The Gathering of Friends, hosted by game designer Alan Moon, was held April 11-20, 2014, in Niagara Falls, NY. You may want to read last year’s post first – a few things are continued here. This is a photo of the die-hard Gathering crowd – 20 or more years attending! I like this photo because I caught Alan mostly in focus but his friends are all a blur.
Alan Moon and a gathering of friends
Note: I didn’t bring my pro 35mm camera, just a small digital – it’s not the best but it sure is a lot lighter and smaller to carry around.
If you have read any of my convention articles, you’ll know how much of a foodie I am. Exploring area restaurants is one of my favorite things! Last year I went to a restaurant called Villella’s in the Motel 8 (now under the name Waldorf Niagara Hotel – HA! Fancy name for the same hotel). It was excellent last year but this year they fell short. The gnocchi (one of my favorite dishes) was rather gooey/chewy whereas last year it was light and fluffy, as it should be. The rice balls had a good flavor but they were cold inside. My chicken should have had a crisp coating but it seemed like it was just warmed up. The mushroom/brie soup was excellent but the serving size was about a third less than last year – I was really disappointed. Reading the reviews, it seems to be hit or miss. Not sure if I will chance it next year. Another place we usually frequent is the Indian restaurant down the street from the hotel (I don’t remember the name, but it’s in a house). This year they had a For Sale sign in front… but they were open (we were the only people there – the place looked closed). It was kind of strange. The food was still very good – although they didn’t have the lunch buffet as they did in the past. I brought along 3 buddies so we could play Tichu (yes, I carry my Tichu tin with me… just in case).
Results of Indian Lunch Tichu
- 75/425 (GT-WA/1-2)
- 75/625 (1-2)
- -15/715 (T Fail-MB)
- 150/750 (T-MB/T Fail-MP)
- -50/1050 (GT Fail-MB/T-MP)
William and I were on one team (the winning team!), Tom and Martin were on the other. Martin is my usual partner for the Gathering Tichu tournament; this year Tom and his partner (Jennifer Geske) knocked us out… but just barely (1000 to 1200). This year there were two notable (exciting!) things that happened: 1) Duff’s opened up in Niagara Falls and 2) about a street or two away from Duff’s we discovered De Dee’s Dairy! First, Duffs… Once again, challenges and bets went out for eating the death wings at Duff’s. My husband, Ravindra (aka Snoozefest), decided to give it a go this time. Watch him sweat it out in the video below.
After eating the death wing, he wanted to wash his face (from all the sweating). The new Duff’s has only one men’s restroom (and one women’s) – but it was occupied. He said his mouth just kept getting hotter and hotter, and the sweat dripping even more and more as he stood waiting for the person to vacate the restroom. It turns out it was a kid – I wonder what he thought when he saw Ravindra sweating like that when he opened the door?
The group at Duff’s
This trip to Duff’s included Janna Nelson, Greg Schloesser (board game reviewer), Eric Burgess (board game podcaster), Ravindra (my husband), and Ted Alspach (board game designer AND publisher, because why choose just one when you can have it all?). After dinner we went for frozen custard. I LOOOVE frozen custard!! Someone (probably Ted) pulled out an iPhone and searched for one nearby. It came up with De Dee’s Dairy, very close!
Just some of the ice cream flavors at De Dee’s Dairy
From the outside, it looked like a hole in the wall but inside it was pretty typical for an ice cream shop. They had about a hundred flavors (this is only a slight exaggeration!). Their motto is something like “where quantity is king” – and it sure is. The portions are huge! A small ice cream has 2 large scoops. The frozen custard was just as huge; I could barely finish mine (I managed to choke it down though, no worries).
Janna watched as a giant cone with sprinkles was handed to a little child in line… um, actually it was handed to Ted. Ted likes sprinkles. Lots of sprinkles. He seriously complained he didn’t have enough. Notice that dark sweatshirt he has on? It was covered in sprinkles by the time he was halfway done. When he said he wanted to go get more, Ravindra asked him “why don’t you just roll your cone across your shirt instead.” (The next trip to De Dee’s, Ted got a cup of sprinkles on the side “for dipping.”)
I just love flea market time! The selling is not so much fun, but buying… making that awesome deal for some rare (or at least cheap) game! Nothing like it.
Why are you making a face? Buy it or move on!
