Dale Yu: Gathering of 2011 Recap

Well, the Gathering is over now, and it’s time for everyone to return to their regularly scheduled lives.  But, for those ten days, there was nothing but games, friends and food to occupy us.  I, and other Opinionated Gamers, tried to blog a little bit each day from the Gathering – but between the multiple demands on time as well as an less than stellar Internet connection – much of the commentary on the games had to wait until I got home.

As I have in years past, my main focus at the Gathering has slowly drifted away from full-time gaming and moved more towards socializing with friends that I see only once or twice a year.  Despite that decrease in gaming, this year I played 55 games during the event this year.  This year, lets start with the gaming, and then I’ll cover the social stuff a bit…

Games Played, Opinionated Gamers style (Games with asterisks are new to me at GoF):

  • Love it!  Uluru x 6*, Tichu x 4, Burgund, Airlines Europe*, Secret of Monte Cristo x 3*, Last Will (proto from CGE)*, Friday and Robinson (2F project game) x 3*, other 2F prototype
  • Like it. Avanti x 3*, Pergamon. Mines of Zavandor, Midnight Men (proto from Filosofia)*, BITS*, Pantheon*, prototype of Donald X*, Asara x 2*, Railroading proto from Pegasus Spiele*, 7 Wonders expansion*, Firenze
  • Neutral. Nightfall, Genesis, Strasbourg*, Yomi, Caravelas, Puzzle Strike
  • Not for me. Der Pate*, Letters from Whitechapel*, Top&Down*, Mondo*, Discover India*, Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space*

Some comments on the games (in alphabetical order)

Airlines Europe – The newest game from Alan R. Moon and Abacus.  It’s like Union Pacific… but better!  First, and foremost, there are only one set of rules to play by right now – which makes it automatically better than UP.  The annoying railroad cards have been removed, and there are enough tweaks in the mechanics to make it feel like a new game.  For example, in AE, you have to pay to extend a line (which also increases the value of that line’s stock).  Additionally, when you play stocks to the table, you get paid for doing it – this subtle change makes the game flow much differently as there is definitely more of a back and forth feeling of growing the networks on the board and playing stocks down to get more money to allow you to play on the board some more.  For me, this is the best game in the family – though a lot of this may just be because it’s the newest one.  At this point, I feel that this would be a finalist for SdJ or Kennerspiel, whichever game it ends up being eligible for.

From the Airlines: Europe rules.... Glamour shot?

Asara – one of the “big” releases from Essen 2010 which I never managed to play.  I had backed off of this one at Essen because the nice press folks from Ravensburger told me that an English version would eventually be produced.  Of course, we’re in April 2011 and there is still no hint of that EN version…  This game provides some interesting hand management issues as your available actions are certainly dictated by what cards you’re dealt at the start of the round.  Of course, it’s most likely that no one will get a completely ideal set of cards in each round, so the game becomes more a battle of who can make the most of the hand they’re dealt.  If you like tactical games, this is sure to be a good one for you as you constantly have to react to what your opponents are doing and what cards they have played.

Avanti – a new race game from Zoch and Heinz Meister.  The copy available at the Gathering was actually a final prototype version – so I’m not entirely sure that we had the “final” rules in the box.  Regardless, this was a very interesting race game which gave players interesting decisions to make along the entire 45-60 minute length of the game.  The basic movement is derived from secret and simultaneous card choice, but a few tweaks including tight hand management (you only get a new card in yor hand when you play a low number) as well as an nice leapfrog mechanism makes each card choice an interesting decision.  Thus far, I like the game, though I am waiting for the final version to make sure that I’m playing with the correct rule set.

BITS – it’s another take on the geometric game from Herr Doktor Knizia.  This is somewhat similar to FITS, but BITS uses domino style pieces as opposed to the Tetris-style pieces of FITS.  Again, each player starts with a different starting piece to make sure that the player boards develop differently during the course of the game.  Each game is also further made different by using different scoring cards which accumulate through the four rounds of the game.  In the first two rounds, BITS is a pleasing change of pace to FITS.  However, when you start to try to consider three positive scoring cards as well as one negative scoring penalty in the fourth round, this game starts to feel more like work and less like fun.  At this point, I think I prefer FITS to BITS, but I can definitely see the argument that the first two (or maybe three) rounds of this game would be definitely enjoyed by children and families.

