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I had a list of goals and plans before I came to Origins, and I did manage to check most of them off, in addition to getting to do tons of unplanned fun stuff. But by Saturday, running on little sleep for four straight nights, I was exhausted and scatter brained, and missed my ticketed event to learn to play Watson and Holmes that morning. However, I did start the day with a delicious sausage and eggs breakfast at The Guild House, my hotel’s fancy farm-to-table restaurant, and got to see a bit of the Pride Parade on my way over to the convention center.
Since I was scheduled to play Watson and Holmes for two hours, I didn’t have any other plans for a while, and I wandered aimlessly around the exhibition hall, until I found the Plan B booth, and got to demo Junk Art against Emerson Matsuuchi, who was likely free only because all the copies of his Century: Spice Road had already sold out. Far more practiced at the stacking game, he bested me and another playing the Montreal version of the game.
After some more meandering about, I headed back to the Unpub room. First, let me again say that this was my favorite place to hang out at the convention. Every time I went in, there were awesome people hanging out and showing off fun games. Kudos to Renegade Games to sponsoring the room, they are really doing right by the board game community with that move.
On this particular occasion, I saw Chris Kirkman, who was showing off a prototype of Ben Rosset’s latest brewing game, Home Brewers, which Dice Hate Me will be seeking funding for on Kickstarter. I sat down and played a game with Chris, Darrell Louder, and Aaron Wilson, and we all had a good time with it. This game played in about an hour, and was much lighter than Brew Crafters. It also featured dice action selection as its main mechanism, not worker placement.
When that game ended in a Kirkman victory (of course he won, he knew how to play already!), I sat down with Darrell Louder to play his latest version of his roll-and-write, Compounded: Lab Notes. I had played an earlier version solo that I’d print-and-played, but this version had some added elements for multi-player.
While the game still needed some significant tweaking and balancing, I could see it was headed in an interesting direction. And I absolutely love the chemical compound writing aspect of the roll-and-write, as it is so unique to other games in the genre.
I then met up with Jamie Maltman, who had made the trip down from Toronto, and we wanted to make sure we got in a game together before the convention ended. He had brought Railroad Revolution with him at my request, and we sat down for a three-player learning game with Joshua Acosta. I diversified my strategy too much, and wound up finishing in last place, which is strikingly similar to my experience -- and the end result -- of my play of Russian Railroads. I still enjoyed my play, as I love lighter-to-medium weight Euros that don’t overstay their welcome at the table, and, more importantly, I enjoyed their company.
One of the remaining things on my to-do list was to play Ex Libris, an upcoming game by Adam McIver that Renegade Game Studios is releasing later this year, that I knew he would have on hand at Origins. So I tweeted him, and he said to find him in the Unpub room (Did I mention I loved this room?). So I popped back over there and found a group had just started a game without me. Adam told me he’d run another game after, and to come back in an hour.
So back to the main gaming hall I went, where I found Patrick, Allen, and Craig starting up a game of Century: Spice Road, which I jumped in on. Craig, who also doesn’t like Splendor or Concordia, disliked Spice Road intensely, which made me glad the game only lasts 30 minutes. There must be something deep-seeded about trading goods that just turns Craig off. Maybe if it was Star Wars smuggling themed he would like it better, who knows.
Returning to the Unpub room with Brian and Will of Cloak and Meeple, we were joined by Ryan LaFlamme of the Cardboard Republic and sat down for a four-player game of Ex Libris, taught to us by Adam. The game was fairly straightforward -- you are looking to build a library, in alphabetical order, with the best collection of certain types of books, while avoiding banned books, and keeping the shelves balanced. This is accomplished both through card play and a worker placement mechanism, with each player having a special character meeple that allows them a rule-breaking ability. Though my Trash Golem, with its ability to steal discarded books, put up an admirable fight, I finished in second place to Ryan.
While I’ve mentioned earlier that Rhino Hero: Super Battle was the most fun I had at the convention, and Barenpark was my favorite game of the convention, I have to give Barenpark the caveat of best published game, and say that Ex Libris was hands down the best game I played at Origins, and I am extremely impatient for it to be released so I can get my own copy. I have absolutely no doubt that Ex Libris will be a gangbuster hit for Renegade and Adam McIver.
Speaking of Renegade, my last play of the convention was Sentient, one of their new titles. I had tried to demo Sentient on Thursday, but they unable to show it due to a manufacturing error that wasn’t corrected until Friday. But Matt Halstad had bought a copy and I got to play it with his wife Kelly, Dan Licata, and Zach Connelly. The game was good, especially if you don’t mind math in games, which I don’t. But I didn’t like it as much as I like J. Alex Kevern’s earlier title, Gold West, which is totally not fair for me to compare it to, as that is one of my favorite games. It does have a similar area control aspect to his game World’s Fair 1893, but the set collecting has been replaced with the mathy card placement. It’s definitely worth playing, but I have a feeling it will be a divisive game -- with some loving it and others not caring for it at all.
