I haven’t ever been to GenCon, or Origins, and this year will be my first BGGcon. There’s occasional game days in Toronto, but nothing of a multi-day sort of thing, so I love getting to go to the Gathering of Friends and game in such a concentrated way. (Sometimes in a “forget when you were last outside” kinda way, but hey!) It’s a chance to catch up with friends I haven’t seen since last year, to play some Essen releases for the first time, and to get a glimpse at what is in the pipeline for the next year or so.
With under 400 attendees, the con doesn’t get too crowded, but there’s always someone to find a game with – and tables of people’s personal little game libraries to choose from. In addition, there are a lot of publishers that have representation who will bring along in-development or soon-to-be-released games for trying, and designers who bring their prototypes for playtesting. I love this mix because it’s something like what I think Unpub, BGGCon and perhaps Origins/GenCon would be if you took a little of their DNA and spliced it together.
With many of the prototypes, it’s really hard to speak about them. I played games that Ted Alspach, Matt Leacock, Josh Cappell, Friedemann Friese & Vlaada Chvatil are all working on in various stages of development. I’m excited for them all, and it’s a terrific chance as a playtester to give feedback about games I already like in their formative stages (a few cities have small Unpub events or playtester nights if you’re into this sort of thing too!). Publishers like Repos Productions, Pretzel Games & Space Cowboys also had some great almost ready to publish stuff there like 2p 7 Wonders, Flick ‘em Up and Time Stories.
When it comes down to it, despite the stage of a game’s development or state of being published, the best part of the Gathering is sitting down to new (either new to the world, or to me!) games, and playing with new friends. This should be at the core of any con, as far as I’m concerned (which is why I’m looking forward to BGGcon too!). Experiencing unique Japanese releases, trying out a game or two I’ve heard great things about but never had the chance to try, or being pulled into a late night game of Time’s Up – all of it’s a quintessential part of why I keep going back to the GOF.
Thinking over what I got to play, my top 5 experiences for games played would have to include Orleans, Looney Quest, Deep Sea Adventure, Cacao, and Terra (which I hope gets an English release!). For things upcoming, Dark Moon, One Night Resistance, Time Stories, Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Secrets Expansion and Matt Leacock’s wonderful party game. My full list of plays is here at my Geeklist. There was certainly nowhere near enough time for me to play all the things I wanted to, and certainly not to sit down and game with all the people I wanted to! But there’s always next year.
This year’s Gathering was a great experience (as they always are). Good gaming with some great people that I only get to see once a year.
You can look at the Gathering of Friends as a bit of a predictor as to what will be popular in the upcoming year for games. Having a hit there can mean that your work can reach a wider audience. Last year, games like Splendor, Camel Up and Concept were all heavily played. Each of those games have become best sellers and all three were up for the German game of the year, with Camel Up taking home the prize.
The Gathering is also an incredible opportunity for some of the world’s best designers to get their games play tested. This year we got a chance to try out the intriguing, T.I.M.E Stories, a neat tile-laying game, Cacao, a number of simple and beautiful games from Japan and some interesting party games by big name designers.
Friedemann Friese’s 504 seems cool. The uses nine different styles of games and mixes three each time you play, creating 504 possible combinations. We played a pick-up-and-deliver/area control/race game. It was the first time that particular combination had been done. It was fun and I’d be interested in trying different combos.
I think the game that left me wanting to play it again and again was a prototype for a communication game by Vlaada Chvatil. It’s simple design and rules hide a wickedly smart team game. I’m looking forward to being able to talk about it in detail and more importantly to play it again!
Overall it was another great year in Niagara. For me this is by far the best convention. It’s an informal atmosphere, more about creation and play testing than selling or promoting games to the end consumer. It will be nice to see the impact that some of the popular games will make on the market and if the prototypes come together with the potential and promise they’ve shown then the next year of gaming looks bright indeed.