The Gathering of Friends '95

Every year around the beginning of May, Alan Moon holds a games party for ninety of his closest friends and calls it, oddly enough, "The Gathering of Friends." Perhaps a more honest description would be "The Gathering of Strangers Who Would Be Friends If They Only Lived Closer To One Another" but why quibble? Gamers from all over the United States and a few special guests from Europe attended. And Alan played at least one game with each person!

The new games from Nuremberg dominated play. Ray Pfeifer received a new shipment of games mere seconds before gaming began so there were plenty of copies of even the very latest games. It made the Gathering feel a bit like Essen without the crowds, smoke, and weinerschnitzel.

Die Siedler von Catan was the crowd favorite. I only caught the last three days of gaming but still managed to get in eight games of Siedler. It is a trading and resource management game (really quite the business game) but dressed up with nice components and a setting that keeps it from being dry. The trade is lively, well balanced, and really feels like trade - almost every time I gave up a resource card I wondered if I was doing the right thing. The game overall is wonderfully well balanced. Three or four strategies for winning emerged at the Gathering but there seemed to be no single best solution to the game. In one or two of the games I played I felt shut out with no chance of winning fairly early in the game but this was mostly due to bad luck with the dice and my poor choices for early placement. I suspect with experience shut outs become less and less common. A definite keeper.

The downside was that Siedler is, perhaps, the only keeper out of the new crop. The new Goldsieber line seems to lack polish. I played Sternenhimmel and Linie 1. Both of these games have significant flaws. Sternenhimmel seems dry and players tend to concentrate on a single constellation at a time. If you spread yourself too thin then you just get shut out and the placement of your doubling stars and black hole become obvious and, hence, worthless. Linie 1 seems to work fairly well during the tile laying phase but fails horribly during the final race. I never managed to round up a crew to play either Backschish or Galopp Royal. With 90 gamers on hand I took that as a bad sign.

See You Later was fun but very fluffy. It was basicly Can't Stop with some interesting whistles and bells attached but much more random because the risks were harder to evaluate. It was, mercifully, fairly short.

Medici looked interesting but was, indeed, just Mercator from the Neue Spiele im alten Rom with the optional merchandise rules spruced up a bit. Most folks felt like it was a bit long for what it was.

High Society got the thumbs up. Anyone interested in writing a review?

The card set from Das Regeln Wir Schon has finally been translated. The game appears to be a very limited variation on Nomic - sort of a family/desktop version that makes it a bit more accessible. I'm looking forward to acquiring the translation and having a go at the game.

I picked up a new, English, real estate game, Ransom, in New York City before the Gathering. Our first game was a lot of fun but Alan panned it as too random with poor trading dynamics. Players try to accumulate land, labor, and bricks so that they can fulfill building contracts in Manhattan. Resources are distributed in a very random fashion with lots of opportunity for dirty deals and backstabbing right up to the finish. I'll report back with a full review after we play it a few more times.

Tim Trant introduced us to a purely strategic, non-random bicycle racing game, Breaking Away, that was very interesting. (Jos, my wife, would disagree, I imagine...) Riders are grouped in teams of four. Each rider begins the game with a fixed number of movement points. The players divide these points into four seperate moves and note these on a small form. Each round a move is chosen for each rider and that number is crossed off. A replacement number is calculated based on the riders new position in the pack. The riders receive one movement point for each rider ahead of them in a pack. Packs are broken by empty spaces on the course. It was a real brain scorcher and, true to the name, Brian Bankler broke away at the end for the win.

The Great Dalmuti, Richard Garfield's rendition of Career Poker, was a real crowd pleaser, particularly late at night with Ron as the Greater Peon.

The hotel was much better this year. The rooms were nicer, the staff was helpful and seemed to enjoy having the gamers there, and the gaming rooms were spacious with lots of elbow room.

The flea market approach to trading still left ruffled feathers and no more games for the prize table. Perhaps the sealed bid approach would be worth trying?

It was great seeing all the folks from last year, again, and there were plenty of new folks to meet. The Net community was out in force and it was great to add more faces to names. "Hullo!" to you all!

Can't wait for next year!


The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell