25 June 2018

Some Games I Played and Other Takeaways From Origins 2018

If you pay attention to what's going on in the world of roleplaying games and board games, then you probably know that the Origins Game Fair happened a couple of weeks ago (June 13 thru 17 to be exact). If you follow me on Twitter, then you probably know I was in attendance. This was my third time time attending Origins, but only the second time that I've been for the whole convention, and boy did I play a lot of board games. Stay tuned after the break and I'll talk a little bit about what I played and also share some overall impressions and takeaways from Origins 2018.

Before I talk about my experiences at Origins and the games I played there, I want to first address something else that it would be irresponsible to ignore.

In the days following the convention, multiple accounts of sexual harassment have surfaced. I sincerely hope that due diligence is taken by GAMA when it comes to addressing each and every reported incident, and that steps are taken to insure that these things do not continue to happen. I am at once angry and heartbroken when I read or hear about harassment in our community. Games are for everyone, and everyone who wants to enjoy them should be treated with respect and dignity. If you are a like-minded member of this community then please: do what you can to support victims of harassment, and call out bad behavior when you see it. Or, to put it another way:

“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” ― John Stuart Mill

There's no easy way to segue from that into the rest of my post, and there shouldn't be. I'm just going to say that you should always be the best human you can be, and then I'm going to start talking about some of my impressions from Origins 2018.

One thing that surprised me about Origins was how quickly ribbons for the Board Room area were sold out (for those of you who don't know what ribbons are in this context, you can read about them here). The Board Room is an area of the exhibit hall set aside for board gaming, where attendees have access to a large collection of games (provided courtesy of CABS) that they can borrow and play. The ribbon must be purchased at an additional cost above and beyond the normal Origins registration fees, but it is well worth the extra money if your primary reason for attending Origins is to play board games. I have heard from multiple sources that these ribbons sold out by 6pm on Wednesday, which was the first day of the convention.

As a previous attendee and someone for whom boardgaming was a top priority, I made sure to purchase this ribbon the first day that they were available for purchase online. My heart goes out to those attendees who didn't learn about this area until it was too late. Given the obvious popularity of this area, I hope that Origins does more in the future to increase the size of the Board Room and expands the number of ribbons that are available, and/or they make sure that those interested in this area know that: a) it even exists and b) ribbons can and likely will sell out.

On a related note, I didn't even learn that there was an  "open gaming area" until after the convention was over. Apparently this area was in Exhibit Hall D, squirreled away on the second floor somewhere? No doubt this information was available if I had known where to look for it, but clearly Origins has some work to do when it comes to making attendees aware of what is available to them.

That's all for the negativity. I hope that some tangible improvements are made in all of these areas in the future. Now, let's move on to some positives from Origins 2018.

Everyone that I had the pleasure of meeting at Origins was absolutely wonderful. This includes everyone that I played a game with, the booth employees that I spoke with, and everyone that demoed a game for me or taught me how to play something new. It also goes for Tom Vasel, Sam Healey, and Zee Garcia. I had the pleasure of speaking to each of these gentlemen at Origins, and despite having their ears bent by hundreds of those in attendance they were always gracious, available, and attentive. I'm not sure that I could do what they do and have the patience that they possess. It feels good knowing that an organization as prominent as The Dice Tower is comprised of such strong ambassadors for the boardgaming community.

And now, finally: the games! Let me preface this part by saying that I am a relative newcomer to the world of hobby board games, so veteran board gamers will probably think it's quaint that I am just now playing some of these games for the first time. That isn't going to stop me from sharing my opinions though.

One of the most interesting new-to-me games that I played was Village, designed by Inka and Markus Brand. I had seen reviews of this game, but it wasn't really on my radar or my wish list until I played it at Origins. It is a worker placement game with the interesting twist that each of your meeples have numbers on them, which designates them as members of different generations of your meeple family. During the game certain actions you take will cause time to pass, and when enough time passes one of your meeples (from among those with the lowest number on them) will die. When they die, and what job they were doing at the time of their demise will determine whether or not this family member ends up in the annals of the village chronicle (thus earning you victory points), or expires in anonymity. This interesting mechanic means that taking into account when meeples die becomes an important part of your strategy, and leads to situations where, in order to score the most points, you might sometimes find yourself in a position where sending the eldest member of your family out to make plows until he dies is the best thing you can do. The addition of this extra layer to an otherwise straightforward worker placement game made it very intriguing, and I really want to explore it some more.

By contrast, a game that was on my wish list until I had chance to play it was Viceroy. This game looked really interesting, with gameplay that involves building a pyramid out of cards that you have previously bid on, with each of those cards having a different effect depending on where in your pyramid they are placed. There are a wealth of options presented, but in my experience none of those options proved to be any more meaningful than any of the others. There seemed to be enough cards available at any given time with the right powers to support any strategy that you arbitrarily decided to pursue. Some cards were clearly more valuable than others despite your strategy, occasionally causing you to butt heads with other players during the bidding process, but otherwise the actual names of the cards were forgettable and interchangeable to me and I found the theme to be very lacking. I am sure there are several people who really enjoy this game who will disagree with me and that's fine, but I was disappointed by how much this game missed the mark for me.

Another game that I played for the first time at Origins is Puerto Rico. No doubt many elder statesmen of boardgaming are familiar with this title, and are scoffing at me right now for having never played this classic. Indeed, I jumped at the opportunity to play this game precisely because of its reputation. Even now, 16 years after it's release, Puerto Rico is still ranked as the 16th best overall game on Boardgame Geek - and I can see why! The gameplay is elegant, and I found myself engaged on everyone's turn with plenty of interesting decisions to make from the first turn all the way through to the last turn. Having said that, I don't know that it is a game that I want to own or necessarily even play again. I knew going in what the theme of the game was, but I didn't know that it would turn out to bother me as much as it did. No matter how abstracted it was, I still found myself cringing each time more "colonists" arrived in San Juan.

Staying in the Caribbean, I was also able to play a game of Cartagena, and I was surprised at how fun it was despite its simplicity. The game reminded me of a game that I play with my soon-to-be six year old, called Hoot Owl Hoot. The mechanic of moving forward to the next available space, skipping occupied spaces, is exactly the same, but Cartagena adds the mechanic of moving backwards (and bumping in to other pirates) in order to draw more cards, which makes for a much more tactical game. When my girl gets a little older maybe she will "graduate" to this game but, while it was enjoyable and I'd play it again, it is a bit too light for my tastes.

I'm not going to go into detail about each of the sixteen or so games that I played at Origins, but I would like wrap things up by talking about a game that I was quite tired of until I played an interesting variant of it that I didn't even know existed. I'm talking about Ticket to Ride: Teams. This variant is included with the Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1, and for me it absolutely breathed new life into this game. I won't go into exhaustive detail about the differences between this version and "classic" Ticket to Ride, but basically you and your teammate have access to a collection of communal cards that you both can use to complete routes, in addition to your own hand of cards. You start the game with two communal routes (route cards that both teammates are aware of) and at least two routes that your teammate is unaware of. You are not allowed to discuss these "private" routes, or any other elements of strategy with your teammate during the game. It was a remarkably fun experience. Ticket to Ride with the team variant takes a game that I currently only play as a "gateway game" (and it's not even my first choice for that) and makes it a game that I wouldn't hesitate to play on game night.

That's it for now. If you are interested in learning what other games I played at Origins, and seeing pictures of those games being played, please check out my Instagram account. In fact, I encourage you to check it out if you like pictures of miniatures and board games in general.

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