Report by Joe Huber (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(BTW, these ratings are identical to those I send to Brian Bankler for his list.)
I arrived at in beautiful Enfield, Connecticut just as the shift from the pre-Gathering room to the main room was underway. After meeting up with Dave and getting into the room, I began the task of bringing far too many games into the gaming room.
(Game #1 - 1st new, 1st unique): Riddles & Riches
Frank DeLorenzo (sp?) introduced four of us to this game of observation. Moving around a clue-like board, players try to solve three puzzles, looking for clues in each of the available rooms while using various tools in an attempt to keep the other players in check. Dave Andrews took the first guess in the game, missing all three - but providing a vital clue to me. I had the answer to one puzzle, and was able to use Dave's clue and another player's interest in the game room to pull out a victory.
All in all, however, it's not my kind of game - looking at pictures to figure out how the clues go together just doesn't work for me. Rating: 3.
(Game #2 - 2nd unique): Manhattan
This was my second go at this game, and I found it quite enjoyable once again; while I suspect that eventually I will need the Godzilla rule for continued enjoyment, that hasn't happened quite yet. My initial cards made an early lead inevitable, but my later cards prevented any chance of holding this lead. Rating: 6.
(Game #3 - 2nd new, 3rd unique): Big Boss
This game is much like a linear edition of Acquire, as others have stated. And, IMHO, it's neither as entertaining as Peter Sarrett implied on r.g.b, nor as dire as Brian Bankler made it out to be. Playing 5th in a five person game certainly appeared to be a significant disadvantage, though I suspect my inexperience with the game was as great a disadvantage. Rating: 6.
(Game #4 - 3rd new, 4th unique): Abilene
A three player game of cow driving and rustling with great components, a good theme, and _maybe_ enough of a game to stick around. A better method for dueling would be nice, and is suggested as a variant in the translation I have. There is a memory element to the game, which I was less than thrilled with. Rating: 5.
(Game #5 - 4th new, 5th unique): Dry Gulch
I've heard great things about this game, and what we were able to play of it offered me no reason to disagree. As we were starting, however, The Sale was being set up, which kept us from getting very far. No rating - we didn't get far enough to form a firm opinion. What I saw, though, I liked, and I probably will buy it when it comes out.
About 2 AM, the sell-off of the European Game Source stock commenced. Unfortunately for me, my name was pulled late enough to keep two of my top choices (Extra Blatt and Igel Argern) were gone. On the other hand, I was able to grab Alaska, the only copy of In Teufels Kuche, the last copy of Bakschisch, and five others from my wish list - Wurmeln, Venice Connection, Ab Die Post, Tante Tarantel, and Pico. I also picked up Stamp, just based upon the apparent subject (stamp collecting); I've still heard nothing about it, but it does have a pit-style bell, so on bits alone I can't have gone too far wrong. B^)
Trying to at least start things on the right foot, I did get a real breakfast Tuesday morning. With a little over an hour and no one else around, Dave and I started into a game of...
(Game #6 - 6th unique): Die Siedler von Catan Kartenspiel
This is a very good game, IMHO, but Dave and I tested the limits of initial draws - his was about as poor as possible, while mine was nearly ideal. Even so, it wasn't a blowout; Dave kept things reasonably close throughout the game. Eventually, however, I was able to build a 6th settlement, and that sealed things. Rating: 8.
(Game #7 - 7th unique): Acquire
This game was part of the Acquire tournament; a three player game, to be specific. I made a critical mistake early - not grabbing even a tie for 2nd in the first merged chain - and was never able to fully recover, even with some substantially good luck later in the game. Rating: 7
(Game #8 - 5th new, 8th unique): Reibach & Co.
I'd come close to buying this game a number of times, so I readily took advantage of a chance to try it out. The game is relatively straight-forward; you build up stakes in various commodities, with 1st and 2nd in each scoring. As it happens, I didn't really understand the rules of the game, which came back to bite me later.
(Game #9): Acquire
Frank DeLorenzo was an Acquire rookie, so Dave and I introduced him to the game before making a run to the grocery store. Not being a tournament game, I of course managed to pull out the victory... B^)
(Game #10 - 6th new, 9th unique): Medici
One of the games I most wanted to try at the Gathering, and one which I'm now rather ambivalent about. It's a fairly straight-forward bidding game, with (all together now) the 1st and 2nd place positions in each commodity scoring. I managed to win, but even so was not bowled over. Rating: 6.
(Game #11 - 10th unique): Santa Fe
Nothing much to say about this one; I kept getting cards a bit too late, and only through the misplays of the player on my right and a few lucky draws late managed to grab second place, which was not nearly enough to advance in the tournament. Rating; 8
(Game #12 - 11th unique): Airlines
In a warmup for the tournament, I got into a game of this just before it started. I managed to recover from not starting an airline the first time around, and ended up in a tie for the win. I should have become suspicious then and there... Rating: 7.
(Game #13 - 7th new, 12th unique): Conditorrie
Again, I just got into this game; as we were starting, we heard some negative comments about the game, which unfortunately I could see as we were playing it. The gentleman on my right, who I'm simply not going to remember, pulled off the victory without any of the problems we were warned of having occurred. I'm definitely planning to play this again before buying it. Rating: 6
(Game #14 - 13th unique): Mu
By this point, it was time for the evening tournament. It was a tough choice between Mu and Elfenroads; I chose the former, but never got to play the latter during the week much to my disappointment. OTOH, I started to get a real feel for Mu, which was nice. During the tournament, however, I got it one hand too late, had to go for a desperation tactic, and ended up with a nice chunky negative score. Each successive game of Mu only sufficed to further convince me that Mu is an excellent card game. It might have even surpassed bridge as my favorite card game. Rating: 8
(Game #15 - 14th unique): Die Siedler von Catan - Big Island variant
This is the first time I tried this, and I found it reasonably enjoyable. I really wish I'd walked into a Seafarer game instead, though...
(Games #16, #17 - 8th new, 15th unique): Suppenkasper
This Karl-Heinz Schmiel card game covers an unusual subject (eating food), and is a very enjoyable game. One player leads to the meal (trick); the next player may either eat the meal (and gain weight), add to the meal, or use a special card to adjust the value of the meal before eating it. In addition to getting to play the game for the first time, I found out from Dagmar (whose last name has completely escaped me) what Suppenkasper is - a character from a classic German children's story parents will tell their kids when they won't eat their dinners. Rating: 7
(Game #18 - 9th new, 16th unique): Mississippi
While I wasn't certain we had the rules right, we tried this one anyway, and it's got potential - and perhaps a problem, though I'm not certain of this. The game is a very abstract race game, with (as befits the name) steamboats navigating up and down the river. The navigating bears little resemblance to real life, however, as you can jump other boats and be supercharged by heading in the right direction. Still, it's an interesting mechanism, and the race itself was enjoyable. The problems came as we hit the endgame - one boat fell too far behind to have _any_ chance (the mechanism does make this event possible), and there was some worry of a stagnant endgame (though I don't believe this is a problem, as the leader should nearly always be able to force a win within a few turns if not surpassed meanwhile. Rating: 6
(Game #19 - 10th new, 17th unique): Ausbrecher AG
A fascinating little game of prediction. Each player writes down an expected order of finish, and then tries to get the seven prisoners to finish as close to that order as possible. Incredibly, of a possible 16 points, one player in our game managed 12. A very interesting little game; other players speculated that a set of games run in order would lead to some particularly interesting results. Rating: 7
(Game #20 - 18th unique): Tal der Konige
Among games with really nice bits, Tal der Konige is certainly one of the more enjoyable games. In our particular game, the pharroh's pyramid was built very slowly, which hurt my game tremendously. Dan Blum won the game, being the proud possessor of a single color big pyramid among other holdings. Rating: 7
(Game #21 - 19th unique): Die Schlangen von Delhi
a.k.a. The Snakes of Delhi, it's one of the more interesting tile laying games to come around in a while. It might in fact be my favorite tile laying game. The basic idea of the game is to extend snakes; scores are based upon the new length of the snake you extended. This makes for a very good two person game, but a somewhat less enjoyable four person game, which is what we had. In spite of the mixed reactions of the other players, I still enjoyed it. Rating: 7.
