This year is the 30th Gathering of Friends, though it is only my third year attending. The event, held annually in Niagara Falls, is an invitational convention hosted by Alan R. Moon. Many attendees started arriving on Thursday/Friday, and it goes until Sunday night.
I arrived late in the day Saturday, and I’ve been busy reconnecting with old friends, playing a few prototypes, and getting in games of some of my favorites. I even did a day trip to Toronto yesterday (Monday)!
I’m going to go through things day-by-day, discussing news-worthy games along the way. This entry covers Saturday and Sunday. Keep in mind that impressions are based on one play, and photos are likely of pre-production copies.
Letter Jam (Czech Games Edition) – My first game of the event was a pre-production copy of Letter Jam from Czech Games Edition. They’ve done cool things with word games in the past — Codenames being the most famous example — so I was excited to give this cooperative game a whirl.
In short, each player has a number of cards with a letter on them (we had 4 or 5), with one face out Hanabi-style at any given time. The goal is to deduce the all of your letters, then unscramble them. In a given round, a player places numbered clues around the table using as many of the letters as possible, though you can place on one wild card letter (denoted below as a ?) in the center of the table. So when the letters around the table were T-L-U-F-I, I gave the F a 1, the U a 2, the T a 3, the I a 4, the L a 5, and placed a 6 on the wildcard to represent an E. The word was “FUTILE”. Players would see all of the numbers corresponding to the letters, and hopefully this allows them to deduce what their letter was. Players get so many clues, then the game ends, and everybody tries to guess the words formed by their letters.
It was very cool, sort of a word-based Code 777. They said they hope it will available this summer.
Lanterns Dice: Lights in the Sky (Renegade Game Studios) – As I mentioned a few weeks ago with our 10 Great Roll ‘n Write Series, roll and writes are having a moment. One of the ones coming in the next few months is Lanterns Dice, a reimplementation of the hit Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.
Players receive a scoresheet. On a turn, a player rolls four dice into a custom tray, which will group them into a 2×2 grid that resembles the tiles from Lanterns. Then they rotate the tray, and each player gets to mark off the color shown on the corner of the table they’re sitting on, just like in lanters. They’ll earn points for their second biggest marked off area, for surrounding boats, and for completing certain polyomino-like sections.
It’s a cool reimplementation of Lanterns, and a cool roll and write. The components are beautiful, and it is easy to learn/teach. It should also be available this summer.
Other Games Played Saturday: HexRoller, Unpublished Prototypes, Lots of Ultimate Werewolf
Faultier (2F-Spiele / Stronghold Games) – Sloth racing at its finest. Friedemann Friese is one of my favorite game designers, and it’s a highlight of the Gathering for me each year to playtest his games. His latest is Faultier, a race game that is played on a modular board.
Each player has a sloth, who is racing around the board collecting food. The catch is that the sloth — being slow and lazy — chooses to hitch a ride on other animals. Players start their turn by drawing animal cards, and then they play those down to move. Each animal moves the sloth in a different way — the elephants move and then fling them across the board, for instance — and a different distance. Animals are also restricted by what terrain they can travel on. The game is all about efficiency and clever use of the different animals in the game. (There are several animals that come with the game, but you’ll only use certain ones in a given play.)
Friedemann shows off his game design brilliance here. This game has something for everyone: it is easy to learn, and just the right about of think-y, making it accessible to non-gamers. Yet it has no luck, a rarity in race games. It is highly replayable, with cool artwork and a clever theme. I’m looking forward to buying a copy.
5211 (Next Move) – 5211 is a remake of 5 Color. The BGG entry is especially poignant:
“This game has cards 1-6 in five colors, and each player has five cards in hand. Players play two cards from hand simultaneously, then reveal them. They refill their hand, then repeated this process two more times, revealing only one card each of these times. The cards of the majority color will score — unless too many are present, in which case the color busts and the second most color scores. In case of a tie for majority, the tied colors are also out. These rounds are repeated until the deck runs out, and the player with the most points wins.”
It’s a cool twist on what I call the draw-and-discard genre, and I think this will have a certain mass market appeal. The cards are beautiful, and the gameplay is fast-paced and engaging. I’ll probably pick a copy of this up to play at family gatherings.
Other Games Played Sunday: Wurfelland, Second Chance, One Night Ultimate Super Villains, Werewords Deluxe Edition, Lots of Ultimate Werewolf, Unpublished Prototypes