Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Continuing the round up of games I got for Christmas we arrive at Day 4 and a tiny tiny card game called H.M.S Dolores. The trick with H.M.S. Dolores is that it’s designed by two titans of the board gaming hobby, Bruno Faidutti and Eric M. Lang.
Dolores takes the concept of the Prisoner’s Dilemma and turns it into a game. It can be played with up to 4 as players take it in turns to collect various loot. Four loot cards are dealt out two in front of one player and two in front of their neighbour. The players then count to three and reveal one of three hand signals. They can Steal, Share or take First Pick.
Steal and Steal cancel and no one gets anything, Steal and First Pick means the first pick takes a card and the stealer gets everything else. Steal and Share means the sharer gets nothing and the stealer takes everything. First Pick and Share the first pick chooses a card and then the sharer takes what’s left on their side. Share and Share each player takes the cards on their side. Finally First Pick and First Pick no one gets anything and each player must discard all cards in a single suit.
When I first read the rules I was unconvinced how this could really be interesting as a game. Even after playing the first game of it I was unsure that it was anything but random, but I should not have doubted Mr’s Faidutti and Lang, you see the trick to Dolores is in the scoring.
Players score points only for the highest suit and lowest suit at the end of the game. The loot deck is made up of 7 suits, each with 10 cards numbered between 1 and 3. Each of your lowest and highest suits will score so if you can get two suits with 4 and two suits with 7 you’ll score 22 points. But better than that if all your suits are equal they score twice, once as highest and once as lowest. However, if you accidentally take just 1 card in a suit you don’t want the whole game can be a wash out.
This is a fast and cutthroat little game. Sure it’s got its randomness but it’s also really interesting. Initially I thought it was about set collecting but really it’s about set balancing. If you have suits that are under-performing you either need to boost them up or dump them by playing First Pick at a moment when you know your opponent will too.
The game is also beautifully illustrated by Vincent Dutrait and even the insert of a giant wave in the box is pretty. Overall then this is a really fun but mean little filler.