Burgund von Burgund – I’d played this four or five times before GoF as it’s one of the favorites in my local group. There are two completely different games in the box depending on whether you play with the basic setup, where each player starts with an identical map, or the advanced setup, where each player gets a unique map.  In the basic game, the players all compete for the same tiles from the start of the game as all players have the same starting situation.  This version actually seems a bit more interesting to me as the competition between the players can be quite tense.  In the “advanced” version where players each have different starting conditions, the game feels more tactical as each player has to make decisions based on what they think their opponents might need at that particular time in the game.  The other weird thing that I heard at the Gathering was a number of people who were comparing this game with Troyes – because they both have dice.  While it’s true that both games involve cubic luck bringers, they feel completely different.  Certainly your fate can be helped or hindered by the luck of the dice, but I just don’t see why people see them as the same game.  I mean, it’s not like I’d compare either of these games with Yahtzee or Liars Dice because those games have dice also.

Mik teaching Burgund

Caravelas – a nice race game from MesaGames out of Portugal.  I wanted to try this one more time with gamers to see how it fared.  The short answer?  This game is perfectly suitable to play with my kids, and it is received quite well there… Not so much with gamers.  Additionally, this game does hit one of my pet peeves about games which is: the rules have had significant changes made to them in order for the game not to be broken (you can find these rules changes on BGG).  I’m not big on any game that has huge rules issues that are only found after production.  With all the games available each year, I’d expect that the new games be “finished” products.

Der Pate – Ugh. This game involves dice as well. So maybe I should lump it in with Troyes, Burgund and Yahtzee.  I just didn’t seem to get the game.  Roll dice, place dice on my board and take whatever special effect I get, pick on the player in last place, lather, repeat.  It was fun mostly due to the company.

Discover India – this is a game that I can totally support as it’s meant to be a fundraiser to set up a school in India.  However, the game itself just kinda felt like a luckfest as the winner of the game seemed to be the player who got set up most by the player to his left.  There is a neat idea here where you’re trying to build a number of networks on your player board with different colored tokens.  However, there are plenty of times when your best (and possibly only positive) option totally sets up the player next in turn order – oftentimes giving them an extra counter if they’re able to move onto a festival space.  There are plenty of great educational opportunities here, and the cause it supports is wonderful, but sadly the gameplay could use a bit more work.  A big thanks to Dan Blum for teaching this to us and even playing along.

Friday2 – this is the newest game in the Friday project – a completely wacky idea from Friedemann where he only works on games on Friday.  The first game from this project, Black Friday, has already come out by Kosmos.  This next game could not be more different – it is a solitare deck building game.  It has a Robinson Crusoe theme, of course, because you get to be his man Friday!  The rules and components are freely available on the 2F website.    I highly recommend giving this gem a try! Be warned, as this is an open source project, the rules and components are often changed during the course of development… but if you’ve ever wanted to see firsthand how a game evolves in development, it’s a fascinating project to latch on to so you can see the notes made by Friedemann each Friday on his blog:

Genesis – an interesting cube collecting game from Gigantoskop.  As I’m not a theme guy, I realy hadn’t noticed or cared that the game was about the first week of creation and that there were religious undertones to the game.  Thus, I was surprised by the number of people that either turned up their noses when they saw us playing the game.  I think this is a solid game which hits one of my sweet spots – it’s a game with a fixed number of actions per player for the game.  Like Princes of Florence, the game gives you a very limited number of actions (twenty-one) which you have to maximize your victory point production from.  While I’m generally happy to play this one, it doesn’t seem to get much play anymore as people are either turned off by the theme or simply don’t like the style of game as I do.  Unlike PoF, there is no mechanic such as the profession cards which change up each game.  As a result, I’ve now played Genesis seven or eight times, and I don’t know if there is any more game space to be explored.  Though – these days, there aren’t many games that I’ll play seven or eight times at all – so that also says something!

Last Will (CGE prototype) – slated for Essen 2011, designed by Vladimir Suchy.  This was one of the true finds of the Gathering for me.  The theme is essentially: Brewster’s Millions.  Your goal is to be the first player to become bankrupt.  Last Will is a tight engine building game where you choose cards which allow you to spend your money.  Some cards are better than others, so turn order is an important thing to strive for to help you choose the best cards from the tableau.  You also get to draw some cards from the draw piles, and you have to weigh your ability to draw cards against the number of actions you’ll be able to play each round.  There is definitely some time pressure involved here as there are only a maximum of seven rounds in the game, so you can’t dilly dally too much.  The action selection mechanic is still being tweaked, so I don’t want to talk too much about the specifics, but I’m eagerly awaiting the final product this fall in Essen.

Last Will proto

Letters from Whitechapel – Here’s what I said last week: I’m still a sucker for Scotland Yard type games, and I finally got a chance to play the long awaited Letters from Whitechapel by Michele Mari (who also did Garibaldi). It’s not a bad take on it, but it moves a little slow. Some of the delay is probably because we were talking a lot and because we were mostly new to the game. I’m starting to believe that my love for the genre stems from the awesomeness of Scotland Yard, however the different iterations never seem to stand up to the original. Letters from Whitechapel feels original with the gameplay, but it’s a long game. Our 5p game went well over two hours. I felt engaged in most of it, though it seemed that in each round there was at least one detective stuck out in East Bufu with nothing better to do for the first few turns but try to move into sniffing distance of the action.  This has gone from a definite buy (which every Scotland Yard type game starts out on) to the “I hope Luke buys it list so that I can play it when I want”.

Janet trying to hide her intentions by hiding her eyes while looking at the board

Midnight Men (Filosofia prototype) – another very interesting prototype which has been signed by Filosofia.  Though I’m not a fan of cooperative games, I do enjoy me a good deck-builder – and Midnight Men seems to match that chocolate and peanut butter pretty well.  The players are a band of superheroes that have to work together to fight off evil in their city.  The abilities of each hero are represented by icons found on cards in their deck.  Though the course of the game, the heros can get increased powers by adding or modifying the cards in your deck.  As bad guys show up, and they show up each round, the team has to decide how they will cooperate to fight off evil.  Like any good cooperative game, there is always a sense of impending doom with too many things to be done each turn – so the team must put their heads together to figure out which threats are most important to be dealt with each turn.  This game still has some work to be done, and I would not expect it in 2011 – in fact, I’d expect to see a newer version of this at the Gathering 2012 – but there is definitely the start of a great game here.

Mines of Zavandor – a fun little resource collecting game from Lookout Games.  While it has Zavandor in the title, there is nothing other than art that connects this game to Scepter of Zavandor.  I’d played this a few times at home prior to GoF, and I was asked to teach it.  It’s an interesting game of collecting gems (on cards) and then using those gems to bid on scoring cards.  There are multiple paths to victory as the different cards work together with each other – though you have to work with what is available to you through the auctions!  I’ve never been shy of luck and variance in games, so this one is right in my wheelhouse

Mondo – I wonder if we were doing something wrong.  A lot of people were enjoying this one, but it just didn’t seem to have any pizzazz in our game.  It’s a timed game where you simultaneously try to pick tiles from the center of the table to play onto your mat to form your world.  Positive points are scored when the tile edges match and negative points are given when they don’t match.  Bonuses can be scored for collecting animals or forming other features such as ponds.  The tiles look like they borrowed from Architecton – though I didn’t think that game was great either.  At the current moment, I’m not high on this one, but I’d like to try it again to see if I’m missing something because Mondo certainly has its fans.

Nightfall – another deck building game which I’ve played a number of times.  It’s still an interesting take on the genre, but the games seem to go longer and longer, especially with four players – to the point where the game is much longer than what you get out of it.  I’ll be interested to see if the new expansion somehow adds life to the game or somehow makes it quicker.  Otherwise, I’ll be unlikely to choose this over some of my other deckbuilder choices.

Pantheon – the new release from HiG and Michael Tummelhofer.  It a neat hand/resource management game.  Players strive to collect the favors of various gods (by buying their cards) as well as establishing temples on the board.  Most of the gameplay is driven by the cards, though there are plenty of opportunities to draw more cards or alternative ways of accomplishing the same action.  Many of the god tiles give players special abilities, so players usually have a lot of choices for their actions as the game moves onward.  For some, there is a bit too much luck involved in the game – where a lucky draw on a god tile could upset the balance of a particular game – but again, this sort of luck doesn’t bother me.  I like gamers where players can remain in the game and a lucky draw can get them back in it – as long as that chance doesn’t happen too often!  I’ve only played it once, so it’s hard to say for sure, but I think this one has a lot of the qualities that the SdJ jury has been looking for in recent years.

