The Gathering of Friends 2013 (Warmup for 2014)

Note: I originally wrote this to be posted on Board Game Geek News but the editor was swamped with work thus this got pushed further and further behind. I decided to post it as a warmup for the 2014 Gathering of Friends, which starts April 11th.

The Gathering of Friends, Alan Moon’s annual event in Niagara Falls, New York, was held April 12-21, 2013. The weather can be really unpredictable during April – sometimes it snows, sometimes it’s sunny and warm. We had a mix this year of good and bad weather (one day in particular was cold, very windy, and had some flurries).

Food and Stuff

This was my third trip to the area. It must be getting old hat since I didn’t even bother walking over to view the Falls or go to Canada (within blocks of the hotel). Although the many trips to go eat may have had something to do with it. I think we went to Duff’s for Buffalo Wings 3 times (more on this later) and made at least a couple trips to the Texas Road House. (These are about 25 minutes drive each way.) We also stopped for frozen custard 3 times… yummmmm!

Last year I heard about an Italian restaurant in the Motel 8 that was supposed to be excellent. I think it’s called Vilella’s or some variation of that. The motel was a bit scary – not sure I would ever stay there. The restaurant was small, 6 tables only, so reservations were basically a requirement. The food did not disappoint. The gnocchi was some of the best I have ever had. The only sort of complaint I have is that the desserts are not made on the premises – they were clearly made by another company, frozen, then thawed and plated on site.

This year, within walking distance from the hotel, the local culinary institute opened a deli, bakery, and restaurant. I ate there several times during the week. Almost everything I had was really good. The restaurant was a bit pricey for some items though, especially for lunch. The wood-oven pizza was a good value and quite tasty – not to mention, BIG.

What really makes The Gathering special is the people. Some of my friends live overseas. This is about the only time I get to see them unless I go to the Essen Spiel. Even those friends in other parts of the US I don’t get to see often enough except at conventions like this. 10 days of gaming may seem like a lot but it goes by surprisingly fast. If you would like to see some fun we had at Duff’s, check out the following videos, starring Frank DiLorenzo, R&R Games; Stephen Buonocore, Stronghold Games; Ted Alspach (aka “freakishly tall dude”), Bezier Games; and Zev Shlasinger, Z-Man Games. Oh, and me of course, aka Diceychic.

The back-story: Stephen ordered “Death Wings” (hottest wing sauce), with a side of of latex gloves. I had never heard of a restaurant providing the latter item, but they did!

Back-back-story: one time when Stephen ate some hot wings, later that evening he had washed his hands quite well (so he thought) then cleaned his contacts. The next morning he noticed they were a little fogged but didn’t think about it before popping one into his eye. Pain and a lot of tearing ensued… thus the gloves.

Back to the back-story: I decided to challenge Frank (who’s known to be a bit thrifty) to eat one of the Death Wings. I think I offered him a dollar or two first, then five dollars. He caved pretty easily at five and downed the wing. Now Frank is a spicy food sweat king – he was already sweating from the medium hot wings we ordered – water started pouring off him. As Ted says, it was like Niagara Falls all over again.

A video by Ted Alspach: Frank Eats a Death Wing

Video part 2 by Ted Alspach: Death Wing Aftermath

Next Stephen challenged Ted to eat a Death Wing. Ted was not budging for a measly five dollars. Nor was $10 enough. He held out for $20! Before watching the next two videos, shot by Frank DiLorenzo, know that Ted likes to eat wings with a knife and fork (yeah), which only served to prolong the pain. Watch as his eyes got bigger and bigger and his lips started to sting. During the video you’ll hear Stephen challenge me to eat one for $10. He didn’t go as high as $20 because I like spicy food – although I also like to taste my food so I don’t usually order the hottest. I was surprised that they still had a lot of flavor even though they were very spicy. You see a quick shot of Zev, aka “The Wing Wimp,” to Frank’s right eating his very bland wings (he didn’t even want “medium”).

 A video by Frank DiLorenzo: Ted Eats a Death Wing

The last video is of me eating a Death Wing while Ted ices his lips (1:19).

