My first Gathering of Friends was back in 2002 and even though I’d been in the hobby for a long time, it was an overwhelming experience. Puerto Rico had just been released… and multiple copies were in play almost constantly throughout the week. (I myself played 4 times in the first 48 hours.) It was a real pleasure to be discovering a gem of a game and exploring the intricacies of it together with friends old & new.
In fact, what Alan Moon has created over the 20+ years of its existence is a 10 day long gaming party… where experiences can vary from being present at the coming-out party of a gaming classic to the comfortable joys of sitting down to an old favorite with old friends – and where long meals and sightseeing trips fit comfortably with long games and epic Loopin’ Louie battles. (Hats off to you, Mr. Moon… and thanks for inviting me all those years ago.)
Classic Games & Classic Experiences
The Gathering 2013 didn’t have a Puerto Rico. This year was memorable not so much for any breakout game – though I did find some very good games (more about that in a paragraph or two). The real highlights were a combination of classic games & classy friends:
- I enjoyed three different plays of one of my top ten games, Fast Food Franchise… Not only did I get to teach Stephen Glenn to play, but I also participated in an epic 4 player game that saw the map almost completely fill up with franchises.
- I managed a better showing in the yearly tradition of playing DTM Motorsportspiel after the prize table on a brutal track (Bruno) that saw experienced players crash & burn. I started in 3rd position (out of 10) and managed to finish 3rd place – which I count as a victory!
- I had to take a phone call while playing Wurfel Bingo with some wonderful friends… Who wrote down the numbers rolled in order so I could catch up when I got back. (I still lost… but a man with friends like that never really loses.)
- Years ago, Frank Branham strongly suggested I try Hour of Glory, a mash-up of miniatures combat & board game from England that does a fine job of getting the feel of a WW2 spy movie condensed into a playable gaming experience. However, the price kept me from ever having the opportunity – until last week when James & Sheila Davis taught me how to play using the Frank Branham-friendly “Die Zombies” expansion. Sheila & I managed to grab the plans from the secret bunker and kill off the Nazi guards controlled by James (with a great deal of help from the zombies) – but I had to sacrifice my Russian spy in order for Sheila’s American spy to escape the zombie horde with documents vital to the war effort.
- At the invitation of Ted Alspach, I ran a rather twisted version of Werewolf one night entitled “Werewolf Upon Werewolf”… which included what might be best described as “Chairs: the LARP”.
- I finally got to play some classics that I’d never played before: Auf Fotosafari in Ombagassa (thumbs up for this hard-to-find but very cool “kids” game), Hotel Life (which was fun but certainly not worth the insane prices it goes for), The Game of Politics – 1935 edition (another thumbs up – the enjoyment was increased by Kevin Whitmore’s excellent Southern campaign speeches), and Wildlife Adventure (I actually made the finals in the tournament!).
- I didn’t do all that well in the Loopin’ Louie tournament… but my one win was over the eventual winner, so I’ll claim that as a minor victory!
Day By Day By Day
I didn’t feel like there was one big “hit” this week. I did see a certain eclectic group of games get a lot of table time:
- Coup benefitted from being (a) short, (b) able to handle 6 players well, and (c) actually a pretty good little bluffing game. I played it four times and was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
- on the heavier side, there was plenty of Bora Bora, Terra Mystica, and various versions of 18xx in play each day. Those of you who know me well realize that I didn’t play any of these. (I will note that I want to try Terra Mystica… but the timing was never quite right.)
- Augustus started slow… but once a couple of early mis-taught rules were cleared up, I noticed lots of people playing it. My pithy & possibly quotable review: it’s “Roman gamer bingo” or “Cosmic Bingo” – essentially, Bingo with special powers and various scoring goals. I’d happily play it again after two plays last week.
- My biggest surprise was how many different times I saw Sentinels of the Multiverse played. While I’m enjoying it a lot with my boys at home, I was stunned to see it out on a daily basis at the Gathering.
