This past week was the Origins Game Fair in Columbus Ohio. This is one of the biggest gaming conventions in North America and one of my favourite cons to attend every year.
This year was my first year attending Origins as press and that really changed the vibe for me. It was still a great time and I got to meet some great people and play some great games.
In this post, I’m going to try to recap some of the highlights of my week away at Origins.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. As an associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. There is no additional cost to you and we get a small kickback if you buy something through one of these links. I attended the Origins Game Fair as Press, this means that my badge was covered for this convention. In addition, I received complimentary review copies from publishers and/or designers of some of the games mentioned in this blog post.
A Quick look back at my history with Origins.
I’ve talked about Origins quite a bit in the past. Specifically during our Pros at Cons Podcast Episode and the follow up Gaming Convention Preparation Tips blog post. Due to this, I’m not going to repeat everything here, but I will give you a very short version.
Deanna and I attended Origins for the first time in 2014 and loved it. This was our first ever big con experience. We managed to make it back in 2016 and had an even better experience. 2018 had us back in Columbus and that was the magical trip. It was there that we met all our friends from Buffalo along with many other great people.
This year was our first time attending Origins as press. This meant a big change in focus for us this year. This year we weren’t just at Origins as gamers, but also to work.
Attending Origins as Press Meant I was There to Work.
For one: I got to attend the con for free. This meant my badge was covered, but that’s all that was covered. If I wanted to play a game, attend a panel, play Artemis, or sign up for a tournament, all of that I still had to pay for. I was a bit surprised by this. You would think they would want press reporting on their special events. Things like hotel and travel also came out of my pocket, and no it’s not cheap.
The main thing press meant for me was recognition. The press badge meant I was already vetted by Origins. I hoped this would be noticed by companies when I pitched them to work with us and I think it did make a difference in some cases.
Through all of this, the majority of my con was spent meeting with representatives of companies. While I did do some gaming, overall I was there to work.
Some of the awesome games I got to play at Origins 2019
While I was at Origins to work, that didn’t mean I didn’t get to have some fun too. While there I managed to fit in quite a few demo games as well as some off the books gaming with friends. Below I’m going to give you a short blurb about many of the games I got to check out. In addition to these, I also brought home a ton of games to check out later and you will get to hear about those in the coming weeks.
Merlin – The first event I attended at Origins 2019 was a special event from Queen Games. There I got to play two games. The first was Merlin. Merlin was released in 2017 and is by one of my favourite designers: Stefan Feld. If you like Rondels (check out our Mechanics Post if you don’t know what that is) you will like Merlin, it’s got a lot of them. This game features three nested rondels and uses a Roll and Move mechanic with them. Each turn you roll your dice, then spend them to move either Merlin, Arthur or your own Knights around the round table, where they stop you take an action. These actions all include doing various things to earn points, in a very typical Stefan Feld Point Salad kind of way.
Along with Merlin, we were using the Arthur Expansion. This added some new options and new ways to score points, with the big one being fighting the Picts. Overall I really loved this game. Merlin is right on the top of my wishlist right now. It was one of the best games I played at the con and having played with the expansion already I can’t imagine playing without it.
Copenhagen – While I really enjoyed Merlin, everyone else at the Queen Games event was drooling over Copenhagen. This is a polyomino based abstract strategy game where you are building an apartment building.
Each round you either take colour coded cards or trade in a set of those cards for a Tetris style playing piece. The size of the piece is based on the number of cards used, so spending four red cards would give you a four square red tile. Tiles are placed onto individual player boards, which score points for completed rows and columns. A row or column filled with windows scores double points. Along with these are special spots on the board that give you access to single use tiles that break the rules in some way.
While I enjoyed Copenhagen, I found it a little too light for my tastes. It seems like the perfect game for families and/or public events but I felt like it would compete with games like Azul and Sagrada in my collection and probably wouldn’t see a lot of repeated play.
New Frontiers – This is the new Race for the Galaxy board game. Anyone who’s been following me for even a short amount of time knows how much I love Race for the Galaxy, and due to that love, New Frontiers was the one game I knew I had to try before heading home from Columbus.
I’m sad to say that I was disappointed in this game. This really is a board game version of Race for the Galaxy. The tiles and planets are all named the same. They even do the same thing. It’s still action selection but not blind. There are a couple of new phases and you now have to track money as a resource, but it’s basically Race for the Galaxy without the cards. What this means is that it’s almost all open information. All of the development tiles are on the board from the start, it’s just the planets that are randomized.
