So, I flew to Columbus, OH were the convention was being held. I gathered up my suitcases and headed off to find the free van to the hotel. Eventually I found the hotel pick up site, but I wasn't sure if I had to call or what. I asked if anyone knew how to get to the hotel and it turned out that someone else was there waiting to go to the Gathering as well. His name was Frank and we talked while we waited. It turns out that Frank is a UNIX sysadmin from Atlanta; a very nice goofy guy with hair about as long as Russ', if not longer. We ended up waiting over an hour because of a snafu with the van; the guy driving it had been told we were waiting to go to the airport rather than to pick us up... However, it did give Frank and I a chance to talk about various games and what to expect at the Gathering.
We arrive at the hotel, which looks nice enough from the outside. I had arranged that I would meet my soon-to-be roommate down in the gaming room on Monday night. The GoF officially started on Tuesday, but there was also the Opening Days events which started on Saturday, so some people had been there already a couple of days. I walked into a large room with maybe 50 people in it, scattered around at various tables, most of them playing games, and looked around. After a minute or so, a lady walked up wearing a name tag and introduced herself as Tami. She also said, "Alan says he doesn't know you. Please come over and introduce yourself." She took me over to where Alan was playing a game of hearts and I was introduced to Alan. He was a very amiable fellow, but involved in a game, so I let him get back to it.
My roommate must have heard my name because he came over very soon after that and introduced himself. He was also in a game, so I procured a key to the room and went up to drop things off there and then came back down to the gaming area. I wandered from table to table for a while looking at what people were playing as well as the stacks of games on tables against the walls. My first game there was with my roommate Bruce and a couple of others, a game called Loopin' Louie. It's a very silly dexterity game with a plane on the end of a rotating beam. As the plane rotates to your position, you try to bump the plane up and over coins that are sticking up in your area. If Loopin' Louie hits all three of your coins and knocks them out of play, you are out of the game. When you bump the plane back up over your coins, you are also trying to get the plane to bounce in such a way that you hit one of your opponent's coins. 4 people can play. I was not very good at the game at first, but we played several rounds and eventually I got the hang of it and managed to win one or two games. This has been released by Disney in the US in a two player version as Barn Buzzin' Goofy (I think that's the name).
Soon after that, I heard someone asking for people to start a game. It went like this quite frequently. Someone got free from a game or just arrived, would want to start a game, and would ask around until enough players were found.
Essentially, the heart of the Gathering of Friends was a giant Russcon. People just got together and played games the whole time. If you needed a break, you took one. If you didn't know how to play something, people were more than willing to teach you. Everyone was very friendly; there were always people interested in playing a game, but of course, not always the particular game that you were trying to play. I think one of the coolest things about it was that most everyone brought games and just left them on tables. If you wanted to play a game of something, you simply found a copy and borrowed it and then returned it to the same place. With approximately 180 people there for most of the convention, that was a lot of games! I saw a lot of games that are rare, out of print, expensive, etc., but it was not a problem. From what I've been told, no game has ever disappeared and been from the stacks along the walls. Now that's not to say that no piece has ever been mislaid or anything like that, but everyone seemed to be careful and respectful of other people's property.
For the next 6 days, I pretty much played games and occasionally took breaks for food, sleeping, etc. At the end, I give a list of the games that I played and where appropriate, a little description. There were also a couple of special events. There was a "laid back" scavenger hunt with teams of people. I got assigned to the British team and we didn't do very well, coming in last. It turned out that we were too laid back and didn't gather up much of the stuff for the hunt. :) There was also a treasure hunt with lots of puzzles and information gathering. I didn't take part in that, but I heard it was quite a bit of fun. The man who ran it evidently now designs and runs scavenger hunts professionally as a full time job!
The last aspect of the convention was a prize table. Everyone was expected to bring a prize for the convention. As it turned out many people brought more than one. There were tables reserved for the prizes and everyone had to present their prize donation to Alan (to ensure that everyone brought something worthwhile). There were three tourneys most days; these were small affairs that were simple single elimination deals. If you won first place in the tourney, then you would get placed among the first picks for the prize table, but other than that, the only way to get a better pick was to register early than others for the convention. Because everyone had to bring a prize, everyone also got a prize; as a matter of fact, this year everyone ended up getting three picks from the prize table. Of course, the rarer items went pretty quickly, but there was still plenty to choose from on my first pick. I chose an unopened copy of Pony Express, an older Alan Moon game that I had been eyeing from time to time. On my second pick, I got a copy of a card game Ohio, from Dr. Knizia, to add to my collection. On my third pick, only card games were left, and I took a Halloween themed game called Grusel Wusel. There were also a couple of novelty picks, like a can of live white spiders that has come back almost every year to the prize table and a can of armadillo roadkill that has also come back frequently.
Overall, it was an immensely fun experience. The people were great; very nice and friendly, always willing to teach games such. I think I made several new friends there and I've even been invited to a convention at someone's home for his friends in New York this summer, although I don't think I'll be able to go. It was a completely different experience than Avaloncon/World Boardgaming Championships. There the focus is definitely on the tourneys and winning; here it was just about having fun. Oh and there's one more thing that I forgot to mention. There were also quite a few game designers there with new prototypes that they are trying to sell, as well as representatives of several German publishers looking at the games to see if there were any they might be interested in publishing. Anyway, if you enjoy Russcon, I would suggest going to the GoF if you ever get the chance to wrangle an invite. I'm definitely planning on going back next year if at all possible.
Here's the list of games that I played. Several of them have just come out or will be available in the US soon.
Loopin' Louie goofy fun dexterity game
Maestro you play a music agent trying to get players work; too luck driven for me. I got screwed because I couldn't draw a Maestro tile.
Ohne Furcht Und Adel also know as Citadels from its prototype. Very cool card game which uses the Verrater method of choosing a role to play each turn. You are trying to build various buildings with each building worth different amounts; some of them had special bonuses as well. Very tricky with lots of trying to outguess your opponents as well as not let them outguess you. I predict a big hit; should be available from www.funagain.com now or soon for around $15. Evidently the name is a German pun of sorts and it is probably best with 6 or 7 players.
NichtDieBohne! screw your neighbor bean game, can be very evil with the right crowd.
Morgenland originally known as Keydom, but reworked to be shorter and more streamlined. Will be released in the US as Aladdin's Dragons. You are trying to collect artifacts and you have to choose to which actions to commit your resources; everyone sees what you are doing but you commit an unknown amount of resources with each hidden chit so it is hard to tell exactly what your plans are. Clever game; again, I think this one will be popular.
Taj Mahal had the benefit of being the first game I really won at the GoF ;)
Imperium from New Games in Old Rome collection of Knizia games. Interesting relatively short game of bidding. Makes me want to try others in the collection
Torres popular at the GoF, with good reason
Pro Konsul another from the NGiOR collection. Very good game, also a bidding mechanism. if you pay too much for stuff, you're hosed, though, a la Das Letzte Paradies.
Kohle, Kie$, & Knete very cool Sid Sackson negotiation game. I liked it enough that I'm buying a copy (got a great deal) from one of the people who was there from Germany...waiting for it to arrive
Kardinal & Koenig Rio Grande has come out with this as Web of Power. Quick moving card play game that seemed very popular. I felt kind of so so about it.
Devil's Satellite prototype of my online friend, Snoop.
Merchants of Amsterdam new Knizia, so I had to try it. You've seen my earlier write up about it. I do like the auction system.
Combeback Quick little card game where you start at 150 and try not to lose points.
Hearts with the Jack of Diamonds as -10 points. Never tried this before, but pretty cool.
Zero I like this little Knizia card game
Acquire I managed 2nd in what will probably always be one of my favorites.
Ra I know not everyone likes it, but I do quite a bit.
