Friday, December 01, 2023

Convention Report: Gulf Games 50

I was there at the (nearly) beginning… my wife & I were one of nine families who made up the attendees of Gulf Games 2. For the next 4 years, I was a pretty regular fixture – then we moved across the country and I only managed to make two Gulf Games events between 2004 and 2014. Beginning in 2015, I began bringing my sons (first the oldest, then both of them) to enjoy one of my favorite family-friendly gaming events.

This summer was the fiftieth Gulf Games… and my younger son & I attended for 5 days (Wednesday – Sunday). What follows is my quick recap of my weekend of gaming (and a bit of his) – and it doesn’t begin to cover the entire event and the joy of gaming with folks I’ve known for years.


Greeneville, SC, is a fair piece down the road from Nashville, TN – so we took off early in the morning and arrived mid-afternoon… in time to both play some games and be able to attend the Welcome Party (a tradition that started after I headed west… and that I managed to miss multiple times due to schedule vagaries and missed flights).

Heat: Pedal to the Metal

I taught and/or played Heat five different times (with 22 different players) during the convention… which isn’t really a sacrifice as I enjoy the game immensely. It may well be my favorite auto racing game. (That’s not to downgrade Downforce… which is still splendid – but it doesn’t actually put you in the driver’s seat like Heat.)

I won one game outright… and another game I managed to finish 2nd to the Legend car (bot). But the best game we played was Sunday morning, when we added in the weather and car customization “advanced” rules – they take a solid game and make it even more enjoyable.

I’ve now played Heat: Pedal to the Metal 26 times … it holds up to repeated play very well and is easy to grasp for most (but not all) players. I’m waiting somewhat patiently for the good folks at Days of Wonder to announce the expansion (since there’s already room for two more cars in the game insert!).

Ready Set Bet

This was a fast-moving and delightful betting game… made even better by the use of the app to run the races for us. It’s real-time – something I try to avoid as my brain and reflexes slow down with age – but it works really well here. I don’t own a copy, but I’d be happy to have it in my collection.

Splendor Duel

Here’s the deal… I play Splendor (the original game or the Marvel re-theme) because other people like it. There’s nothing wrong with it… but it’s just not something I love.

So I was pleasantly surprised by how well Splendor Duel works – the addition of multiple victory paths and the tricky decisions about which line of pieces to grab and/or whether to hand over an advantage to the other player raise the level of the game system nicely. (I won – but just barely.)


I’m on the record as having a miserable first playing experience with this the first time I played it… but was coaxed by David Sidore into trying it again. And, with his suggestion of certain conventions for bidding and a couple of strategy hints, I can see what other see in the game. Our experience was tense but enjoyable… and we lost (but it was close).

I’m still not convinced, though – I think the game is fragile and really needs a gamer crew plus some discussion of conventions to work… which just isn’t enough for me.

Wild Tiled West

Another game I was looking forward to – I’m a big fan of Paul Dennen’s designs for Dune: Imperium and the Clank! family of games. The production is top-notch: multi-layered game board that holds all the tiles that you draft and clear art design & iconography.

I appreciate Kevin & Rhonda Bender teaching us the game… but I think it runs a bit long with four players. Despite the whimsical art style, there are some real decisions to be made and the playing time of 90 minutes felt too much. I’d like to try it again with two or three players.



Mark Smith is an able partner, but I am not a particularly skilled OR lucky Crokinole player. Ted & Toni Alspach let us hang in for a couple of rounds then put us out of our misery.

Imperium: Classics

I wrote an extensive review of my love for Imperium: Classics and Legends… so it was a joy to get it to the table with two folks (Mark & Toni) who wanted to play a second time to make sure they grokked it. It was a tight game, with Mark’s Romans edging out Toni’s Macedonians & my Persians (64-61-61).

I’ll say it again – this is an amazing card game that works well with 1-4 players. Please give it a try!

Archeos Society

This is a re-imagining of Ethnos… but since I’ve never played Ethnos, I’m unable to compare the two. On its own merits, this is a relatively straightforward drafting/hand management, where scoring depends on working the tracks as well as collecting larger sets. The wise use of the various special powers is key.

