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Gerald Cameron
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CAVEAT: This pre-release review is based entirely on BSW play. As a result, it contains no information about the nature or quality of components for the game, and any discussion that may slip in about the manipulation of pieces is pure (albeit educated) speculation

Diamant is a push your luck family game for from four to eight players designed by Alan Moon and Bruno Faidutti. Thanks to the folks at BSW, I have been able to play Diamant several times before the game is even released, and so I thought I would share my thoughts with the BGG public.

The Premise

The players are members of a group of adventurers in the tradition of (as Bruno says on his webpage for the game) Indiana Jones or Alan Quatermain, seeking lost riches. Together, they have found a series of five caves (in a nice, cool if you get it, doesn't matter if you don't, the artwork on 2-3 of the cards shows Mayan or Aztec writing, so presumably the caves are somewhere in Mexico or Central America), and they intend to explore them together, looking for treasure. But, in the best tradition of treasure-filled caves, these are not without their dangers. The adventurers are prepared for this, but their resources are not unlimited, so they have to balance their greed against the risk of being driven screaming from the cave by a situation they cannot handle, leaving their gathered treasure behind in their panic. The player that emerges with the most gems after all five caves have been explored is deemed the craftiest and wisest explorer in the group.

Playing the Game

At the beginning of the game, the players begin in their collective camp near the site of the caves that they intend to explore. As a group, they enter one cave at a time and move room by room looking for gems and hoping to avoid danger. The rooms in the caves are represented by cards, drawn one at a time from a deck of 30. The deck is composed of 15 treasure rooms with denominations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (x2), 7 (x2), 9, 11 (x2), 13, 14, 15, and 17; and 15 threats, with explosions, scorpions, snakes, cave-ins and poison gas filled rooms each appearing on three cards.

When a treasure room comes up, the players take the number of gems indicated by the number on the card, and divide them evenly among themselves. Any gems that remain after each player had received an equal share are set aside in a pool that can be acquired in another way that I will describe momentarily.

When a threat card comes up, one of two things can happen. If it is the first time a given threat has appeared in this cave (ie. if it is the first time a snake card is revealed, or the first time an explosion card has appeared), the group has the resources to deal with it, and can continue on unharmed. If the players draw a threat that they have already had to deal with in the current cave, however, they are forced to flee for their lives, since they have already exhausted their ability to handle that kind of threat the first time it appeared. This ends the exploration of the current cave, and if this happens, any players that are still exploring the cave lose any gems that they are carrying.

Due to this risk, every time a room is turned up (and after any treasure from that room is handed out), each of the players must decide for himself whether to continue on to the next room or return to the base camp until the group is ready to start exploring the next cave. This decision is made secretly, and players reveal their decisions simultaneously. Any player that chooses to return to base camp takes any gems he has acquired in this cave back with him, and puts them in his personal treasure chest. Gems that are in a players treasure chest cannot be lost in any way.

There is an additional factor that affects a player's decision whether to continue or go back, though. Whenever one or more players decide to return to camp, they also get to take any gems that have been set aside on the journey so far with them, and divide those gems up into equal shares amongst themselves. The returning players get to keep their share as part of their haul from the journey, with any gems that cannot be divided equally discarded into the game stockpile. If only one player decides to return to camp in a given round, he gets all of the groups set aside gems to himself! The downside, however, is that the rest of the group continues on through the cave, and any further treasures that they find are only divided between the players that are still exploring the cave.

The exploration of a cave continues until one of the threats is drawn for a second time, or all of the players have decided on their own to return to camp. At that point, if the expedition was ended because one of the threats was encountered a second time, one of the cards of that threat type is removed from the game. The rest of the cards that were revealed as part of the cave are then reshuffled back into the deck. The group then moves on to the next cave, which they explore in the same way as the first one.

The game ends when the fifth cave is finished, and the players show each other how many gems they have in their personal treasure chests. The player that has stashed away the most gems wins.

Analysis

It should be no surprise that Diamant is a chaotic game. After all, it is a push your luck game that features simultaneous action selection and has Bruno Faidutti's name on the cover . This is not Stephenson's Rocket, or YINSH. However, it is not as chaotic as one might think from a quick read of the rules. In fact Faidutti and Moon have created a push your luck game that is probably not as chaotic as classics of the genre like Can't Stop. First of all, while the layout of the cave is determined by randomly drawing cards, all players that are still with the group are affected equally by the cards that are drawn. Yes, it is possible for the last player or two exploring a cave to hit one or two big treasure rooms, thereby gaining a large, even almost insurmountable, advantage over the players that didn't continue on, but, then again, it is a push your luck game, and the lucky players elected to take the risk. Furthermore, the card distribution is printed in the rules, and when playing face to face, which cards have been drawn is readily apparent, so players know when they drop out how many big treasure rooms are left to be drawn, and they should factor this into their decision whether to drop out or not. Yes, it's luck, but all things considered I wouldn't say it is an undue amount of luck.

