I know what you are thinking – didn’t I already read a Gulf Games Convention Report from Mark Jackson? Well yes, you did. However, the good news for you (and the bad news for me) is that I didn’t get to play any games with Mark during the course of the con, save the 160 player game of Take it Easy, so there will be very little repetition. I did get to see him and one of his sons, though, so that’s still a win.
Unlike Mark, I haven’t been a Gulf Games attendee from the start. In fact, I didn’t start attending until 2015. At first I wasn’t sure about it – while I knew some of the attendees there were many I didn’t know, and I thought maybe having small children in the game room might be disruptive. However, it didn’t take long for my concerns to vanish. The attendees as a whole are a great group of welcoming, kind people who follow the rules to make sure the children are not in fact disruptive, and it is always nice to see kids who love to play games. Now I’ve been to my 7th summer and maybe 14th overall (math is hard and the pandemic hasn’t helped me count any better), and this is an event I look forward to every 6 months. This was a full circle event for me, since our very first Gulf Games was in Greenville.
You can see everything I played in the graphic above. One of the things I like about Gulf Games is that it isn’t all about the new games; sure, people are playing plenty of the new and shiny stuff, but there are a whole lot of classic and older games being played, too. Here are some of my highlights.
Magic Trick is a trick-taking game designed by our very own OGer Chris Wray. It’s a standard trick-taking game with a couple of twists. Each player gets dealt a hand of cards – but it’s not their hand. You sort the cards in order of number from lowest to highest and then pass those cards to the player on your left, and receive cards from the player on your right. Each player splays their hand out from lowest to highest, as in the photo, without looking at it – you know what suits you have and where your highest and lowest cards are, but not what the numbers are, and you know this information for every other player. You also know the numbers of the player to your left, since you sorted their cards. The leading player can play any card they like; other players must follow suit if they can or can slough off if not; red is always trump. As you play cards you start to get an idea of what your cards may be and can make more informed decisions. At some point after you play a card you are going to choose one of your face-down cards and flip it face up as your bid. If it is a 3, that means you want to take 3 tricks. Play continues until the last trick; you get 3 points if you make your bid exactly and lose a point for every number that you were off. In addition you can earn two bonus points if the number of tricks you took was also equal to the number of suits (colors) that you took – so if I took 3 tricks and they were yellow, blue and red with no other colors I would get 5 points.
I love this game. I am a big fan of trick-taking, and this adds in elements of deduction as well as finesse – if your bid isn’t quite what you thought it might be you have to find a way to add or lose a trick. It is a lot of fun. There were a few copies of the game present and it was not unusual to see at least two games in play at a time. It had a very limited print run, but if you like trick-taking and/or deduction I highly recommend giving it a try if you have the chance.
Scram! is a new game being released shortly from Bezier Games. I noticed it getting a lot of play, so decided to give it a try, and I am glad I did. It’s similar to the game Cabo, but it adds some twists, including making it a partnership game. It’s theme is campsites; you and your partner are aiming to have the cleanest camp site by removing as much debris and trash cards) as you can. You are dealt three face up and two face down cards in front of you; on your turn you either draw a card from the deck or from the top of the discard pile. If it is from the deck you can either discard it, play it face down in front of you, or play it for its special ability printed on the bottom – special abilities let you look at face down cards, swap cards etc. If it was from the discard pile, your only option is to play it face up in front of you. If you placed a card in front of you, you also may discard one or more cards. These cards can be face up or face down, and can also be from your partners’ hands. If you chose correctly and all cards match, they are all discarded. If you were wrong, they stay in front of you.
Once a player has two or fewer cards they can declare Scram. All other players get one more turn, and then each team scores for the face value of the cards left in front of them. There is a very handy app that does the math and keeps track of who deals and starts next. After 3 rounds the team with the lowest score wins.
I really enjoyed the game. The decisions to be made are interesting, and it is well-balanced – just because you lose a round doesn’t mean you won’t be able to come back and win if you do well another round. I would have ordered a copy, but my spouse conveniently won a copy thanks to Bezier Games very generous play-to-win options that they do for every Gulf Games G, where if you play a copy of one of their games you can enter your name to win a copy.
I first got to play Planet Unknown back in February at the previous Gulf Games. I immediately loved it, and was disheartened when I was informed that it was not available, I played it again in April and still loved it, but still not available, at least not at a price I was willing to play. I did hear rumors that the game would have another round of funding, and was very excited to see the campaign on Gamefound. There are options for the original game as well as the Supermoon expansion.
We don’t seem to have done a review of this one yet, and perhaps I will do something more in-depth when I get my copy. In the meantime, this is a tile placement game. Each player has an individual map ; one can choose to have a standard map or one that has a different configuration and related bonus/requirement. Each player also has a resource track that can either be standard or specialized. On your turn you rotate the tile storage bin to put the tile you want to use in front of you. All players then can choose from the two tiles in the sector that is in front of them. Each set of tiles is the same shape, but each tile is different. You place the tile on your map, following the placement rules, adjust your player resource tracker accordingly and gain resources/benefits/actions/abilities as you reach them on that resource track. The game ends when one or more players cannot place a tile; that turn continues and then you head to final scoring.
