You’ve dodged poison tipped arrow traps, leapt over pits of spiders, and cracked ancient riddles. You’ve seen it all. Life as an adventurer is pretty sweet, if you have good medical insurance. But all the easy treasure has already been found. Now you’ll have to delve deeper into uncharted territory, and that’s not a solo job. You’ll need a crew, other adventurers willing to take the risk. It’s all about the team and working together. Well, at least until you get to the treasure room. Then it’s all me, me, me! Greed makes an untimely appearance, and while your crew is arguing about splitting the treasure, the walls are literally crumbling around you. Who knew the biggest obstacle you’d face would be your partners?
How it Plays
In Tomb Trader, you play as an adventurer on the hunt for treasure. Over a series of rounds, you’ll engage in intense negotiations with the other players in order to split the treasure cards amongst yourselves. If you can gather the most valuable treasure by the end of the game, you’ll emerge victorious.
To begin each round, a certain number of treasure cards are revealed into two distinct areas called the Inner Tomb and the Outer Tomb. Players then secretly choose which location they want to go to. Now, players who chose the same location will have 1 minute to divvy up the treasure. Discussions and arguments are made, and all treasure must have an owner before the timer runs out. If players cannot come to a decision at this point, the location collapses and all the treasure is discarded.
This continues for a number of rounds, and players will add up the value of the treasures they have collected. Whoever has the most valuable treasures is the winner.
Tomb Trader is not an ambitious game. It has a single idea, negotiation, and tries to execute it as best it can. Fortunately, it does a pretty good job. It distills a game of negotiation into its barest parts, bringing out the best elements while discarding the impurities that can drag games in the genre down.
Each player is given a character card that is kept secret throughout the game. Aside from giving you a visual representation, it also tells you how you score. The Hunter, for example, gains extra points for collecting pistols, knives, and whips while the Artist gains extra points for jewelry, brushes, and statues. Since identities are hidden, it serves to muddy the waters when the treasures are being discussed. Normally, the gold chalice is worth 3 points, but they can be worth a lot more to the Alchemist or the Collector. It keeps the game from becoming a math problem. If the values of everything were calculable, it would quickly devolve into dividing the treasure as evenly as possibly. Things get a little more complicated with asymmetric scoring attributes.
Being too quick to make your preferences known makes you immediately suspicious. Why would you want that low-value treasure? There must be more to it. And if players are able to piece together your identity, you’d better believe they’ll milk it for all its worth. In a nice design touch, the treasure cards have a portrait of the characters who gain bonuses from collecting them, so you don’t have to memorize every character’s scoring criteria. Having the clues to people’s identities in front of you is one thing. Putting them together is a whole other feat.
Further muddying the waters is the 1-minute time limit. This is where the game will lose people. For some, the tension will be too much to handle and they’ll freeze up. I’ve seen it happen. It’s not pretty and the game grinds to a halt. Honestly, I should have known better. I knew the player, and I knew it wasn’t the best fit. I should have chosen the game more wisely. But! If you can handle it, the time limit throws another wrench into your mental adding machine. There’s just not enough time to piece the information together and definitely figure who everyone is. You might have a good sense of 1 or 2 other player’s identities, but convincing others that you’re right is hard in just 1 minute. Even more, there are two negotiations going on at the same time. While you’re hashing out the details with the players who selected the Inner Tomb, everyone who selected the Outer tomb are having the same discussions at the same time. There’s two negotiations going on at once. Trying to gather information in your own negotiations is hard enough. Keeping track of what’s going on in the other tomb is nigh impossible.
That might seem like a frustrating experience of grasping at straws until you realize you aren’t supposed to figure everything out. You have to relinquish some control and focus on what’s important: the players. Tomb Trader is about engaging with your opponents in a very real way. Nothing happens without input from everyone. A single player who dominates the conversation can be shut down very easily by simply not agreeing to their terms and letting the timer run out. Negotiations necessitate tact and thoughtfulness. The negotiations put everyone’s greed on a level playing field. Once you realize that you can only get what you want by making sure everyone is happy (or equally displeased) with the results, that is when Tomb Trader shines.
Will Tomb Trader light the gaming world on fire? Probably not. It’s a small, unassuming package with a game that lasts all of 15 minutes. But for what it aims to be, a quick-hitting, tense game of negotiation, Tomb Trader delivers. It won’t convince the haggling-averse, but for those who are down to deal, this is a great fit. Tomb Trader does a great job of introducing enough noise into the chaos so that players can take their focus from the scoring systems to the personalities of the other players. And any game that can highlight a player’s personality is doing something right in my book. Yes, it’s a shame that it doesn’t include a timer or a coin which is needed to resolve some of the coins. Just launch the stopwatch app on your phone and toss a quarter into the box, and you’ll forget about these shortfalls while you’re furiously trying to split the golden pie of treasure to try and make everyone happy.
Review copy provided by Level 99 Games.