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GEM DEALER

Reviewed by Herb Levy

GEM DEALER (Gryphon Games, 3-5 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes; $24.99)

 

Reiner Knizia has carved out for himself an enviable reputation. Not only has he established himself as an acknowledged master of game design, but he has also become the “recycling king”. Knizia has shown an uncanny knack for being able to repackage and resell many of his earlier games with an amazing adroitness. Such is the case with Gem Dealer.

Gem Dealer began its “game life” as Attacke (FX Schmid, 1993), a card game with a jousting theme. It later received a second life when GMT Games released it as Ivanhoe (Spring 2001 GA REPORT). In its Ivanhoe incarnation, the jousting theme was kept but added to that were some special cards to give a bit more sophistication to the play possibilities. Now, as Gem Dealer, the game returns to its roots and its more simplified play but, in anothertransformation, abandons jousting and medieval times in favor of a completely new and different theme aided and abetted by a heightened production value.gemdea3

The new theme is gem collection and the box that holds Gem Dealer comes with a window that displays (to great advantage) the gems over which the players will compete. There are 25 attractive acrylic gems (5 each in red, blue, purple, green and clear), 96 gem cards (18 in each of the five different colors) along with 6 wild cards [3 each with values of 7 and 10]). The goal is to be the first player to acquire four different colored gems.

The gem deck is shuffled and a hand of five cards dealt to all except for the starting player who begins with a hand of four. The remainder of the deck becomes the draw pile. The starting player now chooses ONE of the gems to become the gem that will be up for bid by the players.

Bidding is straightforward. A player may lay down one or more cards from his hand of the matching gem color. That constitutes his bid. He/she then draws one card from the draw deck to replenish his hand and end his/her turn. Then, in clockwise order, other players may lay down cards of the same color to exceed the first bid or pass, drawing one card when ending the turn. Once you pass, you are out of the bidding and all displayed cards discarded. Once all but one player has passed, the remaining player, instead of drawing a card as normal, gathers up the gem. He now declares the next gem up for auction and play continues. Two twists modify the game mechanics here: the wild cards and the “concealed” bid.

As mentioned, wild cards come in two denominations: 7 and 10. Although the first bid is required to always be a card of the appropriate color, one or more of the 7 cards may be played in every auction. The 10 card is a bit more restrictive and potentially risky. Only one of these may be played per auction and, if that player has miscalculated his strength or those of his opponents and loses the bidding, the penalty is significant; one of that player’s already won gems is lost! (In a game when victory requires four gems, losing one like this can be deadly.)

Once and only once per auction, a player may play FACE DOWN one or more cards (regardless of their color). This allows you to continue bidding even when you’ve run out of the “right color” but there are serious drawbacks. All face down cards only count as 1 each and, of course, you only receive one card at turn’s end leaving you potentially weaker for the next round of bidding. For this reason, a concealed bid works best when used to gain that fourth and final gem for the win or stop an opponent from picking up his or her final gem.

Once a player has amassed four different color gems, the game ends immediately with that player the victor.

Gem Dealer is a quick play, a filler fitting in with other Knizia designs in the Gryphon series (Money and High Society) as well as Dorra’s For Sale (reviews of all of them to be found this issue). Gem Dealer is, by far, the lightest in game play of the bunch as well as the most eye-catching (thanks to those sparkling acrylic gems). For that reason, gamers who want more meat to their gaming should hunt up a copy of Ivanhoe. But with a game table filled with younger gamers? That’s where Gem Dealer truly shines. – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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