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Dokmus and Return of Erefel Expansion Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Mikko Punakallio
Artist: Markuu Laine and Sami Saramäki
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios and Lautapelit.fi
Year Published: 2016
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 20-40 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Dokmus Review:
Dokmus is an area control, abstract strategy game in which players discover ancient temples and ruins, and call upon the land’s guardians to manipulate the landscape. Rotate and shift the tiles to alter the map’s layout, thus changing your strategy—and the strategy of your opponents—each turn.

Following this review of Dokmus, you will find a review for its expansion, Dokmus: Return of Erefel. Feel free to skip the setup and rules section and jump straight to my thoughts on the game.

Rules and Setup:

Setup for a 3-4 player game (2-player setup can be seen in the expansion review).

The Talisman (a.k.a. 1st player token)
A deceptively simple game, Dokmus is easy to learn, quick to play, and chalk-full of strategy. To set up, simply lay out eight tiles in a 3x3 grid, leaving the middle empty. Players randomly determine the first player and give the newly acknowledge starting player the talisman token. Starting with the first player, everyone takes turns placing one of their colored tokens on an edge space (forest or meadow only) on one of the four corner tiles that nobody else has placed their token on. This will be your starting position.

Congratulations! The game is set up and you’re ready to get going.

Dokmus consists of eight rounds. Each round, every player (starting with the player with the talisman token) chooses a guardian card. The number on this card will determine turn order (number 1 goes first, number 5 goes last), and will give the player a special power they may use at any time during their turn.

Once all players have selected a guardian card, the player with the lowest number will take the first turn. On a turn, each player must play three tokens of their color. There are a few placement rules which will help you understand the game mechanics better, so let’s delve into those for a minute.

Tokens are either played on the board or sacrificed. Sacrificed tokens earn points, so there is motive to removing your tokens from the game.

Sacrificed tokens are placed next to the score track.
A token may only be played adjacent (horizontal or vertical) to a previously played token of the active player’s color. Playing on a meadow has no special ability. In order to enter a forest space (if not already on an adjacent forest space), one token must be sacrificed. Sacrificed tokens are placed in the sacrificial area next to the score track. Tokens may not be placed on mountains, although they can be placed on volcano spaces. If, at the end of a player’s turn, they have one or more tokens on a volcano space, those tokens are removed from the board and sacrificed (I mean, what else would someone use a volcano for in a mythological world?).

Temple spaces consist of the large yellow temples and small red temples. Tokens may not be placed on a temple space, but must be placed adjacent instead. Once a token is adjacent to a temple, that temple is considered discovered. At the end of the game, discovered temples are worth two points for small (red) temples, and three points for large (yellow) temples. More points are given for discovering all temples on a single tile, and more points still are awarded for discovering at least one temple on multiple tiles (the more tiles the better). If a player has a token adjacent to a temple, the temple is then used as a sort of portal or connector to other spaces adjacent to it. Meaning, a player can use one of their tokens adjacent to a temple to place another token on another open space adjacent to that same temple (following placement rules).

Tokens placed on ruins may never be moved for any reason. Ruins give the player who controls it one point at the end of the game. Once a token is placed on a ruin, a free guardian ability is given to that player. This free ability must affect the tile on which the ruin is located, or a token on the tile of that ruin. The abilities the player may choose from are rotating the tile 90°, move the tile, or move a token to an open, adjacent space. This ability must be used immediately.

Tokens may not be placed on water. However, water can be used to move your tokens further (and faster) than by going space-by-space on land. In order to use connected water spaces as a waterway, one token must first be sacrificed (it’s for the good of the tribe). Then, as long as you have a token adjacent to a water space, you may place a token on any legal space adjacent to that waterway (i.e. anywhere along the river’s banks). You don’t even need to sacrifice another token to use a waterway to enter a forest; the first sacrifice will suffice.

At any time during a player’s turn, they may opt to use the ability on their guardian card. There are five guardian cards (although only guardians 2, 3, and 4 are used for a two-player game), and each guardian grants an ability, as follows:

Guardian #1: Take the talisman token and become the first player for the next round.
Guardian #2: Move a map tile to the empty spot in the grid.
Guardian #3: Move one of your tokens from a forest, meadow, or volcano to an empty and adjacent forest, meadow, volcano, or ruin.
Guardian #4: Rotate a map tile 90° clockwise or counterclockwise.
Guardian #5: Perform the action on Guardian 2, 3, or 4.

