This is the second half of the compilation of experiences, gaming and otherwise, of Larry and Ben at the recently concluded Gathering of Friends. Yesterday, our alphabetical list of games played got us through the letter “I”; let’s pick up the action with one of our least enjoyable experiences of the week.
Larry: The theme of this recent release is attractive: the players are industrialists who try to expand their financial empires, while recruiting their successors to carry on said empires for the following generations. Unfortunately, the mechanics only marginally support that theme. Instead, the design is a sprawling mish-mash of very different subgames that, quite frankly, made my head spin. I hoped I would be able to figure things out once we started playing, but I never did. The different characters seem quite unbalanced and the various actions seem out of whack as well. Adding insult to injury, our game took 5 hours(!) to play; that’s probably not typical, but by all accounts, this is a long game and I just don’t think it’s worth the time required to play. The game is wildly overproduced, but if more time had been spent improving the gameplay and less spent on gold-plating the components, it would have been much better. Rating: Not for me.
Ben: A friend really wanted to play this over-production of a game. I won by luck of my random draw of character powers. It’s very hard to read the tiles on the 10pt font at the bottom of the game board or on other people’s powers. The explanation was rife with questions. The game lasted many hours and was not overly enjoyable. Normally I like deep games, but not this one. Rating: Not for me.
Loot of Lima (2020)
Ben: I won my buddy’s game because I kept asking questions while their note-taking confused them. Decent and well-designed deduction game. Rating: I like it.
Larry: You’d think a game with my name on the box cover couldn’t possibly be new-to-me a year and a half after it was published, but you’d be wrong. When BoardGameTables.com said that they wanted to revise my game of Deduce or Die, the plan all along was for them to develop it, to make it more accessible. I had little to do with the development process and the game was released during the height of Covid. After that, we just didn’t manage to get it to the table. But at some point during the con, Ben and another member of our games group wandered over with a copy of it, so I finally got to play my own game! My biggest surprise is that, even though it’s clearly more straightforward than the original, it’s still a pretty tough deduction game. Which is great! Thanks, guys, for letting me finally try out my own design! Rating: I like it.
Ben: A game themed around butterflies that I wanted to try. It’s light and cute, but not all that engaging or fun. There’s no engine building, which is disappointing. Rating: Not for me.
Larry: So James Nathan pulled out this game, after announcing it was a mix of Go Fish and Memory! Hmm, not exactly something I was anxious to play, but damned if it didn’t actually work! The key is that you can only play (or ask about) the cards on the far right or far left of each players’ hand. It’s obviously light, but there’s some decisions, it’s fast, and it’s fun. Yet another James Nathan discovery from Japan. Rating: I like it.
Ben: Memory meets a trick taking game. Sort of interesting and fun. Rating: I like it.
New York Zoo (2020)
Larry: Another Uwe 2-player polyomino game, this time with cute animeeples. There’s a game here, but it kind of felt processional, where most of the time we followed a standard cycle of Action A, Action B, and Action C, then rinse and repeat. It just wasn’t that much fun. Not one of Rosenberg’s best. My rating: Neutral.
Null & Nichtig (2006)
Ben: Another trick taker that felt okay but not memorable. My rating: Neutral.
Larry: A trick-avoidance game from designer Reiner Stockhausen, well before he discovered bag-building and found happiness with Orleans. Pretty slight and, as Ben says, unmemorable. Earlier trick-takers like this shows you just how good the modern Japanese designers have become at this genre. My rating: Neutral.
Ben: Played this two-player and was surprised at its complexity when getting started cold. We ended up losing based on a slow start. Might try this again someday. Rating: Neutral.
Larry: I only got to play one round of this before breaking for dinner and having to abandon things. But I agree with Ben—this was more involved than I was expecting. My main impression was that this could be a really good title for more experienced families, with the need for players to join together to perform certain actions being particularly attractive. Lost Ruins of Arnak is the better game, but I can see why Paleo won the Kennerspiel last year. Rating: Incomplete.
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu (2016)
Larry: I’m not a big fan of cooperative games and Cthulhu bores me to tears. Still, it was impressive to see how well the theme of the Great Old Ones fits the Pandemic mechanisms. We had fun trying to close gates and such, but proved to be unfit to deal with the machinations of The Big C. Fhtagn! Rating: Neutral.
Larry’s Interlude #5: “A Good Gaming Citizen”
There is no game library at the Gathering. Instead, people just bring games from their collections. Some folks only bring a few games and some bring a very impressive amount. But this year, the prize for biggest Gathering setup, by far, had to go to Rodney Somerstein. It was just remarkable: the games were stacked high and the stacks had to go on for at least 30 feet. They ran the gamut from older titles to the latest and greatest; there were multiplayer monsters, as well as a table loaded with lighter 2-player games. This turned out to be extremely valuable; if you wanted to play a specific game, the first place to look was Rodney’s collection and odds were, you’d be able to find it there. Obviously, the effort to haul all those games there and then remove them was considerable. And I didn’t really see Rodney playing those games all that often; he was just unselfishly doing his best to make the Gathering a more enjoyable experience for others. So thanks, Rodney—you provided a valuable service and a whole bunch of us were very appreciative.
Pax Pamir: Second Edition (2019)
Larry: Sometimes you feel like you have to give a popular game a try, even though you suspect it won’t be to your taste. That was the case with the latest version of Pax Pamir and, sadly, my suspicions were accurate. There’s obviously a lot of good stuff going on here. But it seemed as if the game state changed violently with every play—first I was leading, then I was dead last, then suddenly my assets became liabilities, and so on. I’m sure with experience, you can learn to manage all this chaos. But it was very hard for me to follow all these machinations and I’m severely allergic to chaos in gaming in the first place. So at least I can say I tried it and leave it at that. Unfortunately, it was yet another confirmation that the very talented Cole Wehrle is not designing games with me in mind. Rating: Not for me.
Red Cathedral (2020)
Larry: Nice little game about building the floors of cathedrals, while earning points for building majorities. My main issue with the design is that it was impossible to plan anything until your turn rolled around, since the position changed pretty drastically with each turn. So maybe a bit lacking in control, but still pretty good. Rating: I like it.
Ben: Fun little game that allows for very little planning between turns. It’s a neat concept, simple enough to teach and play. It felt very family friendly but not too deep. No tableau or engine building here, just grab and build. Rating: Neutral.
Larry: There were two card games that I played quite a bit at the Gathering and this was one of them. I’m a big fan of Krass Kariert, but I always thought it was disappointing that the end result of it was that one player lost, but there was no provision for determining a winner. Scout gives you a winner and improves on Krass in many other ways as well. The double valued cards sound like a gimmick, but they work really well and every difference from Krass is a positive one. Just a lot of fun to play and skill definitely plays a major role. I’m hoping this gets regular play in my gaming group. Rating: I like it.
Ben: This was my surprise hit of the event. It’s a trick taker that everyone can play quickly and easily between games and meetings. Plays like a more fun version of Krass Kariert. Rating: I love it.
Ben: I am in no way a Bridge champion but I was asked to sit in and play some hands with some friends. This is a six-handed version of Bridge, with three players in each of the two teams. Bridge is one thing, but the bidding and play of the hands in this game is quite different. My group taught me how to play and it was fun. Rating: I like it.
Sidereal Confluence (2017)
Ben: A surprise Con hit for me. A deeply engaging and fun trading game. I made some mistakes in scoring but enjoyed it a lot. It felt a little long and chaotic, but as an extreme extrovert, I enjoyed it. Rating: I love it.
Larry: I love negotiation games, so this sci-fi monster, which is all about negotiation, would seem to be an obvious fit for me. But due to its duration and the need for a higher player count, it’s the kind of a title that really only makes sense to play at a gaming convention, at least the first time. Thankfully, the stars aligned this time (see what I did there?) and I got the chance to play, after receiving a good explanation of the rules. Everything is so free-form that I still wasn’t sure how to approach my race, but I got some tips and was soon haggling along with the rest of the group. It was a lot of fun and I did reasonably well. It’s certainly not the kind of thing I want to play often, but once or twice a year would be brilliant, particularly now that I have a better idea of how things work. Involved negotiation games are very rare these days, so I’m very glad I finally got the chance to try this out. Rating: I like it.
So Clover (2021)
Larry: I feel my rating for this is steadily dropping. It sounds like it would be full of clever word associations and piecing together clues. But in practice, you’re almost always faced with an impossible pairing, so what you see more than anything is bickering over what the best arrangement of the cards should be and exclamations of dismay when the (inadequate) answer is revealed. Just too much negativity for me. Why not just play Codenames instead? Rating: Neutral.
Ben: A poorly designed card game. The icons and art are atrocious and almost not functional. Glad I tried it, but I won’t play again. Rating: Not for me.
Larry: This recent design by Andreas (Hansa Teutonica) Steding was probably my most pleasant surprise of the con. For some reason, I’d dismissed it when it was released, but I had heard good things about it during the week, so we played following a cold read of the rules. That’s always tough for an involved game, but once we figured things out, it proved to be really promising. Much of the game revolves around acquiring and managing furs of specific values and this is both challenging and quite interactive. I’m think seriously of buying a copy, so this was a very nice discovery. Rating: I like it.
Ben: This was a surprise hit in both its depth and its gameplay. One of the actions was very confusing from the board, but we eventually figured it out. Rating: I like it.
Larry’s Interlude #6: Opinionated Eaters, Part 3
Speaking of stroganov…no, not really. So I grew up in New Jersey during the 60’s and at that time, it seemed as if there was a Mom & Pop doughnut shop on every street corner. The variety of cakey delights was huge, they were always fresh, and were quite affordable. My family stopped at these shops frequently and my favorite was always the jelly doughnuts. Sadly, these days, the big doughnut chains seem to dominate and while their stuff is okay, they’re no match for the doughnuts of my youth. And it’s almost impossible to find a good jelly doughnut, if you can even find one at all. Well, it turns out that not far from the Gathering’s hotel, there’s a little place called Frankies Donuts and Pizza (pretty weird combination, huh?). It was not unusual to see people wandering through the game room carrying a box or two of their doughnuts. On two separate occasions, lovely, generous people offered me one of these parcels of goodness. Naturally, I went for a filled one and in both cases, it was a jelly doughnut. They were…amazing. Incredibly fresh, filled to bursting with jelly (when you bit one end, the jelly squirted out the other end, just like I remembered from my youth!), and so wonderfully delicious. After eating my first one, I wound up with jelly on my hands, my mouth, and even the tip of my nose. I didn’t care—I was in heaven. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever eat a doughnut that good again. So thank you, Frankies, and thank you, anonymous Gathering attendees for your extreme generosity. Even now, as I’m typing this, my mouth is happy and my spirit is at peace.
Larry: For some reason, this is named after the concept of a snake eating its own tail, which really doesn’t have much to do with the action. Despite that thematic ambiguity, this is a very interesting auction game. Each auctioned card shows different numbered circles and if you bid the value in a circle on one of the cards you had won earlier (whether you win the auction with that bid or not), you get to place a marker on it. When you cover all the circles on a card you purchased, you now own it. Owned cards give you the VPs listed on them and some of them have cool abilities as well. The other players in my game were more experienced with it and they spanked me pretty good, so there’s obviously a good amount of skill here. This is another one I’d like to play some more. Rating: I like it.
Team Play (2015)
Ben: A really fun hit with some random play. Team based cooperation forces you to pay attention and it was a lot of fun. I think the point spread was one point. Simon Weinberg was my partner and playing with a fun, outwardly quirky friend made all the difference here. Rating: I love it.
Larry: Enjoyable little card game that I only seem to play at the Gathering. Figuring out the best way of helping your partner while also helping yourself is a nice challenge. Rating: I like it.
Texas Showdown (2018)
Larry: This was my most played game of the Gathering, and small wonder. It’s a really clever and very well designed trick-taker and it and Scout seemed to be in constant play during the week. The rule that you can play a card in any suit that’s been played (even if it’s not from the led suit) is a key one and that, together with the large number of suits, really ramps up the skill level, while still keeping the game very accessible. I love trick taking games and this is one of the best ones I’ve learnt in quite a while. I also want to call out the physical design of the cards, by Klemens Franz. They are exemplary: clean and attractive, but easily distinguishable and containing all the information you need in an unobtrusive and pleasing way. Evidently, it’s really hard to find the Amigo version of this these days, but Rio Grande is getting ready to remake it (under the title of Strife, which, apparently, was the designer’s original name for the game). So hopefully, many more gamers will be able to pick up a copy of this in the near future. Finding a really good new trick-taking game and a really good new climbing game (Scout) in one week makes me a really happy camper! Rating: I like it.
Ben: This was my hit from last year’s Gathering and it remains my favorite trick taker to date. Rating: I love it.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea (2021)
Larry: I love The Crew: Quest for Planet Nine and it’s one of my favorite cooperative games. I’d heard from all of my OG buddies that the spinoff was even better, but this was my first chance to check it out. We only played a few hands, but it was enough to see that they were spot on. Hopefully, I’ll be able to explore this some more in the future. Rating: I like it.
Ben: This is a fun flip and write game based on optimizing your play as you race through a track. This was a very enjoyable little light game that played in 15 minutes. Rating: I like it.
Um Reifenbreite (1979)
Ben: I learned this early German bike racing game with a few house rules. I finished 2-4-5 and still lost. Rating: I like it.
Ben: This is a light puzzle wrapped in a tile selection family game with some gamerish scoring. Rating: Neutral.
So that’s the summary of what was a wonderful week. The gaming was great, there were many new discoveries, and the people were, as always, so wonderful to be with. Thanks again to Alan Moon, who works so hard to put on the best gaming convention in the world. With any luck, we’ll both be there again next year!