This year marked my 5th year of attending Origins. Columbus continues to be a great host city for what is still one of my favorite weeks of the year. This year felt like a bit of a year of transition for the convention as a lot of long complained about concerns were addressed and it seemed to have a bit of a different feeling compared to other years. So let’s take a look at the convention, the food, and of course… the games.
The biggest change to Origins this year was the expansion of open gaming areas. There were multiple areas set aside with plenty of tables and chairs for people to play games they either brought along or purchased from the exhibit hall. One of the common complaints of years past has been the lack of places to just sit down and play a game. But these open gaming areas made for a great place to meet up with friends and play a game.
Since the exhibit hall isn’t open on Wednesday, I spent the majority of the day in the new open gaming areas. My convention started off by playing Pipeline, the newest release from Capstone Games. It’s a great thinky medium-weight euro that plays in about 30 minutes per player. Capstone had what appeared to be a considerable amount of these for sale at the convention, but sold out near the end of the day on Sunday (one of those was to yours truly on Thursday morning).
Next, we tackled a couple of cube rail games, The Soo Line and Paris Connection. Paris Connection is perhaps the most simple of the cube rail games I’ve played but it was enjoyable. The Soo Line, on the other hand, fell very flat for me. The game involved a very important auction to begin the game that can basically determine the winner before a single track is laid. There are also only three companies and they are entirely controlled by their president. So in a 5 player game, at least two folks will just be sitting around waiting to find out if they’ve won. It’s one I’m glad to experience and have no need to play again.
Games continued late into the night, ending with what are among my favorite quick-playing economics games—Hab & Gut and Tulip Bubble. I’ve reviewed Tulip Bubble previously, but the short version is it’s an amazing game about speculating on flowers where the sudden ending leads to some high-pressure decisions. Hab & Gut has players sharing hands as they buy stocks and manipulate the market for various commodities. It’s tough to find in the US, but it’s worth seeking out.
Thursday marked the opening of the large vendor hall and as far as new releases go, Pipeline, Century from Plan B Games, and Grimm Masquerade from Druid City Games seemed to be the ones causing quite the rush on Thursday morning.
Brand new games in hand, I wandered the hall. Kolossal Games showed off Terrors of London, which has some wonderfully creepy artwork and a fresh take on the deck-building genre. BoardGameTables had a full-sized craps table set up to show off a giant version of On Tour, one of my new favorite roll-and-writes. Renegade Games also had some new releases including a roll-and-write version of Lanterns and Proving Grounds, their foray into solo-only gaming.
Then I found what is possibly the under the radar hit of Origins 2019. Smirk and Laughter games was debuting Shobu—a two-player abstract game. It looks, plays, and feels like an ancient abstract like Chess or Go that just has been around forever. Fans of abstracts should certainly be looking into this one and everyone I shared the game with throughout Origins really enjoyed it.
After making the rounds, I went to the North Market for lunch. There isn’t much to say about the North Market that hasn’t been said before. It’s a 2-minute walk from the convention center and has every variety of food you could possibly want. And Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. It’s amazing. I basically ate there once a day, sometimes twice. While I love the food truck offerings at Gen Con, Origins is just the best convention for eating, hands down.
Thursday evening consisted of meeting up with folks and chatting more than playing too many games. But I did get a chance to get a lot of the newest roll-and-writes played. Hex Roller, Imperial Settlers: Roll and Write, and the aforementioned Lanterns Dice all hit the table on Thursday evening.
Origins, for me, included a lot of rediscovering my love of abstract games. I’d recently purchased some Nestor games: Amazons, Ni-ju, and Flink. Friday morning I had a chance to learn and play these games with some other abstract fans. Nestor Games come packaged in what looks like a pencil case, but all have great table presence when pulled out on the table.
I did stop by the Academy Games booth and learned about One Small Step, a new worker placement euro they have launching soon on Kickstarter. While it wasn’t available for a full demo yet, it seems a bit like a team-based Twilight Struggle as teams of two will take worker placement actions, but also create hands of multi-use cards competing, as either the Soviets or Americans, to contribute to space exploration. There is a lot there that appeals to me and I can’t wait for it to be available.
After the hall closed I found myself back in open gaming, this time playing Arraial. I had played it, with a slight (but important) rules error at BGG.CON last year, so I was interested in playing it with the right rules now that it is widely available in the US. Luckily, it was a much more interesting experience. While games that use polyominoes aren’t in short supply, Arraial really forces you to decide between just taking more pieces or spending actions to rotate them. It’s a neat take on the tile-laying Tetris-like game market and has cool art to boot.
