Geodes (2020) first impressions
Coming to Kickstarter very soon is this family weight, tile placement game where players are going to be constructuring five different types of gems called Geode. With each gem that you complete you will collect a contract from a client that will hopefully want your gem, depending on the value /size of it, which will then boost you with your prestige points. This simple and elegant game can be explained in minutes and played very quickly, even in a large group. Reminiscent of games like Carcassonne, but more with a lighter feel. But is this something you should invest in? Read on...
One of the things I need to mention before we delve into this is the fact that I have played only a prototype of the game and therefore things may have changed or evolved since this copy was produced and arrived at my door. So I know nothing of extra tiles or bonus rules and expansions for the game. These are things that you should remember while reading this.
The game will see 2-5 players constructing a board, made of tiles that have two quarters of a gem. Whether they be Amethyst, Citrine, Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire, or even the white joker style Diamond. Each tile will have a combination of any of the two colours that represent these precious stones. Beware though, there are not as many diamonds as you think there will be. All of these tiles are stacked into two piles of 40. Each player will then draw a hand size of two tiles and the starting play then places a random tile from the stack to create the playing area, before laying one of their two tiles. Also, players will have a number of coloured chips, depending on the number of players playing. These are to mark gems that you have completed. They also indicate the end of the game when one player has placed all their chips out or when there are no more tiles to draw from the two piles. Once the endgame has been activated, the game will stop before the starting player gets to take their next turn. Meaning all players have the equal amount of turns.
So far so simple. One of the nice restricting features is that the playing area is confined to an 8 by 8 grid size, which adds a little tactical play to the game. There is a rule that will allow you to go beyond this size but only if a player is blocked and cannot place one of their two tiles out successfully. Each tile placed must touch another and all sides must have matching colours, which is simple to do as two sides will be one colour and the other another. Or even simpler, all sides will have the same. Making this an easy game for anyone to get a grasp of. Young or old. Again there is an exception to the rules if that is not possible to play a tile, and in the few games that I've had, this had happened. A blocked player that has nowhere to place any of their two tiles will place one of their tiles face up in front of them and draw another, thus ending their turn. If on another turn they can place this face up tile into a space, they will have to do so and then play a tile from their hand. Always before play passes to the next player, you draw up to your hand size of two. Which can be a little restricking for some players. More about that later.
When a player adds the fourth quarter of a gem, it is deemed finished. Each quarter of this gem will have numbers from 0 to 5. You will need to add up these four values to give you the total value/size of this gem. This is an important factor of the game as you can only score big if your completed gem is the same value as a contract you have. Having completed a gem you’ll place one of your chips on it to claim it as your own. You can then take a contract from one of the 5 piles available. Each pile has a number denomination of the gem values/size. They range from 4-6, 7-9, 10-14, 15-17 and 18-20. So in each stack there is a random gem value and two different scores. The higher of these two scores will be collected at the end of the game if you can match one of your gems to the value of the contract. Where as the lower will be given to a gem that doesn't match this value. All these contracts are kept hidden until the end of the game, when you do your final scoring. A nice touch is that the small and large size contracts have bigger point values. I have found that in the games that I have played, most of the gems created were in the 10-14 size range. This leads to players trying to make very high or very low value gems.
The first contract you will choose, of course will probably be in the realm of the value of the gem you have created. If you are lucky enough to draw exactly the contract value of said gem, this is a bonus. If not, you now have a target value to aim for. Say for example, can you create a gem of a value of 11. You draw a contract from the pile marked 10-14 and reveal a contract with a value of 10. You'll then be on the lookout to complete a gem with that value. This is easier said than done. Depending on the number of players, the tiles you have in your hand with their are different colours and numbers assigned to those colours, this can be a difficult feat to achieve. Four out of the five games I played were won by a player collecting as many contracts as possible to conquer your opponent's. Only one case had a player with slightly fewer tiles winning, but that was due to them drawing contracts that matched their gems. Lucky...Yes, yes randomness seems to be a killer here.
