Full disclosure: A review copy of Mini DiverCity was provided by Sphere Games.
More Gen Con games! This one I received a bit after Gen Con because I literally had zero room in my luggage for games, whoops. But Mini DiverCity comes to us from Sphere Games, publisher of DiverCity and BrilliAnts, a game I reviewed last year (and quite enjoyed). So let’s check it out!
In Mini DiverCity, up to six divers have to protect the DiverCity Archipelago from bad guys who like to loot and plunder and want to turn the whole thing into a bunch of condos. That’s … not great for the sea life, which is especially vulnerable as changing climates have started to negatively impact their habitats. Can you protect species long enough to convince the government to protect the land as a national park? Or will your chances of success be the next thing to go extinct?
Setup is surprisingly straightforward. Shuffle the Species Cards:
Shuffle the Corporation Cards:
Set those decks aside. Give each player a Diver Card:
Or distribute all of them if you want to play with the Full Team variant. Put the Scale cards in a column with green on the right:
And set the Island / Hotel cards around them:
I usually set it up Red – Green, Blue – Orange, Purple – Yellow, for reasons I’ll mention in the Strategy section. They have Hotels on the back side, and naturally you don’t want all the islands to become resorts.
Put the Species tokens on the center spaces of the Scale cards:
You should be ready to start! Give each player 3 cards (4, if you’re playing two players). Have them hold the cards facing out so that every player can see everyone else’s cards, but not their own.
So a game of Mini DiverCity is played over several turns. After a player’s turn, the Corporations get a turn, every time. This continues until either the players have saved enough species for their Difficulty Level, or the Corporations have achieved one of their three win conditions. Similar to Hanabi / Arkham Ritual, you are not allowed to look at your cards and you cannot discuss strategy with other players. The game explains this as y’all being in different parts of the reef, so talking doesn’t really work. You may be able to walkie-talkie, though.
The game begins with the Corporations’ turn. Flip the top card of the deck (or, if you’re playing with the Industrialist variant, have the player playing as the Corporations play a card from their hand). This card will do at least one of two things:
- Force a player to discard a card from their hand and move that species closer to extinction (red). You cannot move a Species that is already Saved (green) or Extinct.
- Flip the top card of the deck and move that species closer to extinction (red). As you might guess, you cannot move a Species that is already Saved (green) or Extinct.
- Flip two Island Cards to Hotels. They will never flip the following pairs: Red/Green, Blue/Orange, Purple/Yellow. Every other pair is fair game.
Once that’s done, if the Corporations have not won, the next player in turn order may take their turn. On their turn, they may perform exactly one action:
- Close down a hotel. It’s probably not ecoterrorism, but you may flip one Hotel back to an Island.
- Use your walkie-talkie. You’re in different parts of the archipelago, so you can’t communicate normally. On your turn, you can use your action to tell one other player every card in their hand. That’s usually helpful. If you’re not sure of the names, they’re in the rulebook, or point to the Species tokens so that your opponent understands.
- Play a Species card. You may play a Species card from your hand to move that Species one space closer to Saved (green). You cannot move a Species that is already Saved or Extinct.
You may also use your Diver Ability, once per game, if you’d like, on your turn. Just put your Diver Card back in the box when you do. They generally give you a one-time ability that’s similar to an action you’d take on your turn.
After your turn is over, if the Divers have not won, the Corporations take another turn. Play continues until the Divers or the Corporations win. The Corporations win through any of the following circumstances:
- The Species deck runs out and a player cannot take any action on their turn. I assume this means all players are out of cards, as otherwise you could walkie-talkie.
- All six Island Cards are flipped to their Hotel side.
- A certain number of Species go extinct. This one depends on your difficulty level:
- Poseidon: 3
- Jacques Cousteau: 4
- Instructors: 4
- Assistant Instructors: 5
- Divemasters: 5
- Advanced Divers: 5
- Open Water Divers: 5
- Snorkeling: 6
The Divers win if they save a certain number of Species, also depending on their level:
- Poseidon: 9
- Jacques Cousteau: 8
- Instructors: 7
- Assistant Instructors: 8
- Divemasters: 7
- Advanced Divers: 6
- Open Water Divers: 5
- Snorkeling: 4
So you can play a beginner variant where you ignore the top of the Double Corporation Cards and when you walkie-talkie, the player can turn their cards to face them so that they won’t forget. Just remember to face new cards away from you.
There’s another fun variant where a player plays as the Industrialist, the evil corporation, in a many v. one game (like Pyramid of Pengqueen, funnily enough). The game plays as normal but the Industrialist takes all Corporation turns and has a hand of four Corporation cards. They play one on the Corporation Turns.
Mini DiverCity also has one last variant — a solo mode! You can play this by keeping two hands of 4 cards face-down and looking at neither. When you walkie-talkie on one hand’s turn, you flip the other hand face-up. As you draw new cards, keep them face-down. The game plays as normal, otherwise.
Player Count Differences
Not really that many differences beyond having more cards in hand, which allows players to know more information about what’s available and target certain players for abilities or effects. It also means that you personally have more downtime as you wait for other players. I’d probably be happiest with this in the 2 – 4 player range, personally, but that’s mostly because I hate downtime. You can play at 7, but only if one player is The Industrialist.
