It can be hard to take games with word play in their titles seriously - Shear Panic (Fragor), Pairs (Cheapass Games), Mow Money (Mayday), Deck-building The Deck Building Game (Dice Hate Me) - but some, like Reef Encounter (R&D Games), rise above this handicap and go on to great acclaim. Sphere Games' DiverCity, and its scaled down offspring we're reviewing here, Mini DiverCity, tread this line and just about pull it off: both see deep sea divers diving to ensure diversity and that businesses do not encroach on the sea. As well as the premise, both use the same colourful art and central mechanic.
In Mini DiverCity, one to six players are divers trying to save twelve marine species from extinction. By playing Species cards they can bring them closer to survival; but, as in Hanabi (Abacusspiele), their hands face the other players, meaning cooperation is essential to choose the right card to play. Before each turn, one or two bad things happen from an Industry deck: a species might move closer to extinction at random or by choice; and/or one or two hotels might be developed on the coastland. As with many cooperative games, there is a single way to win - here, saving a set number of species - and multiple ways to lose: if five species go extinct (four at harder settings); if all six hotels are built; or if the Species deck runs out.
On your turn, you have three options: let another player know what they hold in hand by using a 'walkie-talkie'; play a card to move a species closer to survival; or play a card to reclaim land from a hotel. As you can imagine, deciding on which card to use for the second and third actions is much easier if someone has already helped you with the first. Some single-use player powers can help out, though most are little more than a fixed extra action.
The win/lose condition at the centre of the game is an array of zero-sum equations where players must concert to move species to survival before the Industry deck's random recklessness does for them. Though heavily abstracted, it is a solid set up for a short cooperative game and creates a fair degree of tension, but it does lack in variety. While games do not feel scripted, repeat plays will reveal little new as the heuristics are quickly learned.
That's not to denigrate the worthy ecological message here from designer Maxime Tardif about damage being done to wildlife by industry and development, particularly that in our oceans. Indeed, my son was very much up for saving the various aquatic beasties the same way he wanted to save the world from the coronavirus in Pandemic (Z-Man Games). My wife - a scientist who works in biodiversity - was attracted by the theme but found the small box contained too few ways for her to engage.
Mini DiverCity has a sound core in both its ethics and its mechanics. As an occasional family play or, better, a didactic one in the right environment, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. In the long term though, the lack of variation beyond difficulty settings is an issue: Pandemic, being a big box game, solves this easily with its myriad mini-puzzles; but titles like the evergreen Hanabi do still prove small box games can punch above their weight in this regard.
(Review by David Fox)