I really like the game. Yes, it is multi-player solitaire-ish, but I never mind that and you have something to do on everyone’ s turn anyway. I like the puzzle of placing tiles to maximize your score as well as your options for resources or actions. I like that the planets and resource boards are interchangeable, so there are many different combinations. The game is well-produced with clear rules as well.
I had not heard anything about this game until a colleague asked me if I had played it, so I made a point to play it while at Gulf Games. It is a deduction game based on . . . . Turing Machines (try to contain your surprise). Players are asking the analog computer (cards) particular questions, trying to determine the three digit number.
To start, you choose a problem to solve; there are problems at a beginner level as well as more advanced problems, and apparently many more on line. You place the criteria cards (questions you are asking) next to a verification card. Each player chooses three numbered cards from the “analog computer”. You put those cards together, and then ask three questions by picking up a verification card next to the criteria card, which, when put behind your cards, will give you a piece of information by either confirming (green checkmark) or denying (red x) the information – are two numbers the same, do two numbers equal 4 etc. After each round you ask if anyone thinks they know the code; if someone does they check and if they are wrong the other players continue and if they are right the game is over.
I did not understand this for the first couple of rounds, but that is not the fault of the game; I just needed a couple of rounds of actually playing it to see how it worked. Once I figured it out I really enjoyed it, and I am fascinated with the design and how it actually works. I am definitely looking forward to trying this again soon.
Everdell isn’t new, but playing the big box version with 6 players was. In the end we stuck with the base game, since we had two new players. I still love this game, but this will be the one and only time I play with with more than 4. For whatever reason those two extra players really dragged out the play time, and no one was being particularly slow. It also hurt to have one fewer worker available in spring, since that made it all the harder to get resources. The big box is beautiful, though.
I do love the chance to sit down with some older titles, and I got to play a few classics.
Viva Pamplona is an older race game where players are trying to run with the bull to the arena. You don’t want to be too far ahead or behind the bull, but the dice and the cards that move the bull are not always in your favor, and sometimes the other players step on you along the way. It works very well with six players, and the take that factor is pretty mild, so it’s always a fun experience.
Ausgebremst is one of my favorite racing games of all times. Choose a track and then choose a set of cards; do you want more cards with lower numbers or fewer cards but higher numbers. Play a card and move that far along the track – unless someone is sitting in front of you on one of the bottlenecks and you can’ t move. Or maybe you can move, but you have to take the long way. Do that one too many times and you will be forced to pit or run out of cards. Another game that works well for 6 and, while it is the cause of several long time grudges, they are good-natured grudges.
Hare and Tortoise is another classic racing game. Your ultimate goal is to get to the end of the race track after pausing three times to eat lettuce. Your movement is based on the number of carrots that you play. Sounds simple, right? Well, sure – except that you can only have 10 leftover carrots, so you have to find the right balance of gaining and losing carrots to make it to the finish line precisely. If you don’t, you have to drop back and gain and spend carrots to try to make it back. I am terrible at this game, but I always enjoy it.
Ticket to Ride the original edition hit the table when my spouse announced he had a hankering to play the original edition. It has been a looong time since I played the OG, so I was willing to give it a try. With 5 players the board was tight, with everyone focusing on the eastern seaboard, making it hard to complete tickets. Well, making it hard for some of us to complete tickets; Susan somehow kept drawing tickets and managing to make them, enough that she scored 92 points in tickets and managed to lap some of us.
Opinionated Eaters, Drinkers and Disc Golfers
Gulf Games is not just about the games. In addition to the tourist activities before the gaming officially starts there are countless meals and drinks as well.
From a food and beer perspective, I highly recommend the Trappe Door in downtown Greenville, an amazing Belgian restaurant. In fact, I ate here three times over the course of the week. An excellent beer list paired with excellent food and I am all in.
From a drink perspective, if you like speakeasies check out Vault and Vador in downtown Greenville. You can choose from the menu or you can give them three adjectives and they’ll make you a drink. Bonus points to them for their awesome 80’s alternative rock playlist.
There seems to be some sort of correlation between being a board gamer and liking disc golf; I learned disc golf way back at my first Gulf Games and habe played at just about everyone since. This time we did Reedy Creek in Charlotte, Tyger River near Spartanburg and Timmons Park in Greenville. It is always great to play with fellow gamers and get to know them better.
It’s always a a bit of a letdown to be back at home after a fun week with friends; I am eating breakfast alone, I have to go back to work and somehow magically get myself back on a normal schedule. Good thing I have a game day to go to on Saturday!