21 minute read

My good friend Doug Walker (and wife Mimi) spent last week at The Gathering of
Friends in Columbus, OH. This is a private, invitation-only event sponsored by
the prolific game designer Alan Moon. Doug has given me permission to post his
thoughts on the games he played at the Gathering, so here they are.

P.S. I'd love to go to the Gathering at some point! All of you invitees out
there that can vouch for me, I'd sure appreciate an invitation! OK, enough
groveling, let's move on...


Mimi and I had another great time at the Gathering of Friends in Columbus
Ohio.

This year it was at a new location which was much better than in previous
years,

in particular because it was within walking distance to many good inexpensive
restaurants. The only glitch was that the water was out the whole first day
due to a burst water main.

We got to play many good prototypes (which I can't discuss) and met many
designers as usual. New this year, at least to me, was Freidemann Friese who
was sporting a head of very green hair.

We only played in two tournaments, Liars Dice and Loopin' Louie, because there
were lots of new games this year and I played most of the games that looked
interesting. Here is the list in the order we played them I'll use the
following rating system:

- Need to have this game!

- Like this game.

- don't mind playing it again.

- would put up with playing it again.

- would run from the room screaming if you try to make my play it
again.

San Juan

This is the card game spin-off of Puerto Rico, Its and OK game with similar
mechanics but not as deep as its predecessor. It's only for up to 4 players
but I hear there is a 6 player expansion in the works. The gimmick is that the
cards are used both for buildings and for money, so you have to decide what to
throw away as payment for the building you are building.

Dos Rios

Two rivers flow down the length of the board passing various terrain. On your
turn you can place men, and buy huts (or a big hut). You then chose a card to
produce money on certain terrain next to the river which have men or huts on
them. There is some conflict over trying to get the good spaces but the big
gimmick is that you can place dams to change the course of the river. People
seemed to thing it was too dry and analytical.

Tumbling Dice

This is a true test of dice rolling skill. Shuffleboard with dice. A beautiful
wooded board steps down to increasingly valuable scoring zones. players take
turns trying to toss a die into a high scoring zone or knock out an opponents
die. The score is the die roll times the zone number, and that's the problem.
A skillful toss is negated by a low roll. So even if I were into games of
skill this would get a low rating.

Power Grid* *(maybe)

If I didn't already own Funkenschlag this would get 5 stars. It is a revision
of Funkenschlag in which some of the redundant power cards are removed and the
crayon drawing is replaced with a preprinted map on which you place ownership
tokens. One side of the map depicts the United States and the other side
depicts Germany. Graphically, the map is a big improvement but it does change
the strategy of the game some. The aim of these changes was to make the game
play faster.

Ticket to Ride

This was Alan's latest and a big hit with everyone. It is sort of a cross
between Airlines and Santa Fe. You draw cards from the 5 available to form
sets to link the cities printed on the map longer links being worth more per
card than shorter ones. There are also destination cards which give a bonus
for connecting specific cities (or a penalty for failing). The game is simple
in mechanic but has a lot of tension and requires some tough choices.

Bridges of Shangri-La

Being an analytic type I should have like this but I didn't. Several towns are
separated by bridges. There are 7 schools of philosophy in each town. Each
player has a set of pieces in each philosophy which he tries to bring onto the
board in towns he already has a presence in or spread to other towns. The
trick is that when you spread you excess units to a new town you bring all
other players excess units with you , and destroy the bridge you pass over.
The game ends when all but two towns are isolated. It was very dry, analytic
and dull.

Hansa

Another dry, dull game. This one involving Trade in the Baltic in the time of
the Hansiatic League. I can't even remember how it played anymore, I just
remember it was dull. Kogge (see below) was a far better game on the same
subject.

Mimi reminds me how the game plays! The map has routes marked out to follow
and the towns start with randomly chosen goods. Each player starts with some
markets in some of the towns. You get six action points to spend moving and
trading and building markets. If you pick up a good where someone has the
majority of markets he gets paid. You can spend goods to build markets or you
can spend markets and two goods to get victory points. If the supply of goods
runs low you can spend an action to put more on the board. As I now recall
most of the choices were fairly obvious.

Railroad Dice

While this is a dice game by name, the dice aren't dominant as luck elements.
You usually roll what you need and there are ways around failing to roll what
you need. This is a track laying stock buying game that is quite innovative.
We started the game playing with incorrect rules which created lots of
problems.

Once we sorted this out we could see the game seemed to be pretty good. If I
were rational I might not give it 5 stars but since I love RR games and
innovation I can't resist.

