Origins 2015 is in the books and I had a great time at the convention. Only my second gaming convention; I attended my first board game convention last year at Gen Con. While Gen Con was an overwhelming experience where I only felt like I touched a small percentage of what was available to me, Origins seemed much more manageable. It’s smaller to be sure, and I am finally getting the hang of the convention atmosphere.
I’m going to run through what the convention was like for me, day by day. To fit a 5-day convention in with my familial responsibilities is pretty difficult. Luckily, my 8-year old daughter loves to play games nearly as much as I do. She stuck with me for the most part and we took a couple of days off to spend time at the Columbus Zoo and water park for the whole family. Kind of a side note, but if you have a non-gamer spouse, there are lots of great activities in Columbus to make a convention trip into a family vacation as well.
We made it to Columbus and checked into the Hyatt Regency about 11am on Wednesday morning. Hall D, technically the board game and miniature hall, was opening at noon. We waited about 15 minutes to get our badges from the pre-registration line and grabbed some lunch, making it back in time for our scheduled 2pm game of Smash Up. We play Smash Up a lot at home and thought it would be a good introduction to gaming at a convention with my daughter. I took home the win with Ninja Zombies, they only had the base game available for the event.
After the game, we wandered around Hall D a bit. I was surprised how empty the convention was on Wednesday. Even with the exhibit hall not opening until Thursday, I assumed there would be plenty of gaming going on. I ended up stopping by the Asmodee area where they were running demos of all their newest releases. I sat down for a play through of Nations: The Dice Game. I haven’t played the full-sized Nations game, but the dice game felt very dry. The decisions didn’t seem particularly meaningful or difficult. There could be more to it than my initial play seemed to indicate. I’d like to play it again, but certainly wasn’t blown away by it on first impressions.
I made an early exit Wednesday night to prepare for what I hoped would be a much busier Thursday in the exhibit hall. Note: Don’t go out of your way to get to Origins on Wednesday. Unless you have a scheduled event, nothing is really happening.
Running ahead of schedule on Thursday, we made it to the convention center around 9:30 in the morning. While the exhibit hall didn’t open until 10, Hall D was open when we arrived. Sometime between me leaving Wednesday and coming back Thursday, Cryptozoic had set up their booth with about 100 copies of Spyfall. I’ve played a print-and-play version a few times and really enjoyed it, so I went ahead and picked up a copy as my first Origins purchase. My understanding is the copies that were available sold out on Thursday afternoon, although it should be available in retail shortly.
Once the exhibit hall opened, my first stop was Stronghold Games. I haven’t played Battlestar Galactica or BSG Express, but the hype machine had certainly sold me on Dark Moon. I purchased it, along with Pictomania, from Stronghold and got a couple of beer coasters to go with it. I also wanted to demo both games, but at this point in the day wanted to prioritize getting around the exhibit hall a bit more. After a lot of walking around, struggling to limit purchases, I also ended up with a copy of Time’s Up: Title Recall from R&R Games and Flick ‘Em Up from Pretzel Games.
Flick ‘Em Up is certainly a game I didn’t imagine I would be buying going into the convention, but they had a giant-sized demo version of the game that was just awesome. After flicking wooden bullets at the opposing cowboys with my daughter, it seemed unlikely that I was going to be leaving without an early copy of this game. More plays are going to be required, but I can see this replacing Rampage in my collection fairly easily. Certainly only need so many dexterity games, and having direct conflict in this one really makes it play differently. And cowboys are cooler than monsters…
We left the exhibit hall to play a couple of scheduled events. First off, we played Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. I had received my Kickstarter copy of the game prior to the convention but hadn’t had a chance to play it more than once. We had a great time playing it again. My initial impression was that Lanterns maybe too light for most gamers, but this play made it feel like a little deeper than I initially believed. It will be interesting to give it a few more plays and see how much meat is there. We got a couple of promo tiles from Renegade Games for playing. And let’s be honest, promos are awesome.
Our next event was Giant King of Tokyo. For those unfamiliar, it is just regular King of Tokyo with 4-foot or so cardboard standees and giant foam dice. It’s definitely novel and fun. I lost, badly. I’m not very good at King of Tokyo, regardless of how big the dice are.
