By: Greg J. Schloesser
Gulf Games is a relatively small, invitation-only gathering of families and individuals who enjoy socializing and playing games. While there is an abundance of different games played and enjoyed, the emphasis is placed on fellowship and camaraderie.
The idea of Gulf Games was born when three internet gaming buddies (Ted Cheatham, Ty Douds and I) decided to extend our internet relationship into a face-to-face and much more personal friendship by meeting with our families for some fun, socializing and gaming. Our first get-together was held in May 1998 on the Emerald Coast of Florida (specifically Navarre Beach). At that time, it was decided to have another get-together in the Fall and expand the invitations to others who would enjoy sharing in the spirit of camaraderie and fellowship, centered around our beloved hobby of gaming.
It was decided that this should be a family affair and offer events and activities for the entire family to enjoy. In addition to the orgy of gaming, there are various other fun-filled events, including a welcome party filled with games and contests; puzzles and quizzes; game tournaments and often a group dinner or social. Many gamers take time out to play games with the kiddies, and families often arrive early to share time together, visit the area attractions and sight-see.
The people are what make Gulf Games possible and such a special part of my life. It has been nearly fourteen years since the idea of Gulf Games was hatched, and over those years I have made so many wonderful new friends, thanks to the magic of Gulf Games. My life has been truly enriched by the friendships and love everyone have shared with me from across the miles, and face-to-face at Gulf Games. I can’t wait until the next event!
What follows is a report of my experiences at Gulf Games 29, which was held on February 23 – 26, 0212 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Gulf Games 29 in Chattanooga was a blast! After panicking over an unusually slow stream of registrations, I was gratified to watch the flood gates open with a tsunami of registrations. Ultimately, we had over 80 people register, which was the most we have experienced for a February Gulf Games in quite some time. After a few last-minute cancellations and no-shows, we settled-in at 72 or so people.
I arrived Tuesday afternoon, joining Leon Hendee and Jim McDanold for a stroll of downtown Chattanooga’s north shore. We browsed a few shops and enjoyed some ice cream before meeting Andy Hendee and Bob & Lisa Leopold for dinner at the Big River Grill. I opted to try something different (fish tacos) as opposed to my usual selection of pasta jambalaya. While the meal was good, I would have preferred the jambalaya. We adjourned to Bob & Lisa’s home for a few games. We were joined by two folks from the local gaming group. We played a group game of Nottingham before dividing into two groups. I was subsequently thrashed by Bob at Kingdom Builder, a game I thoroughly enjoy.
I went back to my room a bit early, hoping to get a good night’s rest before the hectic days of Gulf Games formally began. It was not to be. I guess I was too excited, so my sleep was sporadic and restless. I met Leon in the game room Wednesday morning and we began the process of decorating the room and preparing the registration packets and name badges. Usually several other folks arrive on Wednesday and lend us a hand, but this year was an exception, as it was just Leon and me. Fortunately, we have done this a time or two, so we had everything prepared and decorated shortly after lunch.
More folks began to arrive by late afternoon, so it was time to play a few games. My ticket for the evening included, among others, Acquire. This year is 50th anniversary of the game, and Joe Huber is on a quest to play the game fifty times. I hadn’t played in years, so was surprised to capture the victory. Other games that evening included Top It, Ticket to Ride Asia (team version) and Hanabi. The latter two were new to me, and I enjoyed them both. I’ll probably keep my eyes out for the reprint of Hanabi.
Gulf Games officially began on Thursday morning, and a steady stream of friends arrived throughout the day. One of the most special features of Gulf Games is the joy in greeting these friends, both new and veteran. It is always good to see everyone, but it makes me wish I could see everyone more often. Twice a year just isn’t enough.
The welcome party Thursday evening was a lot of fun. We split into three teams for a group version of Pictionary, with the words and phrases all being game related. It initially proved to be too easy, so we reduced the time allowed for each word, making it more challenging. Everyone seemed to have a fun time.