Pergamon – a nice architecture themed game from Eggertspiele (done by Gryphon domestically).  Players collect fragments of artifacts and work to have the best exhibits in the museum to score VPs.  Ther is a nice push-your-luck bidding mechanism which not only determines player order for each round but also distributes money amongst the players.  The twelve rounds of the game move along quickly – probably 30-40 minutes – and the bonus scoring available in each of the four scoring rounds gives players intermediate targets to shoot for.

Prototype (2F) – sadly, I can’t talk about this yet. But it was my favorite new prototype at the Gathering.  As soon as Henning and Friedemann allow me to write about it, I will.  I can probably mention that the title will involve at least one word starting with F though.

Prototype (Donald X) – an interesting non-deck building game by the designer of Dominion.  This one played well, and the current modular nature of the board should provide a different playing experience each game.  Donald said that he was talking to one of the major German publishing houses for a deal on this one, and once that’s confirmed, folks should be able to talk a bit more about it.

Prototype (Pegasus) – A really neat game with a model railroad theme.  I can not say more about it, but I am good friends with the designer, and it looks like he is going to make a few changes to the game based on feedback gathered at the Gathering!  No idea when this is going to be done, but I look forward to the next version

Puzzle Strike – a deck-building game that uses chips instead of cards. I intend to write a full review on this soon.  For now, put me in the camp of players that prefers cards to chips.  I don’t mind the shuffling of cards, and I find it really hard to fan out chips to see them all at once.  Despite that, it’s an interesting game that offers some nice changes from Dominion and the other “deck-builders”.  At this time, amongst the non-Dominion games, this is my favorite – though I’d still play Dominion instead of this.

Secret of Monte Cristo – a new release from Filosofia.  A nice area-majority game where you try to collect treasures from the different dungeons in the Chateau d’If.  You use marbles on an inclined slide to determine playing order – a very attractive gaming gimmick… Every time we played the game, people stopped by to check out my marbles.  Ahem.  Anyways, on this slide, there are four columns, one for each of the phases of each round.  The player whose marble is at the bottom of a column gets to be the active player for that phase.  The key to the game is trying to get your marbles in the right places at the right time as the active player always has more control over any particular phase.  There is a lot of depth to this one, and it plays quickly in 45-60 mins.  There will be a full review here in week or two hopefully.  Amongst the published games, this is one of the hits of the show for me – the others being Uluru and Airlines Europe.

Strasbourg – the new release from Pegasus.  Not too bad, though it feels a lot like Norenberc in the sense that you play cards to help determine which guild you want to have an action in.  It’s actually a bit more different than that, but it was interesting that all 3 players in my game independently came to the conclusion that it felt like Norenberc.  This was hard to judge after one play – all three of us made plenty of non-optimal plays because we didn’t understand the game flow nor the effects of the bonus cards.  I’m hoping to play this a few more times to get a better feel (and I think that it’s good enough to merit these other plays), but I have to get my hands on a copy first.  I am not sure what sort of distribution there is in the US of the game.

7 Wonders new expansion – Played it. Loved it. Forgot to ask if I could talk about it, so all I can say for now is that I played it.

Tichu – the old Gathering standby.  For me, the Gathering seems to be just about the only place that I really play Tichu.  First, the game is ubiquitous at the Gathering.  It is likely the most played game at the event each year.  Second, it’s never hard to find players willing to sit down for a game… and unlike my group at home, everyone already knows the rules and is comfortable with the game.  If you haven’t played it yet, I couldn’t recommend it more.  I tend to only play the 4-player partnership game.  There are 3p and 6p variants, but they pale in comparison to the 4p game.  I managed to play a few games with Alan R. Moon (both as partner and as opponent), and I’ll admit that he’s got a growing propensity to call Grand Tichu, which is something that I’m not overly comfortable doing myself.  Of course, given the less than stellar success rates of Grand Tichu calls that I saw, I feel comfortable staying in my conservative shell.

Top&Down – the new Easy Play from Schmidt.  Ugh. Not fun. Roll die, make a basic decision of where to move your piece, and then pass the die and hope that the game ends soon.  I’ve already said more about this game that I planned to.

