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My favorite 2008 Gathering experiences
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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It's been a busy year with my daughter planning a summer wedding and my son about to graduate from high school. I hardly had time to think about the Gathering before I arrived at T. F. Green airport and pulled my suitcase out of the trunk. I fly via Southwest, which doesn't use Logan, but it's not much further to Providence and the parking is a whole lot cheaper.

Southwest has a few new wrinkles every time I fly on them, and this year was no exception---they still use the A, B, C system but now the A group seems to be made up of people who purchase Southwest's equivalent of "business class" tickets. Southwest provides some stability in an uncertain air travel market; people who were ecstatic early in the week about the $10 SkyBus tickets they bought were looking for a new airline by the end of the week, after SkyBus went belly up.

It was an easy trip to Columbus. I spent some time catching up on reading for work. I shared a ride to the Gathering hotel with Anthony Rubbo, who was also attending, and a man who works for the AMVETS organization, which is headquartered in Columbus.
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1. Board Game: R-Eco [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:984]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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As I walked into the main ballroom towing my wheeled suitcase (with room for games as well as clothing for ten days,) I was spotted by Kevin O'Brien, who invited me to join himself and 2 other players for a game of R-Eco, a great filler game by Japanese designer Susumu Kawasaki. It was published in 2003, but I learned about it only last May, when I played it at Joe Huber's house. I snatched up a copy of the new Z-Man edition (has anyone noticed how many great games Zev is releasing these days?) and I've already played it 24 times.

My best experience with R-Eco came at Christmas time, when I took it down to Pennsylvania and played it with my sister and brother-in-law, who are not gamers. They enjoyed the first game so much that they insisted on playing four more games in a row! This game is easy to learn and understand, though there's room for strategic choices.

At the Gathering, I could see that my 3 opponents were all cautious garbage collectors, tip-toeing into the market carefully as they strove to avoid illegal dumping. I realized that it wasn't the time to be tentative. I started scooping up reward chips, dumping left and right, a card here and two cards there. It's true that there's an Honorary Garbage Collector bonus for anyone who doesn't dump illegally, but there's big profits in lowering your standards. They all looked at me for a moment like I had two heads, but in the end my big pile of chips more than outweighed my dumping penalty and I won comfortably. I could see that they realized there's more than one way to victory in this game (I've also seen responsible strategies win.) You have to watch the piles, notice what your opponents are picking up, and (if you decide to dump,) time your move properly.

This is an enjoyable game whose theme seems to hook both gamers and non-gamers. The cards are a bit stiff and hard to shuffle at first, but they should last forever and the artwork is cartoony and colorful.
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2. Board Game: Stone Age [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:48]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I managed to play only four games on Friday night before bed, but I was up early on Saturday morning, eager to try new games. The first game of the morning was Pandemic, which I enjoyed but was not bowled over by. For my second game, I sat down with Doug and Mimi Walker and one other player to try Stone Age. This brand-new game is designed by "Michael Tummelhofer," who also designed Saint Petersburg, which is featured on my avatar. In this incarnation, "Michael Tummelhofer" represents Bernd Brunnhofer only, unlike Saint Petersburg which is a joint effort.

There were copies of Stone Age scattered around the ballroom, and there was almost always a game underway. I'd say Agricola and Tichu were played more than any other games during the week, but Stone Age wasn't far behind. It's somewhat reminiscent of The Pillars of the Earth or even Caylus in that you place your workers in spots on the board to obtain resources or the opportunity to perform other actions, but it has softer corners and a broader application of luck.

Some have complained that the first three worker placements each turn are foregone conclusions in this game. You can place one worker to start a farm that will feed one worker each turn. You can place one worker to obtain a tool that will let you add to your die roll. You can also send two workers into the hut, and they will come out at the end of the turn with a new third worker for future turns. At one point Mimi commented "I need a baby!" and two of us replied "you'll have to talk to Doug!" I'm not sure the farm, tool and baby actions should always be the first ones chosen; some of the cards are very strong. If you have a chance to spend one wood for the card that gives seven food and a VP bonus at the end of the game, it's probably better than another farm or tool from the middle of the game on (unless you've scooped up several cards that give bonuses for farms.)

There's no doubt that superior die rolling gives you an advantage in Stone Age, but there's a lot of die rolling, and in the games I played it tended to even out. I got good rolls early in my first game, but they petered out and Doug was able to squeeze past me with the help of a 64-VP bonus for eight different symbols on cards. Later in the week I played three more games, and I could see that I had a significant advantage over first-time players based on the minimal experience I had already obtained. Tim Isakson did come from behind to beat 3 of us in one game, but Tim is a strong gamer who played an excellent game.

