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.

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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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The Gathering of Friends, Part 2

My last post detailed all the games that Sen and I pitched to the various publishers that were at the Gathering, but this post will be all about the games I played –  in no particular order!

IMG_2132Thunderbirds by Matt Leacock: I really liked this game! I have no familiarity with the TV show, so I’m happy to say that this game is still entertaining without that background of knowledge. We played it without any of the expansions and we barely won. I like how players control characters, and while each character has their own mode of transportation, any character can take any vehicle – and can even take other characters with them. It’s an interesting idea that really makes it feel like we are all a team and we have to work together.

IMG_2133Then a few days later we played it again but with the Purple Hood expansion – and I have to say that I liked it even more. Now the bad guy isn’t controlled by AI – but by one of the players. That player is trying to accomplish his goals while trying to make it difficult for the rest of us. This was really fun and it really felt like there was a narrative to the game we played. There are even two more expansions that we didn’t get to try! Wow! Looking forward to this one.

IMG_2114Red7 by Carl Chudyk and Chris Cieslik: This was a fun game that I ended up playing a few times over the week. It’s a simple idea where you have to be winning the game when you’re turn is over – or you lose and are out. So you can either play a card in front of you, or change the rule of how you win – or both. It’s fun and light and interesting! From the designer of Glory to Rome and the upcoming Mottanai.

IMG_2138Ulm: I’m not sure who designed this one actually. We played a prototype from Huch & Friends and this is one that will be coming out from them. I really enjoyed this game! It has an interesting action selection method where you slide a token into a 3×3 grid and the colours of the tokens in the row/column that you affected are the actions you can do this round. Really cool!

IMG_2118Castaway Club by Vladimir Sluchy: This is the spiritual successor to Last Will. It uses the same icons as Last Will and has a similar theme. Instead of trying to go broke, you’re trying to lose reputation. The game comes with three modular boards and you can use any two of them – or you can swap in the entire game of Last Will as one of the modules! Cool! I had fun with the game and fans of Last Will should check it out.

IMG_2126Flick ‘Em Up by Gaeton Beaujannot and Jean Yves Monpertuis: What a fun concept for a game! It’s a flicking game – but players play in teams – good guys or the bad guys. Players move their wooden figures around by replacing the wooden figure with a disc, flicking it and then replacing the disc with the wooden figure. Or a figure can shoot by placing a smaller disc at the side of a wooden figure and flicking it towards an opponent. What’s really cool is the production quality! Holy crap – it’s amazing! Every game will be photo worthy for sure! Also interesting is the fact that the game comes with 10 scenarios. So replay value is very high! If you like flicking games, then you have to get this one!

IMG_2124Bang The Dice Game by Michael Palm and Lukas Zach: I was never a huge fan of Bang – but the dice game is more accessible and more fun. I enjoyed it!

IMG_2121Tiny Epic Kingdoms by Scott Almes: We didn’t have an interesting game here unfortunately. This is the kind of game that you have to know how to play it in order to really enjoy it. I am 100% in winning this game so far because I think I know how to play it correctly! 🙂

Unannounced Matt Leacock party game – Can’t talk about it but it’s such a great idea! This will definitely get picked up.

IMG_21657 Wonders: The Duel by Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala: I am a fan of 7 Wonders and this 2-player only, stand-alone game is a great game! It really has all the feeling and concepts of a 7 Wonders game but offers new strategies with the pyramidal stacking of the cards. The game can end immediately if a player gets their token to the end of the war track or if they get one of each of the 6 science symbols – so that keeps your opponent on their toes and altering their strategies along the way. I’ll be picking this up!

Codenames by Vlaada Chvatil: It’s not announced or even picked up yet so I can’t show pictures but this seemed like the hit of the Gathering. There was always someone playing this game!  It’s a small word/party type game that is great for thinky people!

IMG_2145Birth by Takashi Sakaue: A cool Japanese dice rolling and moving around a circle game that has more to it than you might think. Clever game that I’d play again.

IMG_2149Time Stories by Manuel Rozoy: I know there are a lot of people that are super excited about this game, but it fell a bit flat for us. The concept is interesting but the execution left us lukewarm. When we had to go back through a third time, you could tell that everyone was a bit exhausted and didn’t want to go through the paces of the stories to get to where we had to go. The storyline of the game we had to play was lacklustre and I think I would have been more into it if the story was more intriguing. Maybe this is a game that would appeal to role playing gamers more??

IMG_2151Mysterium by Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko: Finally I got to play this game – and I really liked it! One player plays a ghost and has to let each of us know who killed him by giving us dream cards that will remind players of Dixit. In fact I saw people playing the game with Dixit cards! This is a great party game as everyone is involved and engaged (though the ghost player can’t really chat with others). Really fun game!

Beasty Bar by Stefan Klob: A fun game that harkens back to Guillotine where you play animal cards in an attempt to get into a club. It’s fun and a bit chaotic. More plays of this would help me know if familiarity increases skill or not!

IMG_2162Welcome to the Dungeon by Masato Uesugi: This is a great little mini game that has a fun push your luck element to it. We had a lot of loud outbursts throughout the game as players would push their luck and then win! Players simply take a card from the deck and decide to either place it face down in the dungeon or face up outside the dungeon but then remove one of the artifacts or weapons that the character can use to battle these monsters. Eventually players start to pass instead of taking a card – and the last player in must then go through all the cards in the dungeon with the equipment that he or she has left. Very fun – and it comes with four totally different characters with their own equipment.

IMG_2172Porta Nigra by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling: I’m a big K&K fan so I’ll play anything they make. Unfortunately this one was a bit too abstract for me. I prefer their games that have some theme to it. The theme in this game could have been anything really – and so it becomes a mathy game of efficiency. And that is fun and interesting, but it’s a bit cold for my tastes. Other people claimed it their favourite game of the Gathering!

That’s about it. I did play some more prototypes of games that aren’t signed yet by some Game Artisans of Canada as well.

All in all – a super fun week and I’m already counting down the days for next year’s Gathering!

-Jay Cormier