In April 2022, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Gathering of Friends, a private gaming convention run by Alan R Moon and held in Niagara Falls, New York. And at the Gathering, I met and became friends with Daryl Andrews, designer of piles of games, including the critically acclaimed Sagrada. At this first meeting, Daryl agreed to go on an adventure, and the two of us headed north across the Canadian border for dinner. I should mention, Daryl is from Toronto, so less of an adventure for him; More of one for me. Except that, much like Scott of the Antarctic, Daryl of the Falls could not find his car in the parking lot…
Daryl: Hitting the beeper a bunch of times. I think I parked far over that way? But I’m horrible for remembering where I parked.
DTD: Oh, no worries at all.
Daryl: Let’s Play this game of…
DTD: Beeping the car until you find it?
I have played this particular game many a time. Of course, my car does not have “Sagrada” plastered over the plates…
Daryl: Yeah, unfortunately, it’s pretty quiet. So, you kind of have to see the lights.
DTD: I won’t talk about when I spent 20 minutes trying to find my car at the airport.
A fabrication to make Daryl feel more at ease. Certainly never happened in the greater Sacramento Metropolitan Airport.
Daryl: I’d be right there with you.
Corey: Flashing it, beeping it.
DTD: [sighs] It is nice out.
Daryl: Yeah, I haven’t been outside today. Should have gone for a walk earlier.
Niagra Falls, NY in April was very pleasant for me. My perfect outside temperature is something in the 40s to 50s, and while I was in Niagra, the weather was right in that range with occasional light rain.
DTD: Very cool, well thank you for setting everything up. I super appreciate that.
Daryl: Yeah, I’ve never been to this place, but it looks awesome. And I thought, “Hey! Let’s go give it a try!”
DTD: And I got my Passport and I got the app all set.
Daryl: Oh right! I got to fill out the ArriveCAN! You’re right. It’ll just take minute…
The Canadian governemnt set up an app to cross the border, where you fill in all the details about when, how, next of kin.
DTD: I told them that if I get violently ill while I’m in Canada, you have to drop me off at the other Sheraton [laughs].
Daryl: That’s fair. [laughs] Be “on the falls” instead of the “at the falls.”
DTD: I thought was the “under the falls.”
One of the things you need to fill out in ArriveCAN is where you will stay if you contract COVID in Canada. Since your diseased self won’t be leaving anytime soon. I found it funny that there were two Sheraton hotels, one in the US and one in Canada, so I picked Sheraton Canada.
Daryl: Oh maybe. It will just take a second to update my drive cam.
Oh, we found the car. Didn’t want you to worry.
DTD: Yeah, not a worry at all.
Daryl: Feel free to adjust the temperatures how you like it, I’m always freezing cold.
DTD: Oh no.
Daryl: I’m always warm, so I want it freezing cold, I should say.
DTD: That’s what I like. It was hot when I left California, so I wanted some snow.
Daryl spent a while finalizing details on his ArriveCAN app, and putting directions to the restaurant (which was in Canada) into his car.
Daryl: Oh man, it’s even worse now. 54 minutes. OK, down to 30. but one of the ways it was telling me was to go all the way to Buffalo and across.
DTD: That’s weird. I told it [the ArriveCAN app] we were crossing in Niagara.
Daryl: Yeah, I did too.
DTD: OK, cool.
Daryl: Worst case, we do the interview in the car.
DTD: I have done that before. You know Jonny Pac?
Daryl: Yeah! Interesting dude.
DTD: He’s a good friend. I love Johnny, he’s crazy.
Daryl: Oh, cool. I’ve loved any conversation I’ve had with him.
DTD: Oh, he’s amazing.
Daryl: I just don’t see him much. He’s more in the west and so…
DTD: Well, that’s where I am.
Daryl: Right. So only times I’ve really been in the west, is when I’ve had chance to pick his brain.
DTD: Yeah, we did… We did a lot of stuff in the car ’cause we drove around all of gold country and we drove to the actual town of Coloma.
Daryl: Nice! That’s fun!
DTD: That was a blast. I haven’t done the Canada crossing. At least since I was, like I don’t know, 8 or 7.
Daryl: Yeah, well, we’ll give it a try. Worst case – we’re back here.
DTD: I got to have everything… Got to have… but the app is ready now.
Daryl: Just passport and have that app, and you should be good. And we’ll just pass them over when we get there.
DTD: Not a problem, not a problem.
Daryl: Should be easy peasy, unless…
DTD: Yep, Yep, I brought all my guns and my drugs. They’re all in the back.
