Saturday, 26 September 2009

Diamonds Club

Date: Sat 19 Sep 2009
Venue: Carcasean boardgame cafe

Diamonds Club is the kind of game that Ameritrashers (well, at least those who love to hate most Euros, especially more recent Euros) would use as a poster boy of the decline (or lack of progress) of Euro games. The mechanics are abstract, the theme is thin, you collect various things and convert them into other things to score victory points in different ways. There are "multiple paths of victory" (an overused phrase for praising games), there are meaningful decisions to be made, there is not much luck; yet the game does not excite me at all, despite being the #7 game at the prestigious Deutscher Spiele Preis awards. And the DSP caters to hobby gamers as opposed to the family market. The whole time playing the game, it gave me a been-there-done-that feeling.

That's my view. And that's from the perspective of a jaded Eurogamer, which, of course, is not representative of all gamers. Diamonds Club is actually a fine game, if you have not played too many similar games. The game seems to be well balanced (I've only played it once, so I'm just guessing here). There are multiple options and different priorities you need to consider. There are different strategies you can pursue. It is a medium complexity Eurogame which is not difficult to learn. So I'd say it's a fine game, even though I have no urge to play it again.

In the game, you collect gems, then used them to buy things to decorate your estate. Different things score in different ways. There are also some special awards for being first to achieve certain goals, e.g. first to build three rose gardens, or first to build all four types of decorations. The game ends after one player has filled up 14 spaces of his estate.

Every round you start with a certain amount of money, and you place your coins on a grid to collect items (permits, ships, mines), to improve a technology track, to compete for initiative, etc. Each space on the grid can be used only once, and if you want to use a space which is adjacent to other spaces that have already been used, you have to pay extra. After spending money, you (usually) collect gems. You then use these gems to buy various items to decorate your estate, e.g. fountains, forests, palm trees. If the game has not yet ended, you start a new round, with a different random grid layout.

The grid forces some player interaction, because you need to watch what your opponents want, and try to block them or make them pay more money for what they want to get. When buying decorations for your estate, there is also some player interaction because players who are 2nd, 3rd or last to buy a decoration type have to pay more gems.

There is a small technology track on your personal board. One track allows you to score more points per forest. One allows you to gain extra gems for each gem shipment. The 3rd one allows you to start with more cash at the start of every round (cash is not brought forward to the next round).

The individual player board. Each board is slightly different. There is a minimum requirement that you must build (those three rectangular spaces near the top). On the right are the three technology tracks.

This is the grid or central game board on which the players compete for stuff. With 3 players, the rightmost two columns are not used, and there is a nice red door with a "Closed" sign. The top part of the board are where you buy decorations or forests. One spot for each player, which means you can buy at most 7 decorations/forests. The track at the bottom is for competing for initiative.

This shows most of the components of the game. On the top left you can see the special objective awards.

To collect a shipment of gems, you need a set made up of 3 things - a mine, a ship, and a permit. You can the gem of the same colour as the mine, and the quantity is the lower number of your ship and permit tiles.

In our 3P game, Chong Sean focused on getting many gems and buying many decorations, Han tried to go for a forest strategy (planting forests while increasing their value), and I went for a zoo strategy (collecting sets of bird park, deer pen and fish pond). Chong Sean also went for the special awards (all are related to decorations), winning many of them. Chong Sean eventually won the game, but all our scores were close.

One thing that I wonder is how flexible your strategy really is. Chong Sean commented that since I went for the zoo strategy, I should have tried to push the game towards an earlier end. Indeed zoos are cheaper to build, but score less than decorations. So I probably should have tried to fill up my estate quicker, perhaps by planting some forests too, which is also cheaper than the standard decorations. Han pursued the forest strategy. He did have many forests, but in the last round of the game there weren't many spaces on the grid that allowed him to increase his forest value. So he probably needed to have been focusing on doing this throughout the previous 3 rounds (I think we played 4 rounds). This made me think whether you can't quite switch strategy once you've committed to one. Or maybe the normal decorations should always be your main focus, and zoos and forests just supplementary parts.

Well, I may never find out, because there are too many other games I'd like to try at Carcasean and I doubt I'll come back to Diamonds Club.

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