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HMS Dolores Review

hms-dolores-card-game-boxAvast me hearties! The HMS Dolores has run aground, and it’s time for her pirate crew to divvy up the loot on board before dawn comes up and the navy come to take it (and you) away. You’ll need to share things out: nobody’s going to let you hog it all, but you are still pirates after all, so you’ll need to keep a careful eye on your crewmates, to make sure they don’t leave you with nothing.

HMS Dolores is a fairly light card-game from Bruno Faidutti and Eric M. Lang that plays in about 20 minutes and combines set collecting with a bit of social deduction. Is it any good? Well, let’s find out.

HMS Dolores: What’s in the Box?

hms-dolores-card-game-contents HMS Dolores comes in a fairly small box, and contains a deck of cards and a thin rulebook. The vast majority of the cards are treasures – values 1-3 of 6 different types of a goods. There is also the “Dawn” card, which triggers the end of the game, and a selection of Messages, designed to mix things up a bit.

The box insert is card, and a fairly flimsy bit of card at that – mine was already broken when it arrived. However, the cards will slide fairly happily back into the bit of paper that keeps them together and even a box this small is only as big as it is to accommodate the rulebook.

The cards themselves in HMS Dolores are a slightly odd shape – square with rounded corners, so it’s a fairly tricky proposition for those who like to sleeve their cards, but they are nicely printed, and the art is good: pretty without overwhelming the basic game information you need.

My only real gripe with the cards in HMS Dolores, is with the Message cards (more on these later): they are only pictures, and a lot of the time their effect isn’t particularly intuitive. So, you will need to keep referring to the rulebook. On the plus side, all the cards in play are face up – there’s almost never a point in HMS Dolores where you can see a card and others can’t – so there’s no worry of giving something away by having to make a rules check.

So how do we get that loot?

hms-dolores-card-game-contest Each round of HMS Dolores is a “sharing contest:” the current dealer deals out 4 cards from the deck: 2 in front of themselves and 2 in front of the player to their left. Players then need to decide what to do with the cards.

For each contest, a player has 3 options: War, Peace, or First Pick, and they reveal these choices with simultaneous hand-gestures, a bit like scissors-paper-stone.

If both players opt for peace, each player takes the 2 cards in front of him.

If one player opts for peace, but the other opts for war, then the “War” player takes all 4 cards.

If both players opt for war, all the cards are discarded, and neither of them get anything.

If one player opts for First Pick, and the other goes for Peace, then the First Pick player takes the card of their choice and the other takes what remains in front of them (either 1 or 2 cards, depending on which one was first-picked).

hms-dolores-card-game-actions If one player opts for First Pick and the other goes for War, then the First Pick player takes the card of their choice, and the other takes what remains in front of both players (i.e. all 3 remaining cards).

If both players opt for First Pick, then all the cards are discarded, and each player must choose one type of good they own, and discard all their cards of that type.

Whilst it can seem a bit long and complicated at first glance, there are essentially only 6 possible outcomes of a contest in HMS Dolores, and the back page of the rulebook contains a quick-reference sheet that allows players to easily double-check the options: it was very rare that we had someone forgetting the rules, or making the wrong hand-gesture.

hms-dolores-card-game-dawnThe rulebook encourages talking: players striking deals, and breaking them again, and talking up the advantages or disadvantages of taking or leaving particular cards. For our group, we played it both ways: more-or-less silently, just like a game of scissors-paper-stone, or with the discussion, and generally found that we preferred the quieter version to the talking version, but if you have a group that are really into the wheeling and dealing, or the (in-game) backstabbing and betrayal, then you may prefer to play HMS Dolores in a more speech-heavy way.

Play continues over a number of rounds: the person to the dealer’s left becomes the new dealer, and dishes out cards for a new contest between themself and the player to their left. The game ends as soon as the Dawn Card is revealed (shuffled randomly into the last 16 cards in the deck)

I’ve got it – did I win?

hms-dolores-card-game-scoring1 The scoring in HMS Dolores is quite unusual, and is probably what takes it from just being a very light filler game, to something with a bit more depth to it.

