Boardgame Reviews: Gathering of Friends 2008

I’m back (but not yet recovered) from the Gathering of Friends, the annual 10 day long boardgaming convention. This year, I mainly focused on playing prototypes, workshopping, and general hanging out. Thus, there wasn’t as much time to try all the new published games that have come out recently. Still, I had a list of “must plays” that hit the table, and so here’s what I thought of some of the recent releases that I did manage to play.

Hit

Agricola: The buzz over this one was huge a few months ago. Another in the “Economic Engine” style of game that has become so popular, about managing your farm and homestead. This one managed to grab me due to the wide variety of occupations (you can be a Master Baker… tee hee!) and special buildings that only you can build. It also features multiple decks that can be swapped in and out to greatly increase replayability. If you’re a fan of Caylus or Puerto Rico… well, this just may be better. If only it were a little bit shorter…

Chinatown: A reprint of an older game, this is the negotiation part of Monopoly (you know, the good part) turned way up. This scratched my itch for a hard-edged negotiation game, and even succeeded in making me angry when another player refused to deal and let the other players get ahead. In short, if you like negotiation games, get this one. If you don’t, don’t play in the same game as me.

Say Anything: North Star Games has another hit on its hands with this one. Though not quite as accessible as Wits & Wagers, Say Anything is a great addition to the Balderdash-style party game while not being too “thinky” and being a great way to get to know the preferences of your friends. Also it features the Select-O-Matic 5000, coined by yours truly.

Oregon: Play a combination of cards to give you a position on a grid where you can either play a Dude (literally, a dude, the meeples have cowboy hats) or a building, and score based on where they are placed. While you’re at it, try to place your dudes next to each other in groups for bonus points. I enjoyed this one a lot. It felt a bit like Carcassonne, but had its own unique gameplay.

Game X: This was a prototype that Rio Grade Games is publishing. Unfortunately, as it is still in prototype and unannounced, I can’t tell you anything about it. What I will say is that the readers of this blog will love it, and should keep an eye out for when it actually comes out. I can also say this was my favorite game of the show (that I had no hand in.)

Race for the Galaxy: Often described as San Juan in space, you pick your action simultaneously with the other players which leads you build new technologies, discover new planets, and produce goods. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a learning curve, both in complexity of game play AND in learning the iconography/layout. I liked that I never felt like I was losing all that bad (despite being utterly crushed by the experienced players) and the science fiction theme appeals to me, but it just doesn’t seem as fun or as easy to grasp as San Juan.

Gipsy King: A nice, light placement game where you try to surround lakes with your pieces and simultaneously make big lines of pieces. Doing so requires some strategic passing and planning what your opponents will do. Simple and elegant, though there’s not quite enough new there to make me want to buy it.

Wabash Cannonball: One of the simpler “classic-style” train games I’ve played, where you spend your turn buying shares, expanding a railroad, or making a railroad more valuable. Not my type of game, but definitely one of the simplest implementations of that style of game I’ve seen.

Felix: Cat in the Sack: Friedmann’s new light bluffing card game was quite fun, as you collectively create “sacks” of animals that can be worth positive or negative points. Then new information about the sack is revealed as people drop out of the bidding for the sack, plus you always know what you put in. I thought it was clever, but not particularly revolutionary. In the field of light, clever card games, it takes a lot to stand out nowadays.

Galaxy Trucker: Build your spaceship using tiles drawn from a pile (at realtime speed.) Then, after everyone has a ship, you sail around on missions, probably getting hit by meteors, blasted by space pirates, and having your crew killed by sickness. The idea of the game is that you can’t build perfect ships in a short amount of time, so you do your best and then hope to get lucky. How the game actually turns out is that you have too much time and control building your ship, and so one person tends to just get a way better ship. If the selection part were better, I’d like it way more.

Big Points: Colored disks are placed in a line. Move pawns down the line to collect them while speculating on what the colors will be worth. A simpler version of Tutankhamen, but retains the problem of seeming very light but actually being a no-luck perfect-information brain burner.

Ticket to Ride Card Game: Just like TTR, there’s a deck of colored train cards, and a deck of tickets. You play the colored trains in front of you, and at the beginning of your turn, some of those go into a stack. By the end of the game, you want the cards in your stack to match the tickets you have. Just like TTR, the tickets you can’t fill count against you. There’s also some blocking along the way, as you can’t play colors that other people have out, but you can’t make them discard their cards by playing more of a color at once. I heard this game described as a cross between Ticket to Ride and Mama Mia (especially if you play by the written memory rules, which we didn’t.) I think Ticket to Ride fans will really like this one, as it maintains the simplicity and basic play of the original, but chops out the need to score as you go.

Saboteur: You’re all dwarves trying to dig to treasure. However, one or two of you may be a Saboteur, actually trying to stop everyone from reaching the treasure. I like the game idea a lot, but in practice, there’s a lot of weirdness in what cards you’re playing (a lot of “take that” style stuff that is hard to get out of.)

The Hanging Gardens: Draft cards with buildings on them in different orientations, then add them to your gardens to try to make blocks of matching builds together to grab scoring cards. Stacking cards up so that the little buildings show through is kind of neat, but the gameplay is just blah. Nearly all tactical moves (and not all that interesting tactical moves either) plus a tacked on score system make this not compelling. Architects might enjoy this, but who cares about what they think?

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, the Geek's Dream Girl.

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