You know, Monday I was so happy to be able to write a good review of High Society, because it was a Reiner game and I don't really like Reiner Knizia very much (we were OK after that big party where he kept us up all night playing 'Wang Chung' until dawn, but when his pet monkey violated my garden gnomes, that was the last straw). That review felt like a healing stream of good will, bringing us back together so that I could finally forget how the extermination in his attic sent all the raccoons to my house.
That healing stream is stopped up now, though. If there ever was flowing water, it has dried up like the swimming pool after he emptied the cat box into it and I had to have it drained. And it's not about the midnight fireworks or clown-shaped mailbox, either - it's all due to Gem Dealer.
This horrifyingly stupid bidding game is one of the worst examples of Reiner Knizia selling a game just because he's Reiner Knizia. No other game designer alive today could have sold this game to a publisher. It's like he didn't even try it before he sold it - just scribbled notes on a napkin, signed it, and got a fifty-thousand dollar advance.
The game is really simple. There is a huge pile of gems in the middle of the table - lots of really cool plastic nuggets in five different colors. One player starts, and he picks a color and bids on it. Everyone who bids loses their money, and the winner gets that gem. If you can get gems in four
different colors, you win. I've added my own additional winning condition - if you can figure out how to erase the profanity Reiner put in my lawn with fertilizer, you win.
The problem is, you don't have enough cards to be competitive in more than one or two colors, and there are wild cards that can be used to really blow you out of the water. Drawing cards is all luck, so you might wind up with a total powerhouse of cards, or you could sit there and watch one guy collect four gems in a row (this is actually the ideal scenario in Gem Dealer, because it ends the game and then you can stop playing). It's not like a decision is ever tricky - if you can up the bid, you should, and if you can't, there's not much you can do but draw a card. You don't have control unless you're the first bidder, and if you are the first to bid, you choose the color where you have the most points in your hand.
There might be strategy, but I sure as hell didn't see any. I never saw a single time when I had a tough choice to make, and if I didn't have enough to outbid, I didn't have a choice anyway.
The upside is, it's over a lot faster than that time Reiner's kids spent an afternoon screaming Woody Guthrie lyrics at each other in the back yard while my dog was recovering from hernia surgery. You can finish in less than ten minutes - which is, unfortunately, still more time than you're going to wish you had spent playing Gem Dealer.
The plastic gems are cool
Virtually no decision-making
Completely unbalanced luck
Stinks more than the limburger Reiner smeared in my garage
Don't buy Gem Dealer. And be glad you don't live next to this guy: