Sunday, April 28, 2002

Gathering Photos

I just posted
50+ photos
from the thirteenth Gathering of Friends.

Friday, April 26, 2002

Gathering Report, part IV

While I may write more later on the Gathering, I wanted to wrap up
here with comments on other new games, "old" games, the prize table,
and non-gaming stuff at the Gathering.

color=f8f0ff>Goldland, Cairo,

None of these really impressed me a lot, but they weren't bad.
Goldland in particular a lot of people liked, though it wasn't to my
taste. I like the idea of exploration games, and many of the
mechanics seemed appealing, but the whole thing just didn't gel for
me. I'll give it another play sometime, but it's not high on my list.

Cairo I really wanted to like. It's a flicking influence game. Some
combination of lack of skill and monotonous play really left me
unimpressed though. Lumberjack, I also wanted to like, but it ended
up feeling rather dry. Oh well.

The only game I played which I'd actively warn people away from is "A
Dog's Life". Stay away from this one. I have so many other ways I'd
rather spend my time.

color=f8f0ff>Great New-to-me Games

I played a lot of games that I'd never played before but have been out
for a while. In the truly "great" category were Code 777 and Frisch
Fisch. I also substantially enjoyed Haste Worte? (not entirely new to
me), M, Elchfest, Entdecker, Guesstures, Pig Pong, and Tabula Rasa.

I was expecting to like Code 777, since I am in general a big fan of
deduction games, and this has a reputation for being one of the best.
I was not disappointed. This game is much like "What's That on My
Head?", but with colors and a different distribution of numbers. The
result is outstanding.

Frisch Fisch, I had heard nothing about, but was described as a "brain
burner", which I often find a positive attribute in games. This
Friedemann Friesse game has some very nice mechanics. Simple tile
laying impacts where roads will be built according to a simple set of
rules (all roads must be contiguous and all buildings must be adjacent
to at least one road). Placing a building in one place may cause
several road tiles to get placed elsewhere. The somewhat
collaborative puzzle solving of everyone trying to determine if any
new road segments are built as the result of a person's play was very

Sadly, both of these games (Code 777 and Frisch Fisch) are out of
print and hard to find. If anyone knows where I can get one for a
reasonable price, please
let me know.

I don't have a lot to say about the other games, but I feel like
saying something, so here's a sentance or two on each. "Haste Worte?"
is one of the best word games I've played in a while, but you need to
make your own cards. M is a great absract tile laying game I wish I
had discovered earlier. Elchfest is surprisingly fun. Guesstures is
not that novel of an idea (speed charades), but the timer device is
awesome! Pig Pong is exhausting. Tabula Rasa was a lot of fun and
very interesting, despite me being unimpressed after reading the

color=f8f0ff>Prize Table

I got very lucky with the prize table. The basic idea of the
Gathering Prize Table is that all attendees bring at least one (good)
game for the prize table, many bring more, or bring some "ok" games in
addition to one or more good ones. On the final Saturday, prizes are
given out. First, winners of tournaments from the previous year which
occured after the prize table ceremony, followed by tournaments
winners from this year, followed by randomly selected people. Then,
the process repeats, more or less until all the prizes are gone.

I didn't compete in any of the game tournaments this year and my team
didn't win the Treasure Hunt (which was a lot of fun, see below).
This year Alan decided to have a "target tournament", however. The
idea of this tournament is that some some number of people are
"targets". They keep track of all the people they play with. The
winner of the target tournament is the person who plays with the most
targets. I came in as first runner-up in the target tournament (23
out of 28 targets), so I got an early pick off the prizetable, for
which I took Funkenschlag, since I had heard such good things about it
and had just recently been very impressed by one of his previous games
(Frisch Fisch).

My wife was called randomly very early and took Members Only. On my
second pick I got Schocko & Co. In later picks I got a handful of
other games. In the end, I got 3 out of my top 6 picks and was very

color=f8f0ff>Non-boardgame stuff

Obviously, thoe point of the Gathering is to spend time with people
and play board games. Further, most of the "spend time with people"
is done by playing board games, however, there is some other stuff
that goes on.

