BGB at Gathering of Friends 2018

BGB at Gathering of Friends 2018

The Gathering of Friends remains a highlight of my gaming year. The trip to Niagara Falls (the US side) is worth it in order to get an early look at many games that the world will see later in the year at Spiel. As it happens, many games I really wanted to see last year were off the radar due to my intense last six months of life and work getting in the way of games. What can you do?

GOF for me this year was affected by a commitment to playtest a Legacy game that meant I would be playing a long series of the same game. I cannot comment on the game but I will say that it was certainly excellent and one people will be thrilled to see when it finally sees the light of day. I also happily had a chance to playtest both of my front-burner games: Theme Park and Cosplay Showdown (recently renamed).

What follows is a brief list of played games that I had a chance to try out (part 1):

Keyflow

Richard Breese’s excellent card game version of his hit game, Keyflower, is a prototype I sought out after recommendations from many other people at the Gathering. The various mechanisms that made Keyflower so popular are there, including the ability to use a building built by others, different worker types, and the farmland expansion theme. Many elements of the original are simply boiled down into cards instead of a map, Breese has made a lighter take on the game’s place-and-upgrade concept. While the theme doesn’t engage me particularly, I like the mechanisms and look forward to playing it more when it arrives later in the year. Richard said it is scheduled for a Spiel 2018 release. As you can see below, I was not alone in my appreciate for his latest game.

The Mind

If there was a game of the convention, it was The Mind. This ridiculously simple concept takes The Game and amps up the experience by providing players with a more open play style. You need to ‘read the mind’ of the other players to play your cards that go from 1-100 in ascending order during the game. Beginning with one card and scaling up from there depending on the number of players, you need to simply drop the cards in the right order into the pile in the middle of the table. There are no turns; you just decide if you’re the one with the next highest card to play.

The only thing is: Your only clues to determine whether you should play are the non-verbal cues of your fellow players. No words or real signs are to be passed, but you find ways. While I played the game with many people, I seemed to do best with Richard Breese and Rik Van Horn, although we lost on Level 6. Playing with my buddy Jeff was pretty solid as well, but you never know whose brainwaves might work best.

If you get into a bind, there are shuriken stars that can be used to force everyone to discard their lowest card. To ‘throw one,’ all players must raise their hands in unison, agreeing that they do not have confidence in their next play. This both gets you out of the bind and gives you a sense of the lay of the land with the remaining player hands.

If you fail to collectively play the cards in consecutive order, you lose a glowing ghost bunny card – which is somehow ‘a life.’ Yes, some of those sentences had odd moments, didn’t they? The theme of The Mind appears to involve incorporeal rabbit ninjas. I don’t understand it either but the game is a winner and it was in constant play at the Gathering. It’s due out from Pandasaurus Games soon and it will be a hot item. Pre-order now!

Transatlantic

A new-to-me game that I wanted to play since this came out at Spiel in 2017, I Gathering of Friends 2018expected to like it because Concordia from designer Mac Gerdts is one of my favorite recent games. This one takes much of the feel of his previous game and changes the theme to be ships in the transition from the age of sail to the age of steam. There’s still this vaguely deck-building thing going on, but it’s suppressed even further by less frequent opportunities to add to your options. Instead, you buy ships based on their age, speed, cargo capacity, and tonnage.

These elements help you place the ships into service on certain ocean boards, which can only contain three ships at a time. When ships sail (some of the deck cards lets you do this), you get cash. When they are inevitably pushed out of the sea by newer, better ships, you score the ships based on your investment in that type of ship, with bonuses based on previously retired ships in that category. The various cards give you powers to optimize, break and manipulate rules as you acquire ships, sometimes providing a little money to opponents when you call for all ships in an ocean to sale, and plan for their eventual trip to the scrap heap after a few coal-driven voyages.

This may seem like a lot but it is maybe even lighter than Concordia in some ways. The concepts of the Prefect, Diplomat and the like are present in this buy, ship and invest game but I enjoyed how Gerdts reimplemented many of them into similar ideas to keep the feel of Concordia without just duplicating it. I liked Transatlantic quite a bit and expect to acquire it in the days ahead.

