To paraphrase Chandler Bing (aka Miss Chanandler Bong): “Could the title to this post BE any more boring?”)
He has a point… but our three days plus change with the Gulf Games “family” was anything but generic and boring. There were epic battles, masterpieces painted, drift systems explored, and miniature golf courses designed. I terraformed Mars, raced Formula 1 cars circa 1961, and finally found the time to collect me some birds. (“The bird is my prisoner!”)
Collin (my 17 year old son) and I road tripped to North Carolina to enjoy our first Gulf Games adventure since 2019… and it was worth every long mile. This is Gulf Games 49 – wow. (Background note: while I wasn’t at Gulf Games One, I was at Gulf Games Two in the fall of 1998.)
What follows is my quick recap of my weekend of gaming (and a bit of his) – and it doesn’t begin to cover the entire event and the joy of gaming with folks I’ve known for years. I’ll end with a bit of rumination on why I think I enjoy invitational events so much.
Five hours (or so) of driving – including getting stuck in an inexplicable traffic jam around Sevierville and going over the Great Smokey Mountains on a moonless night – ended with our arrival at Gulf Games… and the fun began.
Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition
This isn’t my first play of the new-ish Definitive Edition (it’s actually my 11th play) but only my second with the Rook City Renegades expansion. Our team of Ra (Bob Trezise), Setback (Collin), and Nightmist (me!), managed to finally capture Ambuscade in the Realm of Discord.
For those (like me) who own the original game (and literally ALL of the expansion content) – Definitive Edition is really good. The re-tuned decks almost all have more interesting choices (and there are fewer “unusual situation only” cards), the artwork is more consistent (especially compared to the original box of Sentinels), and the game has tended to play with in an hour for most team-ups/villains. I don’t feel a need to get rid of my beloved (113 plays) original set, but I’m glad Collin has the new edition where I can play it.
Being early in the game room means I had the opportunity to teach a old game to some new friends – the Norman family! Mike and his sons joined me for the classic Sid Sackson game – and Jonah rode the 2 and the 12 to victory.
This simple card game hadn’t been on my radar – but it got a good bit of play this weekend… and for good reason. With four players, the combination of “you split, I choose” and simultaneous selection translates into a great filler with lots of moments of inadvertent mind melds and lots of laughter.
Peter McCarthy (one of the other “original” Gulf Games Two folks) beat Bob, Ted Alspach, and I. (Ted – in addition to running Bezier Games and designing things like Suburbia – is an excellent game teacher.)
Note: Bob & I played this two-player later in the weekend… it functionally works as a 2 player game, but the fun is missing.
Renee and I have been planning to play Fresco (a favorite of mine and hers) for a number of years – and the chance finally came at Gulf Games. We threw in a number of bells and whistles (but not the Bells expansion): the Wishing Well, the extra paints, the Portrait Studio cards, the mixing bonus tiles, the Bishop’s Favor, the Glazier, gold foil, and even the Wall Fresco. I’ve written about my love for Fresco numerous times before.
Floyd pipped me out by three points at the end of an excellent and well played game against Renee and her sister Alison.
Yes, it’s taken me four years to actually play Wingspan… and, after all that time, I’m a bit mystified about all the love for the playable and solid game. There’s nothing mechanically wrong with it and there’s interesting decisions to make it, but it didn’t really blow me away. (Collin, on the other hand, found it very enjoyable.
This impression is despite my win over Collin, Bob, and Kim. I’m pretty sure some of you will have something to say about my “no big deal” mini-review.
An old-school Euro (stylistically – it was just published last year) with my long-lost Gathering racing buddies: Mark, Teri, and Kurt. A simple drafting game with some tricky decisions on when to spend your sand dollars and when to just take any ol’ towel and move on. The scores were extremely tight and Mark Noseworthy came out on top.
Xia: Legends of a Drift System
One of the treats of Gulf Games is seeing old friends – and it was a real pleasure to see Chris & Elaine again after all these year… and even more fun to get absolutely SCHOOLED by Elaine (the Xia newbie) in this incredible sandbox space exploration game. Highlight #2: finally getting to meet Kyle in person after years of conversation online!
We played to 10 points… which took right at two hours with four players. My noodling about and exploring led to a variety of close scrapes but not nearly enough points – while the serious scoring/economic/fighting action all took place on the far side of the board from me.
I ended the night by playing TEN with the head honcho of Gulf Games, Greg Schloesser. (Greg is a wonderful guy whose hard work and incredibly warm personal touch keeps this whole thing going.) Martin, Bob, and I lost to Greg in this odd combination of push-your-luck and auction that was actually a good bit of fun.