I thought I might meet up with Craig afterward, and teach him Near and Far, or play some more late night LCGs, but he and his son Tyler were spent, and heading out themselves, so I said my farewells and grabbed a late night bite at a nearby bar -- which was still hopping with Pride revelers -- and made my way back to pack for my early morning flight home. Absolutely exhausted, but still elated by the entire experience, I turned in for one last night of insufficient sleep.
As for my friend and hotel roommate Zach, I didn’t get to see him as much or play as many games with him as I thought I would, considering we shared a room. But this is only because he got a lot of interest in his latest design, Lots, and had a number of pitch meetings with publishers over the course of the convention. So totally understandable, and the best kind of problem to have for any game designer.
To sum it all up, Origins was a blast. I met literally dozens of people I’d only previously interacted with online, and got to catch up with many others I hadn’t seen since conventions in years past. While Origins wasn’t perfect, with the nearby construction being an obnoxious obstacle, and the lack of open gaming tables, and lack of clarity on which tables were open gaming tables, being a frustration on the busier days, I can’t complain overall. It was easy to get my badge, I was never stampeded or felt claustrophobic, the one game I wanted to purchase didn’t sell out, people were always fairly easy to find, and the food options were really good whenever I could pull myself away from playing games. If and when I can make it work logistically, I definitely plan to attend Origins again in the future.
Coming into the board gaming hobby as an avid RPG player that could no longer make time for lengthy campaign style games due to real life adult responsibilities, I always jump at the chance to set aside a few hours at a convention to play a one-shot role playing game. One of my favorite things about larger conventions is the amount of different options available, and the ability to learn and play new RPGs I wouldn’t otherwise get to experience. In this case, we met up with our GM Ian, one of the writers of Quick Ass Game System, or QAGS, a system that models “the rules of fiction, not the physics and statistics of reality.” It’s the perfect one-shot convention system, because it is rules-light and imagination heavy. Also, it allows for zany campaigns, such as the campaign we played, titled ‘Candyland Has Fallen.’ Here’s the blurb:
Sweetness and light couldn't save them. Rainbows and cute cat videos were powerless. Now the ultimate evil-mancer rules in Candyland. Unless.... Well, when the good can't help, it's time to turn to the naughty and wicked. Suicide Squad meets Yellow Submarine meets Babes in Toyland in this desperate gamble to save Candyland from Utter Destruction.
In our game, which started at 9:00 am, I decided to play Gloppy, the amorphous creature from the Molasses Swamp, and was joined by comical versions of Wile E. Coyote, Ursula, and Baloo. We were soon off reclaiming Candyland from a vegetarian usurper that was plowing the kingdom’s saccharine landscape and replacing it with fields of green produce. My recounting the adventure would make little sense, but rest assured it was a fun, and quite funny, experience, and one I highly recommend to anyone attending a convention that offers role playing events.
Our game wrapped up just after noon, and headed to the main gaming hall and met up with Craig, who had promised to teach me Star Wars: Imperial Assault. I had purchased a ticket to an Imperial Assault game that was taking place later that day, but I hadn’t realize when I bought it that it was a six hour campaign game covering the entire Bespin Gambit. While I wanted to try Imperial Assault, I wasn’t sure about that lengthy commitment, so Craig teaching me a single mission was a perfect substitute. I played as the wookie Gaarkhan, and we stormed into the Imperial base only to find multiple copies of IG-88. We came close to defeating him, but fell a few hit points shy as time ran down on our last turn. All in all, I really enjoyed the game, which was lighter than I had expected, and would consider getting it if the released the app so it wouldn’t need to be played one-vs-many.
We then switched gears with the same four players and played Barenpark, the light, bear-themed polyomino tile-laying game. This was my only purchase of the convention, so I’m sure it’s not surprising to read that I absolutely loved it. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I won with 101 points, building the best Bjornepark ever.
When that wrapped up, it was time to go to the Grass Skirt Tiki Bar for Kimberly’s birthday party with too many cool people to even mention. It was really nice to take a bit of a break from playing games and chat with people, and get to know them a bit better, without worrying if it was my turn or what my next move should be. The Grass Skirt’s food and drink menu was also top notch, I had a BBQ pork belly quesadilla that was really good, and washed it down with a house specialty drink, the Rum & Happiness, which was served to me in a ceramic frog mug.
Despite Patrick Hillier’s best attempts to get us lost on the drive back to the convention center, we made it back in good time and sat down for a five-player game of Cyclades. I had only played Cyclades at two-players before, which I do not recommend at all, so it was nice to appreciate the game as the experience it was intended as. This being one of Patrick’s favorite games, he wiped the floor with me, edging out his son Allen for the win.
