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Gathering of Friends ’21 recap

I already mentioned Nemesis and Who Goes There, but here are some brief thoughts on the other games I played last week. Unless otherwise mentioned, I played each game once. Surprisingly, I liked a fair number of the games.

City of the Big Shoulders: My second play. I think this is a fine Euro intro to 18xx, but the resource track just doesn’t work. It’s too easy for someone to block a company by buying all but one resource from each box. Maybe that means you should focus on getting the improvements that get you cubes but this game really just needs a Power Grid style market. But if you play with a gentleman’s agreement to not mess with that, it kind of works. (Arguably companies that start in later turns should also get some prestige bump). And the fact that there is no train rusting makes this a bit ‘loose’ but the worker placement game feels OK. I think this is solidly indifferent, but worth a play now and again.

Dice Realms: Played a near-production copy. I mean, this is a Tom Lehmann game, so it’s an automatic buy (even at $120). This is “Dominion with dice” (where you pop off and replace die faces). My main worry is that most of the time will be spent trying to remember which die face is where and fiddling with it (although it was relatively easy to do, I still think that this will be an X-minute game where X/2 of your time is strictly mechanical …. find face to upgrade, pop off, replace … and then a few minutes to re-set the game). Still, I expect I’ll get at least a few dozen games and fifty is always a possibility, even if it is too late. Assuming it makes it to the stores in time for winter break, this will likely be the game I play with the TaoLing when he is back from college. Cautiously enthusiastic.

Finito: This is a fast little dice game. You put a numbered marker (1-12) on the space on a number line that was rolled on a d20 (OK, a bingo card). If the number is covered, you move to the next higher/lower space. Once all the numbers are placed, you move a number to the number rolled. Each player does this simultaneously (ala Take it Easy) and the first to get their numbers in order wins. Cute little filler. Indifferent.

High Frontier for All: I liked HF3, and I like the improvements to HF4. The contracts are a good jump start. Making a contract auction also tied to a political action means the politics system matters (although I don’t particularly care for it, as I think for a game this long sudden claim jumping is just annoying). But I certainly don’t care enough to buy a new version for a few changes. I think High Frontier is now in the “This is a decent once every year or two game.” Indifferent.

Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile: Oath is a fun experience, and I’m not at all sure it’s a good game. Great art. Great ideas. I played twice (and the set we used played a few different games between). It was fun seeing the world slowly change from game to game, but that means that a random set could be grossly imbalanced in such a way that if you played the last game on the set and other’s didn’t, it would be unfair. (“Those who do not know their history are doomed to discover that there really aren’t any nomads in the game, so maybe they shouldn’t have drafted the nomad king.” Or some such). My first concern in my two games is that I really need a flowchart to explain the victory conditions, which don’t seem that hard, but appear to be have been poorly translated from some heathen mashup of Aramaic, Esperanto and Klingon.

And I also didn’t care for the fact that I won my first game only because the game ended on the only turn I could have possibly won it (and nearly won my second game that way). I’m not particularly attached to the “games must be fair” school and Cole Wehrle certainly doesn’t seem to be, either. But it still makes me suspect that most of the fun comes from before and after the game, not during it. This might still be a total blast with a group that played a game a week (or month, etc). And it spins off stories like nobodies business. If you play 7 games of this and could write well, you might easily have the next bestselling fantasy series. I’m going to say Suggest, even though I’m not sure. Also, because of some conversations around this (and other games), I’m listening to the Revolutions podcast.

Obsession: aka Building Downton Abbey (etc). You try to build up your mansion and social status which requires various types of workers, entertaining high ranking guests, etc. There wasn’t anything wrong with this; I can’t even say that the point salad bothered me. But neither was there anything that captured my attention. Indifferent.

Scout: A cute little climbing card game. Cards are 1-10 but you can flip your hand over (each card is like a domino, two numbers, no two cards the same). But you can’t re-order it. If you can’t beat the prior meld (single card, two card runs, pairs, three card runs, trips, etc) they get a point and you steal one card from the end of the prior meld and add it to your hand. (Once a round you can steal and add). If you can beat a meld, you get one point per card you take. When someone goes out, cards in hand are negative points. I actually liked this. Suggest.