- Knowledge is power. There’s one Diver Card that lets you see all the cards in your hand. You should play that as soon as possible. That means you’ll know every card that you have and you can start making better educated decisions on subsequent turns.
- That said, it’s not bad to just play a few Species cards randomly for the first couple turns. There’s no way you’re going to waste your play until something is Extinct or Saved, so … there’s also really no risk. If you’re starting to get worried, might be time to walkie-talkie.
- Never let yourself get to five hotels (or the wrong four). If you do, you’re one turn away from a loss. If you ever hit that point, use your turn to flip a hotel such that the two unflipped hotels are part of a pair that will never come up (like Blue / Orange). That should give you a bit more runway to try and manage saving species from extinction.
- Once you know what’s in your hand, you know what you should play and what you should leave to discard. Ideally, if you’re forced to discard cards to push species towards extinction, you should discard cards in your hand from already Saved species, which would make that a null-op from the Corporations (or ones that have already gone Extinct, as it’s not like you can make this much worse). This is part of the reason that getting Species Saved as early as possible is so critical; you can start using that to thwart subsequent actions taken on the Corporations’ turns, giving you even more time.
- It’s usually worth taking a risk to Save a Species. Don’t take a risk that will lose you the game, but like I said, Save Species as quickly as you can. I understand that that’s the game, but it’s better to go deep on one Species rather than try to gradually bring them all up.
- Don’t hold on to your player power for too long. I’ve seen this referred to as The Megalixir Problem, as in Final Fantasy’s Megalixir, an extremely good but very rare item. If you used it too early, well, then you wouldn’t have it for when you really needed it. However, if you waited too long, you’d end the game with 5 Megalixirs and nothing worth using them up for. Neither option is very good, but the same problem pops up in Mini DiverCity. It’s very easy to hit a point in the game where you’ve lost and multiple players haven’t used their abilities. That means they misplayed, slightly. Abilities are free-to-use. You should use them. Don’t hold on to them for too long.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme / art. I’m a big fan of nautical / aquatic games, in general, and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s bright, it’s colorful, and it features a wide variety of delightful sea creatures. It might be a bit macabre in that if you fail to save them they’re extinct forever, but, I mean, it does help that the game has legitimate stakes, I suppose. Plus there’s a variant where you only communicate with diver signs, which is very pleasant. And it’s essentially a Captain Planet filler episode as a card game, so I’m really here for it.
- Very portable. It’s a very tough game in a very small box, which I respect. Good to take with you.
- The quick playtime is nice. Usually it’s because you lost, but, I mean, it’s easy to play quickly. It’s also easy to set up, and enough people I know have played Hanabi or Arkham Ritual or Pikoko or some other “don’t look at your cards” game that it’s becoming easier to teach this without it being a massive paradigm shift for new players.
- The character art is very diverse, as well. That’s kind of a must-have for me, these days, so I’m glad to see that they went above and beyond with it. Makes me want to show the game to my friends a lot more (and play it a lot more), so that’s all good.
- It’s tough, but it manages to capture the tension of tough decisions quite well. I definitely struggle with what the right choice is on my turn pretty frequently, and that’s interesting! I like that a lot, to be fair. I need to spend more time thinking about tension in games and how the games that I like properly capture it, moving forward.
- I’m mixed on the difficulty. On one hand, it’s really good that it offers a variety of difficulty levels for players, but on the other, I think the basic version might be a smidge too hard? My group struggled our first couple games, and I worry that may turn off less experienced players who don’t want to keep pushing against it to try and eventually win. The Industrialist (competitive) variant is even more difficult, so I’d just recommend staying off of that unless someone hates cooperative games or is just looking for a real challenge. I may just use the Snorkeling difficulty without the other Beginner variant changes.
- It’s slightly difficult to remember what all of the fish are called. The one advantage that Hanabi has (for people that can see all the colors) is that the colors are a bit better-known
- This runs the risk of ending up in the same dark place as Hanabi. I think Meeple Like Us also dislikes Hanabi, but for slightly different reasons than I do. I used to like it more, and I got in with a crowd that was aggressively chasing the dragon of like, getting a perfect score every time. They were also kind of … mean about it? They’d specifically note to players what the “correct” play should have been. It was super alienating to new players and made a lot of people uncomfortable, as one does. I think that Mini DiverCity has some nice features in place to avoid that (you tell the player their entire hand, for instance, rather than just one type), but I worry that the decisions of who to tell and when to use player powers can still incentivize crappy players to be jerks. That said, it’s not the game’s fault if you have a not-great play group; it’s just worth being aware of.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I quite like Mini DiverCity! I’m naturally drawn to games with neat / novel themes, and Sphere Games has managed to wrangle me again (after the quite surprising BrilliAnts a year or so back). Not only have they gotten a fun game with a good theme, but the art is super nice and really makes the game pleasant to look at on the table, which I also appreciate. There’s still some tension in my brain about games where you can’t see your cards, sure, but I think this one has a few advantages over Hanabi, the biggest being that you know your whole hand when you’re informed of it. This means that there’s no wrong way to give information, even if people are frustrated that you may have given the wrong person information. That can be a bit intense, so I might just endeavor to only play this with people who are willing to be supportive during these games. Either way, if you’re looking for a fairly simple but very challenging game to take on the go, or a beautiful cooperative game without a ton of overhead, I’d say Mini DiverCity is worth checking out!