Uluru – the first game that I played at the Gathering, and the early front-runner for hit of the show for me.  I had requested that Henning bring me this game from Germany as I wasn’t sure how else I could easily get a copy of this one.  It’s a logic/puzzle game which was supposedly inspired by the designer watching kids try to seat themselves around a dinner table.  The idea of the game is simple.  Each player gets a mat with 8 spaces on it, and you have 8 colored birds which you need to place on these spaces.  There is a board which has a space for each of the 8 colored birds.  Goal cards are dealt out onto the board, and the players then have about 45 seconds to place their birds on the mat in accordance with the rules stated on the cards.  For each rule that you cannot satisfy, you take a penalty point.  At the end of the game, the player with the least penalty points wins.  Unlike many puzzle games, there is no benefit to finishing first – so there is no race aspect.  I find this to be a significant positive, as most other puzzle games (such as Ubongo or Code Omega) are ruined the fact that a player who solve a puzzle 10% faster on average will end up winning 90% of the puzzle games when time is a factor.

Vlaada Chvatil and Valerie ready to play Uluru

Yomi – I’d been on the fence about this one for awhile – but I went to the Gathering hoping to play it one more time with someone who is an “expert” at the game.  Yomi is a card-based version of Rock/Paper/Scissors with a bunch of complexity thrown in with special abilities on the cards.  The full game comes with 10 different character decks, each of which plays differently – you will likely need to adopt different strategies to play a different deck well.  I’d played about 10-12 games at home, and I enjoy it well enough… but I wasn’t particularly grabbed by it like other gamers have.  So, I found a Yomi veteran, and pretty much had my butt handed to me.  The quick two game series confirmed the fact that there is certainly a lot of skill involved in the game – due to knowledge of the cards as well as RPS-fu. It also confirmed that the game just isn’t really my type.  It’s still interesting, but I quickly tire of the RPS repetition, and I frankly will probably not ever take enough time to learn a deck well, much less all 10 decks currently available.

Comments on new games I’ve played since the Gathering of Friends

51st State – A very interesting card game from this Essen, released domstically by the guys at Toy Vault.  Full review to come soon.  The game is as overwhelming as Race for the Galaxy is on first glance as most of the cards in the game have multiple actions and there are icons all over the place.  While it took a bit of time to get thru the rules, the icons became familiar in short order – and all three of us were playing fairly rapidly by the end of our first game.  The game itself is simple engine builder, where you try to attack/incorporate/negotiate with the different cards.  Each card has differing rewards dependent on how you choose to interact with it, so your number of possible choices each turn is ridiculously high.  I might actually be a bit wary of playing this with an AP-prone player as that sort of player could easily freeze up.  I think I like it for now, but it’s the sort of game that I’ll probably have to play 3 to 5 times before I can really pass judgement on due to the many varied cards and multiple card-card interactions/combos

Carcassone: das Wurfelspiel – Carcassone the dice game is a super-quick filler.  Roll 9 dice, try to make a completed city from dice rolled. If you roll a catapult on a die, the die is out for the round and you can’t use it.  If you roll 3 meeples, you keep one of them until your next turn (meaning your opponents have one less die to use), but your score on the next turn is doubled.  Our first game was super quick, lasting only three turns before someone reached the target score of 42 points.  In the future, I might actually choose a slightly higher target score to allow for few more rounds of play.

Non-gaming stuff from the Gathering

1) Wow, downtown Niagara Falls is really run down.  It honestly looked like the city center of Detroit in Robocop.  Well, during the day.  At night, it looked like the home of Snake Plissken in Escape from NY.  The hotel we stayed in was quite nice, and certainly a step up from last year’s accommodations… but it’s not the sort of place I’d like to be caught alone at night.

2) The local population of downtown Niagara Falls, NY must be 80% Indian/Pakistani based on the restaurant choices.  I’d conservatively state that every other restaurant in town was an Indian/Pakistan/Punjabi hut.  Good food, but the preponderance of food from the subcontinent was overwhelming.

3) The falls are even more awe-inspiring in person than in pictures/on TV.  I hadn’t been to the falls in almost 20 years, so I had kind of forgotten what they looked like.  Once I was out on the observation deck on the Canadian side, I was completely mesmerized by them.  Stood there for a good 15 minutes and just watched.  Later, I saw a sign which said that the flow rate over part of the falls was 675,000 gallons of water per SECOND.  Yes, per second. Wow.

Signs don't lie...

4) The Gathering isn’t long enough for me anymore – by the time it came to head home on Sunday, I realized that there were many old friends that I never played a game with or shared a meal with.  Well, there’s always next year!