Stone Age was my favorite new published game of the Gathering. I rate it a '7', and if I gave fractional scores it would be a high '7'. It's slightly ahead of Caylus and The Pillars of the Earth in my scale, and it beats both of those games as a family game. The bits are very attractive and the game seems to be well balanced while retaining a healthy luck component.
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3. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:30] [Average Rating:7.78 Unranked]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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One unique aspect of the Gathering is the opportunity to play prototypes that are being tested by designers. This can be exciting, as you have the opportunity to see games before they're even available, and you can potentially influence how they will work by providing useful comments. On the other hand, it could be frustrating if you don't want to deal with rules or components that keep changing as the designer and/or developer responds to the feedback. Some players spend most of the week playing prototypes; I prefer a mix of prototypes and old and new published games. One important rule is that you may not reveal any information about a prototype without obtaining the express permission of the designer; this allows prototypes to be tested without fear of unwanted disclosures.

Already on Saturday I was seeing a new game being played repeatedly, often at several tables at a time. It didn't take long to realize that this was the new "Game X" prototype that Valerie Putman is developing with significant assistance from Dale Yu. I could resist trying it for only so long before I had to beg my way into a game. Game X is an interesting and somewhat addictive game that I wound up playing 14 times during the Gathering. Others played even more that that; I saw some grizzled hobby veterans huddled around a table for hours at a time playing it. I also made a number of comments to Valerie and Dale and participated in two extensive discussions of how the game works and what might make it even better.

You'll just have to wait for more information from Valerie or someone else involved in the development process, but Game X is one I'm almost sure I'll be ordering as soon as it becomes available. I enjoyed it more than the new published games I played. Let's hope we see it soon!

Update: Valerie has just posted an article on Boardgamenews that provides more information about "Game X". Here's the link:

http://www.boardgamenews.com/index.php/boardgamenews/comment...

The actual name of the game is "Dominion", though that name hadn't been chosen when the Gathering was held early in the month, so we were all calling it "Game X." It's a deck-building card game, but it's not a collectable card game. Instead, you build your deck as you play the game, with everyone selecting from a common set of cards. "Dominion" will be published by Rio Grande, which hopes to have it out by Essen (in October.)
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4. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:24]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Last year's "Game X" was Race for the Galaxy, which I played repeatedly at previous Gatherings, but which is now available in published form. http://friendless.servegame.org/stats/index.html is a BGG stats site maintained by "Friendless", and one of its features is a listing of the games you played each calendar quarter broken down by year of publication. After I signed up, I noticed that a substantial portion of the games I played in the second quarter of 2006 and even in the second quarter of 2005 were games published in 2007. At first I thought it must be a data glitch, but then I realized it was all the games of Race for the Galaxy I played at previous Gatherings! I had played 82 games before I arrived at this year's Gathering, but there were plenty of people who hadn't played it at all, and I taught it to several groups. I also played with more experienced gamers and got beaten regularly (anyone who claims this game is all luck is either deluded or is a much faster learner than I am.)

On Monday there was an official Race for the Galaxy tournament. I was placed in a 4-player game with Anthony Rubbo, who had shared my ride from the airport. I got a solid production strategy going with Consumer Markets, Free Trade Association and three or four blue worlds, but he had the military working like clockwork with New Galactic Order and squeezed me out by 52-50 as the other 2 players trailed far behind. It wasn't too much of an embarassment to lose to Anthony, who went on to win the tournament, beating a number of strong players in the process.

One amusing note was the fact that I actually lost ground in the BGG "Games Played" stats for Race for the Galaxy during the early part of the week. The people who stayed home played more games than I did (presumably I was distracted by all the other games that were available!) I started the week 17th on the Games Played list and dropped to 19th by Wednesday. I did get a number of games in later in the week to finish back in 17th place.
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5. Board Game: Power Grid: Factory Manager [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:455]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Friedemann Friese is a regular Gathering attendee. He's easy to spot from across the room, with his bright green hair and colorful shirts, and he lights up the game table with his cheerful personality. As usual, he had a box full of prototypes, and you will never play a dull prototype from Friedemann. I wanted to get into a game of one of them, and I didn't care too much which one it was. I had my eye on one that looked interesting and different, but by the time I made it over to his table and sat down, he was on to another. No problem! This one was interesting too.

I can't say anything about the details, but I played in a way that was not what the designer had been expecting. I managed to win in a way in which one was not supposed to be able to win, and that would lead to a less interesting game if the rules were not changed. This is what playtesting is for---to refine and tune the rules so as to present the right set of choices. I really enjoy looking at a brand-new game and trying to figure out a strategy, so this is right up my alley.

Friedemann made some changes as a result of our playtest and continued to test the game with new groups all through the week. It's different but challenging, and perhaps we'll see it in print some day.

Update: This game was eventually published as Factory Manager.
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6. Board Game: Kingsburg [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:197]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I had already played Christine Blancheria's copy of Kingsburg earlier in the year. I ordered a copy for my wife, and GameSurplus sent the box to the Columbus Ramada. I invited them to include orders for others in the box to save shipping, with me delivering them in person, and they took me up on my offer, sending some games for Bruce Linsey. I was sharing a room with Bruce, so it wasn't a long walk to deliver his games!

