The Dead Eye
- Designer: Simon McGregor
- Art and Graphic Design: Rob van Zyl
- Publisher: Pleasant Company Games
- Players: 1
- Age: 14+
- Time: 15-20 minutes
- Times played: 10+ with review copy provided by publisher
The Dead Eye is a solitaire adventure card game. You are a “ lone thermo-bandit downed on a hostile backwater planet. Your mission? Find the next safe haven before you lose all hope and strength… and maybe, just maybe, find a way off of this desolate rock.” To achieve your goal, you must complete three runs; success in each determined by whether you can make it to the next Safe Haven without running out of Strength or Hope.
The game is played with 4 small decks of cards; 2 of which are the same in every game and 2 whose composition changes each time. Though the backs of the cards are different (showing which deck they came from), the front of each shows a “thing” encountered on the planet. The cards have a title in the center and a short description. Then on the left side, there is a Heat Trigger area and on the right side, a Juice Trigger area. Heat and Juice are the two currencies on this desolate planet, with Heat leading to bad things and Juice turning into good things. The bottom of the card has the benefit or action of the card if it is activated. And, as if there wasn’t enough info on the card, there is also generally a Heat or Juice icon at the very top of the card. More on these cards later.
The game is also optionally played with a set of 3D glasses on your face – while it is not necessary for game play, the art is really quite stunning with the glasses on (and really quite blurry without them). If you have the glasses on, you can also peruse the short 3-D comic book that gives some of the background of the story.
To set up the game, the board (which is not truly needed) is placed on the table. The Strength and Hope decks are shuffled, and a mini-deck of 5 cards of each type is made, and placed above the board. The unchosen Strength and Hope cards are set aside, you will hopefully need them later. The ten card Location deck is organized in order with card #1 on top to #10 on the bottom. The fourteen core cards are shuffled to make your starting Hand deck. Finally, the somewhat extraneous Satmap card can be placed on the table with the clip on the 0 space.
The run is played over a number of turns – going until either a Safe Haven is reached (win!) or until you are unable to discard a Hope or Strength card (lose!). Each turn has 3 phases:
1] Unlock a Destination – look at the top card of the Destination deck, the bottom half of the back side shows the unlocking requirement – if you meet the requirement, you take the unlocked Destination card and place it face up above the board in the Target zone. Continue to do this until you cannot unlock the top card of the Destination Deck
2] Face a New Encounter – choose a valid card to put in the center of the board. It could be one of your revealed Destination cards. The top of the revealed Destination cards usually have a distance criteria at the top, and if you have gained enough Distance on cards, you can choose that card. Otherwise, you can always flip up the top card from your Hand. Most of the hand cards are regular encounter cards, but there is one special card (REST) which allows you to activate all of your collected parts cards and one (TOX) which causes you to discard a Strength card – think of this card as a slow but steady timer leading you to your doom.
3] Resolve the Encounter card – Now you see what happens with the Encounter card on the board. (If it is an Event card, simply apply the effect). First check the Heat side – if the number of heat cards to the left of the Encounter meet or exceed the number of Heat triggers on the Encounter card, then the bad result happens (see the icons on the bottom left of the Encounter card). If there is no bad result, then check the Juice side of the card; again seeing if there are an equal or greater number of Juice cards to the right of the Encounter card, and if there is, then the good result happens. In either of these two cases, the trigger icons will tell you if you lose the Heat/Juice (put into the discard pile) or if you postpone it (put on the bottom for your Draw deck).
Depending on the card, you might gain the card for Distance (put above the board), or it might be a Part (card which is placed under the board and can grant a special action). Just follow the iconic directions from the side of the card that you resolved. If neither the Good nor Bad effect happens, the player then has a choice – to either Press On or Evade the card. If you Press on, you leave the card in the Encounter space and simply flip over the top card of your deck, and then again try to resolve it. If you Evade the card, place the card in the Discard pile (or back in the Target Zone if it is a Destination card), then choose another legal card for the next Encounter and resolve it like usual.
Continue doing this until either you lose (by being asked to discard a Hope or Strength card and not being able to do so) or you win (by gaining the card for the next Safe Haven). If you finish the third run (and get to the 3rd Safe Haven), you win the game.
My thoughts on the game
At its core, The Dead Eye is a card game with a little bit of deckbuilding feel (though you don’t have much control over what gets added; you do get to see what is added to help you calculate probabilities). In each run, you start with 27 to 28 possible cards on the table – (14 Core cards, 5 Hope, 5 Strength, 3 or 4 Destination cards for each run); and your deck composition will slowly change based on what goes into your discard pile.
There are plenty of times when I try to strategically get a Hope card or two placed into the discard pile. Sure, that puts me a bit closer to possibly losing the game, but it also adds cards into my deck which have a Juice icon on them. When you start the game, your deck has 6 Juices, 6 Heat and 2 special cards. Each Hope card has a Juice on it, and each Strength card has a Heat on it. So, you can slightly tilt the odds in your favor by adding Hope cards to the deck. Likewise, if you are so lucky, you can further change the odds by gaining Heat cards by completing them when they are the Encounter card.
You can use your card counting skills as well to swing the balance in your favor. As you get near the end of each pass through the deck, if you can remember which cards have not yet been seen, you can make a decently informed decision about when to press on and/or when to choose a certain destination card. You can always see the back of the top card of your Hand, but you’re not supposed to look at more than the first card – so you’ll need to rely upon your memory most of the time.
But, in the end, a lot of the game is determined by the random order of the shuffled deck. Many of the cards will be known, but each game starts with a different combination of Hope and Strength cards, and one card of each type is cycled in each Run, making it predictable but not solvable. This gives the game a surprising depth of play as well as decent level of replayability.
After a full day of The Dead Eye games (maybe 8 to 10 total games spread out over the course of a rainy Saturday), I feel like I’ve seen all the Hope and Strength cards – but the games did not feel the same. The changing decks had me making interesting decisions in a very short timeframe. By the end of the day, once I was very familiar with the game, a full three run game was completed in about ten minutes. It’s not often that I find a game that offers this large a decision space in such a small timeframe, and it is telling that it has not yet felt stale after 10+ games.
The artwork is…. Hard for me to judge. I’m not much of a comic guy, but some friends who are into that sort of thing were quite impressed with the graphic design. I’ll also admit to mostly playing the game without the 3D glasses – I find that they don’t fit well over my regular glasses, and I can’t read that well without my regular glasses, and even when they work, the stereoscopic visuals tend to trigger migraines… so needless to say, I didn’t do much with the glasses other than take a single picture for Instagram.
The stereoscopic art when viewed without the glasses looks a bit blurry, as you would expect – though all of the text and icons needed to play the game are printed in regular 2D. So, there is no gameplay effect whatsoever based on your 3D glasses choice. It’s definitely an interesting choice, and would clearly fit into my unique games as being to only one I currently own with 3D art…
I will admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of the font and stylized-non-vowel words of the card titles, but after a few plays through the deck, you know what the cards do even if you sometimes stare at the titles like they are a weird license plate that you’re trying to decipher the meaning of… But, like the 3D art, this really has no effect on the gameplay, and you don’t have to think about the card titles much once you know the cards.
As far as solo-only games go, this hits a sweet spot for me – it’s quick, it gives you interesting decisions to make, it doesn’t feel solvable, it’s fairly challenging (so far I win about 70% of the time), and it is eminently portable. I definitely think it’s worth a try if you like solitaire games in this vein.
Rating: I like it.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor