The Gathering of Friends 2016 – Bamboozle Brother Summary

The Gathering of Friends is always my favourite week of the year (ok, with the exception of the week I got married this year!), and this year was as fun and productive as usual. Here’s a summary of the shenanigans that the Bamboozle Brothers got up to over the last 10 days.

Pitching new games

We pitched fewer games than usual this year, mostly because we’ve been busy working on licensed games. We still managed to meet with a bunch of publishers.

Filosofia: We showed them 9 Thieves and a set of three games set in the Arabian Nights stories, each designed by different designers. They liked 9 Thieves and gave us an idea to improve it, which we did for our next pitch.

Wizkids: Right before the Gathering a contract expired for Rock, Paper, Wizards, a game that another publisher had of ours, which meant that it was back on the market. Zev from Wizkids remembered liking it last year, so after a round of playing the game again Zev wanted the game! He had an idea that seemed like it would break the game, but the underlining issue he was trying to solve was a valid issue. This was a game we co-designed with Josh Cappel (yes, THAT Josh Cappel – the artist for Belfort!) and Josh had a brainstorm that solved the issue even better and made everyone happy! Huzzah!

I also pitched to Zev a game I designed with non-Sen designer, Shad Miller, called Skirmishes. He really liked that one and asked to have a copy to evaluate.

Zev from Wizkids examines Skirmishes

Zev from Wizkids examines Skirmishes!

Stronghold: I showed Stephen Skirmishes because I thought it was something he’d be interested in – and he liked it and said it was very clever, but he already had a battle game coming out this year.

USA-opoly: I wouldn’t have thought to pitch anything to him based on the games that they’ve made. I had the fortune of sitting beside Tony from USA-opoly on a 2 hour bus ride to Toronto to visit Snakes and Lattes and see the Blue Jays game. Seems like they are trying to publish their own games and the timing is perfect! I showed him some games and he seemed intrigued, but none of our current games seemed to match what he was looking for. 

Huch & Friends: I always enjoy pitching to Britta and Benjamin as they are very nice, fun and professional. They are also the fastest publishers to respond to an email in my experience so far! We showed them our games and she ended up liking two of the Arabian Nights games, one of them being our Aladdin game. Yay! They have also had our Herdables game for a coulee years and think they might want to publish that one too…so fingers crossed!

North Star: it was more of a lengthy conversation than a pitch as we chatted about where they’re at and where they want to go with their business. It was great to learn where they’re going and what they’re looking for in the near future. Could turn Into something exciting!

Pretzel Games: Well this is a first – we pitched a game to a publisher that we never play tested. Not only that, but we didn’t even have a prototype! Whaaa? We were told by Martin that he was looking for some outdoor games, so Sen and I came up with an idea for an outdoor game, but we didn’t want to put time and resources into making the game if the concept wasn’t even interesting to Martin. After our pitch we brainstormed some more on some production challenges and he ended up liking it and wanted us to proceed to the prototype stage! Sweet.

Matagot: Stefan is pretty new with Matagot so he is still trying to understand what they’re looking for, but he liked Skirmishes and wants me to take a picture of the game fully set up so he can show it to his team.

Indie Card and Board: This was an impromptu pitch when I saw Travis walking around, not looking busy. He had seen me playing/pitching our word game, Chainables in a restaurant with Tony from USA-opoly and had commented that it looked cool. I figured that it wasn’t the kind of game that Indie would publish but thought he’d like to play a game. He did, and enjoyed the game (not to publish it tho!), and then I transitioned that into a pitch for 9 Thieves. He seemed to like it and gave us a couple of great ideas to tweak it. So yay for improvements at least.

Promoting Games

Sen and I had 2 games that we were asked to help promote while at the Gathering this year, Junk Art and Godfather: A New Don. 

Junk Art is the second game from Pretzel Games, with the first being the hit from last year, Flick ‘Em Up. Junk Art involves 15 wooden pieces in 4 different colours for a total of 60 wooden pieces. There’s a deck of cards with each piece having its own card. There are many ways to play the game, but mostly you’re challenging players with cards to place those pieces onto their own base, trying to get points for placement or for having the tallest structure. 

Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Island) is amazed by his own creation!

Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Island) is amazed by his own creation!