While I was at the Gathering, I played Kingsburg two more times, and I continued to enjoy it. I don't know why this game works so well. It's a dice fest, yes, and it involves stealing opportunities from other players, yes, but even so it's a great blend of luck and decision making. One of the games was especially memorable as Mark Delano edged me out by a single VP. I won the extra VP for fighting off the attackers in the last round, but I needed just one more to catch him, and I couldn't do it.

A number of people were raving about Kingsburg. It's a good crossover game for gamers to play with family gamers.
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7. Board Game: Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:389]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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You talk with a lot of people during the course of the week, and the topic of conversation at almost every table is "what have you played that you like?" By Monday I had heard a lot of buzz about Matt Leacock's little prototype. Tom Lehmann in particular told me I just had to try it.

I could describe this game in eight words, and you'd tell me such a game would be absolutely impossible to design, but Matt has done it. This game just has to be published!
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8. Board Game: Paths of Glory [Average Rating:8.04 Overall Rank:44]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Before last year's Gathering, I posted some comments about how much I have enjoyed playing Paths of Glory.

I don't think I would have gotten into it at all if not for the World Boardgaming Championships. I started attending WBC and figured I might as well come for the pre-Con, which features four games, including Paths of Glory. I resolved to learn one of the four, and Paths of Glory was the first one I had the chance to try. It started as an '8', then rose to a '9' and is now a '10'. It's ranked #20 on the BGG "Games" list (not the "Wargames" list, but the whole "Games" list,) and it's a terrific game for players who are willing to absorb the punishment of a 12-round heavyweight fight.

Several Gathering attendees told me they'd always wanted to learn Paths of Glory, so I ran a teaching session last April. Six gamers attended and I put them into three games, walking around from table to table to help with the rules. I ran the session again this year at 10:30 on Tuesday morning, and I got a number of "yes" responses. Unfortunately, gamers find it easier to say "yes" ahead of time than to wake up in the morning at the Gathering, so a few of them stopped by later in the week to tell me that they overslept and hope they can come next year (I'll be running it again in 2009.)

We did get 6 people for this year's session, including 2 who had some experience with the game and 4 who were brand new. I started two games up, as 2 of the 6 people could not stick around to play. Wargames have a reputation for difficult rules, and it's true that they're usually more intricate than Euros, but Paths of Glory is a simple game at heart with a large number of exceptions, and it's not as hard as it looks.

I wrote up a Teaching Guide for last year's session, and I corrected some errors for this year. The original guide is available here on BGG at

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/file/info/26514

and I'll be posting a revised version with a few corrections soon.
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9. Board Game: The Hanging Gardens [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:833]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Another game that was getting a lot of play is The Hanging Gardens, a little geometric placement game with a unique feel. Each player receives one card at the start of the game with an empty 2 by 3 grid of squares on it, and you draft a card each turn with a similar grid, but with colored buildings on one or more squares. You place each new card on top of your old cards in such a way that "buildings never touch cloth" as Bruce Reiff described it. In other words, if your card has a building on a particular grid square, you must place that square on top of a square on a card you previously placed, and not directly on the table. You try to get a group of three or more squares in a single color to score.

The Hanging Gardens involves random card and tile draws with the first player each turn getting first pick, so there's plenty of luck. On the other hand, the play is enjoyable and it doesn't take long. I found a table that was starting a game with 3 players and invited myself in so I could learn it. I played this game twice and it grew on me. It's perhaps a bit longer than a filler, but it's a nice option for those 40-minute time slots at the end of an evening or while you're waiting for the other group at your club to finish their game.
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10. Board Game: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization [Average Rating:8.21 Overall Rank:3]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The #1 one game on my BGG "Hot 10" list is Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, and I was planning to play it several times at the Gathering. By Tuesday I was starting to wonder whether I'd play it at all, but my fears were alleviated when Marty Hoff invited me to play a 3-player game with Brian Leet. Marty is a great guy to play with, not only for his friendly disposition, but also because he helps move the game along by doing the administrative chores while others are finishing their production.

Brian is fairly new to the game, but he won a solid victory with a high light bulb strategy. We did make an error for a few turns early, giving him two extra light bulbs per turn at the cost of two harps too few, and Brian was the first to point out that this may have given him an unfair advantage, but he played a solid game and there's no reason to think he wouldn't have won anyway.

The best part of this game was how quickly it went: Brian, Marty and I finished a 3-player Full Game in two and one-half hours. On Thursday I played again, with Marty and Adam Ruprecht, and we finished a Full Game in two hours flat! Adam mostly focused on harp production, leaving him open to potential military attacks, but Marty and I were not able to exploit this opportunity and Adam won comfortably. Some people talk about six-hour playing times for Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, and all I have to say is "you need Marty Hoff in your games!"

