Stronghold Games, 2014

Diamonds is a entrancing two to six player trick taking game. The object is to collect as many diamond crystals as you can. You collect “diamonds” for suit actions.

Players start with a hand of ten cards. The dealer then determines how many cards each player will pass, either one, two or three. Not passing is not an option, and cards will always pass to the left. Once everyone has their final hand of ten cards, the player to the left of the dealer will lead.

You must follow suit, if you have it. But here’s the twist. If you don’t have the suit led, you may play a different suit AND take it’s suit action. Each suit has it’s own unique suit action. Suit actions will let you collect crystals from the pool, steal from other players, or store crystals in your vault. Crystals in your vault cannot be stolen.  You also take the suit action when you win a trick, and at the end of the round, the player with the most of each suit, will get that suit action as a bonus. Any player who took no tricks gets to take two diamond suit actions.

The number of rounds you play depends on the number of players. At the end of the last round, players will total up the number of crystals they have in their vault are worth two points, while collected crystals out side of your vault only count one point. The player with the most points wins.

I love a good trick taking game, and this one sure qualifies. There is always some strategy in knowing which card to throw off when you can’t play on a trick. Diamonds makes this one step harder. When you play off on a hand, you get to take the suit action for the card you played. This makes each card valuable in a different way. It may be valuable to keep in order to take a trick later on, or it may be worth more to use it’s suit action. It’s these decisions that give Diamonds an edge over other trick taking games.

The game recommends two to six players ages 8+. The game actually comes with a separate set of rules for two player. I’d recommend four or five players as working the best. Because the deck comes with 60 cards, and each player is only dealt 10, the strategy varies based on the number of players as the entire deck is shuffled each round, so you won’t necessarily know which cards are in play at any given round.

Anecdotally, I was running a Diamonds tournament at our local game convention (Gamicon), and had a 10 year old who wanted to play. She had never played a trick taking game before, so we taught the basics of trick taking games first, then added in the suit actions bit. She completely lost the first round (but never misplayed). But then steadily throughout the tournament rounds got better and better, and almost won! It is really an easy game to pick up. It’s a lot of fun, and offers something new to the veteran card player, while still be fun and exciting for the newbie!

I highly recommend adding Diamonds to your collection, especially if you already enjoy trick taking card games.

WhatTheFoodWhat the Food?!
Squirmy Beast, 2013

FOOD FIGHT! In this silly, fun, card game, you pick up and throw funny food combos at other kids and attempt to avoid the humiliation of getting hit yourself. Bright, colorful cards and funny food combos make this a fun, lightweight game that is great for families or the young-at-heart.

What the Food?! comes with 10 different characters, and a deck of various food and action cards. Players start with a character ID Card which comes with a specialized action card for that character. Each player also receives a targeting card in their favorite condiment flavor (ketchup, mustard, relish, etc). The condiment flavor has no game effect, but is a nice thematic touch. All the non-event cards are shuffled and 2 cards dealt to each player. The event cards are then shuffled into the deck and play begins. The player who ate last, or player with the relish condiment becomes the first player and receives the first player token. Again, in a nice thematic touch, a cute little hamburger piece is used as the first player token. Each player also receives a set of basic starting actions (duck, throw and grab).

Each round, players use their target card to point to another player, then chooses three of their actions to play that round, placing them in a face down pile in front of them with their first action on top. Simultaneously, each action is revealed and resolved with players either throwing food, attempting to duck a throw, or using a special power. Those players who get hit suffer a humiliation token. The first player to 10 humiliation loses the game. Play ends immediately and the player with the least humiliation wins.

The quality of the cards and pieces is very nice, with beautiful thematic art and funny content. On the surface, it may come across as a kids’ game, but is really great for adults and teens. It has a nice balance and the action cards give a lot of choices. Many times it comes to out-guessing your opponents and playing the right combination at the right times, which may be off-putting to some folks. I have played this with a variety of folks, many of whom were a little wary of it at first, but almost everyone has had a great time with the game.

If you are looking for a great family game, with a little complexity and a lot of hilarity, pick up What the Food?! Highly recommended and would make a great gift!

Asmodee, 2008

Dixit is a storytelling card game and won the Spiel de Jahres in 2010. The game is made up of 84 abstract art cards. Expansions are available that also have 85 cards, so there is a lot of variety available.

Each player has a hand of 6 cards. Gameplay starts with the storyteller choosing a card from their hand, placing it face down in front of themselves and giving a short word or phrase that describes the card. This phrase should be somewhat cryptic. Each other player chooses a card from their hand that they feel best matches the storyteller’s phrase and plays it face down. Then all cards are collected, shuffled and placed out faceup. Each player then votes for the card that they feel best matches the description. If no one or everyone selects the storyteller’s card, then the storyteller gets no points, and each other person gets two points. Otherwise the storyteller, and everyone who voted for them gets three points, and each other player who received a vote gets one point per vote on their card. The object is to get to 30 points (various different editions of the game have different point tallying mechanics). You cannot vote for your own card. The story teller doesn’t vote, but uses their vote to indicate their card, so will always “vote” last.

The storyteller must carefully craft their wording to that it isn’t too obvious (or everyone will vote for theirs and they get no points) or to obtuse (in which case no one votes for them).

For example, the picture on the cover could be described by the storyteller as “Adventures in reading” “Imagination” or “And they rode off into the sunset”. Using the word book or waves in the description might pinpoint this card too much. Sunset might also do the same thing, but since it isn’t the focus of the card, could be abstract enough to get by. Using “Imagination” might not be specific enough, but gives the overall “feel” of the word, so would probably get a vote or two. Much of the voting and storytelling will depend on who you are playing with and is a good “get to know you” game.

With a little of “Apples to Apples” and a lot of artistry, this game is fun for all ages. A good imagination is very helpful, and I probably wouldn’t recommend this game to incredibly literal thinkers. Playing with kids is good, but they will probably tend to be very specific about their cards. This game can be great for teaching abstract thought and storytelling.

Very much recommended for creative minded folks.

MadScientistUniversityMad Scientist University
Atlas Games, 2005

Mad Scientist University is a light, simple, storytelling party game. Each player is a student at Mad Scientist University. In turn, each player will get to be the TA. The TA will give each player an Unstable Element Card (Aluminum Cans, Penguin, Lawn Gnomes, etc). Then the TA will give the group an Insane Assignment (Take over the world!). Each player must create a story on how they will use their Unstable Element to achieve the assignment. The TA will choose the best story to win the assignment. After three rounds of play, (Each person will TA once per round) the student with the most won assignment wins the game.

We have had a lot of fun with this game. The Unstable Elements cards have just the right amount of wacky wierdness to make the storytelling easy and fun. The Assignments are general enough to be able to give players a good amount of latitude in their storytelling.  We were playing with the base game and the spring break expansion, and much fun and hilarity ensued. There are several more expansions of the game available, which will give the game more replay value.

If you like storytelling games, then you will very likely enjoy Mad Scientist University. Recommended.