Game Name: Diamonds
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Designer: Mike Fitzgerald
Year Published: 2014
Players: 2 – 6
Playing Time: About 10 minutes per player (i.e., 30 min. for a 3 player game)
Retail Price: $24.99 ($14.99 on Amazon)
Category and Mechanic: trick-taking, hand management, card game, family game
• 60 Playing Cards, numbered 1-15 in four suits – diamond, heart, club and spade
• 6 Vault cards
• 6 Player Aid cards
• 110 small clear diamond Crystals (1 pt)
• 25 large red diamond Crystals (5 pt)
• Rules (8 pages)
Description: Diamonds is a trick-taking card game in which players collect diamonds – not cards bearing that suit, mind you, but rather actual “Diamond Crystals” (acrylic crystals) included in the game. What makes the game of Diamonds different from other trick-taking card games is that when you cannot follow suit you get a “Suit Action” based on what suit you do play. Suit Actions are also taken by the winner of each trick, as well as at the end of a full Round of play. Suit Actions will enable players to take Diamond Crystals from the Supply, moving them to their Showroom (where they may score 1 point) or to their Vault (where they will score 2 points). The Vault is a secure area, but the Showroom is vulnerable to theft by the other players. Whoever has the most points in Diamond Crystals at the end of the game wins!
My take on Diamonds: There are plenty of good trick-taking games out there already – Spades, Hearts, Rummy and Bridge, to name a few. The thing about those games is they take four players and no more. This game will play up to six and is designed by the renowned Mike Fitzgerald. I probably would have passed this one without a second thought if his name were not attached.
Diamonds has introduced some twists to the genre that make the old trick-taking game play fresh. You see, winning tricks is not the only way to get points, nor is it the best strategy to win all the tricks, even if you can. As in all trick-taking games, if you can follow suit with the card that was played, you must do so. But if you are null in the led suit, you can play any card, and when you do, you get to take an action, such as add a diamond to your showroom for a point if your card was a heart, or to your vault if your card was a diamond, or my favorite, steal a diamond from another player if you played a club. Take that!
It can take a few games of Diamonds before you grasp the elegance of the game, things aren’t apparent during the first couple of hands, when the game seems deceptively simple . The game requires that you think to play well but it isn’t “thinky” or prone to inducing AP, and the ability to perform Suit Actions throughout each round keeps everyone engaged.
Players all have a Vault standup placed so the diamonds put behind it can’t be seen by the other players. Everyone gets three diamonds placed in front of 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, a randomly selected player begins as the dealer, dealing each of the players ten cards. Each player gets a “player aid” card that explains the Suit Actions and this helps new players, though it won’t be needed on games after the first.
Each round will consist of ten tricks and at the beginning of each round, once the dealer has dealt everyone their hands, the dealer decides how many cards will be passed to the player on the left, 0-3 cards. Each player passes the same number of cards to the left . Then the player to the left of the dealer plays the first card and this determines the led suit. 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 led 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.
The Suit Actions are:
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
Where things get really interesting is if you can’t play a card of the led suit, you can place a card of any other suit AND take the Suit Action associated with it. If you have a card of the led suit you have to play it, even if it won’t help you to win the trick. The winner of that trick collects the cards and lay them face down in front of them until the end of the round. Once ten tricks are played and the round has finished, all the players 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. Any player 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.
Remember, the goal of the game is getting diamonds and even better, getting them in your vault where the score two points each and can’t be stolen by a player taking a club Suit Action. Once you’ve completed an agreed-upon number of rounds (we usually play one round per player, so everyone gets to deal once), players add up the value of their diamonds (one point for each in the showroom and two points for each in the vault). The small diamonds are single diamonds and the large diamonds are equal to five diamonds. The highest score wins.
The luck of the deal is definitely a factor but the Suit Actions and the goal of banking as many diamonds as you can means the game’s winner isn’t necessarily the person who won the most tricks. When playing with less than six players, some of the deck will be not be used each round, making it impossible to count cards. The vault adds an interesting element as well, as diamonds are moved around the table frequently, it is difficult to assess who has exactly the most or least diamonds behind their vault.
Most of the components are very nice. The cards are thick and have a linen finish, and the plastic diamonds are, well, sparkly and pretty and I want them. I want them all, MY PRECIOUS! While the vault shields are serviceable, they are the game’s weak point. They are small, light and easily knocked over during game play. This happened multiple times in our plays, and while it’s not a big deal, it does give the players a peek at your goods. It also gives everyone opportunity to mock and berate the clumsy player who exposed his bank by sneezing, so that’s always fun, eh?
Will you like Diamonds?
- If you like trick-taking, classic card games and particularly if you have a need for a game that plays well with 5-6 players, Diamonds is an obvious buy for you.
- If you are looking for a gateway game to bring classic card game players into the hobby, Diamonds would also be a good choice and one that both gamers and non-gamers can enjoy.
- If you are looking for a 20-60 minute filler game that relies on subtle strategy, making the most of the cards dealt, in a classic and easy-to-grasp yet difficult to master game, Diamonds may be for you.
There are also variant rules for 2-players, 4 or 6 player partners or “Perfect Diamonds” which limits the cards in a 2-5 player game, rather than reshuffling the entire deck each round, you only shuffle the cards that were originally dealt. This allows players to know exactly what cards are in play during later rounds.
What do I think of Diamonds? I adore the game. I played several hands before I think I understood what the best plays were. Yes, having more diamonds in your hand is a plus but making the most of the opportunities to go off-led suit and score actions is where the strategy excels.
Or maybe it’s really all about winning the tricks.
I’m not sure how to win, yet. But I like it. I like it a lot.