Full disclosure: A review copy of Dokmus was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Abstract strategy games! There are … a lot of them. And I’ve already talked about a number of them here, like Santorini or the Kingdom Builder series. Might as well add one more to that number with Dokmus!
In Dokmus, you have found the eponymous lost isle and seek to regain the favor of Dokmus, your ancient god, in exchange for boons. As one does. However, the island is guarded by Dokmus’s ancient guardians! That said, they’re remarkably chill and will lend you their power essentially for free, if you ask. That’s nice of them. Can you use their abilities to claim the favor of Dokmus?
Setup is also remarkably chill. Here’s what you do. Take the map tiles:
They’re double-sided, so honestly whatever works, here. Shuffle them up, flip a few over; go crazy. Anyways, if you’re playing a 2-player game, situate them like so:
If you’re playing with 3 – 4 players, set up the eight tiles in a square such that there’s a gap in the middle for the ninth tile (but there is no ninth tile, since we’re not playing Nine Tiles; that’s something else entirely):
You can set the Victory Point track near all players:
Let each player choose a color of … tents? Sure; tents:
And place the score cube of that color on the Victory Point track at 0:
Now, set the 5 Guardians aside:
If you’re only playing with 2 players, remove Guardians 1 and 5. Give the first player the talisman:
And you’re almost ready to start! Now, similar to Catan, you’ll have to choose starting positions. You have 25 tents, so you’ll place one down to begin. You place in reverse turn order (starting with the last player and ending with the first player), and you may place following these rules:
- You must place on a corner tile;
- You must place on a forest or a meadow;
- The corner tile you choose must not have any other players’s tents on it.
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
The gameplay of Dokmus is strikingly similar to the Kingdom Builder series (so much so that I now want to play Kingdom Builder), but there are some distinctions.
The easiest way to show this is by your turn action: on your turn, you place three of your tents so that they are adjacent to tents of yours already in play. That said, there are some key differences, so let’s explain the flow of a turn, first.
A round progresses like this:
- Choose Guardians
- Player Turns
- End Round
This happens 8 times, and then the game’s over. Super simple, right? Well, let’s dig in a bit more to each part.
So, remember those Guardians?
Well, they come into play, now. Players will draft the Guardians (each player will choose one in turn order and pass the rest without revealing their choice), starting with the player holding the Talisman.
What do the Guardians do? Well, that depends on their number. For starters, they determine the turn order for the second part of the round, so that alone should pique your interest. They also can do this:
- Take the Talisman.
- Move any tile on the board. You must keep it within the original rectangle defined by the game (either 3 x 3 or 3 x 2, depending on your player count). You can move tiles over other tiles, so you should always be able to move 4 tiles in a 3+-player game and 3 tiles in a 2-player game.
- Move one of your tokens. You may move a token from a meadow, forest, or volcano to an adjacent meadow, forest, volcano, or ruin. You cannot move over a waterway, but you can move following normal temple placement rules (more on that later). You do not need to sacrifice to move into the forest, and you may move a token to an adjacent spot on another map tile.
- Rotate a map tile. Spin a map tile one turn counterclockwise or clockwise, your choice.
- Take either the 2, 3, or 4 action. In exchange for going last, you can take any one of the 2, 3, or 4 actions. That’s fun!
Once all players have chosen a guardian, move on to the next phase of the round. Keep the Guardian that wasn’t chosen face-down so that people can’t figure out who chose what.
So, now you get to place your tokens. The easiest way to do this is to have one player call out the numbers 1 – 5 in order, letting each player play their full turn before calling the next one.
So, like Kingdom Builder, as mentioned, you must place three tents each turn, and they must be horizontally or vertically adjacent to a place that you already have a token on, even if that is on another map tile. That said, you may only place tokens on meadows, forests, ruins, or volcanoes. And the volcano ones don’t last that long. Also, as you might guess, you cannot share spaces with another player.
So, let’s talk about the terrain types:
- Meadow. It’s just grass, nothing special. You can always place here.
- Mountain. It’s too steep for you to settle here! You can never place a token on a Mountain.