The overall effect is a simpler, much easier to teach game that, to me, just didn’t seem to have as much depth. Even the person doing the demo pointed out that this is the game he loves to use to introduce people to the Race for the Galaxy universe and once they get this game he moves them on to “the real game.” For me buying this game would feel like a step backwards.
7 Souls – This game is so new that it only funded on Kickstarter a week ago! It’s from Conor McGoey and Inside Up Games, who are most famous for the game Summit (which I wanted to demo but never fit in). The best part of 7 Souls was the theme. In it, you are Cthulhu Cultists working in three locations to complete rituals, build altars and corrupt investigators. All of this is driven by card based action selection. Each round players simultaneously pick one of seven actions for each of the three locations on the board. These are revealed and resolved. If two or more people pick the same action a battle happens. Battles use a unique deck building resolution system. Actions include improving your deck, getting focus tokens (spent to build altars as well as modify pulls from your deck), get victory point tokens (sorry I forget the proper name), filling your opponent’s deck with fear and trying to corrupt investigators. Each round one of the investigators will attack one or more of the cultists.
There’s some really cool stuff here. Besides the theme, I really liked the deck building system. You start off with a combat deck that is terrible and work to improve it through play. I also dug that the action selection was split over three zones. The problem though was the game was too short and light for my tastes. 7 Souls is almost a filler game, with most games lasting under forty-five minutes. It’s neat and does some neat things but there just wasn’t enough meat for me to sink my teeth into.
Monster Match – The folks at North Star Games are masters at loud, eye catching party games like Happy Salmon and Funky Chicken. Monster Match is the newest of these style of games and the best of these that I have played. The rules are simple, ten cards are put out on the table, a set of dice is rolled and players have to point at a card that matches what shows on the dice. One die has numbers zero to five and the other has body parts like Legs, Arms, and Eyes. There’s also a no match tile and when that is hit correctly ten new cards are added to the table. Each card has one to three donuts on it as well, showing how many points the card is worth.
Everyone should know by now that I’m not much of a party game fan but here is a party game I really liked.
Sorcerer – This is the new hotness from White Wizard Games, the company that brought us Star Realms and many other great card games. This is yet another card based duelling game obviously inspired by Magic the Gathering and the games that followed. However, there are some key differences in Sorcerer that really make it unique.
Somewhat like Smash Up, in Sorcerer each player builds a character by picking a Character Deck, a Lineage Deck and a Domain Deck. These are all shuffled together to form your play deck. Energy used to cast spells is determined semi-randomly and cards are played in one of three battle zones. It’s taking over these zones that wins the match, not defeating a pool of your opponents hit points. Another solid change is that the three and four player rules actually sound good. This isn’t a two player game with some added variants to squeeze in more players.
White Wizard was awesome enough to provide me with a review copy of Sorcerer, so look forward to hearing a lot more about it here.
Catch the Moon – I’m a sucker for dexterity games and I keep hearing how cool Catch the Moon is from a variety of Podcasts. While at Origins I made sure to check out a copy and actually play a game and I’ve got to say the hype is justified.
This is a very cool ladder building game. It’s one of those dexterity games where choosing the right piece and planning ahead is rewarded. There are actual tactics here, along with amazing components and a very cute theme.
Dragon’s Breath – I spent a lot of time at the Haba both this year looking for games that play great with kids as well as being fun for adults. One of the games Haba was really pushing was Dragon’s Breath. This looks like a dexterity game but really isn’t. The board has a pile of clear blue rings into which are poured a bunch of coloured plastic gems. Each round players bet on which colours will fall out when the top ring is removed. The theme is a mother dragon melting the ice and freeing gems for her babies to eat. This game won the 2018 Kinderspiel des Jahres award and now having played it I can see why.
King of the Dice – This is another game from Haba. The best way I can describe this game is Roll for It, but good. Similar to Roll For It players are rolling dice trying to match the patterns on a row of cards laid out on the table. You are looking for sets of colours or numbers and when you have them you get to claim the card which is worth points. King of the Dice adds some cool stuff to this basic mechanic, as well as adding a cute medieval theme. In addition to citizen cards you are trying to earn, there is a set of districts laid out. If the colour of the citizen matches the district you get to grab both cards with a match. Also as citizens are bought new ones come out and slide down to fill empty districts. Lastly, many of the citizens have special abilities. All of this adds some much needed strategy to the base mechanics of roll dice and take a matching card.