Guardians give special abilities, and also determine play order (#1 goes first and #5 goes last).
Once all three tokens have been played, and the guardian action used or passed, the player with the next lowest guardian card takes their turn. Once every player has taken their turn, the guardian cards are collected, given to the player with the talisman token, and a new round begins with players choosing guardians.

After eight rounds, each player should be out of tokens (otherwise somebody did something wrong). Once the eighth round ends, you may begin scoring. Score each temple you have discovered, as well as each ruin you occupy. For each tile on which you have discovered all the temples, gain eight points (five points in a two-player game). Count the number of tiles where you have discovered at least one temple, and add that score (see rulebook). Lastly, count the number of sacrificed tokens each player has. In a four-player game, the player with the most sacrificed tokens receives five points, the runner up receives three points, and third place receives one point. The player with the least amount of sacrificed tokens receives nothing (as the saying goes, nice guys finish last).

The player with the most points wins!

The game is over, and the scores are all very close!

Theme and Mechanics:
You are leading an expedition on the island of Dokmus, the land of your ancestors. Using your wits and the blessings of the island’s guardians, explore the ever-changing island, discover temples and ruins, and bring fame and glory to your tribe!

Theme generally isn’t something I think of when looking at an abstract game, but with Dokmus, the theme and mechanics play quite well with each other. Exploring the island is no easy feat, so calling on the island’s guardians for assistance is crucial. By using their abilities, the island shifts and rotates, and your explorers can get a little extra boost to help the quest along.

One of the main mechanics in Dokmus is area control, and a lot of times, that means blocking a player out of a particular location. While this is still true in Dokmus, using the island’s guardian abilities can help turn your misfortune into a fortuitous blessing. With a constantly changing board, the area you control will be contested in more ways than you may imagine.

Each round, the guardian cards are drafted, allowing players to vie for turn order, guardian ability, or both. Because of this, turn order is a lot like the island itself—always changing.

Another main mechanic is grid movement. It’s pretty straightforward (move horizontally or vertically from one of your already placed tokens), but the terrain, with its varying specialties, makes moving a life-or-sacrifice choice every turn.

Artwork and Components:

The art is lovely, and the tiles certainly show off the landscape without players having to rely too much on their imagination. The guardians also look quite impressive, and definitely adds to the flavor of the game.

The board tiles and guardian cards are all thick and sturdy, and the wooden tokens, despite looking like simple tents, are uniform in size and colorful in appearance. I don’t know how else they would have made these tokens, but how they are in their current form works just fine for me.

The Good:
I absolutely love how the game board changes throughout the game. This aspect of Dokmus makes it more strategic than if the board were static, and opens up the possibilities for endless play experiences. With double-sided tiles, there are plenty of layouts to keep me happy for innumerable plays.

The components are excellent quality. Not sure what else to say about that, other than I was pleasantly impressed when I first opened the box.

Turns, for the most part, go by quickly. To me, that’s huge. I play with people who can take far too long deciding on the perfect course of action, and while they still took some time to decide while playing Dokmus, the waiting game wasn’t as terrible as some other games I’ve played with them. And that was on their first play, too. Experienced players will get faster as they understand how waterways work, the strategy behind sacrificing your tokens, and whatnot.

The playtime is just right. It doesn’t feel long (even if someone is taking their jolly good time deciding where to place a token…), and it’s quick enough that two or three games in a row isn’t unheard of.

There are plenty of ways to score points, and I’ve seen a few different strategies come out on top during different plays. I think that’s one of the things that makes Dokmus so good, that even if a player isn’t getting a lot of points (or any) from sacrificing, they can still pull ahead through other means (as just one example).

The Bad:
While I mentioned above that turns can go quickly, they can also allow the analysis paralysis to hit, and hit hard. Of course, you will know which of your gamer friends this applies to, but again, as they gain more experience with the game (as in after even one play), their turns will shorten up immensely.

Final Thoughts:
Spoilers: I’m a huge fan of Dokmus. From my first play, I was hooked with the smooth, streamlined mechanics and strategy. The moving board adds a lot more thought to every turn, and the various guardian abilities are all useful, yet none are over-powered or always preferred over others. Every game I’ve played has been close (as in within about three points among all players).

It also scales well for two-players, which for me is a plus, because I do a lot of two-player gaming. That being said, I do think it plays best at four-players, but that doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly enjoyable at two or three. Having played it plenty of times already, I’m still eager to get it back on the table for more.

