Grotto character cards

The quality of the game doesn’t just stop with it’s looks, it’s also one of the more inventive co-op games I’ve played in a while. While there are further titles planned in the series, Vainglory’s Grotto stars Asha of Brillbrook (a flashy thief/assasin) and Khor, who seems to be some sort of nature-loving robot monk druid…guy. I can’t quite get a read on Khor but his deck and Asha’s deck are built to work together as they’re both Seekers wielding Kinfire Lanterns to protect the world from the darkness. As new titles come out these characters will be able to be swapped out to try out different strategies.

Each player has a set deck of cards containing your Seeker’s skills, the powers and abilities used to overcome obstacles and dig deeper into the well. These cards all correspond to at least one of the three skills as represented by their color (red for power, green for finesse, and blue for wisdom…yes it’s basically Zelda) and give you an ability or bonus to overcome problems of that type. Many cards count double and there’s multiple ways to combine cards in order to up your power on each challenge. Players also have their Lantern card, which they can activate for a powerful ability that must be recharged each time.

Kinfire Delve: Vainglory's Grotto  puzzle card

Your challenge in Kinfire Delve is to get to the bottom of the Well of Atios, which is represented by the deck of 57 well cards. Players face a “battlefield” of up to four types of cards, each with a number that has to be beaten to make it diseappear. As you remove obstacles, the well deck shrinks. If you can get to the bottom, you’ll face the master of the Well and hopefully achieve final victory. But while your goal is to travel down the well, some mistakes might happen that add things back onto the well. This was a supremely cool mechanic as it gave the game a real sense of teamwork and stakes. Numbers can go up and down and resources can deplete, but knowing you just added a whole other set of fights to your game really makes you work hard on your play.

The challenges you face range from regular combat with monsters to solving puzzles and even attending beneficial events. Each challenge comes with a boon for defeating it (remove cards from Well, recover exhaustion, draw cards, etc) and a punishment for failure (discard cards, take damage). You can’t draw cards in this game on your turn, so taking out the right challenge to get you cards or out of other tight spots is key. You can’t always just rush the Well. Oh and if you do run out of cards? You have to take an exhaustion card that makes the entire game harder for everyone. So keep up on your hand management!

Kinfire Delve: Vainglory's Grotto  battlefield

When a Seeker tries to overcome a challenge, they’ll play one of their skill cards and execute its ability. Then the other Seeker can play two of theirs to “boost” it and add to the power. Then four dice are rolled, with symbols representing the colors as well as a wild (white) and empty (black). Once all these numbers are added up, it’s compared to the spell’s power. Hopefully you win, but if not you can finish off that challenge in a future round. Sometimes you NEED to do this, and a big part of the strategy is adapting your relatively weak offense to take down the right challenge at the right time.

The Verdict?

Co-op gaming is one of my favorite ways to play games. As fun as it can be to screw with your friends and declare victory, it’s even more fun to experience a journey and work towards a common goal. Kinfire Delve: Vainglory’s Grotto is able to capture everything I love about the genre and stuff it into a tiny space. And it does so while introducing some truly interesting and innovative mechanics to the format as well. The game’s unpredictability and hard choices make “quarterbacking” hard, but there’s enough strategy here to really make you and your partner (or just you in solo mode) think. It’s also easily one of the most visibly impressive games I’ve ever seen, mixing some traditional fantasy with a standout creative vision. Incredible Dream made a big splash with Kinfire Chronicles, but I think Kinfire Delve is going to be a surprise success once they’ve gotten it more established.

You can grab Kinfire Delve: Vainglory’s Grotto at the Kinfire Chronicles shop and your FLGS at an MSRP of $19.99!

Images via Incredible Dream Studios

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