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Willaim Attia (designer of Callus and Spyrium) trying Junk Art!

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Josh Cappel (designer of Wasabi and artist for Belfort) trying some outlandish moves.

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Some great reactions after a piece is added to a structure! They’re playing the Montreal variant which has players inheriting the structure that they were just passing cards to in the previous round. This mode causes the most insane structures!

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Travis from Indie Card & Board calling to order his own copy of Junk Art (I can only assume that’s what he was doing). This mode was called Gujarat where each player takes all the pieces of one colour.

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Eric Lang staring contemplatively at his winning structure while playing the Monaco variant.

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Phil Walker-Harding is trying to compete for tallest structure in the Home Town variant. This is considered to be the main game and has a lot of strategy!

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Mike Gray – the man who brought Bausack to America and called it Bandu, plays Junk Art!

The game seemed like a big hit at the Gathering this year with the game being played multiple times per day by different game groups. I heard Tom Vasel and Zee Garcia played it for about an hour one day too! Junk art is being released at GenCon. You can check out a trailer for the game here:

Godfather: A New Don is published by IDW Games and was air shipped to the Gathering. It was a final art prototype, meaning that the quality of the components were not final (and some pieces were hijacked from other games!). I got to get this game played at least 4 times during the con and everyone seemed to really like how streamlined the game is. If you like dice rolling and area majority, then we have a game for you! Add to the mix that players have to offer dice to the Godfather every round, the ability to muscle other players out of your neighbourhood and the fact that you can invest in Vegas and you’ll find it pretty difficult to not talk like mafia and quote the movie while you play it!

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Meetings with publishers

We spent some time not pitching – but business stuff!

We spent a couple hours at least with Martin from Pretzel Games discussing and brainstorming the first expansion to Junk Art. The game isn’t out yet but they believe in it so much that they want to have an expansion ready ASAP. It was maybe my favourite part of the whole week as 2 designers and a publisher brainstormed through game play and publishing challenges to figure out how to make our cool ideas come to life. Needless to say, we’re pretty excited about it!

We had a lunch meeting with Mercury Games and talked about the two games of ours that they have in the pipeline, Zombie Slam and What’s That. Both require an app to play the game, and they have recently hired an app developer (another Game Artisan of Canada!). So we talked through the timing as well as the future of Mercury.

Playtesting 

We wanted to get a lot of play testing of our games with other people done at the Gathering – and we did!

Powers (a game based on the comic, coming out later this year form IDW Games) was played twice. The first game had Matt Leacock as a player but the game broke down and made us realize the importance of the set up. We got some great feedback though and we tweaked it for another playtest later in the week. The second test was better but still messy. We have ideas on how to clean it up and continue simplifying while still ensuring there’s a challenge for players who’ve played it a bunch.

Godzilla (a game coming out from Toy Vault) was played numerous times, and three times by me. All the games were great, but it’s obvious that the Godzilla deck is not well constructed, so we have to change which cards are in the deck. Easy fix!

Skirmishes (by Shad and me) got played by Sen and me before we left for the Gathering and it made me change one big thing in the game that makes the game easier to comprehend the first time playing. 

But Wait There’s Even More (a game from Toy Vault). The first print run has sold out, but instead of just reprinting, we’re thinking of printing a new box, full of 100% new content. This way, existing fans can buy it – but newcomers can buy it as well! We tested all the new phrases and got to tweak a few of them as well as a new rule for this edition!

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Phil Walker-Harding (designer of Sushi Go and Cacao) pitches some crazy product to the rest of us!

I got to playtest other designers’ games as well, like Matt Leacock’s new family co-op game, Mike Kolross’s G-Men, Phil Walker-Harding’s Spy Craft, Mike Gray’s Water God, Josh Cappel’s Dead Run, Al Leduc’s Dogs on the Bed, and probably a few more that I can’t recall.

Played games

I did find some time to play some games as well while I was there! 

Codenames Pictures: This was a no-brainer. Take the hit party game Codenames, but replace the words with images. The images are all kind of weird too – which makes it interesting. This will play better when you have friends that have different native languages.

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Karuba: a fun and light game that’s like Take it Easy with a theme. Played this one a couple times.IMG_4303

Team Play: a nice light partner based card game where each player has a goal of the cards they need to collect in order to score points. Players can draw cards as well as pass cards to their partner. Pretty fun and easy.

Colony: Kind of like Machi Koro but has a bit too much downtime between turns. I heard it’s great with 2 players – and it would probably get better with repeat plays.

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Ulm: I played this last year as well, and it should be coming out this year from Huch & Friends. I really like it and look forward to playing it again.

Ulm!

Tichu: I partnered up with Stefan Brunelle and we beat Zev and Ignacy’s wife, Merry. Love this game. 

Strike: Weird that this is a published game…it’s just a bunch of dice and a plastic mold inside the box that you roll them in. Super random obviously but fun for 4 minutes I guess.

Rollers: this one was a fun game but it just lasted way too long for us. We thought it was over but then we realized that it’s the player to get 5 points first…so the game continued. 

Adrenaline: A cool PvP game that emulates a first person shooter in tight quarters – but it does so with no dice rolling. It has a bit AP, but I thought it was very neat!

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Wonky: a neat idea for a small balancing game. Not sure how much replayability it would have though.

Broom Service: a neat idea about being cowardly or brave…though it can be punishing.

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Broom Service in action!

Designed

Sen and I didn’t have as much time as we thought we would, mostly because he had to leave for 4 days in the middle to go back to work. Boo! But we ironed out quite a few things in the car ride there and back at least!

Josh Cappel had an idea for a game while at the Gathering and asked me for help trying to turn it into a game. We made some good progress on it and we’ll continue working on it together.

Other shenanigans

As mentioned before, 40 of us got on a bus and rode into Toronto to hang out at Snakes and Lattes and then to the baseball game. I’m a huge Blue Jays fan so this was exciting! I was surrounded by Germans and Australians who had never seen a baseball game…ever! So I was able to help them throughout the game with some rules explanations.

The Skydome ...uh I mean, Rogers Centre!

The Skydome …uh I mean, Rogers Centre!

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Getting ready for the game to start!

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The CN Tower…obligatory photo.

All the rooms had fridges and microwaves this year so we did a grocery run when we first got there which was my breakfast and lunch every day. For dinner I had a lot of yummy Indian food as there are many options close to the hotel. We did our annual walk over to the Canadian side to have dinner at a nice wood oven pizza place. We had around 18 of us this year, with numerous designers and publishers. On another night, eight of us drove into Buffalo to eat some great meat at Dinosaur. We were well fed.

We had our largest turnout for our annual soccer game, organized every year by Richard Bethany. This year we each had a sub plus a full team of 6 on each side (half field- hey we’re old!). One of my favourite activities every year.

soccer-gathering

The final ceremony started with a humourous magic act and then quickly proceeded to the prizes! Everyone that donates something, like a game to the prize table, goes into a draw and gets to take something from the prize table. It’s not just games though…there were numerous hand made options like meeple pillows, hand painted miniatures for popular games, handmade gaming quilt – plus some super hard to find games like Indonesia and Antiquity. I managed to snag Super Motherlode because it’s from Roxley Games…and they’re just awesome (they’re doing a Kickstarter for Santorini that end soon). 

That’s it in a rather large nutshell. Even though the atmosphere is casual and relaxed it never feels like there’s enough time to do everything. Maybe it should happen twice a year? 🙂

Jay Cormier

Sent from my iPad

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Final thoughts on Gathering of Friends 2014

IMG_0984On top of all the pitching we did, Sen and I also got to have some fun while we were at the Gathering! We got to see our final art prototype of Akrotiri! We got to teach many people to play it and also promoted an unofficial contest where some winners got a copy of another 2-player game from Z-man Games. We had received a lot of good buzz from players who got to play it with some of them saying things like, “I liked it and I’ve never played anything like it!” Wow – that’s possibly the best compliment you could say about a board game, in my opinion.

Tom Rosen (left) and Larry Levy from Opinionated Gamers play Akrotiri!

Tom Rosen (left) and Larry Levy from Opinionated Gamers play Akrotiri!

