Tao of Gaming 2019 Gathering of Friends Geeklist
Brian Bankler
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Has it already been another year? (It has).
Were some games played? (Yup).

Unlike my prior few years, I stayed for a full week at the Gathering. (Our kids our now old enough that do not need to constantly supervise/shuttle them around), and The Cute One
Jacqui Bankler
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joined me mid week.

We left the TaoLing to forage for roots and grubs (at his grandparents).

Despite being at the Gathering for longer than prior years, I didn't play significantly more games. No spring chicken, I. Anyway, this is a mix of stories about people and quick thoughts about games.
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1. Board Game: On Tour [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:2034]
Brian Bankler
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Fresh off the plane I arrived at the hotel and was quickly roped into On Tour by the universal be-loved David A.

On Tour is sort of a geographical "Take it Easy" where each round you put numbers into two cities based on region cards that also show a specific state. If you put a number into the list card, it gets a bonus. At the end of the game your band tours from state to state, but never lowering the number, and you score for each city and bonus points.

Good idea, good production values, but this overstays its welcome. On the other hand, you could in theory play 8 or 12 (or however many sets you own) in the same amount of time.
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2. Board Game: Root [Average Rating:8.09 Overall Rank:52]
Brian Bankler
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My first four player game of Root (with my 'normal crowd' of gaming co-conspirators, Lou W., Geoff S. and David S.) This was the first game for two of the players, and the first time Geoff played the Vagabond. He took the character that lets you "Scorched Earth" and when I (as the Eyrie) got to 28 points I knew that the Vagabond at 20 was still in contention, so I hammered him with a 'spare' battle order. Alas, to no avail. Geoff aided his 'ally' (the Cats) for six points and then scorched them for four more points for the win.

This game also had us using Geoff's nice set with the Etsy pieces and BGG bags. One of the themes for the last few years have been amazing after-market improvements to games, and (as I was to discover during the week), these were but the tip of the iceberg.

(And I missed this year's game of High Frontiers with all custom lego space ships...)

After this I had the first run to Koi (the restaurant) for the opening dinner....
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3. Board Game: Franchise [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:4596]
Brian Bankler
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Played this with Bill M, David G and Jeff G. This one took a bit of work to understand (not because its particularly complicated, just that it has some unusual rules). You build up franchises in various cities, and sometimes losing a city can score you more points than winning.

Afterwards I realized that it reminded me (strongly) of Medieval Merchant. You don't remember that? Well, for good reason. I have no need to play this again.
 
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4. Board Game: Hadara [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:3312]
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After that I tried Hadara, and its been a week so I don't remember who taught me and who I played with, but I suspect it was the normal crowd. (Some friend I am).

You basically play two phases and them some purchasing each round. In phase A you get a pair of cards, discard one and either buy the other or toss it out of the game for money. Then you repeat for the next card type, etc (players rotate which type they get). In phase B players can go through the discards and buy or toss. After each phase you get money and earn bonuses for advancing on the four tracks (The fifth type of card is the "bonus/tech" track).

I thought Hadara was a nice, inoffensive Euro; nothing I'd suggest but I'd play it if asked. It got pretty constant play during the week, so I guess that many people like it well enough and it may have been the 'hit' for all I know. (Read everyone else's geeklists to figure it out).

After this I was pretty beat from getting up at 4am (convention time) to make my flight, so I called it a day.
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5. Board Game: John Company [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:1366]
Brian Bankler
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After joining the Bob Evan's Conspiracy for breakfast, we had to pick a game, and it was an easy choice.

John Company was my favorite game of the 2018 Gathering (see Tao of Gaming 2018 Gathering of Friends Geeklist), but I never managed to get up a game with my local group. The normal crowd set up the full game (without the monopolization rules). As befitting a game of such ruthless nature, we stationed ourselves right beside the shark tank that overlooks the hotel's pool.

But the sharks were gone! It turns out that they had gotten a bit too big for their tank, which made them cantankerous and "bite-y" so they'd been shipped off to an actual aquarium.

And apparently there were no sharks at the table, either, because in no time we'd managed to drive The Company into the ground. A few disastrous rolls and India mutinied at the earliest opportunity. I believe the final scores were 4-4-3-0.