- Volcano. Somehow, undaunted by the mountain, you decided to settle here against the advice of literally everyone, including your insurance salesman. If you still have a token on a volcano at the end of your turn, well, it slips and falls into the volcano. It belongs to Dokmus, now, so move that token to the Sacrifice area on the Victory Point track. You can totally place tokens on Volcanoes just to sacrifice them to Dokmus too, if you want, you monster.
- Forest. The forest is full of bears or something, so if you’re not currently in the forest you must always send a token in first to check. Unfortunately, they always get eaten by bears, so you must sacrifice that token to Dokmus and place it in the Sacrifice area on the Victory Point track. Once you’ve done that, you can place your next token in the Forest, just fine. There are some times that you don’t need to sacrifice to enter a forest:
- You’re already on an adjacent forest space;
- You are adjacent to a temple connecting two forests;
- You’re crossing a waterway to get into that forest;
- You’re using the “Move a token” Guardian ability to move into the forest.
- Temples. There are two types of temples: small temples (red) and large temples (yellow). You want to be adjacent to them, as they’re worth points at the end of the game for players that are adjacent to them. You cannot place on temples, but temples treat all of their horizontally and vertically adjacent spaces as being adjacent to each other. This means that if you place to the left of a temple, on your next turn you may place above the temple and that’s totally fine. As mentioned previously, you can also use a temple as a bridge between two forests to get between them without having to sacrifice a token.
- Water. You cannot place a token on water. You can, however, sacrifice a token to gain a Dokmus Boat or something that lets you cross water for free. If you do, you may place on any space adjacent to the body of water or any space adjacent to a temple adjacent to the body of water, as is consistent with previous rules. As previously stated, you cannot place on a mountain, temple, or other water space by doing this.
- Ruins. You may place a token on the Ruins, and doing so gets you endgame points, which is nice. When you do, you may optionally take any of three actions, which are similar to the Guardian Abilities. For reference, “this map tile” is the tile with the Ruins you just placed on.
- Move this map tile.
- Move a token on this map tile. You may move a token on this map tile to another map tile, in case that wasn’t clear.
- Rotate this map tile.
Once everyone’s played, the round ends. In a two-player game, this means you pass the Talisman to the other player.
If this is the end of the eighth round, proceed to the end of the game.
Alright, so it’s time for the game end scoring. Here’s how it goes:
- Score 1 point for each of your token on ruins.
- Score Temples: There are four ways to score temples; you’ll score each way.
- Score 2 points for each small temple with one of your tokens adjacent to it.
- Score 3 points for each large temple with one of your tokens adjacent to it.
- Score 8 points for each map tile on which every temple has one of your tokens adjacent to it. In a two-player game, this is only 5 points.
- Score points for the number of map tiles on which you’ve discovered at least one temple:
- 1 point
- 3 points
- 6 points
- 10 points
- 14 points
- 18 points
- 22 points
- 27 points
- Score Sacrificed Tokens. You get points based on how many tokens you sacrificed to Dokmus and based on player count.
- 2 players
- Most: 3 points
- Second-most: 0 points
- 3 players
- Most: 4 points
- Second-most: 2 points
- Third-most: 0 points
- 4 players
- Most: 5 points
- Second-most: 3 points
- Third-most: 1 points
- Fourth-most: 0 points
- 2 players
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Honestly, the major difference is just at two you lose the top row of the 3×3 square and you play without the 1 and the 5 (which doesn’t matter all that much). I don’t have a strong preference for this at one player count over another, but I will caution people playing four-player games that they should consider getting the Talisman every now and then, since going last in a 4p draft is rough.
- Don’t always go last. In either drafting or in turn order; neither are good. In drafting, you always get the dregs of the guardians, and in turn order you might miss out on getting a temple or might get blocked from the Ruins you were eyeing or might get your whole tile moved or flipped or what have you. It’s okay to take the Talisman, sometimes; being first is pretty good.
- You can usually get about two tiles’ worth of temples found before the end of the game. If you’re willing to compromise and not hit as many “tiles with at least one temple discovered” points, well, that’s 16 points, right there. That’s a lot of points. I’ve won all the games I’ve played by doing that, so I’d recommend it pretty highly. You might have to get creative about how you get to those temples, though, so plan accordingly if you want to make it.