It was also nice to see many people checking out my Table Cloth Contest this year! This is the second year in a row that I’ve done a Table Cloth Contest and now I think I’ll do it every year. It was hanging in the main room for the entirety of the event! It was then donated to the prize table at the end and it was nice to see that it was one of the first 20 items to be grabbed! Since the Gathering I’ve had 4 or 5 people ask how they can get their own copy of it. Nice! The picture is below and consists of the top 3 games per year (according to BGG) for the last 25 years – but I scrubbed the title out of it and replaced it with the Gathering of Friends logo. So attendees had to guess as many games as possible to win!IMG_0988

Glass Road with Vlaada Chvatil (left) and Toy Vault rep, Ed Bryan

Glass Road with Vlaada Chvatil (left) and Toy Vault rep, Ed Bryan

We also got to hobnob with tons of other designers. I got to play a game of Glass Road with Vlaada Chvatil; Phantoms with William Attia; New Haven with Attia and Stephen Glenn; 504 with Freidmann Freisse (his new prototype which is pretty crazy in its aspirations!); Five Tribes with Bruno Cathala (his new game from Days of Wonder) as well as many games with fellow Game Artisans of Canada!

Friedmann Friesse holding a prototype of Power Grid Deluxe!

Friedmann Friesse holding a prototype of Power Grid Deluxe!

Bruno Cathala's new Days of Wonder game, Five Tribes

Bruno Cathala’s new Days of Wonder game, Five Tribes

As for other games I got to play:

Palaces of Carara: finally got to play this! I liked it though I got annihilated!

Splendor: A very dry game – but it’s interesting and pretty quick

Abluxxen with other game designers Gavan Brown and Chris Handy

Abluxxen with other game designers Gavan Brown and Chris Handy

Abluxxen: A fun card game from Kramer!

Time’s Up: I love Time’s Up – but I always play the Title Recall edition because the basic game uses people instead…yikes – not as much my cup of tea mostly due to my ignorance with current events … err… and historical events! J Still – I had a ton of fun!

Tichu: Always fun. I made such a stupid move early on and we couldn’t recover! Though I did have an epic hand where Sen started and passed me the dog. I then played a 2 through A straight – then followed that up with another Ace! Crazy!

Camel Up: Hmmm – not my kind of game. Too random and luck based. I can see the appeal for families though.

Helios: I really liked this one. I had a tough time with Glass Road mostly because there are just so many options and as a first time play through it’s a tough game to figure out. But Helios has a finite number of things you can do – so you can really plan your strategy. I had a good time with this one!

Zombeasts: a cute card game from Huch & Friends

The new board for Power Grid Deluxe!

The new board for Power Grid Deluxe!

As for unreleased games, I got to play Polterfass (played a few times because it’s really good!) and Leg Los (good idea for a party game!) from Zoch, Pints of Blood from Huch & Friends (a zombie game that seems like it should be themed after Shaun of the Dead!), 504 from Freidmann Friesse, Five Tribes from Bruno Cathala (great game – my fave of the Gathering), Prime Time from Gil Hova (loved all the wacky titles!) as well as a bunch from the Game Artisans (Hansel and Gretel from Max, G-Men from Mike, In Silico from Martin)

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Sen and Jay getting interviewed by the CBC

Sen and Jay getting interviewed by the CBC

While we were there Sen and I also got interviewed by the CBC! Not sure when that will air though.

So that wraps up another amazing 10 days in Niagara Falls! Now we have quite a bit of work to do – which is awesome!!

-Jay Cormier

The Gathering of Friends: Part 2 – The Lay of the Land

When I got to the Gathering I got my name badge and a goodie bag full of freebies! The goodie bag had some card games (including a special Tichu deck with new pictures of people who have attended the Gathering in the past), some expansions to other games (like the expansion to fellow GAC member, Roberta Taylor’s Octopus’ Garden) and even the full box version of Two by Two from Valley Games (and designed by fellow GAC member, Rob Bartel!).

The name badge system was awesome as they were colour coded to help you identify people a lot easier. With this information it was easy to identify the publishers as you walked around.

  • Red Badge: First year attendee (so I had a red badge!). Generally speaking, red badge attendees are always welcomed by others and made to feel at home pretty quickly. People were constantly shaking my hand and welcoming me to the Gathering. It was very nice!
  • Grey Badge: Anyone who has been to the Gathering for the last 9 years
  • Black Badge: Anyone who has been to the Gathering for 10 years or more
  • Blue Badge: Publishers

    After I got my badge, I surveyed the layout.