Sheep & Garden: A Japanese game in the vein of Carcassonne. The quirk is that each player has a secret goal and each neighbor around the table share a goal (so with 4 players, there are 8 goals in play, and you earn points for only three of them). Even though I don’t think I’ve played Carcassonne since the year it came out, I’d suggest this.

Sorcerer City : A deck-building game with tiles? A real time tile-laying game with purchasing? Both? I thought this was clever, but I am too slow to enjoy it. Indifferent.

War Chest: An chess-like abstract, but you pull tiles from a bag to tell you which pieces you can activate. But before that you draft to see which four out of the eight pieces you have (and there are sixteen types in the base game, so good variety). I’m not a big abstract fan (or rather, I like my abstracts to be classics like Go), but I enjoyed this. Suggest.

It’s a Wonderful World : This should really be called “It’s a Seven Wonders-ful world.” (I’m assuming the Lawyers nixed that). This is a case where one small change has huge implications — You draft all seven cards and then decide which to keep (and build) and which to discard for building material. But you can build your cards incrementally. No need to get that massive VP card built now, end of game will suffice. There are four rounds (unlike 7 Wonders 3) but all the cards are just slammed together and there are lots of extras, so my suspicion is that this is much more random than it’s predecessor (the fact that I came in second despite not really understanding the building rules until after the first round of play is some evidence in my favor). I think Oath was the hit of the Gathering (but not a run-away hit like Settlers, Puerto Rico, Caylus, etc) …. but this also seemed to get a good amount of play. I’m indifferent but intrigued.

Yellow and Yangtzee: Knizia’s re-do of Euphrat und Tigris on a hex map with a bunch of tweaks. They all work. I think this is a fine variant to a great game, so this is also Suggest.

Where do I turn in my curmudgeon card? In my defense, I’m probably not going to rush out and buy any of these games (Dice Realms excepted) although with Oath that’s mainly because I don’t think I’ll have a group play it enough.


Written by taogaming

April 23, 2019 at 7:22 pm

The Tao 2019 Gathering Geeklist is up…

Written by taogaming

April 22, 2019 at 1:30 pm

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Gathering Geeklist Posted

Written by taogaming

April 19, 2018 at 10:57 pm

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My Gathering Geeklist is up

and you can read it! Or not.  This year continues my trend of playing very long and very short games, with few 60-90 minute titles.

Written by taogaming

April 15, 2017 at 2:15 pm

Gathering 2016 AAR (Part 2) — The Old Classics

Note — My rambling Geeklist is up.

I played a fair number of new games at the Gathering this year (despite my general “New games, meh!” comments, 7-9 new games per Gathering seems typical, although that includes card games, ameritrash and wargames most years). I mean, last year QMG and BBH2045 were both new, along with many less memorable games.  So the seven new games I played this year is about right on the money.

While I didn’t play many new Euros this year I hit the classics, hard.

I mean, I got in a game of Settlers, of Euphrat und Tigris, and two games of Lowenherz. I played a brutal (simply brutal) game of Tichu. I played Fast Food Franchise, a game I picked up in ’93-ish (and it wasn’t new then).

Race: Xeno Invasion is new, but Race itself is a classic. I’d write about Xeno, but I still haven’t really grokked it beyond the basics (“When has that stopped you before?” I hear you cry).

Lowenherz is interesting, in that I seemed to recall that Domaine made it worse, but my BGG comments indicated otherwise. So now I want to try Domaine again. But only slightly. Having played Lowenherz twice reminded me that I’m not very good at it, and while it is “old,” it is definitely not a classic (which I would include every other game I played from the ’90s).

[Oh, and today I played Mage Knight twice with the TaoLing. Not quite as old, but a game I’ve played a ton.]

All in all, time well spent.

Written by taogaming

April 16, 2016 at 9:21 pm

Gathering 2016 After Action Report (Part 1)

Last year at the Gathering I thought that perhaps I should only attend part of the week and when push came to shove I stuck with my guns (despite Mrs. Tao’s offer to let me stay longer). I won’t deny that part of me regrets leaving early, but even on Wednesday I struggled (and eventually decamped for several hours). Yesterday I did had renewed energy based on my impending departure.

