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Review: The Lost Dutchman

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The sun beats mercilessly overhead with its suffocating heat.  You struggle to push onward, stumbling really, as if in a drunken stupor.  With empty pack and dry canteen, the sweat-stained locks matted beneath your hat brim are the closest you’ve come to water in days.  From the corner of your eye, you notice a cottonmouth slither through the parched brush.  A mountain lion hungrily observes you from the ragged ridge above, while a vulture hangs lazily overhead.  Questions race through your mind.  Is there really gold in this cursed land?  Will anyone ever find it?  Am I a fool?  Will I make it out alive?

How it Plays

The Lost Dutchman is a game of exploration and push-your-luck with lots of challenges to overcome.  Each player is a prospector with variable powers and stats searching for the legendary gold mine, picking up treasure and supplies along the way.  But creatures and disasters will dog your every step, certain to spell gloom, despair, and agony on you.

Finding the Lost Dutchman’s mysterious mine is difficult.  Shoot, for that matter, so is surviving!  So you’ll want to choose your prospector well.  There are five characters.  Each of them is rated differently in four stats – vigor, foresight, ingenuity, and health.  You can take the big, burly mule who isn’t too bright.  There’s the veteran old-timer with lots of experience, but frail constitution.  The other three bring overall weaker attributes, but begin the game with a handy item.

Two game boards track exploring and mining.  The majority of action transpires on one playing area comprised of stacks of hexagonal tiles.  There are 120 in all, grouped randomly in 24 stacks of 5 tiles each.  The rules book includes a diagram of how to build the exploration area.  Ours never seemed to match the picture…

Don’t use my set-up as your model!

Throughout the game, players move their little mining tokens from stack to stack based on a custom six-sided die.  At the start of your turn, some tiles will be revealed and others won’t.  You choose where to land based on your roll, reveal that tile if necessary, and then resolve it.  There are several types of tiles.  You might get lucky and turn up some treasure.  That’s worth points at the end of the game, assuming you can keep it.  Other times you might find some helpful gear – no doubt left behind by some other miner long ago –  to protect your treasure or re-roll dice, and etc.

There are some other helpful finds.  You can play on the shady side of the law and use bandits to fight other players or steal their gold.  Falling into a crevice might sound bad in real life, but in these hills it means dropping onto any tile of your choice.  Or perhaps you’ll “rescue” a former treasure hunter lost in the barren wilderness who offers aid as a reward?

Alas, all that glitters is not gold.  Rather, half of the game’s tiles portend of doom and misery!  Some drop the water level.  Uncover six of those and the game ends immediately – so snatch up as much treasure as you can, fast.

Water – a scarce commodity of life in the desert…

The bulk of the action in Lost Dutchman comes courtesy of creature and disaster tiles – mountain lions, Gila monsters, valley fever, falling rocks, and such.  Resolving these nasty encounters requires different traits.  Each tile has a strength rating and specifies which stat is required in combating it.  To defeat a challenge, you roll a standard d6 and add the number to your current rating in the appropriate attribute.  If the result is higher than the test’s strength, you win that tile and the rewards listed on it – some amount of treasure worth points at the end of the game and an increase in one stat.  If you tie the creature/disaster, then nothing happens.  However, if your result is less than its strength, you lose and suffer the penalty listed on the tile – a decrease in one attribute.

If one of your stat ratings falls too low, you get exhausted and must recover back at camp.  All of your traits are reset to their default values and you lose one treasure tile, if you have any.  Alternately, you can always return to one of the two camps on a normal move.  Doing so allows you to increase a stat of your choice by one point.

Of course, a game about lost treasure without an actual treasure map wouldn’t be worth its weight in gold!  And that’s exactly what the second board is.  More precisely, it consists of a group of trails leading from the miners’ camp to the legendary mine of the titular Dutchman.  Several notable features are blocked by challenge tokens along the way.  These tokens have numbers which correspond to the strengths of the various creatures and disasters.  After successfully overcoming a challenge on the other board, you may move your little miner meeple passed a corresponding token on the treasure map.  Do this enough times and you’ll reach the lost mine.  But beware – the Dutchman’s ghost protects his untold riches and may challenge you at the end!

