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The goal of this fast, tactical game is to transform the point chips which are laid out into your own victory points. Everyone plays with diamonds of their own color, which they must place skillfully.
24-carat tension arises, when a point chip is enclosed by four diamonds. This gives victory points to the player with the most valuable diamonds.
Each game is different, because the 49 point chips are always distributed anew. The pleasantly short rules make this game fun for everyone, and a variant makes this game a thoughtfully exciting whodunit.
Leave the family heirlooms alone. The jewels you need are tiles, each having four colors (red, green, blue, and yellow) and a value from one to six. Start by placing the 49 scoring chips on the 7 x 7 grid of circles. These are numbered from one to five, and mark the corners of a 6 x 6 grid of octagons. Each player in turn randomly draws a tile and plays it on an octagon next to a previously played tile if possible. The value of a surrounded scoring chip, multiplied by the number of adjacent colors, is awarded to the player whose adjacent color has the highest unique total. Since each tile has all the players' colors, you must weigh the effects on everyone when you consider possible placements. There's plenty of opportunity here for sparkling play.
For about five years Dirk Henn has been designing games and making them available through his own small company, db Spiele, but it has been a very low key operation and almost the only way to get hold of a copy of one of them was to be at Essen and to know what he looked like--db Spiele were so small scale that they didn't even have a stall. The hope in such circumstances is presumably that one of the big companies will take a fancy to one of your designs and take over the publication and last year it happened, with Queen Games turning what had been Premiere into Show Manager. It proved to be a critical and commercial success and so it is no surprise to find that Queen's next move was to see what else Dirk had in the cupboard. Carat is one of two that they picked out for their 1998 list. The other, Stimmt so!, is also reviewed this issue.
Carat is an abstract tile laying game with no real pretence at a theme: the reference to jewels just being something the graphics people could use in the design of the tiles. The board shows a 7 by 7 lattice of small circles, which form the corners of a 6 by 6 grid of squares. At the start of the game, 49 scoring chips, each carrying a value in the range 1 to 5, are placed on the circles. The other components are 36 tiles, the surface of each of which is quartered: blue, green, red and yellow. Each tile also has a value in the range 1 to 6, this value applying to all four colours on the tile.
On your turn you draw a tile and place it on the grid, adjacent to one of the tiles that is already there. By the end, when all 36 tiles have been placed, each scoring chip will have been surrounded by 1, 2 or 4 tiles (1 for the four corner chips, 2 for the edge chips and 4 for the rest). As soon as it is completely surrounded, each chip scores for the player who has most points adjacent to it. For example, suppose that a chip with a value of 4 ends up surrounded by a red 2, a red 3, a blue 4 and a yellow 1. It would score for red, whose total of 5 edges out blue's total of 4, and it would be worth its base value of 4 multiplied by the number of colours present. That is 3 in this case and so red would score 12. Change the red 2 to a green 2 and the chip would be worth 16, this time to blue. The only tweak is the Hol's der Geier rule that in the event of a tie, the chip goes to the next person down. So, if you change the blue 4 to a blue 5 in my example, it would be yellow that would score the 12, since red and blue are now tied.
And that is all there is to it. There is a variant in which players maintain a hand of three tiles, from which they choose the one that they want to play, but you will find that the basic "draw a tile and play it" still gives you plenty to think about. Every time you place a tile, four scoring chips are being affected and with only one of the four is it your colour that is being given the boost. So you need to consider the total effect of a placement and not just what happens at one of the circles.
It is a good game and plays better than I thought it would when I first read through the rules. However, Nuremberg produced a clutch of good games this year and if you were to ask me for a list of the best five, Carat wouldn't be on it. It is a 7 whose misfortune it is to appear at the same time as a bunch of 8 and overs. I also think that it is slightly over-priced for what you get.