The object is to make earn VPs by setting up routes with adjacent stations of
the RR company of which you are the director. You get an income each turn of
so many dice and you can either role them or use them for money. When rolled
they become bits of track, RR stock, or a wild card which can be used as
money, RR stock or any kind of track. You can also use them to gain extra
dice. Building stations costs money.

Track and stations are build on terrain tiles which I think were 6x6 squares.
If you build the track off edge of a tile or build a station you get two
wilddice. A major difference between this and other RR stock games, is that
all benefits of the railroad come to the director but it is very easy for
others to take over the directorship, (if there are no share available by buy
them from the director) so the game should stay competitive even if one
Railroad dominates.

Oh! Pharaoh

A pretty good card game reminiscent of the cow bucket game. You have a hand of
cards numbered from 1 to 9 and meld pyramids in which each level has cards of
exactly 1 higher value then those below with each level having fewer cards
than the one below it. Each turn you can add levels at the top or bottom or
you can score it and discard it. The scoring is the sum of one card from each
level times the number of levels. There are several special action cards. The
most common of these is the thief which allows you a chance to remove cards
from anywhere in someone else's pyramid before it scores. This creates tension
around how long to keep trying to make the pyramid bigger.

Marco Polo Expedition

Another Camel race. Each player has a camel in a caravan. Each camel occupies
one space along the trail to China. The camels all start adjacent no stacking.
Player order is from back to front of the caravan. you jump to the next open
space by playing card sets shown on the space. If a gap opens between you and
the caravan you can spend money to catch up then try to play cards to jump in
front. Some of the spaces have money for the first camel to get there and
there is a scoring by position half way though the race and again at the end.
After moving you can draw a card from the face up available or pick from the
draw pile.

The problem is that by the time your turn comes around again the set you need
will usually have changed.

Pretty simple but nice and short.

Saga

This may deserve a higher rating. We played a two player game which reduced
out all of the subtlety.

The are six regions. At the start these are defended with knights of two
different colors. Players are trying to assemble armies to attack the regions.
The color of the first knight determines which region can be attacked and the
army can not contain any duplicate colors. Once an army is stronger than the
knights defending the region it automatically wins the region and the income
it provides. The conquering knights become the new defenders. One of the
regions was worth more that the rest so in the two player game we just kept
building an army to take that region. As soon as one of us get it the other
took it back.

With more players there might be some strategy around going after places
others were ignoring.

Lokomotive Werks

Another original RR themed game. You are in the business of manufacturing
steam engines. There are 4 kinds of engine in 2 to 5 levels of technology.
Everyone starts with a plant capable of producing one level 1 general purpose
engine. Three dice are rolled and there some is the market demand. The next
available engine also has a demand die rolled but no one has the tech to make
it. Each turn you can buy tech for an engine you don't currently make and buy
upgrades to your production capacity and sell what you have produced. When
production matches a demand die it is re-rolled to create new demand. The
newest engines gain demand dice up to a point and old tech engines lose dice
until there is no more demand so you have to keep upgrading your tech and the
production facilities. The game is quite straightforward for and economic game
but there is lot of math trying to calculate how best to spend your money.

Saint Petersburg

Another game with new mechanic. It is themed on the Imperial Russian economy.
There are 4 kinds of cards - Peasants which produce money, Buildings which
produce victory points, Nobles which produce money sometimes VP and which are
worth VPs at the end of the game, and cards which can upgrade the other 3. The
game starts with 8 peasants being dealt out and players taking turns buying
them or reserving them for later purchase. When all pass the peasants produce
(in this case income) and building cards are dealt to replace the sold
peasants so there are again 8 cards available. These are scored and the same
routine follows for the nobles and the upgrades (except the upgrades don't
score until their base card type does).

Each player goes first in one of these 4 phases and this passes to the left at
the end of each round. There are various discounts to be had and money
management is key to the game. There are several types of cards which give
special abilities rather than money or VPs. This is a game of simple mechanics
and lots of strategy and choice.

Secrets of the Tombs

This was a nicely produced Martin Wallace game so we were expecting it to be
pretty good. Unfortunately it is actually a game for fleecing money from
tourists at the British Museum. The Idea is to explore a pyramid by laying
path tiles and moving along them, get so many artifacts in chambers printed on
the board and get back out with them first. Even in a 5 player game we were
each building our own path so there was no interaction. There are event cards
which almost all say "god blah blah blah give/takes a life point for reason
blah blah blah" The artifacts are each represented by a card with a detailed
description and picture or some real artifact. So there is lots of education
on Egyptology in the box but very little game.