The ghost marker sits in his mine on the treasure map, but will move about.  By rolling a special icon on the movement die, you can place the specter on an opponent’s unprotected treasure tile or back in his mine on the map.  Treasure cannot be buried (protected), nor scored at the end of the game, as long as the spirit resides on it.  If the apparition is in his mine when a player reaches that point on the treasure map, a fight ensues – and it will take everything you’ve got to prevail!  Fail, and you’re set back.  Succeed, and earn a hefty bonus!

The moment when either the Dutchman’s mine is breached or the 6th water level drops tile is revealed, the game ends.  Players count up their points earned from treasure tiles and defeated creatures and disasters to determine the winner.

The treasure map. Currently the ghost is not protecting his mine (top left).

24 Karat or Fools Gold?

The Lost Dutchman is essentially a dungeon crawl, old west style.  It may not incorporate free flowing role play or open narrative, but it certainly has the crunch.  You are a prospector on an adventure roaming around, looking for gear and treasure, while fighting creatures (minions) and surmounting obstacles with the big ghost (boss) at the end.  While elementary, your individual abilities, stats, and gear are nonetheless unique from others.  As you explore, you can gain items, increase your stats, or lose both.  The movement and tile revealing mechanics basically serve as the system’s game master to facilitate the action and story.

Lost Dutchman is wonderful as a family accessible design.  It has simple, straight-forward rules which are reinforced through repetition and frequent action.  Individual turns move quickly so that there is little downtime.  The theme and pacing are light enough that players enjoy watching each other’s moves – to lots of laughs and moans.

The variable player abilities really add a tremendous touch to the game for what is, after all, a very small and simple concept.  Instead of a standard racing game with uniformly generic miners running around in an uninspiring treasure hunt, the different characters give this title a fun personality.  It allows you to get into the adventurous spirit of the dungeon-crawl nature.  You can tailor your character’s journey to their traits and choose which challenges to confront based on those stats.  Most of all, you actually care when bad things happen, because good progress in one stat can be wiped out by suffering too many penalties to another.

Player board with your character’s stat ratings.

The level of interaction is a nice mixture.  Player confrontation in Lost Dutchman is not abrasive and in-your-face, but nor is a solitary affair.  First, there is a competitive element as players race for the better tiles on the land board – whether it be gear, helpful tiles, or opportune challenges.  Second, the Bandits tile lets you be ornery and attack some one else or steal their treasure.  However, you have to be a little lucky, too.  Third, you can use the Dutchman’s ghost to sit on an opponent’s treasure to deny them the score – if it stays there at the end.  This is really just more of a nuisance, though, because the ghost can move around quite a bit, barring the right rolls on the movement die.  Plus most people will try to get him in the mine toward the end of the game so that the player who reaches it first has to fight him before nabbing the mother load.

Randomness is the most prominent aspect to Lost Dutchman that you should be aware of going into play.  It’s not chaotic, but luck plays a prominent role.  It’s good in that it keeps the playing field level.  However, it won’t be for everybody and will generally keep this title to the casual table with family, younger ones, and non-gamers – serious hobbyists will likely enjoy it primarily in that environment to enjoy their hobby with “new” people.  There are a couple ways to minimize the luck.  Obviously, higher character stats add to the die roll in fighting creatures and facing disasters.  Then there is gear to help with bad rolls and people tiles that give you special abilities.  Of course, those pop up at random times.

You ain’t nothing but a gold digger!

Even with those two options, you are pretty much at the mercy of the random board set-up and the order in which tiles are revealed.  The strangest effect this has on play is with the game’s length.  When a water level decreases tile is revealed, you discard a canteen – even at the beginning when each player flips over three tiles each to set-up the game.  In one game, we flipped two water tiles at the beginning, in one sense meaning the game was one thirds over before it had even started!  That session lasted fifteen minutes!  While that example is probably an extreme anomaly, game length is nonetheless wildly inconsistent.

