I’ve been going to the Gathering now for 20 years. It’s hard to express how important this event is to me, and how indebted I am to my dear friend Pitt for recommending me and Alan Moon for inviting me in the first place. It’s the place that I first met my husband and some of the greatest friends I could ever have hoped to have, and it’s the place where my confidence as a board gamer grew.
My first Gathering was only my second-ever gaming convention, but I knew that I loved it as soon as I walked in the door. On that first day I played Pig Pong, Acquire and some long game about oil production that I no longer remember the name to, and I knew I had found my group of gamers – people who wanted to play the meaty, serious games but who would not hesitate to play a silly game, too. In fact, the Gathering reminds me a bit of my experience with sleepaway summer camp -you are thrown together with this group of people who become your tribe for that time that you are together; you are then separated for a while, but as soon as you are reunited it’s like no time has passed at all.
For me the Gathering has become more about the people than the games, but of course the games still play a major role, too. I arrived late Friday afternoon and was there until the following Sunday morning, so I played plenty of games, especially since the weather only allowed for a walk around Niagara Falls on a couple of days. Still, what I most look forward to is the companionship and the traditions I have with friends more than trying to play as many games as possible or see all the prototypes.
I am not going to list every game I played in my eight days of gaming, but here are some of the highlights from my week.
I played Powerships with Tim, Mark, Ken, Tom and Jeroen. This is a game I first tried a few weeks ago and had fully expected to not like, since I am not a fan of Powerboats (I crash into an island every.single.time), but I was pleasantly surprised. There are still obstacles, but it’s not as devastating if you hit something, and visually the board is much better for me. I almost won – until I made the one roll that would make me overshoot the final planet. Oops.
I taught Noria, a game that seems to generate a lot of vitriol but that I enjoy; it has some interesting mechanisms and I like trying to figure out the best placement and use of the discs.
After that Josh J wanted to try to learn Dinosaur Island, so we started working through the rules and eventually Robin, who had played before, joined us and helped explain. I thought this would be lighter than it was based on its cute bits, and was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the game. I enjoyed it.
After that we went to dinner inside the hotel at the Rainforest Café, thanks to the ice storm raging outside. Now I remember why I never go to Rainforest Café, but the company was good.
Sunday dawned cold and icy, but started out nicely when Jeroen appeared with a gift of stroop wafels, which he had introduced me to the year before. I might need to move to the Netherlands so I have a more regular supply of these. . . .
I started off playing a game with our very own Gaming Doctor called Illusion. I was fully prepared to hate it, since I am not good at spatial-type games, but it was actually okay.
Next up was The Mind. I think I might be one of two people who doesn’t think this game is the best game ever, but I am definitely glad I got to try it, especially since I got to play with a few people I don’t see very often.
After the Mind Frank D. and I were looking for a game when Scott S. showed up and suggested Web of Power. I love this game and it has been a while since I played. I don’t usually do well at it, but I tied for the victory, so I was happy.
Dinner was at Brickyard Brew House. Grilled cheese and a wide selection of beers plus good friends? Sign me up. My favorite was the grapefruit shandy.
After dinner Kurt, Marion, Tom and I broke out Was Sticht, one of my favorite games of all time. You draft cards from a grid of cards laid out on the table, while trying to determine the trump number and color. You select a goal tile that you think you can achieve – take the first trick, take no tricks etc. – and then you play the hand. The first to complete all their tiles wins. It’s a great game that has held up well over the years.
We followed up with Druids, which I had been trying to get to the table since Essen. I am glad we did, since I really enjoyed it. It’s a trick taking game where every trick you take gets sorted into stacks, and the number of the card at the top counts towards your score; the round ends when a player has all 4 colors.
Mark, Kurt and I had decided we would try to make this Uwe Rosenberg week, since we all enjoy Uwe games for the most part and had already decided we would play an annual game of Ora et Labora (best for 3, IMHO), which we started in 2017. So, Day 4 started out with Kurt and I playing Fields of Arle with the Tea and Trade expansion. I really enjoy this game, and the expansion added some interesting elements; I look forward to trying it 3 player.