 A video by Frank DiLorenzo: Diceychic Eats a Death Wing

Quick Blurbs of Games Played

I managed to play quite a few new games, despite all my trips out to eat. Here is a list of most of what I played (some prototypes can’t be discussed, and I didn’t list some of the older games I played). Prototypes discussed are with permission.

Concept is due to be released in October at the Essen Spiel. It plays in about 30 to 40 minutes. The company told me it would be for 5-20+ players, with a note that you could play with even more players if you had a big enough table and players have good eyes. I wouldn’t recommend that many players though (but then again, my eyes are getting old) – there are a LOT of icons on the board and they are the main feature of the game. See the photo below – note: this is a photo of the prototype from the publisher; it is NOT the final design. I included it to give you an idea of how the game will work. Basically, a team selects a card and chooses a subject. It could be a movie, person, etc. Then the team players will mark, one at a time, different icons on the board with wooden pieces. Pieces of the same color are related; a different color could represent a subcategory if desired. A large piece represents the main subject; the smaller are for support. For example, if the subject was Tom Cruise, you might use the large black piece on the person icon, a smaller black piece on the movie reel, and another on a ship. You could then put another color on a religious symbol and a science symbol. Players will call out answers during this process.

I was amazed at how quickly just a few clues could generate the correct answer. Only once in a while did the players get stumped. It was fun to play – I look forward to trying the final version.

Concept PrototypeConcept Prototype Board, NOT THE FINAL DESIGN

This is the new Ystari game by my bud, William Attia. He was getting tired of playing the game (it’s basically finished, which means he has played A LOT) so Ted Alspach was kind enough to go through the rules and play with us. I hope he got them right this time. He did have to ask William a couple questions but I’d rather that than have him teach us something incorrectly (this seems to happen a lot at conventions).

Spyrium is a worker placement type of game, with a grid of cards on the table that may be used or bought during the retrieve workers phase. The first part of a round, players put workers out in the grid, along the sides of cards. Players decide when to switch to the second part of the round where workers are removed – this is when cards may be purchased or activated. Each worker starts out giving the player three choices (i.e. the two cards on either side of it or taking money as an action) but once players start purchasing cards (and removing them from the board), there will be fewer choices. Timing is important. This was interesting enough that I definitely want to play it again. It was one of my favorites of the Gathering.

La Boca
This is a fairly fast game (30-40 minutes) for 3 to 6 players. I would probably not play it with more than 4 (makes for a longer game). It is semi-cooperative in that each round two players will be cooperating to complete one side of a 3 dimensional puzzle, but at the end of the game only the player with the most points (money) will win. Each puzzle card has two different images showing during the round – one for each player. The players sit across from each other such that each sees just one side of the card and can reach the building area in the middle. The puzzle is built with a number of colored blocks (the advanced cards use more blocks). The number of seconds for both sides to finish is what determines how many points they will each receive. They must work together while building. Usually this involves talking throughout the build. For example, one player may ask if the pink block may be oriented horizontally; the other may respond that she needs it to stand up vertically so it will show on the 2nd level above the black block she has placed.

I think this is a great game for newbies or as a filler. The pieces are colorful and of good quality. The game board was well designed for play. I may have to buy a copy!


TickThis is a “tick-taking” game by Ted Alspach. If you know Ted – these puns are nothing compared to the full barrage of humor you get once you get to know him. Or even if you don’t know him. He’s not really shy. Even though ticks are totally disgusting, he made them look cuter for the game (…still not cute, I hate the critters).

I played You Suck a couple times but, although it’s a solid game, it’s not really my type mainly because it can be a bit mean. Players bid on the number of tricks (ahem, ticks) they must take during a round. Others will of course mess with you to make sure you don’t make the bid. Also a certain number of cards, say 4, will finish off a tick and award it to the winner so once 3 cards have been played, the next player will usually have the control to decide if they want it or can force another player to take it. If the player before you never plays that 3rd card until later in the round (when you have fewer cards), you may not get a controlling play.

You Suck You SuckCover Art

Snowdonia is a solid game with a lot of stuff going on. Basically players place workers and carry out actions. The goal is to get the most points by the end of the game through excavating, building, and filling contracts. To sum up: weather can affect game play, events will push the game along, there is variation among contracts and trains, and players vie for action positions and resources.

