Buzzworthiness: Tomb Trader

Thanks to Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of today’s game.

Today, we’re going to take a look at a quick set-collection negotiation game called

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Tomb Trader is a recently released game by designer Asher Stuhlman that was published by Level 99 Games.  It’s for 3-6 players and takes about 15 minutes to play.  Players are archaeologists delving into some ancient tomb, but no one is really in it for the good of history.  They’re in it for personal gain.  And so, in each round, you have to determine how best to seal up the loot, or you’ll agree to seal it back in the tomb forever…or at least until you can sneak back and get it.

Tomb Trader comes with 52 treasure cards, 7 role cards, a double-sided tomb reference card, 6 inside the tomb cards, 6 outside the tomb cards, and some gold discs.  To set up the game, you’ll deal one role card to each player.  Then put out the set up card for the number of players you have (3-4 or 5-6).  Each player also gets three gold and a set of Inside/Outside cards.  That’s it – you’re ready to play.

image by BGG user asutbone

For each round (of which there are 7 in a 3-4 player game and 6 in a 5-6 player game), you’ll begin by dealing cards to either side of the setup card – these represent the Inner and Outer Tomb.  The number of cards for each round is indicated on the setup card.  Once the cards have been revealed, each player decides if they want to go In or Out.  This decision is revealed simultaneously, and then you start the one minute timer.

While the timer is going, you have to negotiate with the other people in that side of the Tomb to divvy up the loot.  If you’re the only one there, you get half of it (rounded down) and the rest is discarded.  But if there are more than one, you have to make a deal and every piece of treasure must be taken.  Even the bad stuff.  You can offer gold if you wish as part of your deal, but if you have not made a deal in one minute, no one gets anything.

After the appropriate number of rounds, the game ends and players count their points.  Your role will give you bonuses for collecting certain items, and the player with the highest score is the winner.

image by BGG user asutbone

COMPONENTS: The art in this game is pretty good at evoking the archaeology theme.  The font used is purposely reminiscent of the Indiana Jones saga.  The cards are standard sized, and all information on them is clear.  The only vaguely confusing bit is that character faces are on the bottom of many of the cards.  This is to indicate who may be looking for that card as they’ll get bonus points if they get it, but it seems weird to people for some reason.  The character cards all do a fairly good job of laying out what you’ll get bonus points for in nice big text.

There are a couple of negatives that I have to bring up.  First, the box is about twice the size it needs to be.  You’ve got one deck of cards and a bag of gold tokens, but the other half of the box is just a cardboard insert.  The packaging probably could have easily been smaller.  Also, the gold is just little plastic discs, reminiscent of tiddlywinks.  I would have hoped for something a little higher quality.  But overall, the components are fine and functional.  There is no score pad or timer in the box, so you’ll have to contribute those things on your own.

THEME: This is a game about the seedy side of archaeology, and it works well.  There are some odd things you’re finding in this ancient tomb, including a novelty t-shirt, but that adds a bit to the fun.  You can take on personalities of different characters if you like, but the game is so quick that there’s not a whole lot of backstory to delve into.

MECHANICS: Tomb Trader is a game of pure negotiation and set collection.  Each player has their own list of items they are looking for, and these lists occasionally cross over each other.  It’s probably just as well that they don’t cross over more because it would be ridiculously difficult to make deals.

The first thing people ask when they see the Inside/Outside cards is “Is it anything like Incan Gold?”  The answer is that no, no it is not.  They’re both treasure hunting games, but rather than a push-your-luck experience, this one is all about negotiation for treasures.  The coins are included as extra bartering chips, and that’s an important thing since some of the treasures are negative and everything MUST be taken for anything to get taken.  The coins can be used to offset a cursed jar, for example.

Several of the cards include conditions for bonus points.  For example, you flip a coin when you get the Bone Dice.  If it’s heads, it is worth 4 coins instead of 2.  There’s also a bonus for having two specific cards, sun as the Lockbox and the Lucky Rock (which is presumably used to bash open the Lockbox.

I think the one minute timer is absolutely critical to this game’s success.  If you could take as long as you want to, some deals would never be reached.  If you set the time to longer than a minute, the game would probably drag.  I’ve found that most deals are made easily within the minute time frame, or you already know if no consensus will be reached.

STRATEGY LEVEL: In a game that’s going to take 15 minutes, it’s difficult to really formulate a lot of strategy.  Most of it is in knowing how to negotiate.  If you can figure out what others are going for, it will help you evaluate what cards are worth to them and try to fleece them accordingly.  Also, knowing when to tank a deal is something worth thinking about – it’s the “If I can’t have this, no one can have it” strategy.  Sometimes, if there’s nothing you want, it’s worth it to try to go into an area you don’t think anyone else will want to go to so you can get treasure all to yourself.

ACCESSIBILITY: Tomb Trader is very easy to understand, and after the first round, everyone will be completely comfortable in how it works.  It’s quick, and easily understandable, so this is a game that I think anyone can play without much mental effort.  The negotiation aspect is not so overwhelming that it will scare people off – even people who aren’t that crazy about negotiation will probably find that it’s not too all-consuming in this one.

Quick story – the first time I played this, it was with a family that has a 9-year-old son.  We played it with them one week, and we we got together again the following week, he asked about three times, “Can we play Tomb Trader again?”  So there’s that.

REPLAYABILITY: The different roles and treasure combinations make this a pretty replayable game.  I’m not saying I’d want to play it all the time, because I wouldn’t.  But it’s a really good fast filler to pull out when you have a few people sitting around.

SCALABILITY: I’ve only played this game with 5 players so far.  I don’t think it would be very good with three players, but I do think the enjoyment probably increases the more people are involved.  The game scales itself between 3-4 and 5-6 players through having different numbers of cards come out in each round.  It always seems to be just enough that there’s tension in the negotiations, but not so much that people get a lot of stuff.

INTERACTION: This game is all about interaction.  You cannot play it without interacting or negotiating.

FOOTPRINT: There’s a pretty small footprint to this game.  You really only need space for the Inner and Outer Tomb offers, and individually for your treasures (kept in a face down pile) and coins.  This game can be played on a pretty small table.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I enjoy this game.  It’s very fast, it’s not too complicated, and it can be a pretty funny experience.  If you’re looking for a good treasure hunting filler game, check this one out.

Thanks again to Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of Tomb Trader, and thanks to you for reading!

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