Players Who Like:
If you like abstract strategy games with an engaging theme (or one or the other), Dokmus is a brilliant game in that realm. It’s quick and easy to learn—yet deep enough for even the most hardcore strategy gamer—making it a solid choice for mixed groups of gaming preferences.

Dokmus: Return of Erefel (Expansion) Review:

Dokmus: Return of Erefel adds four new double-sided map tiles (complete with new terrain!), a new Guardian (Erefel), and four scenarios that change certain rules of the game. The new rules in this expansion are subtle, yet they enrich the base game and add even more replayability to an already evergreen game.

Rules and Setup:

Setup for a 2-player game. In this scenario (more on that below), the scenario tile acts as a giant ocean/waterway.

Setup for Return of Erefel is the same as in the base game, with two exceptions. First, The new guardian Erefel is included in the guardian selection phases. Second, a scenario tile may be used (choose a side of the tile), which is placed in the empty space in the grid. When shifting board tiles, do so as normal, replacing the moving tile with the scenario tile. When setting up the grid, you may add as many expansion board tiles as you wish (they’re the ones with roads on the spaces).

Erefel brings new life to Dokmus. Once per turn, his guardian power allows the player using it to enter a forest or use a waterway without sacrificing a token. His activation number is a question mark, which means the turn order he goes in changes depending on which other guardians were chosen. To determine his turn order, reveal the two guardian cards not chosen; Erefel’s turn number will be that of the highest numbered guardian card not being used.

Roads make life on the island of Dokmus a bit easier. When placing a token on a road space, you may move that token one additional space along the same road. Likewise, when entering a forest space that also has a road on it, you do not need to sacrifice a token.

You take the high road, and I'll take the low road, and I'll be in Dokmus a'fore ye!

The Ice and Wind scenarios.
The scenarios alter the rules of the game in slight, subtle ways, but change the overall strategy immensely. Only one scenario is used each game. The Ice scenario transforms all water spaces into ice. As such, players no longer need to sacrifice a token to use waterways. However, to use the waterway, the player must have a token next to water (as normal), but must put their other token on a space immediately adjacent (horizontally or vertically) to that location. Basically, they’re sliding across the ice, and turning isn’t really an option (they didn’t pack their hockey skates).

The Wind scenario lets players move their token one additional space on roads and meadows, allowing players to get from point A to point B in record time.

The Water and Sun scenarios.
The Sun scenario amplifies the free abilities of ruins so that the active player can use the ability on any tile, not just the one on which the ruin is located.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Water scenario. This scenario tile acts as a massive water tile, and can be used as a waterway from any adjacent space and tile.

Other than those changes, the game is played as normal.

The Good:

Even the expansion box fits in the box!

These new additions to Dokmus really pump up the play options. Each scenario changes the strategy in small ways, but leave a big impact.

The road terrain makes it easier to move your tokens around the board, but at the same time, makes it easier for your opponents to cut you off and take the spaces you’ve been gunning for. This changes the dynamic and speed of the game, and you can choose how many of these new tiles to add, giving yourselves more or less roads for varying amounts of speedy movements.

Erefel seemed to be chosen quite frequently as the guardian of choice. Even though sacrificing tokens can bring about points, doing so reduces your movement options, making it more difficult to reach certain spaces. With Erefel, getting to those spaces is much easier, and is something to keep an eye on if you know you and your opponent are eying the same location.

Unlike some expansions where you have to find even more room to store it, the Return of Erefel box fits nicely inside the box for the base game. To some, this might seem rather "meh," but for me (and those who value shelf space), this is a big plus!

The Bad:
I can’t think of anything bad about this expansion. You can use all parts of the expansion if you like, or only some aspects of it (i.e. only use Erefel, or only use a scenario, or only use one or two new tiles rather than the whole package deal).

Final Thoughts:
Dokmus: Return of Erefel is a natural addition to the base game. All aspects of this expansion fit so well with Dokmus that I can’t see myself playing without them. If you’re a fan of Dokmus to begin with, then you will certainly enjoy the new tactics and play styles Return of Erefel brings to the table. Dokmus is a wonderful game with lots of replayability to begin with. Combine the expansion into the mix and you have a game that will never get old.

Check out Dokmus on:


About the Author:

Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He's a freelance blogger and budding game designer. As an avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with a rich, engaging theme. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Dokmus and Return of Erefel Expansion Review Dokmus and Return of Erefel Expansion Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on March 06, 2018 Rating: 5

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