We were all so bored with it we couldn't even finish.

Sunken City

Long ago a city (not Atlantis maybe Disney now owns the rights) sank. It sits
in the middle of a lagoon we all live on and its full of treasure. Some
strange magic causes pieces of it to raise out of the water from time to time
and we can get treasure by going into the buildings. For some strange reason
this pisses Neptune off and he will chase us around sinking the city again.
Once you get past the absurd story and premise its a pretty decent game. Each
player starts in a separate corner and can plays cards which show how many
pieces of the city to place and how for to move. The more of one, the less of
there other.

Each player starts with identical cards sets and can play anyone they want.
They don't get any back until all 7(I think) have been played so you have to
plan around that. The City pieces consist of streets and buildings and there
are a lot of restrictions about building placement. The buildings are numbered
from 1 to 10, whenever you land on a building you flip the corresponding
treasure marker on you display. When you get back to your starting point you
move the flipped treasures to your scoring pile. The trick is that you also
roll a dice to move Neptune. Each piece he moves off of sinks and if you are
on the sinking piece you swim back to your starting location (instantly) and
unflip all the treasures you haven't stockpiled. (Oddly Neptune can't swim.)
So you need to be careful about being to ambitious on each trip into the city.
The game is won when someone collects all of his treasures or when the street
tile set runs out. Many like this game (it looks great) and many didn't. I
think the game has a lot of strategy for its simplicity and it doesn't take
very long.

Terra

"Save the Earth" is the them of this card game. It is sort of Republic of Rome
lite. Players have to co-operate to solve various world crises and they get
VPs for doing so. But they get more VPs for hoarding the solutions for
themselves. There are the suites of crisis and solution cards in various
denominations and the crisis cards also have a continent to which they
pertain. On your turn you draw a card and if it is a solution matching an
active crises you can play it on the crises and then play sets into your
hoard. If you draw a crisis then players can get VPs trying to solve it before
it becomes active. To solve a crises matching solutions must be played to
equal or exceed the value of the crises. If too many crises cards are active
at any point (less if they are all on one continent or of one type) the game
ends with everyone losing.

This was our sad lot. If you get through the whole deck without this happening
the VP from the hoard are added to those gained from solving crisis to
determine a winner.

Lucky Loop

A dice game in which you are trying to put on an aerobatic routine. Each
player tries to complete 4 routines which consist of 3 cards each with a
difficulty. The higher the difficulty the more points success is worth. When
you attempt a routing you are given 6 dice. Your role 3 and place any or all
of these an one of the cards to match or exceed the difficulty (matching
scores more points) you then replace back up to 3 and roll again to attempt
another card finally you roll your remaining dice (up to 3) and try to match
or exceed the last card. If you succeed all three you score that routine, If
you fail only the last roll you get a bonus chit which can be used for a 7th
die or for a re-roll on some future attempt. If you get a high enough score or
beat the best score you can also get a bonus chit. Once you complete all four
routines you must do a freestyle routine of your own design which has a total
difficulty of 25. Each time you fail at this final routine you loss 2 VPs so
you need to save up some chits for it. Once someone succeeds at their final
routine the game ends. Whoever has the most VP wins. During the game you play
cards to the 4 routines to establish their difficulty and value. To fly a
routine you need to either play all three cards defining it or play one card
to increase the difficulty. Its a fun and engaging diversion with a lot of
room for strategy, but ultimately he who rolls high most wins.

Goa

Probably the best game of the convention. There were two copies and waiting
line for this 4 player game. It has been described as Industria on steroids
because it uses the bidding system from Industria. But it has a lot more
depth. The theme is colony building and the goal of the players is to advance
various attribute of their colonial empire. There are 27 chits representing
plantation, extra ships, colonists, money etc, or income of these. 25 of these
are randomly dealt on a 5 by 5 grid. The start player puts a flag next to one
of these chits and the players take turns putting bid markers on adjacent
chits making a chain. The flag and the 4 chits are then auctioned. The flag
represents the right to be the first player next auction. It also comes with
an extra action for the second phase. After the auction players take turns
doing actions until all have taken 3, then player who have extra actions can
spend them. The actions are

  • Build ships
  • Harvest
  • Take cards (which give various advantages)
  • Get money
  • Colonize
  • Increase tech.

The amount of stuff received in the first for types of actions and the chance
of successfully colonizing is dependent on the tech level in each of the
corresponding tech tracks. Being the first to reach certain tech levels also
gives bonus cards and actions. Raising a tech level requires expending ships
and specific goods from the harvest.