Again, the Benders welcomed me to the table and taught me the game (along with their friend Lee, who you can see in the picture at the top of this post.

Mosaic: A Story of Civilization

One of my top ten new (to me) games from last year… and this play with George, Greg Hoch, and Floyd was no exception. Clocking in at just over 2 hours for four players (two of them new to the game), it’s quickly becoming my favorite “civilization” game. (And, yes, part of that is the cool bits of the Colossal Edition.)

I managed second place in spite of avoiding building any military – while Greg’s belligerent empire took the win.


After a game of Heat (see comments above), four of us jumped into a long-time Klaus Teuber favorite of mine – Gnadenlos! This bidding game of provisioning Old West characters doesn’t overstay its welcome – and offers enough randomness to encourage unwise usage of promissory notes. In the end, Ed defeated us. (It’s OOP – but worth tracking down a copy if you like 3-4 player games that play in 35-45 minutes.)

Thunder Road: Vendetta

The first of three plays of what will surely be on my top ten list for 2023… this re-imagining and chroming of the late 80s mass market classic is a joy to play. Kim – who’s not normally a love of chaotic shoot-em-up’s, noted later that she enjoyed it a lot more than she thought she would.

My son, Collin, took the win… this time.


We finished the night out with an oldie (10 years?!) but a goodie – the very random but ridiculously fun Kalimambo. Best as a late night closer with 5+ players, this game of “I don’t have to outrun the rhino, I just have to outrun you” generated a lot of laughs as Sharon Madden emerged with the victory – while Warren Madden managed to win the award for “Most Likely to Be a Hood Ornament for Mambo the Rhinoceros”.


In the Footsteps of Darwin

The first of three plays of what Ted Alspach declared was “an incredibly pleasant game” – he’s not wrong. This is a beautifully produced tile-drafting game with a variety of scoring options… and a pretty consistent playing time of 5-8 minutes per player. Ted edged me out in a two player game… but I’d do better at it later in the day with a larger group.

Gipsy King

Weird little placement game from Cwali that uses a random board to force players into tricky decisions… I’ve enjoyed it both times I’ve played it… but I don’t think I’ve ever really been in contention of winning. (Congrats to Bob Trezise, mi compadre, for the win.)


In my convention report from Gulf Games 49, I mentioned loving a prototype from Bezier Games, but not being able to talk about it. Well, it’s here! (It lands at GenCon next month.) Scram! is my favorite of the Silver/Cabo family – probably because the partnership element allows for some really clever “bump-set-spike” kind of plays. Thomas & I beat Ted and Bob… I’m 2-0 at this game… another reason to like it! :-)

We followed that with another playtest of an unpublished prototype. My lips are sealed.

Team Play

It was a morning of card games as Bob & I joined our esteemed founder (Greg Schloesser) and Gail for another partnership game I enjoy – Team Play! (Note: I like the original German edition much better than the U.S. edition – easier to read across the table.) Either way, Bob & Gail beat Greg and I.

Cape May

Anye & George joined John & I for a game of Cape May – and while I had enjoyed my first try of it solo, my first four player game was even better. Not only does it look nice on the table as the city grows, there’s a really solid game under there about balancing income and development of points. I’m glad I own a copy!

George managed the win – even if it delayed his brew pub tour by a few minutes!

Kabuto Sumo

Following another game of Heat (at the request of Chip, who won!), Collin & I talked Anye & Dallas into Kabuto Sumo… which Collin describes as a “coin-pushing” wrestling game. He’s not wrong… and went on to prove his prowess by beating all three of us. (It’s not really a dexterity game – I’d call it a physics game with a wry sense of humor.)

Thunder Road: Vendetta

Two games back to back – including Tyler rolling 6 on 4d6 two rounds in a in a row and a Dan Calhoun win, followed by my large vehicle being chased by a plethora of choppers as I sped ahead to leave everyone else in the dust. The final game was played with the Choppe Shoppe expansion in – which I highly recommend for gamer-y types.

Man, I love this game.

Minigolf Designer

Ed & finished up the night with the excellent Minigolf Designer… it was close – my slightly more difficult property card was the main difference. (Short description: imaginge crossing Kingdomino and Carcassonne to build a minigolf course.)


