Tuesday and WednesdayWe started our journey about 3pm Tuesday afternoon, after the kids got home from school. We ended up driving about five hours, with a short stop for dinner in Houston, and spent the night at a very new, very empty Best Western in Lake Charles, La. The next morning we drove an uneventful eight hours to Pensacola. I never realized how much of Louisiana is under water (or nearly so). We spent about 20 minutes on a single long bridge going over a one big swamp! We arrived in Pensacola in the late afternoon. After admiring the very festive game room, Greg took us out on the back deck of the hotel to see the view. My jaw drooped. Miles and miles of empty, sunny, white beaches and clear blue water. How was I ever going to choose between gaming and….this? After soaking in the gorgeous scenery for a few minutes, it was back to the game room to greet old friends and meet some new ones before going to a group dinner at Crabs, a tourist-y seafood restaurant next to the hotel. After getting back from dinner, we were so exhausted that we decided to retire early. Hence, I only got in one game and it was a light one:
Jumbo Grand PrixThis was the first of three older games that Stven was to introduce to me over the four days. My fellow mechanics were Stven, Ed, Chris Comeaux and Leon Hendee. This one is a Knizia game, and surprisingly, it is not a racing game. Instead, it is a pleasant little filler about building the best racecar. The cards come in four colors, each representing a different part of the car. You must choose cards from upturned discard piles or from the facedown stack and try to build the best combination before the end of the round. It was nothing to rave about, but I liked it, and would definitely pick it up if I found a cheap copy. Ed out-built the competition for the win and I garnered a respectable second place. Not bad for someone who can't even change the oil filter in her own car, eh?
Rested after a good night's sleep and fueled by the hotel's great, free breakfast, I was ready for the first official day of Gulf Games. More and more people were arriving and the game room was humming. The weather was gorgeous yet again, and my kids forced me outside to supervise them swimming in the hotel's heated pool and to walk along the beach collecting shells. I really didn't mind it however, as it seemed a shame to stay inside the entire day and forget about all this loveliness outside. And anyhow, I still managed to play plenty of games.
That evening was the welcome party, which always marks the official start of Gulf Games. The theme was a giant beach party with everyone wearing their best (or worse in some cases!) beach attire. To get into the game room, you had to pass under a Limbo stick. The Watsons and Schloessers did a fabulous job with the decorations, which even included a big tiki hut! With all the colorful decorations and the beach music in the background, it was a very festive atmosphere. After Greg's opening speech and awards were given out for costumes, it was time for the big group Take It Easy tournament. After that, it was open gaming until well into the wee hours. Now, on to games I played that day:
RaMy first game of the morning was this classic, with Mindy Engelberg, Julie Weston, Stven Carlberg and James Miller. I usually do quite well at this game and came in second behind Mindy Engelberg. What was really nice was sitting down to a game and jumping right in with no rules explanation required. This rarely happens with my group at home as we are always bringing new games and new gamers to the table. I also learned that Ra can indeed be played without those lovely, color, players' aids. I didn't even miss them although I do feel they are handy for beginners.
China MoonAfter playing this as a slightly different homemade version, I wanted to try the real thing and so jumped at the chance when I saw it being brought out. My fellow players were Julie Weston, Elaine and Chris Lohroff and Greg Schloesser. I must say, it was much nicer playing on the pretty board and with colorful rubber frogs. Still, it fell a bit flat for me, although I can't put my finger on it as to why. The game is solid, but just didn't keep my interest. The fact that I was losing throughout the game didn't help my opinion, but I don't think it was just that. The others at my table seemed to enjoy it much more than me.
SantiagoThe first game off my "must play" list and Rick Thornquist was kind enough to teach it, although he didn't play, to Ty and Kenny Douds, Stven Carlberg, Christine Simundson and me. It ended up being the best new game I played. I'd heard this was just a bunch of repetitive auctions, but it turned out be an interesting tile-laying game as well. And I looove those. Add in a really neat mechanism about placing canals that plays into both the auction and the board activity and adds bribery as well and you get a winner. This game really clicked with me and moved to my "must buy" list. Ty won our game, but the scores were very close
Res PublicaThis game, for some reason, is stuck in my head as Res Republica. This one is another Knizia title from Stven's collection that was published a few years ago and completely overlooked by me. It is a trading and set collecting card game that distinguishes itself from others by having some interesting limitations on the trading. I liked it. Playing with Stven and me were Jeff Stephens, Chris Comeaux and Kim McCarthy.
Take It EasyThis was the big tournament, with a whole room full of players participating and Stven Carlberg calling out the tiles. It feels a lot like bingo. This time I surprised myself and got my best score ever, 175, which was enough to put me in third place overall. Instead of putting nines in the center row like I usually do, I put them off to the sides and placed fives down the center instead.
TongiakiThis was another new game I wanted to try. I had previously watched a game of it on BSW, so I already had a feel for it. Unfortunately, I didn't really care for this one. Maybe it is better with fewer players, but with four it felt too random. I felt like I was watching a game, not playing one. It did seem that most folks who tried it did like it, so maybe it just isn't my cup o' tea. Kim Berg won our game with other players Mark Engelberg and Ed.
OasisDespite the late hour, I couldn't turn down an invitation to play Oasis with Larry Levy, Chris Jones, Ian Borthwick and Warren Madden. This was one of the games on my "must try" lists. It's a tile-laying game where you are trying to get large, contiguous groups of like tiles and the matching chits that allow you to score them. The placing of tiles on the board such that you block other players while trying to leave yourself safe room to expand reminded me somewhat of New England. All actions are accomplished by playing appropriate cards and the cards are acquired via a swapping round that reminded me a lot of Nicht die Bohne. The turn order for each round was also cleverly wrapped into this phase of the game. I thought the game was very good and I enjoyed it, but it did have what some would consider a flaw. Players can suffer greatly from bad card draws that can stick them in a cycle of being at or near the bottom of the turn order, and subsequently not get a good choice of actions. This could include not being able to get the chips you need to score your groups. In our game, the point spread was pretty wide (80, 68, 56, 36, 30) with Warren racking in those scoring chips (which are cumulative multipliers) and winning big over the rest of us.
FridayFriday was pretty much devoted to games for me. There are no official events scheduled other than the ongoing Crokinole tournament. Not being a Flicker, I stayed far, far away from that one. I did take a few breaks to enjoy the beach with the kids, of course. There were a few rain showers about so the day wasn't quite as pretty. This gave me an excuse to play more games with a clear conscience!
MayaI sat down to this with Larry Levy, Chris Comeaux and Joe Huber. This was my second playing of this game and I again found it very solid and enjoyable. The other players at my table were less impressed and commented that it wasn't bad but lacked a certain spark. I did find out we were playing a couple of rules wrong back home, including one which will lessen the power of the action chip that negates a -3 card.
Finstere FlureThis playing almost seemed too easy, without the special chits and with only one monster. My last playing of this had been with two monsters, which turned the game into a blood bath! We had a couple of new players to the game, including nine-year-old Jay Canova and his dad Keith, along with Kyle Berg and Lenny Leo. Always fun and exciting, this turned out to be one of the few games I won the entire weekend.
Railroad DiceTantalized by the good buzz and the difficulty and expense of finding a copy, I was delighted to get a chance to try this game. Greg was kind enough to teach Ed, Chris Comeaux, Warren Madden and me the rules, which were very hard for me to comprehend at first. After a few rounds I finally figured out what dice behind the screen were used for versus dice in front of the screen, which was causing me the most confusion. The small map off to the side was also hard for me to relate to the actual scrolling board at first. After playing the game now, I can't quite decide whether I liked it or not. The small map was clever, as was the unique use of dice to build railroads and do other actions. I also like the push-your-luck element. What I didn't like was how the game played out. The first part was focused on trying to build networks with your initial companies and trying to block others from doing the same. The latter part of the game, however, came down to vicious conflicts over the better positioned, valuable companies with ownership constantly passing back and forth. The ease at which another player could take away your company and capitalize on all your earlier efforts was a bit too frustrating and dissatisfying to me. It also seemed to suffer from a "rich get richer" problem, with the leader getting more dice with which to work. The leader throughout our entire game was Chris, although Ed came close to beating him but for a simple error he made. I need to play this again to firm up my opinion on it. I hate to pan a game that seems to have potential based on just one playing.
CareersBelieve it or not, I had never played this old family classic. I'd heard Stven sing its praises before though, so I was curious as to what I'd missed. Well, what a hoot it turned out to be. This was due in no small part to the fact that I was playing with Stven, James Miller and Michael Weston, a crazy group if there ever was one. The game was also a very outdated 1950s edition that was quite humorous from a modern viewpoint. The game itself really isn't all that bad for a roll-and-move. Players tweak their own victory conditions, which are kept hidden, and this allows for differing strategies. In addition, there are cards in the game that can help mitigate the luck of the die. I did horribly, myself, spending much of time keeping the park bench warm. After a couple of failed uranium expeditions, I finally found my true calling with a simple farming career. I never was a high achiever. Anyway, what great fun. I immediately starting searching for a copy on eBay upon returning home and have already managed to snag one for a mere $3.
