Session Report – An Evening at Plenary Games World Headquarters

I traveled to Colorado Springs this week for a business trip, and had the
pleasure of spending an evening at Plenary Games headquarters with Angela Gaalema. I’ve
been a gamer for most of my life, but have only recently become engaged with
the boardgaming world. These games are indeed wonderful, but it is clear to me
that the reason this community is so vibrant is the people. I spend way too
much time on the road, but it is amazing how easy it has been to hook up with
folks in the gaming network no matter where I travel. In the Seattle area I
managed to hook up with two guys in a brewpub for an evening of gaming; a
month later in Redmond I joined the crowd at
WizKids for a great
session
. While in
Providence, RI I had a chance encounter with Lawrence Whalen of Face2Face
games
. And of course right in my hometown of
Portland there’s a great presence of regular gaming groups, like
PortlandGamers and the
crowd at
Benjamin’s.

Angela was very quick to answer my email letting her know I would be in
Colorado Springs and was kind enough to invite me to her home and company
headquarters. I purchased Fresh
Fish
recently
directly from Plenary , so I was very curious to see how she manages her
operations (and of course to play some games).

My visit started with a tour of her warehouse, which sits on top of a recently
covered indoor pool. Angela assembles all of her shipments (from the source
components) by hand, and she has certainly been very busy lately keeping up
with her orders (I think I recall her mentioning that she shipped around 250
copies this week). Her warehouse is full of big empty boxes for shipping,
unsorted stacks of tiles, wooden bits (yes, including the often maligned
red/orange ones), game boxes, inserts, rules, and game boards. I asked many
questions about the business and Angela was extremely forthcoming about the
challenges she faced getting the game shipped in such short order – the
project didn’t even start until around October of last year. She is clearly
envious of the higher quality printing available from German printers – even
though it would be cheaper for her to send her printing overseas, she is
(understandably) unwilling to give up the control and predictability of
working with American printers. In any case, her first offering is a great
first effort and I look forward to seeing the future releases from Plenary.

Angela then showed me her game collection (allowing me to further rationalize
my meager collection and feel safe that I’m not nearly as much of a gaming
geek as my wife might think) and we spent some time talking about her recent
trip to the Gathering of Friends. Then we spent some time gaming.

Balloon Cup

Having read about this game for some time on
spielfrieks, I was very eager to
try this (still hard to find) offering by Stephen Glenn and Kosmos/Rio Grande
Games. I don’t get the theme and how it relates to the game (well, I guess I
do, but it is not a natural linkage), but I think the game is fantastic. In
this two-player card game, players compete for color bits that vary in rarity
– if you accumulate a certain number of bits (smaller number for the rarer
bits) of a certain color, you win the corresponding trophy card for that
color. Win 3 of the 5 trophy cards, and you win the game. At any given time,
there are 4 landscape cards on the table with 1, 2, 3, or 4 bits of varying
colors on each one. Depending on the card, each player is trying to accumulate
the lowest or highest score of a set of cards matching the colored bits on the
landscape card. So if a card has a “high” goal with a red and blue bit on it,
then each player is trying to lay down the highest combination of a red and
blue card to claim those bits. Player interaction and disruption comes from
the ability to play cards on your opponents side of the table (e.g., play a
high card when the goal is to achieve a low score).

Angela got off to a flying start in our game, and while I managed to claw my
way back to respectability, she easily won the game. This is a fantastic
2-player game that I will be sure to pick up as soon as I can find it.
Funagain claims
that they will have it in stock by the end of May.

Clans

Clans is an interesting game. It has a theme of nomadic groups that
consolidate to form groups and villages. There is a hidden element to the
scoring in that players do not know what color (tribe) each other player is
trying to push forward, but this game mostly plays like an abstract strategy
game with a nice theme and pretty bits. Angela beat me handily in this game,
but I can’t say I was terribly engaged – a bit too abstract for me. Not a game
I plan to add to my collection.

Kupferkessel

(Copper Pot Company)

This is a beautiful two-player card game – the theme revolves around wizards
trying to accumulate ingredients for spells. There is a memory component to
the game, as each player is trying to consolidate on a few sets of ingredients
– players in general are rewarded for collecting multiple instances of a
particular ingredient and penalized for getting only one of a specific type.
The catch is the players are not permitted to inspect their stack of collected
ingredients, so it is important to memorize what has been collected. There is
a small degree of player interaction – there are certain cards that can force
the top card of the opponent’s ingredient deck to be discarded. I finally
managed to win a game against Angela – this game played very quickly, and I
enjoyed the mechanic and loved the theme and artwork. I’ll definitely play
this again and may consider adding it to my collection.

Mush

Angela wanted to try this older game by Alan Moon – in fact, she was given
this by Alan Moon himself at the recent Gathering of Friends. Mush is
essentially a roll-and-move racing game set in the theme of dogsled racing in
Alaska. I’m not a huge fan of racing games, and the mechanic felt very cliched
– players can decide to rest or move (or even press their dogs after they’ve
moved). The harder players push their dogs, the slower they will ultimately
go. I won this again, but we were both eager to get it over with. Nice theme,
but not my cup of tea.

Puerto Rico

It was pretty late (12:15am or so) by this time, and I was preparing to go
when I mentioned how much I liked Puerto Rico. I’ve only played about 4 times,
but I like the game enough that I’m sure I could play at least daily (I really
need to start playing on BSW – my handle is
CaptainCaveman in case you care). Angela offered to play me using the two-
player variant where each player plays two separate boards. I’m still trying
to grasp some of the strategic subtleties of this game, but I had a blast
losing to Angela (she claims to have logged over 300 BSW games last year).