Do you share your love for some abstract? I for one, don’t love abstract games in general. I found them to be uninteresting, lack of compelling reason and bland as boredom. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t say that abstract games are not good, some of them are good (if not great), let say abstract games like Chess, Patchwork, Tsuro, Azul, Ingenious, Onitama, Quoridor and many more. It’s just that the abstract theme doesn’t really help me to like the game more. Regardless, having a great art doesn’t warrant the game as not abstract, in fact most of Euro Games are abstract if you strip the game from those pasted theme. Now enough with that, let’s take a look of a game called Dokmus. Weirdly titled, Dokmus is a 2017 released game designed by Mikko Punakallio (Finnish designer) and published by Lautapelit.fi (at first) and getting wider distribution by Renegade Game Studios.
What is Dokmus?
In Dokmus, each player will lead an expedition to the island of Dokmus, the ancestral god of your tribe. The island is guarded by five guardians, whom you can gain favors from. Their favors will help you to explore the island and prove that you are the most worthy in the eyes of Dokmus. There is barely a theme here, I would say that this is an abstract game from head to toe, with a slim theme on the icing.
Dokmus is a simple, light abstract strategy for 2-4 players. Each player will have to explore the island and discover temples. After 8 rounds, the game ends and scoring takes place, player with most points wins the game. In the game, there are 8 map tiles (double sided map) that will be randomly placed in a 3×3 grid with the center tile left empty. It is recommended to use the A side of the map tiles for first play. Starting counter clockwise from the last player, each player place one of their tents (tokens) into one of the edge spaces of the corner map tiles (only square with meadow or forest terrain).
Starting clockwise from player with the first player token, each player will secretly choose one guardian tiles (out of five) and pass the rest to the next player. The last player set aside the guardian tile that not chosen face down. Starting with the player who has the first Guardian and in ascending order, players place 3 of their tents (place up to 3 tents each round) into the board following several restrictions. Players must place their next tents adjacent (orthogonally) to the previous ones, they cannot place it on a temple, waterway and mountain. They can sacrifice a tent to place a tent to enter forest terrain (unless they already have an adjacent tent in a forest terrain) or cross waterway to a meadow / ruin that is adjacent to that waterway. If a player token is adjacent with a temple, the adjacent spaces of that temple are considered adjacent to that tent. Players can place a tent on a volcano space, but at the end of their turn, that tent is sacrificed. Placing a tent on a ruin space allows players to activate the ability of either the second, third or the fourth guardian on a map tile of that ruin space. Players can use the favor of the guardians that they already chose in their turn. They can use it before, during or at the end of their turn.
Each player has 25 tents (including the starting tent), so each player gets 3 tents per round. Players can sacrifice their tents during their turn but still count for the 3 tents limit each round, thus players cannot sacrifice a tent when placing their third tent.
There are several goals that players can try to achieve, the main goal is to discover Temples (small or large) by placing one of their tents beside the temples, this is the main way to score points. Large temples give slightly higher point than small ones, while placing tents on ruin spaces also gives players a point. Players get additional points if they discover all the temples in a single map tile and discover at least one temple per map tile. Players also gain points based on who has the most sacrificed tents. So with these goals in mind, they need to place their tents throughout the island but they only have 24 tents to do these things. With the limitation that they can only place a tent into an adjacent space from their already placed tents, it is no way that they can possibly achieve the goals. That’s why they need help, which are favor of the guardians.
In this game building network of tents from one tent to another is not the interesting part of this game, it’s too simple and yet not something remarkable to do in a game. But, not to worry because the designer figured out how to make things more interesting, yup with the help of the guardians.
The Interesting Part
The guardians allow players to manipulate the board in many ways, and in order to get their favors, players need to be clever in the drafting phase at the start of each round. The first guardian allow players to be the first player to place their tents, while this ability seemed unimportant or not so rewarding, think again, being the first is really crucial in this game. The first player to pick a guardian and also the first player to place tents. Because in this game, there is no way if other players already take the spot you wanted, no way to undo this. So better be the first or nothing. Sometimes not being the first usually leads players to not getting the guardian they want, and they start to realize the important ability of the first guardian. In order to get the guardian you need, be the first to pick them.