Basically there was a large convention room with tons of tables set up for open gaming. Off to one side were the prize tables! Everyone was encouraged to bring something for the prize table. If you contributed to the prize table, then you could participate in the prize draw at the end of the Gathering. Near the Prize tables was a table full of brochures for local restaurants and more freebies. I found an expansion to Valdora and another for Mondo there! Around the edges of the room were tables where people stored the games they brought.

Oh look, Pierre Poissant-Marquis (right), half of the design team of the game Quebec is playing Belfort!

Generally speaking, anyone could grab any game and start playing at any time, as long as they returned it when they were done with it. Outside of the convention room were a few open areas with more tables ready for open gaming. These tables were used for the poker tournament that happened on one night. Finally, down the hall there were a couple of rooms with a few more tables. During the day we found these to be a bit quieter and therefore made it a favourite spot for us to pitch to publishers. In the late evening one of these rooms were used for a large Werewolf tournament! There were always water stations all over the place to ensure you stayed hydrated throughout the event, so that was nice! On a whole, the hotel and its staff, while a bit gungy (the hotel, not the staff), were prepared and made us feel welcome.

I found Rob and saw that he had a spot along the tables around the edges of the room, so I added my prototypes to his pile. Once we were set up then we were free to either start our own game, or join another group that’s about to start playing a game. It was always easy to find people to play a game of anything! Some of the times it would be a prototype and other times it would be a ‘regular’ game. There were a lot of designers there who, like Rob and I, were looking to get some feedback on their designs, as well as pitch to publishers. Friedemann Friese had a table dedicated to his games for the entire event. I wanted to check them out but never seemed to line up when the table was free. While the hotel offered a mini café in the latter half of the week, most of the meals were either at TGIF, which was in the same hotel, or a restaurant in the casino across the street. Sometimes people with cars would drive others to another local establishment nearby (Duff’s Buffalo wings!) or a few times we walked to a nearby Indian restaurant.

Even though I stayed up late on some days (3am) and woke up early on other days (8am), there were always people playing games somewhere in the convention area! Sleep is for chumps!

There were quite a few tournaments throughout the week ranging from 7 Wonders and Tichu to Loopin’ Louie and poker. The winners of each tournament got first choice of the prize table on Saturday night! Before the prize ceremony there was a flea market. Those that could travel with their assortment of games offered them up for sale to the rest of us. Since most people had to fly, it was a tough decision on what they could buy and what they could pack! I managed to pick up a copy of El Cabellero – a Wolfgang Kramer game that is out of print and one that I’ve been looking to get for a long time now!

[Sen:  Really?  That’s the single game of my collection that I’ve ever sold, IIRC.  Well, you know what they say about one man’s treasure…]

The prize ceremony was really the only time we were all together as one group. The hotel removed all the gaming tables and set up chairs theatre-style to fit all 400 of us in the room. Alan took the microphone and reviewed some things about the next year (I’m already pre-registered!), and then showed off the high-end prizes that people brought for the prize table. Some of the highlights included:

  • a crokinole board made by fellow GAC member, Mike Kolross, (plus graphic design by another GAC member, Mark Klassen) in the shape of a record with the label being Alan Moon’s Ticket to Ride,
  • handmade table covering with a Tichu mat on one side and a Can’t Stop and Liar’s Dice on the other – complete with all the dice and cups
  • a copy of the impossible-to-find game, Hotel
  • Big Boss from Wolfgang Kramer – another hard to find game
  • The Cookies of Catan – a fully playable and edible game of Settlers of Catan!
  • Line for Life for an upcoming game called D-Day Dice (designed by another fellow GAC member, Emmanuel Aquin). The Line for Life meant that the person would receive every expansion they ever make for this game for free!

I was called somewhere in the middle of the pack, but I managed to get the exact game I was hoping to pick up – Castles of Burgundy.  It was a game I had wanted to pick up in Essen last year, but they sold out too quick!

Up next I’ll get into the specifics of what it’s like to pitch to publishers at the Gathering!

-Jay Cormier