Radio Review #67 – Diamonds

 

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(2014 – Stronghold Games)

 

“Now there’s a look in your eyes….like black holes in the sky….”

 

Diamonds (designed by Mike Fitzgerald), is a trick-taking game, taking its name from its resemblance to other trick-taking games, Spades and Hearts. Trick-taking games are known for requiring players to win (or purposely not win) collected sets of played cards, called tricks. After all cards have been played, points are usually awarded according to who won these tricks, and how many were collected. Normally when the first card is played to start the trick, all other cards played match its suit (diamonds, clubs, hearts, or spades). If a player does not have a card with a matching suit, he can play an non-matching, off-suit card. With many trick-taking games there is normally a particular suit that ranks higher than the other suits (for instance, the spade suit in Spades). When played off-suit, a card from this suit is usually known as the “trump” card.

What makes Diamonds unique is that all suits can be used as trump cards in the game, with each suit containing a specific special ability when it is used as a trump to the non-matching suit played, as well as when it is the overall winning suit in a trick. For instance, when two club cards have been played, and the next player does not have a club in his hand, he could play a heart card, thus trumping the trick and would immediately be able to perform the heart’s special ability. Players will use these various abilities in order to purchase diamond jewels, placing them either in the showroom or vault for Victory Points, as well as having an opportunity to steal them from other players. A number of Rounds are played depending on the number of players in the game. The player with the most Victory Points provided by his diamonds jewels in his showroom and vault combined, is the winner.

 

 

 

Components:

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– Deck of cards consisting of four playing card suits (diamonds, clubs, hearts and spades), each suit numbered 1 – 15

 

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– Diamonds tokens

 

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– Vault screens

 

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– Summary cards

 

 

 

Setup:

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The deck of cards used in Diamonds is made up of 60 cards, 15 cards numbered 1 through 15 for each of the four suits (diamonds, clubs, hearts, and spades). At the beginning of the game, these cards are shuffled to create the deck that will be used to deal the players their hand of cards, each Round.

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Each player receives a Vault screen. The diamond tokens placed behind their screen will represent diamond jewels in their vault. The diamonds tokens placed in front of their Vault represent those in their showroom. At the beginning of the game each player will receive 3 diamonds tokens to place in their showroom as well as a summary card, listing the various suit actions that can be used in the game.

 

All other diamond tokens are placed in the central play area as a supply for all players. Each player is dealt 10 cards from the deck, no matter the number of players in the game. All remaining cards in the deck are set to the side and not used for this Round. At the end of setup, the play area should look something like this:

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Gameplay:

After each player has received their full hand of 10 cards, there is minor pre-draft type phase that occurs before a Round begins. The dealer gets to choose whether players will need to pass 1, 2, or 3 cards to the player to their left. In this way, player’s can attempt to have some control over the suits and types of cards they start with at the beginning of a Round. Once these cards have been passed, a Round can begin.

 

 

1.) Playing Cards – A Round begins with the player to the left of the dealer, playing a card first. All other players (moving in clock-wise order) must then play a card that matches the suit of the first card played, if he can. The winner of the trick is the player that has played the highest numbered card that matches the suit of the first card played. The player then immediately gets to perform the suit action that corresponds to the suit of the winning trick. For instance, as seen below, after all players have played their cards, Player B has played a 12 of Hearts, which is the highest Heart played in the Round. He would then win the trick and would immediately take the Heart action.

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There will be times during a Round when players are not able to play a card that matches the suit of the first card. In this case, that player may choose to play any card and immediately take the suit action that corresponds to the card they just played. While they will not be able to win the trick, since they could not play a matching suit, this still gives a player an opportunity to perform an action. It also becomes part of the strategy of the game, in attempting to get rid of particular suits so that you’ll be able to choose which actions to perform when another player plays that particular suit.

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Player C began the Round by playing a 8 of Clubs, thus allowing Player D to play a 13 of Clubs. Player A did not have any clubs left in his hand, so he chooses to play a 3 of Diamonds. Because he trumped to leading suit, he will be able to immediately perform the Diamond action. After resolving this action, it is now Player B’s turn, and he plays a 4 of Clubs. Player D has won the trick, since he played the highest Club. He then is allowed to perform the Club action.

 

 

 

2.) Suit Actions – As mentioned above, each suit has a different action tied to it, and these can be performed either when a player has won a trick matching that particular suit, or when they have played a suit to trump the first card played during a Round. Let’s take a look at each suit action and what players will do when resolving them:

 

 

Diamond Action

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When a player uses a diamond action, he is allowed to take one diamond token from the central area supply and place it directly into his Vault (by placing it behind his screen). One a diamond has been placed into a player’s vault, there are no actions that will allow an opponent to remove this diamond from the vault, therefore it is protected. As you will see, the diamond action is the most powerful of the four actions in the game.

