What's Eric Playing? #136: Unearth
Alright, I’m finally at a point where I can start reviewing Gen Con games (and indeed, already started with Flip Ships). One such game is Unearth, from Brotherwise Games, the same studio as Boss Monster. So let’s … get that started.
In Unearth, you play as a tribe of Delvers, trying to dig up their lost civilization, full of wonders and isometric shapes and other pretty and wonderful things. Something happened and it got completely lost and buried. Can you rediscover what’s been lost?
So there are a few things you’ll need to set up in order to play Unearth. First, give each player a set of dice:
A set is all the dice of one color. Next, put all the stones into the black Unearth bag:
You’ll draw them out of the bag during the game. You’ll want to shuffle up the Ruin cards, as well:
- If playing with 2 players: Remove 10 Ruin cards from the game and place 4 Ruin cards face-up in the center of the play area.
- Otherwise, remove 5 Ruin cards from the game and place 5 Ruin cards face-up in the center of the play area.
The number in the top-left isn’t relevant right now, but the number in the bottom-right indicates how many Stones you should take from the bag and place on the Ruins card. Do that, now. Also, give each player one Ruin card to keep face-down.
Next, take out the Wonders:
As you might guess from the drastic color shift, set the Greater and Lesser Wonders out, and then set out X additional Wonders, where X is the number of players + 2. Each Wonder has a corresponding little hex, so put that on the card or something so that everyone can see it.
Now, add an End of Age card to the bottom of the deck, face-down:
They’re cool extra cards that will add an end-game effect. Last, give every player two Delver cards:
If you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
A game of Unearth is played until every Ruin card has been claimed by a player. I’ll talk about what claiming means in a bit. To that end, though, every turn has two phases, and I’ll explain both in turn:
During this Phase, you may play Delver cards to modify the game or trigger extra effects. Some of these effects are boosting or lowering the value of dice, giving you rerolls or extra rolls, or modifying the Excavation Phase.
You do not redraw Delver cards at the end of your turn, so play wisely! They’re pretty useful.
If you happen to modify dice such that you claim a card during the Delver Phase, claim a card as you normally would (see Excavation Phase for more information about claiming cards). That can be helpful, sometimes.
During the Excavation Phase, players roll dice to either claim Ruin cards or gain Stones that can be built into powerful Wonders. This phase works as follows:
- Choose a die to roll. This can be your four-sided, six-sided, or eight-sided dice. You can only roll dice that are currently in front of you.
- Choose a Ruin card and roll the die. Place the die on the Ruin card to indicate that you’ve rolled for that Ruin.
- If (and only if) the die’s displayed value is 1, 2, or 3, you may take a Stone from the Ruin card (your choice). If there are no more Stones on the card, take one randomly from the bag. Add the Stone to your play area.
PLACING A STONE
When you get a Stone, you add it to the stones in front of you by placing it so that it touches a Stone you’ve already placed. You kind of want to do that like so:
You do this so that you can place Wonders in those holes. If you managed to create a perfect ring of the same color of stones (such as the black ring in the photo), you can take a Greater Wonder (worth 6 – 8 points!). Otherwise, you may take a Lesser Wonder or you may take another Wonder if you meet the criteria. The criteria is on the Wonder card and may require that the Wonder is made up of certain Stones or matching pairs of Stones, but nothing really requires the Stones to be placed in a certain order. Lesser Wonders can always be placed, but are only worth 2 – 4 points. Sad. Some of the other Wonders give you special abilities, so don’t underestimate them!
CLAIMING A RUIN
Remember that number in the top-left of a Ruin card? Yeah, so if the total sum of the dice values meets or exceeds that number at any point, that Ruin is claimed! It’s claimed by the player with the die with the highest value.
If there’s a tie, the tie is broken by the “larger” die, or the die with more faces. (8 > 6 > 4). If you’re still tied, you should check the rulebook because tiebreaker rules are very weird. It happens. I think it might be something like number of dice on the card? Either way, the person who claims the Ruin takes it and adds it to their tableau, face-up, and the other players with dice on the Ruin gain one Delver card per die they had on the Ruin. That’s helpful! If there are still Stones on the Ruin, put them back in the bag.
Now, draw a new Ruin card and add the correct number of Stones to it.
The game continues until the End of Age card is drawn. This means the game is drawing to a close, but it’s not over yet! The game only ends once every Ruin card is claimed. If the End of Age card is a Ruin, then it needs to be claimed too, even if it’s the City of Ash (-4 points).
Once all Ruins have been claimed, the game ends! Calculate scores for each group of Ruins of the same color:
- 1 card of a color: 2 points
- 2 cards of a color: 6 points
- 3 cards of a color: 12 points
- 4 cards of a color: 20 points
- 5 cards of a color: 30 points
That’s for each color. For every set of 5 cards that you have of each color (Blue + Green + Purple + Orange + White), you gain another 5 points.
Score your Wonders as indicated on the Wonders. Every 3 Wonders you have earns you another 5 points.