My plan was then to head over to Bar on Two to meet up with Tony Miller and some other designer friends, but I happened past Tiffany Caires teaching a game of Race to El Dorado to Dan Newman, Kimberly Revia, and Matt Roy, and was invited to join as the fourth player. Knowing the game wasn’t available in the U.S., and this was probably the best chance I had to play the Spiel de Jahres nominee, I sat down. While the game played smoothly enough, and was over in about a half hour, it seemed too basic for any of us to really engage with it, and I would say it was a miss for the table based on that one play.
I then made it over to Bar on Two and hopped into a game of Wordsy with Chris Rowlands and two others. Wordsy actually worked great as a bar game, because after each round ended, others chimed in with all the words they found and made it an even more social experience. When that wrapped up, Tony was ready to show me and Carla his prototype Stock-o Trucks, which hadn’t had many playtests with only two players. After playing the game, which I really enjoyed, I suspect it may actually play best at two, because there is less chaos and more control of the trucks and the market.
Afterwards, I ran into Aaron Wilson, who I knew was playtesting his design Sovereign Skies, and we headed over to the Unpub room to get a game going, as Bar on Two was too crowded at this point. While setting Sovereign Skies up, Aaron mentioned that he hoping for a fourth player, and we spied TC Petty III all alone at a nearby table. I had never met TC in person before, only knowing him from his colorful and grandiose Twitter persona @PuppyShogun, but I asked him if he was interested and he happily agreed to join us.
Now, I’ll talk more about the Unpub room in my recap of Saturday, but let me just say that it was my favorite place to hang out at Origins, and designers, even established, published ones, jumping at the chance to help other designers was one of the reasons why.
Sovereign Skies was a really smooth and polished Euro that played in about an hour, and probably only needs minor tweaks before being ready for publishing. TC gave Aaron some great feedback, and of course noted that the game was broken because TC didn’t win. I griped about one of the symbol’s iconography and two of the colors being too close to one another, for lack of any other critical feedback to give.
At this point, I wandered back to the ever-shrinking open gaming area in the main hall and found Ken Grazier, who had a copy of the not-yet-released Rhino Hero: Super Battle, which I assume he must have stolen from the HABA booth. But that was totally cool with me, because I got to try it. It was easily one of the highlights of the convention for me, as it was off-the-charts, laugh-out-loud fun, despite me rolling absolutely terribly and coming in last place.
I ended another night back at the Red Roof Inn lobby after convention hours, playing another expandable card game with Craig, although this time we played the classic LCG Android: Netrunner. I once tried to learn this out of the box, and came closer to setting it on fire than making any positive progress, but with the help of Craig and Matt Halstad, I finished my first game as the Runner with a respectable 7-6 loss. I am still at a loss for why that game has as much unique terminology as it does, but I suppose the answer lies in the game’s desire to be as thematic as possible.
On another pre-dawn walk back to my hotel, I realized I only had one more day at Origins, and still had a long list of things I wanted to see and do. Surely I could manage one more day with almost no sleep in order to play all the games, right?
Months ago, when I got my badge and hotel for Origins, I didn’t see the need for a press badge. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of filling out the form on the Origins website and waiting to see if it would be approved, I just wanted to know I had my badge and hotel and didn’t need to worry about it. So I bought a regular badge and forgot about it.
Of course, with the Punchboard Media launch a month ahead of Origins, a number of unforeseen media opportunities popped up, and I needed to make sure I could take care of them all on Thursday morning, as not to lose the entire day, a day where I would already be stressed about the official Punchboard Media launch party.
The two things I really needed to do were to visit Bruce Voge at the NorthStar Games booth to get tickets for a “surprise event” at 6:30 pm that night, and stop by the Renegade Games booth to see Sara Erickson, who I needed to do some follow up work from my interview with her. I also wanted to demo The Fox in the Forest, Flipships, and Sentient while I was there, so I’d have a better idea what she was speaking about in the interview.
So I popped by the press room, wondering if I could get a press pass at the last minute, and was shocked by how accommodating GAMA’s Social Media & Marketing Manager Dominique was, after hearing so many nightmare stories about how Origins was run.
With that sorted, I was able to find Bruce at NorthStar (quite easily, considering his teal mohawk), and get the event tickets, although with no hints as to what the surprise event was. I also got a glimpse of the pre-painted miniatures for Heroes of Land, Air & Sea at the nearby Gamelyn Games booth.
I then ran into Daryl Andrews again (on Wednesday I had seen him pitching a game in the North Market). I asked if he was demoing the game at all later that day, and he said it had already been signed, and the publisher had taken the only copy. So there’s a small anecdote on the importance of networking at industry events. It’s where things get done.
