It’s been a few years since I’ve visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, but I distinctly remember the last time I was surrounded by a multitude of aquatic species at their facility. For those of you that haven’t had the privilege, there are dive sessions happening all the time where one of the staff will submerge themselves and dispense some hands-on knowledge about the creatures around them.
What’s most memorable is that there was this lady who was circling the tank, obstructing everyone’s view while she took pictures of the diver with her iPad. It was a frustrating endeavor for all of us experiencing the aquarium that day, but please don’t let that dissuade you from visiting such an awesome place.
That being said, your view certainly won’t be obscured when you’re trying to save numerous species from extinction while playing Mini DiverCity by Sphere Games. You’ll have a front row ticket to witness sea turtles and hammerhead sharks being wiped away before your very eyes. That is, unless you save them!
Mini DiverCity: Gotta Save ‘Em All!
In the game you’re going to be cooperating with your fellow divers in a race to preserve aquatic critters before they’re brought to extinction by the greedy corporations. The catch is that you’re all diving in different parts of the island archipelago, and your communication is constrained to a walkie-talkie.
I’d describe this game as a mash-up of three others; take the limited communication aspect of Hanabi, sprinkle in the sinking tiles from Forbidden Island, and finish it off with the thematic zest of Pandemic, and we’ve got a Mini DiverCity stew going.
Each player has a hand of cards that they face away from themselves, towards the other players. Therefore, everyone has perfect information on the species available to play, minus the cards in their own hand. Memory and deduction are a component of this game, although there is a variant where players can put ‘known’ cards face-up on the table to limit the memory aspect (which I recommend playing with).
An extinction track sits in the center of the table, which is used to display the status of each species. Over the course of the game, the species tokens will ebb and flow from salvation to extinction, and when they hit one of the extremes–that’s it. This definitely creates a lot of tension and urgency for the divers; you’ll be constantly shifting focus towards the species in the most peril.
There are twelve species in total, and the rules pamphlet has a nice little educational blurb on each of them to help ground you in reality before you play. As an added bonus, I now know what a Nudibranch is!
Play alternates between the divers and the corporations. The divers have three actions they can perform:
- Play a card from their hand to move a species closer to salvation,
- Radio to one of their companions to tell them each card in their hand,
- Discard a species card from their hand to strip down a hotel.
Meanwhile, the three corporations are trying to turn a profit and their actions will eventually cause one of three losing conditions:
- If all six hotels are built, the divers lose,
- If a certain number of species go extinct before x species are saved, the divers lose,
- If a diver can’t pay a species card because the deck is empty, the divers lose.
Overall, the game is very quick to pick up and learn. It definitely gets classed as an airport game–something easy to toss in your backpack and play on the go. Now, it’s not going to work so well on the airplane itself, but you can certainly try to keep those species safe in the air if you want to.
Mini DiverCity: Saving the Planet is Tough
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you–this game is HARD. We’re talking difficult; like trying to write cursive with your non-dominant hand difficult. In our first three plays, we really didn’t even come close to restoring balance to the fragile ocean ecosystem that we were tasked to preserve.
As I mentioned earlier, there are a couple variants that I suggest using to assist you in your noble quest.
First off, if a diver knows a card in their hand, you should place it face up on the table in front of you. The reasoning for this is two-fold: you can stop reciting your cards like a mantra, and it also lets the rest of the table remember what knowledge you have regarding your hand. Having to recall your own cards plus what everyone else knows is a real challenge and makes it harder to focus on the rest of the game.
Secondly, I’d recommend counting up the number of times that each Hotel combination can be drawn. A good chunk of the tension in this game comes from the threat of revealing the last Hotel, and it would be nice to have a marker showing how many times each color has been revealed already. Again, this is information that a player can keep track of, but having it readily available puts everyone on equal footing and assists with decision-making.
If I were designing this ‘hotel tracker’, I’d make something similar to the extinction track where each Hotel is a token represented by their shell icon. These tokens would be flipped over (instead of the cards), and would move horizontally across the track as the cards are revealed. Mechanically, nothing changes with this tracker; it’s just a visual tool for tracking that aspect of the game.
Lastly, you can also play a variant where you disregard the top-most action on the Corporation cards for the cards that have multiple effects. Few things are as brutal as starting the game by drawing a card with THREE effects. Talk about starting with your head below water!
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a challenging co-op game, Mini DiverCity can fulfill that in spades. It’s a tough little game whose theme really emphasizes how difficult conservation efforts can be. Not only am I more appreciative of the work that other people do on that front, but I also realize that craning my neck around an iPad to look at some hammerhead sharks is a small price to pay to see these creatures in person.
You can add Mini DiverCity to your collection for about $20 by clicking here!
Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of Mini DiverCity by board game distributor PSI in exchange for an honest review.