Daryl: Perfect, perfect. That doesn’t make it hard at all, then. My most foolish moment was… I took over… Do you know Josh Cappel?
DTD: By name.
Daryl: Okay, so phenomenal artist, graphic designer, designer, you name it. He lives in Toronto and at the time he had stayed a little longer than Helaina, ’cause Helaina went back. So, he was like, “Oh, I just need to get over to the, just over the bridge, and then I’ll hit up…” I think it was the train or the bus or something, to get home to Toronto. Nothing that unusual. So, I said “Oh just jump in the car instead of walking. I’ll just drop you off.” And he jumped in. We drove over and as I pass this thing, I realized I didn’t have my passport on me.
Josh Cappel is the designer of Wasabi, Rock Paper Wizard, and many more. Josh also illustrates games, and worked together with Daryl Andrews on Jungle Joust.
His wife Helaina Cappel is also a game designer and an owner of Burnt Island Games and Kids Table Board Games (KTBG).
DTD: [laughs] Oh man.
Daryl: So, I pulled a U-ey on the bridge. He climbed out and climbed over the wall to walk over, and then I realized as I came this way I was like, “Wait but they won’t let me in to the US either – I have no passport! Do I live on the bridge now?? I can’t go either way.”
DTD: [laughs] Stranded forever on the bridge.
Daryl: Right! You could have just known me as the bridge troll. But thankfully they let me through with just like taking my wallet and doing some kind of check.
DTD: It used to just be driver’s license.
Daryl: Right! Oh yeah, it used to be easy, not complicated at all.
At this exact moment, I dropped my passport, Daryl’s informatioon, my wallet and cell phone. All the ID types you would expect in a tense escape scene within a spy movie, all over the floorboards of Daryl’s car.
DTD: [Searching for dropped wallet on floor] I’ve dropped things everywhere! [panicking]
Daryl: You’re fine. This is just a toll.
Toll Worker: $4 US or $5.50 Canadian.
I thought we were at the actual customs check already…
Daryl: That is a good question – How am I going to do that? I have a five. [rustling through change] It’s like I should have a looney peeking around in here somewhere… Oh, here’s a Tooney!
Toll Worker: Thank you.
Why does the US not have cool names for coins? Nickel and Quarter are lame. Looney ($1) and Tooney($2) are awesome. There should be a Throoney…
Daryl: Awesome. [To toll worker] Thank you. Have a good night.
DTD: [collecting passport and such] There we go. I have things!
Daryl: Now where did I put my passport? Oh, there it is. It’s in my pockets.
DTD: So, you go back and forth across a lot?
Daryl: I mean, I haven’t during COVID times, but before that, yeah absolutely. I mean especially for this event; I would normally go over probably 3 or 4 times? And usually, probably a couple of those times I’d walk. So, you can actually walk right there [pointing], across. And then they just charge you $0.50 or something silly at the end. But then you can just stroll and see the falls and do restaurants.
It is generally agreed that the Canadian side of Niagara is superior to the New York side. Better view of the falls, better food. There’s even a boardwalk type amusement area. The Gathering of Friends takes place in Niagara Falls, New York.
DTD: Yeah, there was a group who was trying to get me to go across.
Daryl: Yeah, you didn’t go?
DTD: Nah, I ended up not going.
Daryl: That’s fair. It’s hard to get pulled away from the games that long.
DTD: Well, there’s that. And my back was acting up a little bit, so I figured if I walk tens of thousands of steps, it’s not going to help issues.
Daryl: No, that’s not. And then you’re like far away, like “What am I gonna do?” But yeah, future years I highly recommend it. It’s a nice view.
DTD: Well, we did the New York side of the falls.
And the falls were beautiful, the company was wonderful, and for me the weather was great. Slightly snowy, low 40s. But even that small amount of walking did not do my back any favors. I am going to blame the walking, not the hours and hours of sitting and playing games while eating junk food.
Daryl: Oh cool, I haven’t even been out this year. I haven’t done that but it’s a beautiful walk there too.
DTD: We walked all around the park and everything like that, and that was very fun. Had a good old time, it was on the first day I think.
Daryl: Yeah, I mean from year to year we can have it, that it’s snow everywhere and ice. Like, the falls are even frozen. All the way to warm.
DTD: That’s what they were saying. Or even hot.
Daryl: We’ve had it all, so this is kind of that weird middle.
DTD: I’m having a super good time. I mean, I didn’t really know what to expect, but this is amazing.
DTD: The Gathering is just so fun.
Daryl: It is my favorite.