Before I made it over to the Renegade booth, I stopped by the Daily Magic booth to see fellow ‘What Did You Play This Week’ podcast contributor Levi Mote, but he was busy demoing, so I instead demoed Kitten Klash with designer Alice Davis, who destroyed me at the dexterity matching game.
I did then get to demo Flipships and The Fox in the Forest at Renegade, but the Sentient shipment they had received was missing a punchboard, so I was unable to demo that one. Flipships was a fun dexterity flicking/flipping game that can be best summed up as Space Invaders: The Board Game. The Fox in the Forest was an interesting card game, as it was a two-player trick taking game. Despite my reservations, it worked smoothly and had some interesting decisions to make.
By this point, the halls were opening up, and I went to wait on line at the Mayfair booth for my one purchase of the convention, Barenpark. I wanted to bring something home with me that I could play with my family, and Barenpark was an obvious choice. The line was long, and I was a bit concerned as to whether I would get one, but my fears were unfounded, as there were plenty left when I got to the front of the line. Caverna: Cave vs. Cave, however, sold out to the woman directly behind me in line, who was quite grateful I was getting Barenpark, and not the last copy of Cave vs. Cave.
I wandered the hall for a bit, and then decided to grab a bite at the North Market before my ticketed event of Yokohama. After BBQ the previous day, I opted for a muffuletta at the Italian eatery, and found a seat upstairs with two of my favorite Canadians, Nicole Hoye and Tim Fowler. I made it back just in time for my Learn-to-Play Yokohama game. We played at four players, and I eked out a win, getting one of the public bonuses late in the game. For as busy as the board looks, and the amount of components it has, I was shocked by how intuitive and easy to play it was for all four of us beginners.
After Yokohama wrapped up, I had some time to kill, and wandered over to the Osprey booth, as I am a big fan of their small box games Odin’s Ravens and The Ravens of Thri Sahashri. I demoed both Shahrazad and The Lost Expedition. Both were very difficult, puzzly small box games that can be played solo. In the case of Shahrazad, I suspect it may be the ideal play count. The Lost Expedition reminded me a good deal of Friday, without the constant shuffling. I also checked out Escape from Colditz, a game that was designed by Major Pat Reid, a prisoner-of-war who actually escaped from Colditz Castle, which I found fascinating.
At 6:30 pm, I made my way across the street to the Underground basement of Barley's Brewing Company for the surprise NorthStar Games event. There I met up with MJ and Ben of the DiceBreakers, Kimberly of The Cubist, Patrick of WDYPTW, Ken of Geek-Craft, and Brian and Will of Cloak and Meeple, and we sat down for a game of the brand new Vegas Wits & Wagers, with Bruce acting as our emcee and dealer. The game was an absolute blast even though I gambled away all my money and finished in last place. We only hung out for about 45 minutes, as the Punchboard Media launch party was at 8:00 pm at the Czech Games room back at the convention center.
While it was a bit of a challenge to set up the Punchboard Media launch event, not having any experience at event planning, and never having attended Origins before, I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out (mostly true, although I am still kicking myself that I didn’t get a group picture of all the Punchboard Media members that attended). The amount of support we got from publishers, designers, other board game media people, and board gamers in general definitely made it all worth it. And the amount of help I had from other people in the Punchboard Media network made it easy.
So for two hours, I got to watch as friends new and old played Codenames, Codenames Duet, That’s a Question, Galaxy Trucker, and Adrenaline, and then we got to give away a bunch of prizes to those in attendance, and even to some #NOrigins people that joined in virtually through Twitter. We owe a big thanks to CGE for providing the space, to all the publishers that provided the prize support, and most of all, to everyone that attended.
I wrapped my night up not long afterward, but not before first attending Nerd Night, a charity gaming event hosted by Marguerite Cottrell. There, in addition to giving to charity, I got to meet and hang out with some Internet friends, like Maggi, and play Travis Hill's Train Game, a prototype that was a finalist for Button Shy’s 18-card game contest. I even won a game, Dice Heist, in the raffle!
Three social events back-to-back-to-back was a bit much for me, and I didn’t last long at Nerd Night before grabbing a quick bite at the convention center’s cafeteria and heading to bed. While I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to play more games on Thursday, I did get to demo a lot, and would make up for that with the rest of my time at the convention.
Learn more about Punchboard Media at www.punchboardmedia.com.
Early this year, I looked at the calendar and realized I could swing one big convention involving air travel. I’d previously gone to GenCon, but never to Origins. BGG is always out for me due to the time of year. With this being the 50th anniversary of GenCon, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to skip the added insanity of fighting over hotel blocks and for events, and go to a sizable, but somewhat smaller convention where I’d likely be able to play more games and feel less crowded.
So how was my first experience at Origins, and my first trip to Ohio in general? Overall, very positive, but not without a few blemishes. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.