In the "almost boardgames" category was the Treasure Hunt. This is a
puzzle hunt style event usually run by Aaron Weissblum, run this year
by he and Brian Hanechak. The hunt was a blast. Basically, there
were four puzzles to solve, but you had no clues to the puzzles. The
puzzles could be bought with "game bucks", which could be obtained by
solving other puzzles or by playing game shows. Overall, a very fun

Other folks went off to an amusement park for a day, and there's also
the photo safari, in which teams take a variety of amusing photos in
an attempt to get the most points. I think some people even went and
played golf.

The other regular activity of the event was eating out. A lot of
people got groceries and occasionally ate at the hotel or in their
rooms, but sometimes you need to get out. There's a strip mall
cluster in Columbus with perhaps as many as two dozen restaurants,
ranging from reasonably nice to very fancy. Ruth's Chris Steakhoue
was yummy, but given the price I've certainly had better steak. The
surprise hit to me was "Red Robin" a very kid friendly burger joint
that was very good and reasonably priced. It's a shame we don't have
these out here.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Gathering Report, part III

Today I'm going to write about the good "new" games I played. None of
these were amazing, but were quite good and I look forward to playing
them more. Those games are: Alles im Eimer, How Ruck!, Clash of the
Gladiators, Dschunke, Die Sieben Weisen, Maginor and Zahltag.

color=f8f0ff>Alles im Eimer

This is the closest of this set to making the "great" list. It's by
Steffan Dorra, has an unique theme and is rather amusing. The basic
idea is each player has a pyramid of buckets and is trying to knock
down their opponents pyramids. This is done by playing colored cards,
which the next player must play higher than, followed by the next
player, until someone cannot play higher, at which point they lose a
bucket of the appropriate color.

A lot of different opinions on the strategy of building the initial
pyramids existed as well as differing approaches on how to attack
one's neighbors. No matter how many cards are played (1-3), you only
draw one more, so an all out assault costs you two cards.

The game is fun, though with 6 it doesn't have much control, but still
works well. Jay suggested the variant of allowing players to attack
left or right, and I look forward to trying that.

color=f8f0ff>How Ruck!

This is a cute tug of war game by Richard Borg. The game is quick and
has some nice elements, but it has a very unusual property which was
reported by several people; when you win, you feel like it was because
of good play, but when you lose, it seems as though it was completely
out of your control. As a result, I'm not sure there's a lot of real
control here. It's enough fun in any case to continue playing.

color=f8f0ff>Clash of the Gladiators

As many have mentioned already, this is a dice-fest. It's a really
fun dice-fest, but it's definitely not a lot of deep strategy. The
features that set this apart as an especially fun dice fest are the
customized teams and the animals.

The customized teams give you the ability to try out different styles
of carnage ranging from the full out attack to the net throwing
rerollers. Further, the game is such a dice-fest that no strategy has
a conspicuous advantage.

The animals are a nice touch as well. Risky to attack, but worth
extra points, and they provide an enjoyable and fun role for
eliminated players that speeds the game toward the end especially once
more than one player has been eliminated. Be the bear.


I played this one twice, once with some rules missing, and once
without. With the wrong rules, this game is pretty dull. I'm glad I
played it with the right rules. It's not amazing, and it's not
exciting, but it has some interesting decisions and some nice
mechanics. I'm not sure the whole is much greater than the sum of the
parts, but the parts add up reasonably nicely.

color=f8f0ff>Die Sieben Weisen

I only played one aborted game of this, but it was rather enjoyable.
This game has a nice feature that I haven't really seen elsewhere,
which is freeform negotiated partnerships. Unlike something like Mu,
in which partnerships are chosen in a structured way, here it is
entirely up to the players to decide the partnerships.

The gameplay itself is similar to the Attacke/Ivanhoe/Taj Mahal
mechanic where the last to quit a fight wins, but all contributors
lose their committed cards. The injection of some powerful magic
cards mixes things up nicely. I'll pick it up when it comes out in


This much maligned remake of Knizia's Vegas was actually fun. It's an
interesting influence game with a substantial share of luck. The
theme fits well and the components are decent. Overall, it's a game
of choosing your battles and carefully spending limited resources.
It won't get played a lot, but I'll play it again.


