Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Diamant at A Famosa

Over the weekend of 15-16 Sep 2007, I went on a trip to A Famosa with some friends from university days. Being me, I brought along two bags of boardgames and cardgames. As usual, we didn't play every game that I brought. I am always on overkill mode when it comes to bringing games for trips. It is always better to have more choices. We played Villa Paletti, Diamant, For Sale and Ca$h n Gun$. Diamant (also later published in English as Incan Gold) was the only game new to me. I made a home-made version, using pictures from the internet, and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) pictures. Too bad I forgot to sing the Indiana Jones song when we played.

We started with Diamant. This is a very simple game, for up to 8 people, and is probably best with at least 4 players. Players go on 5 expeditions, and in each expedition try to collect as many diamonds as possible. Every turn, individual players secretly and simultaneously decide whether to proceed with the expedition. If you proceed, you may gather more diamonds, but you may also run into a disaster and lose all that you have collected so far in the current expedition. If you retreat, diamonds that you have collected in this expedition will be safe, and you also pick up any leftover diamonds (which could not be divided equally earlier on the way in) on your way out. So this is a game about evaluating risk and reward, about push-your-luck. Maybe let's not sound so bookish. It's about taking gambles!

There is also an element of guessing your opponents. Sometimes you need to guess whether your opponents will be turning back or not. If you turn back, you can collect leftover diamonds. However, if there are more people turning back than there are leftover diamonds, then no one gets any. Even if there were enough to share, you'd be getting less because you have to share with others. So, you may decide it is better to take a risk and go deeper into the cave.

Diamant is quite fun, and quick too. It is a game of cheering and cursing, sometimes at the same time. There can be very different strategies. Alicia played the most conservative strategy. She was often the first to retreat when signs of danger started appearing. Cherng Liang chose the most risky strategy - no risk no gain - and was often the last to turn back. Unfortunately, sometimes it meant his doom. Well, I guess he enjoyed the excitement. There was one expedition when he was the last remaining adventurer, and then scored big when the next card revealed was a 15 (or 17?). He earned 15 diamonds, plus those that he had already collected along the way. That put him in a very distant lead over everyone else. However, to our surprise, Alicia won that game, using the conservative approach. She collected diamonds slowly but surely, and sometimes scored small windfalls when she was the only adventurer turning back, and thus collecting all the "leftovers" for herself. Cherng Liang probably would have won had he been slightly more conservative in the later expeditions. But then, no risk no gain, and no pain no fun (for other players to laugh at his misfortune).

I like Diamant and it's a great game to play with new players.

Ricky, Cherng Liang, Chee Seng and Alicia played Diamant

I used white plastic Go (wei2 qi2) pieces for secretly deciding whether to proceed with an expedition or otherwise.

The cheering of the brave adventurers who went deeper and found more diamonds.

You can see some of the graphics I used for this home-made game. The Indiana Jones portrait, the tent, the scorpion, the big round diamond with a number.

Villa Paletti is a dexterity game and a family game, about building a tower, until it comes crashing down. Each player has 5 pillars, and they keep recycling them from lower floors and moving them to the top floor. The objective is to have the pillars with the highest point values on the top floor when the tower collapses. The rules are actually a little more complex than I expected, because there are some special cases to handle, so although it is suitable for children, it is probably better to have an adult who knows the rules to play with them, or at least to teach them until they know the rules well.

It was fun to watch grown men kneeling on the floor in weird positions eyeing the structure from different angles.

Villa Paletti: This is only level 1 and we are already so stressed out.

Full concentration

Ca$h n Gun$ was another home-made version game. I quite like it. Up to 6 can play, and I think it is best with 5 or 6 players. The memorable moment from this session was how Ricky got killed in Round 2 of one game. All three of Cherng Liang, Chee Seng and I pointed guns at him, and he dared to not withdraw. When the bullet cards were revealed, there were two "Bang Bang!" and one "Bang!", i.e. all 3 were bullets. Ricky was shot 3 times, and was killed instantly. Cherng Liang, who was the only player new to this game and had found it confusing at first, teased Ricky, "Hey you don't know how to play, do you?".

For Sale is a quick card game broken down into two halves. In the first half, players buy properties by auction. Each round, a same number of properties as the number of players are displayed for sale, and players take turns to bid money. As players start backing out from the bidding, the first to back out gets the most lousy house among those displayed. The second to back out gets the next lousiest, and so on. The twist is everyone can get back half the number of coins they have bid (rounded up), and only the last remaining bidder (who will get the best house) pays full price. In the second half, every round, a same number of cheques as number of players are displayed. Players secretly and simultaneously choose a house that they have bought previously to sell. As the houses are revealed, the best house gets the highest valued cheque, 2nd best gets the next highest valued cheque and so on.

There is a lot of guessing your opponents' intentions. Sometimes it can be tricky to decide which house to sell. If you pick a good one hoping to win the highest valued cheque, one of your opponents may have chosen a house just slightly better than yours. If you pick a lousy house to sell, you may be allowing your opponents to win some high valued cheques easily using also lousy house only slightly better than yours.

Almost everyone that I played this game with likes it. It is also a highly regarded filler game in the boardgame hobby. However I find it just so so. Maybe because I always do badly at this. Maybe I'm just bad at guessing the intentions of the group. This is a game I keep in my collection to play with new players or people who seldom play games. If they have fun, I'm happy.

We played 9 games from about 11:30pm to 2:30am. It was great to catch up with old friends and to have fun together. The cheering and cursing of Diamant was most memorable for me. I did not win a single game out of the 9 games! Well, what is important is we had fun.


Aik Yong said...

Hi there! Just found your blog and felt like dropping some comments.

Seems like you gave Diamant a good review. Personally, I find it to be a filler, a 'thing' to do when you're in between games, not as something that you'll automatically want to play.

Problem is, I still don't know how to ellicit that fun and excitement Bang! and Citadels does in the guessing of other player's intentions. Any comments on that?

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Diamant is indeed a filler. Not something that we, as gamers, would plan game sessions around. But I find it is very suitable to bring out if playing with non-gamers. It's simple and fun, not taxing for the brain, but not mindless either.

I have heard of and read about Bang but have not played it. I've played Citadels, but I don't find Citadels so good with non-gamers, especially first time players, because some games, especially those with more players, can really really drag because people spend so much time deciding which character to choose. This happens in turn order, rather than simultaneously, which makes down time much worse.

In Diamant, there is much less to think about compared to Citadels when you need to make a decision.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Hmmm... I just realised I may not have answered your question - how to make Diamant fun like Citadels / Bang.

Well, one thing we did when we played was analysing aloud all the possible outcomes, like if more than one person turns back, no one would get any of the leftover diamonds, or if so-and-so turns back now, she'd earn this whole lot of diamonds. Doing this sowed mistrust and suspiscions. The players (in my case) were mostly not regular gamers, so getting everyone "on the same page" helps make things interesting for them.

And of course the other thing is we kept teasing the player who was always the coward and turns back at the first sign of danger, and we also kept teasing the other player who keeps insisting to go further. Sometimes we'd predict aloud what so-and-so would do, applying peer pressure to dare him/her to do something else. All in good fun.