is a simple auction game by Reiner Knizia, published by Gryphon Games.
Playing Time: 15-30 minutes
Gem Dealer is a card game with some extra bits.
The Cards: A set of 96 cards. Each depicts a gem in a specific color (red, blue, purple, green, clear, or wild) with a specific value (2, 3, 4, 5, or 7 for the normal gems; or 7 or 10 for the wild gems). The artwork on the cards is attractive, though it's the same on all the cards (other than color changes). The blue gem is a bit too purplish, which sometimes causes problems the first time you see one, but that's the only minor complaint on the components.
The cards are all medium to heavy weight with linen texturing.
The Gems: These 25 gems (5 in each of the colors) are attractive little acrylic bits. They're actually regularly shaped, but I find that everyone who looks at the game thinks they're not. They're also the beautiful highlight of the game bits.
Overall Gem Dealer is a pretty game. It earns a "4" out of "5" for Style.
The object of Gem Dealer is to collect gems in four of the five colors.
Setup: Each player is dealt a hand of five cards (other than the starting player who only gets four).
Starting an Auction: In order to win a gem of a specific color, you must start an auction in that color by playing one or more cards in the color.
Following the Bid: Each player thereafter either plays cards in the specified color of total value higher than the previous bid or else passes, dropping out of the auction entirely. If you pass, you turn in your cards played: they're lost.
Playing Secret Bids. Once per auction you can play one or more cards face down. It doesn't matter what color or number they are; instead they just are worth 1 each toward the total value of your bid.
Playing Wild Cards. The "7" and "10" wild cards can be played as a part of any auction. The "10" has two restrictions. First, you may only play one "10" per auction. Second, if a player playing the "10" loses the auction he must then give up a gem (if he has one).
Gaining Cards: Whenever you play card(s) or initially pass, you get to draw one new card for your hand.
Winning the Bid: When there's only one player left, he wins the auction. He takes a gem of the appropriate color (if he doesn't already have one) and then gets to start the next auction.
Winning the Game: When a player has 4 of the 5 gem colors, he wins.
Relations to Other Games
Gem Dealer is a redevelopment of the 1993 German game, Attacke. Other than components and theming, the two games seem to be largely identical, except the fact that the secret bid rules were listed as optional in the original game. Attacke has never been available on the American market, though a more complex redevelopment called Ivanhoe is. Unlike Gem Dealer, Ivanhoe has special action cards and varies the values of the different suits.
This is one of Knizia's many auction games. It's simpler than most of the rest, but may vaguely remind players of other auction games where everyone loses everything they bid, of which Taj Mahal is the most notable.
Gem Dealer is part of Grypon Games' "bookshelf series" of games, all of which are high-quality and quick fillers. (And all of which are numbered.) The other four games in this series released simultaneously with Gem Dealer are Roll Through the Ages, Knizia's High Society, For Sale, and Knizia's Money. This is, I think, the lightest of the five games published to date.
The Game Design
Gem Dealer is a very simple game. I thought it might be too simple at first, but all three groups of people that I've played it with have enjoyed it quite a bit, so on sum it's probably the right (light) weight for its (short) time.
The game's got two important decision points: what color to bid on; and whether to stay in an auction. They're both pretty important. The first one requires you to think about how an auction might benefit you and other players (and whether other players might be strong on the color in question or not). The second is a constant game of brinkmanship, as you have to decide when to spend your cards.
There's a considerable amount of luck in the game, particularly with the distribution of the six wild cards. It's probably appropriate for a game of this weight, but you should be warned of it if you're luck prone.
After consideration I decided that Gem Dealer was a strong game for its length and weight, and thus let it eke in an above average "4" out of "5" for Substance.
Gem Dealer is a very light auction game that forces you to balance card management and the brinkmanship of whether to get into a bidding war or not. It's a nice game as a filler.