I woke up on Wednesday before 5:00 am in New York to make a 7:30 am flight to Columbus, and despite hitting traffic driving to the airport before 6:00 am, made the flight with my friend Zach without incident. Good news, the flight is only a little over an hour from wheels up to wheels down. Bad news is that means they put us in a tiny miniature plane that I barely fit in. But I digress. The convention center is just over ten minutes from the airport, and public transportation was plentiful.
So we arrived at our hotel, Le Meridien, dropped off some bags, and walked the two blocks to the convention center see what was going on just after 10:00 am on the first day of the convention. This is when I discovered the construction that closed the sidewalk for two blocks, causing us to constantly dodge traffic to get to the convention center. Undeterred by this unwelcome surprise, I was then pleasantly surprised to be able to pick up my badge having to wait less than five minutes -- much less than I waited at GenCon, and less than I heard people waited in years past at Origins.
We then tried to enter the convention hall, only to discover it wasn’t open yet. All the halls were still being set up, and most of the people present were just milling around the hallways. I did get to meet Brian and Will from Cloak and Meeple, which I mention because meeting random online friends was not something that happened nearly as easily or frequently when I was at GenCon. With the hall closed, we decided to head over to the North Market, as we hadn’t yet eaten, and had heard good things about the selection there.
We found a really good BBQ joint, and on our way to the seating area upstairs, ran into designer Daryl Andrews, who was showing off a game he was pitching. (This is foreshadowing, and will be revisited later.) While eating, we made plans to meet up with Dan Dineen, who was showing off an offline battle arena” expandable card game called Radiant, in the main gaming hall, which was now open.
Zach and I played a two-player game of Radiant with Dan teaching us, and I really enjoyed it. It meshed elements of Summoner Wars, Pixel Tactics, and Marvel Vs., but the end product felt unique and cohesive, and stood on its own. With its streamlined gameplay and beautiful artwork, I bet it will succeed on Kickstarter next year.
After Radiant, we wandered over to the Czech Games room, found Paul Grogan and the entire cast of To Die For Games hard at work demoing CGE games, and sat down and demoed Codenames Duet. Mandy, “The Board Gaming Pinup Girl,” showed us how to play, and we got pretty far before losing, through no fault of Mandy’s. Anyone that likes Codenames is going to like this one. It can definitely be played with more than two, broken into two teams, and everyone is always be involved, as there is no waiting for the other team to solve clues. It also comes with new word cards that are compatible with Codenames.
Wandering back into the main gaming hall, we stumbled onto Patrick Hillier, and some of my Granite Game Summit friends, Kimberly, Matt, MJ, and Ben, and we all sat down for a seven-player game of Bohnanza. I had never played, but see the appeal of the game, as it played that high player count very well, and fairly quickly. #cultoftheold for the win.
My next stop was my first ticketed event of the convention, a Learn-to-Play game of Shadowfist taught by Tim Fowler, who runs events for his favorite Hong Kong Kung Fu action movie-inspired collectible card game. As an old Magic the Gathering player, and infrequent Doomtown: Reloaded player, I have a deep-seated love for these kind of card games. And let me say that this game is a blast, and I’m sorry it doesn’t have a bigger and more active community. One of my biggest regrets was not getting to play it again before I left. The best part, though, is that I can still play, because Tim gave me the copy of Shadowfist we played with, just for coming out and playing it with him.
Sometime around this point, I realized that Pikachu, and his butt, were not at Origins this year, which was stressful, as that was where I planned to meet up with many Internet friends. One of those people was Tony “Bearded Rogue” Miller, so I direct messaged him to see where he was. And this is how I found out about the Unpub room, which became one of my favorite spots to hang out at Origins.
I met Tony there, and got to play his unpublished push-your-luck game Fire in the Library along with Aaron, Carla and Nick, and it played smoothly and quickly. Even with four players, it only took 15 minutes. I can’t believe that game will stay unpublished for long.
I had made plans ahead of time to play Xia: Legends of a Drift System on Wednesday night with Ken Grazier of Geek-Craft. So I met up with him, Brian, and David at 8pm in the main gaming hall again. Ken taught us Xia, although he didn’t play so the game would go quicker. It was a fun, albeit random, space exploration romp over about three hours, much more of an experience to have vs. a strategy game to be mastered, as too much relied on dice rolls, card draws, and tile flips. That said, plenty of fun was had by all, especially Brian, who trounced me and David.
Then Ken showed me his newest acquisition which he’d just picked up, a beautiful Crokinole board, and proceeded to school me in the deceptively simple, but equally difficult art of disk flicking.
At this point, I met up with Craig and Tyler Marks from the Botch Games podcast and Matt and Kelly Halstad of the League of Nonsensical Gamers and sat down for another game of Bohnanza. Specifically Wurfel Bohnanza, a con favorite I’d heard a lot about over the years that I’d never tried. I made it halfway into the game before quitting. There were too many distractions with people showing up and wanting to chat, talk about their day, their plans, future plans, etc., to stay constantly engaged in Wurfel, which is what the game requires.
With midnight fast approaching, and the main gaming hall closing for the night, I headed back to the lobby of the Red Roof Inn with Craig, Tyler and Matt, and played some Star Wars: Destiny. While I beat Craig with a Baze Malbus and Chirrut Îmwe deck, he was experimenting with a mill deck that just wasn’t working, so I won’t take too much pleasure in gloating about my victory.
At this point, around one am, the exhaustion of the early start, flight, and long day had overcome the excitement of being at my first Origins, and I walked back to my hotel. A final bit of good news was that at this hour, the construction having closed the sidewalk didn’t matter at all.
I don’t normally review games until I’ve played them a number of times, but with Near and Far being a campaign-style game with many modes of play, as well as the sequel to Ryan Laukat’s earlier game Above and Below, which I am well acquainted with, I thought it would be worth it to give some thoughts on Near and Far’s ‘First Adventure’ mode after one play.
Before I get into my experience playing the game, I have to note the sheer amount of content -- the box weighs almost ten pounds. While the metal coins were a Kickstarter exclusive, everything else will come with the base game. This includes a 24-page Atlas with eleven maps to explore, a 120-page storybook, over 100 cards, 32 explorers, a town board and four player boards, tons of tokens, gems, dice, and even a pencil for the campaign modes. The art throughout is, of course, stunning. Despite the volume of content and our lack of familiarity, the game didn’t take too long to set up and start playing. Also, a lot of it was left in the box, as not every mode uses all the components, and there were extra tokens that were made redundant by the Kickstarter coins and stretch goal gems.
We played with four players, and it was the first game for everyone at the table. We chose the ‘First Adventure’ mode, which the rulebook suggests starting out with. It uses the first map in the Atlas, Glogo Hills, which features the Town of Above and Below in it. Note that both Campaign mode and Story mode start with the second map in the Atlas, so this introductory campaign does not spoil anything for those modes.
The game starts with all players in the town. There is a town board with a number of spaces on it -- including spots to hire adventurers, pick up packbirds, and mine for coins and gems. The first few turns of the game consist of resource collection and party building, in an effort to ready your party to go adventuring on the map. These turns play out with a worker placement mechanism. Each player goes to a spot and gets to do the action there, but if someone is already on that space, they must duel them for the privilege of using it. Losing the duel means losing a turn though, so it is a risky proposition.
There is a constant pull to stop collecting things in town and start adventuring, as the spaces on the Atlas only provide their bonuses once. Some spaces will give resources for those that put down encampments, others will initiate passages from the storybook being read, with the chance for additional resource gains, as well as earning faction banners, and gaining or losing reputation.
The game continues on, with players leaving town to adventure and returning to recharge their health, until one player uses all fourteen of their encampment tokens. At the game end, players add up points for artifacts gained (which need to be paid for in resources), encampments made, reputation earned, and resources left over, and the highest score wins.
Our four-player learning game took about two hours, and I’d speculate future games would take closer to 90 minutes with even slightly experienced players.
The art and presentation is top notch, as I’ve found with all Red Raven games. The gameplay was interesting, mixing a lot of different mechanisms -- from the worker placement in town, to the storytelling aspects on the map, to the set collection/recipe fulfillment of resources for artifacts, to the encampment placement setting off the end game. They all worked smoothly together, and left me wanting to play again -- a definite positive for a campaign style game I hope sees the table a great deal.
One aspect that did trouble me a bit, however, was the flow of the game. A lot of turns were lightning quick -- “I go to this space and hire this adventurer” -- but others took significantly longer -- “I adventure, and move to this spot, now we have to read this passage. I choose an option and roll dice to see if I succeed, and then I am going to place an encampment and take these resources.” It’s not so much that these turns took too long, it’s more that it gave the game an odd flow of speeding up and then stalling out, and also created some occasional confusion as to whose turn it was.
Comparisons to Above and Below:
Due to Near and Far being the sequel of Above and Below, as well as both featuring the same storytelling mechanism, this comparison is inevitable. And while I do see how Near and Far was built on Above and Below, they do not seem that similar to me -- beyond the obvious storytelling aspect. Near and Far adds a space in the town where players can exchange one type of resource for another, which was a common problem in Above and Below, as resource acquisition is randomly distributed through the storytelling. Also, there are some significant differences -- there is no individual resting of adventurers in Near and Far, and Near and Far does not take place over a set number of rounds, like Above and Below. In fact, storytelling aside, Near and Far reminds me a bit more of Islebound, with the travelling around a map and acquiring crew and resources.
