Review: HMS Dolores

HMS Dolores sees players salvaging treasure from a shipwreck in a rock/paper/scissors format while confronted with the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Designer: Bruno Faidutti and Eric M. Lang
• Publisher: Asmodee
Number of Players: 2 – 4
Playing Time: 20 mins

HMS Dolores is set in the age of sail, where a Spanish trading vessel has crashed along the coast of Brittany. Players take the roles of treasure hunters, looking to loot the wreckage for anything valuable they can find. This is achieved through negotiation and deception in a rock / paper / scissors style hand-gesture guessing game where points are scored for collecting sets of salvage.

Inside the box are 81 cards and a small rule book, underlying the game’s status as a small “filler” title. The cards are nicely produced with hand-drawn artwork, depicting 70 goods cards of salvage, 10 special “message” cards which have various game effects and 1 “Dawn” card which signifies the end of the game when drawn. Each round of the game sees four cards dealt face-up between the dealer and the player to their left. The two players then negotiate among themselves to divide the treasure, deciding whether to choose “Peace” with an open palm, “Fight” with a closed fist or go for “First Pick” with a thumb up after a count of three. All of these result in different combinations of salvage being taken from the table, or potentially both sides losing all four salvage cards. This is the Prisoners Dilemma: do you cooperate with your opponent, knowing that only one of you can win the game, or do you deceive them and risk losing everything? The deck is then passed to the next player and a new deal starts with the player to their left. It’s simple, quick and easy to explain. Players aim to collect sets of the same treasure and there are 7 different types available.

Negotiating with hand gestures. Not in that way.

Point scoring in HMS Dolores is a little eclectic. This is a set-building game with many different sets to potentially collect, but at the end of the game all of them are discarded apart from the most and least valuable to determine the final score, with same-value sets all being counted together. This encourages players to try alternative gestures other than constant aggression to build one really big set and makes them keep an eye on all of their salvage to get a big winning score. It’s a clever idea and encourages variety, but I found in practice it leads to players both wanting to go for “First Pick”, especially late in the game where they are trying to avoid picking up a lone low-value card. Although there is always a threat of betrayal, in reality both players are more likely to negotiate their way into an acceptable result for them both. Once betrayed, since you are dealing with the same players on every turn, it becomes difficult to recover that into a neutral relationship and a lot of the strategy of the game goes out the window. The scoring system also means that a player can also lose the game in a single turn even if they have cleverly negotiated for the rest of the game.

Collecting sets of loot scores points for the end game

I am not a huge fan of “filler” games. The label itself suggests that I’m letting myself in for a sub-standard experience because I have nothing better to do with a few minutes. While HMS Dolores is not an unenjoyable use of 20 minutes, it cannot possibly compete with bigger titles. Although it’s fun for a short while, there aren’t many surprises in a typical game and the overall experience feels a little flat. It won’t ever be the centrepiece of an evening’s gaming, but it does provide some briefly enjoyable interactions. The game doesn’t have any major flaws, but it doesn’t have any highlights for me either.

Nice artwork
Simple rules
Gameplay feels a little bland
Scoring system feels counter-productive at times

HMS Dolores is a simple filler game, but never has any decisive “wow” moments that leave you wanting to come back for more. Its simplicity makes it perfectly fun for a few minutes, but nothing else.

Review copy provided by Esdevium Games
Official Website

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