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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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
- Take cards (which give various advantages)
- Get money
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.)