Anno 1701: Das Brettspiel

Another sadly under-appreciated Klaus Teuber design – Earl & Michelle joined Bob & I as we tried to please the Queen and explore the islands of, well, Catan (or something Catan-like). I think this is the best mixture of Catan resourcing and Entdecker-ish exploration in the Teuber catalog.

Bob had feelings about the Happy Colonist icon (see the picture here) – I will admit that the happy colonists do bear a striking resemblance to someone being electrocuted while wearing a tri-corner hat.

While Michelle got left behind, it was a tight finish between Earl, Bob, and I – and Bob took the win.

Liar’s Dice

The Liar’s Dice tournament is a Gulf Games tradition… as is me getting knocked out in the first round. I do take pride in the fact that I was the last person knocked out at my table (and by the eventual tournament winner, Ken Girton!)


While there are couple of odd graphic choices (why not put the bonus for the player each action on the VERY large action spaces?), this re-think of The King of Frontier was fun to play… even if the Soylent Green/Logan’s Run-ish nature of some of the thematic elements was strange. It was also really good to play with Frank Branham for the first time in a a number of years…. and I won!

Memoir ’44: Overlord

Since 2016, I’ve been hosting an Overlord game at the winter Gulf Games event… this summer, I hosted two!

The first battle was Encirclement at Khalkin-Gol… with Soviet and Japanese forces (including cavalry units on both sides!) engaging in a pitched battle in 1939. The Japanese side (commanded by Sheldon Smith) began to collapse the middle of the Soviet forces (commanded by me)… but Field General Rozmiarek fought back valiantly. The battle see-sawed back and forth as we fought over two ridges on the left and center sections… with the Japanese finally prevailing 18-16. (Eight player Overlord is so much fun – even when I lose.)

The second battle was Operation Lightfoot – with British tanks trying to plow through German minefields in North Africa in 1942. This time, I was the British commander (ably assisted by Ian Moore) while Charlie Davis (and TJ Bailey) led the German forces… Despite our best attempts, the Germans held us back and captured the win 15-12.

Take It Easy

160 people (or more) all playing one game of Take It Easy – yet another Gulf Games tradition. My score was decent but not spectacular. (If you’ve never played Take It Easy, it’s math-y gamer Bingo. For less math-y gamer Bingo, try Rise of Augustus.)

Rolling Heights

I’m really conflicted about Rolling Heights – I tend to like John D. Clair’s designs (Dead Reckoning and Ready Set Bet, for example) and the underlying game system here is solid. But the graphic and component choices for this game are, well, not solid.

Bob played with Kevin & Ed & I – and Bob’s colorblindness was challenged by the meeple colors. All of us struggled with the tiny print… and the fact that building structures often obscure the information you need to read.

In addition, the buildings are made with stacks of pieces – which, granted, looks very cool. Unfortunately, they are not Lego pieces that click together – instead, they are simply stacked and can be knocked over by, well, me. At least five times I brushed the top of a tall building and sent it crashing to the table. (In discussing the game online the next day, I described myself at the Destructor – and Bob published the following picture.)

As is, it’s not a game I’ll purchase, even though I love the theme and the way it looks on the table. I’d love to see an online version on BGA.


Jump Drive

I talked Bob into a quick game using the new Terminal Velocity expansion cards… and my experience carried the day.

Trails of Tucana

Another quick flip’n’write game against Bob in which my experience proved worthless.

After a final game of Heat with the advanced content (weather/car mods – the best way to play, btw!), we headed home.

Final Thoughts

Gulf Games is always wonderful – both due to the gaming AND (more importantly) the people who make up the GGs family. Thank you again to Greg & Ted & Ty for starting this thing so many years ago.

The picture below is from a wall display in the game room… and yes, I’m thinner and without gray hair.

This convention report originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers site.


Greg J. Schloesser said...

Hard to believe that our friendship began over 25 years ago at Gulf Games. You are a true joy and a wonderful friend. I am so happy that you returned from the wild west and are once again a regular attendee!

Joe Huber said...

Mark, while I don't love KuZOOka - I don't think conventions are needed; I've never played with any stated conventions, and the game has works just fine.