This is my second year at the Gathering of Friends, and I figured I’d do quick reviews of games I played, plus write a bit about the experience. I’ve played a number of new games over the past couple of days, so today I wanted to highlight three that stand out: Century: Eastern Wonders, Reef, and Lost Cities To Go.
I’ll be blogging this week, but only every couple of days. I arrived yesterday, and my last day at the Gathering is Saturday, so there are plenty more entries to come!
For quicker updates, follow us on Twitter at @OpinionatedGmrs. I know Dale and some other OGers have been posting there. For other news from the convention, I recommend checking out the hashtags #GatheringofFriends and #GoF2018.
Like last year, the Gathering has been a great time. About 400 people attend (give or take a few dozen), and my favorite part is meeting gamers from around the world. I’ve already played games with close to 50 different people, though Werewolf always helps get that number higher.
The event started Friday — though some people began playing on Thursday — and is 10 days long. More and more people join the fun as the week advances.
As I had noticed last year, there are prototypes everywhere, though I think I’ve seen even more this year than last. I’ve played a couple, and when I’m able to get permission, I’ll discuss them in a post (or on Twitter).
What games are people playing?
I think I’ve seen “The Mind” played more than any other game.
I’ve also seen Azul on a fair number of tables, and there is in fact a copy of Azul Giant on hand with its own dedicated table.
Reef seems to have been especially popular. Decrypto has also been garnering quite a few plays.
A few of the new unreleased games — like Coimbra or Century: Eastern Wonders — are being played continuously, but there’s only one copy on hand.
There are also some wildly popular prototypes; hopefully I can post more later in the week.
Note: Please note that I’m basing many of these comments on one play. I’ve also made little effort to check terminology against the rulebooks, so I might call something different than how it is treated in the rules.
Century Eastern Wonders
Century Eastern Wonders, by Emerson Matsuuchi and Plan B Games, is the much-anticipated follow up to Century Spice Road. As promised, Eastern Wonders can be played two ways: (a) as a standalone game, or (b) linked together with Spice Road. I played the game as a standalone earlier today — and watched a game yesterday — and so far I’m impressed.
Like in Spice Road, the goal is to earn goods and trade them for victory point chips. The game ends when a player has acquired four such chips, and at that point, you finish the round (there are equal turns) and the player with the highest score is the winner.
To get these chips, you may move and then take one of three actions on your turn. Unlike its predecessor, Eastern Wonders has a map (which can be customized), and to win you’ll need to move around it efficiently. A player can move one space for free, or pay cubes to move additional spaces.
The additional actions are (a) harvest by taking two yellow cubes, (b) go to market, allowing you to place a building and then use that space, or (c) cash in resources for a victory point token at a port. The market piece is the core of the game, as this is how you convert the resources into different resources, sort of how the cards acted in Spice Road.
As I alluded to, to use the market tiles, you’ll need to have a building on them. You pay for each player that is already there, so it behooves you to get these out early. Additionally, these start in columns on your player board, and getting rid of all buildings in a column gives you a special reward. For example, one reward gives you three extra spaces in your cargo hold, or another one allows you to take a red cube too when you take yellow cubes.
It reminds me a lot of Spice Road — it has the micromovents of its predecessor — but the map adds a new layer of strategy. The downside is that it plays a bit slower than Spice Road, but I think it has some added depth, and I really enjoyed the rewards. I’ll be buying a copy — and the player mat — when it is released at Origins.
Reef, also by Emerson Matsuuchi and Next Move Games, is a lightweight strategy game that feels abstract but decidedly isn’t. The game involves a draft-a-card-or-play-a-card mechanic mixed with pattern building.
The goal of the game is to get the most victory points. There are four colors of pieces in the game, and the game ends at the end of the round (there are equal turns) in which one of those pieces runs out.
On your turn, you can either draft a card from a face-up set of three, draft the card on top of the draw pile (paying a victory point for doing so), or play a card. If you play a card, you take and place the pieces shown on the top of your card onto your 4×4 player board. Then you score for the pattern on the bottom of the card if you can. You can only have four cards in your hand at a time, and you can only build a stack of pieces four high.
