Saturday, 5 May 2018


Plays: 3Px3.

When Allen did some spring cleaning on his game collection recently, he gave me a bunch of card games from Dice Hate Me Games, which he had bought through Kickstarter. I have not heard of most of them, and randomly picked one to play with the children one recent weekend.

The Game

Diner is a real-time card game. You are waiters at a diner and you serve food to your customers. Whenever you finish serving all the food ordered by a table of customers, you score points. However if there are customers you fail to serve when the game ends, you lose points.

This above is how a game is set up. The cards are double sided. One side shows a meal, and the other side a table. The table side shows 2 - 4 meals, representing what that table of customers are ordering. There is also a tip amount at the centre. This is the score value. The first row of three stacks at the centre are the draw decks. They show the meal side. The second row with three cards are the customers waiting to be seated. Below these two rows is a discard pile.

At the start of the game, each player gets 1 or 2 round action tokens. Whenever you perform an action in the game, you must give a token to the player on your left. If you don't have a token, you can't do anything. You need to wait for the player on your right to pass you a token after he performs an action. There is no concept of taking turns. It's all done in real-time.

One action you can take is to simply claim a meal card from the top of one of the three draw decks. There is no hand limit. You can collect as many meal cards as you want, just that each costs an action token. Another action you can take is to claim a table card from the second row. You place that table in front of you. This means you have seated a party of customers, and you will be responsible for serving them. Nobody else can touch your customers. Now that you have meals cards and customer cards, you can serve your customers. When you have the right combination of meals in hand to fully serve a table of customers, you may discard these meals, and then score that table. The table card is set aside for scoring at game end. Claiming meal cards, claiming table cards (customers), and then serving customers form a complete process flow. However there is a fourth action you can take. You may spend an action token to discard a table card. Sometimes you want to do this because you don't like any of the three table cards available. Whenever a table card is discarded (or claimed), you replenish by taking a meal card from the corresponding draw deck and then flipping it over to the table side. Sometimes you want to discard a table card because it is too good but you don't want to take it yourself, and you want to deny your fellow waiters. So you tell the customers the restaurant is full and there will be a 45-minute wait, so sorry sir.

In the photo above I only have one table of customers to serve. If I manage to serve them, I will earn $8 in tips.

Meals have different rarities and values. Pancakes and eggs are cheap, steaks are expensive. Tables which ask for steak will tip more. Often you want to claim these high tip value tables, even though it may be harder to collect the meal cards to fulfill them. Some meal cards are jokers. These are normally snapped up quickly.

When two meal card decks run out, you take a short mid-game break. You shuffle the remaining deck together with the discard pile, then create three new meal card decks for the second half of the game. The next time two meal card decks run out, the game ends. You score points for tables fully served, and lose points for any tables still waiting for their meals.

We used an optional rule when we played. If all action tokens get stuck with a single player, which means he has been particularly slow in taking actions, the player to his left may take one of his action tokens. This optional rule helps keep the game going, and also creates some tension. No one wants to be the slow poke.

The Play

Playing Diner is a hectic affair. I'm always watching out for table cards I want and meal cards I need. I don't have time to pay attention to what others are doing, what they want, what they need etc. Maybe I'm still new, and if I play more, I may be able to watch my opponents better. Even without watching them closely, there is enough competition and tension. Normally everyone wants the higher valued tables and meals. Certainly everyone wants those jokers. You don't need to analyse your opponents' play areas to know they want a joker. Even if they don't need it, they'd take it to deny others.

When you already have a few tables before you, you need to be more careful when claiming cards. Claiming too many tables is risky. You don't want to get penalised at game end for not serving all your customers. Also you want to avoid wasting actions claiming meal cards you won't get to use, even if they are expensive meals.

I found that the children were able to play competitively. I had no advantage over them at all. My much richer experience in boardgames did not give me any edge. There is not a lot of strategy in this game. It is all about being watchful and being quick. A game lasts around 10 minutes. Maybe less. After we finished a game, I suggested trying another card game. As I started explaining the rules of the next game, the children became impatient and said why not just play Diner again. So we did. We eventually played three games, and each of us won once.

The Thoughts

To veteran boardgamers, Diner is nothing to write home about. If I were to read a blog post about it, I wouldn't buy it. Now that I have played it, I don't see myself itching to play again. However I can imagine situations where I would suggest it. Diner will work well as a party game. It is easy to teach, and new players can be competitive quickly. It is suitable for casual gamers and non gamers. They will feel they can achieve mastery easily, and that's a positive experience. It's a gateway game - it looks simple and unintimidating. The real-time nature makes it automatically engaging. It's a good travel game too - compact and simple.

No comments: