Gathering of Friends 2004

As a first time attendee of The Gathering of Friends, I'd like to first give an impression of the event itself. I've been to several Gulf Games now and have already experienced the giddiness of being in a room full of every game imaginable along with willing people to play them. I'd already figured out that while that aspect is very enjoyable, what was really going to give me the most joy was getting to see old friends and meeting many more that I knew of only by reputation or from online games and forums. It was a real treat to meet these people and see sides to their personalities that aren't as evident online. I found, just like I have at Gulf Games, that I ended up not playing nearly as many games as I thought I would because I would get distracted just talking to people.

While I definitely missed the smaller, more intimate atmosphere of Gulf Games, it was very interesting to see some of the inner cogs of our hobby at work. While many were just there to relax and enjoy playing games, the business side of the hobby was very much in evidence, with designers and publishers demonstrating prototypes and exchanging ideas. As a consumer at the very end of this business chain, it was fascinating to get a glimpse of the process.

Ed and I arrived late Wednesday afternoon and by Sunday morning I was so tired I felt ill. At Gulf Games I have my kids with me, ensuring that I attempt to get to bed at a decent hour as they'll be getting me up early. I eat regular meals with some nutritional value, and take frequent breaks with them that at least involve some form of exercise. Here, without my kids, I simply had no control or sense. I stayed up well into the wee hours of the morning, skipped meals and then gorged myself on junk food, and barely saw the outside of the game room. By the end of the weekend, the abuse was taking its toll. I don't see how others are able to do this for the full nine days. I will definitely have to be more disciplined next time. But, I sure had fun, even if I paid for it later!

I'd like to thank the many, many people who made this newcomer feel welcome. I'd also like to thank the patient folks who taught me new games and to others who went out of their way to come up and introduce themselves to me. And finally, a BIG thank-you goes to Alan Moon, for putting on a fabulous event and inviting Ed and me to be a part of it.

Now on to some of the games I played. I'm going to mostly just give my informal impressions of them. Many of the games were new to me, and the details are already becoming a bit fuzzy. I think the new crop of games is pretty strong, at least the ones I played, and my wallet is going to be taking a big hit in the coming months as they hit the store shelves.

San Juan

San Juan
After grabbing some food, we start off with a pretty popular choice San Juan.
I played this one twice, both with three and with four players. I lost badly both times. My first game I built a bunch of cheap buildings and tried to force the game to end. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough and the other two players were able to get some high scoring buildings out first. My second game I knew better but still came in last. I guess it will take a couple of plays to get a feel for the various cards and see if any strategies emerge. It's a pleasant game and could be a good introduction to Puerto Rico by teaching just a few of the basic mechanisms from that game. I haven't decided if it's worth purchasing or not.


Next up Alexandros with Chris Lohroff, Stephen "Balloon Cup" Glenn, Susan and Ed.
This was another new game for me. I'd heard complaints about it being too dry, but that particular criticism never deters me as I often enjoy those types of games and find them challenging. Alexandros had some really neat stuff going on in it, but I think repeated plays are going to be necessary to figure out the strategies. I liked how Alexander's movement tied into choosing cards. My biggest worry is the fact that in our four-player game, one player came in last place by about twenty points while the rest of our scores were fairly close. It didn't really seem that he played poorly and I'm not really sure how he could have improved his position. Again, more plays are needed but overall, my impression was a favorable one. It definitely felt original and different.


I normally run screaming away when I see a party game come out, but I actually played this one twice. I'm really glad I did as I enjoyed it both times. This game would fall flat with a resounding thud back home, but it was a hoot with the folks here. It was particularly amusing to play with Pat Brennan and his "screw the Aussie" accusations. Poor, poor, Pat. Nobody could get his clues and he couldn't get all our American references. Of course, I gave several clues that were terribly obvious and nobody could get my words either.

Ticket to Ride

I'd already played this at home and I got in two more playings in Columbus. This game seemed to be enjoying enormous popularity and deservedly so. It's easy to learn, tense, and fun. I had a practically perfect game. I ended it by laying every one of my trains in a continuous chain, getting me the longest route bonus plus 42 points with two valuable east-west destination tickets. I doubt I'll ever be able to top that.

Zircus Flohcati

Late night (around 2:00 AM) Zirkus Flohcati.
This is an excellent filler that is popular at home. I was more than happy to get to play it again here to end my first day at the Gathering.


One of the neat things I enjoyed at the Gathering was getting to play prototypes and games that haven't yet been released. Face2Face Games was showing a few of their upcoming goodies and I got to try Boomtown, a game by Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala. Oftentimes I find Bruno F.'s games a little too chaotic for my tastes, but I really enjoyed this one. It had just the right mix of chaos and strategy for a game of this type. I loved the western theme of building mines and it fit the game very well. There were some very clever and fun special cards as well as a really neat auction mechanism for choosing cards. My group at home is going to love this one.

I then played a really nice prototype from a well-known designer that Face2Face is considering. It has some challenges as far as components go, but if they are able to work those out it has a lot of potential and some very original ideas.

I really enjoyed meeting and playing games with Larry Whelan and David Hurd of Face2Face Games. They are super-nice guys and have a lot of neat stuff in the works.

Zoff im Buffalo

This is a seemingly light yet challenging bluffing game with cute cows. Unfortunately, it is out of print now. It had been a long time since I'd played this gem and my poor performance showed it. The experienced player of the group, Stven Carlberg, trounced the rest of us.

