POSTCARD FROM BERLIN #54: Gathering Every Week

Jeffrey D. Allers

Summer is approaching, which means that Berlin, like most other European metropolises, will be swarming with tourists again.  Unlike many cities, however, Berlin’s wide sidewalks and vast public spaces absorb visitors quite well, so that the boost in population is not at all unpleasant for year-round residents.

Many of the visitors—especially those from my homeland—are only here for a very brief stay, booking a night or two in a centrally located hotel or hostel in order to allow just enough time for the whirlwind tour of the city’s important sites.  This is, of course, part of a larger “speed tour” through Europe, because one never knows if one will ever make it back to the Old World again.  Books published recently, such as those that list the “100 Places to See Before You Die” only compound the pressure.

When I was studying architecture many years ago, I reluctantly passed up the opportunity to take part in the Rome studio semester.  Those who went came back with tales of Euro-rail excursions through multiple lands, and photo albums and sketchbooks filled with images of the most important buildings from our history classes.  I admit that I was jealous of them.

Looking back now, of course, I have had a much better deal.  Living in Europe for most of the past 18 years, I have been able to spread out my trips, taking one region at a time.  Instead of having the pressure of having to catch the next train to another distant location, I’ve always given myself time to linger and explore.   Otherwise, I fear that, despite my education, all the grand cathedrals would have started to look the same to me.

Thanks to my more relaxed approach, I’ve also had experiences that go beyond the excellent recommendations of my Lonely Planet guidebooks. There was, for example, the time my wife and I were swept away by a pair of  “giants” and accompanying musicians to arrive at a secluded, neighborhood festival in the backstreets of Barcelona, complete with large vats of paella. There was the spontaneous trip with a young Italian couple we had just met in Paris, cruising through the French countryside with the top down in their convertible. And I will never forget the evening that I sat near a 2,000 year old Roman bridge at sunset, while a saxophonist played under one of its arches, taking full advantage of the unique acoustics.

As an architect, I do marvel at the historic buildings and places we visit, but I am not overwhelmed at having to tour them at a breakneck pace.  And, because I spend time in the culture, I am able to see them as part of their rich context.

I’m finding that I have the same feelings towards playing games. When I first heard about the Gathering of Friends and other weeklong gaming events, for example, I admit that I was jealous.  What could be better than playing just about every new game—and most every classic—for a whole week together with game designers, publishers, and commentators who I normally only know through the internet?  I devoured any reports that emerged as soon as they were posted, and poured over photos of the games played and people in attendance.

Looking back now, however, I’m probably much happier pacing myself, enjoying the weekly game nights when they come, while having the opportunity to deepen the relationships with the gamers I get to see on a regular basis.

In fact, I am not so sure that I would enjoy a weeklong marathon of board games, no matter who the opponents.  Just as I’ve enjoyed having time between European excursions, allowing time to reflect on the cultural experiences, I also appreciate a game much more after I’ve had time to ponder it in between sessions.

There are plenty of other people who have complained about the “insider” nature of the Gathering of Friends, that it is invitation-only and that what goes on is either over-publicized or too secretive—or both (as in, “I played an awesome prototype today, but I’m not allowed to write about it”).

From what I can see, however, the Gathering is a wonderful event, and I am grateful for the way it supports our hobby.   And if they somehow granted me a one-day pass, I know I would enjoy the experience.  I’d jump at the chance just to meet Alan Moon himself, although I probably would not know what to say, other than, “Would you please sign my copy of ‘Wongar’?”

I’m not jealous, anymore, though, as I have all the gaming goodness I can handle:   at my own weekly gatherings, and everyone is invited.

About jeffinberlin

Jeffrey D. Allers lives in Berlin and has worked there as an architect and youth pastor. He is a published game designer and has been writing "Postcards From Berlin" since 2005 on GameWire, BoardgameNews and now, the Opinionated Gamers. He enjoys writing about game design and his experiences as an American expatriate living in the midst of German boardgame culture.
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8 Responses to POSTCARD FROM BERLIN #54: Gathering Every Week

  1. Randy Cox says:

    It’s nice that you have a weekly game group–not everyone does. So for many people, conventions (whether invitational or public) are the only real option. But, even so, there is no requirement to play the latest and greatest and try to check off items on a gaming bucket list. There are people who attend the Gathering who never play a single new, hot game. In fact, there are plenty who play only a game or two each day, but they enjoy the chance to hang out with friends. I think that the view of the Gathering is a bit skewed by blogs and websites that are devoted to reporting on the hotness.