Back in the exhibit hall we got a chance to play a couple of rounds of Pictomania at the Stronghold Games booth. Perhaps not the intended purpose, but I will often demo games I’ve already bought so I don’t have to read the rules. We played with the “easy” cards and they seemed to be hand-picked for demoing. After the demo I thought maybe this game was too easy. When I cracked open my copy to play in the Board Room, I realized my fears were misplaced. The game is definitely not too easy. Some of the harder cards include words to draw like “Senator”, “Speaker of the House”, “Majority Leader”, and “Minority Leader.” If someone could tell me how to draw and differentiate those, I’d really appreciate it. I can see why this game is so well liked, especially with the difficult cards.
A couple more demos from Thursday, Monster Truck Mayhem was on display at the Dice Hate Me booth. An upcoming Kickstarter, it’s a real-time dice rolling game that plays in about 5 minutes. It will be interesting to see if the game ships with some kind of longer variant, a season of races perhaps. Regardless, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Depending on the roll of the dice: you may move, you must move, you use a boost, or you can make other racers spin out. Muddy spots on the track also cause spin-outs which force the driver to roll three tires before they can move again. Each truck has its own special abilities and the first driver to cross the finish line wins.
We rounded out a busy Thursday by meeting Isaac Vega, designer of the upcoming Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play with Isaac and really get a good sense for Ashes. Immediately obvious is that the game is just stunning.
The art, by Fernanda Suarez, jumps off the cards, the box, everywhere. The game itself gets off to a quick start: choosing your starting five cards and having the ability to use dice as resources means every card in your hand is playable during your first turn. You can change your die rolls by discarding cards from your hand, or from the top of your deck, so the cost of a bad roll is pretty minimal. Ashes is obviously a game that will take many, many plays to get a good feel for, but by the end of my game with Isaac my enthusiasm for this release has only grown. And being a recovering CCG addict, I’m looking forward to drafting the cards and seeing how it plays in that format.
Friday I spent most of my day outside of the convention center, but made it back for just a couple of hours before the exhibit hall closed. I spent most of that time playing Epic, the upcoming card game from Rob Dougherty and Darwin Castle, creators of Star Realms. Epic will be a 120 card spread over four factions. Players have a 30 card deck and battle against each other playing Champions and event cards. The resource system is simple – each turn you have 1 gold coin to spend. Every card costs either 1 gold coin, or nothing at all. If you don’t use your gold coin, you can’t take it with you and it is lost at the end of the turn. The most interesting aspects of Epic are the different ways to distribute the 30 cards to each player. You can separate by faction and play essentially a pre-constructed deck. You can draft a 30 card deck between 4 players. Or you can take the time to construct your own deck. Constructed decks will mostly require multiple copies of the game, as three of each card could be played. You can even just shuffle the 120 cards together and deal 30 out randomly to each player. Each style of game seems like it could have its own strengths and weaknesses.
It’s interesting to compare Epic to Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn. Both games promise drafting out of the box and have a very CCG-like feel to them. Ashes uses dice to limit resources while Epic’s 1-coin per turn is a more simple approach. These are obviously both right in my wheelhouse and I cannot wait to be able to play them more.
We ended Friday painting miniatures in the Paint ‘N Take area. If you aren’t familiar, Origins Paint ‘N Take allows every attendee to have one miniature to paint and provides a few paint options, brushes, and all the tools you need. You can also purchase additional minis to paint with generic tokens. Which, of course, I had to do a couple of times because I inadvertently turned my daughter into an aspiring minis painter. We left Origins with three minis each and a Learn-to-Paint kit from Reaper for her.
Saturday was my final day for Origins, and I knew was going to be the busiest. Since Gen Con was my only frame of reference, the weekdays of Origins seemed extremely empty. Saturday’s crowd really made it start to feel like a gaming convention. Not sure if long lines and bumping into people all over the exhibit hall should really be something I miss, but the convention atmosphere certainly picked up for Saturday. We started at Atlas Games, demoing the newest edition of Gloom, Fairytale Gloom. To be honest, I’m lukewarm on Gloom in general, storytelling isn’t my strong suit. But, what always matters the most, my daughter loves it. I didn’t plan to purchase, but actually was really surprised how the fairytale theme works in Gloom. It makes stories a little easier to come up with as we all have a frame of reference for the original stories. You can also pick which characters you want to play, you aren’t stuck with a particular group that has to be together.
