Origins 2018 – The Board Games

Another Origins is over and I find myself laying on the couch with coffee, my laptop, and a hefty dose of Con Crud. I normally only get sick after cons where I flew so wasn’t expecting this, but given that I had a nasty cold shortly before leaving for Ohio, I guess the odds were against me. Viral invasion aside, it was another fabulous year – I hung out with a slightly different group than normal and definitely missed out on seeing some folks, but overall Kit and I enjoyed four and a half days of awesomeness in Columbus.

The Games I Learned

I learned eighteen new games while at Origins, the vast majority taught to me by friends. In fact, despite my hoping to get over my anxiety about demos, I actually only demoed a single game – the scheduled Thursday morning game of Holding On I mentioned in my previous post. Maybe next year I’ll find the courage to sit down at a table with strangers but it hasn’t happened yet. Holding On: the Troubled Life of Billy Kerr (Michael Fox & Rory O’Connor, Bryn Jones, Hub Games) is a phenomenal achievement – it handles a difficult, nuanced topic sensitively while still being a super solid cooperative game. The brilliant use of art to form the visual jigsaw of Billy’s tattered memories and their varying levels of clarity was wonderful and the snatches of story let you build an idea of the central character slowly as he opened up. Unlike Freedom: the Underground Railroad, which is great but too much, I could see myself playing Holding On more than once every couple of years, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy so that I can continue to work through the ten scenarios and figure out more about this mysterious man’s life.

Another standout game I learned at the convention was Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg (Wolfgang Warsch, Dennis Lohausen, Schmidt Spiele) and I was thrilled to have Northstar Games announce during the event that they were bringing it to the US in October. This bag-building push-your-luck game about making patent medicines is an absolute blast to play and offers a ton of options both in how you set the game up initially and then in how players chose to build their pool of ingredients. I tried different things each time and always had fun pulling off great combos or busting spectacularly. There are some definite colour issues that affect general legibility and overall accessibility, and the nearness of October has me worried those will remain in the English edition, but despite those, this was absolutely my favourite game I learned – hence my playing it three times during the event!

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Copac had picked up a copy of Carthago: Merchants & Guilds (Ralph Bienert & Bernd Eisenstein, Christian Opperer & Odysseas Stamoglou, Capstone Games) so we settled in to learn the game on Thursday after having traversed the vendor hall. I did later discover we got a rule wrong that made things harder on ourselves but I still really enjoyed the game. So much so, in fact, that I was happy to play again later that same day. The next morning i made my way back to the Capstone booth to grab my own copy as the use of multi-use cards and a worker-placement rondel results in a game that plays surprisingly quick, as in we played in an hour, but retains interesting decisions and complexity. I’m hoping to try it two-player soon and may well find myself talking about it on the podcast before long.

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Junk Orbit (Daniel Solis, Eric Hibbeler, Renegade Game Studios) was only kindof a new game for me. I played Daniel’s prototype many iterations ago back when the goals and scoring were very different but the movement system was the same. It was a joy to sit down for games of it at five, three, and then four players to see what the game had become and how it adapted to player-count. I love figuring out what to jettison to get where I need to be, and was happy to find that I still had a respectable score in a game where I got hit by my opponents ALL THE DAMN TIME (I love you Maggi, Copac, and Kit I swear, but come on!). The game is vibrant, full of fun moments, and surprisingly mathy at times, all of which I love. What I don’t love is the box, the most controversial part of the game for sure.

Reef (Emerson Matsuuchi, Chris Quilliams, Next Move Games) was one of the hottest games of Origins and thus, just like Junk Orbit, it sold out fast. Kit and I borrowed Craig’s copy for a quick two-player game and then later played four-players with Jon and Susan at the Bar on Two. They actually spent the convention demoing and running sales for Plan B/Next Move so it says a lot for the game that they suggested it after hours. This is an extremely quick-playing abstract game with players grabbing cards that they can play to add coral pieces to their reef. Each card also has a pattern of coral depicted that is scored based on how many times it appears when the card is played. Players to have to balance when to score and when it’s better to wait until they can build towards a higher score, but with the game finishing faster that you might expect, waiting can be dangerous. The art on the box and boards is gorgeous but I was a little disappointed in the coral pieces; I applaud them being distinct in shape as well as colour, and they are pleasantly chunky, but they don’t seem to fit stylistically with the printed components. It feels like a weird mashup of a beautiful board with Fisher Price pieces and was a little distracting. After Azul, I may have had too high expectations, but the game is simply light, fun, and could be easy to fit in after dinner.

After we’d finished up a game of Reef played on the floor of the Bar on Two, some very nice people let us know that we could have their fancy board game table spot as they were headed out. Settling down (and grabbing another round of drinks), Jon and Susan pulled out Mystery of the Temples (Wei-Min Ling, Maisherly, Deep Water Games) which they’d picked up earlier that day. I accidentally subtweeted Tiffany by joking calling for a teacher while not realizing she was standing near us, and so she flew in like a Deep Water branded superhero to teach the game. This is a fascinating spatial puzzle game about collecting the right crystals in the right order to break curses at various temples; once crystals are added to your grid, they can’t be moved without spending a resource and since breaking curse means being able to trace the correct line of crystals, you’ll need to plan ahead. I’m so glad I backed the game as I really enjoyed it, but was disappointed in the lack of player aids to remind players of the bonus actions they could turn in crystals to do. These are written on the Kickstarter-exclusive playmat but if you missed out on that, then you’ll have to look to BGG or similar for a reminder card.

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I played a couple of games from iello during the con, one new and one slightly older title. The Legend of the Cherry Tree that Blossoms Every Ten Years (Hinata Origuchi, Tohad, iello) certainly had one of the best titles of the show, even if I did keep getting words mixed up, and the box art was stunning. Craig had picked up this bag-drawing push your luck game so we settled in to play. After one game, a second was immediately requested now that people knew how things would work a little better, and so we played again, just without Craig who needed to get ready for his next game. Players are drawing cherry blossoms to place in front or behind their screens, with sets scoring differently depending on where they’re placed. The whole game is lightning fast, and the bits are lovely, but I have my doubts on its staying power.

I had spotted Fairy Tile (Matthew Dunstan & Brett J Gilbert, Miguel Coimbra, iello) at the CoolStuffInc booth and decided on a whim to grab a copy. This is a very light game that has players manipulating both the map itself and the locations upon the map of three figures in order to have the board state match the conditions outlined on their card, You win by being first to complete all of your cards, each of which represent part of the overall story. It’s very, very simple and quick, not a  game for serious game nights, but I enjoyed it and the art is gorgeous. There’s enough aggravation and tension caused when players have opposing goals to keep things interesting, so I could see pulling it out for a quick late night two-player game when things wouldn’t change too much between turns.

During the Convention, I also played a number of card games, roll & write games, and one prototype. But this is getting long so I’ll be splitting those into a second post so look for that in the next couple of days.

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