Bezier Games Prototype
I am sworn to secrecy… but I’ll just say that the prototype I got to play with Ted Alspach, Bob, and Michael was a lot of fun. I’d be happy to play again!
Catan: Explorers & Pirates
Sheldon’s last game of Gulf Games (since he had to go be the best grandpa ever) was this very long but really neat Catan variant that includes boats that move goods and crew about the map. I’m a big fan of this one – but have never bought it due to it not matching my much older German Catan sets. Collin beat us – his review was that he was glad he finally got to play it but didn’t need to play it again. On the other hand, I’d happily jump into this one.
My first of two plays of Minigolf Designer at Gulf Games… in both cases, I got to teach new players the joys of this fantastic tile-laying game. And, in both cases, I did not finish first – which has been pretty typical for me in multiplayer play. That’s OK, though… I find the mental exercise of building the golf course within the given blueprint and preferences of the owners to be an interesting challenge – and, weirdly enough, relaxing.
If you’re interested in the game, there’s a Kickstarter going on right now for the newest expansion, Minigolf Empire. You can also get the original game and the first expansion as add-ons.
David edged out Dan for the win, with Floyd & I getting participation trophies.
Race for the Galaxy
Bob was working to get certain games played for one of the Gulf Games contests (more on that later), so I agreed to play one of my favorite games. (He did not have to twist my arm.)
We played with the first two expansions in – which is a format I haven’t played in years – but I still managed to pull out a win, partially on the strength of my three 6-cost developments.
Let me put in a plug for those newer to the hobby who haven’t tried Race for the Galaxy – the iconography is not as difficult as some gamers grumble about and the game itself is worth your time and energy to learn & enjoy. (Plus, you can play it on BGA and/or the excellent iPad app.)
Continuing on Bob’s quest to play games, he once again had no difficulty into convincing me to play another personal favorite… and we managed to rope in Charlie. Playing with the base game only (both expansions are really good, though), I led for most of the game… only to be edged out by Charlie on the ninth round with a well-timed drop of troops from the Spacing Guild.
Foundations of Rome
David S. brought his blinged-out (metal coins, wash on the buildings, etc.) copy of Foundations of Rome… a game I’ve really wanted to try. The table presence is stunning, especially with us using the Monuments expansion. The game itself feels like a bit of an old-school throwback city-builder… but it’s a solid medium-weight game that moves at a nice pace. I wish I could justify the hefty price point to own a copy for myself.
Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition
Thanks to Kevin & Joy, Jon and I were able to continue our tradition of trash-talking and playing Clash of Cultures together… of course, Kevin the Celtic leader won over Jon’s Phonencians, Joy’s Greeks, and my Huns. And, yes, Jon scored more than I did – but it was close!
The Monumental Edition has a number of positive steps forward from the original game – less rules clarity problems, better graphics, cleaned up combat system, actual miniatures for the wonders, a better system for events, and the impossible-to-find expansion in the box to begin with. I’m sorely tempted to pick up a copy – even though I already own the original version (which I love).
Memoir ’44: Overlord
Another Gulf Games tradition is me hosting a Memoir ’44 battle. (Note: if I end up at a summer Gulf Games, I’m going to need to plan on two battles to make sure everyone who wants to play gets to jump in.) Man, I love this game.
This year, it was Guadalcanal – the Overlord map in the Through Jungle & Desert expansion. Japanese forces (Chris, Collin, and Jon – commanded by Floyd) attempted to break through the American marines (Charlie, David C, and John – commanded by me) to get to Henderson Field. Note the word “attempted” – they failed.
It looked like a blowout at first, with American air power decimating a section of Japanese forces and scattered units being picked off… but then the tide turned (to some extent) and the final score was 13-10 Americans.
I received this as a Christmas gift… and I’ve had a lot of fun with it. Four of us sat down for a quick (45 minutes) series of rounds of building an amusement park. I managed a commanding win – but I think it may have been one of those “experienced guy takes advantage of the newbies” wins. Still, the production of the game is nice – chunky cardboard pieces, great artwork, and a cool 3-D carousel as part of the board – and the gameplay is fun.
Minigolf Designer & Split It
My second plays – see my thoughts above.
Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
I’ve come to believe that the game works better (at least in the original box pre-trio of expansions that are about to ship) with 3 or 4 players… the speed of the game is just about right and the variety of actions chosen makes the game move along at a better clip. That said, I terraformed the heck out of Mars… and mostly by spending money.
