Designed by Oleta Forde, Molly Gardner, Aaron Grove and Alexander Lucas, Salvage Hidden Treasures is an easy-to-play exploration game where 2-4 players will be sailing their salvage ships around a 4 x 4 grid made up of stacks of face-down tiles. The game is played over 16 rounds (20 in a two-player game).
You have to pay to 'discover' (reveal) the top tile on the stack your ship is on, and if there's treasure there that you want to claim then you'll also have to pay to salvage it. Money isn't initially tight in the game, tho': you start off with £1500 and players are paid an income of £500 at the start of every turn. That means if you did nothing at all through the entire game, you'd end up with £9500. Nice. Except that money counts for nought at the end of the game: victory goes to the player with the highest value in treasure.
You might think then that all you need do is move your boat, discover and salvage and hope you end up with more than the other players. That's a strategy but it isn't a winning one. For starters, treasures mostly have an assigned weight and ships can only carry up to weight 10. You can buy up to two additional ships, increasing your capacity to 30, and you'll want to do that as early in the game as you can, as that will also allow you to discover with one ship and salvage with another on the same turn. Ships are expensive tho' at £3000 apiece, so you'll need to sell your early treasure hauls in order to get the cash to buy a second and third ship. Keep an eye tho' on the game turn marker - if you cash in treasure as the game is about to end, you could be sacrificing victory: the value of your ships don't count towards a win any more than your pile of cash. As the game develops, you may even find it profitable to trade with other players or even to just dump treasure to free up space (weight capacity) for more valuable treasures; so the game becomes an optimisation puzzle.
Of the 80 salvage tiles, 25 are events rather than treasures. Some of these are beneficial, some are negative and some have a randomising effect (for example, 'What Goes Around...' forces all players to give one of their treasures to the player on their left). Certain treasures protect against particular events (for example, Shark Attack) so in weighing up whether to keep or sell a treasure with a lower end-game value, you'll also want to take account of any in-game advantages that treasure gives you.
Tho' Salvage Hidden Treasures is a light game, it's a lot of fun and it's very playable as a family game - tho' the text on the tiles could be a barrier to play for younger children. Luck will of course play its part (you don't know what's on the flip side of a card until you 'discover' it) but over the course of the game that luck is more than mitigated by the judgement calls you'll be making over which treasures to salvage - just because you discover a 'treasure' doesn't mean you have to pick it up...
Many of the treasures have special effects over and above their value. Barrels of Diesel, for example, are worth £1000, which doesn't seem much of a return on a £500 salvage cost but they offer the option of giving all your ships an extra movement for the rest of the game should you subsequently decide to discard the treasure. We even had some fun with the Rusty Anchor treasure, which has zero value, zero salvage cost but a deadweight of 5. Canny use of this was the nearest we came to a 'take that' mechanic in what is otherwise an almost entirely amicable competitive game.
In the preview prototype shown here on Board's Eye View, the cards are reasonably sturdy but we were particularly liked the plastic card money and the wooden ships. First-time publishers Ocean City Games have done a good job with the production. The game is on Kickstarter right now (click here to visit the campaign) and there's a chance to nab a small expansion as well as other extras. As we write, Salvage Hidden Treasures has already met its funding target so it looks like plain sailing for backers.