It was an absolute priveledge to go to the Gathering of Friends – the people were all so welcoming and kind, the games were all very cutting edge and new, and I felt the hotel and surrounding area were lovely.
DTD: I have played more games at The Gathering than any convention I’ve been to so far. Usually, I’ll shotgun games.
Daryl: I am unfortunately most of the time busy during kind-of “traditional” work hours. And then dinners are usually networking or pitching to publishers. So, by the time that’s all done at most conventions, I don’t have a lot of brainpower. So, it’s usually like party games, is all I can kind of…
DTD: And see, I start out with not much brain powers, so…
Daryl: [laughs] Whatever!
DTD: Yeah, it just goes down from there.
Daryl: I say to people, like my brain power goes up all day long. I start at an all-time record low, so I don’t function so hot in the morning, but it gets better.
DTD: [laughs] Clarify the definition of “morning”… I’ve seen you down in that gaming room at 2, 3, 4 in the morning.
Daryl: Right, but I haven’t gone to bed yet! You also haven’t seen me at 10 or 11…
DTD: I was there at 7:00 this morning and I didn’t see anybody.
Daryl: Wow! Interesting. Yea, That’s one of the downfalls right now – This year, with the attendance low, is that usually when we’re in the 4-500 [people] range, there’s this perfect balance of morning people, afternoon, and evening. And so, there’s this, even joke – one person I really adore, Scott Nicholson – he didn’t come over, but he’s always one of the very first on early mornings, and we usually cross each other. Like when I go to bed, he’s arriving, and it’s like, “Alright, you’re on, pass the baton!”
DTD: [laughs] I totally get it.
Daryl: So, it’s weird – him, not there, and a lot… There’s usually a posse, which I haven’t seen. Maybe they’re just relocated, but there’s usually 2 or 3 18XX games going on.
DTD: I saw a couple, yeah.
The 18xx games are a series of train games, usually titled by year – 1830: Railways & Robber Barons (1986), 1846: The Race for the Midwest (2005), 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties (2013), etc. They are known for being more complex, having simpler components, and having long playtimes.
Daryl: You did? OK. I hadn’t seen, and they usually are in the that hallway outside of the swimming pool. And usually they start early, and my joke is always like, if I see them, they’re ending their game. In which, I know I’ve really slept in, because if you’re seeing the end of an 18XX game… It’s like, “How long were you down here guys?”
DTD: Oh yeah.Well, I think that got taken over this year by Ark Nova. There’s all the Ark Nova people going on for 4-5 hours.
Daryl: Right, that’s a great point. That is that crowd. Absolutely. And more. Everyone wants to try it.
DTD: Oh yeah. I think I taught two or three times, yeah.
Daryl: Oh wow. It’s got to be a pretty big teach.
DTD: Oh no, I’ve got it down. It’s not a bad teach. It’s not a complicated game.
Daryl: Oh nice. That’s good, just the choices, and the timing.
DTD: It just ends up taking a while, it’s more [due to] a lot of turns, then a lot of choices.
Daryl: Got it.
DTD: It’s just such a different world. And this will be my first internat– no no. It won’t be my first international dinner.
Daryl: Ah, who else was the other?
DTD: I forgot, I did a couple at Essen.
Daryl: Ah, fair, that makes sense. What did you think of Essen?
DTD: I like Essen a lot!
Essen Spiel, officially titled Internationale Spieltage, is the largest gaming convention in the world, taking place in Essen Germany every October.
Daryl: Yeah, I do too.
DTD: It’s a shopping convention, really. And I’m terrible: I want all the games.
Daryl: Yep. I feel that.
DTD: So, I will just buy, buy, buy, buy, buy.
Daryl: I was on good behavior this last one.
DTD: I didn’t go in ‘21. It still felt… a little weird.
Daryl: Sure. It was a weird show.
DTD: I went right before, the last one they had before pandemic. And it was amazing. And I had, you know, vowed I was going to go to it every year.
DTD: And of course, you know, someone heard that. And all of a sudden, there weren’t any more.
Daryl: Well, yeah. Those don’t count. It was interesting ’cause they built fake walls in some of the halls to make them feel tighter.
I actually knew this. Several of the conventions during the pandemic did this – they would wall off big sections of the exhibit hall or the demo area, making the space for the convention feel more full. I hid behind some of those fake walls during GenCon 2021.
Daryl: But I wish they didn’t, ’cause it was like, “But you could have more breathing room.”
DTD: I wonder what the deal was with that.
Daryl: And anyone that I interacted with said they wanted to make sure people still felt like, kind of the hustle and bustle.
DTD: That seems really counterproductive.
Daryl: Like it’s full, but I’m like, “That’s not what I need.” [laughs] And then the other thing, when you were there [at Essen], did you ever sneak outside? Like the “inside spots” that are outside?
DTD: Yeah, the weird little loading dock hallways in-between buildings.
Daryl: Yeah exactly. I love those, ’cause to me, I’m like, “Ooh, we can get a little fresh air, and they have a lot of food stalls, or you name it.”
Essen is great because there are so many booths, and many serve food or drink, in addition to the game booths.
DTD: Yeah, it’s refreshing out there. Usually, you got better Internet out there too.
Daryl: Yes, Yep. Well unfortunately this year… I don’t know if it was just ratios, or again people wanting to be away from other people. It was really crowded. Because people trying to get away from people, then there were many people in those.
DTD: Oh, everybody was trying to be outside.
Daryl: Right. And then I’m not crazy about cigarette smoke. There was a ton of cigarette smoke in those areas too, so.
DTD: Well, there’s a lot more smoking, I think, at Essen then there is at any other convention I’ve been to.
Daryl: Oh, for sure, for sure.
Daryl: So that was a downer, because that used to be my shortcut to run around. I’d be like, “Oh, I’m gonna dip through this, and dip through this…” And then it was like, “Oh, those are worse.” Which means I’m inside more, and then they’re tight, making hustle and bustle… I was like, “Oh man, this backfired.” But still it was a great time.
DTD: I remember when I went to Essen, I ended up leaving all of my clothes in the hotel room. And only packing games.
True story. I needed luggage room, so the jeans had to go.
Daryl: [laughs] For the luggage space? Nice. Nice. I definitely have… disposed of some clothing, for luggage space. The worst though, was… Have you ever heard of a board game convention in Seattle called Sasquatch?
DTD: Yeah, yeah, I know that.
Sasquatch is a small invite-only board game convention in Seattle, which takes place right after Essen.
Daryl: So, one year I was the mule. I had to pick up – I think it ended up being around 240 unique titles to bring to Sasquatch. So, my luggage was…
DTD: That’s their whole deal, is playing the Essen games.
Daryl: Yeah. Which is amazing, and it’s so cool. And I get it, and that’s exciting. As the mule I had to run around, and there was a priority list. So it wouldn’t be like I could get from Booth A to…
DTD: Oh, you had a shopping list.
Essen has a crazy number of new and early releases. Most board games release according to GenCon or Essen.
Daryl: Yeah. I had the shopping list, some pre-ordered already that they had arranged. Some that it was just like “Please go here first, go here second.” But of course, then, that means I can’t shop at this stall, and this stall. The priority list is this stall, then seven halls over, that stall, then four over this way to that stall. And then remember like…
DTD: Could you at least get in early? Were you given an exhibitor badge?
Exhibitors are allowed into the hall early to set up, and there can be a bit of shopping before the general public is allowed in. However, several booths will limit this early wheeling and dealing. Famously, in 2016 Plaid Hat‘s title SeaFall nearly sold out before the public was allowed in the hall. And I can report that at GenCon 2022, Twilight Inscription was not being sold to people with exhibitor badges at all.
Daryl: I got in early and ran around as much as I could then. A lot of them, they’re like “Well, you know, we have a limited amount, so we have to be fair.” So, there was that. There was a few that I would negotiate with BGG, where I was like, “Look, someone is going to come over and demo. Can we arrange an extra one to come with them, so I can just do the handoff then, or buy it?” And that worked out pretty awesome. BGG was super generous about that.
DTD: Oh, they’re so nice.
Daryl: Yeah. So that was a big help. I knew some people, so I sent a few messages, being like “Can you just hold it aside? I don’t have time to wait in line.”
DTD: That’s what I did.
Daryl: But the worst of all of it all… I ran around, and I was pretty successful. I think I only missed a handful of titles out of the 240. But the part I didn’t calculate well was the punching.
DTD: Oh, man.
Daryl: So, I had to punch every game, baggie them. I took the boxes out and I mailed the boxes. And for a majority of the games, I put the pieces in my luggage.
DTD: Then you had to puzzle everything back together.
Daryl: Then puzzle it back, yeah. It took so long that I ended up recruiting multiple friends at different times to spend hours in my rooms just punching with me. It was wild.
DTD: [laughs] Oh, I believe it.