I can say that the experience of playing this family style game is very therapeutic and relaxing. There never seems to be any real stress to find a space to place one of your tiles unlike in other games of this ilk. But then again, you are kind of restricted to placing a tile either in one, two, possibly three or 0 positions on the board. This leads to giving your opponents the chance to score points. Only in a two player game does this “forcing” feel strategic. Playing a tile to make it possible to complete a gem, but only if your opponent has exactly the correct two coloured tile. And with that, if you have the opportunity to finish a gem, you will probably dive straight in, regardless of the total value of this precious stone. Then hope for the best that a contract matches the value of one of your completed circles on the board.
Talking about the board, there is none. Although there is a restriction on the playing area the game feels that it actually does need a playing board. The tiles in this prototype are quite large and because there is very little information on these tiles, the game could probably profit from having smaller ones. This could also nicely tie in with a small size playing board, probably of a 9 by 9 grid, where the starting tiles starts bang in the middle. There were many stops and start moments where the players would verify by counting how many tiles across or down, just to make sure their placement was legal. There is a nice feeling of not being restricted with a grid on your table, but this game feels like it needed it. Qwirkle is great because you can sprawl to the edge of your table and still score points. Whereas having a restricted area to play in makes the game more tactical, especially if you're trying to set up your second tile in your hand with your first. Creating corners or spaces in the middle of the playing area can sometimes work to your advantage, where you know that you have a tile that will fit perfectly and the chances of anyone else having the same tile are very slim. This is not the case, as I have found out. Too many similar tiles.
There are also frustrating moments when you draw tiles and the player before your next ture sets up a third piece of a gem and it just needs the fourth piece, but you don't have the colour or possibly the value that you wish. There were moments when I felt I was just passing the time helping other players as the restrictions on my tiles limited me to playing them in certain spaces. Again very restrictive if every time you draw a tile, both corners of the same colours. A double blue or a double green. Luck is extremely present in a 5 player game. One player brought the game to a very surprising quick end, while another player failed to score anything. You may find yourself only setting up the other players to score, while never having the chance to score yourself. And there were noticeable differences when playing with experienced players and newbies. In an expert game, the grid sprawled out like a spider because no one wanted to give away points, until the restriction of the grid or tiles in hand forced you to give points to your adversaries. Whereas the newbies would make the playing area slower, filling in spaces anywhere they could. A slightly different experience but all with the same ending. The winner was the lucky one who drew the lucky tiles.
But how is that different to Carcassonne or even Qwirkle in that case? With these games, you have more choices on your turn. Even if you are restricted by the size of the playing area at the beginning, as the game goes on, there are more and more possibilities. Even with the one tile in Carcassonne, there are many places to play it and to achieve different things. Extend your road. Try and steal a castle. Set up a big farm. Qwirkle gives you the power to play one or many pieces to either play cautiously or to cycle through your hand. Score big points from a single tile or set a trap for another player to give you a Qwirkle. Geodes doesn’t have this. There is a monotone feel as the game goes on. The unbalanced luck of the draw from either the colours and numbers you draw to the ever so important contracts fish, will leave you with the unpleasant feeling that you have participated in an activity. Building a colourful puzzle.
If you are looking for a game to pass the time with some non gamer friends, this could be a game for you. A 2 minute explanation will get anybody to play. A 30 minute run time at any player count is not too long to drive players insane. The gameplay is very fluid and very rapid, plus it’s colourful and pleasant to play. This game could be your gem. Especially if you like games like Uno (and you don’t score). If there were some tweaks to the rules (plus playtesting to make sure it feels more balanced) like, having visible contracts for players to aim for or a greater hand size or something else to remove the vast amounts of luck in the game, then I could recommend this to a gamer. Although everyone who has played enjoyed the experience and said that it’s neither a great game or a bad game, just “ok.”