This was the first game I played at the Gathering. It's cute game of
hand management. Each player has a hand of various types of workers
which they can put to work on a job, if they are the lowest bidder for
that job. Nice artwork and some interesting tactics.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Gathering report, part II


The best thing about the Gathering is the people. In addition to a
great many people I've known before, I had the opportunity to meet
many who I had never met before, or had only met online. Everyone I
met was a lot of fun.

Some people I met were similar to what I expected based on meeting
them online. Greg Schloesser is friendly and outgoing, talkative and
upbeat, and overall a great guy. Others were different from what I
expected. For some reason I expected Mik Svellov to be reserved and
quiet, but he was as outgoing as Greg. I think every time I turned
around he was teaching a new group of people Goldland.

It was also great to meet many of the maintainers of other great board
game sites, including Derk from BoardGameGeek, Eric from About
Boardgames, and Mark Jackson from Game Central Station. I also played
a few games with some designers and had an interesting talk with Mike
Fitzgerald on games for the Palm handheld, as well "beaming" each
other a couple of apps.

Meeting Jay Tummelson and a number of folks from Funagain was very
interesting, because the business of board games is intriguing to me.
Jay clearly understands his business and I wish him the best continued
luck. It sounds like he will be doing a great many of the new games
played at the Gathering.

color=f8f0ff>Size of the Community

All of these discussions about the game industry led to a few
conversations about estimating the size of the "board game community".
A few relevant data points:

  • Members of the spielfrieks mailing list: 859
  • Members of the Unity Games (Boston area) mailing list: 181
  • Fraction of the US population on the Internet: 1/2
  • Games in a Rio Grande print run: href="">2000-3000
  • Attendees at Spiel show in Essen: about 150,000

These numbers, combined with various other data I've heard seems to
imply a total community size (in the USA) between 1,000 and 20,000 people,
depending on how you define "board gamer". If you include people who
only play Settlers, and only a dozen times a year, it's probably
larger. If you only include people who have collections of dozens or
hundreds of games and play dozens or hundreds per year, it's probably lower.
Personally, my estimate of gamers who play a variety of german-style
games at least once a month is probably around 10,000.

More on the Gathering and new games later...

Monday, April 22, 2002

Gathering report, part I

So, I just got back from a great 9 days of gaming at the Gathering of
Friends in Columbus, Ohio. I played a total of 91 games, 64 of which
were different, 49 of which were new to me, with a total of 105
different people. I mentioned the games that were the biggest hits in
my note from yesterday, and I'll comment on
those first.

color=f8f0ff>Puerto Rico

This highly anticipated and hyped title pretty much lived up to the
expectation. There's a ton of descriptions of play, so I'll skip
that. Overall, the game is engaging and seems to lend itself to a
wide variety of strategies and some clever tactics. There's also a
nice brinkmanship aspect where players try to put off production as
long as possible to avoid helping others. Of course, eventually
someone decides it helps them more than others.

I only got to play twice at the Gathering, in large part because there
were so many other things to play, but in each game, different
strategies succeeeded, and while some clearly work well (the Hospice
strategy and the Quarry strategy), none yet seem to be "the strategy".


This was the surprise hit of the event for me. This game plays in
under half an hour, seems likely to scale well from two players to
six, and is a lot of fun. I'm not really sure how much skill or
strategy there is, and there may not be much, but it's a blast, and
tied for most played game of the Gathering (tied with href="">

Sadly, Funagain was out of stock by the time I (and many others)
discovered it. I really thought I wouldn't like it since train games
don't usually do much for me, but this was not like most train games.
As in other train games, you are trying to connect up multiple cities
with train track. Unlike other train games, that's it. That's the
whole goal of the game, and to be the fastest to do it. Good quick


I love auction games, and when I was told this game was all auctions,
I was already favorably disposed to like it. Despite playing with a
substantial rule misinterpretation the first time, it was great fun.

The game is, in fact, all auctions all the time, with several nice
twists. Some auctions give you victory points, while others give you
more money for other auctions. Others give you variable points or
other special abilities. Most important, winning an auction earns you
a right to bid in that category in the next round. Those who win no
auctions in a category are locked out after the first set of
auctions. Depending on the number of players, each player is expected
to win 3 to 6 auctions in that first critical round, possibly more
than once in each of the 6 categories.