What I didn’t like about the game is high cost of owning a train when the event comes up that requires you to pay more steel (steel is fairly hard to get) in order to keep it. It was difficult enough to build the train in the first place. It’s also costly to use it (trade coal to place an additional worker – coal is usually hard to come by). I didn’t feel it was necessary to have to pay even more for it at some random point in the game (random because events are triggered by pulling white cubes from the bag, also containing next round’s seed resources). This pretty much ruined the game for me. Granted it was a first play but one little slip up, forgetting about that upcoming expense, cost me the game. Even had I remembered and planned for it, it seems an awfully high price for fairly little return compared to, for example, the contracts that give players points based on rubble collected. In fact the person who won our game did so on these types of contracts – and by quite a margin. Also, the game may end unexpectedly due to how events come out of the bag. I may give Snowdonia another try but I don’t think it will ever be a favorite.

Legends of Andor
This cooperative dungeon-crawl/RPG type game (nominated for a Spiel des Jarhes Kennerspiel award) is OK. It’s definitely not my favorite co-op; I like Mansions of Madness and Descent: Journeys in the Dark much better – although both of these have a controlling “bad guy” player that the rest of the players play against so they aren’t completely co-op per se. The game comes with 5 scenarios that I doubt I would play again, thus replay value is low until more scenarios come out. I would like to have had more scenarios come with the base game at least. The scenarios are ordered to teach the game in steps; the first is a bit too basic, making the initial set seem even smaller. I might try the game again (although likely not scenarios that I’ve already played) but I don’t feel a need to own this one.

Panic Lab
This is a rather cute speed game with mutant amoebas. A circle of cards is set up at the start of each round and an amoeba’s starting attributes are rolled on the dice. Players have to track the amoeba from its starting lab through a possible series of changes to seek the final amoeba. This is a nightmare for dyslexics. Must I say it? I suck at this game. It was fun for a few rounds though.

In CO2, players represent CEOs of energy companies trying to meet the demands of government to produce greener fuels, while at the same time reducing pollution. Each player is on their own (only one winner) but it has a little cooperative play in that everyone must work to reduce pollution or all players will lose (if pollution gets over a certain limit). There is also some cooperative work on summits – players can help each other fill the empty slots with their scientists to get them completed. I liked the game in general. My first play was engaging enough to keep me interested through most of the game. It ran a bit long but it was the first or second play for all of us so it will likely be faster next time. The publisher lists it at 2 hours; I think that may still be a bit too long because a lot of actions are repeated but I’ll reserve final opinion until after another play or two. The only other drawback is that it’s a bit fiddly – although better to have fiddly in a meaty game that lasts a while than in a short one where the setup could take as long as the game.

As happens at many conventions, a few rules may have been done wrong. CO2 is on my list to play again (hopefully with all the right rules!).

Black Spy
I played a new reprint of an old game. This is sort of a twist on Hearts. It’s a fairly straight forward trick taking game with 4 color suits, numbered 1 through 11 each, and a black spy suit, also numbered 1 through 11 but with six number 7 cards. Only black cards are worth points: 1-6 are worth 1 point each, 8 is worth 2, 9 three, 10 four, and 11 five. The 7s are worth 10 points each. Once a card is led, players must either follow suit or rank (number) otherwise they may play any card. The highest card in the led suit wins. There is also a shoot the moon option that’s very risky. The game is played until one player reaches 200 points ; the player with the least number of points is the winner. I only played the game twice but it seems like in the later rounds of a hand, the same person gets stuck with most of the cards, and usually most of the points, due to having the lead. I’m not sure how to mitigate this from happening – maybe it will become clearer with more plays?

Suburbia with PROTOTYPE Expansion, Suburbia Inc
I can’t talk about the expansion* except to say that it includes more than just building tiles. This was the first time I played Suburbia. I kind of wish I had played the base game first, without the expansion – if only to get a feel for it before adding extras. Suburbia is a tile laying game, with some engine building elements, more so if you can manage to swipe the tiles you need before others take them away for their own cities or trash them. Players have some “shared” goals and a private goal for bonus points. I would definitely like to play again. *Update: read my review of Suburbia Inc here on Opinionated Gamers.

