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Tom Vasel
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I’ve found that most games that are for two to five players are best with five players. There are exceptions to this rule, and Emerald (Abacus Spiele- Rio Grande, 2002 – Ruediger Dorn) is one of them. I didn’t know much about Emerald when I bought it, only knowing there was a dragon on the cover of the box (and I’m such a sucker for that.)

Was Emerald worth my time? The answer is that Emerald is an extremely good, fun, light, tactical game with three players. Five players is too random, but still a lot of fun for kids. Two and four player games fall somewhere in between. It’s an interesting filler, however, and I think it will hit the table more often than not. Let me tell you a little about how the game plays.

A board is placed in the middle of the table, depicting the dragon’s lair. There is a track, starting with five castle spaces (the start spaces), six field spaces, nine cave spaces, and the treasure chamber. There are two spaces for cards that correspond with each cave space. On one space are placed two or three gem cards, one face up, the other(s) face down. The gem cards are rubies, emerald, garnet and turquoise. On the other space are placed two or three gold cards, one face up, the other(s) face down. The gold cards have a value from one to five. Four treasure cards (worth five points) are placed in the treasure chamber. A wooden dragon token is placed in the fourth cave space. A wooden rod (the dragon track) is laid down next to the first four cave spaces. Five bonus cards are placed face up in the middle of the table. Each player takes a certain amount of wooden knight pawns (depending how many players are playing) and place one in each of the starting castle spaces. One player starts the game, and each player then takes a turn, in clockwise order.

On a turn, a player must move at least one of their knights, but may move two if they desire. A knight must move forward an amount of spaces equal to the number of knights currently in their space. So, if there are five knights in a space, the first knight to leave must move five spaces. If a knight lands in a cave space, they must take one of the face up cards. Only one card may be taken by a player on a turn, so if they move only one knight, and take a card, their turn is over. When a card is taken, the topmost card underneath it (if any) is turned face up to replace it.

If a player lands on the dragon, or any space that is in the “dragon track”, they must roll a die (with numbers on it from one to three). The dragon then moves that amount of spaces (only within the dragon track, however – reversing its direction if it reaches the end of the dragon track.) If the dragon ends its movement in the same space as a knight, that knight is eaten, and removed from the game. If there is more than one knight in the space, the player moving the dragon decides who is “eaten”. The attacked player can discard a gold card and “bribe” the dragon, keeping his knight alive. After the dragon moves, the dragon track is moved one space towards the end of the cave spaces. When it reaches the last four spaces, it remains there the rest of the game.

The first player to get a one jewel of each type gets a bonus card worth four points immediately. Each player who lands in the treasure chamber gets a treasure card with five points. The knight who lands there is out of the game. When all four treasure cards are gone, or when one player only has one knight left – the game ends. Scoring then commences.

The player who has the most jewels of each type gets a bonus card worth four points. Each gem card is also worth one point. All the points are added up (gem cards, treasure cards, gold cards, and bonus cards), and the player with the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the game:

1.) Components: The components to this game are excellent. I’m glad they included a six-sided die with the numbers 1-3 on it, rather than a three sided die, as I find it easier to roll. The knight tokens and dragon token are very nice wooden tokens, and easy to handle. The dragon track looks like a wooden pointer, but it works well, and slides easily on the board. The cards are small, about half the size of a normal playing card, and have some very sharp graphics on them. Two cards with pigs on them are included with the game, to be used as replacement cards (I think). I’m not sure why they have pigs on them, but it’s reinforcing my opinion that pigs are popular gaming devices. The board is absolutely beautiful, with stunning artistry on it. It’s one of the nicest looking boards I have for any of my games. The box holds all the pieces well and is sturdy. I have to say, it’s one of the thinner games I own; but with limited shelf space, that’s never a bad thing.

2.) Rules: The rules are well written on four full-colored pages. There are pictures and a listing of all contents and several illustrated examples. The game is very simple and easy to teach and learn.

3.) Tactics: Even though the game is very simple, there are many strategic choices to be made. What should a player take, jewels or gold? Should a player spend points to keep a knight alive? Should a player risk getting eaten by the dragon? There is a smidgen of luck, with the rolling of the dice, but overall, the tactical choices out way this luck. I will admit that there aren’t many choices; however, so that people looking for deep strategies should look elsewhere.

4.) Theme and Fun Factor: The theme is there, and works for the game, although another theme could easily be transposed onto the mechanics. Seeing other players getting eaten by the dragon is quite fun! Moving a knight into a space to mess up the carefully construed plans of that player is even more fun. Doing both on the same turn is the best!

5.) Players: The game works with two and four players, but is really good with four. Children will enjoy a five-player game, but adults will get frustrated by it, because too much happens between turns to really plan any kind of strategy. It’s an excellent family game, however, with a little backstabbing, but not too much.

So I recommend Emerald. It plays quite quickly, looks really good on the table, and is actually quite fun and full of small tactical decisions. The theme doesn’t detract from the game, but rather adds a little to it. It’s an excellent filler and a game of choice when there are only three players. Pick it up, give it a try, and see what I mean!

Tom Vasel
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