There are some truly quirky games out there, eliciting entertainment from a single unique mechanism or component: Nacht der Magier (Devir/Schmidt Spiele) uses luminous pieces to play in the dark, Hamsterrolle (Zoch Verlag) employs an oversized hamster wheel in its dextrous display, Igloo Pop (Zoch Verlag/Rio Grande) has players rattling a housebound eskimo next to their ears — no, really — and it's a great game. Adding itself to this list by dint of visual innovation is Dive; designed by Romain Caterdjian and Anthony Perone, and published by Sit Down!, the game sees players estimating the depth of sea creatures on sheets of stacked blue translucent acetate - even our 360º photo can't quite do this effect justice. But is it more than just a gimmick? Let's dip our toes in the water and sea...
Each player takes a dive board, a screen, five double-sided Air tokens numbered 1-5, a shell to show player colour, and its matching pawn to place on the Descent (score) board; optional companions with single-use powers can be chosen before diving in, too. In the centre of the play area, a frame is placed to hold the 36 see-through Ocean cards which have been shuffled, rotated, shuffled, flipped, shuffled and... well, you get the idea.
Each round, all players simultaneously examine the first five levels of the Ocean. As well as decorative sea flora and fauna (including a particularly impressive whale), each level might show a shark, turtle and/or manta ray. Players use their Air tokens in the order of their choosing to 'program' the dive, guessing whether each level has a shark on it, placing the token shark-side up on their dive board if so; get one wrong and any potential progress from the first error is lost. The further you go, the more you risk, especially in the Deep Waters, where one mistake costs your whole turn.
All players remove their screens and the programs are assessed. If there are any turtles or a manta ray on a level, the values of the players' Air tokens become important: the highest (and you can stack tokens to sum their numbers) receives an immediate bonus of +1 movement for a green turtle, +2 for a red turtle, and the manta ray advances a player's pawn to the one ahead of it, a potent catch-up opportunity, especially in a two-player game; nothing for a tie, though. From level 15 on the Descent board, the manta ray has no effect, so the catch up only applies early on. Once progress has been updated, the next dive is programmed. When one player reaches level 23, that round is the last, with the deepest diver the winner; somewhat disappointingly, there is no tie-break.
Dive is great fun: the main physical components are well matched by the engaging and challenging-but-not-too-challenging round-by-round guesstimation of what is on each level. In the clear and logically laid out rulebook, players are encouraged to use flashlights to illuminate the ocean from any angle, even below, which really evokes an aquarium vibe. No, the decisions to be made aren't deep, but they are a parallel contest against the game and opponents.
The main caveat is that the game requires good lighting and that all players can get a clear look without getting in each other's way; in this time of Covid restrictions, we were thankful it was only family getting in close around the stack. The Ocean acetate material can attract dust, so keeping a lint-free cloth in the box might be wise. Also, when evaluating the programs, to clearly see a level, we found it helped to lay the Ocean acetate on a piece of plain white paper.
As you may have noticed, I tend to cover a game's mechanics and experience more than its aesthetics, but I think the art and graphic design throughout, especially the cover by Alexandre Bonvalot, deserves special mention; yes, the game when set up has table presence, but it was first off my review pile because of the cover. Worth noting is that the game offers simpler rules for any Baby Shark fans who want to play and also sports a solo mode against the Village Chief, who is always right about sharks (he is the Chief for a reason, you know) and makes good progress each round, slowing only in the Deep Waters.
While the physical components of Dive clearly lead the mechanics of the game, the visuals are well matched by the choice to push your luck over five levels or try to win a bonus. Playing the game is really satisfying and, however good you might get, you have to remain aware that overconfidence could turn you into chum. While it definitely has family-friendly weight and theme to it, any gamer with half-decent eyesight should find this a thoroughly enjoyable dive-rsion. Sorry; how about... will you have a whale of a time?
(Review by David Fox)