I recently attended the Gathering of Friends, an invitation-only convention that is usually held in April but thanks to the pandemic made an August appearance after two cancelled April events.
I didn’t make the decision to attend lightly. At first I was completely on-board, since all attendees had to show proof of vaccination and, at the time, it seemed that was enough. As the date approached, however, there were more breakthrough cases among vaccinated people, and I was nervous. After a lot of research and reflection I decided to attend, but to wear a mask while inside, including in the game room.
I was also nervous about playing games with other people and how that would go. I am so out-of-practice at interacting with groups of people I was a bit worried that I had lost all of my social skills and I either wouldn’t have fun or wouldn’t be able to function, but it turns out seeing dear friends after far too long of on-line only interactions was enough to keep me going throughout the week. I did play games with many friends via Discord and Skype and various online sites, but there is nothing like being in the actual, physical company of friends, socializing and playing a game.
I did end up playing fewer games than I normally would; I think that was a combination of a few longer games combined with feeling tired earlier than usual and actually getting a good night’s sleep, something I rarely do at a con. Perhaps that is my age showing more than the pandemic, though, since I also went on walks and ate my vegetables. . .
So, overall during the course of the week I played a total of 40 games, 38 of which were unique and 22 of which were new-to-me (or perhaps new to my logging app), and I played with 25 different people.
Here are my overall stats, for those who care about such things.
Highlights of my week included:
My husband kickstarted this game way back in 2018, complete with expansion and small boxes of minis. It’s been sitting on the shelf ever since, taking up a lot of space. During the pandemic we were making an effort to play things we had never played, since we needed to get rid of some games due to space concerns. We sat down with Rising Sun and started to set it up and review the rules when I noticed it needs a minimum of 3 players. Sigh. However, I was intrigued from the little exposure I’d had to it, so we brought it with us and convinced Tim and Ken to give it a try. Our friend Josh had had played before and offered to teach us, which was great (although the rule book is very good and clear, as it turns out) and as he mentioned the negotiation and blind-bidding I thought “uh-oh”, since I am not a fan of either of those mechanics. However, those are just small parts of an area control and influence game, and combined everything worked really well together. I absolutely loved it, and I can’t wait to play it again. It has some really interesting mechanics, and all of the phases worked well together to make me feel completely immersed in the game and my strategy. see we’ve never reviewed this game at Opinionated Gamers, so after I manage a couple more plays perhaps I will write a more detailed description.
I’ve almost been convinced that I should paint some of the minis; my art skills are terrible, but the minis are really, really cool, so maybe. . .
I had read our review of this game back in July (which you can read here) and, even though the reviewers were neutral, I was still intrigued. It was definitely the theme that piqued my interest; I spent most of my childhood summers at camp, and I loved it, so waxing nostalgic I grabbed this and convinced three friends to join me. I am happy to report that I really enjoyed the game. It’s a light deckbuilder, and it has several included decks, so you can mix and match each time you play. I really enjoyed it, as did everyone I played with, and a field trip was made to Target later in the day to look for a copy. We played with a combo that some purport to be broken, but it didn’t cause any problems for us. The theme is spot on and well integrated into the game, so maybe I was swayed by my fond memories of my time at Camp Bishopswood, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to playing it again.
I play this every year at the Gathering. One year we even played two simultaneous games of this, where when you got lost in time and space you got sent to the other board, where you’d join that investigation. It was chaotic but a lot of fun, which is true of the game in general. Since we had 7 Tim served as the game master, and ran all the encounters and mythos cards and such, which helped with the game flow. However, we were terrible investigators. We completely neglected the first mystery (you need to solve three to win) in favor of closing gates, which we didn’t do well at all, meaning we had some fairly scary monsters strolling around early on. Alas, we were devoured by Chthulu in the end, but we had a good time.
MEDICI THE DICE GAME
I love Medici, so I picked this up when it came out. I hated it. It was boring and didn’t have the feel of the board game. However, we were playing it 2 player, so I hung onto to give it a second chance with more players, and I am so glad I did because it turns out to be a great game with 4. I was pleasantly surprised. You can read our full review here.
It turns out my friend Matt had never played this classic game, so we pulled it out for a post-dinner jump back into gaming. It’s probably been 10 years since I last played, but I am happy to report this held up really well. It was still totally annoying when another player reroutes your well-planned expedition, and still totally enjoyable. I am surprised no one has ever reprinted this game; it’s a classic that I am always happy to play. It doesn’t contain anything unusual or innovative, but it is still worth the time. Surprisingly there were several copies of this around the ball room.