Truth is, Near and Far builds on both of Ryan Laukat’s previous games in different ways, and I am happy to have all three in my collection -- and can’t wait to dig into the campaign modes, especially the story mode.
As I got deeper into this hobby, I quickly noticed there were no large board game conventions within driving distance of metropolitan New York, where I live, which is hard to compute as an entitled "I live in the center of the universe" New Yorker. They were all in Indiana, Ohio, Texas, or Germany -- all flying distance from me. As I got even deeper into the hobby, I discovered I was wrong, there was a convention in Niagara Falls, New York, called the Gathering of Friends. But it was invite only and I, naturally, had no hope of an invite. Niagara Falls is also eight hours away from me, despite being in my home state.
So last year, when I found out there would be a multi-day convention from the up-and-coming Granite Game Summit about a four-hour drive away in Nashua, New Hampshire, I knew I couldn't miss it. And the best part is that G2S, as the convention is called, is half as far as The Gathering of Friends, despite my having to cross a few state lines.
I arrived at the venue, a Courtyard Marriott, a little after noon on Friday, and things were already in full swing, with a very large main room filled with tables, and well-stocked with games, player wanted and teacher wanted flags. The space was not crowded, but it was not empty either. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Corey Jr. and Molly in person before joining my What Did You Play This Week podcast co-host Jessica Wade in a game of Fleet. When that wrapped up, we joined Daniel Newman and Ruth Boyack to test out a prototype of Tony "Bearded Rogue" Miller's Back to Rth, which Dan had picked up at UnPub last month. During the game, Patrick Hillier arrived after a series of flight delays and other airport headaches. After Back to Rth, we took a few minutes to give feedback, which Dan wrote down and forwarded to Tony, and then prepared for Friday night's main event -- six-player Eclipse with all the expansions and promos.
Bill had been excited about running this game for what seems like months now, and was no less excited or daunted to have to teach three new players -- myself, Patrick, and Mike -- along with refreshing Ruth and Molly. While the set-up and teaching itself took almost an hour, and the game lasted six hours after that, Eclipse was an absolute highlight of G2S. That's simply because it was an epic event. While I can play most of the games I played at this convention at home or at my local game night -- not all in the same weekend mind you -- I cannot play a six-hour 4x game with five other people in the course of my "normal" life. Of course, the epic level of the game was enhanced by it being "Fancy Friday" at the convention, and I was battling against people in tuxedos, kilts, and fancy dresses. In the end, Patrick, looking like a casino blackjack dealer in a black dress shirt and tie, defeated us all, and won Eclipse.
With that wrapping up around midnight, and not tired enough to crash, I convinced Patrick to teach me one of his favorite games, Terraforming Mars, and we were joined by Matt Roy and Dan from Board Everyday for a four-player game. I picked up the game fairly quickly, no doubt aided by how light it felt after the Eclipse marathon, and managed to win my first ever play of the game, beating Patrick at one of his favorites. After this, I was exhausted, and headed back to the room for a short respite ahead of a Saturday's main event.
Saturday morning, Patrick and I were out of our room shortly after 8am, despite getting back so late the night before. We started the day with a game of Castles of Caladale over breakfast at the hotel's Starbucks. This game was perfect, as it was both short and easy to learn, and ended right about the time we finished our egg sandwiches.
Bolstered by coffee and sustenance, I sought out Bill, who agreed to teach me Chaos in the Old World. We wrangled Mike and a different Matt into joining us and played at the full four-player count. You can definitely see Eric Lang's inspiration for Blood Rage in this design, as it is a slightly clunkier version of Blood Rage with asymmetrical factions, with each player having different units, powers, and goals. After one play, I can say I am thrilled to own this now-out-of-print game, and would highly recommend any Eric Lang fans seeking it out before it gets too difficult to find on the secondary market.
On Saturday, Granite Game Summit hosted a designer alley with four tables, each rotating through four designers over the course of the day. While I did not get to meet most of these sixteen special guests, I did get to meet two. First, I met Chip Beauvais, designer of Chroma Cubes and Universal Rule, and was taught Chroma Cubes from the designer himself. I'd highly recommend it as an interesting take on a roll-and-write, where you are roll-and-racing to be the most efficient at coloring in a picture. Second, I got to meet Breeze Grigas, who had previously sent me a copy of A.E.G.I.S. that I'll be reviewing later this week, to get his elevator pitch and his thoughts on the development of the game and the upcoming Kickstarter, which should be live later this month.