The player with the most points wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
At two it’s a bit of “we either fight each other or ignore each other”, since there’s not a whole lot of contention for Ruins. Contention increases with player count, since the number of Ruins stays fixed at three and four players. You might also see some Wonder contention, but it’s kind of hard to shoot for getting Wonders unless you’re very lucky or you make the right plays with Delver dice. That said, I’d probably have a slight preference against four players — I think the level of contention is just right at three, and at two you can really dive deep into Wonders or Ruins.
- Make sure you go deep. You really want to collect all five of your Ruins. Note that they might not be in the game at all, but try to get as many as you can. If you don’t see all five, start diversifying. You do gain a lot of points, that way.
- Going for Greater Wonders seems like more trouble than it’s worth. Half the time it requires a fair bit of luck to get the Stones that you want, and if other players see you going for it they might try to block you / make those Stones unavailable. That’s never good. I’d rather get three quick Wonders and get the extra 5 points, myself.
- Diversifying might be helpful, at a certain point. If you get every card of a color, that’s 15 points, at minimum (2 for one of each color + 5 for a set). You’d have to get 4 of a specific color to beat that. That said, what I try to do is get a Main Color, a Backup Color, and then one of the remaining three colors.
- Sometimes it’s good to try and snipe a Ruin out from under someone. That’s why the eight-sided die is so good — best case, you roll an 8 and now that’s your Ruin; worst case, you roll a 1, and you get a Stone and a Delver card. It’s win-win, kind of.
- Use your Delver cards. You gain a Stone every time you roll a 1, 2, or 3, so use Delver cards to get rerolls. Sometimes your rolls are bad, but you can still make good things happen from them, probably.
- Try to figure out which Ruin cards your opponents want. It won’t be terribly hard to guess — just look at whichever one they’re taking the most of.
- Get the right Wonders. If you can, that is. One lets you reroll 4s and 5s, meaning you can either get Stones out of the deal or potentially take Ruins. That’s a pretty solid Wonder, if I’ve ever heard of one. I’ve even seen one that occasionally lets you move Stones around? What a time to be alive.
- Watch the Ruins. If someone’s already got an 8 on an eight-sided die on a Ruin, you’re not taking that one. You can try to roll on it, sure, but you don’t want to just give it to them — make them do the work rolling on their turn, for it. That’s what your four-sided die is for — it doesn’t contribute much, but it can get you Stones without bumping the sum up too high.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- The art is phenomenal. Yes, it looks like Monument Valley. That’s the style. But the color is incredible, as well. The blue and dark purple Ruins are probably my favorite, but they’re all great. The Wonders look pretty amazing, as well. The whole package is really great.
- The theme is really cool, as well. I like the concept of digging up a lost civilization. It’s neat!
- Haven’t played a lot of games with multiple types of dice. It’s a cool conceit and I really like it. The different dice each focusing on a different thing (taking Ruins or taking Stones) is also a nice bit of design. It’s nice that it makes sort-of “mediocre” rolls into “bad” rolls in this game (4s and 5s being the worst, generally).
- I really like the variety of effects of the Wonders and the End of Age cards. I think it’s nice to have so many different effect
- The Delver cards are all pretty useful, situationally. You might not always have a good use for them, but when you can use them, they’re very helpful.
- Tiny cards continue to frustrate me. The Delver cards are a bit small. It’s an ongoing frustration of mine, as noted in Ticket to Ride, Spy Club, and a variety of other games that use tiny cards.
- You do need to explain to new players how stones work. Players might not always get how to place the stones such that you can place a Wonder. Especially for chaining multiple Wonders while using the fewest stones.
- It’s going to come down to dice luck a fair bit of the time. I’ve played with people where I’ve just rolled better, and even if they got a ton of Delver cards and Stones I’ve still crushed them pretty handily. I think the fix for this is just to remember that it’s kind of a luck game and not take it especially seriously. That said, I do like that you get Delver cards for not getting a Ruin.
- Greater Wonders seem like more trouble than they’re worth. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never gotten six of the same Stone color. It seems like it’s super luck-dependent since you both have to have the Stones and get the rolls for it.
- I’m not sure the Wonders are a particularly viable catch-up mechanism. They don’t earn you that many points if you’re consistently losing Wonders. Maybe if you do a really good job playing Delver cards?
- I’m not the biggest fan of how the Ruin cards are distributed at the start of the game. It’s super annoying if you and another player have the same starting Ruin and other players don’t, as you’re more likely to face contention. I might try this with each player getting a random value of a different Ruin color such that everyone has a different starting color, but I’m not sure how that’d change the game. Who knows? I’ll give it a whirl eventually.
OVERALL: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I quite like Unearth! I think it’s a nice gateway dice game with some nice set-collection aspects. I particularly like the art and the multiple types of dice, as I haven’t seen the latter in many games (generally sticking to one type of dice). I’d love to see what routes an expansion could take (more Wonders / more art would be nice), but either way if you’re looking for a fairly straightforward game that’s not a ton of effort to learn or play, I’d say Unearth is a pretty solid contender in that category!