Another Origins Game Fair is in the books! I’m going to run through my experiences from last week, as well as my impressions from the newest games. As is my custom at this point, I went into Origins without any scheduled events to speak of, but played a lot of game demos in the exhibitor hall and played old and new games with other attendees.
Origins officially starts on Wednesday but the vendor hall area doesn’t open until Thursday morning. I didn’t get into Columbus until late evening Wednesday so I was only able to get a few games of The Mind in at the hotel before calling it a night and getting ready for the craziness of the convention hall on Thursday morning.
I started Thursday morning playing some roll-and-write games as I waited for the hall to open. MetroX, from Hisashi Hayashi, is themed around planning the criss-crossing Tokyo metro. There are multiple lines but you can only advance each line two or three times. So you must take advantage of where those lines share “track” to be able to complete them. It’s currently difficult to get in the US, but hopefully will make its way stateside as some point.
Once the vendor area opened I sat down for a play of the new edition of Atlantis Rising. I had never played the first edition but had heard good things about this cooperative worker placement game that will be launching on Kickstarter soon. Players work together to escape Atlantis by gathering resources to build a mystic gate of sorts. The worker placement spots that give you the best chance to succeed also have the best chance of flooding before you are able to acquire the resources, giving a bit of a press your luck element. It’s a bit different than most co-ops and something I would like to be able to play on an increased difficulty.
Next was lunch and if you’ve read any of my previous Origins recaps you probably know this is where I discuss the wonderful North Market. Right across the street from the convention center, the North Market offers a wide variety of food for Origins attendees. BBQ, Polish, Indian, sushi, pizza, seafood… you name it, you can find it there. And Jeni’s ice cream for dessert. You really can’t go wrong there and the large community-sized tables outside make it easy to strike up conversations about board games as you refuel for the afternoon.
Next, I took a stroll around the vendor hall and most publishers seemed to have their games flying off the shelves. Very early on in the day many of the hot new titles sold out — Century: Eastern Wonders, Coimbra, Pokoko. This theme would continue throughout the convention, dozens of games were sold out by the early morning Saturday, including 500 copies of The Mind that were brought in by Pandasaurus. The idea that Origins isn’t a shopping convention should be long gone — gamers came prepared to buy.
Steve Jackson Games had a room outside of the dealer hall where they were getting lots of traffic for the recently released Munckin CCG. I sat down with a buddy and faced off with two of the intro decks. There is a bluffing element which gets this 2-player CCG apart from other card combat games as you play cards from your hand face-down hoping that your opponent may burn their ability to run away when you weren’t actually threatening them with anything at all. It is an interesting mechanic but not sure it can sustain a CCG model, at least not for me.
There was another new collectible card game that had a huge Origins presence — Lightseekers: The Awakening. Having never heard of this before I was surprised to see the large area dedicated to this game and their booth setup was spectacular. I enjoyed my demo of this game so much I bought a couple of the intro decks to play around with. Every player gets two actions every turn and at the end of your turn you can draw cards for each action you don’t take. This card management system is a genius replacement for the traditional mana system of Magic. Some cards played have an immediate impact where others will activate multiple times before being discarded. I hope I don’t go full CCG-addict on this one, but I might.
I rounded out my time in the convention center with a demo of Starship Samurai, and upcoming area control game from Isaac Vega and Plaid Hat Games. It has some beautiful miniatures that give each player unique abilities. It will be out in July and seemed to gain a lot of traction. The mechanisms feel much like a mid-weight Euro than a miniature game.
During an evening meetup I was able to play in a 5-player game of Renegade Game’s newest release, Junk Orbit. Players control ships that travel between the Earth, moon, and Mars trying to make deliveries. The neat thing is to move forward you have to throw junk behind you and you can successfully deliver your cargo be either throwing it backwards to its destination or landing there with your ship or dropping it off in a much nicer way. I enjoyed Junk Orbit enough I planned to go back Friday morning and pick up a copy, but, of course, it was also sold out.
