Ben’s Gathering Wrap-Up

This year’s Gathering of Friends has come to a close for me.  As happened last year, the the beginning of the week featured long, leisurely days of gaming and socializing.  Those days quickly disappeared toward the end of the week, replaced by an indistinguishable blur of laughter and tears, handshakes and hugs (all aided by an almost complete lack of sleep).  

Unlike last year, this year’s event turned out to be much more about forming deep friendships than about board gaming. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that I had spent 24 of the last 48 hours just talking with people (sans games). I met some amazing people for the first time and strengthened my bonds to many I had met before.  I came out of the event with what I hope will be long-term friends who have brought out the best sides of me. Perhaps this is precisely what Alan Moon intended when he began the invite-only event.  

Of course, there was still plenty of great gaming going on, which I suppose you would like to hear about.  

Among the games I have not yet discussed on this blog, Marco Polo was probably my favorite.  


This Z-Man release is from the designers of Tzolk’in and shows a similar level of polish, if less novelty.  The game is fundamentally a dice-placement game, but it offers a good number of options and appears to have a lot of different approaches that can be be successful.  It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a good game.

Another popular prototype was Kramer & Keisling’s latest, Porta Nigra.  To me, the design was remeniscent of the Paaces of Carrara, but longer and a little more involved.


Our game dragged a bit, as we were all fairly sleep deprived and the downtime between turns can be a problem if players aren’t playing quickly.  

I of course played a number of other prototypes that I am not able to talk about because they are still in the early stages of development.  Some of them were quite promising, especially a Josh Capel party game we played on the last day. 

Speaking of party games, I was amazed at how much of my time wound up dedicated to games that I would likely not play back home.  I played Time’s Up nearly every evening (“evening” running anywhere from 11pm to 4am).  I apparently now have signature Time’s Up mannerisms, including something called the “McJunkin wiggle” and a rather physically demanding trick that became known as the “deluge” (ably demonstrated by Laurie Jones):


The ability to come together and develop the kinds of bonds that will support ridiculous inside jokes with folks who were near strangers just a week ago is precisely what makes the Gathering of Friends so special. I am thrilled that I made the most of that opportunity, even at the expense of gaming time and content for this blog. Thanks to all who attended, and all who were reading along from home.

I’ll end with my top three games to be on the lookout for at Essen (if not this year, then next):

  1. Mombasa.  Meaty, hard, fulfilling Euro. Right up my alley.
  2. 504. So much variety, and our one session was exquisite.
  3. Code Names. Clever word game. The hit of the event with most people. 
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4 Responses to Ben’s Gathering Wrap-Up

  1. Thanks for all of your updates Ben. Really appreciate the glimpse into the Gathering!

  2. Thanks Ben! As a publisher, it’s really helpful to read your impressions when you go to an event like this, as it’s a great way for me to discover new, unpublished titles backed by the opinion of a reviewer I respect. I’ve reached out to one of the designers you mentioned in these recaps. Thanks for doing that!

  3. jeffinberlin says:

    Glad to know that you had so much fun with the people, and didn’t place priority on playing as many games as possible (or, for heaven’s sake, trying to review as many games as possible, just for our benefit). People>Games (although gaming is a great starting point!)

  4. Craig Massey says:

    Loved the reports Ben. It was great seeing you again and getting in a few games during the short time I was there. Hopefully you can get up to Lobster Trap this year.

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