CoyoteThis game was enjoying such enormous popularity that it was only a matter of time before I was cornered into a game. Despite how silly it looks while playing (just look at the pictures), who could resist a game with Chris Lohroff, Philip Sasse, James Miller, Angela Gaalema and Jeanette Vander Ark? Not me, and so I reluctantly donned the headband. My apprehensions were justified when I heard the rules and realized how similar this game is to Liar's Dice. I am absolutely dismal at that game. Coyote turned out to be even worse. In Liar's Dice you know how many dice are in play and can use probabilities to help you out. In our game of Coyote, the deck of cards was being constantly reshuffled with the discards so any card was a possibility most rounds. Ugh. I was, as I predicted, the first one out. Despite this not being my kind of game, the company was stellar which made it fun and I can definitely see this as being a good icebreaker at a party of non-gamers or at an older kid's party. As a matter of fact, the kid at our table, Jeanette, won the game.
ZendoAh, now on to MY kind of game. I love this game but I can't get my group to play it at home. They see it as an activity not a game. So, Gulf Games is the only chance I get to play it. I was very disappointed that "Master" Ted Cheatham would not be attending this time, but luckily there were several others wanting to play. I played three games with Derk Solko, Cary Cleaver, Angela Gaalema, Michael Weston and Philip Sasse. For some reason this type of thinking (inductive reasoning) comes easily to me and I won the two games in which I was a student. Derk's problem was the hardest, with the rule being a total of three pips on grounded, prone pyramids. I did lousy as the Master, with Derk quickly and easily figuring out my rule.
Electronic TabooAaaiiyee!!! How did I get roped in to playing another party game?!? This time it was with Cary Cleaver, Derk Solko, Michael Weston, Jim Fairchild, Ward Batty, Emma Labranche and Mark Engelberg. I was assured that even a non-party girl like me could handle this one and besides, given it's played with teams, I figured any humiliation would be shared. It actually turned out to be very fun, even though my team didn't do so well. Apparently, this electronic version is rare and highly sought after. It was Michael Weston's copy that he had picked up at KB Toys for a mere $10.
ColorettoOnce again, I'd stayed up way too late but couldn't let go of the gaming, so I agreed to One Last Game with Chris, Derk, Ward and Mark. This is a pretty easy game with light decisions that I always enjoy. Our scores were very close, ranging from 24 to 35, with Derk taking the win.
SaturdayAlas, the last day for us was here. We were going to have to make an early start of our journey back home Sunday morning so it was time to cram in as much gaming and visiting as possible today. Saturday is one of the busier Gulf Games days, with a Liar's Dice tournament in the morning and the prize table and awards in the evening. In addition to those, this time there was a sandcastle competition on the beach in the afternoon. Of course, in keeping with the event, the creations had to be related to a game somehow. The weather was perfect and the entries were awesome. My son Kevin, along with Sam Vander Ark and Timothy McCarthy, built the toaster from Schäppchen Jagd and the castillo from El Grande. They didn't win, but did a great job. It was funny to see some of the diehard gamers actually pry themselves from the game room to emerge on the beach, squinting in the bright sun, to see the creations. I'm not sure if some of them were even aware there was a beach nearby!
The prize table and awards are always fun, if not a bit depressing because it signals that Gulf Games is almost over. I can't remember the winners of all the contests, but a few stick out in my mind. Ed and his partner Phillip Sasse won the Crokinole tournament. Ed tied Angela Gaalema for first on James Miller's "Spot the Game" contest. James had made a poster with pictures of game bits and parts and you had to identify the games they were from. The fact that Ed did so well clearly indicates that we own too many games! The Hubers won the sandcastle competition for an excellent reproduction of Liar's dice using shells for the pips and stars on the dice. Angela Gaalema won the women's category for "Friendliest Gamer." This is a really neat idea to help foster the friendly and social atmosphere of Gulf Games. Charts are kept on the walls with everyone's names on them and you mark off people as you play games with them. Winners for the "Friendliest Gamer" goes to the man, woman, and child who play games with the most people. I was happy to see Angela, a first time Gulf Gamer get into the spirit of things and take home the prize.
