Previewing: GemPacked Cards

You know what’s annoying? Batteries. Sure they’re great at being efficient power storage devices whose very existence makes portable electronics possible, but every battery eventually runs out of juice at some point. Almost every person can relate to how frustrating it can be to have a battery up and die on you in the middle of doing something important like using a flashlight, or driving, or watching amusing cat videos.

Also, games.

Whether it was on your newest tablet or old-school latest Tiger Electronics handheld, odds are you’ve felt that sting of your game abruptly ending, making you long for the experience of a simple mobile game without the messiness of power consumption.

Enter GemPacked Cards by Pencil First Games – where Batteries Not Included is a good thing.

GemPacked Cards is a very short game for 2-5 players, clocking in at around 15-20 minutes. In this light set-matching affair, players are tasked with collecting as many ridiculously-cute Gems as they can before time runs out. At the end of the game, the person with the most valuable pile is the winner.

Indeed, part of what makes GemPacked work is its simplicity; GemPacked is streamlined, concise, and easy to follow.

A 4-player game layout Prototype Shown

A 4-player game layout
Prototype Shown

The game begins with a grid of either 9 or 12 Gem cards, depending on player size. With the exception of a few one-shot Action cards that crop up in the deck, every Gem card shows one of seven differently colored Gems, each of which is either a Square or a Diamond. Three of these colors are primary, three are secondary, and one is wild. Each Gem is also slightly anthropomorphized to give the game some additional flavor. The Gems of GemPacked are the gaming equivalent of putting googly eyes on something, but for reasons that escape the normal bounds of logic, it just works.

Additionally, GemPacked also doles out a handful of Goal and Action cards. Like Gems and Diamonds, these generate points, but they are both harder to obtain and worth far more points. Moreover, these cards once taken are not replaced.

Final score of this player: xx points. Prototype Shown

Final score of this player: 20 points
Prototype Shown

To begin claiming cards, you need Pips. Annoyingly precious Pips. These little moon-like circles act as the game’s main resource. At the beginning of the game a number of them are randomly laid out face-down. When you start your turn in GemPacked, the first thing you do is randomly draw two Pips. (Note: a planned stretch goal intends to upgrade this process to a drawstring bag). When a player is no longer able to draw enough Pips from the pile, this triggers the final round of the game – which often comes sooner than you think.

Two Blue Pips buys this Blue Square Prototype Shown

Two Blue Pips for a Blue Square
Prototype Shown

After Pip selection, you’re able to take a handful of actions in whatever order and frequency you wish, but they all boil down to buying and / or selling cards on the board. To buy a Square, you need two Pips that combine to make that color, and to buy a Diamond, you need to combine two Squares.

Keeping with the game’s innate ethos of simplicity, selling Squares you own also works in reverse: you can either gain Pips of its color or of its component colors. Selling Squares, while temporarily relieving you of a couple points, allows you the flexibility to pivot your resources into more lucrative options such as the valuable Goal cards. The game’s Wild color works in the same way as any other except that Wild Squares and Diamonds are more expensive to purchase, requiring either Wild components or upwards of four normal Pips/Squares respectively.

Two Yellow Squares become a Diamond. With wings! Prototype Shown

Two Yellow Squares become a Diamond. With wings!
Prototype Shown

The heavy luck components of GemPacked won’t be everyone’s cache of diamonds, but there’s a couple board-clearing situations that can reset the Gem board under certain circumstances, so it’s unlikely that players will ever be truly locked out for long. This can level the playing ground in mixed-age groups, but it could also open the door for some frustration.

Once you have exhausted your options for the turn, any empty spots in the grid are replaced with new cards from the deck. Then, it’s the next player’s turn to see what they can do with their pile of Pips and Pippas. Before you know it though, those little Pips will have all grown up into Diamonds, and it’s time for a final score.

At the end of this ride, the one thing that’s for certain is that the game behaves exactly as it looks on the surface. GemPacked is a filler game for filler games, ideal when you’re waiting on that late member of your group or when you need a quick distraction that can accommodate groups of almost any age range. It doesn’t introduce any groundbreaking mechanics, but what it does, it does particularly well. In fact, one of the major strengths of the design is that it understands itself – it knows that it’s a light game, and it doesn’t try to be anything more or less. GemPacked essentially is a mobile app unplugged.

If you like games that are very short and to-the-point, GemPacked Cards won’t disappoint, but be careful if you come looking for substance as you won’t find it among these dancing Gems. It’s basic ruleset works in its favor, and the artwork is easily more than enough to keep most players engaged over the course of the game. It also allows players to make basic decisions and recognize opportunities – but there’s also little time or room for long-term planning. Still, Gempacked Cards has all the right material to be a quick and highly visually appealing family game or light puzzle game that won’t burn up a lot of energy. It will however need a little help getting charged up over on its Kickstarter.

Seriously. Stupidly cute...

Seriously. stupidly cute…


Photo Credits: GemPacked Cards cover by Pencil First Games.