I brought Gemblo over to a friend's house on New Year's Eve, and after the teenagers had run off to play The Game of Life (40th Anniversary Edition) upstairs (poor things), the other 5 adults agreed to try Gemblo. We're all in our 40s and 50s, to give you an idea of our demographic.
I'd only played the 3-person version twice, the week before, so I was a relative newbie as well. None of us are hardcore gamers, but we enjoy the odd game of Rummikub, etc. and recently I've turned some of them on to Zendo (to the point that the teenage daughter asked, "did you bring that triangle game with the stones?" - and the son reported having played Jewels in the Sand with his friends at school - but they were upstairs playing LIFE (?!) so nevermind.)
Anyway, after convincing my friend to yank out the extra leaves of the table to make it round, I put the board on, took the clear stones (because I think they're hard to see, and therefore hardest to use), and everyone chose a color. I explained the rules and we started play with Henry, to my left. (Since I'd played before it seemed more fair to give myself the hardest position in the game.)
Play continued to Greg, Nita, Jay, and Deb, and then to me. Since this was the first game, we didn't use the Gemblo Expansion Set cards, because I wanted to get everyone used to the normal placement rules. They picked these up very quickly, and before the end of the game Nita was already pointing out moves that I was missing! In the end Nita and I were tied each with 11 stones remaining, while the others varied from 12 to 20 (!)
For our second game I broke out the Gemblo Expansion Set cards, distributed them as instructed, and we discarded all but two. Play started with Henry again, and right away everyone started getting rid of the most annoying pieces (either the "V" or one with a "Y" type branch in it). Nita rapidly colonized across to the other side of the board, while Henry started filling in his area, optimally packing his pieces with the minimum of space in between. The rest of us tried to spread as well as we could, but without as much obvious strategy between these extremes.
There was much good-humored snarking when we got to the point that people were getting in each other's way. We started trying to use our cards, and discovered that they are pretty specific, yet we had to resolve some possible ambiguities about whether we were allowed to connect to one existing piece, or two. More about that, below.
This time we managed to get many more pieces on the board, and the winner was Greg, with 7 stones left. I had 9. Everyone commented on how pretty the board looked, when filled in, and Deb took a picture with her new digital SLR.
At this point the teenagers reappeared, and one accidentally knocked a wine glass off a table, which promptly shattered into a million tiny shards, and necessitated a complicated vacuuming maneuver as we were all wearing socks, and Deb wanted to get it all up before it got ground into her brand new hardwood floor (the glass, not the teenager).
By the time we had stopped playing "statues" in our stocking feet while Deb vacuumed around us, it was about 11pm, and we were too tired to play anything more challenging than CrackeD ICE.
Some observations about dynamics:
- There are definitely game phases; an opening, early when you can place just about any piece, and then BAM! suddenly you're in near endgame at a point at which you have severely restricted moves. I find the transition to endgame interesting in that it happens so suddenly.
- Because of the placement rules, alternating players end up getting in each other's way first (1,3,5 and 2,4,6). In some ways it's almost like two separate 3-player games going on in the same physical space, until you get to endgame.
- There is a slight but definite disadvantage for the last players, and the cards even that out very well.
- The question came up about whether the Unification 2 & 3 cards allowed you to connect to more than one existing piece (after having played a Unification 1 earlier) We decided to allow this, but I'm tempted in future games to say it has to be a single piece, as shown on the card. I think I'll go ask over at the forum for the expansion.
Overall it was a very satisfying game for this scenario, and I think any of us would be willing to play it again.