As a resident of the Midwest, I’m fortunate to have a relatively short trip to two of the biggest board game conventions: Origins and Gen Con. As Origins 2016 has just wrapped up, I want to share my experiences from this year’s convention.
This year my convention group consisted of two close friends and my 9-year old daughter, Hailie. We arrived early on Thursday at about 8 in the morning. The Origins Game Fair consists of basically two main areas: the Exhibit Hall and the Main Gaming Area. The Exhibit Hall doesn’t open until Thursday at 10am and closes down in the early evening. The Main Gaming Area is basically open all day, every day, from Wednesday until Sunday.
While most demo games and sales happen in the Exhibit Hall, some vendors were in the gaming room and able to run events and demos later into the night. My preference is to leave my mornings open to roam the hall and demo games, but we did have some scheduled events later in the day.
With our early arrival we had a couple of hours before the Exhibit Hall opened. While my friends had booked some early events, I did not. So Hailie and I started off the convention by visiting the Paint-n-Take area. Essentially, every convention goer can get a free miniature to paint with provided supplies. Even though we are both amateurs when it comes to mini-painting, it’s a lot of fun.
Around 9:50 we stood in line to enter the Exhibit Hall. If you’ve been at Gen Con when the Hall opens, you may be envisioning crowds of thousands of people waiting by the doors. Origins is quite different, we got in line a few minutes before opening and were probably behind 20-30 people in a single file line. It’s a completely different atmosphere.
Although there were some high-profile new releases at Origins, including Dead of Winter: The Long Night from Plaid Hat Games and Guilds of London from TMG; the demand for new releases pales in comparison to the hundreds of games that are first available at Gen Con.
My goal for this convention was to not buy any games. A nearly impossible goal, but it certainly made for less pressure when the hall opened. We spent the first hour or so just looking around at the various booths. Our first real stop was at Formal Ferret Games. I was a Kickstarter backer for their new game, The Networks, which was available at Origins. I backed at a level which allowed my likeness to be used on one of the starting TV Star cards. Luckily for everyone, I chose to have Hailie on the card instead and was excited to show her. We picked up our Kickstarter edition and Gil Hova, who designed and published the game, was able to show Hailie her “Talent Show Winner” card.
After much walking around we needed a break. And we were ready to play games. Luckily we found ourselves by the Stronghold Games booth just as a demo of My Village was finishing up. We sat down for the next demo and were able to play through a few rounds. I’m not familiar with the other games in the Village series, but liked the mechanics that we saw in My Village. It felt somewhat like worker placement, but you pick dice from a pool as your workers. Most buildings need a specific value of dice to be activated, but you may be able to use the dice for multiple buildings. For instance, you may need a 2 or 12 to produce a scroll, but you can also train a new person for your Village with a 2 or 12. So if you are able to take two 6’s from the pool, you can activate both of those abilities. It’s an interesting take and has some unique mechanics; I’d like to be able to play this one again.
Animals on Board
After My Village, we just moved to the table next to us to try Animals On Board, another release from Stronghold. In Animals on Board, players attempt to collect either single animals or sets of three or more of the same animal. Apparently Noah has a patent on loading 2 of the same animal on an Ark. Each round begins with a large group of animals and players will take turns splitting that group into smaller groups. Each time you split a group, you take a food token. Alternatively, you can take a group onto your ship if you enough food tokens, each animal requires one food. Animals On Board is a very quick game; we learned and played in about 20 minutes with 4 players. It’s a light family game and was on the recommended list from the Spiel des Jahres.
The North Market
Once our friends had finished their scheduled events, we headed over to the North Market for lunch. If you ask anyone about Origins, they are going to tell you about the North Market. I guarantee it. Most conventions have a food problem. Food courts are expensive and not particular good. Or lines are very long. But it’s not an issue in Columbus. The North Market serves all kinds of food: Mexican, Indian, Thai, Belgian Waffles, BBQ, Italian. It is delicious and it is right across the street from the convention center. It is probably closer to the convention than the actual food court in the convention center. We ate literally every meal here.
