What’s that I see shining in the dark? Could it be some sort of mystical gemstone?! Eureka! It is! Now that I have it, I’ll, uh… Make a new room with it! Hahahahahaa! As we all know, sometimes game mechanics don’t exactly translate to theme. “Gem Rush” falls neatly into that trend. But that’s okay; because if you look past that silliness, you just might find, well… A gem.
Designed by Jeremy Lennert
Art by Clark Miller
Published by Victory Point Games
In “Gem Rush” you are a Dwarf exploring an ancient mine and looking for precious stones. These titular gems come in the form of cards- most of which feature two gems. Most of the gems act as a currency, allowing players to place and orient new rooms; but some will have special effects (such as teleportation). The associated cost of playing a new room will vary, and is displayed on the edges of tiles already in play. Players will also start the game with a skill card, giving them access to a unique ability- more on this later.
You’ll begin your turn by discarding any extra gem cards over the hand limit of four. You may then move up to three spaces, build any number of rooms you’re able (earning victory point crystals), before finishing your turn by drawing gem cards or activating a room tile- which usually allows you to acquire more gem cards.
All of this results in an incredibly engaging game that plays fairly quickly, but features a expanding level of complexity as the game progresses. “Gem Rush” can be played both competitively and cooperatively, giving it a surprising amount of replayability.
Finally, I would like to note that the powers provided by the skill cards are not all evenly balanced. Depending on the room tiles that come into play, some skills can be easier to utilize; some are simply more powerful from the outset. I feel like it’s imperative to note that I don’t believe that this is a design flaw, but simply resultant from the flow of the game. Because of this, I highly recommend that players use the shared powers variant when playing competitively, especially with new players. The reverse is equally true for the cooperative play variant- I would always recommend playing with randomly assigned skill cards.
The rulebook is bit long, but it works well to clarify things. Overall, “Gem Rush” plays pretty easily- but early on the iconography can be a trouble spot. A new room can be confusing, and with 80 room tiles in the game (63 of which are unique), new rooms pop up frequently. There’s an index in the back of the rulebook to help with this. Once you familiarize yourself with the language of the title, icons become fairly easy to understand.
The cards and room tiles are nice and thick with a linen finish. I’m not confident that they’ll hold up over time, though. After a half dozen plays they are already showing minor signs of wear- there is a lot of reshuffling during each game. The box insert is also kind of a bummer, as it’s just a folded channel style insert. Both of these issues are pretty standard, though; as such they are forgivable.
The real disappointment in the box comes from the player standees. I am not a fan of standees to begin with; but these are more frustrating than usual. Most of the stands don’t grip the characters well, promising that they will fall off a few times during play. Another issue here is one of representation: out of seven characters available, only one is female. We have a lot of ladies in our game group who deserve to feel represented on the table. But worst of all, the standees are large enough to block view of the room tile, forcing players to move them around in order to read text and iconography. I’ve replaced them with some cheap pawns I found online.
Score – 8/10
Within our hobby there is an inherent level of presumed synonymity between filler and gateway titles. The fascinating thing is while “Gem Rush” lands squarely in filler territory, it lacks the simplicity of a gateway title. Ultimately, this is likely what will make the title such a compelling addition to your library. Simple to learn, easy to play- but with an intricacy that really shapes this game into something special.