July 31, 2006

Susan's Gulf Games 18 Report - Part 1

by Susan Rozmiarek

Our family just got back from Gulf Games 18, a fairly small, private gaming get-together of around 40 families (about 100 people including children) that takes place twice a year at various locations. This time it took place in Indiana, directly across the river from downtown Louisville, Kentucky. I hope to post a few reports over the next week or two, starting with this one, with some brief comments about the games that I played as well as a few of the non-gaming activities I enjoyed. Afterwards, I’ll wrap things up with some thoughts on the event itself.


We arrived in Louisville after a smooth and uneventful day of flying and got to our hotel with an hour or two to spare before going to the group dinner at an Irish pub. The food there was pretty decent and I enjoyed a bowl of lamb stew and soda bread with some hard cider to wash it down. It was a great way to kick things off and greet everyone. The pub had a big trivia game going on, but after a while we got bored with it and decided to get back to the hotel and turn in so we could get an early start to gaming the next day. Alas, the temptation was too strong. Despite the late hour, a full stomach and travel fatigue, it was hard to resist the siren call of gaming. After all, that was why we were here, right? I might as well get started as soon as possible.

Gift Trap

Greg Schloesser was teaching this new party game. Cards depicting various gifts were turned over and you had to secretly choose one to give to each player while secretly ranking them on how well you’d like to receive them yourself. You got points for correct matches in both presents you gave and those you received in a rather clever method of scoring. This game reminded me of my one playing of Apples to Apples which is definitely not a good thing. In order to guess well, you really need to know the people you are playing with. Now, the group I was playing with was great fun and made the most of the humor, but I was totally guessing as to what they would like as gifts. Die Macher and El Grande were not choices, I’m afraid. Also, many of the gifts were rather risqué. That, in and of itself, didn’t bother me other than making it unsuitable for family play. However, some of the gifts, such as breast augmentation or a divorce lawyer, could offend even a good friend if you gave it to them as a gift! Ugh. Pass.


I usually ease into the day at these things by playing a “fluffy” game or two. I’m not a morning person at all and I usually show up in the game room so late that I only have time for a short game before my family is clamoring to go out to lunch. This was also the first official day of Gulf Games and the big event later that evening was the Welcome Back party. Vickie and Greg (and others I’m sure) did a bang-up job devising a fun activity to get everyone to mix and get to know each other. The theme this time was "Take me out to the Games." Everyone was divided into baseball teams indicated by colored hats. A tournament between teams then ensued at various “baseball diamonds” around the room using baseball tees and little balls and bats, with the object being to hit the ball and have it land on different spaces on the floor representing hits. It was all rather silly but everyone, adults and children alike, got into the spirit of things and had a good time. Now on to the games I played that day:


I played this fast and fun classic with Craig Berg and several kids, including my own son, Shea. Shea had never played it before, despite the fact that we own it and have played it several times with the adult group. Now I feel silly, since it is a kid’s game and I’ve never tried it with my kids! Shea really liked the game especially given that he won handily. Go red bear! (I’m required to say that)

Cleopatra and the Society of Architects

Next up, Ward Batty taught this game to Tim Watson, Ed, Maria, and me. This is really a visually stunning game. All that eye candy has been calling out to me since the game was released. The chorus of voices claiming the game play was lacking had been holding me back from ordering it before I got to try it out. Fortunately, this agonizing purchasing decision was solved when Ed won a free copy of the game in a contest at BoardgameGeek. Yay, Ed! In this Egyptian themed game, players are literally building a 3-D model of a palace for Cleopatra. The box bottom is turned over and used as the main building and there are all sort of plastic components representing, sphinxes, obelisks, wall columns, and more. There is a garden on the top of the building where players will be building a mosaic around Cleopatra’s throne. This game is truly a sight to behold when it is finished! The game itself is a mishmash of familiar mechanisms, with only a bit here and there that feels original. All of the above items are built with different sets of collected resources, similar to Settlers of Catan. The turns are rather like Ticket to Ride where you either acquire resource cards or build but not both. Using a clever idea, the cards are shuffled so that some are face up and some are facedown and are then displayed in sets, with a card added to each after a player has taken a set. So, the sets of cards are usually of varying numbers of facedown and face up cards. When each part of the palace is built, the player building it earns “Talents” which are essentially victory points. The number earned depends on the part built. All these different ways to score are pretty fiddly, but players’ aids with the information are provided, thank goodness. The heart of the game seems to really be managing “corruption” as much as building the palace. Many of the cards are more powerful versions of the regular cards or have a special ability, but earn corruption when played. Corruption is represented by tokens that players keep hidden until the end of the game. The most corrupt architect at the end of the game automatically loses. Managing corruption seems to be the heart of the game and there are many times in the game where one is tempted to take corruption for some benefit. There are several ways to get rid of corruption, including by laying mosaic tiles in the garden. This is one of a couple of side mechanisms in the game that feels a bit tacked on. This particular one I enjoyed, as it requires a bit of spatial skills placing the tiles. Another one of these side bits was rather distracting, that of rolling dice to see if enough symbols are showing to require offerings to the Great Priest. If so, the game is paused to conduct a closed- fist offering of Talents (VPs) by each player. The Talents are lost and the one who offered the most loses corruption while all others take corruption. This part of the game, while not happening often, was both painful and annoying and one I could have done without. Overall though, I thought the game was fun and thematic, although I wouldn’t call it spectacular. I’d gladly play again and I’m very happy to own a copy.

