Tag Archives: promotion

playing catchup: my Gathering of Friends

April is always a whirlwind month for me and this April was no exception.

The big event, of course, was Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends, a 10 day, invite-only game con, held annually in Niagara Falls, NY, and hosted by legendary game designer Alan R Moon. This was my 5th year (wow, how can it have been five years?), and my longest stay yet – I attended for the full 10 days.



As is my preference, I played more prototypes than published games and the published games I played tended to be small, light games. I’ll attempt to highlight a few games I enjoyed that haven’t been heavily covered elsewhere.


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Playing SHADOW THRONE by Teale Fristoe at #gof2015

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SHADOW THRONE, by Teale Fristoe, is an intriguing card-drafting game. A step or two above Phil Walker-Harding’s SUSHI GO! in complexity, with a dark fantasy theme, SHADOW THRONE is a little meatier, adding some welcome player interaction to a style of game that often lacks it.



LOONEY QUEST, by Laurent Escoffier and David Franck, is the best attempt I’ve seen at converting a video game experience to the tabletop. In it, players exercise hand-eye coordination to plot paths, enclose objects, and pinpoint targets on a series of video game-like level maps by drawing on a clear acetate sheet. Players then then check their accuracy by overlaying their acetates on the screen map to see how accurate they were. We were especially taken by how the game box itself was used in play, both as the “console” and as an ingenious method of tracking scores.


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Playing ABRACA…WHAT? with wizards! #gof2015

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ABRACA…WHAT?, by Gun-Hee Kim, is an entertaining game of wizards attempting to deduce the unknown spells they carry by trying to cast them! It has been compared to Alex Randolph’s classic deduction game CODE 777, and the comparison is apt. ABRACA…WHAT? takes the basic deduction structure of CODE 777 and overlays a lighthearted magical combat system that encourages more than a little play acting and silliness.



Play testing prototypes is always one of my favorite activities at any game con, and I played quite a few good ones here. My dear friend Greg Daigle, designer of HAWAII, always brings a clutch of his smartly designed, beautiful prototypes, and I look forward to playing them each year. He has a couple this year, including a pirate game, that were very promising.


One bare-bones prototype that got quite a lot of play over the week, was Vlaada Chvátil’s early prototype of a very clever word game code named CODENAMES. This is one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” kind of games that is so simple and engaging it’s amazing nobody’s done it before. This is sure to become a classic with the right development, and Vlaada has the design chops to pull that off.


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Play testing #LXIX at #gof2015

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I got a few good play tests in of my own game, LXIX: THE YEAR OF FOUR EMPERORS. Lots of positive response from some very well-respected designers, and with their input I’ve found a couple final tweaks that should put the finishing touches on it. I sent LXIX home with a world class publisher, who will assess it over the summer. I have high hopes for this game.



What makes The Gathering truly wonderful are the friendly, generous attendees.  This year, even more so than in years past, I connected with so many new people and made new friendships, and reconnected with those friends from Gatherings past. It really feels like a family reunion.

One of my favorite moments was during my very last moments at the Gathering and didn’t involve any games at all. It was the Monday morning after the final day, when we last few stragglers were finally trickling out of the hotel. I had packed my luggage and game bags into my vehicle and checked out before stopping into the hotel Starbucks to grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich for the road, when I ran into CAYLUS designer, William Attia.

I’d played a couple of games with William during the week, including an intense play test of LXIX, and had a nice conversation over a long lunch with him and Greg Daigle. I had gotten to know this quiet, reserved fellow, so it was with pleasure and friendship that I met his greeting and wished him safe travels, as I was about to begin my long drive back to Madison.

William had a sandwich of his own and his ever-present cup of tea, so when he suggested that, surely, I had a few minutes to sit with him and eat before driving, I couldn’t resist. We breakfasted and talked about what books we were reading. He avowed a passion for the classics, and we talked a while about Jules Verne’s oeuvre and the more and less successful games based on his novels.

At last, our sandwiches finished, I could responsibly delay no longer. It was good bye until next year, or the unlikely event that he should find himself traveling in Wisconsin.

It was a delightful conclusion to my Gathering week and a fond memory.


Bonus Link: Check out my friend Nick Bentley’s excellent abstract game CATCHUP on iOS.


I love games and history.

I love games and history, and I love learning history through the medium of games.

That’s why I’m enchanted with Fujian Trader, a game about Chinese merchant trading families in the 17th Century. It was inspired by co-designer Robert Batchelor’s own discovery of the Selden Map, a cartographic masterpiece from the early 17th Century.

From the Oxford Digital Library’s Treasures of the Bodleian:

Dating from the late Ming period, it shows China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Southeast Asia and part of India. The map shows shipping routes with compass bearings from the port of Quanzhou across the entire region. A panel of text on the left of the map near Calicut, its western extremity, gives directions of the routes to Aden, Oman, and the Strait of Hormuz. This is the earliest Chinese map not only to show shipping routes, but also to depict China as part of a greater East and Southeast Asia, and not the centre of the known world.

Here’s an excerpt from the Fujian Trader Kickstarter page:

Fujian Trader is a gateway strategy game based on a recently re-discovered 17th century trading map of East Asia uncovered in the archives of Oxford University’s library. The map, which is the oldest Chinese maritime merchant map still in existence, is currently touring East Asia, and is now considered one of Oxford’s greatest treasures. The map shows the routes used by Chinese traders across East Asia, and as a player you get to travel these routes once again. Fujian Trader’s co-designer Robert Batchelor, a professor of British History, is credited with finding the map and bringing it to the attention of geographers, historians and the greater public. Batchelor is on a mission – “I want to make the map and its rich history accessible and intriguing to a larger audience. I believe we can do this with Fujian Trader by getting players to learn about the map and experience its’ meaning through play.”

Learning history through play!

The campaign creators have put their money where their mouth is with a nominal $10 reward geared toward teachers, which includes a pdf download of their lesson plan for Fujian Trader, covering the history of the Selden Map and its impact on both Asia and Europe, and a stretch goal that would provide 100 free copies of the game and their East Asian geography and history lesson plan for middle schools.

That’s a strong commitment to education and learning through games.

If you like good and accurate historical games like I do, please take a few minutes to check out the Fujian Trader Kickstarter campaign. From what I’ve been able to glean from their game play videos and updates, Sari Gilbert and Robert Batchelor have designed a game worth backing.


FWIW, I have no vested interest in this game and I don’t know the creators. I’m simply eager to play this fascinating game and, in order for me to do so, their campaign must succeed!

Want to learn more about the Selden Map?

Read the articles from the Wall Street Journal or The Economist. You can also find out more at Oxford University’s site.

so, I played a game with W Eric Martin at ACD Games Day.