Every year a handful of lucky people get to travel to Niagara Falls to take part in Alan R. Moon’s Gathering of Friends. It’s a convention that brings together hundreds of the most influential designers, publishers, artists, and media professionals from across the industry. The Gathering is an excellent opportunity to see some of the games that are going to make an impact in the coming year. There is usually a game everyone is playing non-stop, and you can tell it is going to be a big hit for the people releasing it. In past years such titles have included Splendor, Codenames, Mysterium, and T.I.M.E. Stories. It’s always exciting to see which games will make an impact. Here is a list of some of the best and most interesting from this year’s Gathering.
If there was one game that took the Gathering by storm, it has to be The Mind. It has all the perfect elements of a great game; simple to learn, tough and engaging, and incredibly replayable. At any time throughout the day, you would see several copies of The Mind on the tables. The goal of the game is for the players to cooperatively play out the cards in their hand in ascending order. Seems simple enough, but when you consider that you can’t speak, it gets a bit tougher. Each round the cards dealt are increased by one, so in the first round, each player only has one card to get rid of, but by round four they will have a hand of four that they have to interpret when to play. Cards are numbered 1-100, so if you have number 1 in your hard, you know you have to get that out first. Card 100 goes last. But what if you have card 43? When does that play out amongst all the other cards that are out there? You have to read your teammates to guess what range of cards they might have. It’s tough and addictive. You get as many lives as you have players, and if you make a mistake, you lose a life. Getting all the way up to Level 12 is really tough, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun to try!
You would expect that a game by the designers of Lorenzo il Magnifico would do interesting things with dice…and with Coimbra, you’d be correct. Players are looking to expand their influence and travel around Portugal in Coimbra. To do so, they will draft dice and place them in various levels of the city in order to acquire cards and other bonuses. There are a few different factors to consider when you grab your dice. The higher the result, the sooner (usually) you’ll go when picking a card, however, you’ll have to pay more for the rights to do so. The colour of the dice you take is also really important. It determines which influence tracks you’ll gain rewards for in the round. Some tracks earn you resources, others give you movement points, allowing you to visit different regions and gain rewards, and one track just gives you straight up points. It is a really pleasurable game with all parts of it working well together. You’ll probably have to play one full game to really see how everything works, but I really do recommend checking Coimbra out. There are some agonizingly fun decisions to be made!
I had not heard about this game at all before the Gathering, but I was super impressed by it. It is a fast and highly replayable stock and track building game. Each round you’ll take two turns. On one, you’ll take stock, and on the other, you’ll build track. Where the track is built on the board will determine how the stock rises and falls. When you acquire stock, it’ll start with a value of zero and gain and fall for you from that point forward. From round to round, players will select the coloured disc they want to either extend some track or invest in stock. This also determines their turn order for future rounds. It’s a really simple element, but one that works very well. I will go into more detail with a future review of Mini Rails, but I think it’s pretty safe to say it was one of my favourite new games of the Gathering.
There really aren’t any Phil Walker Harding games I don’t like. In fact, I got to try a few that aren’t released yet that are a heck of a lot of fun. I can’t talk about all of them, but I can tell you about Gizmos. In Gizmos, players are taking part in the annual invention fair in an effort to create the most interesting and powerful machines. By pulling Energy Balls from the dispenser (not too dissimilar from another CMON title, Potion Explosion), they will acquire the resources needed to create new machines. The more they build, the more powerful they become. Each turn they can accomplish more and more. With careful building, you can find powerful synergies in your cards and accomplish a lot on dynamic turns. The better an engine you build, the more you’ll be able to do. Gizmos is quick and simple to learn, pretty to look at, and above all, fun! Definitely another hit for PWH!
Reef is by Emerson Matsuuchi, the designer of Century: Spice Road and there are some similarities in the experience. Very simply, on a turn players will either take a new card, face up or from the draw pile, or they will play a card allowing them to add coral to their reef and possibly score a combination. The goal is to create different combinations of height, colour, and lay-out. Reef is a really fast game, the bits are beautiful, and it will appeal to the same crowd of people that enjoy straight forward abstracts, like Azul. For table presence alone, I think Reef will do really well!
I don’t design games, but I occasionally do have ideas for themes or mechanics in games. I once wanted to try something that was played completely in the dark. Nyctophobia does just that. Players must leave their car to navigate some woods and find their friend all while avoiding a vampire. The problem is that they do it all in the dark! Super effective blackout glasses force players to make their decisions based on touch and memory. Where was the vampire last? Who is that standing beside me? Will we ever make it back to the car? One person takes on the role of the vampire, who must truthfully explain what happens if those in the dark choose to throw a rock or make a noise. They hunt the players as they work to get out of the woods with their lives. In truth, I’m not sure how much replayablility there is in the game, but it really is fun to try at least once. Adding to the story, is that designer Catherine Stippell created Nyctophobia when she noticed that her uncle, who is blind, always had to adjust when playing games. It’s great to hear stories like this that bring better accessibility to the gaming world.
This one I really can’t say too much about, but I will tell you that if you enjoyed the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books as a kid, you’re really going to love this game. It’s an engaging adventure that has a strong sense of humour throughout. Would love to share more details, but don’t want to spoil the experience. Definitely try this one out for yourself.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the games played over the week. There were frankly too many to fit into one article. Luckily, Nicole was also at the Gathering last week and she’ll be sharing her thoughts here later this week.