- You should keep an eye on sacrifices. It’s not like, explicitly worth going out of your way to get like, 8 on there, but if you can get the most by 1 or tie for the most, that’s pretty good. Dokmus isn’t too much of a stickler, it sounds like.
- Corners are your friend. If you get to another tile’s corner, you can rotate the other tiles around it and have a LOT of options. It’s great to quickly spin a tile a few times to easily get to all of its temples. Better than taking the long way.
- Try to optimize. The entire game is kind of an optimization problem (how to get the widest spread of tokens), so try to figure out how you can best maneuver to the far reaches of the map without needing to spend all of your turns making straight lines of tokens. The best way is usually being clever about rotations or moves.
- The “Move a Token” ability is usually very helpful. Getting to close the gap or move a tile into a forest with no penalty or what have you can be extremely crucial to your strategy, so don’t take that ability lightly. Don’t get me wrong; they’re all good abilities, I just find that all players tend to gravitate towards moving a token, when they can.
- Comboing Ruins is usually a good idea. If you can use Ruins to move multiple tokens or tiles in one turn, then you’re really getting things done. Plus, they’re worth points at the end of the game! That’s always a nice bonus.
- You can / occasionally should be a jerk to other players. There’s no real way to permanently block players without just taking the spot that they want, but you can definitely delay them a turn by maliciously rotating or moving one of their tiles. That can be a fun way to annoy another player, especially whichever player took the Guardian Ability you wanted. Spiteful, yet somewhat effective.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Pretty simple to learn. The placement rules aren’t that complicated, the Guardian Abilities are straightforward, and the gameplay is pretty smooth. That’s always nice.
- Plays reasonably quickly. The per-turn decision space is small, but there is a lot of time to strategize about longer-term stuff when it’s not your turn, and that’s nice. Even then, those strategies don’t cause the game to meaningfully slow down for any one player, which is also good. I felt like I didn’t experience much downtime when I played.
- The map reconfiguration parts are really interesting. I try to make sure I always put my pieces on the board the same way so that at the end of the game I can try to track how much things moved and where they moved to, in order to get a sense of progression. It’s neat! It’s also different from a lot of other games that I’ve played, which is always something I’m willing to give points, for.
- I like the mix of drafting and placing. It feels connected, which is nice, since the whole game feels cohesive as a result, but it’s interesting to have these two distinct parts of the game.
- It’s kind of difficult to be super aggressive, unless you want to be and are willing to work for it. Since players start in the four corners, you really have to spend time trying to get into someone’s business (and usually can’t until at least the third round, out of eight. That’s a good fit for my personal playstyle, so it means I like it a bit more.
- The Tent tokens are a bit underwhelming. They’re just … kind of … tents. That’s fine. I guess the gameplay is in-tents, then.
- The lack of an insert is a bit frustrating. The map tiles just kind of slide around, now, and there’s not a whole lot to be done about that. A smallish insert would have been nice. Oh well, at least it’ll fit the expansion when I’m ready for it.
- The myriad scoring methods for temples feel a bit messy. It’s just a lot of extra bookkeeping at the end of the game. Scoring in general’s a bit tough, for that reason, because the tokens mostly cover the ruins so it’s hard to tell where you’ve been.
- Similar to Kingdom Builder, I feel like experienced players are going to have a significant advantage over new players until they understand the nuances of how to best expand. Experienced players will be somewhat wise to the strategies of playing to the edges of tiles and rotating and sacrificing and clever waterway usage where all of that may be a bit opaque to a new player. Try to be mindful of that when playing, though I don’t think it’s quite to the same degree as it is with Kingdom Builder.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I quite like Dokmus! I think it’s about the same as Kingdom Builder, in my mind, as far as “which one would I prefer to play”, which is nice. Generally, I’m a fan of these types of games, so having more variety in this space is basically only good for me. It’s a neat spin (pun intended) on the genre with the map manipulation abilities, but it also does a decent job of keeping players fairly separated for a while to let them get adjusted to the mechanics (rather than just playing anywhere like Kingdom Builder. It seems pretty easy to pick up, as well, which is always nice, but I don’t totally understand the super-thin, insertless box, if I’m being honest. Oh well, either way, if you’re looking for another abstract strategy game to round out your collection, I’d recommend checking out Dokmus! It’s a lot of fun.