Weekly PnP: Bargain Basement Bathysphere

  • Designer: Scott Slomiany
  • Artist: Scott Slomiany
  • Publisher: N/A
  • Where to Find It: The BGG Forums

Luke: So let’s be honest with ourselves; I had never heard of Bargain Basement Bathysphere until Shut Up and Sit Down covered a variety of print and play games a couple of weeks ago.

Phil: Credit where credit is due.

Luke: And I’m certainly glad that they pointed me in the direction of this game; BBB is a very fascinating, experimental title that does a lot right and a few things wrong, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of a rather odd and fascinating game.

Phil: So, from what I’ve gathered, this game is basically a solo legacy version of Oink Games’ Deep Sea Adventure.

Luke: In broad strokes, yes. I definitely agree with Quentin that Deep Sea Adventure is not a game I would call “satisfying” or “interesting” or “fun,” so I’m glad that this new, lengthy, solitary iteration exists for that reason alone. Scott Slominay elevates the original game design in such a way that I found impressive to watch as it all unfolded before me.

Phil: Somewhat literally, considering how many pages you printed for this game.

Luke: Yeah, I definitely killed a couple of trees putting together this title, but thankfully, BBB is incredibly kind with its ink usage, not something I can say for every print and play I’ve come across.

Phil: So how does one go about getting their stinky submersible sinking?

Luke: At the start of each map, players will have access to 5 dice (generally speaking). After rolling them, you’ll need to use the dice results to move about the map. After moving the number of spaces indicated on the die, you’ll check and see if you take any damage from passing over certain spaces of the map without landing on them. You’ll lose power, which will make you lose dice, and oxygen, which gives you less time to return to the surface.

Phil: A cacophony of tension pushing you just as quickly to return home as it does to delve deeper. I love it.

Luke: You’ll want to land on a variety of spaces to explore the depths, find cute little sea creatures, and open new pathways. How skillfully you land on these spots while avoiding or negating negative effects will dictate your victory points, assuming you ever return to the surface at all.

Phil: Dun-dun-DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN.

Luke: Once you’ve had enough exploring, you’ll start to make your return trip to the surface, but if you ever land on a space you’ve already landed on, oops, that’s another damage for you.

Oh, and did I mention depth zones? Every time you enter a new section of the map, you’ll take a certain amount of damage depending on how many spaces you move into that zone without stopping, making for some pretty tough choices depending on how the dice came out for you.

Phil: How dependent is your success on your dice rolls?

Luke: A bad roll at the wrong time can definitely spell your doom very quickly, but for the most part, the game isn’t so punishing as to leave you high and dry very often. I’ve had a few terrible turns where I’ve rolled three 6’s, which can lead to a lot of unnecessary damage, but there are ways to mitigate these situations as the game goes on.

Phil: Ah yes, the legacy elements.

Luke: We won’t be spoiling the details of what you’ll encounter as the game progresses, but it’s worth noting that a new element or twist on the pre-established is introduced every 1 or 2 games, meaning you’ll always have something fresh or interesting to try out.

It’s also worth noting that if you fail at a mission, there’s no do-overs; you’re just going to have to live with your mistakes and keep pressing on. While some might be bothered by this, I found this little detail refreshing, never pressure me to “git gud” before moving on and seeing what more was in store.

Phil: Sounds like a winner if you ask me.

Luke: For the most part, yeah, this game is a triumph of game design, which shows considering I played it 30+ times, but I would say that I wish I stopped after game 24 or so.

Phil: Really? Why’s that?

Luke: There’s a certain point where the game feels like it leaves the strong core it had at the start for just adding more stuff to an overwhelming degree. In the final few games of the campaign, a few new mechanics are introduced but barely have the time to be used before they are thrown away, like an embarrassed parent hiding their unemployed 32-year-old son from house guests.

The final mission in particular feels very out of place, throwing away many of the staples of the game to try something new. It feels thematically jarring and is far too easy to win.

Phil: Never a good thing for a solo game.

Luke: I mean, don’t get me wrong, this game isn’t terribly difficult. After the first 2 games when I got my sea legs, I won almost every game without too much difficulty. Beyond a few of the late game missions, I didn’t have much trouble, and honestly, that’s okay. The core design was so smart and inviting that it didn’t matter how well I was doing, just so long as I got to invest myself in a little bit more of this undersea world.

Phil: Until it just became too much to deal with.

Luke: Exactly.

Verdict: Ultimately, we’d recommend people check out Bargain Basement Bathysphere, as it does so many things well, and for free no less. The game design is generous with ideas that will keep you invested for a time. But if you find yourself becoming tired of the campaign midway through, it’s okay to stop wherever; you’ll likely be more satisfied ending on your own terms.

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