Good grief. That was certainly a long and convoluted way of saying the game was very pretty and had some flaws but I liked it anyway!


This is one of my very favorite auction and building games. The auctions here are less painful than in other games because all of the losers of each auction get to divvy up the winner’s payment. So, it’s fun to try and bid things up so that you get more money and you know that eventually you’ll have enough to guarantee winning an auction. It’s also one of those games where you build something in front of you that other players can’t mess with directly. In this case, you “build” movies with actors, directors, special effects, etc. I love this type of game. Alan Moon proved to be the Movie Man, beating out Curt Churchill, Ward and Maria Batty, and me. I didn’t do so well this time around, but my production of Frankenstein took Best Picture one year.


Leon Hendee took Curt’s seat and we continued playing with this supposedly “civ-lite” game that has so many gamers salivating over its impending release. This was my second playing of the game, having played the prototype last year at BGG.con. I’m sorry to dash any hopes, but it’s definitely not civ-lite, in my opinion. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even sure I really liked the game at first, although after this second playing I most definitely do. It’s a very clean and elegant land-grabbing and majorities game that reminds me a bit of both Vinci and Evo. The theme is definitely a civilization one, but as everyone gets the same abilities at the nearly the same time (in a clever way that rewards the person holding the most land of a certain type), it doesn’t feel like a civilization game where one would expect more choices as to how to develop his empire. Right off the bat in this game, I felt like I was in a losing position. I ended up with a poor starting location squeezed in the middle with lots of mountains around that score nothing. Both times playing this game, I felt that I couldn’t get in sync with the game rhythm. I’d try to plan ahead and set myself to win the early advancements but instead always got beaten out. It was very frustrating and I wasn’t enjoying the game much. Since I had very little room to expand, I concentrated on getting out cities in my little area and was able attack my neighbor (sorry Maria!) for a little more space near the end of the game while her attention was elsewhere. Much to my surprise, I actually won the game! Perhaps it was because nobody considered me a threat and mostly left me alone, but I’m going to pretend it was my great skill and strategic plan. :-) While I’m not completely wowed by the game (yet – that could easily change with repeated play), I am looking forward to exploring the strategies further. It is definitely a clever and clean design that I bet will prove quite popular with many gamers once they get over the fact that it isn’t what many people were hyping/hoping it to be.

Rum & Pirates

Larry Chong agreed to teach this game to John Berry, Warren Madden, and me. Despite all the lukewarm reviews of this game floating around on the internet, I really wanted to try it. It is an Alea game after all, and its absence on our shelves means another hole in our numbered Alea collection. (We still need Fifth Avenue as well). It is also a pirate game and there can never be too many of those – arrrr! I’ll have to agree with the multitudes of others. This light family game sticks out as a pony amongst thoroughbreds in Alea’s stable of games. But, if you ignore that lofty label on the box and the expectations it creates, it is indeed a fun, light game. However, it is not without some flaws. First of all, it goes on a bit too long. This first playing was waaaay too long. Larry had only played the game once and had been taught it, so we had to refer to the rules often. And there are lots of fiddly rules for each location on the board. They are easily remembered after playing several rounds, but learning all the locations is very tedious at first. There is also a lot of dice rolling that can bog down. In our game two players were “having a drinking contest” at a tavern and trying to win a tile for victory points by rolling a die. The first player to roll a “six” would win it, but it took over half a dozen rolls before the tile was taken while the rest of watched in boredom. There is also a dice battle at the end of every round that can drag on too long. This part of the game was very inelegant and clunky and I didn’t enjoy it very much. Other than that though, there was plenty else to like. The decisions were fairly easy, but I enjoyed managing my pirates, money and rum. There was loads of luck, but ways to mitigate it somewhat. It’s probably not a game that Ed and I would have purchased, but we were pleased to pick it up off the prize table later.

There are loads of pictures of the games and festivities starting here. However, at the time of this posting, some do not have captions yet.

Stayed tuned for Part 2........................

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at July 31, 2006 3:19 PM

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