GEM – Small Cards, Big Game

If you are in the market for a small, pocketable game with a tremendous strategic punch, you just may find it in a series of card games created by Chris Handy and Perplext. The entire line is available online. Printed instructions are included with each game, and they also provide a PDF version and an online video explaining play mechanics.

IMG_5233The first of these little jewels we brought home to try out was GEM – a game of material management and financial strategy. Of course we would choose one with a higher complexity rating to start off with. Players are buying gemstones at auction, leveraging their value to buy more, and coming out with the highest number of gems and ultimately the greatest financial value at the end of six auctions.

IMG_5236As you can see by the photo, a lot of material is packed into a pocket-sized box. A sheet containing the full set of instructions, gemstone cards, and coin cards. That’s all you need. Well, that and a knack for changing strategies on the fly. It’s a material collection game in the pursuit of wealth: player with the most expensive GEM collection wins.

The instructions are not difficult to read, in spite of the small size. The initial layout is easy and allows for 6 auctions; it differs if you play with 2 or 4 players (6, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2 card pattern), or with three (all auction piles contain 3 cards).

Play begins with the player to left of the dealer making an opening bid — without revealing which card in the current auction s/he desires. Bidding goes around until everyone has bid. High bidder takes the card s/he wants, then places another bid and the rounds continue until all cards have been auctioned.

Sounds simple, right? That’s about as simple as this game gets. Each player must develop their own strategies for building wealth to win auctions with, while keeping as many gem cards as possible out of leveraging. A player may leverage gems already owned to buy more gems. It’s a delicate balance to maintain and not run a hand into hock so far that it cannot be reversed before the end of the game. Two players is definitely fun, though strategies for winning tend to reveal themselves pretty quickly. Playing with 3 or 4 offers a lot more in the way of competitive strategy, and is often quicker.

Scoring is a layered system. After removing all the still leveraged items from her/his hand, a player will count the number of stones in the collection. There are additional points for matching numbers of stones between collections, and for the highest number of a single gem type per collection. Highest cumulative score wins. There are more subtleties in the rules, though I have presented a basic overview for your edification. Don’t let the terms “finance,” “leverage,” or “assets” keep you away. They are the simplest terms to use in the world of GEM investment and accumulation of wealth.

This game was picked among the many available at the time for its small size, portability, and ability to be played on smaller flat surfaces. The cards have a high-quality playing card finish for durability, as the cards require a lot of handling while in play.

I recommend GEM to anyone who’s in the market for a sharp game that can be played most anywhere. It’s been an intelligent and fun experience.


— Ann Cathey

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