Terra Mystica
This was my favorite game at the Gathering. Terra Mystica has very little luck (yay!) and a lot of strategy. Players each get their own faction with some sort of advantage during the game. The factions seem to be fairly balanced but I only played one time with four players so I have little to go on here (there are 7 player boards, each with 2 factions available, one on each side). The goal of the game is to score victory points; there are several ways to do so. Mostly players will be trying to expand their territory and build buildings. Building next to an opponent can be really beneficial – when they build, your faction gets a bonus and vice-versa. The drawback is that neighbors will also limit your expansion options, possibly closing you in.

I was totally engaged during the game. There is a lot of planning so that you have the right resources to do what you want to do next turn. Special actions can help you achieve your goals. I can’t wait to play Terra Mystica again!

Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition (PROTOTYPE)
This is a stand-alone card game based on the social Werewolf game. It does a very good job of capturing the feel of Werewolf while still being a card game.

Someone kindly brought an English past-up version of the game, which was played constantly until he took it home with him, leaving a few people who missed out dismayed. It’s a fairly light card game with some strategy but quite a lot of luck in how the cards come up. Simply summed up, the game has 165 cards, each in one of five colors. Players choose a card from their hand and perform one of six actions: build a house, take workers, take money, build a canal, hire a character, or diminish a threat against them. Most actions are based on the color of the card; this is where a lot of the luck comes in, as well as the card types themselves, which can vary widely in what they can do for a player.

The game is fairly quick, usually under an hour even with 4 players. This is a good thing because the luck factor can really mess with your game – although with more plays, experience may help alleviate this to some extent. I look forward to playing again.

This is a card-driven bidding game with some interesting features. The game is played over six rounds with three phases: players select a set of cards from a display of sets, players play cards, and players may activate buildings they have. There are six sub-phases in phase two, one for each type of character card. These allow players to do certain things such as gain gold, place their own pieces on the game board (area majority type of thing for scoring), and purchase buildings.

I can understand the appeal of the game but it is just not my type of game. I don’t like area control games for one thing, and being first in turn order is really important, thus much time is spent fighting over the turn order track.

Bora Bora
Players use dice to perform actions. The high-low die placement is interesting; higher numbers usually allow players better actions but lower numbers help block other players since during placement, the next die placed on an action space must be lower than the ones before it. There is a lot going on in Bora Bora. With only a single play, the jury is still out on this one.

Guildhall is a somewhat chaotic set collection card game. Players try to complete sets of five in order to buy victory points. The first player to 20 points is the winner. Each card grants a player some power, which gets better as more cards are collected in that set. There are several cards that allow players to manipulate opponent’s cards – stealing, trading, trashing. This is where most of the chaos lies.

Being a card game, there is quite a bit of luck in the draw. The card combinations can be fun to play though. It’s also fairly light.

Deemed “bingo for board gamers” – this new Spiel des Jarhes Game of the Year nominee plays up to 6 and doesn’t suffer much from too much down time, even with the max number of players. There’s a bit of luck in drawing cards (it is a card game after all) as well as in the selection of tiles called, but you do have choices whenever you complete a card. Also the tile used to reset the bag of tiles is a wild so you may choose to make it something you have had trouble fulfilling on a particular card. I enjoyed the few times I’ve played and will probably pick up a copy.

Love Letter
This is a fast little card game for 2 to 4 players. It plays in about 15 to 20 minutes. It’s so compact that it is a great game to bring along to a restaurant to play while waiting for a meal. There really isn’t that much to game play. There is some bluffing and a lot of luck in the card draw (card game!) but the rounds are so quick that it didn’t take away from the game. Nice light filler.