Also, the simultaneous action selection only features two possible actions: continue, or go back. This means that you don't have to evaluate the relative merits of several complex options - it's a simple binary decision. There is a bit of groupthink involved, because if you are hoping to grab a few gems when you drop out of the group, you want to be the only one doing it at that time and, conversely, you don't want to let someone get away alone with a huge stash of gems all to him(or her)self. Still, things tend to be fairly predictable - when there are a few gems up for grabs, one or two people will drop out to grab them, and most of the rest will continue on to try and sack another treasure room or three. Once or twice a game you will be surprised when no one drops out, or by a mass drop out, but even that usually only represents a one or two gem swing. Even people that normally abhor simultaneous action selection mechanics should be able to stomach it without too much difficulty.

There is one other result of these aspects of the game's design that is worthy of note. Diamant may be unique in the realm of light, chaotic games to actually be less chaotic with more players rather than more chaotic. With more players, there is a greater chance that more than one player will return to camp at the same time when there are a lot of gems available, but, at the same time, a player has to go deeper into a cave before she is likely to be exploring alone, so a lone explorer is more likely to come across a duplicate threat, and is less likely to draw a large treasure room. While this doesn't eliminate the possibility of a player getting an unbalancing haul by themselves, it certainly reduces the chances. The game normally has less luck to even out over it's course as a result, making for a more balanced, more skill driven game at the higher end of the scale. It's almost to the point where I wish Diamant included more treasure room cards at the lower end of the spectrum, so that the deck could be tweaked for balance when played with fewer players. The rules state that, while Diamant is for anywhere from 4-8 players, it is best with 5-7 players. I would disagree with this slightly, and say the more the merrier.

Of course, this does lead to the potential criticism that there are very few real decisions to be made. In fact, when the players start on a new cave they may as well just flip cards until they draw the first treasure room, since there is no reason for anyone to drop out until there are gems at stake. Still, this can be done very quickly, skipping the need for the players to actually choose and reveal their actions. When the real decisions do have to be made, they are surprisingly engaging. While only the worst "I think you think I think you think" players are liable to lock up on them, a player needs to balance gems in hand, leftover gems available to dropouts, how many people are liable to try and grab those gems, the risk of the trip coming to an end because of a given threat appearing for a second time, and, finally, what size treasure rooms have yet to show up. This adds up to a non-trivial assessment goes into making those choices, and only a small part of it actually involves oh-so-chaotic groupthink. Experience with the game will make these decisions easier, but I don't think they will ever become mindless. And the pace of the game is pretty fast, so the decisions usually come one on top of the other.

There is another related, if more ephemeral, issue, and one that I think is more troubling. The evocation of the Indiana Jones/30s pulp adventuring is quite good in the card art, and the little wooden meeples even have fedoras, and for the most part, the game's mechanics fit quite well with the theme. But there is one great gaping hole in this, in my opinion. When I think of this theme, I think of daring, razor's edge escapes from danger fueled only by the adventurer's wits and skill. In order to keep a lid on the chaos and maintain the pace of the game (I assume), Moon and Faidutti elected to keep the resolution of threats as simple as possible. Players get by or don't get by simply on the basis of whether that particular threat has been encountered before in the same cave, and they don't actually do anything to overcome them. I can't help thinking that some people, non-gamers especially, will find this something of a letdown after they have the game's theme described to them.

As I've said in passing, there is very little downtime in the normal course of the game. Normally, the players should be able to decide whether to continue on or go back to camp very quickly, with only sporadic cases of turn angst, and since the caves are laid out one card at a time, even the transition form one cave to the next only requires setting aside the last card drawn (if exploration ended due to drawing the second card showing a type of threat), gathering up the rest of the cards that were used in the cave, and quickly shuffling them in with the unused cards.

My only concern in this area is that a player who decides to return to camp early on will be idle for a more significant period of time. While probably only a minute or two, in a game that plays in 20-30 minutes and is supposed to be light, this is not inconsequential. Sometimes it really is a good choice to drop out early, and anyone who does so has nothing more to do than chant "Ra Ra Ra" (or words to that effect). It's hardly a gamebreaker, but it's not a good thing.