Good God, man!

It only took as an hour to be driven out of the country....
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6. Board Game: Continental Divide [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:5086]
Brian Bankler
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So we dived into a Winsome game I'd taken a flyer on and bought at auction. Interesting until we realized that a player (with enough money) could go last, open a company (with only one share allowed) then go first and buy it out and just make a minimal scoring run to get 20 unshared points for a company that barely moves across the country. So three of us did that, one turn after another.

I really wanted to like this, as I like the few Winsome games I've played and I assumed that any Winsome game picked up by another publisher would be the cream of the crop.
 
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7. Board Game: Teotihuacan: City of Gods [Average Rating:8.00 Overall Rank:100]
Brian Bankler
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Since we couldn't shark anymore, we decided to embrace death with Tee-oh-tee-something-something .... City of Gods! (I actually like Aztec and Incan themes, but they are a bear to pronounce....)

I actually liked the core ideas of this game, which is sort of a multi-worker rondel where you workers age, get better at what they do, and then die, but that's viewed as a good thing. But much fiddlyness lurks alongside the core idea, so I have mixed feelings. Still, along with Hadara this was probably the most played Euro of the Gathering.
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8. Board Game: Krass Kariert [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:2880]
Brian Bankler
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I played this clever climbing/trick-taking while waiting to start Euphrat and Tigris. The leader plays a combination and everyone (once around the table) must play a better combination than the prior player, or take one of your two reserve cards.

But you must play touching cards and are not allowed to re-arrange your hand. (But when you add cards you can place them whenever). Whoever can't play a card loses a cube, and when you can't lose a cube you lose the game (and everyone else wins). A nice card game filler.

As it turned out, there were five for E&T and I was the alternate, so I went on to play...
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9. Board Game: The Cousins' War (second edition) [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:6784]
Brian Bankler
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I played this with Steffan O'S. The box is slightly bigger than the roughly post-card sized board and with three dice, a few cubes, and a less than twenty cards you re-create the War of the Roses in about thirty minutes.

You deal out six cards to each player, who then trade a card. Each player discards a card (which must be a battle if you have one) to set where the battle is. A small card playing phase follows to move influence cubes around the board and battle. (Like many GMT games, your card may also trigger an opponent's event).

Then, when you have one card left, you play a Liar's Dice variant to resolve the battle! A wonderful little title, made better by my opponent (the real Most Interesting Man in the World).
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10. Board Game: Res Arcana [Average Rating:7.94 Overall Rank:822]
Brian Bankler
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For me, this would be the Game of the Gathering, except that I got it the week before. I played a few times (maybe teaching once, I can't remember) before running into ...
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11. Board Game: Narabi [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:7928]
Brian Bankler
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... some guy who runs this site. After a long bout of shooting the breeze, he brought out this cooperative puzzle-y game (that it turns out was in the welcome bag). The players get dealt some rocks numbered 0-8 (ish, depends on # of players). Some rocks don't have numbers. On your turn, you trade a rock with another player (and minimal communication). But each rock has a special restriction, and you only learn it when the rock is in front of you.

And then you have to get the rocks in order (going in either direction of the circle), with minimal communication.

We got a particularly hard set of rules, and after getting them into something like 0-1-2-4-3-5-6-7-8 Aldie declared that we had to reverse the order. Anyway, after a few moves, we had to reverse again.

Needless to say, we lost. By the time it ended I felt punch drunk (and could not even figure out what the game's actual name was, even when staring at the box) and so my first full day at the Gathering ended.

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12. Board Game: A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition) [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:96]
Brian Bankler
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After breakfast with the BEC (and a quick game of Res Arcana) our first feature of the day was A Game of Thrones. I'd played 1e a number of times, but we'd stopped playing because of a few issues that 2nd edition fixed (but never got back into it).

This was a special 4p scenario with objectives and a quick start. I drew Lancaster Lannister and of my five objectives to choose three from, I had two I already met. (But you can only fulfill one per turn). Anyway, a random event let me toss my impossible one and get another one I could achieve. First clan to 7 points wins.

When the Baratheon's failed to take King's Landing (which is one point a turn for me) on T3, I had my six points and I was sitting on another objective that I could (in theory) get whenever the right event showed up.

It arrived next turn. So I won. Honestly it was a bit of a let down but I do like the new (to me) edition of the game. And I won.
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13. Board Game: Fantasy Realms [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:867]
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A fast hand of Rummy for Nerds, where scoring takes longer than the game. Amusing enough. I won by having been dealt a big fire combo and by carefully not breaking it apart.
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14. Board Game: 18Lilliput [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:2174]
Brian Bankler
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"18xx for those who don't like 18xx" -- That's the pitch.

I happen to like 18xx. Combining the classic train system with an action selection system means that you can't really plan ahead forever and ever, but that's a feature not a a bug. Also, the fixed number of turns means that non-aggressive play wno't greatly extend the game, so I imagine this will actually be a nice, gentle introduction for some.

And it's still brutal enough to satisfy some of us. I'd play again.
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15. Board Game: Cataclysm: A Second World War [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:2247]
Brian Bankler
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Our actual long game of the day, we got the normal group + Joe R, who taught us the game.

Ah, the Siren Song of the "What if we started in 1930 or so and had all the politics and build up thatled up to the WWII then fought it in a single long gaming session?" That's a grail. I'd pre-ordered this, then cancelled at least once (IIRC), so the chance to try it out beckoned.

It's tough to judge on just a four hour play (which didn't even take us to the actual Declaration of War), and I'd certainly try again, but right now I've tentatively labelled Cataclysm a "noble failure." There's a lot of good stuff going on, and by hour two it was starting to feel magical, but it became mechanical before the magic coalesced. Ironically, the problem might be that it's not constrained enough. Once people start allying then a single action may give two or three people more actions, which makes actions chain. And the US had a massive pre-war buildup that feels wrong.

We called this around midnight and I (suffering from lack of sleep) said that we really need a pre-WWII game that felt like Magic Realm, where anything could happen but the world felt true, and that I would design it. (Cataclysm's die system is similar to MR, which had caught my attention).

And so they day ended as it began, with many an ill-timed boast.

(But I didn't promise to design it well, so I can breathe a sigh of relief).
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16. Board Game: Cosmic Encounter [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:893]
Brian Bankler
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After the standard opening moves of the morning (The BEC followed by a game or two of Res Arcana) we had our big game -- a six player, multi-power affair of Cosmic Encounter! We were using Lucre (and pretty much everything save moons and reverse hexes), I took The Force (who can be offered money to change the game rules moderately, but cannot promise what rules to change, only that it will help the supplicant) and the Delegator (who can switch Allies with the main player).

(If you don't know Cosmic, go ahead and skip to the next entry).

It was a wild game, and my memory is hurt by the fact that Reincarnator was there and the wild flare was played so every player switched a power at least once. I do remember Demon/Filth was an early threat. Sadly, a six player game of CE is often long, and with so many powers entering it was a slow affair. And then the Terrorist entered the game (Reincarnator Flare) and it slowed even more. So I started casting my eyes towards a group win, but the Reverse Cone kept blocking multi-player victories, so at some point when a mistake happened (I got asked to ally on offense, which wouldn't normally give me a base due to a reverse cone), I asked "Are you sure?"

And after "Yes," I had my shot. I delegated to switch myself to the main player. Loser had already revealed the Loser flare (which allows him to declare upset after the cards are played) so I shuffled a compromise and my biggest attack card and played randomly. After I played Loser pointed out to my opponent (Reincarnator + Anti-matter, I think with Will as the current power) that a compromise would be totally safe (because if he declared a loss it would win, or he could not offer a base if I played one), but he didn't have one. Loser called an upset anyway (since Anti-matter gets a lower number)....

and I had played my Compromise! Winner winner, but it not quite time for dinner.

 
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17. Board Game: Magically Cute Creatures [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Brian Bankler
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No, not the game, but by this time The Cute One had joined me at the Gathering, so we went looking for a game she'd like.
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18. Board Game: Too Many Cinderellas [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:3651]
Brian Bankler
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We found it, but one player was delayed for a bit, so we tried to sort out the suitor for the Prince. We had a great win for the Cat, who usually only wins because the Prince discovers that his true love drinks neither Wine nor Beer. But in this case Her Royal Feliness won because of some other combination that blocked all the other potentials.
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19. Board Game: The Quacks of Quedlinburg [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:247]
Brian Bankler
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I'd played Quacks before. My strategy of "drawing all the white tiles" (which are bad) and then losing isn't a good one. Thankfully this time someone else tried that strategy, so I did better.