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Heart Action

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When the player takes the Heart action, he will be able to take one of the diamond tokens from the central area supply, and place it in his showroom. This action is not quite as strong as the diamond action, as diamonds in a player’s showroom can still be taken from other opponents.

 

 

 

Spade Action

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While the Heart action allows a player to place a diamond into his showroom from the central play area, taking a spade action will then allow the player to move a diamond from his showroom, into his vault. In this way, the diamond action (placing the token directly in your vault) is a stronger option than either the heart or spade action, as the diamond action provides direct placement of a diamond into the vault from the central play area, where as the heart/spade combination is a two-step process, resulting in the same benefit. As we will see in a bit, diamonds located in a player’s vault at the end of the game are worth more than those in the showroom.

 

 

 

Club Action

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Another advantage of keeping diamonds in the vault, is that they are protected from other players. Diamonds in the showroom however, are freely up for grabs for those that are able to take a Club action. When doing so, the player can choose to steal 1 diamond token from another player’s showroom and place it in their own. This adds a bit of player interaction to the game, and forces players to attempt to get their diamonds out of their showroom and into their vault as soon as possible.

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Player A plays a #7 Heart, thus trumping the previously played Clubs. He would then immediately take the Heart action, thus placing a diamond from the central supply into his showroom. This may have been a risky decision on his part however, because after the trick is over, Player C (the player that has played the #11 Club) would win the trick and could therefore take a Club action, which would allow him to steal the diamond from the showroom that was just acquired by Player A.

The better choice may have been for Player A to trump the Club cards with a Diamond or even a Spade, which both actions would have allowed him to immediately place a diamond token in his vault, either directly from the supply or from his showroom. So even if Player C did choose to steal from his showroom and not another player’s, he would have still gain a diamond in his vault.

 

 

 

3.) Cleanup – Since each player has a hand of 10 cards per Round, a Round will consist of 10 tricks. The player that has completed the most tricks of a particular suit will be allowed to take that suit’s action. So for instance, using the previous example, if Player C ended up with 2 Club tricks at the end of the Round, and this was more Club tricks than any of the other opponents had collected, he would then immediately be able to perform a Club trick before a new Round began.

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If players happen to tie, then they will cancel each other out and no action is awarded for that particular suit. Additionally, if a player is able to not win any tricks during the Round (similar to going “nil” in Spades), the player is awarded two Diamond actions. All of these actions are awarded in a specific order:

 

– Award the player with the most Diamond tricks.
– Award the player with the most Heart tricks.
– Award the player with the most Spade tricks.
– Award the player with the most Club tricks.
– Award the player who has not won any tricks (two Diamond actions).

 

After a specified number of Rounds have been completed (according to the number of players in the game, as discussed earlier) the game ends. Players will total the number of diamonds in their showroom and vault. Each diamond in the showroom is worth 1 Victory Point, while each diamond in the vault is worth 2 Victory Points. The player with the most Victory Points at the end of the game is the winner.

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Thoughts:

For fans of the trick-taking genre, Diamonds is a game that introduces some new interesting elements in its use of suit actions and physical components. The fact that these suit actions are unbalanced in their abilities provides for more intriguing decision making and strategy than one would think at first glance.

The diamond suit action is obviously the most desired amongst the four, because of its direct placement of a diamond into the player’s vault from the supply. Players need not worry about the possibility of an opponent stealing it from their showroom in between actions (as with the heart and club actions). Once a player has diamonds in their showroom however, the spade action may become that player’s most desired. If the player has used heart and club actions to get diamonds in their showroom, these actions are potentially negated by opponents unless he can move them into his vault with spade actions soon after. Also, having three different opportunities in a Round to gain actions (trumping a trick, winning the trick, completing the most tricks of a particular suit in a Round/or winning no tricks at all) gives players a wealth of circumstances in which to plan out how to maneuver diamonds into their showroom and vault. Attempting pre-planned combinations of these actions won’t always work, but are quite fun to try.

The cards are printed on thick, flexible card stock that Stronghold has been known for (seen in Cored Worlds, Little Devils, Revolver, etc) which is wonderful for a game where cards are shuffled time and time again. My only minor criticism is that the designs on the cards themselves are very busy looking. It can be hard to differentiate between suits, just by looking at the central designs on the cards. Not a big deal, but one that was pointed out by more than one person at the table during our plays.

Overall though, Diamonds is a refreshing and excellent addition to the trick-taking genre, which is not an easy task nowadays. Knowing when to win tricks, when to trump, when to keep yourself from winning any tricks (for those two diamonds actions), as well as figuring out which suit actions to use at which time, makes for a compelling card game. It complements a game night as a quick filler, but one that provides planning, strategy, and sense of out-thinking your opponents.

 

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