Dale Yu: Report from the Gathering of Friends, Day 5


The final full day of my trip started with a nice late start.  I was finally able to sleep in and catch up on the sleep that I had been deprived of each morning thus far.  Normally, I only get four days at the Gathering, so this was kind of a “bonus” day.


I’ll admit that I used to go for the whole ten days, and I couldn’t get enough of the convention, but in my old age, I’m generally pretty good with four to five days.  While I was still excited to be with my friends and playing the new games, I was also mentally ready to go home.  I know – it sounds crazy – but my shorter trips also prevents me from tiring of the event; I always want slightly more, and that raises my excitement about coming back the next year.

Anyways, there were still a few annual appointments that I hadn’t yet made – the first of which was fixed as soon as I walked into the ballroom.  Generally, I like to take a while to stop with with Friedemann Friese (or Henning) and play through the new 2F games.  For whatever reason, our schedules hadn’t yet synced up.


I loved the Fast Forward games from last year, but none of those were my favorite 2F prototype – that honor went to an innovative deck-deconstructing game.  That game now has the working title of “Feiner Sand”, which is clearly likely not the final title as the words don’t all start with F!

Before the game, we took a bit of time to let Friedemann finish up his breakfast.  You can take the guy out of Germany, but you can’t prevent him from having a nice hearty German breakfast!  He had his usual full spread of varied meats, cheeses, crackers/bread, and of course, mustard, set up and ready to go…  (It definitely puts my soft granola bar breakfast to shame!)


It appears that this one should be ready by the summer (or Essen 2018 at  the latest), and I wanted a chance to play the newest version of the game.  Given my work with Dominion, I’ve always been interested in deck builders or their offspring, and Feiner Sand has a nice twist.    I’ll describe it here, but please remember that 1) my memory kinda sucks and things might not be exactly right, 2) the game is still in progress, so everything described here could be changed.


Each player starts with an identical deck.  It is filled with action cards (that can affect your ability to draw or build), a few cards with money on them, and a bunch of sandcastle cards – these sandcastle cards have no special effect and they simply take up space in your deck.  The goal of the game is to have the fewest cards left in your deck when the game ends.  The main way the game ends is when one player is unable to draw enough cards as required.  (I think there are other game end conditions – but I can’t remember them!)


Interestingly, all turns are simultaneous.  All players take care of their own actions each turn… On a turn, you start by drawing a hand, then you have the option to either draw extra cards or build cards.  The build cost of the card is paid for by either discarding regular cards from your hand (at a value of 1) or discarding gold cards (which are usually worth 2 or 3).  If you build an action card, you place it into your display, and the special action of that card will now apply to you for the rest of the game – in this way, there is a bit of engine building going on.  If you build a sandcastle, you simply place it face up on the table in front of you.  It doesn’t do much other than look pretty, but it does represent one less card that it is your deck now.


Finally, at the end of the turn, you can discard a card onto any opponent’s discard space.  Cards in the discard space do not count against the deck size of any player.   The turn does not end until all players have decided to discard or not.  In the version we played, there were wooden markers that you would place on your draw pile to signify that you were ready to start the next round.  If ALL players have at least one card in their discard space, then ALL players take the top card off their pile and place it in their discard pile.


Each round goes by swiftly and there isn’t much downtime because you’re really just taking care of your own area, and generally there’s not a lot of waiting.  In between rounds, I suppose you could/should take a peek at the play areas of your opponents to see what sorts of cards they are using so that you don’t give them cards that they would like to add to their engine.


The base game will probably get static after a few plays because you always start with the same deck (though the variable discards that your opponents can add to your deck will make each game play slightly different). However, there are already a number of expansion/Fable type additions which will alter the starting decks to give more varied game play. I’m actually pretty excited at the way that FF is likely going to be able to add this to his Fable lineup.


After a bit more chatting about the other games to come, I was pulled away to chat with Phil Walker-Harding, and we ended up also setting up his proto of Gizmos for another go-round.  There were a number of other OG gamers there, and I was pretty excited about the game and wanted to show a few others how to play it.


From the comments in a previous GoF report, there is obviously some disagreement on some of the finer points of the rules, but that’s pretty typical (And in fact, generally expected…) of new games at the GoF.  Prototypes are constantly in flux, and there is always the chance that the rules that you’ve learned have been transmogrified somehow by the giant game of telephone inherent in verbal passing on of rules.