Stomachs full, we went back to the Exhibit Hall. Pretzel Games debuted Flick ‘Em Up at Origins last year with a giant sized version. This year they are back with Junk Art. There were limited copies on hand but we were able to play the super-sized version. In Junk Art you attempt to build a structure from wooden pieces. These pieces are different and odd shapes, but it’s basically Jenga in reverse.
Each game consists of three rounds, each with slightly different rules. The first we had to build up a structure with 10 pieces as fast as we could. In the next, we handed cards to the player on our left; they had to add the corresponding piece to their structure. But after 3 pieces were added, we rotated structures, so there was a bit of setting yourself up to fail. In the final round we added to a common structure. Junk Art nearly had me ready to break my “don’t buy anything” goal for the convention. However, dexterity games just don’t get to the table often enough for me to drop the $70 for MSRP.
The Networks Part 2
We had some time to waste before the next scheduled item, so we went back to the Formal Ferret booth to play through a quick demo of The Networks. Now, I obviously already had my copy, but now I don’t have to read the rulebook. We played an abbreviated two round game, but got a good feel for how it plays. It’s lighter than I realized at first, but the theme is really what attracted me to the game. Each player gets to run their own TV station, programming shows in the best time slots and adding the best stars to their shows, attempting to end up with the most viewers. It was great to be able to learn the basics of the game and I’m excited to get a full play of my copy soon.
Our next stop was to meet with Rob Dougherty of White Wizard Games and designer of the immensely successful Star Realms. They currently have a Kickstarter live for Hero Realms, a fantasy themed version of Star Realms. I was able to play the base game with Rob and it feels exactly like Star Realms. An intentional choice, Rob said they wanted someone who knows Star Realms to be able to play Hero Realms without having to re-learn much. There are a few new wrinkles, such as Champions replacing bases. In general, like bases, they are activated once per turn. Events are similar to ships in Star Realms, going to the discard after being played.
First off, I really liked Hero Realms. The art in Star Realms has always been the biggest detractor for me, everything just looks the same. They have some really great art on the Hero Realms cards. There is also more they are adding to the game. The one that excited me the most was “boss” decks. This allows you to play Hero Realms one versus many. One player controlling, for instance, a dragon, while the other players are all fighting against it.
There will also be class-specific decks which give players a more powerful starting deck that is specific to their class: wizard, warrior, etc. In addition, classes will have a minor power and a once-per-game major power that can be used. I’m interested to see how different they feel to play; having asymmetric starting decks in a deck-builder seems like a really cool idea. And finally, there will be a campaign deck where players are able to play fully cooperatively and attempt to complete missions. As missions are completed, they will level up and can get new items and abilities. Rob said the initial campaign will include three missions with additional and larger campaigns planned for the future. If all of this is as exciting to you as it is to me, you should check out the Kickstarter.
After dinner… yep, North Market… the Exhibit Hall was now closed. Fortunately, the main gaming area was open and Czech Games Edition was showing off their new and old games over there. We were able to play a prototype of Adrenaline; a game being planned to release at Essen. While the components were all prototype, Paul from CGE said the mechanics and rules are 90% set, which minor tweaks still happening. Adrenaline certainly was one of the surprises of the convention, generating a ton of buzz. It is basically a First Person Shooter board game. You run around a map, pick up weapons, ammo, and try to kill the other players. But combat isn’t controlled by a dice roll or anything random. If you spend your resources, you will hit them. Various weapons do different amounts of damage and at different ranges. Once used, you must spend ammo to reload them. When you do damage to a player, you put one of your markers on their damage track. When they die, whoever did the most damage to them gets the most points, with bonuses to the player who did the first damage and whoever made the killing blow.
Adrenaline was described as a carefully disguised Euro game. That’s not far off, there is a bit of resource management. Giving the most points to the player who did the most damage is essentially area control. But it didn’t feel like a Euro, it felt chaotic like a “dudes on a map” game. All of these are good things, this is definitely one of my most anticipated releases for the coming year.