Merlin

This collaboration from the reliable Stefan Feld and the similarly so
Michael Rieneck is a solid middleweight euro with an enjoyably integrated theme Gathering of Friends 2018that shines in the components and some mechanisms. Players use a kind of rondel to acquire items and enact actions, using dice that command how far you can move. In addition to your ‘knight’ dice that only let your pawn move clockwise around the Round Table Rondel (which kind of reminds me of Burgen Land), you also get a Merlin die each turn that lets you move clockwise or counter so. But he’s a neutral pawn so timing your move is an issue if others are out to take their turn first. This works well and you play it over the course of six rounds, with attacks from brigands and such happening every other turn (like so many Feld ‘punishment’ mechanisms). Publisher Queen’s production quality helps, too, with flag, staff and shield tokens looking good. While there are many things going, this is Feld in approachable mode like Notre Dame. While not everyone likes Stefan Feld’s ‘point salads’ (as we call now derisively reference what we used to lovingly call ‘multiple paths to victory’), the ones that successfully blend the flavors win me over big time (Castles of Burgundy does, Luna does not). I’d called Merlin a solid entry into his ludography. I don’t need to buy it right away but I’d probably trade to get it and explore the system more.

Gathering of Friends 2018

 

Karuba: The Card Game

The SDJ nominee has staying power for our group and Gathering of Friends 2018the clever, quick card game version may join it on my shelves if I can find it for a decent price. While Karuba plays in 30 minutes and feels like a real game, the card game can be knocked out in 15 minutes and it STILL feels pretty solid. You’re still trying to get your adventurers to their color-coded treasures with tiles that include paths through the jungle. Players ‘bid’ two tiles a turn, with the lowest total losing a tile each round. Then, you play the tiles to connect the explorers with their color-coded temple without running over each other but hopefully both using good paths that will help you pass gold and crystals along the way. It’s fast and will appeal to casual gamers just as the original did.

More to come later in the week…

Movie Review: The Next Great American Game by Doug Morse

Movie Review: The Next Great American Game by Doug Morse

In a way, I find it difficult to write review of these films about the board game industry. Having spentOne_Man_s_Quest_large most of my life in the hobby, I know it well so I can speak from an informed point of view. I certainly know some of the people involved and have attended events where they are filmed (our own Strategicon conventions here in Southern California, BGG.con, the Gathering of Friends, Spiel in Essen, etc.) so there’s an odd little connection to the subjects at hand. Plus, some of them don’t seem to be aimed at me; they are more introductory or targeted to an audience who is new to the hobby or just trying to get some insight into what our little world is like. Those documentaries serve a good purpose and I’m glad they exist.

In general, the documentary films (these geek culture ones are sometimes called ‘geekumentaries’) that appeal to me the most are those that don’t tell the story of a world in a reverential way. I like them, as they say, ‘warts and all.’ I want the films to be real in their depiction of the world inside a hobby or subculture even when it means we’ll laugh at the people a bit.

Maybe the inspiration comes from Trekkies, the geekumentary done in 1997 by Roger Nygard. I love the film so much because it is funny and it wasn’t afraid to show its participants in the direct light. I’m not a Trekkie and never was but this film gave me insight into the cult, made me laugh, and also told some stories that affected me. The film is so entertaining, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it thrice (not common for me). Not so the sequel, which seems to have been made by someone else (it wasn’t) who wanted to dignify the subculture rather than telling real stories. I saw a similarly respectful geekumentary about Lord of the Rings fans that made it sound like these folks were leading incredibly fulfilling and worthwhile lives because they spent all this time thinking about fantasy worlds and dressing up like hobbits. I fell asleep watching it (and it wasn’t very late that night).

Maybe some people want to watch these films to get reassurance that their subculture/hobby/cult is the best, justifies their lack of success in other aspects of life or whatever but that’s not why I watch them. As I expect of any kind of art, I want to be educated in a way that isn’t just factual. I’m seeking an experience to learn more about the human condition. That’s what I love about great books, art, film, popular music, and television.

imagesThere are other good examples. The Dungeon Masters was successful in this way; the lives of the subjects were laid bare. Their hobby took a toll on what else they could do in life and yet they allowed the filmmakers to tell their stories. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a rare geekumentary that achieves nirvana through a real-life plot, villains and heroes, and wonderful performances of the cast being their own crazy selves. Some of the same people have appeared in other documentaries on the subject that fell short because the filmmakers just didn’t find the human drama in the story that Seth Gordon did. The Monopoly film from a few years back did a pretty good job of this, too, although my friend Ken Koury will tell you that he is NOT the villain of the story; he’s the hero. Either way, it’s a solid yarn that draws you in. UnknownA quick mention of Monster Camp is in order as well. While LARPing has a generally high laugh-at-the-freaks factor, the film depicts the challenges these folks experience in a real way.

It’s with this high standard (and 600-word introduction) that I finally come to the film I watched last night, The Next Great American Game. Created by Douglas Morse, TNGAG tells the story of a Graphic Design professor, Randall Hoyt, trying to get his board game published. Now, I know dozens and dozens of budding designers as a result of being part of play testing groups and conventions and I thought I was sitting down to watch the struggle that I hear about all the time. I know so many talented designers who were longtime experts at games, started building games in their spare time, and eventually began the hunt for a publisher, working all the angles they could based on their long experience in the hobby.

TNGAG is not about one of those people. Instead, it’s about a guy from New Hampshire who just made a game about something that apparently interested him (um, driving in traffic) and played it with his small group of friends for about five years before packing up and heading to the biggest game convention in the US (GenCon) to pitch it to publishers. He keeps saying he’s not a designer and even expresses frustration playing eurogames (“too much thinking!”). As I watched, I could only giggle at how he did just about everything a novice game designer isn’t supposed to do: refused good feedback, failed to know his market, and showed clearly to everyone he encountered that he was waytooclose to his game (which sounds pretty lousy from a eurogamer’s perspective, despite a gorgeous prototype). Some of the publishers he seeks out are nice to him, some of them are more forthright. This part of his odyssey is perhaps funnier to me because he’s turning down advice from people that I know personally and can confirm that he should be taking notes instead of having these wacky freakouts about how they just don’t get him and the fact that he’s clearly created “The Next Great American Game” (he keeps saying that, generating a bigger laugh each time). Keep in mind that, for him, that’s a description of another Monopoly, not another Ticket to Ride or Qwirkle or Kingdom Builder. He’s thinking mass-market, $5-a-box on Black Friday stuff, not a euro that gaming snobs like me would respect (and play).

As the film progresses, you learn more about our hero, including some details about his personal life that temper the chuckles a bit. We also learn about another successful game-like product he’s created that shows a bit of why he has such confidence in his obviously under-developed game. The journey he takes as the film progresses is enjoyable to watch as he accepts more of what people suggest and starts to learn what it is going to take to actually sell his game. I won’t spoil the full progress and details of the film but I was thoroughly engrossed in his journey and recommend it for people who want to see a depiction of a human being struggling to get something done that he thinks will be easy because he worked so hard at it, only to find out the world isn’t so simple. There many times when Morse captures poignant moments that look to be spontaneous and I hope they really were. There’s some snarky fun for those who know the industry a bit. Mostly, though, it’s just a satisfying human story that I was happy to take in.

Oddly and perhaps pointing to my suspicion that Morse set out to make a different movie, the extras have Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 6.23.37 PMa bunch of interviews with terrific game designers. Who in our hobby wouldn’t enjoy listening to Reiner Knizia, Klaus Teuber, and Alan Moon talk about games? You have something wrong with you if you don’t get drawn into Matt Leacock and Eric Lang (two of the nicest designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting) sheepishly interviewing each other and then finding gold in each other’s comments. I couldn’t stop smiling while watching the snippet on Antoine Bauza, another masterful designer who is an interesting interview because he’s such an expressive, smart, and interesting guy. The extras are a terrific bonus even if they feel like they are leftovers from another project. Honestly, I didn’t follow the campaign for the Kickstarter on “Adventures on the Tabletop” much. If your Kickstarter has long updates, I rarely read them unless I’m wondering where the $&#*$ my game has gone missing (a lot of that right now with the Port of Los Angeles shipping issues). Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of noting that almost 1,500 words into my rather gonzo review of The Next Great American Game. Regardless, I’m unclear as to whether a separate film called Adventures on the Tabletop that is more like those survey kind of films will be showing up in an update at some point with insight into actual game design techniques and not whatever Randall has been doing for five years. The extras (juicy and watchable Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 6.23.25 PMas they are) suggest to me that the answer is no since Morse seems to have focused on this quirkier, more intriguing story. Thank goodness he did because TNGAG is a small wonder.

The Next Great American Game is available from the BGG store and I recommend you pick it up. Watch the preview below and then go buy it, buddy.