At the end of a game of HMS Dolores, each player will look at the piles of different goods he has amassed, and score the highest-value and lowest value pile: anything in the middle is ignored. So, if you have 7 guns, 5 bottles of wine, 5 crates of porcelain, and 2 ingots, you will score 7 + 2 = 9, with those 5s not counting for anything.

hms-dolores-card-game-scoring2However, if you have multiple piles tied for the highest or lowest, you score both of those piles: so if the example player above also had 2 umbrellas, they would score 7 + 2 + 2 = 11.

hms-dolores-card-game-scoring3 That might seem obvious: more stuff, more points, but there’s a bit more to it than that – if we take the example above once more, and instead of adding 2 umbrellas, we remove the 2 ingots, then the score leaps up! – the player still scores 7 points for the 7 guns, his highest total, but now his lowest total is 5 – the wine and the porcelain, so he scores 7 + 5 + 5 = 17. You can actually get more points in HMS Dolores for having less stuff!

hms-dolores-card-game-scoring4The dream outcome for a player is to have only one value of pile on a multi-way tie. So if you have 5 bottles of wine, 5 crates of porcelain, and only 5 guns instead of 7, then you would score all 3 piles as your highest and all three piles as your lowest so (5 + 5 + 5) x2 = 30!

The scoring in HMS Dolores is clever – it means that it’s not just about getting the most stuff, or even getting loads of one thing, but there is clever balancing to do – choosing War might get you those high-value cards for your big set, but you might also pick up a single umbrella where before you had none, dragging down the score of your lowest pile. Again, if you have 6 guns and 6 umbrellas, adding a 7th gun will actually mean a net loss of 5 points as now the guns are the outright leader, and the umbrellas won’t be scored: it’s a level of strategy that you might not spot at first glance, and which gives the game a lot more replay value than if you just totalled up who had the most.

Whilst the scoring system in HMS Dolores is easy enough to understand, working out what you need, and actually getting it, is significantly trickier; particularly as there’s no guarantee what your opponent will do. It strengthens the value of “First Pick” as a choice in some situations as you might get to add the card you want, and if your opponent chooses the same way, you can discard a pile of 1 that was dragging you down, and get more points for the second-smallest pile, which is now in line to be scored.

Messages

hms-dolores-card-game-messages For your first few games of HMS Dolores, you may well want to leave the Messages out, to be certain that everyone has a handle on the rules. Beyond that though, they encourage you to mix in a random selection (5 out of a total 9 available) into each game.

Messages are acquired through the sharing contest, exactly like treasures. Once you have them though, you can play them once to change the effect of a particular round.

The messages themselves are a bit of a mixed bag – some, like the 2-handed contest are undeniably powerful – you get to use both hands this turn (for example offering First Pick and War), deciding after you’ve seen your opponent’s choice which one you will stick with.

Others are a bit more random – bonuses for guessing the outcome of someone else’s contest, a mulligan or a reshuffle of the cards dealt for a contest, or even prolonging the length of the game after the Dawn card is revealed.

hms-dolores-card-game-clear

You can probably guess that “Two-Hand Trick” (left) allows you to use both hands this turn, but would you know that “Lookout” (right) allows you to ignore the dawn card and keep playing?

Personally, I wasn’t convinced that the message cards really added all that much to the game – I think the strength of HMS Dolores is in the simplicity of the contests, combined with the multi-layered strategy of the scoring system – if you were to play this game a lot, it might keep things a little fresher, but I feel the value is fairly marginal.

 As already noted, the iconography on the message cards is a bit of a mixed bag – for some, the picture immediately and clearly communicates what the card does, whilst for others, it’s much more of a guessing game (or lots of checking back to the rules) as I said at the start, this doesn’t break the game, but it certainly bogs things down a bit.

Final Thoughts

At less than 6 inches square and over in less than 20 minutes, HMS Dolores still feels like a fairly light filler game. It’s well-designed, and has more depth to it than you might first imagine, and looks very nice into the bargain.

Overall, I can’t see HMS Dolores becoming a regular staple of our gaming group, as the psychological, second-guessing aspect isn’t really our style, but it’s fun enough to wheel out now and then when you’ve got a gap to fill.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

5 (100%) 2 votes
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James Phillips

I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler. I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.

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