I am officially old enough that I can’t even handle my favorite convention. Meh.

I did get in a goodly number (and even some variety) of games, as you can see from my list of games played at the Gathering. I may review some in more detail, but for now I’ll give brief thoughts:

New (to me) games [number of plays]:

Ponzi Scheme [3]– “I don’t have to outrun the bear market, I just have to outrun the other players!” Finally, an investment game where the loans (actually, investments by your marks) have even more outrageous conditions than Martin Wallace! Borrow $10 to pay $11 every five turns is one of  the better loans. Borrow $60 to pay $140 every three turns! You take loans to buy industries (VPs), and then make a secret offer to another player, who can either take the money to buy your industry, or sell to you for that amount. When someone goes bankrupt, the survivors compare VPs.  There’s downtime and players who don’t value things properly will lose, but this was my pick for new game of the Gathering. Suggest.

Team Play [3] — Teams of two try to collect sets and can pass cards around.  The basic strategy is to pay attention and avoid having both teammates need the same cards. You only have limited control over that, but then again it’s a 20 minute game. Suggest.

Karuba [2] — “No time to take it easy, Doctor Jones!” Build paths (ala Take it Easy) between archeologists and their destinations, and may scatter some points on the way. But you discard tiles to move your fedora-wearing meeples and get points for being first. A nice, solid, improvement over the predecessors…. Suggest.

Air Alliance [1] — Remember the “Take a bonus turn” cards that proliferated and were (rightly) removed from most games? Well, if you get a really good turn, you get a bonus turn. Your opponents will (naturally) block you from getting a really good turn. But they can’t if your first turn has a random setup that gives it to you. I got a great first turn (the injurty) and then a bonus turn (the added insult). If you fixed that, I’d consider playing again, except the polar view of the world also makes finding places I should be able to find harder than it should be. Avoid. (But with some fixes there is a game, just not to my tastes).

I played two Ameritrash games as well

Cthulu Wars [1] — I’d seen this beautiful game last year (the miniatures look like the plastic melted in horrible ways, which is thematic) and I’m glad I got the chance to try this. Spawn, Spread and Smash, but you only accumulate VPs and the game will end quickly. (Player’s can earn VPs each turn and buy some as a bonus, and once enough “buy VP” actions occurs, the game ends, or if someone breaks a threshold).

Blood Rage [1] — Draft cards to upgrade your viking clan and get specific objectives and combat bonuses, then fight around Yggdrasil. Getting set to Valhalla is a minor setback (or, with the right circumstances, a good way to score points). I worry that suicidal battles are a bit too good (and can feed your slaughterer points, too). Combat is add up values and play a bonus card, with the winner having to discard their card. Elegant. Game ends after three rounds (drafting, board play, upkeep).

Overall both design seem well done. I have some quibbles but if I assume competent development (and the names on the boxes lead me to assume this) I imagine there is some depth of play. Both games are lovely, with good minis and a nice clean design. Blood Rage, with the card based combat (and at half the price, although still not cheap) is more to my tastes. Both are indifferent plus in that I’d like to try them once or twice more, at least.

Finally, I played Triumph and Tragedy once. Played may be a strong term, I didn’t really grok supply or naval operations, but eh, I played the Soviets. We had a brisk game at maybe 4.5 hours (with rules!) but partially that’s because I missed the right time to declare war on the Axis and the game quickly slipped away. I clearly backed the wrong horse by purchasing Churchill instead of this. Will I play T&T often? Of course not. It’s a long wargame with a card-driven diplomacy/tech system. I’ll definitely try it again, hopefully before next year. I know locals who play this …. suggest (if you like long wareuos).

Next up — The classics.

Written by taogaming

April 15, 2016 at 9:48 am

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GoF 2015 Geeklist

I posted My GoF 2015 Geeklist a few minutes ago (yes, I am taking today off).

Written by taogaming

April 20, 2015 at 1:09 pm

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Why game?

There are as many reasons as gamers. Usually gaming provides a release after a hard day. The game starts and ends and is put away; the experience no more remembered than the random sitcom it replaced. A few laughs and time pleasantly murdered.

Why game?

For most people the question itself surprises. Games, to them, means “sport” not board game. Ludus translates several ways, but a Roman would think of gladiators. Nowadays a sports fan means a sports spectator. I understand why Romans preferred watching over participation, but people watch sports and games (including videogames) for just as many reasons as they game.

Why game?

I shouldn’t answer. My steadily growing impulse is to reject the premise and not game at all. But when I do game its to solve a puzzle, one that fights back aided by clever opponents trying to thwart me. They never do, except by wildly improbable maneuvers that I can only laugh at incredulously the few times they succeed.

That’s how I remember it, anyway.

I game to spark creativity, to play with words, to explain drawings, to find connections. I settle Catan, I find one word hints to obscure celebrities, I trade goods across Europe (as long as they can be packaged in small, colorful cubes). I explore new worlds. I examine the subtle nuances of gesture and phrase that led to your tragic lynching. I explore +1/+1.

I explore — I play games — at the Gathering of Friends. But even from my first the languid meals and chats linger in memory, even as I devoured new titles most of my waking hours. My gaming passion has dimmed, but my joy of camaraderie and fellowship has grown.

As has the Gathering itself. Now I grab my badge to a barely opened convention already larger than the first several  attended. It will, over the week, triple in size. But my first Gathering was almost 10x larger than the first. The growth shames me. I don’t know everyone, I may not know half of the attendees because I’m too busy catching up with old friends. I do try to introduce myself, to make new friends. Greedily I want to keep attendance low and this shames me, that I want to deny this experience to all who would attend. I have no illusions; I am no more deserving of this than the next gamer. I am merely lucky.

(Everyone agrees, especially after a game).

Why game?

Gamers such as us are rare; play is universal. Young mammals of all species frolic and play, hide and seek. They engage in mock battles for no stake other than glory. Play is safe, enjoyable learning. Players imagine their glorious futures, players act, discover, laugh and tolerate imaginary losses. Play is surprise, free form or ritualized.  Players set up the pins, knock them down and delight in how they spin and bounce.  Players say “Did you see that?”

Sometimes I play; but I am old. Sometimes I decline. Most days I remember fondly the instinct to play; others I recoil at my folly and chastise myself to grow up. Still others I gasp at that folly, the belief that work is somehow privileged over play.

And these days, these too short glorious days at the Gathering, I greedily clutch my luck and briefly glimpse the hundreds of reasons. Though I do not understand most, they are all made manifest before me and I do not feel guilty anymore. Our reasons are all different, and it is not a problem that I do not understand why I no longer enjoy games I used to and that we do not enjoy any games in common. It is not a problem, merely a fact that we have different tastes. I do not question why.

We game.

(Originally written April16th at the Gathering).

Written by taogaming

April 20, 2015 at 10:16 am

Contrary Town

Population — Me

Every day I bother to log on I’ve gleefully watched my “Games Played for last 30 days” count fall. Ignoring bridge (2 sessions) and solo games its now two, both played with my kids. When I took my son to game night, I didn’t play a thing and felt good, that meant my number would go down. I took the time to call people and chat.

Sometimes I get looks when people invite me to play a game and I decline. I won’t lie, sometimes it is personal, but that’s a small percentage of the population and gamer stereotypes exist for a reason. I found the “courage” to duck boring games a decade ago; now I’m ducking games I like.

Hopefully, Hopefully, this is my Lent to enjoy belated Fat Fridays. But I don’t actually like conventions. I discovered this at Austin Game Fest a few years back – a ‘meh’ day I spent ducking games – but I apparently never posted about that day. I sat with friends and didn’t play more than a handful of games over 30 hours and I’d paid money (quite a bit, counting hotels). And its not just gaming conventions, my best WorldCon moments involved watching my kids have fun.

I am looking forward to next week, even if I continue my perverse gaming hate I’ll catch up with old friends, stay up late and oversleep and generally relax. Maybe I can route my schedule back to normal by regressing via collegiate debauchery, at least clock-wise. (Working an odd shift for the Q1 contributed to my mood). Games, right now, are just a bonus.

Perchance I’ll have something interesting to say then, too.

So consider this a pre-apology and confession, if I duck out on a game.

Written by taogaming

April 9, 2015 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Convention Reports