Iron Edda Accelerated – We talked all about this RPG during our Interview with designer Tracy Barnet on Episode 34 of our Podcast. This was my second time playing the game and I was honoured to again be at a table run by Tracy themself. This was another epic game starting with holdfast creation and ending with a massive battle between two Dwarven Destroyers along with their retinue of spiders and automatons against the warriors of our holdfast and a bone bonded giant. I played a Seer this time around and the star of the show ended up being our Shield Bearer.
If Norse warriors who summon the bones of dead giants to fight off Dwarven Kaiju during Ragnarok sounds rocking to you, I strongly suggest checking out this game!
Robotech: Ace Pilot – This just happened to be another dice matching game. In Ace Pilot, you roll the dice Yahtzee Style and use your results to hire characters from the hit TV Series. The pilot cards each show a unique attack pattern. You use this pattern to compare to the Zentradi attack tray which is 3 x 3 grid of tiles. Destroyed tiles are taken from the grid and kept for points. Damage lingers so make sure you don’t just hurt a bunch of enemy ships leaving them open for your opponent to steal the kill.
Besides the licence, there was just something I really liked about this game. While it’s a quick filler, which is normally something I don’t care for, there was something about the combination of rolling dice to hire crew members and the satisfaction of pulling off an attack combo netting me a stack of Zentradi tiles that I found really enjoyable.
Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles – I was an early adopter and big fan of Star Wars X-Wing when it came out, but didn’t end up keeping up with the game. There was just too much content coming out way too quickly. I did really love the programmed movement system though, and that’s what had me checking out the latest BSG game.
What I wasn’t expecting when I sat down to a demo game was to find a sci-fi miniature battle game that tried really hard to simulate actual combat in space. I should have realized, knowing that the game was based on the show that they would try to simulate the combat style of the show. This is a game where the way you are moving has nothing to do with the way your ship is pointing, and inertia and momentum, combined with small bursts of thrusters is how you get your opponents into your firing arc. This game actually accounts for three dimensional combat, including four elevations and the ability to swap between them on the fly.
To say I was impressed by what I saw of Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles would be an understatement.
Hydro Hacker Operatives (H2O) – This is a Powered By the Apocalypse RPG where you play Hydropunk Robin Hoods stealing water from The Corporation in order to help out your neighbourhood. The game was written by Phil Vecchione and is currently available only as an Ashcan.
I’m already a big fan of H2O and looking forward to when it comes out in its full version, hopefully later this year. I took part in a new adventure for the game, called Blue Europa. It was a heist game where we were stealing a block of pure “blue” ice, just imported from Europa. I played the Hacker in an adventure that had us stealing a Zeppelin. Phil ran a great session and, as usual, I had a great time playing H2O.
Go Cuckoo! – This silly Haba game is already my most played game of Origins. At this point, I’ve already played it six times. Every one of those times was with other grown adults, just proving that Haba games aren’t just for kids. This game was the hit of Origins for me. I had first heard about it from Wayne “The Star Wars Guy” Humfleet. Then I did a demo at the Haba booth and convinced them to give me a copy to review. That night I broke it out at Barley’s and we played a few rounds over beers. The next day I had it out on the table at base camp. That night we were playing at the Three Legged Mare. I love this game!
I like to think of Go Cuckoo! as reverse KerPlunk. You start off with a tin filled with colour coded sticks. Each round you pull out one to three sticks. These sticks are then placed horizontally across the tin building a nest. If the colours on both ends of one of your sticks match you also get to place an egg in the growing nest. The first player to play all of their eggs gets to place the large wooden cuckoo meeple onto the nest and if they manage to do that they win. There’s a bit more to it but that’s basically the entire game.
Everyone I showed this game to loved it.
Other games from Origins 2019 I’m excited about.
So those were the games I actually played. Here’s a list of other awesome stuff I saw that I’m excited about but didn’t actually get to play. As a teaser, some of this is stuff that you can expect to see reviewed in the coming months and weeks.
Altar Quest – This is a modern remake of the classic Milton Bradly/Games Workshop game Heroquest. They only had a prototype and weren’t doing demos but I have to say it looked really good. The miniatures were amazing and obviously based off of the cardboard scenery from the original game.
Dead Man’s Cabal – this game from Pandasaurus seemed to be The Game of the Show. It’s the one everyone was and is still talking about. I can’t wait to actually try it out myself.
Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box – If you read my review of the Shadowrun 5th edition beginner box you know I wasn’t impressed. I’m still fascinated by the setting and really curious to play this classic RPG. I am very curious to see if they’ve done a better job with this box set than the last one.
