Thursday, August 09, 2007

The News in Reviews / Really Old Puzzler Answer / Old Puzzler Answer / New Fortnightly Puzzler

A Negative Review of Gemlok

I usually don't write negative reviews. I like to encourage game playing through positive reviews. That is, I play several games until I find one I enjoy; then I write about it. Today, I'll break this pattern somewhat with a review of the game Gemlok.

A current Mensa Select winner of 2007, Gemlok is a dice game played with pawns and a game board. Produced by the folks from Pywacket Games (nice folks, by the way), Gemlok is the second product of PG to get the Mensa Select seal of approval. Their first game Keesdrow ('wordseek' backwards) is their first (and infinitely more interesting) game to win the award.

The object of Gemlok is to get the most points. The game board is covered with squares of varying values (1 to 9); each of the squares also corresponds to a gem picture (9 is a diamond, for example), though like any theme just slapped on, it doesn't ever feel like you're doing anything but look at the numbers. Land on the high numbers, and stay on them till the end of the game; that's about it.

Each player gets 8 pawns. With the dice, players move their pawns around the board, aiming to land on the high numbers. Players bump other pawns as well in an effort to be on the best spots. After 10 rounds, the player with the highest score wins.

The movement is the most interesting in Gemlok, and sadly, it gets old pretty quick. The two dice are six-sided and have various strange-looking arrows. On five sides of each die, you'll find arrows that go straight ahead and arrows that bend diagonally and combinations of both. On the sixth side of each die, you'll find the title of the game "Gemlok." When you roll an arrow, you must move one of your pawns in the precise pattern on the die. If you bump someone at the end of your movement, you may send it three spots away in any direction. When a you roll a Gemlok, you must flip one pawn over; this pawn is locked down wherever it is; it cannot move any longer but it cannot get bumped either.

Basically, players roll the dice to get a set of flexible instructions. If two arrows come up, a player must move either two pawns once or one pawn twice. If an arrow and a Gemlok come up, a player must do both in any order. If two Gemloks come up, two pawns must be locked, even if the only options are locking down pawns on worthless spots (the exception to this is the first turn in which case you get to roll over).

First of all, Gemlok only really works with four players. Playing two players isn't at all compelling, and playing three players seems too unbalanced. Second and most important, I didn't feel any connection with the game turns, including my own. Roll, move, bump, get bumped, Gemlok. There's just not a whole lot there.

If I have to play a dice game where I roll and bump, I'd rather play Sorry! or Wahoo (to name games along the same simplicity) than play Gemlok. To it's credit, there's a certain amount of fun in bumping people, but this is an old pleasure, hardly attributable to Gemlok. Yet in this latest iteration, the bumping is way too volatile. That is to say, I know what my chances are when trying to bump in Sorry! or Wahoo, and the game can get exciting. In Gemlok, you just take what you get and pass the dice.

I understand Keesdrow getting the Mensa Select award last year. While it uses old Boggle-style mechanics to make words, it's fresh enough to warrant closer study. But Gemlok? How in the world did this game get placed next to Gheos? Even the simple but elegant Quirkle is tarnished by being in the same listing.

Personal feelings aside, my bet is that even if you liked this game that you would probably like so many other games more that your money is best spent elsewhere.


Really Old Puzzler Answer

The answer to the 20 Questions from last month was none other than Gemlok. I was curious if anyone knew enough about it to guess it, but I guess it just wasn't a compelling enough exercise to go forward.


Old Puzzler Q & A

Q: Name a famous chessplayer whose name (three-letters long) is also the abbreviation of a famous radio program and a board game.

A: (given by Thomas Fulda) Mikhail Tal, This American Life, Take a Letter (although I had come up with The Amazeing Labyrinth)


New Fortnightly Puzzler

I'm thinking of a word using the letters E, L, S, and V. One letter is used 4 times, another 3 times, another 2 times, and the last 1 time to make a ten-letter word. The letters may be arranged in any order. What's the word?*

* I appreciate all responses to the puzzle, but please don't post an answer. If you feel the need to respond and would like to get your name posted, be the first to get the answer and write to Thanks!

No comments: