I arrived home from the Gathering of Friends yesterday after a long and rainy drive. Now that I’ve caught up on sleep and laundry I am ready to reflect on my time there.
As always, the highlight of the event for me is the people. I am not a fan of crowds or large events, but somehow the GoF manages to feel like a small, intimate event despite the fact that it has increased from about 80 people the first year I attended to closer to 400 now. Every year I think I can’t possibly meet or interact with any new people, but I always end up meeting new and cool people, sometimes newbies and sometimes return attendees I just haven’t met yet. This was my 23rd Gathering, which blows my mind – I am not sure how 24 years have passed quite so quickly. This will always be one of the highlights of my year; it’s where I first met my husband as well as a core group of close friends who are very important to me, and the only place I get to see some pretty amazing people.
Of course, in the end the games are important, too – that’s why we are all there. All told I had 48 plays of 40 games with 30 different people. Here are some of my top gaming moments of the week.
We have an annual tradition of playing a new game every year with our friends Scott and Cato; generally it is new to one of the couples and the other teaches it. This year they taught us Federation, a space-themed worker placement game in which you are trying to influence several planets to join the Federation. You send your envoys off to visit each planet, working to develop a relationship with them so that they choose you as their representative. I loved it; the game makes sense from a rules and flow perspective, and there seem to be many options/paths you can take in the game. I was ready to buy a copy immediately, but it’s not yet distributed in the US. The good news is that Eagle Gryphon games will be distributing it in the US in the fall, and is currently taking pre-orders. I placed one immediately.
Path to Civilization
This is a new game from Captain Games, coming out later this year. Each player is trying to develop an advanced civilization through a combination of worker placement and resource management. You know from the start of the game what will be scoring in each era, so you are working towards meeting those goals and setting yourself up to have mastered as many areas as possible. Play is nearly simultaneous, making this a fast-paced game. At the same time there are a lot of possibilities and a lot of tough choices you have to make. The components are easy to see, and thought was put into make the various icons and cards visible to all players, regardless of proximity to the cards (something my aging eye and I especially appreciate). It was a very interesting game, and I look forward to trying it again once it is published.
Sleeping Gods is a fun story/adventure game. You can read our full review of it here. We’ve owned it for a long time, and had finally cracked it open for a couple of plays in March. We brought it with us since we knew we had a couple of friends who wanted to try it, and one of the beautiful things about this game is that you can easily add or remove players at any point in the campaign without having to change/undo/shift anything; there are a set number of characters and they just get randomly and evenly assigned among the people playing that day. We convinced Kurt and Tim to join us, waiting until after they were already in to tell them that the crew was badly injured and oh, by the way the ship is full of holes. . . . thankfully they were able to help us recover and make some progress. I still really like the game, and while it may turn out to be better with more than two players I think we can better handle each controlling 4 characters after we got more experience while focusing on only two.
I am always on the lookout for quick, easy-to-learn-but-still-fun-to-play games for various reasons – fillers for game day, visits with family, or games at work. I was curious about Vegetable Stock and picked it up, hoping it would be good. It was. Vegetables are each randomly assigned a value in the stock market. # of players +1 card are dealt on the table, and players each select a card. The card not selected determines which vegetables will increase in value on the stock market, crashing if they go to high. It takes 1 minute to teach and only a few minutes to play, but it is great fun. You can read our full review of it here.
The beauty of having a whole week to play games is that there is plenty of time, and older titles have a fighting chance to make it to the table. Three that stuck out for me were Orleans, Ora et Labora, and Medici.
Orleans is still holding up very well for me. I enjoy the bag building aspect combined with the creative worker placement mechanism, even if my #!*$#& knights steadfastly refused to come out of the bag. . . It has been far too long since I played this, and I thoroughly enjoyed this play of it. I don’t actually own a copy, but do have Orleans Stories with some unplayed expansions; I am now inspired to get that back to the table sooner rather than later.
Ora et Labora is an excellent game by Uwe Rosenberg. In my opinion the game is best with exactly three players; I feel like it drags on too long with 2 and there isn’t enough choice with four. Three, however, is the perfect number. It has become tradition to play this every year with friends who share my love for Uwe games. We rotate between playing France and Ireland every year. I still love this game.
Medici is one of the first German games I ever learned, way back in the late 90’s. It was one of my favorites for a long time, despite the fact that it is all about auctions and I don’t like the auction mechanism as a rule. It had been a few years since I had last played it, and that playing had not been terribly enjoyable thanks to the terrible graphics and lack of color definition in the remake we were using. This time we played with the original version, which restored my love for this game. It is also the rare strategy game that works well with 6 players.
Trick Taking Games
I got to play several trick-taking games, which I always enjoy. Pictured is Was Sticht, a game that would also fit under the Older Game category and that I am continually surprised has never been republished. One player is in charge and secretly determines the trump number and color. They then lay the cards out in eight columns Each row represents an individual trick; each player in turn selects one of the cards in the row. The player in charge announces who led and who wins, which gives the players clues as to what the trumps will be, enabling them to select cards accordingly. A round is then played with the selected cards, with each player trying to meet one of the five goals they selected during game preparation. It is one of my favorite trick-taking games as well as a good deduction game.
I also got to play Magic Trick, designed by our own Chris Wray! It’s a unique trick-taker. You are dealt a pile of cards that you sort by number, putting the highest number on the bottom and the lowest number on the top. You then pass those cards to your left, and that player spreads them out face down. You can see what distribution of suits you and the other players have, but you don’t know the numbers. The lead player plays a card and others must follow suit, trying to deduce what numbers they might have along the way. At some point you select a card to be your bid; you flip it up and that is then the number of tricks and the number of different suits of those tricks that you will take. It’s very creative, and I really enjoyed.
What Else Did I Play?
My final game of the GoF is almost always DTM, a super fun racing game. I am not very good at it, but I love it.
I also played Hooky, a really fun deduction game that you are going to be read more about soon in an upcoming review, so I will leave the details for that. This was definitely one of the most-played games, along with Heat: Pedal to the Metal (which I also played).
In addition to those I played Ark Nova, Atiwa, Boast or Nothing, Caldera Park, Clank Catacombs, Dinsoaur Island Rawr n Write, Fool, Franchise, Ghost Fighting Treasure Hunters, Just One, lacrimosa, Lander Toppen, Lovecraft Letter, Minigolf Designer, Nana Christmas, Pharoan, Planet Unknown, Sauscharf, Scape Goat, Scout, Team Play, Texas Showdown, Velomino, Voodoo Prince, Wanted Wombat, Wurfel Bohnanza and Wyatt Earp.
Niagara Falls is not exactly a hotbed of exciting culinary experiences, but there are a few good restaurants and food experiences here and there. I did (of course) eat buffalo wings, and also beef on weck and ice cream, but didn’t take a picture of any of them. So, instead I give you photos of the cookies I brought to share along with some chocolate given to me by my friend Heli, who was attending from Germany.
Your cookies were delicious!!!! (and I’m still smarting from the beating you gave me on Federation….on your first time playing!!!!!!!!!)
As were yours! I think my skill at Federation was directly related to the skill of the person teaching me. IIRC, that person actually won – I was just a distant second. . . . :-)