After dinner at a BBQ place we broke out Dead of Winter: Warring Colonies. It’s a tradition with my group of Gathering BFFs to play a big monster-smashing game at least once; in previous years it has been Arkham Horror or Eldritch Horror, but we decided to give this a try, since we had enough people. It was pretty fun, and the fact that teams take their turns simultaneously kept it moving along. Good zombie-bashing fun.
We continued Uwe-fest with Caverna, which I prefer over Agricola. While the actions and goals are somewhat similar, the lack of cards (and thus the requirement that you know all the cards) is a plus for me. I dithered between strategies, which is never a good idea, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.
I also got to try Pandemic Rising Tide, where you are fighting flood waters rather than infection. It had some cool new mechanics and I enjoyed it.
This was the day of our now-annual Ora et Labora game. I still think this is one of Uwe’s best games when played with 3 players.
I also got to try Eggertspiele’s soon-to-be-released game, Coimbra. I liked it, but definitely need to play it at least one more time before I fully form an opinion.
My friend Josh B and I had a plan to play a full game of The Colonists, and Adam decided to join us. After the rules explanation for Adam it took us about 6 hours, but one of the things I like about this game is I feel engaged the entire time. It was nice to be able to take the time to play a long game like this, and nice for me to try it 3 player again, since most of my plays have been 2 player. It’s also important that you like the other players, since you’re going to be spending six hours with them – thankfully these two are good company.
After dinner at Duff’s ( I think I’ve decided I prefer Duff’s wings over Anchor Bar) we continued Uwe Fest with Nusfjord; you can read my review of it here.
This day shall forever be known as the Day Uwe Fest Fell Apart, but it was a fun day nonetheless.
I got to have dinner with this awesome group of people
I also played two dexterity games, which is a rarity for me. My dexterity is terrible, but again – it’s all about the people you play with.
Dexterity game number 1 was Junk Art, which you can read a review of here. I was as terrible as I usually am, but I had a great time.
Dexterity game number 2 was Kaptain Wackelpudding. My friend Pitt and I had created a water version of this game several Gatherings ago, and Bruce L was the highlight of that game, so I was happy to play this with him as one of the players. I had the high score! Ok, so that’s not a good thing here – but I had fun.
This would be my last day of gaming, so it was bittersweet. It started with the Flea Market ,where I sold about half of what I came with and bought just one game – Viral, for my ever-growing work game collection (I work at a hospital).
After the Flea Market was another Gathering tradition – our annual game of Viticulture with Tuscany expansion. We played 6 players, and one of the strengths of Viticulture for me is that it scales well with all numbers of players. I even managed to pull out the victory, which was great – this is a game that I love but rarely win.
After Viticulture I played a quick game of Wurfel Bohnanza, just to get back to the Uwe Fest.
It’s become Saturday night tradition to have pizza and wings at a total dive bar and restaurant in Niagara Falls. Their wings are good, their pizza is amazing and the company is spectacular.
The Prize Ceremony was after dinner. My name got called in the last 5, which meant there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot left up there. However, the second time through the names are read in reverse order, and this year there was a table that wasn’t available until the second time through, and I had the good fortune to select Gloomhaven! I couldn’t believe it. To make it even better, Gloomhaven had been put there by my friend John, who has a tradition of dumping random dice and card games of dubious quality into our game bag when we aren’t looking – he came up to me afterwards to tell me he had put Gloomhaven there and to ask if everything was forgiven. Yes, John, it is.
After dinner, I participated in one last Gathering tradition – our annual game of Das Motorsportspiel. This is always our Saturday night game. I won it the very first year I played it, earning me the nickname “Fake Newbie”, but since that time I have not managed to finish in the top three. Having twenty seconds to roll the dice, select the dice AND move my car is often a bit stressful, but it sure is fun.
Sunday morning we always get up and leave early to start our eight plus hour car ride home. It’s always a sad feeling, carrying our games through the empty ballroom and knowing that we’re leaving behind friends we may not see for another year, and I envy the people who get to delay that feeling for one more day. On the bright side, it’s already less than a year to the next one, and I have a couple of other cons and my monthly game group to tide me over until then. Thank goodness today is game day, because it has been 6 days since I’ve played a game.