Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s off to work we go! Because we’ve got quartz to mine, and we’re dwarfs, and this is what we do! Just make sure you come back with the most precious jewels – and don’t get stuck with worthless and dangerous obsidian!
How It Plays
Quartz is a push-your-luck game about dwarves mining gems and sabotaging each other.
Over the course of 5 rounds, you and the other players will dive into the depths of the mine, hoping to find valuable gems instead of worthless and troublesome Obsidian.
Each round, players take turns with the option of drawing a gem from the bag, playing an action card, or leaving the mine.
If you’ve played any sort of push-your-luck game before, you’ll recognize the core structure. If you pull a gem from the bag, you might get one of the valuable gems, ranging from the common Quartz (worth $1) to the valuable and rare [orange one](worth $8). You might also draw Obsidian, which is worthless. Also, if you have two Obsidian in your mine cart, your cart breaks and you lose all your gems and are kicked out of the mine.
If you choose to leave the mine before that happens, you keep your gems and are awarded with an action card and some extra money. The more players that leave, the higher the bonus. If you’re second-to-last, however, you don’t get a bonus at all. Instead the last player in the mine gets the best bonus, although the round immediately ends.
Then there are the action cards. You can play Blue action cards on your turn instead of drawing a single gem. Some cards let you draw extra gems, or let you get rid of an Obsidian by passing it to someone else, or steal gems from another player, or protect your own gems. Some action cards are purple, which are reaction cards. These cards can be played immediately, out-of-turn, in response to specific action cards as a counter. For example, you might pass off an Obsidian to yet another player, or protect your gems from being stolen.
If you ever have 2 Obsidian, your cart breaks, and you get no monetary reward. You do, however, receive a Mining for Dummies token, which you can spend later to immediately remove an Obsidian from your cart.
After all players’ carts have broken, or the second-to-last player chooses to leave the mine, the round ends. Players then sell their gems. Each gem has a printed value, but you can earn bonus cash by collecting sets of gems. 3 or 4 of a kind lets you double the value of a different gem, and getting 5 or 6 different kinds of gems grants a flat bonus. You can only claim one of these bonuses.
You can also save up to 2 gems from round to round, perhaps in hopes to get a better set in a future round.
At the end of the game, you tally up your points. You also get to “sell” any remaining cards in your hand. Whoever has the most points, wins.
Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go
Quartz is certainly a game that shines, at least on the surface. Handfuls of colorful crystals, nice thick cardboard, a leather pouch. Alas, the actual gameplay is, shall we say, lackluster.
The two genres of push your luck and take that each bring their own form of tension to a game, but mixing them together, at least in this case, results in mush.
The tension of push-your-luck comes from a balance of risk/reward that you share with the other players. You want to surge ahead, so you take a risk and draw another gem, but you’re nervous because the next gem could end it all. Thus, every time you reach your hand into the bag, there’s some level of excitement.
But then someone plays an action card and gives you a second obsidian and there’s nothing you can do about it. The tension of risk is wiped out, because it wasn’t your own risk that brought you down. It was just someone having an action card and deciding to use it against you. Or maybe you had the right purple card in your hand to defend yourself, so someone else gets stuck with that obsidian.
Take that is the rich concept that all your hard-laid plans might get unlaid at any moment when someone decides to make you the target of their aggression. Maybe you have a way to counter it, maybe you don’t. But it could all go off the rails if someone notices how well you’re doing, and you’ve got to strike a balance between using the full extent of your power and keeping to the sidelines.
Only, in Quartz, how do you lay down plans where the primary mechanism is drawing something from a bag and hoping it’s valuable? You can’t, so the take-that becomes meaningless. There are no plans to thwart. No way to play low key, or save your cool moves for just the right moment. You either draw something good from the bag, or you don’t.
Since the pushing-your-luck is separated by player and unfolds turn by turn, I’ve often seen players hardly get a chance to even think about pushing their luck. The most effective way to play the “pass off an Obsidian” card seems to be sending it to someone who already has one – that way no one can send it back to you later. So the players who have an Obsidian are more likely to get hit, and hit right away.
So, there’s a huge amount of luck in this game. It’s probably about 99% luck, and lacks the risk that makes push-your-luck games fun. If you don’t get the best cards for your situation, or if you don’t draw the valuable gems, you just don’t win. And often you don’t get to play.
Oh, there were a few moments when the game had some shine. Those moments were usually when players had run out of useful action cards, so the push-your-luck thing was in full force. When it gets down to 2 players, it can be difficult to leave – after all, if you leave first you don’t get any bonus cards or cash, and the other player does.
Then again, the whole thing with the second-to-last player ending the round is a mixed bag. Sure, it makes it a much more interesting choice for that player, but once again it negates the push-your-luck for the last player. If you fall behind in an early round, it can be very difficult to catch up by pushing your luck to the limit; the rule favors the player who is already in the lead or who has the nicest collection of gems that round, since it prevents the other player from getting any more. There is a variant, admittedly, that allows the last player to keep going up to 4 more turns, but why is there a limit at all? Why is that a variant?
I like that action cards get sold at the end for points. It means the players who get frustrated with the hand they drew never seeming to be useful, getting a nice reward at the end. But the game also rewards players who succeed (by luck, mostly) with extra cards. The most valuable cards provide an immediate income boost worth more than the card itself, and players who are targeted with action cards are forced to use their purple cards to protect themselves. If you get knocked out of a round because your cart breaks, you also don’t get to take an extra card, so that’s a double whammy.
Another useful mechanism is the “mining for dummies” token you get when your cart breaks. It gives you a slightly better chance of succeeding in the next round by letting you discard an Obsidian at any moment. This way you’re less likely (although not guaranteed) to get the bad boot round after round. It’s sort of a crutch, because the rest of the game doesn’t balance itself out.
It all kind of adds up to this sort of meaningless experience. I found I could completely check out of the game, play cards automatically at the obvious best time, and pretty much have the same result as if I tried to stay engaged and think about the best thing to do. So much is out of your control. The end result of the game usually involves one player, maybe two, having a ton of money while the others have fallen far, far behind.
I do have to add one caveat to this review. My family really seemed to enjoy playing. I was actually surprised, given how aggressive many of the cards are, but they were all having fun. Perhaps they just didn’t notice the lack of decisions or the heavy-weight influence of pure luck that made most of their choices meaningless in the long run. Perhaps the game offers just enough of a reward – the satisfaction of a single good round, the pleasure of stacking up all your coins at the end, the occasional tension of two players actually pushing their luck, and even the colorful, shiny gems – to be fun for those who don’t mind just kicking back.
As for me, there’s one game that’s almost directly comparable to this that I would choose first every time: Dicey Goblins. There you have the same experience of drawing fancy components from a bag as you delve deeper into a cave, but Dicey Goblins provides a lot more bang for your buck, a lot more excitement and tension, in a cleaner, simpler package.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Passport Games Studios for providing a review copy of Quartz.