I went on to play a total of four games at the Gathering, and I lost all four of them, but I enjoyed every minute. In my final game I went all harps, hoping to imitate Adam's success, but Curt Carpenter built a huge army (he had a military strength of 45) and did me in. On the next-to-last turn in the game he used a War over Resources to take away 17 rocks and 1 food, and on the final turn he used a War over Culture to take away 25 VP. It was still a relatively close game, but Curt beat Walter Hunt in 2nd place by nearly 20 VP and me by about 30 VP.

In total, three Full Games and one Advanced Game, each with 3 players, took me no more than 10 hours to play. The game is a dream at that speed.
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11. Board Game: Twilight Struggle [Average Rating:8.34 Overall Rank:1]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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While I was teaching Paths of Glory to Ken Hill, whom I've known since he got me involved in CompuServe Railway Rivals back in 1989, he mentioned that he's wanted to learn Twilight Struggle so he can play it with Robin, his fiancee. I offered to teach him, and he arranged a date for 9am on Thursday.

Unfortunately, Ken couldn't make it (he lives in Columbus and his work sometimes intervenes,) but he sent Lorna Wong and Scott Tepper in his place. I taught math for eight years, and this is the first time a student has sent substitute students to one of my classes! I taught the rules to Lorna and Scott, who played an excellent game for 2 first-timers (usually one of the beginners accidentally starts nuclear war and loses.)

Later in the week, I received a great reward for my efforts, as Ken invited me as his guest to a local sushi restaurant along with Robin, Lorna, Scott and Richard Glanzer. You wouldn't think you'd get good sushi in Columbus, but I tried everything, including items I'd never had before, and it was wonderful. They also mentioned that Columbus is the gourmet ice cream capital of the world, but we were just too stuffed to add a big dessert.
 
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12. Board Game: Manoeuvre [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:411]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Although most of the games I play are Euros, I got my start in gaming way back in 1964, when a neighbor bought a copy of Avalon Hill's wargame D-Day (first edition), decided it was too complicated, and gave it to me. I couldn't figure it out either at first, but I kept at it until I got it. My wargaming stopped in the early 1980s, but I've started to play again recently, especially with the card-driven wargame genre adding a more realistic-feeling "command friction" element to the games.

Tyler Putman, Valerie's husband, is also a wargamer, and he had a brand-new copy of Manoeuvre in shrinkwrap. I mentioned to him that I'd wanted to give the game a try, and he was happy to accept my offer. This game features simple terrain (you play on an 8 by 8 grid of squares, like a chess board, and a geomorphic setup allows each game to be different.) Play is governed by a set of action cards, forcing each commander to react to the opportunities that are available and preventing any "perfect plans." Tyler took the English forces and I took the French.

There was a line of hills near the center of the board, and I sent my Imperial Guard cavalry out to seize it before he could get there, rushing my infantry up to support them. I built a redoubt on the hill, but I rolled poorly on a cavalry charge and lost the 1st Cuirassiers when I couldn't find the right Supply card to bring them back to full strength. I still had a powerful center, but Tyler pushed cavalry ahead on his right flank and smashed through my left. I managed to surround the cavalry, but he counterattacked and broke through to freedom. This game rewards attacks by giving attackers an advantage in many cases, eliminating the temptation to "turtle" that is present in many games. I did push forward with my right to take some territory on his left, but he regained one square on the last turn and beat me by a single VP.

This is a well-constructed and interesting game, though I was put off more by the squares than I expected (I'm used to hexes or areas.) The first Avalon Hill game and its successor Tactics II used squares, so it's probably just a matter of familiarity, but I found it strange that a backward bend in your line means one unit has no way to retreat.
 
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13. Board Game: Starship Merchants [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:1976]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Another prototype that caught my eye was one from Tom Lehmann and Joe Huber. I had seen it being played a number of times early in the week, and the people I saw playing it appeared to be totally absorbed in the game. On Wednesday night I finally found the time to play it as my last game before going to bed. It is a fascinating game that plays in a reasonable amount of time, and I went back and played it two more times during the week, including once between 11pm on Sunday April 13 and 1am on Monday April 14 (despite my morning airport shuttle appointment.)

I can't say anything about this game except that it's perfect for my gaming tastes. It supports a wide variety of strategies and has a good mix of luck and skill. This game and "Game X" are neck and neck for my favorite new game of the convention.
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14. Board Game: Caveman [Average Rating:5.70 Overall Rank:7038]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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On Thursday night, Scott Nicholson invited me to play Caveman with him and three others: Don Dennis, Tami Whitsett and Christopher Page. If you've played Caveman you may be wondering "how can this possibly be on Eric's 'favorite Gathering experiences' Geeklist?" Believe me---it was the company and not the game. This game is a lot like LCR, but with the illusion of decision making. The best parts of this game were (1) Tami's dinosaur roars, (2) the cute little dinosaurs (seven are included in the game, though you only need three,) and (3) us laughing at how bad the game was. If you had put the same 5 people at the table and removed the game, we probably could have had just as much fun.

