Here’s a typical conversation around my office when I say I’m going on vacation.
“Is this one a real vacation? I mean, you’re not going to another board gaming thing are you? Ha ha!”
“Er, well, I am going to South Carolina to do some hiking and sightseeing. . .”
“Great! I mean, you must need a break from all those game things.”
“. . . .and then I am going to a board game convention”
“Oh, uh, well, uh, nice talking to you. Gotta run.” (slowly backing away)
The majority of my vacations do revolve around board gaming events, but I also do enjoy traveling and seeing new things, too. That’s why Gulf Games is the perfect con for me – I get to spend time with friends for a few days, doing touristy things, and then I get to play board games with them. Win win!
This time around we were in Greenville, South Carolina, which is a great little city. It is walkable and gorgeous, with a great walking trail and beautiful waterfall in the middle of the downtown. Greenville is also close to many other hiking trails and nature preserves, and there are several disc golf courses in the area, so there is plenty to do.
There are many restaurants, breweries and shops in the areas, so opinionated eaters and drinkers have plenty to keep them occupied as well.
But, like me, you’re here for the games, right? Well, there were plenty of games played. I managed to play 28 games in between mini golf, disc golf, cookouts and beer tastings.
The focus at Gulf Games is less on new games, in part because of the time of year –it’s been several months since Essen, and GenCon hadn’t happened yet. In addition, there are a wide variety of ages and levels of gaming interests in attendance, which leads to more variety in what is being played; it’s not just the new and shiny but also older games and kids games as well as social deduction games like Werewolf.
I did manage to play several games that are new or at least new to me, though.
My favorite new game was The Taverns of Tiefenthal. I had never even heard of this game before I arrived, but I managed to play it twice, since I liked it so much. You’re a tavern owner who is trying to attract the best guests to your tavern; you have to decide what method to use to improve and expand your tavern so that you attract a better class of patron. There is some luck involved, since the actions you take are determined by dice, but the selection process allows for some choice – you roll 4 dice, take one and pass the rest to the player on your left, and then choose one from the dice offered to you from the player on your right – but you generally almost always have a choice of doing something useful. In addition, the game comes with 5 different modules, so you can make the game more or less strategic by adding some or all of these elements.
I am not a dexterity game fan in general, mostly because I seem to be lacking in dexterity. Sure, I’ll play if others want to, but it’s rare that I actually enjoy a game that involves balancing or stacking something. Men at Work is the exception to this rule – I thoroughly enjoyed my play of it. On your turn you draw a card that tells you what you are going to place – a worker on a purple girder, a beam on a worker and then place that worker on an orange girder, etc. You start the game with three safety checks; if on your turn one or more pieces hits the table you lose a safety check and if you lose them all, you’re out. The player following you has to clean up any pieces that fell before they can take their turn, adding another element. I wasn’t any better at this than I am at other dexterity games, but I really liked it and will be picking up a copy. It does seem to lead to singing of 80’s pop songs, but I am okay with that.
I’ve been wanting to try Blackout Hong Kong since it came out, but don’t seem to know anyone who owns it, so I was hoping it would be at Gulf Games and it was. You can read our full review here for details. I loved it and look forward to playing it again soon.
I was happy to get to try Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra. While I do like Azul, I thought this was even better. You can read our review here.
I managed to break out some older games as well. I haven’t played Ra in at least a couple of years, so I was happy to see it hit the table. It’s one of my favorite auction games. I also got in a game of Puerto Rico, a game I haven’t played in I don’t know how many years. I was happy to see it held up well. I play Castles of Burgundy all the time on line, but it was nice to play it live for a change.
Other games I played include Angry Sheep, Blend Coffee Lab, Cabo, Clank, Dinosaur Island, Exxtra, Finito, Gizmos, Hex Roller, Krass Kariert, LAMA, The Quacks of Quedlinburg, Reef, Res Arcana, Sushi Go, The Table is Lava, Tiny Towns and Wurfel Bingo.
This was a bit of a bittersweet event for me, since it was the first time I have attended Gulf Games without my good friend Adam Smiles, who died earlier this year. Adam was a great gamer and even better friend, and it was strange to not have him there. His wife and daughter were there, though and he was remembered throughout the week with a special games played contest, smiley face buttons and a tribute at the closing ceremony. It was comforting to hear his name still being tossed around as people shared their memories of him over the course of the week,
The boardgaming community is so special to me, and nowhere is that more evident than when I am at Gulf Games. The group of people at Gulf Games come from all over and have different backgrounds, religious and political beliefs. None of that stops everyone from being friendly, respectful, caring and supportive. While it started as a family convention so that gamers could bring their spouses and children, it has evolved into a family and it’s an event I look forward to every year.