The second guardian allow players to move one of the map tiles in a cardinal direction (vertical or horizontal) as long as the map is moved within the 3×3 grid (remember the empty space tile in the middle of the 3×3 grid?). This guardian ability is tricky, sometimes players need to do this more than once to achieve something they want, sometimes luck is on their side cause other players unintentionally helped them. In short, this guardian ability lets players to cover great distance across the island.
The third guardian allow players to move one of their tents on the board, to an adjacent space (mountain and water restriction still applies). This is also very important. In some cases, players plan lead them to situation where they need one more turn to complete it, this might help them. Placing a tent into a space that gives them nothing is useless (obviously) but with this guardian ability, that issue can be solved.
The fourth guardian allows players to rotate one of the map tile 90 degrees. Though it’s not as powerful as the second guardian in term of distance, this ability prove to be more flexible for players. rotating the map is giving them wider range of possibilities with its bi-directional rotation.
The last guardian allows players to do the ability of the second, third or fourth guardian. The most powerful guardian of all (not exactly), because with one guardian players get to choose one out of three guardian abilities, of course at the cost of taking the last turn (though it is not necessarily a bad thing). There is a time that players left with a plan that requires them to do lot of things in order for the plan to work. Being the last player might do good for them because it is possible that other players do some of the work for that player, but that’s no guarantee others do exactly as that player wants it.
Once all players have taken their turns, next round begins and player with the first player token will be the first to choose a guardian for the next round.
My Thoughts of The Game
Honestly, at first I didn’t have any interest at all in this game. Some people said it’s good but the abstract aspect really kept me on the fence, until a friend lent me a copy to try. Since it’s a simple game, I said “why not?”. I learnt the game rules pretty quickly, it is simple and straight-forward (after reading the rules, I still not yet convinced). Once I tried the game, everything was changed and the game looks solid, fast, promising and also offers some depth to think about. I love the simplicity of it rules yet great observation and decision making are needed to make a good play. I believe drafting phase of the guardian stores the core aspect of the game, since the considerations to choose which guardian will lay the foundation of the rest of players’ turn. As I already mentioned earlier, the map tiles come double sided (A and B sides) and it seems the B side provides more challenge to players with more mountain spaces than the A side. Players of course can combine the two sides for variation. The game itself truly addictive (at least in my experience) and the game also comes with a 2-player variant where players will play with less map tiles than in a 3 or 4-players. One thing the game lacks are the visual presentation of the game. The map’s graphic could be improved in two ways (if not more), like the map tile should have a colored border (either white or black) to easily differentiate the border of a map tile for the purpose of rotating and placing tents (placing a tent in the edge space of a map with the edge sharing side with another map tile space that has a temple on it, is also scored in the end game but that can be changed by simply rotate the tile. So it’s not a final position and players could made mistakes not seeing the clear edge of a map tile) And also the space with ruins could do better with a thin border (white or other color) or maybe enlarge the size of the ruin icon. I noticed this when calculating score at the end, noticing the ruin spaces covered by tents are not the easiest thing to do. So if the space has white border or larger ruin icons, it is more apparent for players to count.
Turned out getting all of your tents to discover temples in all map tiles are not something impossible. You can achieve this of course and definitely gives you a lot of points if you can place tents on most of the map tiles (max at 8 which gives you 27 pts, or 7 tiles which gives you 22 pts). Now the hard part is placing tents in all temples in a single tile. Doing that gives you 8 points. I think it is achievable, but the real question is how many tiles you can complete. It also has an expansion (a small one I must say), called The Return of Erefel, which Erefel is the name of another guardian (possibly the most powerful guardian in Dokmus). Erefel ability is not particularly new, but it plays very interesting. During the drafting phase, the player who choose Erefel will copy the highest number of the two leftover guardian at that round. Not a guaranteed powerful ability though but, with this extra guardian, the players will definitely think harder when choosing the guardians, which guardian should be left out. The expansion also gives scenarios that introduce new ways to interact with the terrains. Regardless the available expansion, the game is really interesting and definitely has moderate replay value, though the game plays do not really change significantly from time to time, the player decisions and interactions would surely give different feel.
Some images are credit to @hdicode