The second greatest impact that chance has on Lost Dutchman is with discovering treasure tiles and victory points.  Mostly, you’ll randomly flip these by moving onto unknown tiles.  Therefore it’s often pure happenstance finding one in the first place.  Even then, treasure tiles are worth anywhere between 1-10 points.  So you could dig up three or four and still not earn much more than another player luckily landing on a value ’10’ tile.  Even when a treasure tile is revealed beforehand by a previous action, it’s still a matter of “being in the right place at the right time” to reach it before anyone else.

While player variability and a dungeon-crawl essence are positive qualities overall, it does lead to a bothersome side-effect which can be endemic to some role-playing games: the min-max problem.  For those unfamiliar with the phrase, min-maxing is sort of a pejorative term referring to undermining a character’s stats/abilities deemed unimportant in order to max out other traits considered crucial.

Just how in the world would that apply to Lost Dutchman, a board game?  Well, players usually tend to confront the creatures and disasters that require stats in which they’re strongest.  It may not always be an option.  But when it is, you will neglect other challenges to take the surer bet.  After all, it doesn’t matter what type of obstacle you defeat to move along the treasure map – just its strength.  Therefore, you don’t need to worry about building up all of your stats.  In fact if you try, but fail in the process, you risk exhaustion and having to reset any gains that you’ve made in other ratings.  The result is a lack of meaningful decisions in that usually there is an optimal move.  Barring that, you leave it up to chance by moving to an unknown tile.  Again, all of that is good for casual, but not strategic, play.

Taking on a challenge – the dreaded creature Gila Monster.

The components are somewhat mixed.  From a production standpoint, they are top-notch.  The tiles, tokens, player boards, and treasure map are all solid and thick.  The meeples are wooden, just the right size, and amusingly unique.  The miner meeples have little hats and picks to fit the theme and the mining tokens are in the shape of a crossed shovel and pick-ax.  Plus, there is an extra push-your-luck, mini-game that you can play on the reverse of the treasure map!  So value wise, there are a lot of quality bits and you do get your money’s worth.

From a functional standpoint, though, it is very fiddly.  The most glaring problem is with the tile-based land area board.  Game set-up is lengthy as it takes a while to sort, shuffle, divide, and stack 120 tiles.  The hexagonal tiles do have a half-moon indentation cut into one side in an effort to make it easier to pick one off the top of a stack and flip.  In practice though, it doesn’t work well.  We generally disturb surrounding stacks when flipping or picking up a tile, so that we must constantly tidy up the playing area.

Endgame scoring is also mentally fiddly.  There is no running in-game score track.  That is good in that it creates some tension as you’re never certain that victory is assured or who is ahead.  Although, if you wanted to bother counting it all up, most of the treasure and scoring tiles from challenges are open information.  However, if your session is a long one with lots of success in challenges, you’ll have numerous tiles in your play area waiting to be calculated at the end.  Finally, the treasure map can be awkward to grok, at first.  Since the two playing areas are separate, it takes some practice to even remember to move the guys over on the other board – especially since you don’t always move on the treasure map after successfully overcoming an obstacle.  You have to meet the right strength number token before you can advance on the map.

All the winnings!

Lost Dutchman glitters for its target audience.  It is a family-style game.  It is easy to pick up, moves quickly, and offers an interesting variant to the dungeon crawl genre with a theme more palatable to non-gamers.  Indiscriminate chance and a lack of strategic options will typically leave this an untapped mine for the serious gamer.  However, variability and action-packed turns make this a shiny, little nugget for casual players seeking an accessible and fun adventure.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Crash Games for providing a review copy ofThe Lost Dutchman.

Summary

  • Rating 7
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Summary

Pros

  • Easy to learn
  • Plenty of action
  • Variable player powers/stats
  • Great components
  • Includes separate mini-game
  • Random, if you like that
7.0 Good

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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