Gemblo

Reviewer Reviewed On Publisher Designer Published In Rating
January 7, 2006 DG Games Justin Oh 2005 7
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Gemblo (DG Games, 2005 - Justin Oh) was one of the surprise board game hits of 2005. For one thing, distribution was originally only in Korea, where the game was produced. When I first saw Gemblo, I didn't give it much thought, as it looked merely like a "mass market" game. Then, in a moment of boredom at a game café, I got it out and gave it a whirl. I played a two player game and immediately classified it as a "Blokus" clone. However, a few weeks later I was able to play the game with three players.

Then I played it again, and again, and again. It was rather addictive and tremendously fun with three, four, and six players. I found out that while Gemblo is similar to Blokus, it's a superior game in many ways and is one of the nicest looking games I own. The box is unwieldy and big, but other than that, Gemblo is one of the easiest, fun multiplayer abstract games I've played in a long while. It's fast, rewards good strategy, and can be taught quickly.

A large hexagonal board with a grid of hexagonal spaces on it is placed on the table. Each player takes a set of eighteen pieces in their color. These pieces are different block sculptures made up of one to five hexagons put together in various shapes. Players will use a certain amount of the board, depending on the number of players; and one player is chosen to go first.

On a player's first turn, they simply place one of their pieces on the board, so that one of its hexes is lying on their start hex. Play continues around the table. On a future turn, players must place another piece, following these rules:
- Each piece must be connected to another piece of that player's color, by following a line of apex.
- A player's piece may be adjacent to any other piece on the board, except their own color.
- Players cannot "jump" over an opponent's piece, although they may trace a line of apex between two adjacent pieces.
When a player cannot place a piece, they must pass for the remainder of the game. When all players have passed, then players add together the sum of the hexes in the pieces that they did not place. The player with the lowest total is the winner! (There is a complicated tiebreaker rule outlined in the book).

The game works perfectly for three, four, or six players. Two players can play the game by using two sets of colored pieces each. A person can play the game solitaire by either trying to form a specific shape outlined in the rulebook, or by simply being creative and forming whatever pictures they want.

Some comments about the game…

1.) Components: The pieces are supposed to resemble gems - and that they certainly do. They are translucent colors (clear, red, yellow, green, blue, and purple), which when placed on the upraised plastic board really create a pretty picture. People walking by will stop and watch simply because the game is so attractive. The game comes with stickers of different coat of arms that add the pasted on theme (of knights working out their war-like tendencies). It also comes with plastic bags to store all of the pieces, and everything fits nicely in a cardboard insert that comes in the hexagonal box. That's the only problem with the game; because the box is a large hexagon, it is very difficult to fit it on a game shelf, or ship it somewhere. But with Gemblo, I'm willing to make an exception; it's the perfect "coffee" table game and is a prominent display in my board game collection.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is ten pages of full-color rules, showing detailed explanations and examples of how the game works. The rules are obviously those that are translated, but I don't think anyone will have a problem learning them, because the illustrations and examples are very clear. The game is a little tricky to explain for the first time - explaining that pieces need to be able to be connected by an apex. Once people get that down, the rest is simple.

3.) Strategy: An obvious strategy is to place the largest-sized pieces first. But more than that, a player needs to branch out and explore as much territory as they possibly can. If a player gets boxed into a small section of the board, then their options become much more limited, and they will most likely lose. Some pieces are naturally easier to place than others, and a player must ignore the temptation to place them, when they should place a more difficult piece.

4.) Number of Players: It's amazing how the game works so well with three players; in fact it's probably my favorite way to play. Very few abstract games (any games, in fact) work with three players, and thus Gemblo is excellent in that regard. A six player game is also fun, although the board is very crowded, and the player who goes last is at a slight disadvantage.

5.) Confrontation: The game can get very aggressive, with players placing pieces simply to block their opponents. This is a very viable strategy, and some people may not like the "meanness" of it. I enjoy it, however, and it's interesting how a player must seek to expand their own area, while constricting the area of everyone else. The player who goes before you will become your most hated enemy, because Murphy's law states that they're going to place their piece in the exact spot you planned to put yours.

6.) Blokus: I said that the game reminded me of Blokus, and indeed I thought the game was a reworking of Blokus, a similar game that uses squares instead of hexes. However, the designer told me that he had never heard of Blokus when he designed Gemblo; he simply wanted to make a game that used gems. The games are comparable, but Gemblo is superior for several reasons.
- It can play three player (Blokus with three player is horrible).
- It can play six player (Blokus has a max of four)
- It has more, varied pieces.
- It looks nicer.

7.) Fun Factor: many abstract strategy games result in players squinting at the board, trying to find their best move. That happens also in Gemblo; but as the game goes on, a player's moves become fewer and fewer, and it simply isn't a difficult task. Most of the time, a player's turn consists of them searching for a place to place a piece. Once a piece can no longer be placed, a player can put it aside and go on. A very, very few times I've seen a player place ALL of their pieces, but it's an impressive feat and usually involves poor play on the other players' parts.

One of the best things about Gemblo is that it can be set up, taught, and played in only a short amount of time by six players and STILL offer a lot of depth. Replayability is high, because every game is different; and players will try different starting pieces, do different things, etc. Even though the box makes it a hard game to transport and store, I still recommend that you try to find a copy of the game; it's one that can be pulled out in many situations - even those when you have several people who rarely play games. And it certainly is one of the nicest looking games you'll ever own. It's nice to see Korea producing such excellent, high quality games.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"