Designed by Sabrina Culyba, with art by Nim Ben-Reuven, Diatoms is an abstract pattern building game that's loosely themed around the shapes of diatoms (microalgae) found in the oceans.
The 1-4 players are drafting hexagonal 'water' tiles made up of six segments in various colours. From the three hexes you have in hand, you place one out adjacent to those already in position. The placement restriction is that every connected side with a colour on it must be adjacent to its matching colour. When you create an intersection of three hexes, you claim diatom shapes of the corresponding colours and in the shapes indicated by the number of connected segments in that colour: you take a circle for a single segment, oval for two segments, triangle for three, square for four and star for five. If you ever create an intersection where all six segments are the same colour then you choose whatever available diatoms you like in that colour up to the total value of six.
Creating patterns that earn you diatoms is only half the game, however. The diatoms you earn need to be placed out on your individual board. Each indentation on the board is designed to accept only one of two of the shapes. For each game there will be three 'judges' (cards that set out the scoring requirements). For the basic game, these will score you points for symmetry, number of diatoms of each colour and for the number of different shapes in each of the circles on your board. It can be a challenging puzzle to optimise your kaleidoscopic diatom placements to maximise your score but if you begin to find it less challenging after a couple of plays, you can step up the difficulty by substituting one of the 'guest judges' with their various more demanding requirements. And each of the 'guest judges' comes in two modes: on one side they just reward players that meet their requirements but on their 'persnickety' side they also impose penalties for placements of which they disapprove. In that regard they reminded us of 'Sandra' the factory manager in Vital Lacerda's Kanban (Stronghold Games/Eagle-Gryphon).
Diatoms is an abstract strategy game that's easy to play but hard to play well. You can play casually, just placing out your hexes to make the most productive intersection and making the best of the diatoms you collect, but you can also play more deliberately: working out what colour and shape of diatoms you need to maximise your score and seeking out the hex combinations that give you the specific diatoms you need. However you play tho', Diatoms is a satisfying experience, and one that works at all player counts.
Shown here on Board's Eye View is a preview prototype of Diatoms but hopefully even from this you can appreciate the beauty of the shiny diatom pieces. Diatoms has already completed a successful run on Kickstarter but Ludoliminal are still accepting late pledges at www.kickstarter.com/projects/ludoliminal/diatoms.