The pattern building is the interesting part. Your cards show how that is scored, and only the piece on top of a stack counts. You can score multiple copies of the same patter — in fact, doing that regularly seems to be how you win — but you can’t use the same pieces in multiple patterns.
It’s simple but tense, and it seems to be a hit with a variety of different gamers at the Gathering. The pieces are well-made (even though this is a preproduction copy), and this has that well-produced and almost-abstract feel that Next Move games (which now publishes Azul) seems to be going for. I suspect this family-friendly game will be popular on release.
Lost Cities To Go
Lost Cities: Abenteuer To Go (a.k.a. Lost Cities: To Go) is the latest game in the award-winning Lost Cities/Keltis line of games. Released last month in the German market, Lost Cities: To Go is a mix between the original Lost Cities and Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel. My family has several Lost Cities/Keltis fanatics, so I was excited to import the latest spinoff. I got it shortly before the Gathering, but I’ve been playing it a fair bit here. I’ll be doing a full review in a few weeks, but here’s a preview.
The game consists entirely of 64 tiles and two small “camp” boards. In terms of tiles, each of 5 destinations has 9 tiles (numbered from 2-10, for 45 total tiles) plus 3 bet tiles (15 additional tiles). There are also four “raid” tiles. At the start of the game, all of these tiles are placed face down. Each player takes a camp, which shows two spaces on which a player may reserve tiles in the game.
On a player’s turn, he must do one of three actions:
- Flip up a face-down tile. If it is a numbered or bet tile, he or she can then (a) leave it there, (b) reserve it into one of the camp spaces, or (c) add it to an expedition. If it is a raid tile, he or she then discards the raid tile and discards either (a) a tile in the center or (b) a tile in his camp.
- Take a face-up tile. He or she can then (a) reserve it, or (b) add it to an expedition.
- Play a reserved tile from his or her camp onto an expedition.
Each player has a stack (an “expedition”) for each destination, and tiles can only be played in increasing value. Bet tiles can only be played before all numbered tiles for that destination. For example, once a player has played a 2, 3, and 5, he cannot go back and play a 4, nor can he play a bet tiles.
The 2, 3, or 4 tiles show a parchment, which represents a bonus action. When these tiles are played, you can immediately play an additional tile — either face up or from your camp — on to that expedition.
This proceeds until the last tile is revealed, at which point the game ends at the end of that turn.
Scoring is the same as in Lost Cities. To determine the winner, each stack is scored separately and then the points from all of the stacks are added together. The points on a tile within an expedition are all added up, and then twenty points are deducted for starting the expedition (meaning the total points can be negative). Expeditions not started by the players are worth zero (meaning the twenty point deduction only is applied to expeditions that are started). If a player has 1, 2, or 3 bet tiles on the stack, the result is then multiplied by 2, 3, or 4, respectively. Each expedition with 8 or more tiles gets an extra bonus of 20 points, which is not multiplied by the investment values.
Like with Lost Cities, the rules say to play three times, adding the scores, and the player with the highest combined score wins the game. (Also like with Lost Cities, my family just plays once!)
In my opinion, Lost Cities has long been the best game in its family tree, as I consider it far more tense than the games that came after it. At least until now. Lost Cities: To Go is every bit as strategic and fast-paced as its namesake. What has surprised me, however, is just how much of a duel this can be: I’d almost even call this version deliciously confrontational.
I enthusiastically recommend it. As alluded to above, I’ll be posting a full review in a few weeks.
What else I’ve been playing…
- My most played game — and my favorite game so far — is The Rise of Queensdale, a legacy title from Inka and Marcus Brand. I’m hoping to do a mini review of it later this week after I finish the campaign.
- The Karuba Card Game is out now, but I first played it here. It’s a delightful 5-10 minute version of Karuba.
- Ganz schön clever is a roll-and-write by Wolfgang Warsch, the breakout designer that also made The Mind. If there were more copies of it here it’d be getting more table time, but it is already getting a ton of table with the couple of copies floating around. I’m also hoping to do a mini review of it later this week… it is one of the best roll-and-write games I’ve played, and I ordered a copy last night.
- Micropolis is a game I played last year in prototype form. Designed by Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier and released by Matagot, it is a simple drafting game themed after building an ant farm. I loved it last year, and I loved it here. I’m also hoping to do a mini review of this later in the week.