A review of Diamonds – the trick taking card game by Mike Fitzgerald

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Aug 272014
 

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Let me open this review by saying that I’m not much of a lover of trick taking games. My wife’s family plays a lot of Hearts and I’ll play with them but given the choice to play a card game with a standard deck or something neat and different, with card text and player interaction, well I’ll go in that direction just about every time.

Except this time. Diamonds is the exception to my personal rule and is one of those games that I find myself setting aside time to play. Now, lets dig into this game and find out what sets it apart from the many other trick taking games out there, and why you don’t want to leave this game on the floor in the dark.

Overview

Diamonds is a game designed by Mike Fitzgerald and published by Stronghold Games. The ‘Podfather’ Stephen Buonocore, who’s appeared on Indie Talks several times and who also happens to be the one in charge at Stronghold Games was kind enough to send off a review copy to me.  It plays with 2-6 players, ages 8 and up and takes about 30 minutes to play. The game ships with 60 cards in four suits, 110 small diamond crystals, 25 large diamond crystals, six vaults, a rule book and six player aid cards. Diamonds will have an MSRP of $24.95 and will be available September 10th.

This game takes the concept of a simply trick taking card game, stands it on it’s head, makes it beautiful and so much more strategic and ‘thinky’ than any other game in this genre that I’ve played. Each player is dealt 10 cards, which range in numbers from 1-15 and have four suits – diamonds, hearts, clubs and spades.  Each player also gets a cardboard standup ‘vault’ and three small diamond crystals, which are placed next to the vault in what’s called the player’s ‘showroom’. The player to the left of the dealer opens the game by playing a card with what will now be the leading suit. Each player after that plays one of their cards in that same suit until every player has played a card. The player who put down the highest number card in the opening suit wins that hand, thus ‘taking the trick’. So far, it’s just like every other trick taking game, right? Well here’s where Diamonds peels off it’s humdrum, stodgy old suit, throws on the dance gear and gets funkier than 1970’s John Travolta on a near frictionless dance floor.

First off and most importantly to me as someone who doesn’t enjoy standard trick taking games, every player in this game will get to do something cool at least a few times with every hand. And by cool, I mean score points and actually interact with the game. Each suit has a specific action tied in with it and you’ll get to use these actions a lot during the game. What this does to a simple trick taking game is two-fold. First, it gives everyone a much greater chance to score points (as we’ll see just a few paragraphs from here) and second it adds a layer of real strategy which you’ll see emerging only after a few play throughs. Here are the suit actions:

  • Diamonds – Take a small diamond crystal from the supply in the middle of the table and add it to your vault.
  • Hearts – Take a small diamond crystal from the supply and add it to your showroom.
  • Spades – Take a small diamond crystal from your showroom and add it to your vault.
  • Clubs – Take a small diamond crystal from another player’s showroom and add it to your showroom.

d-player guide

At the end of the game, any diamonds in your vault are worth 2 points each. Once placed in your vault, Diamonds cannot be removed. Any diamonds in your showroom are worth 1 point each, and can be affected by game play. The small diamond crystals represent 1 diamond, the large diamond crystals are worth 5 diamonds.

Game Play

The game is played in a series of rounds, between 4 and 6, depending on how many players there are. Once each player is dealt 10 cards and any remaining cards are set aside, the dealer then gets to decide how many cards will be passed this round. They can choose 1, 2 or 3 cards. Each player selects these cards and passes them to the player on their left.

Now we’re going to open the first round with the player to the left of the dealer playing the a card. This card will determine the lead suit (Diamonds/Hearts/Spades/Clubs).  Say it’s the 12 of Diamonds. The player to the left then must play a card of the same suit. If they can play a higher card (the 14 of Diamonds say) they have a chance to win this trick. After each player places one card, the player who ends up playing the highest card of the lead suit takes the trick. They take the cards of the lead suit and get to do the suit action. So again, if this lead suit was Diamonds, they’d take a diamond from the supply and place it into their vault. All of these cards they’ve taken then get placed face down in front of them for later use. This player will then lead with the first card once everyone’s played their card.

d-cards

Here’s where it gets interesting – sure the winner of the trick gets to take their suit action after everyone’s played a card, and they get to keep a bunch of cards (will get to those shortly). But – there’s a way for other players to take suit actions before the trick is finished. If a player cannot follow suit because they don’t have any of those cards in their hand, they can play any card of any suit they do have. As soon as they play that card, they can then immediately take that suit action. Looking at the list of suit actions above, this allows for players to do interesting things to themselves and other players when they can’t follow suit. No more throwing away those cards, because this ain’t your grandfather’s trick taking game. This simple change is brilliant really, and this is where a lot of the strategy gets layered on.