Daryl: So, in the end, even going early, even doing like after-hours stuff, I thought by Sunday I’d be done. And then I was planning on pitching games that day. But I just… The entire Sunday I sat in my room punching. [laughs] And just cancelled all my pitch meetings.
DTD: That is insane.
Daryl: I learned very quickly why they’ve never got someone to do it two years in a row. It’s always a new person.
DTD: [laughs] I was actually thinking about doing it. Now I gotta change my mind, I think.
Daryl: The take-away trick that developed, and I think they’ve mastered since I did it, was Blue Highway store… I think it’s called Blue Highway. It’s in Seattle. They had arranged pallets to take some stuff back, and they arranged to share a pallet. And instead of having to take those items all the way back to a hotel, punch them. They just literally loaded them straight onto a pallet, on the floor, and had them shipped.
Blue Highway Games has been a staple for the gaming community in Seattle since 2007.
Daryl: And so, it’s almost… In my opinion,If I did it again, I would just buy a booth. Just for the purpose of putting a pallet or two in it. Close it off, and then just bring it all to that booth. And then just ship it out. Like if I did it again, that’s for sure how I would do it.
DTD: Well, I had a friend in Germany, and… Actually me and JonnyPac put in an order with this German friend, and we had an insane amount of games shipped. Just you know, poundage and poundage of games get shipped to my house.
Thank you my friend.
Daryl: [laughs]. Insane. Wow. I have a local game store… It’s in Toronto, actually, about an hour from me. And he imports a lot. And goes. And so, I often say to him, “Hey, here’s my wish list. Obviously, grab a few for this store, but I’ll pre order you, I will pay for any of these. I’ll send money in advance. And if you don’t, refund me a few.”
DTD: That’s super nice.
Daryl: But, it’s Board Game Bliss.
DTD: Oh yeah, I totally know them! I order from them all the time, ’cause they’ll get more imports than anybody else I know.
Send any extra games to Corey…
Daryl: Yes! He’s lovely, Bosco is one of the sweetest humans. My favorite, when he started up early, he lived really close to where my mum was.
DTD: Oh, that’s so cool.
Daryl: So, on Christmas, he loads, like at midnight, their Boxing Day, December 26th, shopping deals. And I saw a few, and I messaged and just put in a payment, and said, “I’ll pick them up whenever. I’m not in a rush.” And he goes, “No, no, no, you can get them. We’ll figure it out, while you’re local.” And I was like, “Oh well I’m going shopping to the mall with my nephew, he wants to buy some shoes.” And he’s like, “I’ll meet you at the mall with your games.”
Daryl: I was like, “On this busy day after Christmas?” And he was like, “Yeah let’s do it!” And he found me at the mall and handed off my games. Got me to sign a copy of one of my first games.
DTD: [laughs] That’s so cool!That is great.
Daryl: And he was all like, “Oh just so happy to meet you.” and I’m like, “Dude, this is like beyond customer service! This is amazing!” So that was the first time I met him in person.
Tram 28 is a delightful Ticket to Ride like title of picking up passengers and shuttling them around the city. And it comes with a bell. I got in trouble from Tom Vasel for ringing the bell too often. True story.
Daryl: Sure. He does a really good job of getting really rare stuff or imports or restocking really quick.
DTD: Oh yeah, I love checking their lists. And a lot of times when I do the news, if I want to know if something is available or out, I’ll check the list.
Daryl: Sure. Yeah, we’re pretty spoiled in this area ’cause we have 401 Games, Board Game Bliss, Meeplemart, and another local one for me is J&J Games. They don’t do a good job online, they’re actually quite horrendous, but they have an incredible inventory. I always say to them, “You’d sell a lot more if you organize yourself and had a good inventory.” But they just sell so well they don’t feel, like, even the need. But the nice thing for their lack of organization is every so often you’ll just find an out-of-print game, in the rafters. Because they just stack so many games all over the place.
DTD: I’ve got in Sacramento, there was a game store I go to a lot, that is a tiny little store. But behind the counter they have their games stacked nearly floor to ceiling. And the owners know exactly where every copy of everything is. So, you tell them what you want, and they’re all like “It’s over here.” And they’ve got them all.
Viking Hobby in Carmichael, CA. Great place.
Daryl: Amazing. Amazing.That’s perfect.
DTD: Not real good for window shopping.
Daryl: No. Which is, unfortunately, how I often game shop – I see what catches my eye.
DTD: Oh yeah, lately I haven’t really been able to go out anywhere, so…
Come back next time when Daryl and I actually get across the border into Canada, briefly discuss something called “poutine,” and talk about forays into game design.