Last week I attended my third straight Origins Game Fair in Columbus. This year was my first year attending without kids. Although I missed getting to share the convention with them, I was able to get quite a bit more gaming in. It was a wonderful time and I met and played games with friends old and new.
The convention runs Wednesday through Sunday, although the exhibit hall doesn’t open until Thursday morning. I didn’t arrive until Wednesday evening, just in time to pick up badges, grab a bite to eat, and check into the hotel for the first night. We did spend some time that evening in Barcadia, a bar/arcade across the street from the convention center. I learned that I am really bad at Mortal Kombat.
I went into Origins this time with very few scheduled events. I only had a couple and ended up only attending one. On the flip side, my friend who also traveled to Origins with me had scheduled out events for the vast majority of the three days we were there. You can certainly show up with as much or as little structure as you’d prefer.
Thursday morning I arrived at the exhibit hall just a bit before opening and was able to take a look around. There weren’t a run of hot new releases at Origins this year. It really is more of a show about playing games and seeing upcoming titles. You can certainly shop and buy all the games you want, but there isn’t the same focus on new titles as there is at Gen Con.
The first game I played was Pit Crew, the newly released, real-time game from Stronghold Games. Teams work in pairs to change tires and fill the fuel tank on their cars to get them back on the track as soon as possible. Each player has three cards at a time and plays them on the tires or fuel tank. The fuel tank cards must add up to the number on the car and the tires need 4 cards played and each must go up or down by exactly 1 digit. Any mistake will result in a penalty that allows other cars to advance. Real time games aren’t really my thing, but it was a fun distraction though and the theme certainly makes sense for a real-time game.
Before leaving Stronghold, I slid over to the next table for a demo of Fields of Green. I haven’t played Among the Stars, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. You draft tiles, play them into your farm, and then after the drafting round there is a Harvest phase where they all activate. You need fields to generate food, food for livestock to get money, and money to construct buildings that score points. Engine building, tile laying, and drafting are among my favorite mechanics, so I couldn’t resist picking up a copy.
Next stop was Mayfair to get a crack at their newest hotness, Barenpark. Also a tile laying game, but Barenpark uses Tetris shaped pieces. You get to choose additional pieces to place based on the icons you cover up on your board throughout the game. There are end game goals as well, but we didn’t use those in the demo game. It maybe was more simplistic than I had hoped, as every choice was “pretty good”. Final scores of the demo reflected that, four players were only separated by 5 points between first and last. I may give this another shot with the end game bonuses added to give it a bit more of a strategic element.
Next stop was the North Market. I’ll spare you the lunch details every day, but suffice it to say, lunch was always at the North Market. Right across the street from the convention center, the market has almost every type of food you could ask for. Sushi, Thai, Indian, Pizza, Italian, Polish, Mexican… and Jeni’s Ice Cream. There is something for everyone and less expensive than most of the food within the convention center itself.
In the afternoon, we played a short demo of Flipships, the new cooperative dexterity game from Kane Klenko and Renegade games. Players flip cardboard discs off of a wooden “launch-pad” hoping to land on the incoming enemy ships. I don’t know of any other cooperative dexterity games, so I really liked that idea. And the way the enemy ships move closer to you is reminiscent of Space Invaders. When the ships reach your atmosphere, they damage you and get shuffled back into the ship deck. There is also a cardboard mothership that you have to flip into 3 times during the game to destroy the mothership. To win, you have defeat the mothership and the entire deck of enemy ships. This is another game I ended up purchasing before the end of the con.
Next I snuck in a quick play through of Codenames: Duet. A cooperative version of Codenames that can be played with 2 players. It’s very tricky and seemed much more difficult than the regular Codenames version. It could just be the words that we had available, as it does come with 300 new word cards. You have a limited number of rounds to guess all the words, and both sides of the card show 3 assassins. So you can’t cause the other player to choose those, but one of those could be a correct clue for you. It’s an interesting way to play Codenames and it is nice that you aren’t necessarily just giving or receiving clues for an entire game, you get to do a little of both.
Thursday evening there was a Nerd Night event hosted in the convention center ballroom. There was plenty of space for open gaming, a ton of giveaways, and donations taken for the local children’s hospital. I played another game of Flipships here and a couple of games of Onitama.
Nerd Night ended with making some plans for gaming early Friday morning. In what would become a tradition, I met up with Ahead in the Clouds designer Daniel Newman and Jamie Maltman from the WDYPTW podcast for some 8am euro gaming. Friday morning we played Railroad Revolution from What’s Your Game. One of my favorite titles from last year, it has a lot of depth but plays relatively quickly.
Friday also was the first chance to get a look at Sentient from Renegade Games. There was a missing chipboard that didn’t make it to the show Friday, but they did a great job getting them to the show quickly and were able to sell through all their copies. I believe they were all gone at some point Saturday evening. Sentient feels mostly like a drafting game, but you are choosing cards from a common display of cards. Each card will have a requirement for the dice, but it will also change them in some way. There are also assistants you can use as part of a set collection element or they can be used to prevent your chosen card from changing your die. It is a very mathy game with quite a lot to think about and beautiful art and production.