Next we stopped by the HABA booth. Supposedly a maker of kids games, but I’ve seen more adults playing Rhino Hero at conventions than maybe any other game entirely. They had the classics including Animal Upon Animal available. One that I hadn’t seen before, Monster Torte, was also on display. Players have flat wooden “spoon-like” things and must try to get wooden balls of the right color, the ingredients, into their dish. You can use your spoon to try to get one of those wooden balls… or to mess with the other players. It looked really simple, but was much harder than I thought it would be. I can’t imagine trying to do it with other players actively messing with me. HABA also mentioned a special edition of Animal Upon Animal coming out around Gen Con for the 10th anniversary that will be in a tin with a special crocodile. They are also releasing Animal Upon Animal: Crest Climbers with animals from the Alps. Keep an eye out for those this summer.
Next we caught up with Chevee Dodd from Portal Games. While Portal didn’t have an Origins booth, Chevee was making the rounds to demo the upcoming Gen Con releases. We started with a quick game of Tides of Time, a 2 player drafting game that plays in about 10 minutes. It really is a unique take on drafting games. Each player gets 5 cards from an 18-card deck with four different suits (some cards don’t have a suit). You choose one, pass the rest on. All cards are drafted and then scored based on their abilities. A game is played over three rounds, after each round you choose a card from those you drafted to keep, and one to discard from the game. Draw two more to replace those and do the whole thing over again. Tides of Time really got stuck in my head. Discarding a card from the deck is an ingenious way to add some more decision points in a 2-player draft. If your opponent kept a card the scores points for cards in the Crown suit, discarding a Crown card is certainly going to hurt them. It will be interesting to see how long 18-cards can continue to be interesting, but right now it’s among my favorite games I was able to see at Origins and I can’t wait to get a copy.
Portal Games is also releasing their Atlanteans expansion for Imperial Settlers at Gen Con. Interestingly, the Atlanteans faction buildings do not score at the end of the game, so they must gain all their victory points before the game ends. They do have the ability to create a new resource, gears, which allow them to re-use their buildings. Some gears also give them a victory point each time a building is used or a permanent shield to protect a building from being razed. I’m excited to get to play as the Atlanteans will be a very different experience from the other factions.
Finally, Chevee showed off a pre-production copy of Rattle, Battle, Grab the Loot. Immediately obvious as he was unpacking the game, its beautiful, there is a ton of art and cardboard involved. Each player has a puzzle-piece cardboard ship with a mast and a sail. You can add additional pieces to your ship: more sails, cannons, and holds. A game of Rattle, Battle consists of multiple quests. Each quest has a few adventures followed by a trip to port to buy upgrades, recruit pirates, and trade your loot into money before the next adventure starts. The adventures include rolling a bunch of dice into the bottom of the box with the outcome of the adventure determined by not just the faces of the dice, but their proximity to each other.
All three Portal releases look great, and I’m excited to see the mad rush to their booth at Gen Con. Chevee said they expect to take preorders with Gen Con pickup as an option, so if you want to save yourself some pushing and shoving, it may be a worthwhile to check into that.
As we walked out of the board game hall we made time for one more demo game – Parfum from Queen Games, which was available at the Asmodee booth. I had resisted playing it a few times because it looked a bit more complicated than I really wanted to get into with my daughter in tow. They insisted she could play it wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. In Parfum, players create fragrances by rolling dice to claim a part of the fragrance bottle. Parfums can be either 2 pieces, a top and bottom, which will give you the opportunity to sell it to 2 clients or also include a middle piece that will give you a third bottle to sell. For all the dice and chits involved, it is actually very light set collection game. The dice rolling adds a bit of randomness, but you can spend actions to get water tokens that will allow you to manipulate the dice in interesting ways. By the time our demo game was over, the final copy of the game was sold out from the Origins booth, but Parfum is on its way to retail and should be available shortly.
All told, I really enjoyed Origins 2015. It’s a calmer, more easy-going experience than Gen Con. Columbus is a great host city, everything is really compact in the downtown area and there was plenty for my wife and young son to do to keep the whole family happy. While there were only a handful of new releases, with GenCon on the horizon it was great to get to demo some of the upcoming games and spend some time with the designers and publishers to know what they are excited about this summer.