The Cute One liked this rather a lot, I think. I'd prefer one of the more traditional push your luck games (like Can't Stop) but this isn't bad and I'd certainly play it again.
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20. Board Game: Fantasy Realms [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:867]
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We then played this with the full compliment. I got a great hand, scoring 199, but Lou pulled together a combination for 256. Lou's been reading books on sleight of hand, so I'm just saying there's some doubt as to the legitimacy of his victory.
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21. Board Game: Asterix: Das Kartenspiel [Average Rating:5.97 Overall Rank:9264]
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Which brings up a running joke.

For years our group has given "Commissioner's asterisk" (ala Baseball) to any game won under questionable circumstances (usually a wrong rule).

This year at the Gathering Joe R presented Geoff with a giant wooden asterisk that we could pass around to whoever last won a game dubiously.

(The only definite asterisk of the week was Lou's use of Alchemist in Res Arcana to get a gold discount, which is explicitly forbidden on the card).
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22. Board Game: Startups [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:2184]
Brian Bankler
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We then played this Japanese stock game where you collect stocks, but when you have the most (public) stock you are banned from taking any more (except as blind draws) and when the game ends any minority shareholder owes the majority holder some money. It's fast, there's a ton of luck, and it was amusing for the brief time it took.
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23. Board Game: Just One [Average Rating:7.58 Overall Rank:639]
Brian Bankler
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The clear winner for "Party Game of the Gathering," (helped by the fact that the publisher donated copies for the welcome bags). Everyone simultaneously writes a one-word clue (on the very well done card stand/whiteboard each player has) for the secret word, which the receiver cannot see.

But any duplicate clues get discarded. So if you go too obvious, you are out. After a game or two we decided to ban pronouns, because they made the game pretty easy.

Despite the name, we played twice, and then it as dark and there were Werewolves, so I went back to the hotel room.
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24. Board Game: Quartermaster General: The Cold War [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:4359]
Brian Bankler
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After the normal morning (I mean, I missed Bob Evans one day, which may have been Thursday, but I definitely played Res Arcana) we started up a three player wargame. Lou took the West, I was the Eastern Bloc and Mark D played the Aligned factions (China, India and various nationalists fronts).

I think QMG is the best system of the last five years or so, and this is a different but still interesting twist on it. The problem of a three player war (if A and B fight, C comes out ahead) is hard to solve, but the Cold War works. You play nukes to ready them, but when you actually use them you lose VP (and often, your victim does). So this means that players build up but rarely use Nuclear weapons.

The other nice system is that a 20 point margin is sudden death, but before that happens the second place player transfers points to the 3rd place player (I call it Foreign Aid) to prevent the victory. So you don't just have bashing on the leader (the leader may bash on 2nd or 3rd). And of course you are constrained by what cards you draw.

Finally, you get two or three card plays a turn (all optional) but one of them costs a discard, so you often play about half your hand every turn. This last difference means that Cold War is a bit slower paced than other games, because you have a wide variety of options. (Play 2 cards? Play 3 but discard one?) And you build up response ("Espionage") cards so by mid game you can have a turn where 10+ cards get played (a few espionage cards, maybe a retaliatory nuclear exchange, and the normal 3 cards).

So its slower. But gripping. As we slowly worked towards the endgame and final scoring the Soviets (me) deliberately avoided antagonizing the West (which gives discounts on using Nukes), all the more so because Lou had played status cards that allowed him to escalate faster than normal (if provoked). The aligned nations just built a nice position and let us spend cards against each other, and it was a tight three-way game.

In fact, after our final scoring, it was initially a three way tie, but the nationalists (who get the final play) had forgotten to play an extra card for another point. So they won (with an asterisk, of course).
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25. Board Game: Phoenicia [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:1735]
Brian Bankler
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While waiting to teach Maria, Mark and I got a two player game of Phoencia. It took about 15 minutes, and I lost.
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