Good times, great food, good friends

Good times, great food, good friends - pt.2 Please ignore the Evil Bob in the foreground :)

5) Let’s Go Buffalo!  Sadly, the Sabres are now out of the playoffs.  But I was glad to have had a chance to see a playoff game in Buffalo. The atmosphere was electric, and this may be the only chance that I’ll ever have to see an NHL playoff game.  The game was probably the non-gaming highlight of the trip – thanks to MMM for setting up the tickets, etc.

View from the 3rd row

6) Buffalo wings aren’t that much different in Buffalo.  Well, they seem to be hotter on average.  What they call Medium is what I typically see as Hot.  But, chicken wings are chicken wings to me.  I’m sure that I’m going to honk someone off by saying it – but I didn’t see anything special or different about the wings there.  Don’t get me wrong – they were awesome, and I had wings three times on the trip – and if the Gathering goes back to Niagara next year, I’ll likely have wings at least that often.  Oh, and I completely don’t get the whole Loganberry soda thing.  I’m sure that someone would tell me that Graeter’s ice cream isn’t any better than non-Cincinnati ice creams, and I’ll have to live with that person’s wrong-ness! <g>

7) Missed out on the annual basketball tournament this year because Thursday was one of the few sunny days of the week.  Instead, I had a nice four hour walk/sightseeing tour of the Falls, Goat Island and Canada.  We still decided to pass on the Cave of the Winds as it was a bit chilly – but I’ll have something left on my to-do list for next year!

Ice formation at the bottom of the Falls

Falls up close from Goat Island

8) It honestly felt like there were even more prototypes on show this year than in years previous.  For better or for worse, the Gathering has morphed into a week where game companies try to get a lot of playtesting/developing work in on their upcoming games and where aspiring designers try to get game companies interested in their ideas.  While I know that I don’t play as many prototypes as many others, I still tried a few, and I’m glad that I had a chance to see some of what will be coming down the pipe soon.

Petr Murmak with Dungeon Petz, the new Vlaada Chvatil game due out Essen 2011

9) Rules? One other post-Gathering tradition that I have is to go back and re-read the rule books to the games that I learned at the Gathering to see how many rules mistakes were made (and propagated) during the week.  This always happens because many games are taught to gamers by someone who has only played the game once or twice themselves (and assuredly, the teacher hadn’t learned from the rules either).  The prevalence of this may be a bit lower given that translations show up faster than before… but the lack of quality Internet access seemed to thwart gamers in this case.  Anyways, thus far, I’ve found that I learned a few games wrong during the week – but none of the errors were so egregious that they have ruined the games… and in a few occasions, the mis-learned rules might actually make the game better!

10) As far as coffee goes:  Tim Horton >> Starbucks.  Man, my dislike of Starbucks grows with each $3 cup of overroasted, heartburn inducing brew goes down my gullet.  I know that plenty of people (including my wife, my parents, etc.) swear by Starbucks, but it’s Not for Me.  Also, the donuts at TimHo’s >> biscotti at Starbucks.  I’m just sayin’…

11) Exchange rate – man. I remember when a loonie would get my $0.70 or so.  As of last week, it was essentially parity between the CAD and USD.  So much for bargains at the canadian border!  The prices in Canada are still generally higher than those on the US side… When the exchange rate was better, it all kinda washed out.  But now, looking at a Whopper Value Meal at a Canadian BK and seeing a price of $9.50 CDN, that’s getting pricey! Mind you, I wasn’t in the BK to get the food, I’ve just found that using fast food restaurants is a quick and easy way for me to compare cost of living prices…

And looking forward to Essen, unless the dollar rebounds soon – it’s gonna be an expensive trip there too!  The EUR is currently at $1.47.  That’s gonna hurt.

12) Fee to leave Canada?  Interestingly, when you walk between countries, you are free to leave the US. Just walk through the one-way turnstile, and you’re on the bridge.  When you leave Canada, you gotta pay 2 quarters (of either US or Canadian origin) to leave Canada.  Just one more piece of evidence that Canada will tax anything they can figure out how to levy a tax on! :p  The nice side effect of border crossing is that I could receive my good old AT&T signal on the Canadian side (and not rack up international roaming charges) while my Canadian friends were still able to access their Rogers or Bell networks on our side.

Even Mounties have to pay the exit tax...

