Not all games are created equal. Some games have a massive staff of hundreds of people behind them, with multimillion-dollar marketing budgets. Other games have one guy, and Kickstarter. Diamond Trust of London is a demonstration of the latter, and has finally completed its three-year journey to be released, helmed by indie darling Jason Rohrer. While much has been said about the story of the game’s development and release, there hasn’t been much talk of the game itself. This could leave some people to wonder whether or not the interesting part of Diamond Trust of London is everything that it went through to come out, and not the game itself. Fear not, there is something interesting, and worth playing inside that box.
Designed to take advantage of the two-player wireless connectivity of the DS, Diamond Trust of London isn’t your average gaming fare. Culling more inspiration from board games more than anything else, Diamond Trust puts players in a scenario more akin to the Settlers of Catan than any other traditional video game. Set in Angola in the late 1990s, Diamond Trust of London is a turn-based, deception game about diamond traders. Two players are pitted head-to-head against each other, and they have to amass the most diamonds in a set number of turns (nine) using a three-man team. Also in play is a United Nations inspector that will block the sale of diamonds, and confiscate the precious gems from any unlucky agent that they share a region with. While all that seems straightforward enough, there is an element of uncertainty, as the other player can use their money to bribe your agents to reveal your moves as well as influence the U.N. inspector to control their next destination. Since each player doesn’t know what the other player is doing, they have to trust their instincts… or do their best to bribe the other guys.
That’s the gist of it. Significantly different than most of the games on the market, Diamond Trust is likely to only really appeal to a small audience that can appreciate the complex nature of the gameplay, and are not looking for some over the top video game experience. The board game feel is very pervasive in the graphics, in that there is really only one screen, a map of Angola, that’s divided up into the gameplay regions. Beyond that, the agents and the U.N. inspector are very simple looking, and the planes used to transport everyone are the most advanced animation in the entire game. In other words, it’s a pretty stripped down game, but this should allow players to focus on the actual gameplay instead of fancy bells and whistles.
However, while Diamond Trust does feature a very simple graphical style, surprisingly it does not skimp on the score. The soundtrack was done by Tom Bailey, one of Rohrer’s life-long friends, and is really good, albeit it a little out of place. It’s an extensive, interactive experience, influenced by a variety of genres, layered on top of a diamond trading game set in Angola. Much like the gameplay, it’s a complex execution based on a really simple concept. Since the game is turn-based, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself zoning out, enjoying the music without even realizing it while you’re waiting for your opponent to make their move.
There’s a couple other things about Diamond Trust that are worth noting, that some video gamers may find off-putting, but they’re just a fact of the matter with this game, whether you like it or not…
First off, the game was designed for two players. There is a single-player mode included, but it’s more for practice than anything else. There is no campaign. There is no ladder to climb. The single player is just you versus the computer, which will allow you to practice, hone your skills, and sharpen your strategies, so when you have another person to play against – the way the game was intended to be played – you’ll be able to bury them.
Next, the game is short. The concept is to play for nine months, which works out to be nine turns. Burning through those is pretty easy, whether you’re playing alone or against an opponent. The length of the game really comes down to how long each player takes to deliberate over their moves. On the plus side, the brief games make it really easy to start up and go again right away.
Additionally, like most board games, Diamond Trust is next to impossible to pick up and play, and anyone that wants to enjoy its nuances will need to go through that old school ritual of reading the instructions. There’s no tutorial included in the game, but the manual is extensive, breaking down nearly every turn in order to explain everything that is going on.
Diamond Trust of London is a game very much is the style of Jason Rohrer’s other work, that is to say it’s different. Instead of a game that was created to sell a million copies, this game was created to give gamers a different experience than they are used to, and to take advantage of the DS’ unique technology. Instead of precise platforming or twitch shooting, Diamond Trust pushes gamers to strategize against another human being in order to succeed, a move that harkens back to classic board games. If that kind of complexity is something you don’t think you can handle as a gamer, then Diamond Trust is likely not for you. However, if you enjoy spending your weekends building roads, managing resources, and moving around robbers, this game will offer you something new and fun to play in a whole new way.