Asynchronous multiplayer puzzling in Zynga’s Gems With Friends

Gems With Friends is the sixth incarnation of the “With Friends” franchise, and another attempt by Zynga to emulate the worldwide phenomenon that was Words With Friends. Like its immediate predecessor Matching With Friends, Gems With Friends is an original asynchronous puzzle title rather than the non copyright-infringing adaptations of popular board and parlor games we saw in Words, Hanging and Scramble With Friends.

The name Gems With Friends may involuntarily bring to mind images of PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz, but in fact the game is closer in execution to a competitive variant on Spry Fox’s Triple Town — Zynga was beaten to the punch on the concept of “asynchronous Bejeweled Blitz” by Scopely’s Jewels With Buddies from earlier in the summer. The game certainly isn’t a Triple Town clone, however — it is simply the core mechanic of the game that is similar. Its application to a competitive asynchronous multiplayer scenario gives Gems a very different feel to the slow pace and strategic nature of Spry Fox’s classic.

A game of Gems takes place across three rounds, each of which are two minutes long. The 5×5 game board begins with an arrangement of numbered gems placed on it, and players must then place one of a choice of five additional gems on the board. If the gem placed creates a contiguous arrangement of three or more like-numbered gems, the player is awarded points and the additional gems are “sucked in” to the last one placed, which then increases in value by one. In this manner, chain reactions can be built up — for example, if the resulting gem from a match becomes a number 2 gem, which in turn completes an arrangement of three or more number 2 gems, the player will be awarded with additional points.

The player may expend coins before the game begins to activate various special gems, which are drawn randomly into the player’s “hand” of available moves throughout the course of a round. These have various special effects and generally act as “wild cards” to complete any arrangement easily. Their functions vary from temporarily freezing the timer to providing score bonuses.

At the end of a round, the player is awarded a score bonus according to how many gems are left on the board, with higher-numbered gems being worth greater numbers of points. Play then passes to the other player until the three rounds are up, after which the winner is determined by the highest total score.

Like other With Friends games, Gems incorporates an asynchronous chat system, allowing players to converse with one another. Due to the frantic, timed nature of the game, however, it’s only possible to send messages between rounds rather than during. Players are able to chat and play games with their Facebook friends (assuming they allowed the game to connect to Facebook) or random opponents. Those who do not use Facebook or do not wish to connect the game to their Facebook account may also start games directly with opponents by typing in their username or searching their device’s contact list.

Gems With Friends is a good game that will likely enjoy some success thanks to the reputation of the With Friends franchise, but so far none of the post-Words entries in the series have managed to match up to the impressive user figures of Words. In the case of Matching and Gems, the unfamiliar, original gameplay may cause some users to be a little more hesitant to try the games. Words, Hanging and Scramble were able to leverage the fact that pretty much everyone already knows how to play Scrabble, Hangman and Boggle. In the case of Matching and Gems, however, players are expected to learn a new set of rules — granted, they are simple to understand, but they’re still not as familiar as the aforementioned family game classics. It remains to be seen whether or not users will take to these original titles in similar numbers — but it seems unlikely at this stage.

Gems With Friends is available in both free and paid versions for iOS, much like other titles in the series. The free version is currently listed at No. 199 in Top Free Games at the time of writing. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.