13) Importance of the Internet – Man, who would have thought that losing Internet service for the better part of two days would have affected the Gathering as much as it did.  First, the event runs for 10 days, and there are plenty of people who are only able to make it if they are able to work a bit each day from their hotel rooms.  It was definitely a drag on those folks once it became apparent that there were only three working connections in the public area of the hotel.  Camping out for one of these 3 LAN cables was a common early morning occurence.  Hopefully this issue will be resolved for next year.  Once the Internet came back on – it was nice having access to download rules, look for restaurants, etc which only helped to improve the overall experience of the week.

14) Japanese Anime Dominion also showed up – couldn’t play it because I can’t read Japanese, but it sure looks pretty… A few pics of the game:

15) Next year can’t come soon enough – as the Gathering was winding down, Alan mentioned that he doesn’t know where the next Gathering will be. Wherever it is, I’ll do everything I can to make it as this event is the highlight on my gaming calendar each year!  A big thanks to Alan and to all of the other attendees of the Gathering for making the event so much fun!


Well that pretty much covers just about everything – or at least everything that I have time to write about for now!

I’m sure that we will have a bunch of reviews giving a broader view of the new games, and hopefully we will be able to bring you multiple viewpoints on these games.  As such, many of my comments on games above were brief… If you have more detailed questions, feel free to ask them in the comments, and I’ll try to answer them as best as I can.

In the coming weeks, the Opinionated Gamers will also be giving their thoughts on the “Best Of 2010” as well as consideration of the Spiel des Jahres prospects.  Also, there are a few new writers that we’ll be adding to the blog in the coming weeks… More details on that as soon as I can get myself organized to get the work done.

Goodbye from Niagara for 2011!

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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14 Responses to Dale Yu: Gathering of 2011 Recap

  1. Lee Fisher says:

    Thanks for the coverage, Dale and OG!

    “It was definitely a drag on those folks once it became apparent that there were only three working connections in the public area of the hotel. Camping out for one of these 3 LAN cables was a common early morning occurence. Hopefully this issue will be resolved for next year. Once the Internet came back on – it was nice having access to download rules, look for restaurants, etc which only helped to improve the overall experience of the week.”

    I’m surprised no one had a hub/switch to expand the number of connections!

  2. Bruce Miller says:

    Graeter’s ice cream is better than other hard ice creams. If you are talking soft serve then you’ll need to go the Dairy Barn at the Iowa State Fair for the best. Whenever I’m in Cincy seeing my wonderful sister we always go to Graeters.

  3. Dale Yu says:

    @Lee – I am too… But I didn’t pack mine when the hotel promised free WiFi in all areas of the hotel… I’m guessing that the issue was one of insufficient IP addresses. I know that a lot of non-commercial routers can only give out a limited number (200? 256?) of IP addresses, and let’s face it – the GoF crowd is about at technically savvy as it gets. I’d conservatively estimate that there were 100 iPads, countless netbooks/notebooks, >100 smartphones/iPhones all of which were trying to secure access.

    When the problem was fixed on Thursday, I’m guessing that they either added on a second router or replaced the existing one. Still, it was a big pain to deal with.


  4. Bob Scherer-Hoock says:


    Thanks very much for the recap. Appreciated it. And OpinionatedGamers.com keeps getting better and better.

    A couple responses:

    1) I’ve become a big fan of Asara, but I’ve had the promised English version for a couple of months now – purchased from an online US vendor – so I’m wondering about the comment about it being “April 2011 and there is still no hint of that EN version.” Unless you’re looking for an English only version. Mine has English, German, Dutch, Italian, and French rules, so it’s obviously the international edition rather than English only, but I suspect that will about as EN as it will get.

    2) As a Western New York native, who suffered through many lean Buffalo Sabres years, particularly in their infancy, I’m wondering: Have you no hope for ever seeing a Blue Jackets playoff game?

    And yeah, the Falls rock, especially, unfortunately, the Canadian side.

  5. Dale Yu says:

    @Bob – missed you at the Gathering this year…

    1) My primary team is actually the Canucks. A lot of my family lives in Vancouver, and I had adopted the Canucks all the way back in the Bure/Ronning years. I’ve actually never been a CBJ fan, and due to the lack of TV coverage since the lockout year, I’ve just never gotten into the local team.

    2) Falls do rock. Beef on weck, not so much. It was good, but I’m not dying to have another one.

    3) And I think the Sabres need to bring back Alexander Mogilny. They’re one good scorer away from being a very competitive team.


  6. Ryan B. says:

    Well organized recap, everyone got the red wine in the right glass and congrats on everyone getting out to actually see the sights. And the group even got in a game of basketball… there you go, Greg.