We moved our cave people onto the board only to have them wiped out by marauding dinos. The random events are powerful (the "Tyrannosaurus Rex teleports all the way across the board and wipes out your tribe" was particularly choice.) We struggled for many turns to discover fire only to have fire wiped out by a random event. Eventually we realized that it could be a six-hour game and unanimously agreed to stop in the middle. This is only the second game I've been in that stopped in the middle by mutual consent in the past seven years. Still, I got to play with 4 other friends, and that's what the event is about: a Gathering of Friends.
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15. Board Game: Tonga Bonga [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:2242]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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At the start of the week, most of the guests at the Gathering are determined to play the latest prototypes and published games, but as the days go by, people start to widen their horizons. On Friday I met up with Ray Dennis, Richard Glanzer and Paul Weintraub. We were all looking for a game. The main ballroom has tables against the walls on every side, and every available space is stacked high with games brought by the participants. The understanding is that you are free to play any game (unless it is still in shrink or unpunched) as long as you take good care of it and put it back just as you found it. I spotted a copy of Tonga Bonga, which is one of my favorite lighter games. It's also the highest-rated game on BGG for which I have recorded more games than anyone else on BGG, so I feel an obligation to spread the good news about it. Richard had played Tonga Bonga with family in the past, and wasn't quite sure it was a gamer's game, but he was happy to go along with us and have fun.

I explained the rules to the new players and we started in. In Tonga Bonga, you offer wages to attract crew to your ship, and you then roll three dice to see how skillful your own crew members are. You may not crew your own ship; you send your three crew members (dice) to your opponents' ships, one per ship. High-numbered dice give you a better chance to collect good wages, but they allow your opponents' ships to move quickly. Low-numbered dice may leave your crew to serve as cabin boys for no wages, but on the other hand they keep your opponents from moving far. Even better, each die has one side that depicts a sea-sick sailor, and each sea-sick sailor you roll stays at home and does not even serve on an opponent's ship. When you play with gamers, Tonga Bonga becomes a tactical and psychological duel.

We started out, and my ship got off to a good start heading straight up toward the top of the map, while Paul's ship also moved quickly in a different direction, off to the left. Richard and Ray tried to catch up, and Richard made good time, but Ray seemed to be plagued by bad luck, and his ship was left far behind. On one critical turn I bid high to get good dice and Richard's ship was totally becalmed as I zoomed past him to reach one of the harbors before he could.

We all placed our four camps on separate islands and headed back toward Tonga Bonga to end the game. On the penultimate turn, Paul and Ray ended just one space out of Tonga Bonga Bay, while Richard was one space further. My ship was 6 spaces away, and I knew I wouldn't get cooperation from my opponents to make it back for the $10 completion bonus. I offered minimal wages, hoping to scrimp my way to victory, but Paul edged me out by a narrow margin to win.

After the game, we were all struck by how interesting and exciting this game was. It presents itself as a family game, with bright colors and cheerful graphics, but there's a real game inside. It's hard to find in the US, but it shows up regularly on ebay.de if you're willing to pay for the shipping.
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16. Board Game: Power Grid: France/Italy [Average Rating:7.97 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.97 Unranked]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Another favorite of mine is Power Grid. I've played more than 50 times if you count the expansions, as it's a favorite at MVGA, the gaming group I attend on Thursday nights. You can read the session reports I have written for many of our sessions right here on BGG. For this game we selected the France map from the Power Grid: France/Italy expansion. We had 5 players, all of us with at least some Power Grid experience. When you play with 5, you eliminate one region (we eliminated the southern region, Provence,) and the game ends when one player builds his or her 15th city.

On the France map, there are special rules that favor nuclear power. The price of uranium starts at 5, rather than at 14 as in the standard game, and the #11 nuclear plant starts the game at the top of the draw pile. I started with the #04 coal plant, a favorite of mine, and then bid $16 to take the #11 on the second turn. This was a good start, but I faced stiff competition, and my starting cities in Paris were hemmed in on every side by ambitious opponents.

There's a luck element in Power Grid---the random draws from the power plant deck make it hard to know whether you should bid high for the plant currently on auction or pass and wait for the one that's about to come out. I was somewhat aggressive early on, taking the #25 coal plant and the #20 coal plant to obtain two of the big-capacity plants I would need for the end of the game. Later in the game, I took the pass option, letting one capacity-5 plant go with the hope that the capacity-6 plant just above it would drop, and I was disappointed when the #23 nuclear plant, with its paltry 3-city capacity, showed up. I bought the #23 anyway to prevent an opponent from ending the game while my capacity was still low, but this meant there would be a knock-down, drag-out fight in the final turn.

As it happened, we slid into Phase 3 during the Bureaucracy phase, guaranteeing plants for all, and several of us were able to make it to 15 cities. I squeaked out the win (as it says on the tee shirt, "money may not bring happiness, but it is a tie breaker in Power Grid!")

