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GEMLOK

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Pywacket LLC, 2-4 players, ages 7 and up, about 30 minutes; $19.99)

 

From the very earliest of times and from the earliest times of our lives, human beings tend to like sparkly things. Of all the sparkly things that surround our existence, gems rank pretty high and they continue to rank high and be the focus of our attention in Gemlok.

Gemlok comes with two dice, 32 pawns (8 each in blue, red, purple and green), a score pad, nicely illustrated rulebook and a mounted board. The board is a 14 x 14 grid which displays on many of the squares a colorful gem. These gems have a number value, ranging from 1 (mainly on the outskirts of the board) to 9 (found at the board’s center). Your goal is to claim enough spaces to amass the highest total when the game ends.

Each player begins with a set of 8 pawns in their chosen color. One side of the pawn is blank; the other side displays the word “Gemlok” on it. The pawns are arranged on the board row closest to each player, blank side up. And now the first player rolls the dice.

The dice in Gemlok are different than you might expect. Although six-sided, they display NO numbers! Instead, five sides of each die show a distinctive pattern of movement. One side shows the word “Gemlok”. Players must move their pawns in the directions shown on the rolled dice. One pawn may be moved for each die or one pawn may move in the directions rolled of both dice. The goal here is to maneuver your pawns onto scoring spaces (those with gems on them) and, preferably, high scoring spaces. But there’s more to the game than that.gemlok

Gemlok allows for a significant degree of maneuvering through “bumping”. Bumping occurs when the movement of your pawn ends on a space occupied by another pawn. If an enemy pawn, you may move that pawn up to three spaces in any direction! (Nothing like bumping your opponent from a 9 gem space to an empty space that scores nothing!) Should you end a move on one of your own pawns, you may bump your pawn, again three spaces in any direction, onto a welcoming, high scoring, but by rule, unoccupied, space. Only one bump per move; there is no “domino” effect here. But you’re not always vulnerable to bumping. And that’ where those Gemloks come in.

Should you roll a Gemlok, you must flip over one of your pawns (to its Gemlok side). That pawn is now frozen in place. It cannot be moved or bumped for the rest of the game. So, if you happen to be standing on a 9 gem space, you’ve done yourself proud because you cannot be shoved off that space.

Play continues until one of two things happen. If one player has rolled enough Gemloks to lock ALL of his pieces, the game ends immediately! This is not too likely an occurrence but in a few of our playtesting sessions, this almost happened! More likely, the game gets “called”. After 10 complete rounds (diligently recorded on one of the provided scoresheets), a player who feels he has claimed enough gems to earn him a win may call for the end of the game. At that point, every other player has one last turn to try to improve his score. After that, scores are totaled. The player who has claimed the most points in gems wins the game!

Gemlok is one of those games that manages to combine the right amount of luck and strategy. The roll of the dice is there but it is mitigated to a certain extent by the large number of pawns a player has at his command allowing you a choice of moves. The obvious goal here, of course, is to try to control as many spaces in the center as possible since that’s where you’ll find the 9s, 8s, 7s and 6s but sometimes a few 4s and 5s will prove to be the winning margin. There is also the question of timing, of knowing just WHEN do call for a game end and how many gems under your control will be enough to secure victory. But the game really boils down to a tactical challenge as you try to put into play the best moves available from the dice rolls.

Gemlok is a light, family friendly game, helped by its colorful presentation and user-friendly rulebook and illustrations, that has consistently received a lot of table time at our sessions which speaks well of its quality and play value. – – – – – – Herb Levy


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