Go online and challenge friends and strangers in this strategic variant on match-3

Recently, in a bid to make social games more social, Zynga’s been working the competitive online angle. After starting it’s “With Friends” line with games like Words With Friends and Scramble With Friends, Zynga has now expanded on the franchise with a mobile match-three game called Gems With Friends. Unfortunately, this title can’t hold your interest as well as its predecessors, and as such, is far less successful.

Gems With Friends’ pits two players against one another in an online, turn-based, match-three competition. It veers from the usual match-three approach by offering a partially filled playing field, rather than one fully populated with gems. Each match consists of three timed rounds. Before a round starts, you’re asked to choose from three mystery Power Gems which can help you during gameplay. Power Gems do things like stop time, spawn better gems and trigger score multipliers. Once the round starts, you’re given a specific gem formation to work with, and a row of colored gems appears at the bottom of the screen. To match three (or more), you simply drag gems out from the bottom row and onto the playing field.

Gems With Friends     Gems With Friends

Aside from its unique method of matching-three, the other significant way Gems With Friends differs from other match-three games is that the colored gems are numbered from 1 to 9. Matching gems scores a set number of points, and the higher the gem number, the more that match is worth. As you match lower numbered gems, higher numbered gems spawn, thus amping up the possibility of a higher overall score. There’s definitely some strategy here, both in devising higher value matches and in setting up chain combos. The latter occur when you use Power Gems to create simultaneous matches in more than one group of gems, and additional bonuses are earned by matching quickly and earning gold stars.  Confused? Don’t worry. The game is far simpler than it sounds; in fact, it’s probably too simple.

After a few hours with Gems With Friends, it becomes painfully obvious that while the game is good enough to spark some initial interest, it can’t really sustain it. Although gem formations change every round, the variation doesn’t do enough to make each round feel different. Because of this, every match feels much like every other match, and it isn’t long before the game as a whole feels played out. I guess Zynga’s hoping that once the game gets old, you’ll enjoy reporting your scores on Facebook or going on Twitter and encouraging people to follow you. They’re also hoping to suck you in to an odd little slots mini-game that feels somewhat out of place here, and that’s used to win gold coins to purchase power-ups.

On the surface, Gems With Friends plentyof potential. It offers a different kind of match-three game that requires a good measure of strategy, speed and skill. Like all Zynga games of late, it looks and sounds good and goes out of its way to encourage social play. Unfortunately, it lacks depth. Once you discover the fastest way to the high number combos, there’s not really anywhere else to go gameplay-wise. Zynga could really be onto something with this whole “with friends” idea, but as far as I’m concerned, Gems With Friends just isn’t it.