At the end of the round, once 10 tricks have been taken, the players flip over all of the cards they’ve collected when they’ve won tricks. Then, in this order, the player with the most Diamonds takes a Diamond suit action, the player with the most Hearts takes a Heart suit action, then Spades and finally Clubs. If a player finds themselves not taking any of these suit actions because they’ve not won enough tricks – they still get to do something. They then immediately take two Diamond suit actions.

All of the cards are then collected, shuffled back into the deck and the next round begins. Once all of the rounds have been played through, players add up their points. Diamonds in your vault are worth 2 points each, diamonds in your showroom are worth 1. The player with the most points wins.

There’s a nice variant for two players, where each player plays 2 cards for every trick. I’ve played this variant a number of times and it works. There are also team play variants and ‘perfect’ game variants. A Perfect Diamond game is one where you know every card that’s going to be played. In a standard 3 player game, you’ll deal out 30 cards and put the other 30 aside. In a Perfect Diamond 3 player game, you’ll remove the 10-15 cards of each suit, leaving 30 cards which you’ll then deal out. Each player knows what cards will be available before the game starts. I’ve tried the Perfect Diamond variant and it changes game play a bit, but I prefer the more random style of play. I’ve not yet tried the team variant for 4 or 6 players.

Components

d1-blur

Here’s something you’ll probably not hear much when it comes to trick taking games – but the components in Diamonds are top notch, beautiful to look at and thoroughly fun to play with. The cards are wonderfully designed with an art-deco style that makes full use of a new printing process which allows shiny metallic ink to be used, and it’s used to great effect. The cards look great! The diamond crystals are nice and chunky (very similar to those found in Ascension if you’ve ever played that) and add a really neat tactile element to the game. You’re not just collecting points, you’re hoarding Diamonds! The vaults are functional, folded cardboard of a decent stock and work well to hide your Diamond collection from other players.

Conclusion

Bottom line, I really enjoy Diamonds, much more than I thought I would. It’s a simple enough game that I taught my 8 and 11 year old kids to play it and they grasped the basics immediately. It’s complex enough that after five or six plays, we’re all still figuring out strategic ways to play cards so as to take advantage of immediate suit actions in an order that will benefit us most. With the chunky components, the hidden and untouchable diamond vault and the beautifully designed cards this game drew in my kids like they were crows seeing something shiny. I say that in all honesty, they flocked to the table when I opened the box. Other adult players were able to show a little more restraint but were also attracted to the neat components. During the game, it makes a big difference that everyone has a chance to do something and score some points. You’re not just throwing away cards that aren’t in the lead suit, you’re using them as strategically as possible. It doesn’t hurt that in doing so, you’re building up a literal hoard of plastic diamonds.

It’s nice that the game really does play in 30 or so minutes with 4 players or less. I’ve not tried it with 5 or 6 but suspect it wouldn’t go all that much longer. I hesitate to call this a filler game because it’s got a bit of complexity to it and it feels heavier than a trick taking card game. Maybe it’s the components, maybe its the neat use of suit actions but playing Diamonds for 30 minutes gives me the feeling of playing a chunkier, heavier game. With that in mind though, it does work well as a start of the night or end of the session game. It also works really well as a family game, or something to bring out when you’re playing with non-hardcore gamers. My in-laws got a real kick out of it! With a $25 price point this game has a lot of attraction not only as a great, quick game, but as something I can give as a gift to others without breaking the bank.

That’s the pro portion of the review. The cons? Honestly, there aren’t many! If you don’t like card games at all you’ll probably not be this far down in the review. The box does designate this as a Pocket game, which it’s really not unless you have insanely large pockets so there’s that. Also, with any game that comes with small, relatively sharp plastic bits, don’t leave the Diamonds on your floor if you value your ability to walk. In the case of an apocalypse of some sort, I’d take this game with me because I could play it to relieve stress and also use the Diamond crystals as decent caltrops, should I need them.

