Review: Gem Rush (Board Game)25 Feb 2019 0
Review: Gem Rush (Board Game)
Released 10 Nov 2018
If you want to consign your game to anonymity and a life of wandering aimlessly in the darkest depths of the App Store, then naming it Gem Rush should do the job nicely. To be fair, the horribly generic title is inherited from the physical board game, and in the world of tabletop games, the words 'gem' and 'rush' can actually be mentioned in the same breath without everyone’s eyes glazing over. Gem Rush does actually task the players with wandering dark depths. However, this is because the players are dwarves and we all know that they like nothing better than exploring underground caverns and collecting treasure.
Gem Rush is a game for one to seven players and can be played either cooperatively or competitively. At the start of the game, all of the players begin in the central cavern; the rest of the mine is unexplored. The starting cavern has several exits but to pass through one of them you will have to pay the correct combination of gems. Pass through an exit and the next room will be revealed. The dwarf who discovered the new room then has the option to rotate it to confirm its final orientation. Some exits will only require a single gem to pass through but score just one point. Other exits may require the player to spend half a dozen gems but the points rewarded will be far more impressive. The first person to reach the target score (which is usually twenty points but can be changed) is declared the winner.
You begin the game with four cards; each shows two different treasures, most of which will be coloured gems. You want to try and use your cards as efficiently as possible. If an exit requires a blue and a black gem, then playing a single card that shows both a blue and a black gem is the optimum way to go. You may have to spend two cards, one with a blue gem and one with a black but in this case, the other two depicted gems will be wasted.
Apart from gems, your cards may show other treasures. Diamond dust is a wild resource and can count as a gem of any other colour. Orichalcum has the potential to score extra points, whilst echoglass will copy the colour of another gem that was played at the same time. Finally, warp stones will let you immediately teleport and build at an exit of your choice.
All of the caverns have a special ability; some of these, like the mine carts, are free to use and let you rapidly move around the mine. Usually, your dwarf will have only three movement points, and later in the game when the mine expands in size, mine carts are an effective way of getting around. Most of the other special abilities will end your turn but they do offer ways of acquiring more gem cards. Some allow you to keep drawing from the deck until you uncover treasures of a specific type. Then there are rooms that require you to exchange treasures for different ones. Others are blind draws from the card deck and some are even more risky, causing you to draw a set number of cards and only keeping cards of a specific type.
This may mean that you end up empty-handed, which will have you knotting your beard in frustration. Overall, there are a wide variety of rooms and as the map expands you will have a satisfying range of options. The gem currency system is definitely more luck based than in a game like Splendor. There is certainly less opportunity for forward planning, but this unpredictability forms a big part of Gem Rush’s charm.
The cooperative game introduces a time limit, as at the end of each turn three cards are removed from the deck. This means that you have twenty-five turns to score as many points as possible. It works well enough; you can even invite AI players to help you out. However, it still feels like a missed opportunity to add some much-needed interaction to proceedings. Maybe if the players were allowed to swap cards or combine their abilities like in Pandemic it would have been more interesting.
The interface is very professional, allowing the user to spin and zoom the map to their heart’s content. It obligingly facilitates your actions; finding the quickest routes and automatically selecting the correct colours when you play echoglass cards. Graphically the game remains close to the board game. Discovering new caverns and watching the mine network grow in size feels very satisfying. The black gems can be difficult to make out and the icons are a little small. Thankfully, tapping on a card will bring up a full description of the room’s power so it isn’t really a big issue. The weedy music is more of a let down; it plays on a short loop and quickly becomes tedious. One glaring omission is that after the decent tutorial, you are left high and dry, as there isn’t a separate breakdown of the rules. I do not want to have to watch an entire tutorial just to clarify a single rule.
Even on the most difficult of the three levels, the AI doesn’t really put up that much of a fight. You will either want to play locally against friends or sign up to play online. Games can be either competitive or cooperative, and you will find an impressive range of options. You can choose to play real-time games with a range of different time limits. Or, you can play asynchronously with either twelve or twenty-four hour deadlines. It is just a pity that the online side of the game is so sparsely populated at the moment.
Gem Rush is easy to pick up and play, with games taking less than fifteen minutes to complete. The app has a comprehensive range of options and worked without any problems. Not many games have both cooperative and competitive modes of play, although some more content such as a campaign mode for the solo player would have been appreciated. The lack of player interaction and fairly high reliance on luck means that some turns can pass without you being able to accomplish anything. However, the game remains fun and satisfying with the last few turns growing increasingly tense.