The Lead Up
Our group was four strong: Wes (the brother-in-law), James (the college RA), myself (the koreanpenguin), and Betz (formerly known as Betsy). None of these guys really knew each other, but we all had one thing in common: cardboard intrigue.
Three months prior, we laid out the plans, watched recaps of Origins’ past, and locked our sights on an AirBnB with a kitchen. We dropped cash on our badges, event tickets, and the essential CABS board game room ribbon.
Wait, what are you talking about?
Convention season for board gaming is sort of a big deal. If you aren’t familiar with some of the big events in the board game/card game world, Origins Games Fair in Columbus, Ohio, is one of them. GenCon might be the Super Bowl equivalent, but Origins is very important to the industry as well. This is a place to meet publishers and designers, compete in world championships for various games, and, of course, play dozens and dozens of old, new, or unreleased board games.
Conventions aren’t for everyone, but they are a great opportunity to network with other people who share the same interest in tiny wooden chits and highly-detailed resin miniatures.
Now, back to the chase…
Thursday, June 16th, 2016
Climbing into Wes’ Honda, we had a manageable three-hour drive to Columbus, Ohio, where James was planning on meeting. Obviously, we stopped for the breakfast of champions, because who isn’t interested in starting things off wrong with a microwaved, 1,500 calorie mistake?
An hour later, we gathered together at the AirBnB where we unloaded pounds and pounds of lunch meat, Kroger all-wheat, Nutella snack packs, pre-ground coffee, Slim Jims, and much more. After slapping down layers of well-preserved, protein-laced, sliced chicken on said all-wheat, we left for the convention. Lucky for us, we were just down the road, and $8.00 convention parking was a simple five minute drive from our beds.
As a new board game reviewer, I hadn’t planned on schmoozing the publishers and getting connected with designers on this trip. My focus was aimed at playing as many wishlist games as possible, people watching, and demo-ing all of the new hype in the dealer’s hall.
We collected our badges and began walking around, making our way to Punch-It Entertainment’s booth–a reasonably newer publisher. We met with graphic designer, John Kimmel, and played a prototype for Jay Little’s (Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game) new game The Rise and Fall of Pompeii. This was a fun and short tile-laying/take that/bluffing game with lava destroying everyone’s buildings.
Bewildered by the size of the dealer’s hall, we walked around for a short while, and ended up at iEllo’s booth and played a demo of Sea of Clouds. It was a bit of a push-your-luck, as you tried to collect pirates to increase your attack power (a la wars in 7 Wonders) while also set collecting ancient pirate treasures. I had fun with it, and the deck was huge, allowing for lots of variety.
From here, we were able to play a full game of AEG’s Istanbul. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to play this for awhile, and I’ve since purchased the game. Istanbul puts players in control of lazy merchants, who send their servants around the city to collect various resources, which will eventually produce rubies–the key to victory. It is a unique blend of worker placement and pick-up-and-deliver mechanics. Very fun.
After this, we filled up on lunch and decided to demo Portal Games’ Crazy Karts. This is essentially an attempt to recreate Mario Kart: Double Dash, where players must control different aspects of their cart without coordinating with each other. All the while, both teams must avoid obstacles on the track, and knock their opponents out of control. I’d like to give this one more try, but my first impression was stinky. I can’t fathom any understanding as to why I cannot coordinate with my teammate, and I also can’t understand why anyone would desire three rounds of this game (which is the setup to play).
After feeling quite flustered, we used our ribbons to rent a copy of New York 1901. I’ll save my thoughts for my incoming review. Hunger was clearly setting in once more, so we made the very short trek across the street to Barley’s and had delicious ghost chili burgers and debriefed the day so far. The North Market was another incredible stop, another two-minute walk away, where one can sample foods from all different nations at great prices.
We finally ended the night in the Rio Grande room and played a long game of Power Grid. As soon as we sat down, an older man asked to join, and then another… Power Grid, while a great game, is obscenely long with six players, so instead of fitting in multiple games like we had hoped, it ended up taking the rest of the evening. I would wager it was worth it to meet the very interesting players that joined our table. To give you an idea, the older man drank four Mountain Dew’s, had two giant cookies, popped a pill, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Hmmph… Diabetes.”
After a long day of gaming, we returned to the AirBnB, full of laughter and great memories.
So, I could continue on about each day, but this is the gist: games, food, games, food, more games, more food.
I’m including a list of games we got to play at the bottom of the article, but I do want to focus on just a few specific games that I thought were particularly noteworthy.
Dark Souls: The Board Game
Dark Souls: The Board Game was on my watchlist when it was on Kickstarter a couple months ago. Despite being the largest Kickstarter in board game history, I decided not to back. I’m a big Souls fan, but I wasn’t convinced the board game did good justice or longevity to its IP.
Dark Souls puts you and your team in a dungeon, where you fight your way to the boss. The series is famous for extremely unforgiving combat situations, and this is played out by the balance of your health and stamina, as well as the tactical movement of your characters on the board. I actually died immediately when we played, but Betz successfully destroyed the Dancer of the Boreal Valley. While dice rolling is not at all characteristic of a Souls game, I found the movement and attack patterns of the boss absolutely thrilling. There is some really cool stuff happening in this game, but I’m still not convinced it’s worth more than $100.
Star Realms is a two-player card game that hit at the right place, at the right time. I met our fellow tabletop enthusiast, Derek Thompson, just before we sat down to play Hero Realms, which is another rendition of the sci-fi deck-builder.
Designer, Robert Dougherty, sat down to teach us the basics of the game, as well as the big changes from the original. Derek, as he says here, is a Star Realms competitive player, and I am no such thing. I was promptly stomped, but I really enjoyed the fantasy theme of Hero Realms. The different factions work together very nicely and feature plenty of interesting choices. Even though I’ve played only once, I think I would prefer this to Star Realms.
This is my current Grail Game (out of print game you have been searching for at a reasonable price), and I even got to play the edition I’ve most sought after.
Acquire simulates the buying and selling of stocks from various hotel chains, with the winning player having collected the most cash. I know, that’s literally so boring, but I’m in love with this. Lords of Vegas is the closest game I own in style to Acquire. There really is nothing that scratches the itch like this game does. There is so much tension in merging hotel chains and deciding what stock to buy or to sell off before it’s too late.
A Trip Well Worth It
My faith in finding fun at gaming conventions was only strengthened with this trip to Origins. What makes the trip is going with friends who love gaming. Even better is if they are familiar with plenty of mechanisms and game frequently so they know how to learn games quickly, as you are likely to play all kinds of new games while at the event.
Of course, there is plenty at a convention for everyone. You can paint miniatures, LARP, network with professionals, meet The Dice Tower, buy limited edition copies of Two Rooms and a Boom, and many other things.
My friends and I still text each other the phrase “diabetes” occasionally. We’ve made so many wonderful memories from our time at the convention, and I feel really confident in saying almost every gamer will find something truly engaging and entertaining at a convention.
Finally, I am including a list of games we either played or demo-ed below, as well as some leftover photos.
List of Games
Rise and Fall of Pompeii
Sea of Clouds
New York 1901
Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Trekking the National Parks
Dark Souls: The Board Game
Tsuro: A Game of Path
Favor of the Pharoah
Tigris and Euphrates
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