I’ll finish up with this – it’s a solid, fun, fast, trick taking game with an unexpected and simple but brilliant twist on the trick taking mechanic. It’s the first trick taking game I’ve ever played where I’ve wanted to play it two, three or more times in the same night.

d3-vault

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Indie Talks Episode 52 – Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games returns

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Aug 062014
 

sglogo

Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games comes back to the podcast with so many games, if you were to decimate his 2014 lineup, he’d still have nine titles left! We talk a bit about scheduling games from production to street date and what a miracle that can be and a few other industry tidbits. We also go over Stronghold’s upcoming catalog which includes some really juicy games, from Space Cadets expansions on all fronts, through Among the Stars and Core Worlds, to an excellent trick taking game, several nicely weighted Euros and a reprint of the amazing looking Medina. There’s a bit of discussion on the upcoming Vlaada Chvatil game Pictomania and of course, we talk beer. Catch up to Stronghold on Twitter and Facebook as well.

In other news – I’ve launched my Extra Life campaign! I’m out to raise $3500 for children’s hospitals, and Team Troll is out to raise more! I’ve reached out to publishers to support this event, and Stephen of Stronghold Games jumped right in! They’ve got 10 new games on the way this year – and have just launched their pre-orders for many of these titles. Stephen not only donated several games to give away during our events but also made a cash donation to the cause! Thanks!

Like what you hear? Support the podcast through Patreon! $2 a month from you allows me to create a lot more content, get more great guests and improve the quality of the show!

We would love to get your feedback about our show! Contact me with comments: ben@trollitc.com, follow me on twitter @trollitc, and also check us out on iTunes! Hell, you can even catch us on Stitcher.  While you’re at it, there’s the Indie Talks Facebook page and the Indie Talks Google+ page. MySpace…well, I won’t go there if you wont. Please do rate this podcast on iTunes, and leave feedback through any of these links.

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Indie Talks Episode 51 – Ed Baraf and Lift Off

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Jul 302014
 

liftoff

This episode of Indie Talks is brought to you by Stronghold Games.

Ed and I talk about Liftoff – Get me off this Planet! The new board game being Kickstarted right now! We go into game design, running a good Kickstarter campaign, shoot down the rabbit hole of Kickstarter and your local game shop, hop back up and then go into great detail about Liftoff – and why it’s a game you’ll want to back. Liftoff has a few things going for it that set it apart from other worker placement (or worker evacuation) games. A set time for the game being my favorite – when the world explodes, the world explodes and that game is over. It also has cute little aliens, and lots of replay ability thanks to a modular board.

Find out more on the Liftoff Facebook page.

In other news – I’ve launched my Extra Life campaign! I’m out to raise $3500 for children’s hospitals, and Team Troll is out to raise more! I’ve reached out to publishers to support this event, and Stephen of Stronghold Games jumped right in! They’ve got 10 new games on the way this year – and have just launched their pre-orders for many of these titles. Stephen not only donated several games to give away during our events but also made a cash donation to the cause! Thanks!

Like what you hear? Support the podcast through Patreon! $2 a month from you allows me to create a lot more content, get more great guests and improve the quality of the show!

We would love to get your feedback about our show! Contact me with comments: ben@trollitc.com, follow me on twitter @trollitc, and also check us out on iTunes! Hell, you can even catch us on Stitcher.  While you’re at it, there’s the Indie Talks Facebook page and the Indie Talks Google+ page. MySpace…well, I won’t go there if you wont. Please do rate this podcast on iTunes, and leave feedback through any of these links.

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Game School: Indie Talks Episode 36 – Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games

 Board and Card Games, Game School, Indie Talks Podcast  Comments Off on Game School: Indie Talks Episode 36 – Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games
Dec 042013
 

stronghold

Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games joins us today to talk about board games, publishing and what it’s like to live the dream! Stephen takes a nice, deep dive into game production and talks about lots of juicy details that go into actually producing a playable product. We also talk nerd rage, craft beer and microgames, among other things. Please visit Stronghold Games online, find them on Facebook and hit up Twitter as well!  Also check out the three latest titles released – Space Cadets: Dice Duel, Going, Going, Gone! and Space Sheep!

We would love to get your feedback about our show! Contact me with comments: ben@trollitc.com, follow me on twitter @trollitc, and also check us out on iTunes! Hell, you can even catch us on Stitcher.  While you’re at it, there’s the Indie Talks Facebook page and the Indie Talks Google+ page. MySpace…well, I won’t go there if you wont. Please do rate this podcast on iTunes, and leave feedback through any of these links!