The game play is reasonably quick and seems well balanced (once we got
the rules right). A further nice twist is that each of the two boards
is double sided allowing for four different variations on the game.


This new Kramer & Kiesling game is altogether different from most
of their work I'm familiar with. It's essentially a pure abstract
game of 3-dimensional geometry. Each player is placing identical
(oddly shaped) blocks in their color and a "neutral" color, trying to
conceal their color while moving the "chieftan" around the pueblo such
that he will see your opponents blocks, causing them to score negative

This description doesn't really do it justice, but the result is a
pleasing abstract strategy and puzzle game. The game comes with
several variants, only one of which I've played so far. The game is
beatuiful and surprisingly clever for how simple it is.

color=f8f0ff>All Games Played

I'll write in a little more detail about other games soon, maybe even
this evening, but I figured I'd include my complete list of games
played at the Gathering:

Five times: TransAmerica, Knockabout

Four times: Alles im Eimer

Three times: How Ruck!, Pueblo

Two times: Celebrities, Clash of the Gladiators, Code 777, Crokinole,
Dschunke, Haste Worte?, Hive, M, Pizarro, Pounce, Puerto Rico,

Only once: Africa, Bamboleo, Basari, Beasti Boys, Cairo, Call my
Bluff, Can't Stop, Catchphrase, Cocotaki, Die Sieben Weisen, Dog's
Live, Dvonn, Elchfest, Entdecker, Euphrat & Tigris, Frisch Fish,
Gold Connection, Goldland, Guesstures, Hands Up, Hit the Deck,
Industrial Waste, Kupferkessel, Lumberjack, Maginor, Munchausen, Ohne
Furcht und Adel, Oodles, Password, Pig Pong, Piratenbilliard,
Pyramiden Der Jaguar, Quacksalbe, Ra, Really Nasty Horse Racing Game,
SpinBall, Tabula Rasa, Wanted Whosit?, Zahltag, ZappZerapp and a
number of prototypes.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

Back from the Gathering

I've gone a while without an entry here, but part of that has been due
to the fact that I've been at the infamous "Gathering of Friends" for
the past week or so. I'll write more here later in detail, but here's
a few quick comments:

I played 91 games (64 different games) with 105 different people. The
people were all great and I had a wonderful time. As for the "new"


Puerto Rico, TransAmerica, Pizarro, Pueblo


Alles im Eimer, How Ruck!, Clash of the Gladiators, Dschunke, Die
Sieben Weisen, Maginor, Zahltag


Goldland (though worth trying), Cairo, Lumberjack

I'll post more detailed comments soon.

Thursday, April 4, 2002

Im Marchenwald

I have an eight-year-old cousin who I've been giving board games as
gifts to for the past several years. It started out with Sagaland
(Enchanted Forest) and has gone from there. Well, about a year ago,
after Essen, I played Im Marchenwald with her.

Im Marchenwald is a cooperative memory game, in which you are trying
to rescue a princess by collecting 7 items before the evil dwarves
take her away. I played this once with adults, none of whom were
especially impressed or amused. The game itself is a nice twist on a
"Concentration" style game, in which you're trying to uncover a
particular kind of item. Once you've found it, that card tells you
the next item you're searching for. In addition to items, there are
the evil dwarves and a few other mostly bad cards. Not very
interesting for adults.

With a seven- or eight-year-old, however, this is a great game. It's
surprised me how much my cousin got involved in the narrative. She
was constantly nervous about the dwarves, and excited and enthusiastic
when a item was correctly discovered. The cooperative nature didn't
phase her at all. On other players turns, advice and suggestions were
given, but given the large number of cards (49), it's unreasonable to
remember any substantial fraction of the card flips. Instead you say,
"oh, I think the glass slipper was in that corner of the forest" and
another play says "Oh, I think it was along that edge" and you pick a
card. The game has great dramatic tension, and it seems well
balanced. That is, you usually win, but only if you are attentive and
fairly careful. If all players have bad memories, the dwarves will
get you.

In the end, the really impressive thing to me was how much fun it was
to play with a kid, while with adults it was dull. Sagaland, to me,
is about as equal with kids as with adults. Zapp Zerapp, similarly.
Im Marchenwald definitely benefits from a child's perspective.