I was lucky enough to spend the end of last week playing games in Asheville, North Carolina at Gulf Games (and lucky to have spent the whole week in the area, which was a lot of fun). I played 23 games, and while a few of them were new, it became apparent after a couple of days that I was leaning towards some older games that I hadn’t played in a while, most of which held up very well. Here are some of the highlights.
I know what you’re thinking – if I am such an Uwe Rosenberg fan, how have I not played Agricola? Well, I kind of missed the boat on this one. I played it when it first came out and liked it, but then everyone I knew was playing it a LOT when I wasn’t around and learning all the card interactions and adding a draft of cards and when I got back to playing it I just felt like I couldn’t catch up on the learning curve, and when Caverna came out I gravitated towards that. I’ve always wanted to get back to it, though, so I grabbed some fellow Uwe fans who also had not played a lot and we were off.
We played the basic game with no card drafting, and I am happy to report that I really enjoyed the experience. We all did fine with figuring out how to make the cards we were dealt work for us, and it came back to us fairly well after a brief rules refresher and a couple of rounds. It held up well as far as actual mechanics, and a week later I find myself thinking about what I would do differently next time – because yes, there will definitely be a next time.
I love this game, but it’s been about a year since I have managed to get it to the table. It’s old enough that it doesn’t have a full review on Opinionated Gamers, so here’s a little overview.
Players start by drafting goal tiles before the game starts – the little yellow squares in the picture above. These tiles say things like “take the most tricks”, “take the fewest tricks”, “take no red cards” etc. The harder the goal, the more points you get for making it.
The dealer shuffles the two trump piles and secretly looks at the bottom card of each stack. She then lays the cards out in a grid, based on the number of players – each column will contain one card per player. Players take turns taking a card from a column; at the end of the “trick” the dealer notes who led and who won, eventually enabling the other players to have a guess at what the trump suits will be – one can be a color or no trump, and the other can be a number or no trump. The dealer flips over the decks. All players except the dealer simultaneously choose one of their previously-selected tiles that they think they can make and reveal. If you make your goal you score that tile; if you don’t it remains in your stack. Meanwhile, if you failed and the dealer succeeded in reaching your goal they may score one of their own chips.
The game ends when one or more players have scored all of their chips, and the person with the highest value wins. I managed to get rid of all of my chips, but so did Kurt, and we tied in point value, so we rejoiced in our shared victory. I have never gotten rid of all of my chips before, so I was very happy, even if I had to share the glory.
I played San Juan a LOT when it first came out in 2004; it was often the closer at the end of the night at our weekly game group. It had a brief resurgence when it was re-released in 2014, but I haven’t played it since. It has also held up well. It streamlines Puerto Rico’s actions into a card game, although it doesn’t really feel like “Puerto Rico: the Card Game”; there are enough differences to make it its own game. I love the engine building aspect, as well as the fact that you do things on everyone’s turn. It also seems to work well with any number of players. I have played The City a lot lately, and this seems to scratch the same itch for me.
I do not like bidding games at all, with very few exceptions. However, Medici is one of them. This game from 1995 captivated me when it came out, and I continue to enjoy it. The game has five commodity tracks with a deck of cards that correspond to these tracks; cards have a value from 0 to 5. Players start with some points, since points are used as bidding currency. Players take turns flipping one, two or three cards face up. The player to the left of the dealer bids first, with the dealer having last bid. The dealer can outbid or, if no one has bid, choose to discard the cards from the game.
Once you take cards, you add them to your boat, with a limit of 5 cards per boat. If more than one dealer has discarded cards from the game there may not be enough cards to fill everyone’s boat. At the end of the round you do two things. First, you add up the total value of your entire boat, regardless of commodity; the top 3 values score bonus points. You then move your pawn up one space for every card you have in each commodity, regardless of value. The players in first and second place on each commodity gain bonus points, with extra bonuses for reaching the top 2 levels.
Lather, rinse repeat for 3 rounds, and the player with the most victory points wins the game.
Why do I like this one? I think part of it is that it is “once-around” bidding, so it isn’t endless. It is agonizing sometimes to know what the right bid is, or whether you should go a little higher. Since it is possible that you won’t fill your boat, when do you make the hard decision to take something that is less than ideal? For some reason all of this agony is enjoyable to me.
I don’t love the newest printings of the game; some of the colors are not clear and it doesn’t add anything. I much prefer the original.
Other Interesting Things I Played
I also played 3 games that were completely new to me that I quite enjoyed were:
Forbidden Sky, the latest entry in the Forbidden series of games, where you are building an actual electrical circuit; if you have done it right, the rocket will light up at the end.
Chickapig, an abstract strategy game that had cute bits AND a lot more strategy than first met the eye.
Catch the Moon, a dexterity game where you are placing ladders based in rules set by the roll of a die.
Asheville is a great food town. Before the gaming started we went on a food tour, where our awesome guide Stu introduced us to 8 great spots. One of my favorites was Aux Bar, where we had Cheerwine sangria and rice porridge with pork belly, peanuts and chicken cracklings – and where we managed to eat dinner two more times, since it was so good.
We also had a great time with some of our fellow gamers at the high tea at the Biltmore estate. A scone course, a sandwich course, a cheese course and then a dessert course left us very full and very happy.
Also, 2 points to anyone who can explain this mural outside of Burial Brewing Company to me; they also have a velvet paining of Tom Selleck inside.
I was told that the owner of Burial Beer was a Tom Selleck fan; thus, the paintings and murals located in and outside the brewery. Couple that with his love for Death Metal Rock and you have a most unusual combination!
2 points for you, Greg! Apparently I should have just asked you while we were there. :-)
Unverified death metal… 😄
Right? It was pretty quiet while we were there. Maybe it’s just the music playing in Greg’s head. :P
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This might be a dumb question but what is Gulf Games exactly? I work just south of Asheville so curious if this is a regular meetup or something.
Also good to see some love for older games. Though I thought all the old versions of Medici were ugly and the Grail Games one was the best.
It’s not a regular thing; it’s a group of friends who get together a couple of times a year to play games, and it always moves around. You are lucky to live near Asheville, though – what a great area in general.
I’ll take ugly if it’s functional . ..