Yet Another Ted Story
Ted needed a cable for one of his iDevices so he dragged Ravindra and me to the closest mall with an Apple store. It was raining. Ted couldn’t remember which entrance the store was near. We wandered about (getting wet) looking for a door into the mall from the parking structure when we finally stumbled into this giant indoor go-kart track. We couldn’t believe how much mall space was devoted to it. The guys of course wanted to try it out (I was too hungry; just wanted food… see beginning of article). Ted, being 6’100” (as he says) didn’t know if he would fit in a “normal” sized vehicle so they let him try it out. Turns out he could actually steer without getting the wheel caught on his knees. Unfortunately (for them, lucky for me) there was a bit of a wait for the track so the guys decided to try another time. Yay!
Ted barely fitting in a go-kart
You never know what crazy game someone will be playing. I was walking by when I saw Friedemann Friese and Dan Luxemberg playing this weird monster assembly game. The monster spins as you try to put all the pieces on it before time runs out (at which point I think the eyes pop out and a few parts fly off).
Amerigo designed by Stefan Feld, published by Queen Games. A cube tower drives the game. I’ve heard of people having issues with the tower, not providing any but one color or sucking up most of the cubes. We didn’t really have this problem (except maybe one round). There are some forum posts on BGG about it. There is a software program to simulate the tower. One version runs in a browser and will work on an iPhone or Android.
I played Amerigo with four. It moved along pretty well, although the first game was a bit longer than it probably should be due to trying to figure out how the different actions interact. I enjoyed my first game and look forward to playing it again.
Helios designed by Martin Kallenborn and Mattias Prinz, published by Z-Man Games. The interesting thing about this game is the movement of the sun around the board. Players can add tiles to the board; the sun moves around/adjacent to these tiles, usually scoring points for the player. It can be a bit tricky trying to figure out its legal movement in your first game. It’s pretty much an abstract. I played with four; it felt a bit too long (although it was a learning game). I’d like to try it with 2 or 3 players.
Concordia by Mac Gerdts, published by Rio Grande Games. This is a good solid game. I’m not sure it added anything new mechanism-wise. I liked it though. I played with five people. It moved along pretty well but it was still a bit long for my tastes. I think I’ll keep it to 4 or less in the future. Nominated for the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres.
Camel Up by Steffen Bogen, published by Z-Man Games. Nominated for the 2014 Spiel das Jahres. This one was definitely not to my tastes. There isn’t much control and are very few decisions to be made.
Gib Gas (Step On It) by Klemens Franz, Hanno Girke, and our own Dale Yu! Published by Stadlbauer in their new “Carrera Tabletop Games.” This is a bidding/bluffing card game for 2 to 6 players (I played with five). It plays pretty quickly; most of it is simultaneous selection. Decent game; I would play it again.
North Wind by Klaus Teuber, published by Z-Man Games. Straightforward game, fairly light and fun. The ship bits are really cool. This would make a nice gateway game. I think this would make a good Spiel des Jahres nominee (but what do I know?).
Flizz & Miez by the same designers and publishers as Gib Gas (above). Flizz & Miez is a cute children’s game with a speed element. The pieces are top notch. I especially like the cat figure and design idea as she tries to pounce on the moving car. I played with four – each player having a role each turn; I’d be curious to see how it works with 2 or 3. 2014 Kinderspiel des Jahres Nominee.
AbluXXen by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer, published by Ravensburger. This is a light hand-management card game for 2 to 5 players. I played this a couple times, the first time with five, the second time I think with four. It’s fairly quick (around 25 minutes) and makes for a nice filler.
Coup designed by Rikki Tahta, published by Indie Boards and Cards. Coup is a bluffing/deduction card game with some take-that and player elimination. At about 15 minutes (if you last that long) it is pretty fast. Players decide which roles to play from their cards (one or two in front of them), unless they are bluffing. This type of game is usually not my style but it plays so quickly that I would play it if others wanted to.
Alchemists (working title, prototype, with permission) to be published by CGE. Deductive game. Players are scientists working for a university testing potions to gain reputation. It uses a smartphone app to test potions – this was my favorite part of the game… the anticipation after scanning your ingredients! (If no one has a smartphone, a GM will be necessary.)
Castles of Mad King Ludwig (prototype, with permission) designed by Ted Alspach, published by Bezier Games. Players are building a castle room by room. Similar mechanisms to Suburbia but a bit more streamlined. I liked it better than Suburbia – the theme also appeals to me (love castles!).
Mah Jong Dave and Jen Bernazzi were kind enough to teach me this classic game. I really want to play again!
