In my review of Flip City yesterday, I mentioned how minimalism in various aspects of board game design was something that really appealed to me. In Deep Sea Adventure by Oink Games, a minimalist approach is evident in pretty much every aspect of the game.

First – and immediately apparent when you see it – is the game’s physical size. Deep Sea Adventure is in a remarkably small but densely packed box, with wooden diver tokens and a beautiful set of sturdy components.

The minimalism extends to the design of these components too, with clean, clear visual elements that lend the game a subdued, artful look.

Finally, the rules themselves – though having a few wrinkles that take a short while to get your head around – are also minimal and generally easy to pick up.

In Deep Sea Adventure, players are divers competing to collect the most treasure by the end of the game, which takes place over three rounds. Each round is one dive, with players sharing the air from the submarine on each dive into the ocean. Before playing, the air is set at 25 on the submarine, then the treasure chips are laid out in a trail, extending from below the submarine, in ascending order of level (on one side of the chips is a level value; the other side denotes how many treasure points it’s worth – which remains hidden to all players until the end of each round).

On a turn, players first reduce the air left in the submarine by the number of treasure chips they’re carrying (if any) and then declare if they’re going to turn back to head towards the submarine (with the change in direction only permitted once per dive) – make it back and the treasure chips you’ve collected are safe.

The next step is to roll the dice and move along the trail of chips – then decide whether or not you’ll pick up the chip you land on (bearing in mind that air reduces by the number of chips you’re carrying, as per the first step of each turn). If the air runs out, all treasure is dropped to the bottom of the trail and you’ll score nothing for the dive.

So really, what we have here is a quick, simple game of pushing your luck. Do you risk going further down on a dive to the more valuable treasure, given that other players may be trying to pick up more chips and reducing the available air much quicker each turn? It’s a surprisingly cutthroat game and there’s a very delicate balancing act in going for enough treasure, but not so much that you won’t make it back in time. With multiple players all heading back towards the submarine with their treasure chips, the air supply often reduces at a very quick rate – countless times when playing, pretty much everyone has pushed that luck a little too far and failed to make it back to the submarine in time.

It’s a very clever game. It’s all the more impressive considering how compact it is, along with the pleasingly minimal aesthetic it has. It’s a pretty easy game to learn and teach, though actually doing well is surprisingly challenging. I love the minimalist approach, as I may well have mentioned(!) and Deep Sea Adventure feels like the perfect marriage of aesthetics and game design – short, addictive and tons of fun.

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