On Saturday I played in another Power Grid game, and again it was a close game, but this time I lost the tie breaker to Adam Smiles, who ended the game with about 75 electros in hand, while I had only 54 electros. Power Grid is one of my favorite games. It's a wonderful blend of luck and skill, and there's a lot of opportunity for clever play.
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17. Board Game: Zoff im Hühnerhof [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:5070]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I played only one game of pure skill at this years Gathering. It was Zoff im Hühnerhof, a game in which you use a little catapult to fling wooden chicken feed onto the board and then move your chicken around to try to eat as much of the food as you can. (Well, in theory it's a game of skill, but for me it was a game of pure luck!) This game featured two Norwegians, Trond Braut and Piet Skjaeveland, as well as me and another American. Piet was a skillful feed-flinger, but Trond was nearly as bad at it as I was (no offense, Trond.)

The life of a chicken isn't all fun and games, though. At a certain point in the game, a fox suddenly makes its way into the barnyard and the chickens must race back to the henhouse for protection, giving up the quest for food. I had the advantage in this phase, as my hen hadn't made it far from the henhouse. I was first back, but Piet's fowl flapped its way in soon thereafter with a much larger load of food in its gullet. This gave him the win by a comfortable margin.

When I asked Piet for his name so I could record it for this report, he started to explain that his name is hard to spell. I pointed to his badge holder and observed that he had his badge in backward, so it appeared completely blank! It may be a challenge to spell Skjaeveland, but it's even harder to read it through the back of the cardboard!

This game was definitely one of the highlights of the Gathering for me. It's a well-designed game, but in addition my 3 opponents were a lot of fun to play with.
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18. Board Game: Lascaux [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:1867]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I had read about Lascaux, but I'd never seen a copy until I spotted one being played on Thursday evening. I wanted to give it a try, but it took me a while to find it (I think there was only one copy available to be played, and it's a small box.) On Friday I recruited a group to give it a try.

Lascaux is a game in which you bid for the right to take animal cards from the center of the table. Each turn a set of cards is dealt out, and each card is marked with two different colors from a set of six colors. Each player then secretly selects a color to compete for during the round, and bidding proceeds using a No Thanks!-like process. As you drop out, you collect all the bids that are on the table and place your color disc, face-down, in a pile on top of the discs of players who dropped out earlier. Once the bidding is over, players in turn reveal their colors and take all remaining cards of those colors. If you stay in the bidding longer than anyone else, you get all the cards of your color, but you spend a lot to do so. If you drop out early, you may get nothing (because all the cards of your color are taken,) but you may be fortunate enough to get a card in a color no one else has taken.

The neat thing about this game is the way you must choose a color before you know how aggressively your opponents will bid. If you choose a color corresponding to a lot of cards, you are probably committing yourself to bidding high, but you can also choose a color that shows up only once or twice and drop out early to collect bidding ammo while hoping to steal a card.

Clark King proved to be the master of Lascaux, earning 10 animal cards that scored for him as well as a nice stack of bidding stones. I'd be happy to play this again; it has the feel of No Thanks! but with different elements.
 
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19. Board Game: Commands & Colors: Ancients Expansion Pack #3 – The Roman Civil Wars [Average Rating:8.30 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.30 Unranked]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Walter Hunt is a big fan of the Commands & Colors: Ancients series. He has the base game and all the expansions, and he stores them in a giant plastic box with compartments for each type of unit, together with a 3-ring binder that contains all the rule books and scenarios. Walt bought his first set in the Flea Market here at the Gathering; as he explained it to me, it's better to buy the Commands & Colors: Ancients games used than new, because the previous owner has already put all the stickers on the blocks, saving you the time!

One option that is provided with the 3rd expansion, Commands & Colors: Ancients Expansion Pack #3 – The Roman Civil Wars, is the "Epic" option. This is an 8-player game, with 4 generals per side. Each side has a Left Wing commander, a Center commander, a Right Wing commander and an Overall commander. You use two full copies of the board (an extra board is included in the Commands & Colors: Ancients Expansion Pack #3 – The Roman Civil Wars expansion) laid out side by side on the table. The three subsidiary commanders sit in chairs on their side of the board and the Overall commander stands behind them. The Overall commander draws all the cards, evaluates them, and hands them out to the Field commanders, who use the cards to move and fight with their forces on the board.

Walt and I managed to recruit 8 players for this game. Tyler Putman and I were chosen as the Overall commanders, and we assigned the other positions by lot. The scenario we played was the Battle of Zama. In real life this was the battle in which Scipio Africanus crushed the Carthaginian forces under Hannibal to win the 2nd Punic War.

I was the Overall Carthaginian commander, with Ray Dennis commanding my Left Wing, Jim McCarthy my Center, and Jenna Sunderlin my Right Wing. On the Roman side Tyler was supported by Walter Hunt commanding the Left Wing, Peter Card the Center, and Jim Scheiderich the Right Wing.