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg
Susan Reston, Anne Norton, Christine Biancheria and Susan Rozmiarek play St. Petersburg.
There were only a couple of copies of this game present and they were in high demand the entire event. I jumped at the chance to play at the invitation from Christine Biancheria, who had grabbed a copy freed up by the start of the Crokinole tournament. I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed this one, even though it took awhile for me to understand the flow of the game. It's a card-collecting, money-management and building game that I'd classify on the lighter end of middleweight. It had four distinct phases to a round with an interesting rotating start player mechanism for the phases. The graphics were really nice and the board, while not entirely necessary, kept everything tidy. I definitely plan to purchase this one.

Einfach Genial

Einfach Genia
Chris Lohroff, Jeff Ford, Susan and Ed play Knizia's Einfach Genial.
This caught my eye with its big, chunky plastic tiles and brightly colored symbols. That, and the fact that it's designed by Reiner Knizia. This is basically one of those tactical abstract games in the same vein as Tilez. You have a hand of tiles, each depicting two symbols. On your turn, you place one of these tiles on the board. You score points by placing it next to like symbols, hopefully forming rows of consecutive symbols which get points in that symbol's color for each one in the row(s). The new twist is the scoring system, which should be very familiar to fans of Knizia games. Each player has a mat to keep track of his points in each color. A player's final score is equal to that of his lowest color. So, this is essentially a simple game of finding the best placement from your hand of tiles and perhaps also blocking other players if possible. It's not too deep, but I enjoy the little tickle it gives my brain each turn and it certainly is pretty. Fans of Blokus and Tilez!, other similar games I enjoy, will probably like this one as well.

Dos Rios

Dos Rios
Larry Levy teaches Sarah Samuelson, Susan Rozmiarek, Mark Johnson and Leon Hendee
This game hit a sweet spot with me, with its tactical puzzle-like feel. It has the already familiar action point mechanism from games like Tikal in it. But, what really makes the game for me is the clever river mechanism and the ability to change its route to your advantage with dams. The theme fits almost perfectly with the goals and mechanisms too, which makes it easy to learn. I can see the potential for analysis paralysis with some players, however, and the potentially drastic changes to the board between turns are going to bother others. I'm thinking, though, that with experience, more possibilities for looking ahead will emerge.

Ma Ni Ki

This game has some of the most impressive animal bits I've ever seen in a game - an enormous wooden polar bear, elephant and lion that stack on each top of each other. Do not be deceived by the toy-like appearance, however. This is not just a simple child's game, but a speed brain-burner that is not unlike Ricochet Robots, although not as complicated. A card is turned over that depicts in which order the animals must be stacked and on which of two pedestals. There are a series of commands for the individual movements like moving the bottom animal to the top, or moving the top animal to the other pedestal. The commands each have a funny name, like " Ma" or "Ni" or "Ki." The first person to shout out a sequence of commands that gets the animals stacked correctly wins the card and a new one is flipped. This was a hoot to watch but I was truly only a spectator in my game. I'm WAY too slow.


This is an interesting little card game of dominating territories. It has some nuances to the play that I was only just starting to pick up on when our game ended. I definitely want to play again to see if I can figure them out. So far, I consider this one to be the best of the Uberplay small-box games.


This was the heavyweight game of the Gathering for me, as I never got the chance to play Fifth Avenue. Goa has been observed by others to share similarities to Princes of Florence with a dash of Industrial Waste and I agree somewhat with this conclusion, at least on a superficial basis. As in PoF, you are obtaining stuff via an auction to place and use in your own private playing area. Both games allow you the feeling of being able to manipulate a bit what others choose to auction and in both there seems to be very different paths to victory. Goa doesn't feel nearly as smooth and elegant as PoF though, because of all its fiddly special tiles. Your private playing area has several interrelated tracks that you choose between to improve, kind of similar to Industrial Waste, but much more complicated. I found myself totally immersed in the game, making the time pass more quickly than the 2+ hours it actually took. There is clearly much to explore here, and I think meat-lovers are going to go nuts over it.


Sarah Samuelson teaches Susan Rozmiarek Chebache.
Sarah Samuelson was kind enough to play a learning game of this with me to show me some of the strategies. It's a rather strange mix of Backgammon and Checkers with a smidgen of Chess. The board is very striking with its vivid black, red and white colors and geometric shapes. However, its bizarre appearance makes it difficult for new players to see the paths on which the pieces travel and where they intersect, which is very important to the gameplay. Thanks to Sarah's coaching, it's now a whole lot clearer. I'm looking forward to playing this now at home. Fans of Backgammon and those who like a little luck in their abstract games should check it out.

Cloud 9

When trying to decide which of our games to bring, I chose this older title thinking there might be some interest in it since it is going to republished by Out-of-the-Box Games. It's a light push-your-luck game that is a popular with my kids as well as with our adult group as a filler. Plus, it handles the awkward number of six players very well. The group I taught it to seemed to enjoy it a lot.

Apples to Apples

I finally hit a stinker as my last game of the Gathering. This game has such a vocal following that I had to try it and see what the fuss is all about. So, just what the heck is all the fuss about? Yuck. I think the game would have been more amusing if you could plead your case for your offering but I can see the game wouldn't really work that way. I think part of the problem was also the fact that I was mostly playing with strangers, which made it more difficult to guess what card would strike a chord with them.

Loads of pictures from Gathering of Friends trip can be found in the Gathering of Friends album in our Photo gallery.

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Copyright © 2004, Ed & Susan Rozmiarek