Games I played Thursday included Kingdom Builder, Welcome to Walnut Grove, Dr. Shark, Ticket to Ride: India, Discworld, Last Will and Quebec. I am really enjoying Kingdom Builder, Welcome to Walnut Grove, Last Will and Quebec, all of which are favorites from the recent crop of Essen games. This was my first playing of Ticket to Ride: India and Discworld. I enjoyed the latter more than I anticipated, even though it is quite chaotic.
Friday morning began with an attempt to play Application Crunch, a game that was designed and developed by a group of college professors and staff. It is supposed to simulate the college application process. There are some neat ideas here, but as a whole, the game has numerous flaws and fails to accurately simulate the experience. With further development there might be a decent game, but the theme is not one that is likely to appeal to a large audience. My thanks to Joe Huber, Jim McDanold and Kevin Horovitz for enduring this experience.
Fortunately, things got better. I played Last Will, Welcome to Walnut Grove, Ab in die Tonne (a fun, “fill the trash can” game in the mold of Fits), Maus au Chocalate (fun, light card game), Kingdom Builder, Telestrations and Discworld. A highlight from Telestrations is Marie Derrick’s incredible rendition of the word “prostitute.”
Friday evening a group of 20+ enjoyed a good meal and great entertainment at the Choo Choo’s Station House. The very talented servers not only take care of our food needs, but perform a variety of musical hits. I always enjoy this place, and it is fun sharing the experience with my Gulf Games friends.
Suddenly, it was Saturday already. When at Gulf Games, the time flies SO quickly. I opened the morning with King of Tokyo, a game my local East Tennessee Gamer buddy Zach Smith was giving high marks. Ehh. The game was light fun, but there really wasn’t anything here that I haven’t seen in other games. Cute, but not much more. Dan Baden and his family arrived shortly thereafter, and he was carrying a small game that I seemed to recognize. After examining the box, the memory came flooding back — it was Scan, an old Parker Brothers title that I owned as a child. It is a quick-recognition game that I remember really enjoying. So, of course, we played. Turns out I can recognize color patterns extremely well, but am terrible at shapes, patterns and codes. Still, it was fun to play the game again after decades have passed. This was followed by Los Mampfos (the donkey poop game) and the Liar’s Dice tournament. I once again made it to the finals, only to be quickly expelled. The rest of the day includes games of Romeo and Juliette (Sheldon Smith’s interesting take on Guillotine), Jump Gate (Games magazine’s Game of the Year, an inexplicable choice), Dr. Shark, Fealty and Tournay. This was my first playing of Tournay. In spite of the overload of often undecipherable icons, it grew on me as the game progressed.
The evening featured our traditional awards ceremony and prize-table giveaway. Everyone walked away with two or three games, plus numerous goodies from the Depot. Special thanks goes to Cynthia Landon for her donation of plush meeples, meeple key chains, meeple hats and meeple glasses.
I had to depart early on Sunday as our church was holding a chili-cookoff, with the proceeds going to the Joplin mission trip. I am leading the Joplin team, so I felt I couldn’t miss the event. Fortunately, several people helped un-decorate the room on Saturday evening, so I was able to depart as scheduled. Numerous games were in progress when I departed, so the fun continued throughout the morning and into the early afternoon.
Gulf Games 29 was another fantastic event. I had a great time socializing, dining and, of course, gaming with everyone. It was great to meet and greet several new faces, who were immediately welcomed into the Gulf Games family. Of course, it was also fabulous to share time with my veteran Gulf Gamers, many of whom I’ve now known for up to fifteen years! A special moment was when Sheldon Smith held aloft his granddaughter Heidi, proudly announcing that she was a 3rd generation Gulf Gamer! Wow! Have we really been together as a group that long? I remember when Heidi’s mother Laura was a pre-teen. Amazing … and for me, quite emotional.
I know I’ve said this before, but it still holds true. The folks at Gulf Games are the best. Everyone is so friendly, so kind, so open. It truly is a very special group of people. I simply cannot imagine missing a single event. I just wish we could see each other more often. A very special “THANK YOU” to everyone for continuing to make Gulf Games so very special.