Lewis & Clark designed by Cédrick Chaboussit, published by Asmodee. I played this twice, once with five players and once with four players. I don’t like the competition with this many players – I’d really like to try it with 2 or 3 (I’m guessing 3 is the sweet-spot). This is a deck building/hand management/worker placement game – all things I like. I definitely want to explore this game more (pun intended).
Diamonds by Mike Fitzgerald and Stronghold Games. Diamonds is a trick-taking card game with suit powers. You can take a suit action whenever you cannot follow suit and also for majorities at the end of each round. I played it twice with four players and enjoyed both games. I will probably pick this one up.
Splendor by Marc André, published by Space Cowboys (the company, not actual space cowboys). This engine building/set collection game is simple to learn and fairly quick to play (about half an hour). It’s mainly a race to get the most points (15 ends the game). Nominated for the 2014 Spiel des Jahres. It’s a decent filler. I’d like to try it with two players, with four it was too chaotic, with three was OK.
Ebbes This year I played a bunch of trick taking games – a couple have already been mentioned. This one was pretty interesting. At the start of a round a card is revealed with a number on it. The first time the number appears, its color becomes trump. The second time the number appears, its color becomes worth positive points, one each. The third time, its color determines the “ebbes” color, i.e. whoever does not have majority or minority in those colored cards at the end of the round gains 3 points. The fourth time, its color is worth negative points, one each. I definitely would like to explore this game further.
Fünf Gurken (5 Cucumbers) is another trick taking game but sadly the only thing I liked about this one was the little cucumber bits.
Strike a Pose is a fun party game, published by R&R Games, where players pose and hope the judge can figure out which word on a card he is before he falls over from fatigue. You may want to rethink that intricate pose…
Carcassonne South Seas is an interesting variation on the Carcassonne theme. Players gather bananas, shellfish, and fish to ship these goods via traders for points. Another nice family or gateway game in the line.
Nauticus is a decent gamer’s game by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. There’s a bit too much competition and the game length is quite long with four (the game I played). I’d like to try it with three. It has an interesting wheel selection that changes each round.
Liar’s Dice was created by Richard Borg (he’s an excellent designer and super nice guy too!). Liar’s Dice is an annual tradition after the flea market.
Upon a Fable a friend brought this to the Gathering (hi Jim! U of M rules!); it was a kick-starter. It was a good game, loved the theme and many of the mechanisms (card drafting, worker placement, set collection) but it was a bit too mean for my tastes.
Palaces of Carrera (Die Palaste Von Carrara) is another game by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer (published by Z-Man Games). Although it’s highly rated on the Geek, it was too constraining and far too much competition for my tastes.
Scharfe Schoten, aka Hot Peppers, is another trick taking game I played at the Gathering. It’s also very different from any I have played, although reminds me a little of Ebbes in that it changes from round to round (although they change in different ways). It’s also a bit like Wizard except for each round, instead of predicting the number of tricks they will win, players must try to predict the color they think they will get the most and least of. This is another game I’d like to play more.
Mush! Mush! is Snow Tails 2, by the same people. If you like Snow Tails, you’ll probably like this one. Bonus building can help players during the game.
Can’t Stop is the classic game by Sid Sackson. This is another annual tradition on the last day of the Gathering.
Tichu by Urs Hostettler and Rio Grande Games is one of my all-time favorite games. If you read the food section, you’ll know just how much I love Tichu!
Prize Table Goodies
The prize table at the Gathering is pretty awesome. This year we got a couple of our top choices! My husband, Ravindra, is showing them off in his usual haphazardly way (eye-roll).
Madeira and La Boca!
Before the prize table, we were treated to ice cream, cookies, and cupcakes thanks to Jay Tummelson, Rio Grande Games.
That’s Ralph Anderson, designer of Chimera, in the front of the line. I had already gotten my “dinner” and ate it by that time. Another surprise this year, Scott Nicholson and company brought over some fun temporary paint and tattoo products for face painting and temporary tattoos. I decided on a purple meeple.
On the way back from the Gathering, we had a layover at LaGuardia (Delta terminal). The restaurants there were updated with the latest technology – iPad ordering. It was a good idea but not that well executed. Turns out that our credit card swipe machine actually was for the iPad across from us and vice versa (somehow the devices must have gotten switched or configured incorrectly). Getting a person over to help us took far too long – I finally had to walk over and drag a waiter to our area. The ordering went fairly well (although items were a bit buried in their menu system) but their “free” internet surfing was quite the pain. It kept going back to the main screen every few minutes, then you would have to search around for the same article, looking at forced commercials along the way. Thank goodness I had my iPhone with me (my iPad only has wi-fi).