Fairy Land
This is a set collection card game with bidding. Everyone starts with the same set of cards in their own color. At the start of each round, a couple cards get flipped and the person whose turn it is decides onto which of the three piles in the center of the table the new cards get added (some restrictions apply). The person then takes her turn, either offering up one of the piles for bid or paying one or more of her cards to look through certain decks to take a card. Bids are paid for with your colored cards. Players will be able to use an action at least once in the game to pick up their set of used cards, otherwise they cannot be used again. Points are scored based on majorities of animals collected, number of flowers collected, and bonuses. Negative points may be earned for not collecting enough flowers or by having too many goblins.

This is a decent card game with some planning in how best to spend your cards, as well as strategy in placing and collecting various animals/flowers. Play can get a little long for a fairly simple card game unless people keep it moving. I’ve played with 2 and 4 people; both games worked well. I would like to try it with 3 but so far I prefer the 2-player to the 4, mainly due to the shorter time in the 2-player game.

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
At The Gathering, I played both the base game and a game with a prototype expansion. I won’t say much about the expansion; they are still in the process of play testing… but in general I do like expansions if they add something new and interesting to the game.

Tzolk’in is one of my favorite games from 2012. Last year I played the prototype; I was happy to see the full production copy this year. One person at the Gathering brought a hand-painted copy – the board looked awesome. I might have to paint my copy. I am still enjoying the game and looking forward to more plays!

This is a simple abstract tile-laying game of area control. On your turn you will choose one of three landscape tiles from your hand to play, place your pawn(s) if you are able, then draw a replacement tile. Tiles show two landscapes each (although some tiles are doubles, with both landscapes being the same type). Players must play all their pawns to win by taking over other players’ territories through majority, creating new territories, and taking over villages.

Note: I don’t tend to like area control games. At least this one is fairly light and quick (well, as long as the players take their turns quickly – I wouldn’t suggest playing with anyone afflicted with AP). As you might expect, there is a lot of luck in the tile draw. One mistake by a player in our game pretty much handed the game to the next player. This was one reason I didn’t like playing with 4; also the game changed too much from one of my turns to the next. I would like to try the game with 2. Since the board is two-sided, I might also like to try the other side.

Francis DrakePlaying Francis Drake, from L to R: Martha Garcia-Murillo, me, Ian MacInnes, and Ravindra Prasad (aka Snoozefest)

Francis Drake
This is a beautifully produced game with solid game play. Players are captains sailing to Francis Drakedistant lands for treasure and trade goods. Hire crew, garner supplies, and maybe even curry favor with the queen before setting off on your voyage. There are a lot of rules but the game is fairly straightforward. Everyone should give this a try, if not for the game play then at least to see how gorgeous the game is. Note: I’m not sure who took the photo above – it may have been Peter Hawes, the designer, who explained the game to us. Thank you, Martha, for sending me the photo.

Cinque Terre
A simple card driven pick-up-and-deliver game set in Italy. Players drive wooden trucks around the board (always clockwise) stopping to pick up produce as their cards allow, then delivering them to the towns for money. The board is seeded at the beginning of the game using colored dice. The pips on the dice show the value of each produce color delivered; if a particular produce is not shown on the dice (for there are only a subset of produce dice for each town), then the price is one. Players start with a personal goal card that must be filled or bad stuff happens (negative points). Contracts may be picked up during the game, as well as produce cards. Bonus points are awarded to the first person to deliver a certain amount of produce to each town (i.e. they fill a row on their delivery card for that town).

It seems to be a solid game, although there can be a lot of luck in how the produce and contract cards come up. I was quite unlucky in my one play – none of the contracts lined up so it was a bit of an uphill battle to fill what I had. I didn’t bother taking more cards after the first one or two (I don’t remember) – rather I concentrated on trying to deliver the highest valued produce to the towns and to fill up as many rows as possible. The person who won was able to get contracts to work for him; he won by a fair margin. The other person wasn’t able to fill his beginning contract and got hit pretty hard. I’d like the bonus/deliver option to be a viable victory path against contracts. I will have to try this game again.

