Gems with Friends offers one-on-one asynchronous multiple which has become standard for the ...With Friends franchise, but focuses more on numbered tiles than on simply colored tiles. It's true that each number also corresponds to a different color, but the number is what really counts, as you work to place numbers in groups of three or more (horizontally, vertically or in an L shape) to create the next number in order. That is, placing a group of three '4' tiles next to each other will see these tiles disappear and turn into a single 5 tile.
Each match lasts three rounds, and each round lasts at least two minutes (without activating any time saving boosts). Within that time, you'll be able to manipulate as many tiles as you can physically drag to the top of the screen, with tiles randomly appearing in a board at the bottom. At any one time, you'll have multiple gems to choose from, but will ultimately be given more 1, 2 and 3 tiles than anything else. It's then left up to you to cleverly place these tiles in such a way as to create larger numbers, which are worth more points.
At the beginning of each round, you're allowed to activate a single free boost, ranging from the aforementioned clock stoppers/extenders to bonus point multipliers, wild cards and more. You can also purchase these boosts with coins if you really want an advantage, and coins are given away every few hours via a cute slot machine. If you find yourself unlucky enough to go against one of these paid players, you'll likely stand no chance of winning, as some boosts basically guarantee a player to earn more points than you ever possibly could on your own. Still, since most players will be content in using the free random bonuses, things are mostly fair.
This isn't to say Gems with Friends is completely balanced, as some of the game's power-ups still do give the game far more of a reliance on luck than strategy, but the simple focus on more fast-paced arcade action makes up for any shortcomings found in similar games (like the aforementioned Matching with Friends).
There are some technical issues that need to be resolved before the game launches in the US and beyond, like the broken Facebook connectivity (we've yet to get it to work at all), and some bothersome push notifications that can appear in the middle of a round, if you have multiple games going at once. That is, you might be in the middle of a two-minute round only to have a notification appear alerting you that you've won another game, which can then force you to lose points in the current game you're playing. Still, these aren't fundamental design flaws, and are simple technical errors that can be fixed in the patch that will surely come sooner, rather than later.
With Gems with Friends, the game starts as a rather slow burn, as it can seem difficult to rack up huge amounts of points when dealing with so many 1 and 2 tiles. However, once you really get the hang of things, you'll soon find your boards filled with 6, 7, 8 and 9 tiles, creating massive combos and earning bonus points every step of the way. This is definitely a game where "practice makes perfect," so it's only convenient that the game is so fun to play. If you have access to the Canadian iTunes App Store, you can now download a free version of Gems with Friends or an ad-free version for $2.99.
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Have you tried Gems with Friends? Which "With Friends" game do you think is the best in the entire franchise? Sound off in the comments!