Take It Easy
Take It Easy is, not to put too fine a point on it, basically “Gamer Bingo”. (In fairness, so are Rise of Augustus and Karuba.) But it’s been a long-time Gulf Games tradition to play a massive game of Take It Easy together on Saturday night – and Greg Schloesser (our hero!) tapped me to be the caller.
So, I call the game, playing along with everyone else (and doing a miserable job, thank you very much). Tradition dictates that once all the folks have completed their scoring, the group stands. As I announce different score thresholds, people sit if they haven’t scored that much.
When we went from 190 to 200, only two folks were left standing. Bob (my former boss when I worked at the TN State Legislature) and Collin (my 17 year old son). Collin beat out Bob for the win with 216 points!
We’d played a number of games of this two player (Collin is a big fan), so I was curious how it would do with four players. Warren, Sharon, Jay, and myself delved into the dungeon… and had one of those weird games where very few monsters appear. (This led to much shaking down of goblins for $ and an opportunity for a John Cusack reference.) We managed to explore most of the dungeon… with all of us finding our way back to the crypt except Sharon (who expired one space away). In the end, my backpack full of artifacts and pile of Secret Tomes won the day.
Side note: Warren & I realized that our advancing age means quoting “I want my two dollars!” is dating us in a rather serious manner.
Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Heat is what happens when you partner the designers of Flamme Rouge with the production quality of Days of Wonder – an auto racing game that zips along and was very enjoyable to play. My first play was a lot of fun… but now that I have 19 (yes, nineteen) plays under my belt (including racing the 1961 campaign solo and the 1962 campaign head-to-head against my son), I’ll declare Heat as one of the best racing games I’ve played. It’s easy to teach the base game – and then easy to add the extra elements (upgrades, weather, etc.) after that. Recommendation: use the Legends expansion to fill out the field to 6 cars regardless of the number of players… makes the race much more race-like!
I played twice at Gulf Games – once on Saturday night (in which I won handily) and once on Sunday morning (in which I was two full turns behind the rest of the field). Here’s the deal – I’d play it again right now if someone asked.
Baseball Highlights: The Dice Game
While I adore Baseball Highlights: 2045, I had a less than positive reaction to Football Highlights that has caused me to avoid the Baseball Highlights dice game until now. I was pleased as punch to find out that I like this roll’n’write baseball game that works with 1-4 players. Kyle, David C, and myself had a a great early morning game – which included extra innings when David & I tied. My superior number of power dice gave me the win.
Now I’m curious about Mike Fitzgerald’s Football Highlights dice game, too.
- Interestingly enough, I got to play five of the games on my very recent One Game Per Page geeklist during the weekend.
- A water main down the street broke in the middle of Thursday night… which made restroom stuff tricky for some portion of the day.
- I didn’t get to play my copy of Mosaic: A Story of Civilization… but it got a lot of play this weekend.
- Collin’s favorite games (that I didn’t play) included Mantis Falls, the annual kids/youth Werewolf game led ably by Tae, and Kabuto Sumo.
- Thanks to Bob, who finally got Collin to play The Princes of Florence… then beat him on a tiebreaker. :-)
- Other popular games: Heat was being played a good bit, as was Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Collector’s Edition and Everdell: Complete Collection.
- My quick thoughts on invitational events:
- Consistent groups of people over time form relationships and connection that are very enjoyable
- Less issues with problem players (belligerent, hygiene issues, etc.)
- Easier to trust people with valuable and/or interesting games in your collection
- Can create events where children are welcome
- Less people equals less stressful situations
- Smaller events tend to less crowded schedules and more freedom to jump into games
- Important invitational event safety tips:
- You’ll need new blood (new invitees) to not age out your event over time
- Know your target and communicate it clearly to your attendees
- Make good decisions on invitations so you don’t have to do the hard work of un-inviting someone
- Get a team to help you run the event
Can’t wait until the next Gulf Games!
- top row: Foundations of Rome, Memoir ’44: Overlord, Tenpenny Parks
- middle row: Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition, me sporting an Esoteric Order of Gamers shirt, Xia: Legends of a Drift System
- bottom row: Collin & Bob playing Princes of Florence, Fresco, Jon trash-talking me prior to Clash of Cultures
Great report, Mark! It was SO good to have you back with us. Always a joy!
Thanks for the write-up Mark. I hate that I didn’t get to face off against your forces in Memoir again. I’m already practicing up for this summer!
You promised more details on Bob’s quest and then didn’t deliver. Come on man! :)
Rick – you’re correct… I didn’t finish the story. Following Collin’s win for Take It Easy, the “games played” contest winners were announced… and, thanks to helping Bob, I ended up with 3rd place! Bob ended up in second, and Karen evidently smoked us all in first.