I still really like Gizmos, and regardless of which set of chaining rules happens to be correct, I’m definitely ready to play this one again.  I played poorly this time, partly because I was having a nice chat with PWH as we played.  He is becoming one of the new designers who consistently hits my gaming sweet spot.

Speaking of GoF rules gaffes, we found yet another one in our next game.  We played Welcome To… again, and halfway through, we found out that Dan Blum had been taught the game incorrectly, and that set of rules had been the main one taught for the past 4 days!   What we had wrong was rules about the “Bis” action.  I was taught that his Bis action allowed you to use the same number again (adjacent to its pair) in one of your streets.  The real rule is that you first get to use the number of the card pair like normal AND THEN you get to write “Bis” next to any house on your board, with the Bis representing a match of number.  Apparently Bis is European for “ditto”.  This change makes a huge shift in strategy and makes the game much more complex.  It definitely raised my rating of the game as it now becomes even more interesting.  I haven’t even been able to explore the expert variants yet, and I’m pretty sure this one is a keeper already.

We next tried a prototype from PlanB which was labeled “Venice the Card Game” done by the design pair of Dunstan and Gilbert.  We simply took it off the shelf, and we learned from the rules.  As we didn’t talk with anyone from PlanB about it, I’m not sure whether I can tell the details – but it was a decent game that deserves more exploration; though hopefully with clearer rules…

Had a great lunch with Alan and his wife – it was nice to catch up.   I also love the fact that Janet was willing to split lunch with me.  The Hard Rock Cafe has a new Cauliflower burger, but I wasn’t willing to go “all in” with it for lunch in case it sucked.  So, Janet and I split that and the salmon.  The burger was actually quite nice – lots of cumin; ended up tasting like falafel.  I would definitely be willing to eat it for a meal next time.

Keeping with the quest to play newer games, I found the one copy of Outback (from Huch!) that was floating around the con.  It is a new design by Michael Kiesling.  This nice tile drafting game has a beautiful but mechanically useless cardboard car to serve as a platform for the tiles to be drawn off of.  It seems to do the trick however, as many people walking by stopped to ask questions about the game, mostly because they saw the big car in the center of the table.  In a 4p game, 6 tiles are always face up on the car.

In this game, each player gets a player mat with an arrangement of spaces – each row being numbered 1-6.  There is a score track around the edge of the board, turning the corner – in what should from here out be called the Kiesling track (Heaven & Ale, Riverboat, and now this).  There are score markers for each of the animals, and the VP numbering resets at the corner.   At the end of the game, you’ll score the value of all markers that have made the turn and then the lowest two of those which have not.  There are 6 dice in the game, one wild face and all the rest are filled with the different animals.  The dice are rolled in the typical 3 times fashion, and you are trying to get a collection of faces that matches one or more of the available tiles.


Say you rolled 4 koalas and 2 lizards.  You could choose to take a koala tile and place it anywhere in your 4 row.  You could also choose to take a lizard tile and place it in your 2 row.  For each animal placed, you score one point with the matching score marker.  But then you also get one point for each other same animal tile that is contiguous with the one you placed.  Thus, if you played four koalas on four turns, and they all touched, you would have moved your koala marker ten steps (1+2+3+4).  If there is a turn where you cannot legally place a tile, you take a random tile and place it face down on any empty space; this will be worth -2 VP at the end of the game.

There were some interesting decisions about whether to go for the higher multiple spaces early on – because those are the hardest spots to fill; though later in the game, you might need to abandon those higher multiple spots and simply focus on the tiles which you need for scoring.  You’ll likely need to work on at least three different animals to get them around the corner or at least high up on the first leg of the score track.  Outback is a nice light family game, and I think that I heard that there a EN distribution deal in place now, so this one should be added to the collection come October.


The final game of this year’s Gathering was one more unpublished prototype – this one from Rio Grande Games with the working title of Orbital Architects.   I know that I’m allowed to say that I have played it, but unsure about how much I can say about it because it’s clearly still in development (or maybe not even into to development yet).  In vague terms, it was an engine builder that felt a lot like Terraforming Mars, but not as long and without the random swingy action cards.  Even in this undeveloped state, I’d take this over TM already.

So, that pretty much sums up the games that I played.  And even though I had four full days of gaming – nearly 40+ hours of time – there are still plenty of games that I didn’t get a chance to play.