Cavemen: The Quest for Fire
As the name implies, the goal is to be the first to create fire. This is accomplished through building up your tribe, especially the thinkers – they are of course the inventors. The game is played in rounds. The first player is determined by bidding teeth, one type of currency in the game. The other type of currency is meat. Currencies are used to buy upgrades to caves and recruit cave people. Inventions are bought by having enough people and items that give you light bulbs. Animals, which provide meat and sometimes teeth, are hunted by having enough hides in your tribe (most prevalent on hunters). Once the first player has been established (note: this player pays the full bid price in teeth as well as one meat per cave person in their clan, while the others pay only one meat total), that person takes his turn, followed by the others in clockwise order, and ending again with the first player taking another action (this is why the cost is much higher).

Cavemen: The Quest for Fire is a card drafting game. There will be a number of cards available for players each round. They can be inventions, cave people, caves, or animals. There is a bit more to the game. I have played it several times now. It’s a good game with a pretty cool theme that works (i.e. it’s not pasted on). It can run a little long but I have only played with new people each time so game play may speed up with experienced players.

Le Petit Prince: Fabrique-moi une planète (The Little Prince: Make me a Planet)
The artwork is based on the artwork of the book Le Petit Prince. It’s a simple tile-laying game with a twist. At the end of the game, each player will have built a planet of 16 tiles in a 4×4 grid. Each round the start player gets to select which of the four stacks to play from that round. One tile per player is placed face up from that stack. The start player chooses which tile she wants and adds it to her planet where it makes sense (e.g. such that the edges line up) then chooses the next player to go. That player takes a tile, places it, and chooses the next player, etc. The last player takes the remaining tile, no choice, but will get to be the start player in the next round.

Tiles have little pictures on them, such as animals, roses, and particular characters. These will impact scoring. Some have a negative impact, for example when you get three trees on your planet, the tiles bearing those trees will have to be turned face down and will score no points at the end of the game. The game is deceptive in that it looks like a cute, nice, friendly game, but in reality it’s a game of messing with other players’ planets: players usually try to stick the last player with some undesirable tile that will mess up their points. If you don’t mind this type of game play, then you may want to give this game a try.

Clubs is a climbing card came for 2 to 6 players. The deck has 4 suits, numbered 1 to 15 in each for a total of 60 cards. The 6-player game will use all cards in the deck. Only clubs are worth points (1=5pts, 2-3=4pts, 4-6=3pts, 7-10=2pts, 11-15=1pt). Players earn bonus points for going out: the highest points for going out first, less each time someone else goes out. The last person out earns no bonus points or points for their clubs. Plays are fairly standard: single, double, triple, quadruple, or a run of 2 or more. Players must follow the type played or pass. The first player to 50 points is the winner. There is also a special rule that you may call “double or nothing” before playing your first card – meaning you will go out first to score double points, or you will score nothing.

The game has a push-your-luck element: you may choose to wait to play your cards and maybe collect more clubs but you will miss out on the bonuses (they can be fairly substantial). I only played a few games with 6 players – not enough to really try different strategies. The one thing I did not like is that if you play with fewer than 6 players, not all the cards will be in play (yes, this is a pet peeve of mine). I will likely try playing it with 4 players (6 was a bit unruly) and remove the top 5 cards in each suit (leaving 1-10, 40 cards).

Monster Factory
This is a cute tile laying game, aimed towards kids but it also makes a nice filler for adults. The rules are simple, draw a tile and play it – on your monster or someone elses’. Your main monster, if complete at the end of the game, will score one point per tile. If you complete your monster, you may start a minion, worth one point per tile but only if it has at least one eye on it (minions must also be complete in order to score). There is no limit to the number of minions you may build, but you may only have one in progress at a time.

The artwork is really funny. Each time I’ve played, some of the other players took photos of the final monsters.

Those Pesky Garden Gnomes
This is a trick taking game played over a number of hands, with goal cards (kept secret until the hand ends) and bid tokens. Bid tokens can be positive or negative. Players do not want to score points; the player with the least number of points when someone reaches 30 will be the winner.

With one exception, goal cards come in two forms: take a number of cards of some type (the bid token is ignored) or take a number of points (the bid token is added in). The max points you may take in a hand is capped at 10. The exception is the “No Goal” card – the person who gets this is at the mercy of his bid token, for that’s the number of points he will score, no matter what tricks he takes (technically the absolute value of the bid token). During the game he can only try to mess with the other players’ tricks. Points are printed on only certain cards; some are positive and some are negative. The rest of the game is fairly standard trick-taking. The person who holds the 2nd highest bid token may select trump (or no-trump) and will begin the round. Suits must be followed if possible.