After 4 rounds of bidding and actions, the remaining chits are removed from
the 5x5 grid and an new better set is dealt out. After 4 more rounds the game
ends. Points are scored for each of the 5 technologies, the number of
colonies, the value of card sets, and a little for left over money. The
scoring for everything but money goes on a 1, 3, 6, 10 scale for an
improvement of 1,2,3,4. The only real player interaction is in the bidding but
that didn't seem to bother anyone. The only complaint I heard was that many
thought the winning strategy was to get lots of cards at the end to score lots
of sets, but this was based on them missing a rule which limits hand size.

Kogge

This is the good Hansiatic League game. The company that makes it is
JKLM and it looked
like a homemade game. The Baltic is surrounded by 9 ports numbered 0 to 8 each
port produces 1 of the 4 commodities and has two chits indicating which to
other ports can be reached from there. Each player has a boat (a Kogge to be
precise) and a warehouse. One of the cities starts with a token marking the
trademaster. Players have a hand of chits (0 to 8) which they use to bid for
player order. In addition to determining player order each city whole
corresponding chit is played produces goods, players who have warehouses in
these cities get one of the goods produced there. The first player moves the
trademaster and then moves his ship to one of the two available destinations.
At the destination city he can trade one good for 2 in the city, he can buy a
pair a chits and he can replace one of the destination chits in the city with
one from his hand and he can buy a warehouse. If the trademaster is there he
can also buy a special ability or do some other special actions. The game ends
and the player wins if he owns a combination of warehouses and special
abilities totaling 5. Of course the warehouses and special abilities are real
expensive and there are only 4 warehouses in the game so you have to meet with
the trademaster at least once. The game also ends if the trademaster goes
around the board twice. Getting the chits you need and making the best use of
them is the key to this game and there is a lot to consider on each move, yet
the game moves along well once the odd mechanics are understood.

Tongiaki

Polynesian expansion is the theme. The game starts with all players on the
Island of Tonga with 2 boats each spread among the 6 beaches. Each turn you
double the number of your boats on an island. If a beach fills up all the
boats on that beach sail off. When they do you draw a new tile which may be a
new island or water. If an island, you spread the boats around its beaches, if
water you follow the path to the next tile. If the path you are to follow has
a number greater than the number of different players boats on this expedition
they all sink. The object is to have a presence on the most points worth of
islands when all the islands (or water) have been played. If you start a turn
as the only player on an island, you can lock that island down and exclude all
traffic in or out. The game gets really nasty because you keep trying to put
other players boats onto beaches that lead into deathtraps or locked out
islands.

Wuertitish /

The rating above depends on your gender. It is a perfect simulation of bargain
day shopping. There is two decks, one has shirt cards and one has shopping
list cards. The shirts come in every combination of two sizes, two colors, two
sleeve lengths, two patterns and several prices. The shopping lists depict 3
desired characteristics other than price. Each player gets 3 face down
shopping lists. The shirts are shuffled face down into a big heap. Everyone
then simultaneously flips a shopping list card and starts digging through the
heap looking for the shirts they need. Every matching characteristic scores
one point. You have to find 3 shirts which score at least 7 (out of 9
possible) and in total cost less than $80. When you do, you set them aside and
flip your next list card. When you've done all 3 lists, you yell DONE and
everyone stops and scores their hands. If a set of 3 cards is not valid you
don't get to score it, but if you yelled DONE and you have any invalid sets
you score nothing. This goes on for 4 rounds. In the first game the men always
yelled Done first but never scored any points, and in the second game we were
more cautious and still got crushed by the women who had max or near max score
while we hardly completed 1 or 2 sets. So Mimi gives the game 5 stars.

Golf Mania

A chaotic fun card game about golf. Each turn you flip a hole card which
defines a die roll needed to reach the green and the VP value of the hole. All
players who reach the green dice off to see who wins the hole, low roll
winning. However, everyone has a hand of 5 cards full of bonuses and hazards
to play before the driving and putting. Since you draw to fill your hand at
the end of the turn there is plenty of card play and aggravation .

Cargo

This was a strange twist on the Boston Tea Party. There is a square dock with
a different players ship on each side. On the dock are scattered several
crates of tea belonging to the players. Each player also has a set of dock
hands and patriots which are placed on by one onto the dock. When this setup
is done players get to move 3 of there men each turn attempting to push their
own tea crates onto their ships or push other players tea or men into the
water. You can also crush the men between crates. I thought this was an ok
analytical game but those I played with found it too slow. (guess who won.)

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