Publisher: Stronghold Games
Designer: Mike Fitzgerald
Genre: Trick taking card game with a twist
Players: Two to six players
Playing Time: Thirty to forty-five minutes
Longtime visitors have probably come to a conclusion about two sorts of games I’m not especially fond of: run of the mill party games and titles which are just a retheme (or reskin) of more traditional card games. I can’t tell you how many companies approach me to write up their party games about to hit on Kickstarter who I just have to turn down because I just don’t see what might be the appeal of their title. The same goes for plenty of card games that just strike me as simply being the same old same old. I have to be honest, when Stephen Buonocore sent along Diamonds for me to review I can’t say I was chopping at the bit to get it reviewed; “Yeah… Another trick taking game…” I thought to myself. People know I love theme and story and a bit of flash so more traditional suit based card games normally leave me cold.
Cracking open the box I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of everything included. Not to say Stronghold releases subpar products by any stretch but, with Diamonds carrying an MSRP of around $25, I had to smile as I looked through everything. Too many times you open a mid-priced family game and it looks like the manufacturer spent all of ninety cents on the components and everything looks cheap and chintzy. That’s certainly not the case here! I will mention if you have very small kids or rambunctious pets you’ll want to be careful with all the plastic diamonds. Not to say your kids will be gobbling them down and they’re pretty small so I wouldn’t consider them too much of a choking hazard but, more likely, if you turn your back you’ll find the pieces scattered all over the house. I mean ALL over the house. Yes, I’m looking at my cat Smokey as I write this.
Oooo! Look! Pretty!
Diamonds is a trick taking game but Mike Fitzgerald has introduced some nice wrinkles which makes the game a lot more than tired old card play. First is a good dollop of strategy added to the mix and it’ll take you a few games of Diamonds before you begin to unlock a different layer to the game which might not be overly apparent right off the bat. You’ll have to do a little bit of thinking as you play and that’s something I really appreciate about the design. I also like the fact all the players will have an opportunity to perform Suit Actions throughout each round and that keeps everyone on their toes. Plus, the Clubs Suit Action allows you to steal diamonds from other players so there’s a tiny touch of “take that” to the game.
Each player will begin the game but taking their Vault standup and placing it so they’ll be able to store diamonds without other players being able to see their stash. Everyone gets three small diamonds which are placed next to the Vault and this area is called the Showroom. The rest of the diamonds, both large and small, are set aside and this is known as the Supply. Finally, select someone to begin as the dealer and they deal each of the players ten cards. There are also six player aid cards so make sure everyone has one handy for the first game or two because the aid explains the Suit Actions.
Each round will consist of ten tricks and at the beginning of each round, once the dealer has dealt everyone their hands, they get to decide how many cards from each player’s hand will be passed to the person on their left; this can be anywhere from one to three cards but cards must be passed – the dealer can’t choose no cards to pass. The player to the left of the dealer, will lay the first card and this will determine the lead suit. Then, as with most trick taking games, each player will play a card until everyone has taken a turn and whoever has the highest card in the lead suit wins the trick. Where Diamonds changes things up are in the Suit Actions as the winner of the trick gets to perform the action associated with the lead suit. Here are the actions:
Diamonds – Take a small diamond from the Supply and add it to your Vault
Hearts – Take a small diamond and add it to your Showroom
Spades – Move a small diamond from your Showroom and add it to your Vault
Clubs – Take a small diamond from the Showroom of another player and add it to your Showroom
Interestingly, if you can’t play a card of the lead you can place a card of any other suit AND take the Suit Action associated with it. Obviously, if you have a card of the lead suit you have to play it, even if it won’t help you to win the trick. The winner of that trick will collect the cards and lay them face down in front of them until the end of the round. Once the round has finished (i.e. no one has cards left since you’ve played ten tricks) all the players will count up the number of cards of each suit which they’ve won and whoever has the most of each suit gets to perform that Suit Action. In a nice twist, anyone who doesn’t get to perform a Suit Action in this way gets to take two Diamond Suit Actions or, in other words, take two small diamonds from the Supply and add them to their Vault.
It’s important to keep in mind the name of the game is hoarding those precious diamonds and getting them into your Vault. Once you’ve completed four to six rounds, depending on the number of players, you’ll tally up the diamonds. The small diamonds are single diamonds and the large diamonds are equal to five diamonds. Every small diamond in your Showroom is worth one point and those in your Vault are worth two points. At the end of play whoever has the highest score is declared the winner.
As with any card game luck comes into play but the inclusion of the Suit Actions, and the fact your aim is to bank away as many diamonds as you can, means the game’s winner isn’t necessarily the person who won the most tricks; you really have to be clever in how you play your cards in order to pull off the win. I also like the inclusion of the Vault since so many diamonds are moving around the table throughout the game it isn’t always obvious who’s in the lead.
I prefaced this review by saying traditional suit based card games really don’t float my boat so it’s certainly saying something about the design that I’m scoring it as high as I am. If you really hate suit based card games I can’t say you’re going to love Diamonds but if you’re like me – and have a “meh…” kind of reaction to games of that ilk – you really should give Diamonds a look. Honestly, I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. Of course, if you like trick taking card games to start with then getting your hands on Diamonds is a no brainer! I can easily see folks breaking out Diamonds to play with people who wouldn’t normally touch a board game with a ten foot pole. “Hey! It’s a card game. You play cards don’t you?” you might say knowing you’ll be able to give your strategy itch a bit of a scratch while everyone else thinks they’re just going to play a game of cards.