Goal cards last one hand, equal to 10 tricks (rounds), after which players get new cards, new goals, and new bid tokens. One other oddity about the cards; there are: 5 green (numbered 1 through 5), 10 yellow (1-10), 15 blue (1-15), and 20 red (1-20). All threes have a point value of negative 3. All fives have a point value of positive 5, all sevens negative seven, all elevens positive eleven, all fifteens negative fifteen, and the red nineteen is worth positive nineteen. There is also a catch up mechanism when players reach 10 or 20 points; they may choose to take two bid tiles or two goal cards (after 10) or two of each (after 20), discarding the extras once they have reviewed their cards but before play begins.

I have mixed feelings about the game. The point cards vary greatly, from negative 15 to positive 19. This can create huge swings in your score if you end up with a trick you didn’t intend to take. If played with the max number of players (i.e. five), all the cards will be in play each hand, but if you play with fewer than five, some random mix of cards will be out of play that hand. This adds more unpredictability to an already fairly crazy game.

The rules could be better; I would have preferred to see each goal card type explained on the back. As it is, you kind of have to carefully read and infer which card is which. Also, the points are printed in a red circle in the center of the card. The cards are very colorful and the gnomes have red hats making the red circle blend too much into the card art, most especially on the red cards. The point numbers are white and a bit too small. I really would have preferred to have the points printed in the corners next to the card values, maybe in parentheses or in a circle, with both numbers in high contrast, such as black ink on a white background, large enough to be easily seen during play.

Card City
This is a card game with square cards. The idea is to earn the most points through building a city in a 5×5 grid. There are 10 rounds in the game and 5 phases in a round. There is an interesting drafting phase at the start of each round where one player will offer 2 sets of cards to another player, some will be face down. Once the player decides on a pile, the first player will take what’s left. There is an opportunity for bluffing. Cards obtained during the round are put in the city grid according to “zoning laws” (i.e. rules of the game).

I only played the game one time; I liked it OK. It’s a fairly quick game – good as a filler. I would play it again.

This is a game of quick thinking and speed. Players take turns rolling a set of dice. Once the dice have been rolled, players quickly look to see how many of a particular body part (it is “Franken” Die after all) are showing. For example, if they need arms, they will look at the dice with arms, count them, shout out the number, and try to be the first person to slap the graveyard card. Usually all players manage to get a hand on the graveyard card during a round. The pile of hands is evaluated in order (bottom to top) for correctness. The first person who correctly called out their part gets to collect it. Once a player’s monster has been fully built, that player must now shout out the number of lightening bolts in order to win the game (this will undoubtedly animate their monster). Fun family game.

This is a little Halloween-themed card game by Richard Garfield. Sadly, I didn’t get it. The artwork is super cute; I really wanted to like the game but for me it fell flat. It seems like there are very few decisions and that the game basically plays you. Put simply, the idea of the game is to play out all cards in your hand and your personal deck. You can only play the ones in your personal deck in the second phase of the game and only if you can’t play anything from your hand. At this point you may flip the top card of your deck. If you don’t have a valid play then you add the card to your hand as well as all cards in the discard pile. This means you are essentially dependent on the contents of your deck – you flip a card, if you can play it you do, otherwise you pick up the discard pile. Although the extra cards give you more options to play, you can’t win unless you get rid of the all cards in your personal deck and in your hand.

There are some elements of Uno in the game (reverse play, wild) and some set collection. It definitely fits under the “family game” genre. If you don’t mind a lot of luck and want a light card game, you may want to try Ghooost.

Sadly, I didn’t get to play nearly enough Tichu this year – six games total in 10 days. Sigh. This even included the tournament. My partner this year was Ted Alspach. My usual partner, Martin Borus (a friend from Germany), had to work so he couldn’t attend The Gathering this year. The very first game of the tournament went horribly wrong. I don’t even want to talk about it. Stupid card game. Stupid bad luck.

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