Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Quick Review - GemPacked Cards - Kickstarter Preview

GemPacked Cards
Designer: Eduardo Baraf 
Artist: Katherine Waddell
Publisher: Pencil First Games
Quick Review - GemPacked Cards - Kickstarter Preview

GemPacked Cards is the latest game by Eduardo Baraf.  His previous games include Lift Off! Get me off this Planet and The Siblings Trouble, both successfully funded on Kickstarter.  Lift Off has already been delivered to backers and The Siblings Trouble is currently in production.  Eduardo is also making a name for himself as a game reviewer with his video review channel Edo's Reviews (I did a guest review on his site last year, a rare video review by me).  GemPacked Cards continues this line of family friendly casual games.

GemPacked Cards is LIVE on Kickstarter through September 22, so be sure to check out the campaign!  $25 (plus shipping) will get you the full game, including any stretch goals. There's a PnP version of the game on the campaign page and even an iOS version that you can play on your phone, right now!


GemPacked Cards is a fun, quick, easy to learn game all about buying and trading gems.  At first glance the game seems to have a lot in common with the popular Splendor, but a closer look reveals that the game has plenty of unique mechanics and stands on its own.

In GemPacked Cards players are trying to help Geminos escape in rocket ships.  The rules don't say what the Geminos are trying to escape from, but that's not critical to the game play.  The game is an abstract puzzle game and the artwork and theme, cute as they are, don't drive the mechanics at all. In the game, players use pips that they draw randomly from a pile (as opposed to the specific selection of gems in Splendor) in order to purchase square gem cards, which are in turn used to purchase diamond gem cards.  There are also several types of bonus cards that are purchased with different combinations of pips, squares, and diamonds.  Each card is worth points and the goal is to have the most points by the end of the game.
Cuteness abounds!
Components & Setup:

There are two types of components, circular pip tokens and square cards.  The pips all have different colored circular gems on one side and then either a yellow or blue background on the other side.  Yellow pips are used in a 2 player game and then a variable number of blue pips are added depending on the number of players.  There are three types of cards, gem cards with either yellow or blue backs, bonus cards, and rocket cards (another type of bonus).  Depending on the number of players you'll play with either the yellow cards or both the yellow ad blue cards.

Game setup is pretty quick and easy.  Depending on the number of players you'll play with a different number of cards and pips. In a 2-3 player game you'll set up a grid of 3x3 cards and 3x4 cards in a 4-5 player game.  There are three types of bonus cards (Sun, Red Dwarf, and Nova) that cost either 3 or 5 pips or 3 squares.  The number of bonus cards in play changes from 2-6 depending on the number of players.  A number of rocket cards equal to the number of players plus one will also be in play.  The pips to be used are placed, face down, to a draw pile  (if stretch goals are hit for the Kickstarter campaign a cloth bag will be included, which will be super nice) and each player gets 2 pips to start.
Setup for a three player game.

On a player's turn they start by drawing two random pips from the draw pile.  Then the player can take as many actions as they like (or draw another pip if they pass on their actions).  Actions can be buying gem, bonus, or rocket cards, or selling square gem cards.  Once a player completes their turn they replace any gem cards purchased (bonus and rocket cards are not replaced).  The game ends when one player draws the last pip and then everyone, including that player, gets one last turn.

Purchasing cards is a super simple formula.  Unlike in Splendor where cards are worth varying amounts of base gems, in GemPacked Cards all square gems are worth two pips and all diamond gems are worth two squares.  Bonus cards have their cost displayed in a series of gem icons.  But squares don't cost just any pips.  There are seven types of pips, each of the six primary and secondary colors as well as a rainbow colored wild pip.  These colors also follow to squares and diamonds.
As the game progresses players gain combinations that
can be used to buy other cards.
A square costs two pips of the same color, or (and this is where things get fun) for secondary colors you can also purchase a square by discarding two pips of colors that make up that secondary color.  So if you wanted to buy a green square you could either turn in two green pips or a blue pip and a yellow pip.  Likewise you can purchase diamonds the same way with square gems.  Wild pips and squares can take the place of any other color, and to buy a wild square or diamond you need to trade two wilds, or a wild and two different colors, or four different colors of the lower valued gem.

But wait, there's more to the fun!  Squares can always be sold back for more pips!  In addition to buying gems on your turn you can also discard squares that you've already earned to gain two pips that can be used to purchase that square.  So that green square you purchased for two green pips can be sold to earn yellow and blue pips.  If you had a blue and yellow pip in your stash already you'll now have enough to buy a yellow square and blue square, which could in turn be used to buy a green diamond, effectively turning a one point green square into a 3 point green diamond!  There are all sorts of crazy chain reactions that can take place.  And since you can take as many actions on your turn as you like, each turn is a real puzzle in determining the best way to shift around your gems to maximize your points.
Fun for kids and adults!
The only slightly confusing part of the game is with the wilds.  They're not too difficult to understand, but they've been the only part I've had to repeatedly explain to other players.  The confusion comes from the fact that sometimes a wild represents a single gem and sometimes it represents two different gems.  The rule is that a wild replaces a single gem of another color, or two gems of different colors can replace a single wild.  This is explained pretty clearly in the rule book, but I found it's still the part of the game that caused the most confusion.  It's also part of the game that makes for some of the most exciting gem exchanges though.  And once it finally clicks with players they love the additional choices and strategy that presents.

Final Thoughts:

I've played GemPacked Cards now with 2, 3, and 4 players and every game has been a ton of fun.  There's not a whole lot of player interaction since each turn is spent trying to solve your own puzzle (purchased cards are replaced at the end of each player's turn), but turns tend to go quickly.  Because of this the game scales well for different numbers of players.  I was a bit worried that analysis paralysis would be an issue, but the game is simple enough that even the most AP prone won't be able to ponder possibilities for more than a minute or two.  And best of all, it'll help teach kids (and adults) a bit about color mixing as they combine primary colored Geminos when buying and selling secondary colored Geminos.

The game is simple enough to play with younger kids, but has enough depth to be a good filler even for experienced gamers.  There will be lots of comparisons to Splendor because of the similar setup and theme, but this is a completely different game.  If you like Splendor you'll definitely want to check out GemPacked Cards.  If you don't like Splendor you'll still want to check out GemPacked Cards because it brings a completely different type of gameplay while still being accessible to new and experienced gamers alike.
Don't let the GemPacked cuteness turn
you off, there's a great game here!
GemPacked Cards is quick, simple, accessible, gorgeous, strategic, and most importantly fun!  It is definitely a winner and another solid entry in Pencil First Games' growing catalog of family friendly games.  Check it out on Kickstarter today!  http://bit.ly/EdoGPC

Preliminary Rating: 8/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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