Ghosts n Stuff – Legend of the Lost Dutchman review

It doesn’t seem like a day passes without another game launching on Kickstarter – hell, even I’ve got one up there. With an ever increasing number of games seeking financing on the site it’s tricky to separate the wheat from the chaff, but thankfully a new release from Crash Games is firmly sat on the side of the fence marked “good stuff”. Their latest game, Legend of the Lost Dutchman, is a treasure hunt where players attempt to make their fortunes and hunt down a long lost mine allegedly packed with gold…

The cool thing about the story is that it’s actually based on a legend from around designer Patrick Nickell’s home state of Arizona. Over a century ago, a German named Jacob Waltz (not Dutch, of course, but Deutsch, see?) apparently discovered a lucrative mining seam, showing up in towns near the Superstition Mountains with huge nuggets of gold. Of course, the location was kept secret – after all, he wouldn’t want anyone muscling in on his claim. Only when he was on his deathbed did he tell anyone the location of the mine, a woman who was taking care of Waltz in his last days.

The mine was never found by her, though the story doesn’t end there. Another treasure hunter, Adolph Ruth, went exploring after hearing the tales… and wasn’t heard from for months until his headless body was discovered. And so the Legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine was born, a place filled with riches but also stricken with a terrible curse.

People complain all the time. Some complain that computer games are easier to organize, that games with cards make management difficult, or that maintenance of these games is too hard or even that it’s hard to come up with a good system to
even start a game. If you are complaining that games don’t have good themes these days though, listen up: THAT is how you set up a backstory.

CMMS

The Land Grid, stacked with cards aplenty, with the treasure map there in the corner…

Up to five players will attempt to discover the mine (and much more) by exploring a grid of land cards and negotiating their way around the included treasure map. Everyone is given a character with four attributes: Vigor, Foresight, Ingenuity and Health which will be used to battle monsters (more on that in a moment), place their tokens on the Mining Camps in the Land Cards grid and on the map, then after revealing a few cards it’s time to kick off.

Each turn sees the players rolling two dice: one Directional, one Movement. The first shows the way you’re allowed to go – either diagonally, orthogonally or both – the second says how far. Moving around the land grid, all movement points must be used up unless you come across an already revealed beast (which means you’ll have to fight it) or end up on an empty space. You then flip the card to reveal and react to it, either fighting, collecting treasure, resolving a disaster… that kind of thing. All cards have full explanations as to what happens when they’re flipped over – another way in which the game’s rules are nice and clear.

There is a sixth side on the Directional dice that triggers a bit more than just movement. If the shovel appears, you first get to roll your dice and see if you can bury a treasure (tuck it under your play board). Next, you get to move the Dutchman’s Ghost, either onto an opponent’s unburied treasure which stops them from burying it or placing it back on the treasure map, allowing it to defend it’s mine once more. Finally, you get to move around the grid however you please and resolve your turn as normal.

Here’s a few examples of the kind of cards you may come across. Heat Stroke is a disaster, while the Scorpion’s a creature, of course.

Combat is a big part of the game. Landing on or revealing a creature card means you must fight it immediately. One of your three attributes will be on the card along with a number called the Challenge Rating – you roll two dice, add it to your score for that attribute and compare numbers. Higher means you get a reward (a stats boost, generally), lower sees you take a hit. If you do happen to beat the creature, you also get to claim the card which will grant points at the end of the game and often can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Once you’re done with the Land Grid and have resolved your card, it’s time to focus on the treasure map. If you’ve managed to defeat a creature during your turn, you may move along any trail that has the same number as the Challenge Rating of the fight you’ve just won. This is the only way to work your way to the fabled Lost Mine, but don’t think that you’ll have it easy! If the Ghost is protecting the mine, you’re in for something of a battle…

Close up on the Treasure Map. Looks like green is gearing up for a square go against the ghost…

The game ends in one of two ways: either a player has managed to get into the mine by avoiding or defeating the ghost, or five “Water Level Drops” cards are revealed on the grid. Once this happens, it’s time to count up the treasure and see who wins… and that’s it. Gloriously simple.

I have to admit, my first couple of plays didn’t get me too excited. It wasn’t until I tried out the game with at least four players that it really began to shine. The grid gets nice and busy, there’s a lot of confrontation on the map and everything gets pretty nasty – in a good way, of course! People who enjoy it when things need to get a bit aggressive will have a great time with Legend of the Lost Dutchman. Despite the fact that it plays out relatively quickly (even a five player game will be over in less than an hour) there’s enough meat in the game to keep all but the most hardcore gamers satisfied.

Now that I’ve had a bit more time with the game, it’s really opened up and has proven to be a lot of fun. It’s easy to grasp the rules and – even after only a couple of turns – gets people to really think about how they can win the game while tripping up their opponents. I like the mechanic of having to defeat creatures in order to get moving around the map, but also that it’s not totally necessary to make a grab for the Gold Mine if you want to win. Yes, there’s a major element of randomness in that you may not even turn up a single treasure card, but that’s balanced out by the fact you’ll get paid by beating up on beasties.

In fact, that’s probably one of the best ways to describe the game: balanced. Legend of the Lost Dutchman feels like it’s had a lot of work put into its creation, the vast majority of it into testing it to within an inch of its life to end up with this cracking little title we have before us today. Here’s hoping that the good people of Kickstarter take it to their hearts, because this one’s a lot of fun…

Legend of the Lost Dutchman is designed by Patrick Nickell and will be (hopefully!) released through Crash Games later in 2012. This review is based on the prototype version provided by the company. If you’d like to support the game, check it out over on Kickstarter now – you’ll be able to pick up a copy for as little as $35. Or perhaps a gold nugget.

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