    This recap really was well-done and I think the thing that strikes me most is that I continue to be absolutely amazed by the sheer number of games everyone plays. I think I am getting outplayed by at least a 150 to 1 ratio. Wow. Anyway, we are on the move and I am finding packing up 35 games to be an arduous task. I just can’t even imagine owning *hundreds* of games. I am going to look to self contain my personal collection to my best 35 games. So I guess, it will be time to pare down soon.

    Meanwhile, other than Letters from Whitechapel, little looks of interest to me coming out of GoF. But the fact I keep hearing Letters from Whitechapel plays slow is now even a little worrisome… and when playing with a fast paced group that could be an especially real concern.

  7. J. Benjimin says:

    I live just a short drive north of Niagara Falls. Your description of the city is almost spot on. To my knowledge all those Indian restaurants downtown are owned by the same person. I guess he doesn’t believe in variety. Last I knew the area you were in wasn’t bad at night, to the east and north are some rough areas but the tourist area around the casino isn’t bad. Years of putting all of the eggs in one basket to bring the city back to life have left it worse off than when the started in the 70’s. My wife and I often see downtown as a 60’s – 70’s movie portrayal of communist countries. It is a shame because my parents would talk of wall to wall people downtown in the 50’s.

    Where did you go for wings? They vary quite a bit from place to place. If you come back next year take the 10 minute drive to north to Lewiston and visit Apple Grannies, in my families opinion they have the best wings in Western New York.

  8. Dale Yu says:

    @J Benjimin —

    1) Yeah, touristy Niagara Falls was depressing. Driving around, we got to see a little more of town — there seemed to be a bit more action in “Little Italy”, but still a fair amount of empty storefronts. Though this was better than completely abandoned burnt-out buildings like you’d see downtown.

    2) Wings – went to Duffs x 2 (Anchor Bar too busy), tried the wings at a local pizza place whose name I can’t remember. I’ll have to remember Apple Grannies for next year if the Gathering goes back… What makes them so good there? I will say that the “extra crispy” wings at Duffs were the best of all the wings that I found last week. Strangely, the medium hot sauce was the tastiest, though I normally prefer more spice – so I also had some of the medium hot and hot.

    3) And I forgot to shoutout to Submasters on Pine Ave. Best cheese steak I’ve had outside of Philly.

    • J. Benjimin says:

      Apple Grannies wings are always crispy, seasoned just right, and decent size(no pidgin wings here). They are always consistent in quality. We always get hot which isn’t the hottest wings out there but the flavor is just right. It doesn’t hurt that it’s only a 10 minute bike ride from home, the beer is cold and the bartender knows us by name.

      Never tried submasters, when you say cheesesteak do you mean with cheese wiz? I tried one once somewhere and it wasn’t wasn’t my cup of tea. I grew up here eating steak and cheese subs, with mozzarella and lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, and Italian seasonings.

  9. Gabe says:

    What’s with the Japanese anime Dominion game? Is it just the original Dominion with a different theme/artwork? Or are they actually new cards?

  10. Dale Yu says:


    The Japanese anime version is pretty close to the original Dominion. As best I can tell, the rules are unchanged. The Kingdom cards that are included are mostly from the base set (about 18-20) with the rest coming from other expansions. I do not think there are any cards in this set that cannot be found elsewhere.

    The description at BGG says: “Dominion: Touhou Shisoroku is a best of set, with 25 action cards, of which 20 is from the Dominion base set. 4 from Intrigue and 1 from Seaside. These cards have unique art and layout for the Japanese market, and all the cards have a new back as well.”

    From: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/89383/toho-shisoroku-toho-komakyo-hen

  11. Dale Yu says:

    At submasters – the philly cheese has tomato, lettuce, onion, white american cheese and the option for mayo. May not be entirely traditional, but tasty.

    At Pat’s King of Steaks, I’m all for “one, wiz, with”


  12. Anne MacLellan says:


    As a Canadian, I have to pay to leave the US so don’t blame us for the fee! Seriously I think both countries charge the fees when exiting the other country to pay for the bridges.

  13. Doug says:

    Great recap, Dale – don’t know where you get the energy!

    I’m closing in on 100 games of Yomi, mainly with the same opponent. That’s where it shines, one on one against someone who shares the love. I think it’s superb, if you can get back the 15 game barrier.

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