Pitchcar Expansion 7: The Loop – OMG I need this. It was so awesome. I almost listed this as played because I got to try a few flicks with it and it works really great. I expected it to be too hard to do and it wasn’t. It just looks so damn cool.
Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done – I would have a copy of this TMG game if they hadn’t sold out. This is the latest Deluxified game from Tasty Minstrel and it looks pretty. Not only that the gameplay looks really solid.
The 8-Bit Box – This is a game system or toolkit in a box. It’s a system for recreating retro style arcade games in board game form. You buy the base box and then buy packs for it like you would buy cartridges for a new system.
What really caught my eye is a new add-on cartridge coming soon that’s a knock off of Double Dragon. I loved that game growing up. The entire concept behind this system is fascinating and I’m a big fan of the subject matter.
Pipeline – This is the latest heavy game from Capstone that all the heavy gamers were going nuts for at the con.
Teotihuacan: Late Preclassic Period – This expansion for Teotihuacan is expected to premiere at GenCon. They had a prototype out but not one you got to try. It looked solid. Similar to the Tzolk’in expansion it has a bunch of modular additions you can add one at a time or mix and match. There are new building tiles, tribes to chose from adding more asymmetry to the game, a new temple to build and more.
Dune – Through the muck and mire of licencing arizes the Dune board game yet again. This time all official from Gale Force Nine. It’s the same designers that made Rex from Fantasy Flight Games but this time it’s actually the proper licence.
Legacy of Lo Pan – This is an expansion for the Big Trouble in Little China board game we played during the Tabletop Bellhop Launch Party. It adds a totally new scenario that expands on the events in the movie and core game.
Endeavor: Age of Expansion – A completely new set of cards and buildings for Endeavor. This promises to offer a different strategic experience without adding any additional rules.
Sanctum – This is a new game from CGE that they claim is going to be a Diablo board game. Sadly except for a prototype copy in a glass case, I didn’t get a chance to check it out.
Warhammer 40,000 Wrath & Glory Starter Set – This is a truly beautiful RPG starter box. Character dossiers, multiple rulebooks, great looking maps and best of all: acrylic character, NPC and monster tokens. I was actually there to look at the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition Starter Set (which also looks great) but got distracted by this.
Chocolatiers and Horizons – Both of these games are from Daily Magic Games. The designer Isaias Vallejo was there doing demos of Chocolatiers, and they had demo games of Horizons going all weekend, but I never fit in a game of either. I’ve been a huge fan of Daily Magic since discovering them at Origins 2014 through Valeria Card Kingdoms, a game I still love and play pretty regularly. I’m looking forward to checking out their latest games.
A Ton of Other Stuff – There was a ton of other awesome stuff that I saw. So much stuff that I just can’t go on about it all here. There was the new Cathala game Ishtar from Iello. Heroes of Land, Air and Sea, that, when you add all the stuff to it, took up more table space than any other game I’ve ever seen. Too Many Bones still looks just as awesome as it did last year. A new edition of Battletech. A Warhammer board game from Iello. Truly amazing miniature game tables and so much more! There was just amazing stuff around every corner.
Origins isn’t just about the games.
Some of my favourite parts of Origins Game Fair have nothing to do with the games. A big part of Origins for me is what happens away from the game table, the awesome people I’ve met over the years and the great food and drink Columbus has to offer.
2019 was the best year yet for this. I met so many great people (who I don’t want to name for fear of missing someone) and had so many fantastic social interactions — conversations, off the books games played, food and drink shared.
Some highlights include: * the GEM base camp * lunch at Bareburger, where I had a fantastic “create your own” burger and had some great beers * Origins After Hours in the basement at Barley’s * The Misdirected Mark get together at The Eagle, where they had the best chicken I’ve had south of Frankenmuth * the pride parade! * getting lost on the way home from The Three Legged Mare * finally trying not only Jeni’s Ice Cream but also Melt (why oh why did we wait so long!?!) * Belgian Waffle Co. for dinner with a four pack to go, covering breakfast the next day * retro video games at Brewcadia.
I truly love going to Columbus for this convention. It’s so awesome to have such great stuff all within walking distance of one the best gaming convention I’ve ever attended. While I go to Origins to game, and now also to work, the best part is still the people that I get to enjoy it with.
So there is a sample of just some of the awesome things I saw and played at Origins 2019. Did you go? What did you see that I missed?