Gem Dealer

Gem DealerWith all due respect (and no small amount of admiration) to Charles Darwin and the entire field of biology, I must submit my own theory of human evolution. Humans evolved not from a line of apes, but rather from magpies.

My evidence? Reiner Knizia’s sparkling card game called Gem Dealer.

Even before you open the box, the shiny gems beckon to you from a little window cut out of the lid. They clatter invitingly, these rough-cut plastic jewels of red and green and blue and purple and white. The 25 gems (five of each color) actually make starting a game difficult because everyone wants to just mess with them instead of listening to the directions.

If you can get your friends to take their grubby little hands off the bright plastic baubles, you will have a chance to explain that the goal of the game is to gather four of the five gem-colors. In order to do this, players must use the cards to bid on a gem.

The bidding process is my second piece of evidence that humans have a strong avian connection. If you’ve ever seen two or three crows squabbling over the same bit of food, you will recognize the behavior patterns you see in the bidding process. One dances in, another knocks the prize away, one backs off, another pecks again, and finally one of the birds swoops away with the crumb.

But instead of crumbs there are colored gems.

And players dance with their cards.

The cards correspond to the gem colors: five colored suits numbered 2-7 with some wild cards thrown in to shake things up. A player starts the bidding on one colored gem by revealing one or more cards of that color. In clockwise fashion, the other players either raise the bid by revealing a higher combination of cards, or pass and sit out the rest of the round. Once everyone passes, the player with the highest bid wins the gem. All bid cards are discarded and the winner starts the next round of bidding.

There are a few complications with wild cards and playing cards face down, but the game revolves around outbidding your opponents (always satisfying) and recognizing when to cut your losses and bow out. Players are constantly drawing new cards from the deck so it is impossible to run out of cards, BUT it is possible to use all of your cards on one gem color and then be stuck with only one or two crappy cards for the next few rounds. It is also satisfying to know that someone will win a gem at the end of the round. This is not a game that drags. Each round has a winner and, pretty soon, someone is going to get the four gems they need.

Getting a gem is fun. Collecting that fourth gem despite the desperate bidding of your opponents—major fun.

Gem Dealer was designed by Reiner Knizia with art provided by Paul Niemeyer. Gem Dealer is published by Gryphon Games, © 2008.

William Bain, Games Taster

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