 

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

My crazy Extra Life charity idea, and a big thanks to Stronghold Games!

 Board and Card Games, Role Playing Games  Comments Off on My crazy Extra Life charity idea, and a big thanks to Stronghold Games!
Aug 272013
 

stronghold-logo

This year’s Extra Life campaign is live! I’ll be playing table top games for not 24 hours  but 25 hours straight to raise money for Children’s Hospitals. Please check out my Extra Life page and if you have a few bucks, I’d greatly appreciate your sponsorship!

This year I’m treating this one (granted full) day event as my own little convention. I had the somewhat crazy idea to reach out to game publishers and see about getting some prize support for those folks who’ll be joining Team Troll and themselves raising money for Extra Life.

I want to give a huge shout out to Stronghold Games in the person of Stephen M. Buonocore. Stephen stepped up immediately and offered several titles from the Stronghold Games catalog. Please head on over to the Stronghold Games site and check out their summer releases, Vampire EmpireVoluspaTime ‘N’ Space and the next expansions for Revolver 1 – 1.3, 1.4 and 1.5.

Even cooler than that – right now you can grab  Space Cadets: Dice Duel as a LIMITED RELEASE of SIGNED COPIES by the designers Sydney and Geoff Engelstein.  This will only be going on for a couple of weeks and it’s happening before you can even pre-order the game.

As for right now, these games will be played during my 25 hours of gaming, and then given to some lucky folks invited in to my home to assist. These folks will also be playing games in the hopes of raising money for Extra Life and the free games are my way of giving them some extra incentive to get out there before hand and raise some cash.

extralife

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Paranoid much?

 Board and Card Games, review  Comments Off on Paranoid much?
Jan 312012
 

Stronghold Games

 

There are plenty of board games that can trace inspiration back to movies and books.  But, until now, one of the best possible inspirations has been left untouched, John Carpenter’s The Thing.  Panic Station captures what made that movie great, aside from Kurt Russel.  You will never trust your friends again.

This game is semi-cooperative.  At the start of the game, each player will take control of one human and an android counterpart.  You have been sent to an arctic station to find out what happened to the previous occupants.  Once there it isn’t long before you will encounter alien parasites that seek to either kill you, or take control of your body.  The game is setup so one of the players will become infected very soon after arrival.  That player then seeks to convert or kill the remaining players.  Those who are not infected are trying to find the man hive and destroy it.

On your turn you have several options as to what you can do.  You can explore, thereby adding new rooms to the complex.  You can move to other rooms as well.  You can also search some rooms in the hopes of finding useful items such as gasoline, bullets, and medkits.  Of course, searching is also how the first player becomes infected.  You can also attack parasites or even other players.

Now, there is need for some serious poker faces in this one.  If you can’t lie or hide the fact that you just joined the infected team, the game loses a lot of what makes it great.  You need the absolute paranoia and mistrust of everyone else.      You don’t know who is on your side, trust the wrong person and suddenly you have a new alien friend living in your brain.

I have played through several times now and the humans have won once and the parasites twice.  The game can frustrate at times because you can’t trust others nor can you get them to trust you.  Thankfully the game plays quickly, about 30 minutes.  Any longer and tempers would start to flare and I could easily see a table flip coming.

So, how does the game stack up?

Components:  3

I’d have gone higher, but I feel that numerous plays are gonna show some serious wear on the cards.  I also dislike having to attach stickers to pieces, especially when the stickers are the exact same size as the piece they attach to.

Rules:  4

The game plays solidly and it is easy to pick up.  They have some interesting ways of making things work.  There are a few clarifications that needed to be made to make them game play a little better, but overall the game is simple and quick.

Replay 3:

This is where the game really falls a bit.  The number of cards that are used to make up the map of the complex are quite limited.  There are expansions in the works, which is good.  Until then though, the games plays itself out rather quickly.

Cost 4:

The game comes in a nice tin, though these can be rather easy to dent and bend.  The components could be better, but overall they aren’t that bad.  With an MSRP of $30 it falls nicely into an affordable range for a game that won’t hit the table a lot.

So, on the d20 scale we score a 14.  Fairly respectable number, so I’d call it good enough for a hit.  This is a great filler game when you want to squeeze in one last game before the end of the night, or for when you want a reason to get mad at your friends.