  2. jeffinberlin says:

    Thanks, Randy. Yeah, I know that not everyone can meet regularly to play games, although I would bet that most everyone at the Gathering has that opportunity. In Berlin, I could probably go to a different game night just about every night of the week, if I had time to. That is truly a privilege.

    And my main point wasn’t that there were too many new games to play–I know that the Gathering often presents one of the few opportunities for many to play old classics like Die Macher and 1001 Arabien Nights (as that is also usually inluded in the many Gathering blogs and Geeklists). It’s that I would just rather have my gaming spaces out rather than 7 days and late nights, even though I’m sure the camraderie would be a lot of fun–probably not unlike architecture design studio, especially late at night;-)

  3. Adam D says:

    Yes, I’m ambivalent about conventions. I like tournaments, but they don’t seem to be the focus of euro gaming much, so the two conventions I attend in Melbourne, Australia, is all about friendly gaming. The problem I have is that I don’t really enjoy playing games for 12 hours a day. I’d prefer being outside and leaving gaming to the late afternoon or evenings. I’ve found conventions are best for two player wargames (that I rarely get to play ftf otherwise) and then party or dexterity games in the evening. Euro games can be played easily enough at game nights at home.

    However, meeting new gamers or those you only see on an annual basis is very cool. That’s what I remember more than the games.

  4. Andrew Bond says:

    I have enjoyed reading your ‘postcards’ and wanted to get your advice.

    I am visiting Berlin on business this mid-week and my wife will be joining me for some R&R from Thursday to Sunday. Where is best place to go on a Friday night to get a taste of the German boardgaming scene?

    I’ve been told by a fellow-gamer to visit Spielwiese in the Friedrichshain district…

  5. jeffinberlin says:

    Yes, the Spielwiese is a great place to get a taste of the Berlin boardgaming scene (and it’s located near Simon-Dach-Str., one of the best-known alternative cafe streets in the city–well worth a stroll).

    If I was having one of my game nights then, I’d also invite you to join us.

    • Andrew Bond says:

      My wife and I enjoyed visiting the Spielwiese and managed to play both Die Burgen von Burgund (new to both of us) and Vikings (long out of print, but a game I really enjoy). Certainly worth the trip on the underground and subsequent stroll. Even found a good place to have a curry…

  6. Tanya says:

    Jeff – this was an interesting perspective on the G of F. I attended for my first time this year. I have to say, I had the time of my life. I didn’t know a lot of people who already attended. My dear friend, Mike Gray (Inventor Relations for Hasbro), was my main supporter and I was looking forward to spending time with him there. We attend a lot of the same events (as I head Inventor Relations for ThinkFun) however we never get time to spend together to play games, it’s always business. So it was a dream to be able to spend time with Mike just playing games. He is a veteran at the G of F, so I also got to meet some of his gamer friends as well as many other new people. (funny how games do that!). You know how its been said that gamers are really friendly people? I experienced that at the G of F and built some really special relationships. I can’t wait to see them again next year to play again together. I work for a American company however I still live in Canada (weird, I know but I consider myself very lucky). But because I still live in a small town, I do not have the luxury of weekly game nights. Maybe if I had that, G of F wouldn’t be so important. Somehow I don’t think so though. I love meeting people from all over the world who share the passion of gaming with me. That is also why I love what I do. And having a week dedicated simply to playing other company’s game, that was extremely invaluable for my career as well. I played about 50 games that week. I play games every day in my job but knowing what’s happening in the gaming world is very important. So if you have have the chance to join us at the G of F, I would recommend it! (and yea, meeting Alan was really cool too :)

  7. jeffinberlin says:

    I’m glad you and so many people have a great time at the GoF every year. I enjoy meeting new people, too, which is why I try to at least make it to part of a convention once a year (Essen, Nuremberg, Göttingen) and it is helpful to see what other designers and publishers are doing, not to mention meeting them face-to-face. And if I was in the industry full-time, I would certainly consider going to at least one week-long convention like the GoF, as I would count it as “work time” or even “further education”:-)

    I just recognize that I have other limits in my life, and I’m quite content with that.

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