My final game of the evening was another standout soon-to-be-available game, Watergate. This two-player only game from Capstone is coming out at Gen Con and really feels like a boiled down Twilight Struggle. Each card has multiple uses and the players have different goals to try to win the game. It becomes a balancing act of advancing your own agenda or stopping the other player’s progress. This one I will be grabbing as soon as I can, without a doubt.
At every convention, Saturday is the busiest day. So I tried to be prepared to spend as little time in the exhibit hall as possible. To that end, I started the day off by playing in a scheduled Keyforge event. I dabbled a bit in Keyforge when it first came out last year and with the newest set release a few weeks ago, I’ve played a bit more.
The event was well run and I had a mostly enjoyable time. The biggest concern I have about Keyforge is that some of the rules are still quite a bit in flux and the rulings are very unintuitive. In my particular case, that led to a feel bad moment of the game really not working the way it was intended and I decided I’d forged enough keys for the day and went for lunch at Jeni’s ice cream instead.
After lunch, I met up with some folks for a game of Indonesia. I’ve owned Indonesia for years and still have yet to get it to the table despite my love for the other Splotters I own, Food Chain Magnate and The Great Zimbabwe. But it may perhaps be my biggest disappointment of the convention, I just didn’t enjoy much of what Indonesia had to offer. The bookkeeping is cumbersome. The game really hinged on auctions for mergers where the valuation of anything feels like a complete shot in the dark. My personal copy is going to end up on a sell list in the near future.
After the brain burn of Indonesia, I got a chance to play Tuki, the newest title from Next Move Games. While not really a dexterity game, Tuki has players trying to recreate structures using colored bars. You also have white pieces to use to help make the correct structure, but they can be placed anywhere as supports, counterweights, or risers. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but it was still a blast to play, especially between heavier games.
Gaming on Saturday continued late into the night. I followed up Tuki by playing Pipeline again. I felt compelled to get my purchase to the table and there were plenty of people wanting to give it a shot. We played a four-player game, with three new players, in about 90 minutes. I’m really impressed by the depth of strategy in this game that has such low rules overhead and doesn’t take a ton of time to get played.
Saturday ended with an 8 player game of Sidereal Confluence. I’ve heard so many people discuss this game in the past couple of years and I’d always avoided getting myself involved. Trading and negotiation just isn’t really my favorite thing in games and that is basically all Sidereal is. It’s a social deduction game for used car salesmen where you try to swindle a small cube of value out of every trade you make. For the first hour, I enjoyed the experience. Unfortunately, we were just barely halfway through the game and it continued to drag on for another hour.
Sunday is always a strange day at conventions, but one of my favorites. The crowds start to disperse a bit and more young gamers and families show up in the exhibit hall. I started off the morning demoing another upcoming title (there is a theme here, isn’t there) Letter Jam, from CGE. Letter Jam was getting quite the buzz as a Codenames-killing Hanabi-style word game. As a professed Hanabi hater, I wasn’t initially too interested. But Letter Jam doesn’t rely on the same memorization that you have in other hidden-to-you games. You can write down your clues as you try to deduce the letters in front of you. This is one that actually may replace Codenames for me as a party game that is still kind of thinky and gives you enough space to be clever.
I spent much of the rest of my time just catching up with folks before they took off, but I did get in one final demo, this time of Quirky Circuits. A cooperative action programming game by Plaid Hat Games. Another Gen Con release, the demo game has us controlling a cat atop a Roomba-like vacuum trying to clean up all the dust bunnies and exiting the room. It felt part like Roborally and part like The Mind, as you had to try to communicate without being able to communicate verbally with your teammates. The game comes with a spiral bound book of maps each with a different theme and slightly different mechanisms.
Origins has never been a big event for new releases, but I’m glad that companies like Plan B and Capstone Stones gave us enough new stuff to hold us over until Gen Con. The addition of plentiful open gaming areas made Origins feel, in total, much closer to a game playing convention than a game buying one. It’s always straddled the line a bit, but the awkwardness of trying to find tables in the hotels’ lobbies was no longer a problem this year.
There is a ton of great stuff that was on display but not available until Gen Con. Quirky Circuits, Watergate, Letter Jam are among my favorites to be big hits in Indianapolis on August 1st. As Origins comes to a close I’m already excited to see everyone again in just about 6 weeks!