Diamond Trust Of London review

Diamond Trust Of London review

A game of bluff and counter-bluff, of second- and third-guessing your opponent, Diamond Trust Of London is a surprising release from Jason Rohrer. It’s a full retail release, for a start (if an unlikely one), from a man who usually sends titles straight into the public domain. More interestingly, though, is that DTOL is the gamiest game Rohrer has produced. This isn’t a content-light think-piece or mechanical experiment. It’s a game with a winner, a loser, and a long series of tactical decisions to establish who’s which.

Fashioned like a boardgame, it sees players take the roles of competing banks. Each has three agents who can be sent on to the board – a representation of Angola, divided into six regions. Collecting diamonds involves paying local guides, and when two players end up in the same region, the highest bidder collects the reward. Money is limited enough that wasting it on failed bids can sting, so optimal play is about guessing your opponent’s offer, and paying a single dollar more.

While DTOL isn’t too preachy in its implied criticism of the diamond trade, the pliable UN inspector is a neat touch, as is the satellite image of the real Angola that appears over the board when you pause the game.

Added complexity – and a dose of cynicism – comes from bribes. If two opposing agents share a region, a player can bribe his opponent’s agent to give away his movements. Bribed agents will in turn reveal any agents that they have turned, meaning that players become aware of which of their pieces are feeding back information to the opposing player. A bribable third party – a UN Inspector – adds a final layer. The winner is the player with the most gems at the end of the game.

That one game type and board make up the entirety of the game, and their lifespan depends on the skill of the players. Initially, being able to see your opponent’s plans seems pointless: when both players know their agents are compromised, they’ll feed disinformation on the first turn, wait for the bribed agent to report back, and then actually perform their desired move. But, gradually, players learn to take this into account, and find themselves reading between the lines of obvious feints, planning responses to phantom moves.

Playing against AI can throw up a challenge, but requires patience. Higher difficulties give the AI more time to think, but DTOL’s real problem is its interface. It’s simple to the point of crudity, but functionally it can be opaque and cluttered, making a reasonably complex game seem even more so while you’re figuring out the rules. Get past that, and there’s an acute psychological game to be played in DTOL, but it’ll require time – and an extra player – to find it.