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GC ’15: Diamonds

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Diamonds? I thought the only way to get your hands on diamonds was to slay a dragon and steal her hoard?

Hey, where’d all my diamonds go?

Nothing!

Huh?

I mean, I didn’t say anything. See anything! Nothing.

Diamonds Are Forever

Who it’s for: Card game fans (especially fans of Hearts or Spades), trick-taking fans, someone who hasn’t yet found the right trick-taking game (but is looking)

Who it’s not for: Someone looking for literal diamonds, people who really just can’t stand cards that come in four suits.

You know you're fancy
You know you’re fancy

I’m not much for trick-taking games. In fact, you might say I stink at them. As soon as I think I’ve grasped a new level of strategy, I find that I’ve lost every trick that I needed to win, and won every trick I wanted to lose. Alas and alack!

My poor skills aside, many trick-taking games do have the unfortunate element of luck; there are simply better hands than others, and even when there’s opportunity for jockeying positions, a single bad guess can ruin the rest of a round.

Then I tried Diamonds, and let me tell you, I’d rather not play any other trick-taking game again. I may still stink, but I had a lot more fun thanks to multiple layers that provide more opportunities for scoring than your standard playing-card-deck fair.

Diamonds plays similar to Hearts, in that each trick players play one card. The highest card matching the lead suit wins, and you can’t play out of suit unless you have no cards of that suit. And, of course, Diamonds are trump, so the highest Diamond wins the trick even if it doesn’t follow the lead suit. (You also get an opportunity to pass some cards at the start of each round).

But here’s where it gets a lot more interesting; winning tricks is just a means to score points, and you can score points without winning tricks. Here’s how: each suit is tied to an action. Hearts let you take a point (in the form of a little diamond token) and put it in your “showroom.” Spades let you move a diamond from your showroom to your vault (thus doubling its point value and keeping it safe from stealing). Clubs let you steal a diamond from another player’s showroom. And Diamonds let you take a diamond from the pool and place it directly in your vault.

You activate these actions by winning the suit in each trick. Regardless of whether or not you win the trick. So, if someone leads with clubs, and you play the highest spade, you don’t win the trick but you DO get to perform the Spade action. If someone beats your Club with a Diamond, you still get to steal a point (assuming you played the highest Club). This suddenly means a really stupid hand can turn hot real fast if you can get a lot of actions without even having to win any tricks.

Diamonds! Real actual, okay plastic, diamonds!
Diamonds! Real actual, okay plastic, diamonds!

At the end of each round, there are rewards for your trick-winning savviness, though. For each suit, whichever player has the most number of cards of that suit gets to activate the action. And if you manage to really boff things up and win no cards at all, you get two actions of your choice.

So there’s this crazy triple-layer of activity. It’s good to win tricks so you can lead the next trick. But you at least want to win your suit whenever you can. And then if you can win a lot of cards in a single suit, or no tricks at all, you can get even more actions.

Incidentally, the Diamonds deck is 60 cards, ranging from 1 to 15 in each suit. In 6-player games you’ll see every card, but with fewer players not every card gets shuffled in, which makes for an interesting risk element.

Trick-taking is still not my favorite, but ask me to play Diamonds, and I will. And it’s definitely a game I can use to appease my playing-card-fancying friends.

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You’ll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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