North Star Games was also showing off their upcoming Evolution app. They are planning a Kickstarter this summer for PC, iOS, and Android. It seems to play exactly like the board game, so if you are a fan of Evolution you will certainly want to take a look at the app. The picture of your species changes as you play traits on it and the environment even dynamically changes based on the amount of food available. It definitely gives off a video game presentation, not just a card game on a table.
I spend all of Friday afternoon in my only scheduled event, a play through of Lisboa from Eagle-Gryphon Games. Designer Vital Lacerda was at the convention, teaching his game, but also explaining the history behind the destruction and rebuilding of Lisbon, which is the theme that the game is built upon. Lacerda games are among my favorites and it was a treat to get to meet and discuss the game with Vital. It was clearly a project he is passionate about. The rulebook covers a lot of the history and each card has some brief information about an event that occurred during the rebuilding of Lisbon.
In Lisboa, player’s are nobles, trying to influence the Prime Minister, the King, and the chief engineer, as Lisbon is rebuilt. You build shops to produce various goods, create ships to trade those goods, and commission plans from architects for large public buildings. Your shops only score when public buildings are built on their street as they drive commerce back into the city and revitalize Lisbon. As you build shops and public buildings, you are simultaneously clearing the rubble from the streets and in doing so are able to unlock additional options. I can’t wait to get more plays of Lisboa and really dig into the strategies that are available.
After completing Lisboa I was able to get back to the exhibit hall before closing to get in a demo of the 2nd edition of Lignum from Capstone Games. Based on woodcutting in the 19th century, Lignum feels like a really large rondel game where you are attempting to cut wood, cut into planks, and sell for as much money as possible. I was only able to play through a round, but it certainly seems like a game that rewards a lot of advanced planning and I’d be interested in getting a full play in the future.
Saturday started similar to Friday – heavish euro games with Jamie and Daniel. This time we played Kanban, my current favorite Vital game, published by Stronghold Games. It has been out of print and hard to come by, but there is an upcoming reprint with a few more bells and whistles on the way.
Players are working in a car factory and attempt to upgrade and test new designs to impress Sandra, your boss. It is one of my favorite worker placement games. Despite only having one worker to place, there is a ton of tension about where other players go to make sure you time everything correctly. It certainly feels like what I imagine running a factory is like. A ton of things to do and never feeling like you have enough time to do them.
Next was a game of Navegador from Rio Grande Games. Despite being a 2010 title I had never heard of, I really enjoyed it. Maybe it was because it was the first game I won all weekend. In Navegador, players take actions using a rondel, attempting to sail east from Portugal to discover new lands, establish colonies, and construct buildings. My favorite element was the market action. There are three different goods: sugar, gold, and spices. You can build factories to refine goods, which drives the price of that good up. Each colony you have can also sell goods during the market phase, which drives the price down. So it pays best to have factories for goods that other people have colonies for and colonies that other people have factories. This wasn’t available at the Rio Grande booth at the convention, but I ordered a copy before the game was even over.
I had some friends drop by the Columbus area on Saturday, but they didn’t have badges for the convention, so I spent a few hours outside of the hall playing games. We played Fields of Green again and a couple of games of Sluff Off, a trick taking game from Eagle-Gryphon. It’s not a new game, but has been through more than a couple rethemes; originally released as The Seven Seals. It has a neat bidding element that reminds me a lot of Spades.
Sunday morning, I didn’t have too much time, as I planned to leave early to get back in town for Father’s Day activities. But we did manage to get the euro group back together. Jamie had brought Concordia and I asked if he was willing to teach it since I hadn’t played but wanted to give it a try, given how much I liked Navegador as they are both designed by Mac Gerdts.
I really enjoyed the hand management aspect of Concordia. All players start with the same deck of cards that allow you to take the same actions. You can buy cards that allow you to do additional actions, as well as increase the points you will score at the end of the game. It’s difficult to know how you are doing throughout the game, as your score is multiplied based on how many of certain types of cards you have in your deck at the end. There are also quite a few different maps available, we played on the Germania map that had a some river paths that one your ship could transverse. I will definitely give it another look once the 3rd printing starts hitting stores.
Euro game mornings were certainly among the highlights of the show. I was able to meet many of the people I’d only interacted with online and get in some of my favorite games and learn some new ones that may become favorites. Not to mention it’s so much easier to find an empty table to play on at 8am in the morning and everyone had a couple of hours before things got too hectic.
The Origin Game Fair continues to be a great convention and one I hope to attend yearly. Columbus is a great host city with plenty of hotel options and great food right across the street. It is so much easier to find demos in the exhibit hall and there isn’t the same mad rush every morning that I’m accustomed to seeing at Gen Con. It is quite a bit easier to talk to new people and set up random games as most folks don’t have quite as many things on their schedule. Origins continues to keep up their reputation as a great convention for actually playing board games.