A few of the games I played at the Gathering of Friends 2014
Gil Hova
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My first Gathering! I'll spare you the gloating/boasting and just tell you about the games I played.

I was there the whole way through, from the night before the opening to the morning after the closing dinner. Some stats:

Total games played: 65 (plus two games played halfway through)
Unique games (titles) played: 45
Prototype titles played: 16
New-to-me titles played: 34

If you want to read a little more about my impressions of the con, I have a write-up on my blog: http://gil.hova.net/2014/04/22/gathering-of-friends-2014.
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1. Board Game: The Networks [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:546]
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I'll lead with my current prototype (which is completely unrelated to the deckbuilding game on Kickstarter right now). I came in to test the game, and to hopefully start pitching it to publishers.

I wasn't aware how much stress testing was possible at the Gathering until now. I've never had the opportunity to test a game with really sharp, experienced gaming minds over ten days.

I wound up with 12 tests of the game over that time. I made a couple of tweaks early on, and I started pitching it after five or six tests proved that those tweaks improved the game.

The game now has interest from a few publishers, and it is playing like a mean mofo now. That means I can get back to polishing up the rulebook and blind testing!
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2. Board Game: Linko! [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:705]
Gil Hova
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This was an adorable card game. I like it when a card game has relaxed rules; instead of saying "you're not allowed to play these cards," I like to see rules that say "you can play anything you want, but you'll want to play some cards more than others."

Sticheln is a good example of this, as you are under no obligation to follow suit when you play a card. And while Abluxxen is not really a trick-taking game, I feel that it fills the same kind of niche as Sticheln: a quick, fun, somewhat-nasty-but-never-mean card game. It's good to see Kramer and Kiesling producing a game every bit as good as, say, That's Life!.
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3. Board Game: Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890 [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:2066]
Gil Hova
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Ever since coming across Kohle & Kolonie at BGG.CON last November, I've been smitten. When I heard that K&K was the second game in a trilogy (with the third due out at Essen this year), I found a copy of Ruhrschifffahrt, the first game of the trilogy.

Sadly, everything you've heard about Ruhrschifffahrt's rulebook is true, and if you haven't heard, here it is: it's one of the worst rulebooks I've ever seen (Disclaimer: I've never seen the Myth rulebook, so I can't make a comparison, but there's a certain point where comparing two terrible things doesn't really make the better one any less awful).

I got to see Rahdo's wonderful runthrough of the game, and that helped, but I could never bring myself to subject my game group to a stumble-through of the game.

The GoF was a great opportunity to learn this game from someone who's already suffered through its rules issues. And sure enough, my new buddy
Rik Van Horn
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explained the game to me. I got a second game of it a few days later.

The game has a solid core to it, and I wasn't as put off by the game's random events as others were. My issue is that the game has this great tech tree mechanism, but doesn't actually use it. Players are incentivized to build warehouses early in Ruhrort, and then get themselves into the white-die area. There's no deviating around those two things. There are several endgame tiles you can angle for with different tech tree results, but only two of them are really valuable, so the tech tree mechanism becomes more of a tech trunk, and it seems like a missed opportunity.

Still, as a tactical game, it's pretty nifty, and I'd be eager to try it one more time to see if it has staying power.
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4. Board Game: Kohle & Kolonie [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:1704]
Gil Hova
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Fortunately, the second game in the Ruhr trilogy is much better, with lots of opportunity for players to pursue different strategies. And its rulebook is marginally better, although it's still crummy enough that I had to create a thread that compiled all the game's errata and easily-missed rules. And even after all that research, I found that I still had a couple of rules wrong!

Regardless, it's a standout game, and as a meaty 3-4 hour economic strategy game, it fills one of my favorite niches in my game collection.
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5. Board Game: Sail to India [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:1114]
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This was a card game I've wanted to try since hearing about it. It really does distill the experience of a Euro down to a few cards and cubes.

Sadly, I tried to teach the game for my second play, and I completely butchered a rule (we returned cubes for sold goods to supply, not Lisbon). As a result, the game was a much more grinding affair than it should've been. I'd love to try one more time with the proper rules!
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6. Board Game: Helios [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:1344]
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This was another one of my standout favorites. It's a solid strategy game with juicy, fun decisions, and it plays in about an hour. It scratches about the same itch as Alhambra, and I think that's going to be big.

I've read some chatter about some possible imbalances in the game, and they might be legit (for example, the building that boosts your already-exponential score growth from the Sun track). However, I've only played the game once, and I don't think it's enough to declare the game broken. I'm probably buying this when it comes out; if there is a break in the game, there'll probably be a house rule to handle it by then. And if not, maybe I can make one up!
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7. Board Game: Prospectus [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:5273]
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Chad and I now belong to an small, elite group of game designers who have economic games in fantasy settings. This game features a transparent cube tower (shaped like a crystal ball), and some really cool gameplay. I really dug it.
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8. Board Game: Rococo [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:196]
Gil Hova
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This is a smooth, fun game. Sure, the setting is a little esoteric, but if you're going to complain about that, I hereby revoke your right to complain about trading-in-the-Mediterranean themes.

This game doesn't do very much that's new, but it is so tight and smooth, it just fits and gels perfectly. Definitely one I will be picking up.
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9. Board Game: Camel Up [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:380]
Gil Hova
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This was one of the hits of the Gathering. At any time, you could see that weird dice-puking cardboard pyramid out on at least one table. There aren't a lot of ways to control the camels, so it's more like Hold 'Em poker in that you're betting on something that is (mostly) out of your control.

