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

Amtgard – A Game of Boffers and Role Play

Amtgard is a live-action fantasy roleplaying and boffer combat game primarily based in Texas, though Amtgard has spread across the United States to more than 29 states and several foreign countries. There are more than 16 Kingdoms worldwide, with new groups constantly spawning.

Florentine (two swords) versus Sword and Board (single sword with shield)

Florentine (two swords) versus Sword and Board (single sword with shield)

The motto for this game is “Where Your Imagination Begins.” The current Monarch of the Kingdom of the Wetlands, Erin Forsaken, the Fire Giant King, says, “Amtgard holds a place for everyone whether it be fighting, creating, designing, helping, writing, singing, doesn’t matter, we got something for you to do.” Obviously there are people around the world who feel the same way, and come together to share their interests at local parks and larger gatherings.

"Boars" for a Royal Hunt Game

“Boars” for a Royal Hunt Game

Amtgard even has it’s own Wiki, where groups from the smallest park to the largest Kingdom, individuals, Households and Fighting Companies, are all represented. There are online photo albums full of images (like those seen here), how-to’s and instructional videos, and even arts and sciences competitions.



Armoring up

Armoring up – though not everyone wears armor!

The current ruleset and local Corporas (from the Latin for “body of law”) are all available online to help those with an interest get an idea of how things are run. While each Kingdom may adhere to some differences in how they are run, there is only one ruleset. This allows players from one area to be able to play effectively in another area without a lot of hassle.



Storytelling is an art form in Amtgard. There are bardic competitions and revels.

Storytelling is an art form in Amtgard. There are bardic competitions and revels.

Events range from weekend long camping events with tournaments, games, and a feast, to individual park events that might include battle games, tournaments, feasts, arts and sciences competition, teaching leathercraft or chainmail, storytelling and music, and so much more.





A Knight of the Realm

A Knight of the Realm


One enterprising young group in Texas is hosting a monthly Court Night, where players may come together in a decorative setting to enjoy some live action role play in their best garb and with their courtliest gear and manners. You can find out more about this event on their Facebook page.




The Duchy of Ironwood and visitors

The Duchy of Ironwood and visitors

Speaking of Facebook, most of the Kingdoms and chapters have pages on Facebook, using them for volumes of communication, role play, current calendars and event announcements.

Come play a game where your imagination can run wild!


— Ann Cathey
Photos by Denah hap Tugruk (Cat Osborne)