Smash Up Tournament
We ended the night playing a scheduled event: AEG’s Smash Up Tournament. My daughter loves Smash Up so we play it on a pretty regular basis. In this particular event, there were 9 players so we played 2 rounds in groups of 3, with the highest cumulative scores getting to participate in the finals later in the convention. After both rounds Hailie and I both finished around the middle of the pack, so our Smash Up tournament was short-lived.
But, as a side-note, it’s good to see more slightly completive events at Origins. Last year I don’t remember seeing many board game tournaments and this year there were quite a few more. While I love playing games for fun as much as anyway, I also enjoy just a little bit of extra competition and some cool prizes for incentives.
Thursday started with a 5am wake-up to get there by 8am, so we headed to bed pretty early. Friday started with breakfast… at the North Market. They have really good doughnuts. But we made it over to the Exhibit Hall just as it was opening at 10am.
My friend wanted to get a game that he could play with his son who was almost turning 7. I suggested we check out the HABA booth. They were demoing their new family games Karuba and Adventureland. We were able to sit down and demo Karuba and he ended up buying a copy to take home. Each player is trying to get their adventurer’s to the matching temples. But you have to plan ahead and place the routes carefully as not to block off possible paths. I definitely see why Karuba is nominated for the SdJ, but it isn’t something I would play very often.
Giant King of Tokyo
Our first scheduled event for the day was Giant King of Tokyo, which is setup in the main hallway outside of the exhibitor areas. We played this last year and had a great time, so we made sure to schedule it for their year as well. It’s likely something we will continue to play every year. While it is just King of Tokyo with 4-foot standees and giant foam dice, it’s a lot of fun to play. And, for the first time ever, I actually won and got the super-cool Space Penguin promo character.
We headed back to the gaming hall for the Onitama tournament. I had a copy of Onitama since it was released and I really love it as a quick, tactical 2 player game. Unfortunately, only 4 people showed up for the tournament. And three of those four were from my group. On the bright side, that meant we would all win a copy of the game as they had advertised prizes for the top 4. I was able to win both of my matches and am officially the best Onitama player in the world. In addition to the games, we also all received foiled copies of the cards and I won a super cool plaque. A very neat event from Arcane Wonders, it’s a shame more people didn’t show up for it. They are running a similar event at Gen Con and I’m signed up and ready to defend my title.
Next we found ourselves back at CGE, taking a look at the upcoming Codenames: Pictures. Being released at Gen Con, it is basically Codenames with pictures on the cards instead of words. It is just as fun as the original and the illustrations are pretty weird and allow you to make some strange connections to each other. We played through a couple of games and will certainly add this to our collection when it is released. CGE said they plan to accept preorders for Gen Con in the next couple of weeks, so keep an eye out for that.
Zombicide: Black Plague
We ended the evening in the convention center by demoing Zombicide: Black Plague. I’ve never played any Zombicide game before and this one looks great. Then again, all mini games from Cool Mini or Not look great. The gameplay just wasn’t for me, the dice rolls and randomness of finding items just doesn’t click. But the minis and the player trays, and all the components are awesome. I see why people love it and my daughter definitely loved it and tried to convince me to buy it. But I’m holding strong on my “don’t buy anything” goal.
I had to take my daughter back home for softball events for the weekend. I made it back to Columbus pretty late, but started a game of Twilight Struggle with a friend. I bought Twilight Struggle more than a month ago, but 3-4 hour 2 player games are hard to get to the table. We had a great time playing it and it’s definitely a game that had a real depth of strategy that I’ll never master.
Unfortunately, Origins ended early as there was a family emergency that required us to head back. But it was a great couple of days to spend seeing new and upcoming games. Origins certainly doesn’t have the buzz that surrounds Gen Con or Essen, but it is definitely easier to find time to sit and play games at Origins. Demo lines are shorter and publishers just seem less busy and able to really sit and discuss their games. It’s a different experience entirely than the larger conventions, but still with more than enough to do to keep you busy. I’m sure we will be back next year.