What I missed


The Mind – I have mentioned this earlier, but it deserves to be said again. This game was everywhere.  And while it’s not a game that I enjoy, there were plenty of cheers/laughs/groans coming from the tables I saw.  It clearly has many people that love it, and based on the infectious response that I witnessed, this would be my personal prediction for Spiel des Jahres at this time.


New games from Hans im Gluck (Majesty expansion, new Carcassonne) – I had a nice chat with Moritz as well as a shared meal, but I never actually got to play either of the two prototypes he had with him, not the newly published Race to the New Found Land.  I did get to watch the BGG crew play Majesty expansion and the new Carcassonne, so I feel like I understand them.


Race to the New Found Land – this game was hot off the press, and so new that it arrived at the Gathering just as I was leaving.  I saw the game just as I was saying my final goodbyes on Tuesday morning.  I’ve heard reports that it’s a solid Euro game, as you would expect from HiG – and I hope to get a chance to play it soon in the weeks to come.


CIV (from Ludonaute) – advertised as a quick (20 minute) civ card building game.  This also just arrived as I was leaving, and the Asmodee rep was kind enough to give me a review copy to try out.  I should get this to the table this week and can report back soon


Sunflower Valley – another roll and write (or maybe roll and draw) that the rest of my group got to play but I somehow got squeezed out of.  The original version had a print run of only 500, but I think there is a copy on the way to me now.


Queensdale – I was not part of the group who was invited to play this one, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have accepted even if asked because this single game would have become my entire convention.  However, fellow OG writer Chris Wray was part of the lucky group, and I’m sure he’ll write about it when he’s allowed to.


Fast Forward #4 – I saw a little bit of this during my chat with FF, but I specifically chose not to play this one at the Gathering so that I can play it all the way through with my local group this fall.  While I loved playing the first three Fast Forwards at last year’s GoF, I want to save some of that discovery process with my own regular group


Ultimate Werewolf Legacy – people were playing this at night and really liking it.  I’d rather go to bed than play Werewolf, so that’s what happened.


Princess Jing – a cool game that uses mirrors.  Saw it on the table a number of times, but I never managed to get a play in.  A little birdie (well, Nikki) is going to make sure I get to try it out!


Alan Moon/Bobby’s Prototype – I did see the rarest of all GoF sights, an Alan Moon prototype.  I didn’t get a chance to play it though, so nothing more can be said.  But I’m always excited about a new game from Alan.

7 Wonders Armada – the new expansion from REPOS.  Another one that I simply never was free for when a new game was starting, but I did have the gist of it explained to me by Stefan.  This will surely be added to the collection come Essen


Detective – this game looked really interesting, but I just didn’t have enough time to play it all. Ignacy’s new game looks to be a detective/deduction type game which then has some elements which carry over between cases; giving this more of a campaign feel as opposed to a number of isolated cases.  My local group has done well with similar sorts of games in the past, and this looks like it would be a great fit too.



Now, time to quite reminiscing about my vacation and get back to the grind of playing new games and writing about them!  I know that a number of the OGer’s have reviews planned in the coming weeks given all the new games that we had a chance to play!


Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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6 Responses to Dale Yu: Report from the Gathering of Friends, Day 5

  1. Alan How says:

    Thanks for an interesting update Dale. Did you see any heavier games or did you avoid them?

    • Dale Yu says:

      I did not avoid them specifically. Coimbra was fairly involved. Lots of people were playing Epoch from RGG. But I’m also generally not looking for a three or four hour game

  2. ericfaris says:

    Thanks for all the great work everyone does. The reviews are so well written. I appreciate all the hard work you put into writing up your reviews. Hope I can catch up at Origins this year.

  3. Pingback: Chris’s Trip to the Gathering of Friends: Thursday/Friday/Wrap-up | The Opinionated Gamers

  4. @mangozoid says:

    I always love reading these Con reports, and especially when it’s all about new games and prototypes, and I’m trying to encourage every Convention I can get in touch with to have a Protospiele-stylee ‘prototype track’ or dedicated room for this sort of thing, open to all not just the bigger companies, so every time I read about this sort of thing I get a wee bit excited! I’m working on a space-based Dominion-stylee deckbuilder of my own which is undergoing playtesting now, so I’d love to get your feedback on it further down the line (when I’m confident it feels more balanced and has been playtested more thoroughly). We’ve had a good start with regards to early feedback, so fingers crossed…

  5. Pingback: Reflections on a Long Lost Gathering | The Opinionated Gamers

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