We have a review of this coming soon, so I am not going into too much detail, but it’s essentially an area majority game in which you are settling the San Francisco waterfront during the gold rush. It has beautiful bits. I have enjoyed a few games of this two player, but I could see that it would play differently with more and I was very curious to try it. I do think it worked at both the two and four player counts. Stay tuned for more information on this one.
Another game with cool minis that was Kickstarted by my husband. (Are you sending a pattern here?) We’d been meaning to get this to the table for a while, but just hadn’t done it, so we brought it along. The game has three modules – solo, arena and cooperative. We opted for the cooperative mode, where our expedition party would fight various creatures in our attempt to complete our mission. It was a little bit of a slog to learn from the rules; the components come very well organized in various trays, but it’s not at all clear what is what. We treated it as a learning experience, and with a little guidance from a friend passing by who had played, we got started and a good time was had by all. I’ll be curious to pull this one out and try the other modes as well.
WHAT WAS HOT?
It was a bit of an unusual Gathering in the fact that there were no hot new games or any clear pattern of a game being the “hotness”. Beyond the Sun and Nidavellir were both seeing some play, as was Oath. There were a few established designers with some prototypes at various stages of development, and those were all definitely popular.
There was also a moment where there were not one but two games of Die Schlact der Dinosaurier happening simultaneously. I had never seen it before and I don’t know how or why there happened to be two unrelated games happening; I only wish I had taken a picture of the very cool components. You can see some of them here, though.
COMMENTS FROM OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS
Mitchell: Mainly I want to commend you, Tery, for being so transparent about your deliberations regarding whether to attend. These are challenging decisions and it’s very helpful to be clear about the difficulty in knowing the best course of action. Also, thanks for writing about WIldlife Adventure. It’s been years since I’ve played that (a family favorite when my kids were kids) and now I’m inspired to get it back out.
Tery, we had a VERY different playlist of games! If I can figure out how to merge photos on my iPad, I’d have a cool pic like yours to show off, too! Alas, not here…
Glad to see there some folks consistently wearing masks throughout! Everyone was certainly willing to put them on for others’ comfort but it’d have been even better if mask-wearing were just the norm. Damn masks! I don’t actually think the regular ones are particularly uncomfortable but N95s are a whole different thing (and unnecessary in a fully vaccinated crowd, but they are certainly reassuring)!
Agreed regarding the masks. Next time we’ll have to try to make our games played list match at least once!
Some thoughts from a guy who hasn’t been able to attend the Gathering since 2013 (whimper)…
– Expedition is the cousin to Wildlife Adventure… but they aren’t identical games.
– I wanted to like Embarcadero much more than I did.
– Die Schlacht der Dinosaurier has a proud place in my collection.
– No Das Motorsportspiel?! No Fake Newbie?!
The entire crew wasn’t there, so we played Flamme Rouge instead of Das Motorsportspiel! I didn’t win that one, either :-)
I wasn’t able to make it this year and am super jealous. Looks like a really fun lineup of games!
Will, hopefully by April things will be more normal. It was really fun, but lots of people weren’t able to be there.
I hear at least two people came down with COVID-19 at this event, and of course they went home and likely spread it to more. Very questionable whether this event should have occurred at all. This thing isn’t over, not by a longshot.
I am not sure where you heard that, but so far I have seen no positive test results being reported, and many, many attendees have taken tests. No one is claiming this is over, but as someone who works in health care, is a reasonably healthy and fully vaccinated individual, and who has done plenty of research, I made the decision to attend this event of fully-vaccinated people while wearing a mask and eating mostly outside, and quarantine myself when I got home. Other people may disagree with that decision, but it was not an uninformed or reckless one.
Alan Moon reported that two people tested positive.
There were two false positives from home tests, they then took the PCR tests and it was negative so no it wasn’t a Covid spreader. Everyone I knew was very conscientious and got tested when they came back to be sure and they all came up negative.
Actually the two games of Die Schlact der Dinosaurier were related! Daryl loved the game so much he organized a team event and scored it with how both team members finished in their separate games for the grand Dinosaurier king/queen!
I know for a fact the two simultaneous games I saw were NOT part of the team event, which means that there were simultaneous games on more than one occasion!!!!!
Thank you for sharing you thoughts and experiences. I hope to make it back next April.