On the other hand, this is a pretty elegant little design. I could probably teach Diamant to new players in under two minutes without rushing, and, in fact, the rules pdf on Bruno Faidutti's website is only one side of one sheet of paper long. As I've already said, though, it presents players with light, but non-trivial and interesting choices to make, and, above concerns aside, they should follow on each other fairly quickly. The push your luck tension is there, and grows a little bit with every card drawn during a cave. It manages to fit a lot into and get a lot out of one (and if you want to get semantic about it, less than one) decision per turn.

There is one final detail that I would like to draw to people's attention, although it is one that only real game design connoisseurs will truly care about. As mentioned, when an expedition into a cave comes to an end because the players meet the same threat for the second time, one of the cards of that threat type is removed from the deck for the rest of the game. The result of this is rather subtle, but not insignificant. In any subsequent cave, the chance of that threat appearing goes down, and the chance of it showing twice in a cave goes down even more. If the same threat type should end the trip through two caves in a game, there will only be one of that type of card left in the deck for the rest of the game. As a result, whenever that threat appears from then on, it becomes a free parking space, rather than being another Sword of Damocles hanging over the players heads, which would normally be the case when a threat makes its first appearance in a cave.

Furthermore, since a few threat cards are removed from the deck over the course of a game, but no treasure rooms are, the proportion of treasure rooms in the deck grows a little over the course of the game. This means that, on average, later caves will be explored more deeply than earlier caves. This is, when you think about it, another little factor players have to weigh when they decide whether to return to camp or not. It also means that hauls from later caves will, again on average, play a slightly larger role in determining the game's winner than the early caves, so it can act as a very small catch-up mechanism for players that have had a bit of bad luck earlier in the game, and adds a little momentum to the flow of the game.

The Bottom Line

When I read the rules for Diamant prior to playing it for the first time, I really thought it would bore me. After all, it is clearly intended to be a family game, and generally speaking I prefer meatier fare. On the surface it is random, and a player only has two options to choose from on his turn. Once I actually played the game, I was pleasantly surprised, though. Having only two options actually works, since the pace of the game means that you don't actually have enough downtime to ponder too much more. And, as I've said, the luck of the draw isn't all that bad, since it, in practical terms, affects all of the players equally with one or two noted exceptions.

Diamant is not a perfect game, and is not going to be to everyone's taste, but if assessed in the light of what Faidutti and Moon were trying to create, it has to be considered pretty successful with the exception of the quibble I have over how threats are resolved. In particular, I would recommend it to gamers who

1) are looking for a game that they can play with a mixed age group (precociousness aside, I think anyone over the age of seven or so should be able to play Diamant), such as a multigenerational family gathering or a play date between families that have children.

or

2) enjoy light, fast, slightly chaotic games as the opener or closer for a gaming session such as Bang, The Bucket King/Alles im Eimer or Can't Stop.

So will I be buying a copy? Well, no. But I don't fall into either of the above two groups, either. Especially when it comes to choosing games to buy, I have a strong preference for heavier, meatier games. When I am thinking about light games that I want to own, my mind turns to games like Ra, Trias or High Society (of which I own the latter two), which are a few weight classes up from Diamant. On the other hand, when I am playing on BSW and feel like playing something that's not too taxing mentally, Diamant will certainly be a top consideration (alongside Bluff or Geister, for example) at least for the next while.

Still, it is fairly obvious that Moon and Faidutti had pretty much exactly the two audiences I have recommended Diamant for in mind when they designed it, so taken on its own terms, Diamant has to be considered a good design and a good game.
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Snooze Fest
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Re:User Review
Linnaeus (#90392),

Great review, thanks! I have a few of questions about the BSW interface:
1. the skull and crossbones represent the hazards encountered, right? Is there some indication as to which hazard card(s) have been removed from the deck, or is that a memory thing? --- WAIT I just saw something ... are those the numbers in the upper right? And I suppose the number next to the red gem is the number of treasure cards, right? ---
2. what are the numbers on the left side of the picture (one above the other)?
3. how do you tell how many treasures are on the path back to camp (i.e., the remainders left behind from earlier uneven splits)?
4. how do you tell how much treasure each player has?

Thx!
 
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James Lilly
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Re:User Review
snoozefest (#90682),

1. the skull and crossbones represent the hazards encountered, right? Is there some indication as to which hazard card(s) have been removed from the deck, or is that a memory thing? --- WAIT I just saw something ... are those the numbers in the upper right? And I suppose the number next to the red gem is the number of treasure cards, right? ---
Yep, you are correct there.

2. what are the numbers on the left side of the picture (one above the other)?
Top number is how many gems you have earned in this cave so far.

3. how do you tell how many treasures are on the path back to camp (i.e., the remainders left behind from earlier uneven splits)?
...That is the bottom number.

4. how do you tell how much treasure each player has?
You aren't supposed to know. In the real game you can see in their treasure chests, but you aren't allowed to actually count them.
 