Friday I made my first purchases of the convention, picking of High Society which was released with fabulous new art nouveau artwork by Osprey Games and Senshi an abstract strategy game that plays up to 4 players in about 15 minutes. Both games are very good and work great at conventions when you want to meet up with various people, explain rules in less than 5 minutes, and get in a quick game. Everyone has a lot that they want to get to and finding 2-3 hours for a heavy Euro isn’t easy to do, but keeping these games on me most of the weekend allowed me to play really good games with a large number of people.
One of the most talked about games before and during Origins was Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr. I was able to sit down and play through the first scenario and it really blew me away. Holding On is a cooperative story driven game where players are nurses in a hospital trying to care for a man who has come in after a heart attack. You must gain Billy’s trust by caring for him to be able to learn about his story as you piece together his memories. Theme and story aside—Holding On is mechanically a very good co-op. Players manage their time, available assistants, and stress level without knowing exactly what each day will bring.
But the hook here isn’t just the game, it is the story. We came close, but ultimately did not successfully complete the first scenario. Yet we started to piece together some of Billy’s memories and worked through his story. Each scenario can have different objectives so as you successfully complete the requirements for one scenario you will have a new goal using the same mechanics. In a single game of the first scenario I find myself curious about Billy’s story and what else Holding On has to tell. It kind of feels like the trailer to a movie from the start—I’m very excited but I don’t really know how it’s really going to be. But that said, I will be preordering this as soon as possible. Hub Games expects to release this at Essen and have it in available in the US around the same time.
North Star Games was my final stop in the convention hall today, as I stopped by to play Warsaw: City of Ruin. Warsaw is a reprint of the game Capital. Players draft city tiles play them to a tableau in front of them. Each type of district scores differently and players also compete to meet a certain condition each round that will give them a bonus tile to place. You can build up, as well as out, and cover up previously placed buildings as needed. There is a neat mechanism where players have to lose building after rounds 3 and 4 to simulate the damage to Warsaw during the world wars.
Saturday was my final day at the convention as I had to head home first thing in the morning on Sunday. So this was my final opportunity to demo everything I had missed throughout the first two days.
My first game was a full play through of Ticket to Ride: New York. This upcoming Ticket to Ride game is a distilled down version that plays in about 15 minutes. The game itself plays exactly like you would expect, but with a smaller number of trains—taxi cabs, actually—and a relatively small map. This may be my favorite way to play Ticket to Ride once I am able to grab this game, as I often feel like it is a filler weight game that just overstays its welcome sometimes. This is going to be a Target exclusive coming out in July, so keep it eye out for it soon.
I was able to play through a round of Coimbra (which also sold out at Origins) and spent some time hearing about the mechanisms of the upcoming Teotihuacan. These were probably the games at Origins this year that got my euro-gaming heart the most excited. Coimbra is a dice drafting game with lots of movement, scoring tracks, and various ways to go about scoring points. Designed by the same folks as Grand Austia Hotel it has a similar feel.
Teotihuacan looks to be a fairly standard collect resources and spend them on things that give you points type of game. However the actions available use a rondel-like mechanism where each player has three dice that move around to the various actions. As you use a die to take an action that die will increase in value. If you have multiple dice in a location the action you take will be even stronger. But eventually your worker reaches is maximum power and is retired, granting you a bonus, but starting it back at level one. Similar to Holding On, this is an Essen release that is expected to be in the US around the same time and has a beautiful presentation to go along with interesting gameplay.
I finished my time at Origins very late into Saturday night, playing quick playing games of High Society, Welcome To…, and Time’s Up. Origins continues to be a great convention for playing games and hanging out with fellow board gamers. There was a lot of disappointment for some of the attendees who came with money to buy games only to find so many games sold out before we even made it to the weekend. Hopefully publishers will take note that Gen Con isn’t the only play you can launch a new game in North America.
Holding On and Teotihuacan were the standout games that I was able to experience at Origins this year. It’s unfortunate both have an October release date, but I’m sure there will be plenty of Gen Con releases announced in the coming days and weeks to keep me busy until the fall.