Reiner Knizia is probably the world's most prolific board game designer and tho' his games sometimes have only a thin thematic veneer they rarely disappoint. With Into the Blue, Reiner Knizia has given us an entertaining push-your-luck dice game where players have to make real choices. And, yes, the deep-sea diving theme may be pasted on but Funnyfox have done such a great job with the production that you'll quickly be engrossed. They've even gone the extra fathom and supplied a dual-layer board so that the area control scoring tokens each have their own designated indentation.
Into the Blue is an area control dice game played on a board representing six descending levels of the sea. The lowest level (the unnumbered level 6) has five face-down randomised chest tokens on it. These have points values of 5, 6, 6, 7 or 8 but you won't know how many points you'll be scoring for your chest until you claim one.
The 2–5 players each have 12 translucent plastic shell tokens. The game is played with 6 chunky six-sided dice. These are standard dice except that they show a chest icon in place of the number 6. On your turn, you roll all the dice and you can take up to two re-rolls of any or all dice. The box lid doubles as a dice tray. In order to place shells out at one of the levels, your dice must roll a continuous run of numbers to that level and then you place the number of dice that you rolled that match the level; so, for example, if you roll 1, 2, 2, 4, 5, 5, you cannot place a shell in 4 or 5 because you don't have a 3 that lets you reach those levels, but you have the choice of placing one shell in level 1 or up to two in level 2.
From this, you can see that you must roll a 1 to be able to place out any shells: rolling dice without a 1 is considered 'an unsuccessful dive'. By contrast, if you can get a complete sequence 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & chest then that's considered 'a perfect dive'. You claim one of the chests at the bottom of the sea and then you get to take an extra turn.
Tho' the rules are simple, players are confronted with some interesting push-your-luck choices. Obviously if your roll doesn't include a 1, you'll always want to re-roll to try to get a 1 but do you re-roll to try to achieve that 'perfect dive'? Most turns you'll end up with a choice of levels on which to place one or more shells. The lower levels are harder to reach and the majorities there are worth more points but the shallows are still worth claiming, not least because where a level is tied, the tie is broken in favour of the player who has the most shells in the level above. This is a neat mechanic that keeps players on their toes.
The game ends when all the chests have been taken or when a player has placed all 12 of their shells. In our Board's Eye View plays, the latter was the more common occurrence, tho' that meant players had to try to evaluate how well they were doing in comparison with other players: you may want to end the game if you're confident you're ahead but you'll want to avoid ending it if you're lagging behind.
Attractively packaged, Into the Blue definitely has a very different feel to other push-your-luck dice games. It's certainly very playable as a family game but there's plenty here too for hardened gamers to enjoy as a filler-length game.