The battle started inauspiciously for the Carthaginians (I'd label them the "good guys," but losers don't get to write history...) I gave Jim a card, and he used it to advance several Elephant units (you've heard of Hannibal's elephants) up to the center of the Roman line. His attack was unsuccessful, and when one of his Elephant units was hit, they panicked and trampled the neighboring Elephant unit to death (in game terms, Jim rolled two red squares on his Trample dice.) All I can say is this: if you need dice rolled for Elephants, you might want to pass Jim by, but you'll never find anyone who is better at making elephant trumpeting noises! In the real Battle of Zama, the Carthaginian Elephants charged the Roman center and were put to ignoble flight by skillful Roman defense. This game was turning out far too much like the historical battle for my taste.

The Roman center was strong, and Peter was emboldened by his defeat of the elephants, but Tyler would not hand Peter the card he needed to finish off his victory. This was because, unbeknownst to Peter, Tyler could not draw a Center card. It's amusing as the Overall commander to see your subordinates look at you like you're an idiot for not handing them the cards they need, when you can't draw the cards they need. I suspect real commanders faced similar frustrations in a different form.

On the Roman right (Carthaginian left,) Jim Scheiderich sent his cavalry forward in a series of headlong charges that put Ray's forces to flight. I did manage to feed Ray a stream of cards, but we just couldn't punish the aggressive tactics of the Roman cavalry. On the other side, Jenna repulsed Walt's attack after taking some losses, and the two sides backed off and glared at each other for a period of time.

In the Epic scenarios, the Overall commander hands 1, 2 or 3 cards to subordinates each turn, then draws 2 cards to replenish his or her hand (as long as the number doesn't exceed the number held at the start of the battle.) This means you can (if the cards are right) hand out one card to each subordinate every turn, but this will result in a gradually shrinking hand. It's a great, simple way to depict the increasing disorganization that results from fighting all out, and the need to pause to regroup if you want to regain your strength. It was looking bad for the Carthaginians, as the Romans were up 10 VP to 3 VP, with only 14 VP needed to win. I rebuilt my hand, and I drew a "Clash of Shields" card which I was able to hand to Ray, who killed off some Roman units to draw within striking distance. This was our final surge, though, as the Romans counterattacked, killed off the final units needed to win, and duplicated history.

Commands & Colors: Ancients is my favorite version of Command & Colors, and the Epic scenarios add a full measure of command issues. They also provide a great way for 8 players to join together in a fun-fest. I recommend that you try this variant if you can get enough players together.
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20. Board Game: Kanaloa [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:5182]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I started Saturday morning by flaming out quickly in the Liar's Dice tournament, going out first in a 6-player game and then again in a 5-player game. In the second game I accomplished the spectacular feat of losing all 5 of my dice in a single call (I said there were 11 2's and there were only 6. Math is hard!) After a quick consolation game of Race for the Galaxy I was invited to join a game of Kanaloa, a seven-year-old game I had never played.

Kanaloa is a highly tactical game in which players compete to gain strong special powers and use these powers to seek victory. It's exactly the kind of "take that" game I don't usually like, but for some reason I enjoyed this one. There's a strong motivation to grab new powers, letting others take your old powers, rather than "turtling" by holding on to one single power. The other players were also an enjoyable group to play with: Kris Gould, Ava Garder and Jonathan Franklin. I managed to get the favor of the "god" who lets you steal tokens from opponents, and this made me persona non grata among the others. Suddenly all my ocean paths were being turned in the wrong way by the path-turning guy and the volcano guy was trying to bury me in hot lava. I had gained too much of an advantage, though, by the unfettered use of my power, and I managed to hold off the Lilliputians who were trying to prevent my rightful victory. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!
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21. Board Game: Sextet [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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One of the highlights of the Gathering is the Prize Table. Each guest brings at least one desirable game to give away, and many people bring more than one. The anticipation builds as Saturday night approaches, and people start claiming seats a half hour or more before the official start of the festivities. I sat with Donna Balkan, Jim McCarthy, Bruce Linsey and Nelson Heintzman, but after a few minutes I was recruited by Joe Huber, who was trying to put together a game of Sextet, a 6-handed bridge variant. Michael Tsuk really wanted to try this game and Joe was determined to put a table together for him. Joe got 5 players quickly and amused himself by raising his hand and shouting "sixth for bridge?" I'm not really a bridge player (I learned in high school but have hardly played since,) but I was good enough to fill a slot, since I know the rules and can (sort of) bid.

We dealt a hand and the opponents made it to 3NT, with Jeff Goldsmith as declarer. In Sextet there are two dummies, and Joe and Dave Andrews filled the role admirably. I know that the standard lead against a 3NT contract is 4th from your longest, strongest suit, but my hand had a 3-3-2-2-2-1 distribution, as follows:

xxx
xx
xx
x
xxx
Ax

What do you lead against 3NT with that hand? I led a small card from one of my xxx suits and it was the wrong choice. Jeff (who really is an excellent bridge player) made 5, and my A was wasted as he set up other suits, cashed 11 tricks, and conceded the last two to Michael.

