Perhaps the most obvious issue was a relatively small number of gamers. Through Friday we had six, with seven from Friday evening on (with the first game of Saturday an exception). That's perhaps the fewest we've had. Ideally, I like to see nine as it breaks up so well and allows people to play nearly any game without regard to number (3 and 6, 4 and 5, even 2 and 7 if necessary). Of course, you can't play Sticheln with nine... That said, I chose games that were good for six, four, three, and two and felt that we had a good mix. One good thing about a large collection is that you have choices regardless of the number of people involved, although choosing those games to bring with you requires a bit of Plan B thinking in case the number changes at the last minute.
Food is always interesting. I enjoy eating at Hola!, and I hope everyone else does. I particularly like dining out one evening as this group enjoys each other's company whether we're gaming or just hanging, and that's really nice. I usually provide lasagna and salad, and this year prep seemed to be effortless, perhaps because we have a new (and fully functioning) range unit - the old one was so decrepit that the broiler element cracked and fell apart. Game timing was also good for me to do this effectively, unlike some past years. The food was apparently popular enough for everyone to eat it all, so I was happy about that too. The only bad night was Thursday, with the Blondie's Pizza that I found barely edible. Had I been on my own I would have tossed it all and gone out to eat somewhere else. We won't order from them again.
We seemed to have more alcohol this year, and I think I am the guy driving that to a certain extent. Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that as far as I could tell (and that includes me) no one was an unpleasant drinker. It was certainly good fun to have some mild competition and smack talk about which spirit was the best, and it's nice to try some different brands even if they aren't your cuppa. Alcohol has not been anything other than a very minor component of the event for me until the past year, so I hope that if anyone ever feels it's getting in the way of everyone enjoying themselves they will let me know and I'll ask people to pull it back a bit, myself included. That said, it didn't seem to be a problem this year at all. Hey, it's not like we start drinking before lunch. ;-)
My favorite game of the weekend was almost certainly Ascending Empires. Near-simultaneous play with flickage, bluffing, multiple paths to victory, etc. It feels kind of like playing pool in a way, as you move around the table so much and turns go quickly. Some said it brought nothing new to the table, I believe it brought a very fresh approach to the 4X style of games, which I normally am not that excited about (the latest Civilization game excepted). This was also my most anticipated game.
My least favorite game was, as noted, A Few Acres of Snow. I think a lot of my lack of reaction had to do with having an expectation of it being more of a wargame but also more of a deckbuilding game instead of a hand management game. Considering that I felt I had no control over the later parts of the game, although I freely admit I had no idea of what I was doing, I suppose I should give it another shot, but the truth is that Wallace is starting to wear on me and after being unimpressed with games like Waterloo I will probably be trying before I buy with his games from now on. There are lots of choices so I don't feel too badly about this. Of course, I did have a terrible impression of Age of Steam the first time we tried to play, and Steam is now one of my favorites (not Steam Barons, which is terrible except for the board and the bits). So there you go.
My biggest disappointment was not getting to play MattG's incredible (and incredibly packaged) War of the Ring. I have paid nearly $200 for games before, and now it seems there are enough monsters I want over $100 that it's become de rigeur after being a bit shocked about buying a $90 game (Triumph of Chaos) some years back. Certainly Case Blue cost me just under $180. I cannot imagine paying $400 unless said game comes with desirable sexual favors. And even then. Maybe window washing and weeding in my garden too. Still, this is a gorgeous edition, with readable cards, painted minis, and a huge board with tons of room. Matt, we will have to get this on the table at some point.
The most hilarious moment, and I'm very sorry MattG, was when I pointed out that Matt needed to avoid ramming my ship if he wanted to stop me from winning in Ascending Empires, and then he rammed my ship. I am a bad person. ;-)
OK, I also greatly enjoyed almost all of the RPG game, where I called Chuck's character Omar a terrorist on a regular basis. I hope my over the top role-playing wasn't too offensive or annoying, next time I'll play a saint (which will be an equal departure for me). I'd do this again in the future, it was a very nice change of pace and I think we all had a great time.
Things I did for the first time that I will probably do again - I enjoyed being able to sleep in and leave with minimal work (although I did discover that the dishwasher is not dissolving the powdered detergent enough, a function of too cold of water that I suspect has to do more with the age of the unit than anything else, a discovery that required me to wash the entire load by hand on Monday morning, delaying getting the wash going by nearly an hour. Yay). I also liked having an evening to myself the night before. In general, taking a slower pace in getting out of the house worked really well for me and I'll probably do it in the future.
I also thought that the "put all of the recycleable/returnable stuff in front of the fireplace" thing worked well for the most part. People were much less likely to put in food containers that hadn't been thoroughly cleaned, which has been an issue in the past. I didn't have to sort through anything for once, which was really nice. There was some food left (some Diet Coke, an unopened half gallon of skim milk, which I don't drink, two containers of yogurt that I had for breakfast on Monday, and an apple), but not too bad. I can use all but the skim, but really this works best when everyone remembers to take what they brought. It's worse when there are more people, or people hurrying out the door.
The other thing that was slightly different was the time of year. We've typically done the retreat sometime in October, but I think that now that there are a couple of other retreats going on (GameStorm, EGG, Salishan) during the year, that once for wargaming in spring and once for Euros in the early fall (in this case, late summer) worked well. Temperatures were a little high (into the mid 80's) but not for long enough to be a problem, and in general the temperature was very pleasant. Considering it was supposed to be approaching 100 degrees in Portland, I was very happy. My work with the Balladeers at the MAC (a glee club I direct) forced this early date, but I'm not unhappy about it at all and would consider a similar date next year (and almost certainly will).
In the end, though, Sunriver is about the community we've built up with Rip City Gamers. We all love games, and it's clear it's an important element in our collective sanity, but we also get along very well as a group. You have to to share a home for more than a night without conflict, and we don't run into conflict at all as far as I can tell. My hosting duties are mostly very light, usually someone letting me know we're out of toilet paper somewhere. The cost is minimal for pretty much everyone, and the hardest part is closing the house up but Alex and I got it done pretty quickly. Aside from having to do dishes by hand, it went as smoothly as I could have hoped.
And the company, as always, was excellent. I am truly blessed to have such a great group of good friends to game with, and I thank them for making every Sunriver truly memorable and a special time.