(Game #22): Reibach & Co.
The rule I'd misunderstood revolved around the effect of x2 cards. I'd thought they doubled the effective _length_ of the commodity chain, not the scoring. As a result, in a game I thought I'd been winning (or at least coming close) I lost by a country mile. This in turn left me with a negative feeling for the game, unfortunately, though in this case where it didn't matter as much I wasn't overwhelmed either. OTOH, I liked _some_ of it enough to pick up Freight Train at the flea market... Rating: 3 (but likely it's just me).
(Game #23 - 20th unique): Keywood
As gamekits go, Keywood is rather spectacular. Put it up against the games the major houses put out, however, and - it's short a bit of color, but has nice pieces and plays very well. I quite enjoyed getting a play in, even though it was all I could do to pull to shouting distance. I have more than a sneaking suspicion that going first in a five player game is a very bad thing, and that's what I was doing. Still, I enjoyed the game. Rating: 7.
(Game #24 - 11th new, 21st unique): Ab die Post
This game has received many less-than-ideal reviews, and I can understand why. It's a simple game, with just enough to make it worth playing. However, given the names of the designers (Helga & Hermann Huber), I just couldn't quite pass it up. All in all, good light fun. Rating: 6.
(Game #25 - 22nd unique): Modern Art
Again, it was time for a tournament. This time, we had one player new to the game. As he _killed_ us. Of everything I'd previously played, this is the one game where my opinion dropped the most - though, again, I strongly suspect it's just me. But for my tastes the game's just worn thin, and that after a mere five plays. Rating: 5.
(Game #26 - 12th new, 23rd unique): Das Regeln Wir Schon
Peter Sarrett's review in the Game Report Online sums up my opinions rather well, so I'll just add that I'm less interested in playing the game again than Peter was when he wrote the article. Rating: 6.
(Games #27, #28 - 13th new, 24th unique): Pico
The best 2 minute game out there. Rating: 7.
(Game #29 - 14th new, 25th unique): Serenissima
Hmmm... this game usually (from what I hear) has two stages - one of setting up trade routes, one of solidifying or improving positions before scoring. In our game, however, I was attacked in round 2, and I fear that the game just didn't work terribly well from that point. There's still a lot to like about the game, but the fact that one attack had such dramatic effect worries me. Rating: 5, but with potential.
(Game #30, 31 - 26th unique): El Grande
Up to this point, the tournaments had been going very poorly for me. This wasn't exactly unexpected - I had no illusions about my abilities in any of the games save Acquire - but it was still a bit disappointing. I agonized a bit over the decision of which tournament to join (Homas Tour was going on simultaneously, and I would have enjoyed an opportunity to play that game again), but finally settled on El Grande. The first game was a close, well fought battle which I remember very little of, save that I won.
The second game, OTOH, was a classic. The contestants were Steffan O'Sullivan (who started in Grenada), Andrew Ofiesh (the defending champion), David Kuznick, Gary Brennan, and myself (playing Baskenland). David jumped out early, and was punished for it between the first and second scoring rounds. I decided to make my move for the second scoring round, and was able to manage no more than a tie for first with Gary. I was, however, able to convince Steffan not to veto my use of a scoring card by scoring Grenada (where I held second place, and Steffan first) rather than Baskenland. As the game neared it's end, David was left a powerful Intrigant card, which allowed him to clear out Baskenland (and give me 12 pieces in Altkastilien, with second place at three). Steffan was playing for the first move on the last turn, so I tried to throw a monkey wrench in that by taking control of Grenada and then dumping the king there.
The final turn proved most interesting; the move-the-king-one-space card turned up, along with a card allowing a player to vacate a region. Steffan took the first choice, and carefully ensured that I couldn't invite the king into my region. I went second, and decided to use the Intrigant to take 8 pieces out of Altkastilien, giving me back control of Baskenland and temporary control of the supercharged 8/4/0 space. Little significant changed after that during the remainder of the turn.
It was immediately clear that the scoring would be close; Steffan pulled out the 8, and Gary the Castillo. In the end, Gary and I were tied, with Steffan one back and Andrew only about six behind. Gary won on the tiebreaker - highest unused card. He still had his 13, never having had a reasonable chance to use it, while I only had my 11. My brief dreams of Extra Blatt or Igel Argern coming to me from the prize table evaporated in a tiebreaker.
In an interview with the game cabinet, Alan Moon is quoted as saying: "Basically, I want to create tension (that's tension, not stress) by giving the player several choices each turn." Well, if Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich had the same goal, they succeeded admirably. There was tension enough in this game (and perhaps a bit of stress too) to last for a month of Sundays. I do not remember ever having played such a tight, intense game before. Rating: 9.
(Game #32 - 15th new, 27th unique): In Teufels Kuche
After such an intense game, Gary, Andrew, Steffan, and I needed some serious decompression, and In Teufels Kuche was just the thing. We laughed. A lot. I have a really hard time judging just what I think of the game just because it was so precisely what was needed at the time that I simply loved it. Steffan pulled the wool right over our eyes, in a simply brilliant bluff, and walked away with the game. Rating: 7 (but roughly an 11 at the time).
(Games #33, #34 - 16th new, 28th unique): Pass the Bomb
A party game from the U.K., Pass the Bomb is simply a game of finding words containing a sequence of letters, though sometimes not at the beginning or end. Somehow, someway may brain cells managed one round without falling apart. The second round, however, my poor abused brain cells refused to talk to one another any more, and I collected about half the cards. I took this as a signal to hit the sack. Rating: 6.
(Game #35): Die Siedler von Catan Kartenspiel
I got to introduce a new player to the game; somehow, I had the same luck as against Dave, though, and was able to run away. This worries me just a bit...
(Games #36, #37 - 29th unique): Liars Dice
Not really my game, but I managed to win the second one. Definitely a game for six. Rating: 5.
(Games #38, #39 - 17th new, 30th unique): Was Sticht
This is a game I've avoided, in spite of good reviews, because of the apparent complexity. In truth, though, I think it's easier to pick up than Mu (or at least I found it much easier). Even playing my first time, I managed to win my first game and thus advance. In the second round, I completed my tasks in time, but having picked less complex tasks I lost the tiebreaker and was out of the tournament. Boy, did my favorite card game list change quickly... Rating: 7.
(Game #40): Airlines
This was the tournament. Suffice it to say that I failed to advance on the basis of a - you guessed it - tiebreaker.
(Game #41): Mu
(Game #42 - 18th new, 31st unique): Bauernschlau
Bauernschlau (clever farmer) is an interesting game of cooperation (you can't complete fences on your own) and competition (you want to be sure to both fill your own fields with good sheep and fill other fields with black sheep). Ruben won our game by having the fortune of getting to draw six tiles when all the on-board tiles were turned up. With one of two completed fences, the superior position, and precisely six positions to fill in his field, the game was over in no time. I think it will take a couple of times through to really understand this game. Rating: 6.
(Game #43 - 19th new, 32nd unique): Suzerain
The courtship rules in Suzerain are infamous for their complexity. I didn't mind them, but I can understand the confusion - having someone help explain the game really helped (thanks Brandon!). I jumped to an early lead, was righteously pounded upon, and my last gasp attempt to pull out the victory failed, leaving Mike Schexnaydre with the victory.