The prize table had some excellent selections this time, with several copies of rare games. We were able to snag one of these, Ave Caesar, as our first choice. New this time was also the bazaar in the tiki hut, which was full of items donated by everyone, representing the region where they are from. Normally these are grouped into gift baskets and given out as prizes, but this time people got to "shop" for items when they went up to make a selection from the prize table. I thought this worked pretty well as it included everyone in the enjoyment of these goodies instead a just a few.
Now on to the games I played:
TrendyLight and fun, I played this with Earl Bailey, Michelle Corbin, Jim Fairchild and Chris Comeaux. I first encountered this game at Gulf Games 10 and it's nice to see it still being played.
Liar's DiceThis was the big tournament, with over half a dozen tables of shaking and rattling dice. What a racket! Given that the game room was located just off the main entrance of the hotel, I can only wonder what passing strangers thought was going on in here. This time I was actually not the first person to go out at my table. I was second. Woohoo, I've improved!
TransAmericaThis was more fluffy fun with Earl, Michelle, Chris and Kim. I couldn't connect my routes to save my life, even when I had good city cards.
LogisticoThis game is a current favorite of mine. There has been some discussion on the internet forums that this game favors the players earlier in the turn order. Since Philip Sasse and I had played before, we took the 3rd and 4th seats, letting newcomers Michael Weston and Chris Comeaux take the 1st and 2nd spots. And guess what? Experience won out. The more I play this game, the more I start setting up my moves with later deliveries and higher payouts in mind. The first few lucky deliveries just don't matter as much. It takes several playings to begin to see how to effectively use one's vehicles together, especially the plane. I remain unconvinced that the starting payer has a significant advantage and find the argument useless if made by a person who hasn't played the game several times. Our scores: Philip (3rd seat) 59, Susan (4th seat) 57, Chris (2nd) 36 and Michael (1st) 17.
Anno 1503With the day wearing on, it was time to try to get in another game off my "must try" list. Ben Baldanza, who taught it to me along with Ward Batty and Chris Comeaux, dubbed this one "Settlers of Puerto Entdecker". It turned out to be an apt description, as elements of the game reminded me of the others. As a matter of fact, the game takes some of the best bits of those games, adds a few and comes together in a way that hits a sweet spot for me. Others have criticized this game for lacking player interaction and this is certainly somewhat true, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing for me. It's building game, an exploration game, and a resource management game all rolled into one with a theme that really fits. There really isn't much opportunity to smack other players in this game, which some people are going to find boring. I found it pleasant and think my family will enjoy it quite a bit.
Deduce or Die!Larry Levy offered to show Elaine Lohroff, Julie and Michael Weston and me one of his own creations, a deduction game. There was no way I was going to refuse, as I really enjoy deduction games. Now mind you, I'm not saying I'm good at them, just that I enjoy the challenge. The hardest part for me is figuring out an effective recording method, one that doesn't progressively turn into a page full of jumbled chicken scratches. Larry's game was particularly challenging in this respect. Sure enough, about midway through the game, I realized that I had made an error and the possible cascading effect made many more errors likely. Surprisingly enough, when everyone's cards were revealed at the end, I had only made mistakes on two of them and had many of the others correct. This made me feel a little better. I also have some ideas now about how to track the information better and really want to try it again. Larry won the game but Julie almost made an amazing comeback after also making an error. The rules for the game are archived at The Games Journal. The game requires a few standard decks of cards and I highly recommend it to fans of deduction games as it is quite original and clever.
SummaryWell, that was it for games for me. My brain was officially fried and I could play no more. I hung about in the game room visiting with people until very late, not wanting the event to end and knowing that it would be many months (or more) before I would see everybody again. Finally, half-asleep and needing to be somewhat alert for the drive the next day, I said my good-byes, did some packing and went to bed. The following morning there were a few more sad good-byes as we loaded up the car and started a 12 hour, uneventful drive back to Texas. None of us were happy about leaving, especially the kids. They boo-ed every time we crossed a state line! Gulf Games is truly a special event and remains the highlight of the year for our family. With each one we add new friends to an already wonderful group. Nothing can compare to it and I'm thrilled that my family and I will always have these fabulous memories and friendships.
Loads of pictures from Gulf Games 13 can be found in the Gulf Games 13 album in our Photo gallery.
This page viewed times since March 1, 2004.
E-mail Ed Rozmiarek with questions or problems concerning this page.
Copyright © 2004, Ed & Susan Rozmiarek