Mark Jackson: Demo Monkey
Another Gathering first for me was placing a prototype with a publisher. I had the privilege of showing Jeff Myer’s Roach Coach – and having it taken for testing.
Some Random Thoughts on Stuff I Played for the First Time
The title of this section pretty much says it all.
- Like Dice (published by Adlung) is a very clever speed math game… and while I’m not all that great at math, I am pretty good at adding up dice pips. I could happily add a copy to my collection after playing it three times.
- I’ll be writing a full review of Arctic Scavengers in the next couple of weeks – suffice it to say that I played it four times at the Gathering and liked the way it managed to use deck-building to create a narrative story arc.
- Trains has had a lot of hype – a deck-builder with board play – and I think that having an English language edition with better graphics will be a real plus. I found that I enjoyed it more on the second play where I better understood the interaction between card & board play.
- I have big questions about the long-term viability of Rondo. Both games I played were won by the last player (this is a game with equal rounds) – and I’m wondering if the way the game works doesn’t encourage that kind of ending.
- Clubs is just about the right weight for me – the guy who doesn’t particularly like Tichu. Tichu lovers need not apply.
- La Boca would have seen more play if there had been more copies there… it’s a speed puzzle game done in pairs with a partnership mechanic similar to the one in Monster-Falle. I agree with our Fearless Leader – I think this goes on the short list to win the Spiel des Jahres.
- Targi is a very good two-player game with interesting placement choices, a defined time limit, and tough resource management issues… but you need an English translation to make it easily playable. Luckily, one is on the way.
- Two games I had high hopes fell flat for me – both by the usually solid publisher, Alea: Las Vegas and Saint Malo. Both are perfectly decent dice games, but neither captured my fancy.
One of the privileges of attending the Gathering is getting to play prototypes. Granted, one of the drawbacks of attending the Gathering is getting roped into playing prototypes. Pick your poison.
I just want to quickly mention a few that I particularly enjoyed and am looking forward to:
- Rampage already has an entry up on BGG… it’s probably my favorite “Japanese monster movie game” ever – even over the long OOP The Creature That Ate Sheboygan
- I had the opportunity to play the Alien Orb version of the upcoming Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts expansion… and now can say with confidence that I enjoy both ways to play the game.
- Brian Yu (brother of the Grand Poobah & Chief Bottlewasher of the Opinionated Gamers, Dale Yu) has a great family-friendly cooperative game coming out this fall called Treasure Hunters.
- The Suburbia expansion is very cool – and it’s not just a few new tiles. (Some details may change as we get closer to Essen 2013, but I really liked it. It adds some interesting decisions & play space without bogging down a game I already love.)
- I played two Firefly-themed prototypes: one that is still under consideration and one that is a “go” for this summer… a cooperative card game entitled Firefly: Out of the Black. A strong sense of theme permeates this quick-moving co-op.
- The big surprise for me was how much I liked Gluck Auf (from Kramer & Kiesling… to be published by Eggertspiele). Not sure what I’m allowed to say, so I’ll simply let you know that I’m looking forward to having my own copy and that it isn’t a sci-fi or fantasy game!
My last four games of the Gathering were the Can’t Stop tournament. I won my first two rounds, then squeaked forward in the semifinal with a second place finish over my arch-nemesis (and good friend) Larry Levy. (There were two semifinal games with 3 players each – the first two players to complete 3 columns advanced to the final.)
So, I found myself in the final against Daryl, Rebecca, and the designer of two of my favorite games: Tom Lehmann. I quickly shot up the board & claimed the 6 and the 8… but it took what seemed like forever (thanks to a couple of near-misses) for me to finally nail down a 3rd column and the win!
That win means I get first pick off the amazing prize table next year… yowsa! (If I’d have had first pick this year, I would have picked up a copy of Mice & Mystics with painted minis and beautiful clay pieces to replace the tokens.)