(Game #44 - 20th new, 33rd unique): Galopp Royale
Again, the review in the game cabinet does a better job than I can hope to in explaining the game, so I won't bother. We were playing six player, and the 4th and 5th place finishers were getting the short end of the stick, as advertised. Our best races tended, therefore, to be for _last_ place, rather than first. It would seem that there's a simple fix (though it may not adequate - I haven't tried it, so if it doesn't work don't blame me):
The last place finisher chooses a card of their own to discard, along with one from all players in the money. The other player (5 person game) or players (6 person) pick their own discards.
The last place finisher then deals two cards to themselves, one to everyone but the 1st place finisher, and two to the first place finisher. The last place finisher then picks which of the two cards to use both for themselves and for the first place finisher.
Next time I try the game with five or six players, I'll probably try this. Even better balanced, it's really nothing more than good light fun. Rating: 6.
(Game #45 - 21st new, 34th unique): Tante Tarantel
Another Doris & Frank game, and one I'm glad I picked up. The objective of the game is to get one's bugs to escape from the web before they're eaten by the tarantula. The only random element is the movement of the tarantula. That's quite enough, though, and makes for a very interesting game, as bugs try to get out at just the right time to score the maximum number of points. Rating: 6.
(Game #46 - 22nd new, 35th unique): Igel Argern
While I didn't get to buy this Doris & Frank classic, I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to play it. Having tried it once, I wasn't disappointed - even though one of the variants we were playing (doping, wrap-around, and fizz) wasn't one I feel will become a favorite. (In brief - the first hedgehog to cross is disqualified, obviously having taken performance enhancing drugs; wrap-around just makes row 1 and 6 adjacent - more of a ruling than a variant, actually; fizz allows a player who can't shift lanes to bump one of his pieces to the top of a stack.) The combined effect of the rules we were playing was to cause a _lot_ of hedgehogs to congregate in the lane six pit, drawing confused looks from even Frank when he happened by. B^)
All in all, it's essentially what I expected, and still firmly on my buy list. I just wish there had been one left for me. B^( Rating: 7
(Game #47 - 23rd new, 36th unique): Lowenherz
We played with open selection, rather than simultaneous; I think I prefer the concept of open, but I'd play either way. This was probably the second most popular new game at the Gathering, behind only Bohnanza, and I can see why.
The basic idea of the game is to gain victory points by surrounding new areas containing your castles, and by expanding your existing areas. Victory points are also awarded at various points for the ownership of mines, and via special cards. All in all, it's a fairly simple game but one with lots of interesting choices. It's going to take a few more tries to get a firm grasp on what I think of this one. For now... Rating: 7
(Game #48 - 24th new, 37th unique): Bohnanza
Very interesting little card game. We were playing with the wrong rules (specifically, you couldn't refuse a card forced on you), but still enjoyed it. I'm intending to pick this one up at the next reasonable opportunity. The game is one of collecting and scoring groups of beans. The difficulty is that while it takes fewer and fewer to increase their value, holding a set too long takes up a valuable field. Even with three fields, things are tights, providing some tough decision making. Rating: 7.
(Game #49, #50, #51): Die Siedler von Catan
Yup, it was tournament time again. In the first round I avoided being the target until it was too late, at which point I breezed to a victory. In the second round, I was the one who jumped out, and in spite of being pounded I managed to win (and beat Gary for once as well). In the finals, I went first and had a simply dreadful position within a round. In spite of this, I managed to pull to within a prayer, moving up to 9 victory points in my final turn (though I thought, incorrectly, I had enough for 9 plus a card). At this point I needed to see a 7 rolled, but it didn't happen and Mick Uhl won. OTOH, by this time I was familiar with the concept of 2nd place... B^) Rating: 10
(The Prize Table)
My last hope for a good pick dashed, it was time to watch as game after game from my want list disappeared. My top three - Extra Blatt, El Grande expansion w/ the extra cards, and Igel Argern - were all gone within twenty picks. As my pick was nearing, I had just managed to settle on a new pick (Maestro) when it too went away. I hadn't been able to completely re-sort when my name was called, and so I walked away with Under Cover, which a deep recess of my mind (and a quick check with Dave Andrews, who had played it earlier) told me might be worthwhile.