But there's a fun factor here. I can't put my finger on why, but the game is light and fun enough that it got a lot of attention. It's a little too fluffy for my personal collection, but it's worth checking out if you like light betting games.
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10. Board Game: Splendor [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:112]
Gil Hova
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Another game that got almost-constant play. It features a tiny ruleset and a relatively short playtime, but it's got just enough strategy and control to keep people interested. I'm curious to try it again.
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11. Board Game: Spyrium [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:482]
Gil Hova
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This one has been out for a few months now, but I finally got a chance to try it. I adored it! Tight actions, a tight economy, simple rules, fast turns, and compelling gameplay.

I was lucky enough to pick Spyrium (along with Hanabi, which I never got around to buying) off the prize table. Then I promptly lost it! Hopefully I accidentally put the game in my storage unit.
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12. Board Game: Die Macher [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:185]
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I found myself willing to wake up "early" (remember, we're in con time here) for a 9 am Die Macher game. I hadn't played it in a few years. Somehow, I managed the Party track and my issues well enough to win... by a point!

Die Macher is one of those games I really dig playing once in awhile, but now that I did it, I'm good for another year or so. It's a little meaner than the games I normally play.
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13. Board Game: Bowl-O-Rama [Average Rating:6.81 Unranked]
Gil Hova
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Here's a peculiar game that I never expected: a dexterity-based stat-accurate bowling simulation. Hmmmm.

The idea is that you roll a d20 across a cardstock board. If your die rolls off the board, you look up your roll on a "bad" chart. If your die rolls on the board but misses a printed black triangle on one end of the board, you look up your roll on an "average" chart. And if you manage to roll onto the black triangle, you look up your roll on a "good" chart.

These charts are all printed on different cards corresponding to different bowlers, which is where the stats come in. Historically-great bowlers will defeat historically-good bowlers, but the more accurate your dice-rolling, the higher you will score.

There are a few too many charts in the game for a game of this depth; it feels very old-school. And of course, it uses standard bowling scoring rules, which are surprisingly tough to add up in one's head. But I still had a good time playing it.
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14. Board Game: Carcassonne: South Seas [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:735]
Gil Hova
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Another entry in the Carcassonne juggernaut. It has some nifty market-based scoring mechanisms, but if you're sick of the Carcassonne franchise (as I am), it won't really help. I enjoyed playing it, but I'm not itching for another game.
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15. Board Game: Citrus [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:1653]
Gil Hova
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This is a really intriguing tile-laying game with some nice mechanisms. Tile-laying isn't really my thing anymore (see above entry), but if you enjoyed Hacienda, you'll want to check this game out.
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16. Board Game: Concept [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:566]
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This is a bizarre, brain-bending party game. Think Charades with icons. It's not really a gamer's game. It plays best more as a scoreless activity than as a competitive game, but I enjoyed puzzling things out for a round or two.
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17. Board Game: Madeira [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:299]
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My biggest miss of the con. I've been wanting to try this game since seeing it at BGG.CON 2013.

I like three-hour heavy economic games, but this game annoyed me. I don't mind games with oodles of disparate mechanisms (Terra Mystica was my favorite game of last year), but I found that this game's mechanisms just didn't fit together.

Terra Mystica has a bunch of disparate mechanisms, but they fit together wonderfully. Madeira has a bunch of disparate mechanisms too, and they feel like their job is to fix other mechanisms in the game. So the game feels patchwork to me.

The whole thing felt opaque; I couldn't tell from the beginning of the game what direction I was "supposed" to go. I chose to go for early ships, and I was rewarded by finding myself in a death spiral for three hours.

I got the same feeling from this game that I got from Bruxelles 1893, that it's a collection of clunky mechanisms that never really synergize. But if you enjoy Bruxelles, you might dig this game.
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18. Board Game: Steam Park [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:676]
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Another game I've been meaning to try, and one I really enjoyed. It's a simple game which merges strategy and planning with a real-time dice-rolling phase.

That combination of strategy and real-time frenzy reminded me of Galaxy Trucker. If you liked one, you will probably like the other.
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19. Board Game: Evolution [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:326]
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Every year, there's a game that comes out that everyone loves except for me. I feel like this one is going to be the next one.

It's a game of survival, with players selecting genetic traits that work together in very interesting ways. Naturally, some players can become carnivores and attack other players. That's perfect for the game, and I think it's going to be a hit with a bunch of game groups.

I personally avoid games with too much metagaming ("Don't go after me, attack her!"), and this game hits those buttons, so I'll be avoiding it. But if you don't have the same reservations, check this one out.
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20. Board Game: Tales & Games: The Three Little Pigs [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:1860]
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A feather-light push-your-luck dice game with a mean twist: a player who goes bust on a roll gets to attack another player. Not for my game collection, but if you enjoy innocent-looking light dice games with a heart of evil, you'll want to try this.
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21. Board Game: UnNatural Selection [Average Rating:5.26 Overall Rank:13519]
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Another party game with a judging mechanism, like Apples to Apples and its raunchier illegitimate child Cards Against Humanity. But this one is quite fun. Players get to tell stories about bizarre deathmatches, and there was a lot of laughing in our game.

It perfectly executes what it's going for. If you're not sick of this kind of game, it's worth your time.
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22. Board Game: Battle Merchants [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:3371]
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I'm going to close with a little more self-promotion; at the GoF, I got to hold a production copy of my newest published game for the first time! It's like holding a new baby, only much less messy.

The game looks flat-out gorgeous, and I got it on the table a few times. I've been testing a fun variant rule that I think some players are going to really enjoy. The game got a really good reception, and I'm looking forward to throwing a fun release party when it officially comes out!
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