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Gerald Cameron
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Re:User Review
Snooze,

Yep, Fishbulb got here first and cleared them all up, but I just wanted to say thanks for the compliment.

See you on BSW.
 
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Rob Leveille
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Re:User Review
What is the point of the treasures left on the cards? Are they ever earned or just pitched out? If so, why leave them there?

Just curious. I have never played.
 
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James Lilly
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Re:User Review
Phelonius (#91463),

As Linnaeus said in his review:

Quote:
There is an additional factor that affects a player's decision whether to continue or go back, though. Whenever one or more players decide to return to camp, they also get to take any gems that have been set aside on the journey so far with them, and divide those gems up into equal shares amongst themselves. The returning players get to keep their share as part of their haul from the journey, with any gems that cannot be divided equally discarded into the game stockpile.
 
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Patrick Wilhelmi
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Re:User Review
Linnaeus,
the game is out now, and we did playtest it on Monday. I wanted to write a review for it but after going through your excellent text I decided that this would be a waste of time. But I would like to add two things:
1. Although I also prefer more complex games I have to admitt that this game is a lot of fun and is played in a couple of minutes making it the ideal choice as a game session opener or closer.
2. I would only buy a copy cheaply on ebay or when it gets discontinued since the price of the game is a slap in the face for every serious game collector. It sells for around 19-20 EUR offering only 30 cards, a small game map that nobody needs, plastic gems in two colors, a small box for everybody puting their earned gems into and a wooden explorer piece for evrybody. The material should have been put in a samll box costing and sold for half of what they ask for it now.
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Carsten Neumann
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Re:User Review
In fact, when the players start on a new cave they may as well just flip cards until they draw the first treasure room, since there is no reason for anyone to drop out until there are gems at stake.

Linnaeus (#90392),

I think you are wrong here - even as it was my first thought too. But if your are playing in a larger group, many gems will be left on the cards, so it might be sensible too leave the cave after two (even more after three) cards to pick up these "leftovers". That way your will get more gems than most of the other players that continue and go deeper into the cave.

Carsten
 
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Gerald Cameron
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Re:User Review
CarstenN wrote:
In fact, when the players start on a new cave they may as well just flip cards until they draw the first treasure room, since there is no reason for anyone to drop out until there are gems at stake.

Linnaeus (#90392),

I think you are wrong here - even as it was my first thought too. But if your are playing in a larger group, many gems will be left on the cards, so it might be sensible too leave the cave after two (even more after three) cards to pick up these "leftovers". That way your will get more gems than most of the other players that continue and go deeper into the cave.


You're right CarstenN. This comment was the result of a small misunderstanding of the rules on my part (one of the hazards of rushing out a review). I had thought that the pool of leftover gems was reset when the players start to explore a new cave, but this is not the case. The pool is instead carried over from cave to cave.

I also need to correct something I said in the rules explanation that is closely related to this. When multiple players return to camp at the same time, and there are leftover gems after they take their shares from the leftover pool, and gems that cannot then be divided up equally REMAIN in the leftover pool for the next time a player returns to camp. They are not discarded as I said in the review.

Sorry, for the errors.
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bruno faidutti
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Re:User Review
1) Yes, when two or more return to camp at the same time, if there are leftover gems after they divide the leftover pool, these gems that cannot be divided up REMAIN in the leftover pool for the next time a player returns to camp.

2) No, the leftover pool is not carried away from one cave to the other - thogh may be it's not clearly stated in the rules, since this sounded obvious for us for thematic reasons. It might make the game tactically more interesting, but it doesn't make sense with the story.
 
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Gerald Cameron
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Re:User Review
Quote:

2) No, the leftover pool is not carried away from one cave to the other - thogh may be it's not clearly stated in the rules, since this sounded obvious for us for thematic reasons. It might make the game tactically more interesting, but it doesn't make sense with the story.


Hmm...I thought I saw a carryover once or twice on the BSW implementation. Wouldn't be the first time I hallucinated something like that though.

Sorry for the erroneous correction blush
 
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Hector Irizarry
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faidutti wrote:
1) Yes, when two or more return to camp at the same time, if there are leftover gems after they divide the leftover pool, these gems that cannot be divided up REMAIN in the leftover pool for the next time a player returns to camp.

2) No, the leftover pool is not carried away from one cave to the other - thogh may be it's not clearly stated in the rules, since this sounded obvious for us for thematic reasons. It might make the game tactically more interesting, but it doesn't make sense with the story.


I always thought that leftover diamonds are not realistic, and ownership could be decided in some other way (dice maybe, at the end of the game). Well, you are the Boss and one of my favorite Game Designers.
 
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