Carolus Magnus Very neat and original mechanism. Seems that this is best with either 2 or 3, although you can play 4 with partners.
Ra (tourney game)
Kardinal & Koenig thought I should try this one again. I feel as though I don't have enough control, otherwise I like it.
2Die4 Cool dice game prototype. I'd like to see this one published. When I saw the map, I thought I was seeing Russ' new game!
Die Fuersten von Florenz this one will do well, I think. Very complicated interweaving of elements, with a fairly simple auction mechanism. Timing means a lot! Quite beautiful production values. It made my brain hurt, though. Perhaps it was because it was pretty late in the day. There was a fair amount of German involved, so it would be nice if this one were to come out in English. The idea of the game is that you are a wealthy lord, out to sponsor the various craftsmen. You are building work places and such for the craftsmen; when you lure one to your lands, then you earn prestige points. Most prestige wins. Sounds easy, but it is not.
Bohnanza played without expansions. We had a three way tie for 1st, including myself!
Bauernschlau sheep farming game, interesting mechanism, but a bit slow. Affectionately called the sheep f*cking game because of a strange picture of a man carrying a sheep in a strange way.
Port Royal pirates and shipping card game, but it was too slow to be interesting.
Settlers of Catan the old standby. I won.
Settlers (round 2) I lost this one narrowly.
Midnight Party aka Ghost Party I think we annoyed a number of people by being very loud during this one. Jay, they loved your "Hugo, rise from your bloody grave" chant, which I used to great effect. I won! This was a game played by the members of Pbemesis a play by email mailing list.
Lost Cities always fun
Tigris and Euphrates won the first round, but lost the 2nd.
Mit List Und Tuecke I like this card game where you don't have to follow suit. Neat mechanism.
Mue this was very popular at the Gathering.
Can't Stop tourney game. Always enjoyable.
Die Macher They talked me into it. What a great game! Very nicely put together and fits the theme of German politics very well. Took us a little over 5 hours once the rules were explained, which took about an hour as well. The designer of this one definitely deserves a lot of praise. I think if everyone knew the game, it would take 4 - 4.5 hours.
Die Fuersten von Florenz Once again, this made my brain hurt. A deep game.
Medici Another favorite of mine. I lost badly, but it was mostly because 3 people got 4 of one color in the first round, and I wasn't one of them. Also, one person got a hand total of 30 in the 2nd round.
Mama Mia I hadn't gotten to try this at RussCon. It's fun.
Jumbo Grand Prix I think people enjoyed this. Very light.
Banana Republic quick and awfully random. A Doris and Frank game.
Mue another fun one!
Liar's Dice we know it as bluff. Everyone up there plays with the rule that you can't lose your last die if the number revealed exactly equals the call, unless it was you that called it. I think that makes the game better.
Liar's Dice 2 times for the tourney
Basari simple quick game of collecting things and out guessing your opponents.
Igel Aergern another hedgehog game from Doris & Frank. Lots of fun. I'm planning on getting this one.
Union Pacific my score sheets proved popular. I've gotten off my duff and made up colored ones now.
The Really Nasty Horse Race Game fun, if a bit long, horse race and gambling game.
Prize table ceremony.
Durch die Wueste Another one that I always enjoy. Thought I was going to win, but managed to come in 2nd.
Sticheln Cool trick taking and avoidance game at the same time. By the same author as Mit List Und Tuecke
Wildlife Adventures Nice kids game, but a bit too dependent on getting good cards.
Ohne Furcht Und Adel I really like this one.
Liar's Dice still fun
Zirkus Flohcati another fun one.
Modern Art another good Knizia game
Ohne Furcht Und Adel We didn't get to finish this one.
Total games played: 59
Best game new to me: Die Macher
Best just published game I played: tough call. I really liked Ohne Furcht Und Adel, so I'll pick that one, followed by Morgenland.
Worst game new to me: Port Royal
If you have questions about any of the games or about the GoF, let me know.
Always remember you're unique, just like everyone else.