Like all the games in the series, GEM consists of thirty skinny cards in a box the size of a pack of gum. As I already mentioned, it's an auction game. You are bidding on gems that you then have to leverage for money and points.
Each round starts out with setting out cards with gems on them, usually two gems per card. Everyone starts with three coin cards, worth one, two and three coins. Auctions are once around and you don't have to say which card you're going for.
Here's the thing. Each card has a red number and a green number on opposite ends. You get the gems with the red number, meaning they are invested. You have to pay that amount at the end of the round to turn the card to be green number, now they are leveraged. Then you can use the gems for bidding and only leveraged cards are worth points in the end. In the last round, you do get the card already leveraged. At the start of each round, you get your coins back but if you spent a gem card in a bid, it has to be leveraged again.
Leveraged, by the way, apparently means borrowing money based on the value of a property. So, if I understand it right, you're actually going deeper and deeper into debt as the game goes on.
You get one point per gem, two points to you share a majority in a type of gem and three points if you have the sole majority in a type of gem. Most points wins.
When I heard other players swearing at the start of the last round, I knew the game was good.
What really makes GEM work is the scoring. The extra points for majorities is a big deal, a game determining deal. And there are few enough of each type that one stone can make or break a set. Which means that the auctions can turn into a real fight.
I have been concerned that it would be too easy for players to go bankrupt or fall behind. And the economy of the game is tight. But the way the coins reset themselves and the fact that you have to pay to leverage the gems makes it very hard for someone to just run away with the game.
In general, I believe that the Pack O Game series does a great job exploring and expanding the micro game. Over the last few years, designers have been pushing past the idea that a micro game has to be a simple filler and creating games that have more depth and weight.
GEM might do the best job of this out of all the games in the first set of Pack O Game. It feels like a 'full-sized' game, one that would see regular rotation on a game night.
I went into GEM with high hopes but I was prepared to be disappointed. Instead, GEM was even better than I hoped.