This was my 21st Gathering of Friends, and somehow every year seems better than the last. My Gathering of Friends report is a little different than others I’ve seen, though. My focus for the week is a little different in that I don’t really have a focus. I don’t seek out prototypes; I am happy to play them if asked, but I don’t go looking for them – I have done a lot of playtesting in the past, but don’t feel that same pull to see a game in its initial stages as I used to.
I’m also not racing to try all the new and shiny games. I am certainly interested in them and am paying attention to what other people are playing, but I don’t feel the need to play them at the Gathering. I’ll play if the opportunity comes up, but I am also okay letting everyone else figure out the rules problems and play it a bit later on at my monthly game group.
One of the things I often do focus on at the Gathering is playing longer games. I have almost all day every day for at least 8 of the days that I am there, so it’s the perfect chance to get something long to the table. I also focus on traditions, playing certain games with certain people and sometimes combining the two.
Overall I played somewhere around 40 total games, with about 45 different people. Here are some of the highlights of my week.
ORA ET LABORA
This is one of my favorite Uwe Rosenberg games, but I only like it with 3, which means I almost never get it to the table. It’s become a tradition for Kurt, Mark and I to play this every year. It started a few years ago when we decided to have an Uwe-fest during the Gathering (playing at least one Uwe game every day) and has continued on for at least the past 4 years. You can read our review of it from 2012 here
FEAST FOR ODIN: NORWEGIANS EXPANSION
This is another of my favorite Uwe Rosenberg games. In fact, I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I think he is likely my favorite game designer. I’d been anxious to try this and was happy for the chance to get it to the table. I had only recently discovered that it provides a whole new action board, which was really interesting. I’m going to write a more detailed review later on, but I really enjoyed it.
I saw this being played, and it has some interesting components, so I was curious and read up a little on it. It sounded interesting, so I managed to rope a couple of other people into learning it from the rules with me for the first play; we liked it enough to give it a second go later in the week. Someone had told me it was “Terraforming Mars under water”, but I disagree with that assessment. The city building is different, and the play a card to take an action mechanism is pretty cool. Watch for the Opinionated Gamers review coming up in a couple of weeks to learn more.
I tried Root for the first time a few weeks ago and was intrigued by the fact that the rules are different for every player. It makes it a hard game to learn, but the gameplay is very interesting. I was happy to give it another try playing a different faction, and I still really liked it. I played the Lizard Cult, which was pretty cool. It would have been cooler if I had figured out how to use my abilities a few turns sooner, but I still really enjoyed the game and look forward to trying it again
This game was getting a lot of buzz, and I am happy I was able to give it a try. It is essentially a hand management game, with cards played down to the table. On a turn the active player turns a dial with symbols that match each player board; on the first turn she can choose any spot and on subsequent turns the dial moves one spot. You draw two colored cards from the spot that matches your symbol; you can buy one (costs vary by round) and discard one, or you can sell one and discard one. At the end of the round players have a chance to buy the top card of the discard pile or discard it completely. Cards match tracks on your board; they increase a track or tracks based on the listed value, and upgraded tracks let you do different things like claim bonuses. I enjoyed it.
TEOHUTICUAN: CITY OF GODS
I’d seen this one at my monthly game group a couple of times, but had never had a chance to try it, so I was happy when a friend found a copy and suggested it. There is a LOT going on here, and a lot to keep track of. My initial impression is that I liked it; I thought the way the game uses dice to take actions was very innovative and cool. What I am not sure about yet is whether all the elements work well together or if there are just a bunch of mechanisms thrown together. Either way I look forward to trying it again.
One of my traditions is teaching a game to my friend Bruce. He always identifies several games he is interested in learning, and we figure out which one I can teach. This year it was Newton; you can read my full review here. I still like it, but the real fun here is in playing a game with Bruce, who is one of the people I met at my very first Gathering. Bruce has been to every single Gathering ever – all 30. Photo credit for this one goes to Bruce.
T.I.M.E STORIES – A PROPHECY OF DRAGONS
I had played the original T.I.M.E. Stories a couple of years ago at the Gathering and loved it, so I’d been itching to get this back to the table with one of the expansions. Turns out the four of us are terrible Time Agents, since this took us the entire afternoon (and technically we aren’t done; thankfully I am going to see my fellow players again in a couple of weeks, so we’ll finish then). I am not sure if this expansion was especially hard or if the dice just hated us, but we had fun nevertheless. Apparently my photo has been lost in time, but you can read the OG review from 2016 here.
VITICULTURE – TUSCANY
Viticulture is one of my Top Ten games, and I do get to play it reasonably frequently, but mostly 2-player, so I look forward to a 6-player game every April. It is a rare game that scales well from 2 to 6, but this one does. This year it was especially fun, as it was a very close game.
This one falls under the tradition category. This is always my last game of the Gathering on Saturday night after the closing ceremonies. The same core group of us always play, with a few guest appearances each year. I enjoy race games, even when I am not very good at them; I won this one the very first time I played it and since then have not come in higher than the last 3 cars. It’s still a lot of fun. The map has several areas where you cannot roll above or below a certain number and we play with a timer, so decisions have to be made quickly and can result in penalty flags and even fiery crashes. We in fact had 3 fiery crashes this year, 2 on the same bad corner. This means my standing greatly improved through no skill of my own. . . .
Dale is usually the one posting lots of food photos, but since he wasn’t there this year here are a few for you. I brought some homemade oreos to share, and received some Stroopwafels as a gift. There are some good bakeries and donut shops, plus a restaurant that celebrates birthdays with clouds of deliciousness.
As always, I also enjoyed the people I played with. I have made so many friends from around the world playing games, and it is great to see so many of them in one place for a week – even the non-human ones. Arriving at and leaving the Gathering every year gives me the same feeling I always got at summer camp, and I am already looking forward to next year’s encampment.