In the second round, I noted that Dan Blum had picked up Sahara, which I'd been particularly interested in for the bits (some great wooden camels). Since we'd discussed a trade earlier, I stopped by and walked away with Sahara and his third round pick - which turned into Black Monday.
For my own second round pick, I had a rather poor choice. I ended up taking Terkelei on a hope a prayer (both based up the name of the designer, Reiner Knizia, rather than on any direct implication that the game is good). We'll see. My third round pick turned into Hollywood For Sale (which I've managed to get translated, and looks at least vaguely interesting); by the time I went up for a 4th pick only computer games were left, so I passed.
(Game #52 - 25th new, 38th unique): Bakschisch
Dave Andrews went through the rules as we prepared for this, and started his description as "Candyland with bidding". Incredibly, that accurate description can be applied to a rather enjoyable game. For four straight turns, players bid to move to the next space of a certain type; the high bidder wins, while players who use their thief split the gold bid. The fifth turn, the lowest bidder moves backwards. Then the pool of used bids is split, thieves (which can only be used once per turn) are returned, and the game continues. This is not a game that's going to win over dedicated Advanced Third Reich players, but it was quick enjoyable for what it was, and finished in 20 minutes. Rating: 6.
(Game #53 - 39th unique): Air Baron
Unfortunately, this was a five player affair; this made for a rather longer game than I'd been hoping for, though it was a good tight game. Mike Schexnaydre, the rookie in the game, kept Tom Stokes from running away with things, but in the end Tom (who was raking in money left and right) pulled it out. Rating: 8.
(Game #54 - 26th new, 40th unique): Ole!
A simple card game from the get-rid-of-your-cards school, this game just didn't work for me - lots of luck, and little to make up for that. Rating: 3.
(Game #55 - 27th new, 41st unique): Würmeln
Ah, worm racing at its finest. Another enjoyable light game; nothing more, nothing less. Rating: 6.
(Game #56 - 28th new, 42nd unique): Sahara
Camel racing at its finest. I enjoyed it (even with the sifting through instructions), but I've since noticed a negative review at Luding (unfortunately for me in German, so I can't figure out the rational for the low rating). The basic idea of the game is the movement of camels. Camels added to the end of a caravan are immediately moved to the front. If nothing else, the nice pieces should be good for something. Rating: 6
(Game #57 - 43rd unique): Wildlife Adventure
I got completely smoked in this one. And I still enjoyed it. Ruben _almost_ won, too, which would have been nice to see... Rating: 8
(Game #58 - 29th new, 44th unique): Dicke Kartoffeln
We got through two years of this game before we realized an error I'd made in explaining the rules. The game now makes more sense. Not having played correctly, I can't give it a rating yet.
(Game #59 - 45th unique): Can't Stop
The last tournament, and the dice were against me. I made not one, but two runs at the 8-7-5 ladder (after the 2, 6, and 9 had been scored by other players) and just couldn't pull it off.
(Game #60): Mu
(Game #61 - 30th new, 46th unique): Campanile
A tower building card game with an acquire-like scoring system, this was a very enjoyable way to end the week. Rating: 6.
Overall, I had a wonderful time at the Gathering, and have every intention of making it again as often as possible. As others have said, you can't find a better group of people to game with. Congratulations to Alan for bringing life to such a wonderful convention, and for putting in the effort to keep it going.
The Game Cabinet - email@example.com - Ken Tidwell