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.
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 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.
(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.
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.
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).