I’ve always enjoyed matching games, especially ones that bring up fond memories of video games like Bejeweled from the early 2000s. When this game appeared in our review options I knew I had to try it out!
Jewel Thief is a versatile card game for 2-4 players that takes about 30 minutes to play. The best experience is with 3 players to keep the gameplay short but engaging.
Jewel Thief comes with a deck of 36 cards that can be played in four rule variants. This review focuses on the main variant and a match-3 variant.
In the main variant, the jewel thief shuffles the deck and places every card face-up into a 6 by 6 grid while the treasure hunter closes their eyes. Once the jewel thief says “Go” the treasure hunter opens their eyes and takes two cards that match, repeating this until their turn ends. The catch is that during this time the jewel thief removes a row or column every 3 seconds, limiting the options for the treasure hunter. At the end of the turn, the treasure hunter receives 1 point for each match they took. The roles will then swap so the jewel thief can have a chance at being the treasure hunter, finishing the round. The player with the most points after 3 rounds wins.
In the match-3 variant, 16 cards are placed face-up into a 4 by 4 grid, with the remaining cards forming a deck. Each player draws 2 cards for their hand. In turn order, each player chooses a card from their hand to slide into the grid and push a card out of the grid. That card can be added to their hand or discarded, drawing back up to a 2-card hand. If this results in a group of 3 cards matching orthogonally, the player receives 1 point. The matched cards are removed from the grid and shuffled into the deck along with other discarded cards. Empty spaces in the grid are then filled, with matches also being removed but without gaining points. This continues until someone reaches 5 points to win the game.
My experience with the main variant gave me some slight panic as the treasure hunter when the jewel thief is removing rows or columns. It certainly takes me a bit longer than 3 seconds to make decisions so trying to identify patterns in real time is tough but worth the challenge. I admit that I enjoyed my time as the jewel thief the most because you’re trying to thwart points, and it’s also entertaining to watch your opponent squirm. There’s definitely some sympathy that goes around the table after players have had the chance to experience both roles, which builds a little camaraderie at the end of the game.
For accessibility reasons, I do wish that they didn’t have two cards of the same color family. While there are shapes that do differentiate between colors, there were more times than not that I would waste time thinking I had a match but actually didn’t. This forced me to focus on jewel shape designs, which I find harder to quickly parse than colors. I’m at least glad they went with square cards because it does make taking in the whole grid of information at once easier on the eyes and brain.
In general, I prefer turn-based decision making so the match-3 variant did allow for more calculations and strategy than the frantic main variant. The tension of trying to set up a match that only you can earn points on is the main source of fun for this one. I appreciated that the rules emphasize orthogonal groups rather than just columns or just rows, which can trip up opponents who overlook that setup.
In any filler game, I’m looking for something that will quickly make it to the table, and because each variant has a different vibe it makes it perfect for family-friendly play. The main variant is also short enough to encourage repeat plays if you have more time on your hands. Jewel Thief has rules that are both easy to understand and easy to teach, whether you pass around the rulebook or have someone lead the group through. The one issue I have with the rulebook itself is that the font they chose is quite small and not easy to read. While I think the designers were trying to call back to the good old arcade days, keeping the game travel-sized results in a difficult reading experience.
Unfortunately, I think over time the gameplay offered in this 4-in-1 may become stale so I wouldn’t rush to use this to replace any of your go-to filler games. This is especially true if you mostly play with one other person, depending on your skill level relative to your opponent you might find yourselves just performing the same strategies or moves back and forth with no change. Bringing new folks to your table and introducing gameplay to them for the first time may reinvigorate your experience but not by much.
Jewel Thief is for anyone looking for a new travel-sized filler game to add to their collection that can be played with all levels of game experience, four different ways. While there are some accessibility issues in the rulebook design and card design, it is still relatively quick to get to the table. However, if you’re not enthusiastic about gameplay that focuses on finding matches or other quick mind puzzles you may find that this becomes stale over time. In addition, if you mostly play with one other person there may not be as much room to experience new strategies or approaches.
Final Score: 2.5 Stars – Test your pattern recognition and skill in this quick 4-in-1 card game full of jewels.
• Gameplay may become stale over time
• Rulebook style may be hard to parse
• Playable at two but not exciting