If you like the idea of bridge but feel way out of it because the experts know so much, Sextet is an option that puts everyone on a more level playing field.
 
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22. Board Game: Botts and Balls [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:6431]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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One of the rarest games in the world is Botts and Balls, a hand-made game designed and "published" by Ann Lesnik. Before this year, there were only 6 copies in the world, and you can understand why---each set is a work of art, lovingly crafted out of fine-quality modeling clay. The game is not only physically attractive, but it's a lot of fun to play as well. It could be described as triangular Ricochet Robots, but it's more than that. While Ricochet Robots is mostly a puzzle, Botts and Balls is a real game, with each player getting a separate turn. If you need help, you can get advice from an opponent, and the opponent is awarded 1 VP if you take his or her advice. This makes it a social game and keeps everyone involved during the turns of others.

This year Ann made some more copies of Botts and Balls, and I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a copy. This is a game that deserves to be published, but even if it is, the "Ann-made" version is almost certain to be nicer than anything a publisher could afford to mass-produce.
 
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23. Board Game: Cloud 9 [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1232]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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On Sunday night Alan invited us all to dinner at a wonderful Chinese restaurant. We sat at the table as the waiters and waitresses bring course after course. I somehow managed to exercise at least some restraint, so while I was full at the end, I wasn't in actual pain from having eaten too much. We made it back to the hotel where a few survivors gathered for a last gaming fling. I first had to finish off my final Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization game (in which Curt Carpenter invaded my country and stole my rocks and VPs---see above.) After that it was time for some lighter fare, and someone suggested Cloud 9. This is an enjoyable but luck-heavy game in which you decide whether to hope the balloon goes higher or bail out now and get the sure VPs.

I drew nothing but red cards, and I rolled colors other than red on my dice, so I kept crashing the balloon at ridiculously low altitudes. The one benefit of my failure is that I generally took everyone else down with me, and I built up a big hand. I had more faith in others than I had in myself, and I was tied for 2nd with Walter Hunt, just 1 VP behind Larry Levy, as we approached the 45 VP victory goal. I took my turn as pilot and rolled two blanks---a good thing, because I sure wasn't succeeding in matching cards. Larry bailed to get himself to 46 VP and a sure victory unless someone could pass him on this balloon flight. Larry Chong took the balloon up another spot. It was Walt's turn, and Walt could pass Larry if he jumped out, but Walt was the pilot, and the pilot may not jump out while there are passengers in the balloon. Walt rolled several colors and took this moment to play his "Pass the Barn" card, making me the pilot. This would allow Walt to jump out! I still couldn't match the dice, so I in turn played my own "Pass the Barn" card, making Larry the pilot. I could match Walt's action and guarantee equaling him in VPs. Walt bailed out for 48 VP, and I in turn bailed out for 48 VP of my own. This left two people in the balloon, but they were far behind and could not get to 48 VP even if the balloon went all the way to the top. They tried to maximize their scores, but eventually the balloon popped and down they went.

With Walt and me tied, we looked in the rule book to see whether there was a tie breaker. There was---most cards left in hand! I had hardly used any cards, so I had a lot more cards in my hand than Walt, and I was the Cloud 9 winner. It was my first Cloud 9 victory (though I've only played the game 4 times.) This game is a luck-fest, but it's a colorful luck-fest that's a lot of fun if you play with the right people.
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24. Board Game: Lost Cities [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:257]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I've established a Gathering tradition---every year I try to play Lost Cities with someone on Monday morning before I leave for the airport. This allows me to claim that I got to play 11 days worth of games, even if the 11th day includes only one game of Lost Cities. This year Walter Hunt was sitting in the lobby when I arrived to wait for the shuttle, and he graciously agreed to join me for the annual game.

Walt hadn't played Lost Cities for quite some time, but he hadn't forgotten much. In our first hand, he started 4 colors and scored positive points in all four to gain 42 points. I did the same, but was only able to score 39. It was a close match.

Score after 1 hand: Walt 42, Eric 39

In our second hand, Walt got stuffed on a green expedition, playing two handshakes and then laying down only 13 points in number cards for a total green score of -21. This made his total for the hand -6. I scored negative points on 3 of my 5 expeditions, but got 22 in yellow for a total of +10.

Score after 2 hands: Eric 49, Walt 36

It was still close; the rubber hand would decide the match! This time Walt got started on the blues and brought them in for 36 while gaining points in three other colors for a total of 55. I started 5 again (I'm an expedition-starting addict in Lost Cities) and was positive in only two, totaling 15 for the hand.

Final score: Walt 91, Eric 64

Congratulations to Walt, who is the first person to beat me at Lost Cities in Columbus on a Monday morning! I really love Lost Cities. I've played it more than any other game since the start of 2002, though Race for the Galaxy is catching up fast.
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