From this point on, I unintentionally switched from playing longer games with plastic miniatures to lighter Euros. One of my few regrets of the convention was not getting to play just one more of those dudes-on-a-map games in Cyclades, which I had brought with me but didn't make it to the table. But it's hard to complain, as Jessica and I got to learn Thebes from Ruth, I learned to play World's Fair 1893 from Patrick, along with Molly and convention organizer Kimberly Revia, and I learned Yspahan from Jessica along with Patrick. All three were really solid games that I enjoyed playing, but Yspahan was probably my surprise of the convention, as it wasn't even on my radar, and I liked it so much. As an aside, I was told if I like Yspahan at three or more, I should also look into Grand Austria Hotel, which has a similar dice drafting mechanism that works better at two players.
Late Saturday night, I changed into my Cookie Monster pajamas, for the G2S "Pajama Party," and rounded up Bill, Patrick, Jessica -- all contributors for the What Did You Play This Week podcast -- along with Dan from the Board Everyday podcast, and we recorded a live segment recapping our experiences at the convention. (That recording can be found on the latest episode of the WDYPTW podcast, at the 1:25:25 point.) I finished Saturday night with two more games -- Avenue and Great Heartland Hauling Company -- before another late collapse.
On Sunday, I did not have much time for games before my long drive home, but I did get in another breakfast game with Patrick, playing his copy of HUE from the Pack O Game with him and Mike, and then going into the main hall for one last game, choosing to play Ulm from the Play-to-Win display. Not only did I win Ulm, my last game of G2S, but I later found out I won the Play-to-Win -- the perfect end to a perfect regional convention.
I cannot recommend Granite Game Summit highly enough for anyone in the Northeast, or anyone willing to take a flight to a smaller, more intimate convention, focused on playing all sorts of games -- from Coconuts and Chroma Cubes, to Eclipse and Yspahan. One final thing I noticed is that while I played plenty of newer games, such as Terraforming Mars, World's Fair 1893, and Ulm, and even an as-of-yet unpublished prototype, I also got to play a number of older titles, such as Yspahan (2006), Thebes (2007), and Chaos in the Old World (2009). And there was just as much excitement for these older gems as the "new hotness" games, which was something I really appreciated, especially as someone that loves discovering hidden gem games from past years.
First, let me say that the title is rhetorical. I am not the kind of gamer that stores all my games the same way. Some bag everything, some put everything in Plano boxes, some make foamcore inserts for every game, some buy fancy custom inserts. I like to open a game, punch it, sort it, and figure out if it needs help with storage, and if so, what would the best solution. It does happen often enough that Plano is my solution of choice, though.
In a lot of cases, such as with many family games, the inserts are perfect as is. Examples I would cite here include Ticket to Ride, Takenoko, Jamaica, and Dream Home. The plastic insert fits everything well in each of these cases, and I see no reason to mess with any of them.
In the case of games with a lot of larger components, such as Millennium Blades' hundreds and hundreds of cards, or Castles of Mad King Ludwig's tons of irregularly shaped tiles, I have broken down and gotten custom inserts to help organize the games, as well as improve set-up and break-down time.
In cases where a game doesn't have a third party custom insert available, but has multiple odd-shaped components, I have even made my own foamcore inserts. Not often, but a few times, such as with DC Deckbuilding (with many expansions) and King of Tokyo. Here's a foamcore insert I made that I really like:
When games don't have a ton of components, but don't have an insert, I usually resort to bags, such as with Celestia, Patchwork, or Ice Cool.
But with many games -- mostly Euros -- there are a lot of different small tokens, chits, cubes and meeples. I could separate out each into its own bag, but then, when I play these games, I'll also need many, many containers to hold all these components (or a cupcake tray, which I have used in the past), or I wind up with messy piles of pieces all over the table. This is where I find Plano boxes come in.
Specifically, I find the Plano 3500 to be the perfect size and shape for most games. Measuring about 8.75" x 4.25" x 1.25", it fits inside most game boxes -- many of which without removing the cardboard insert. It also has adjustable dividers that can make as few as five and as many as fifteen storage spaces, and a "ProLatch" that snaps shut and keeps the box closed. Now sometimes it won't fit all of a games components, but if you pull out the player pieces and bag those individually -- which makes sense as you hand those out at the beginning of the game anyway -- will hold the rest. Here are some examples of how I have used the Plano 3500:
Above and Below
Of course there are games with too many components for the Plano 3500, or that need more dividers, and for these cases, I use the next size up, the Plano 3600. While this one doesn't fit in as many size boxes, measuring 10.5" x 6.85" x 1.625", it fits most games that require its extra storage space. Here are a few examples of games I have stored with the Plano 3600:
Castles of Burgundy
Order of the Gilded Compass
There is one other exception that neither of those Plano boxes can help with -- the small square two-player box. Now while most of the games in these boxes aren't very component heavy, some still are, such as the animeeple filled Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. For this game, I found the following plastic box from SE, that measures 7.5" x 5" x 1.25", to be perfect.
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
While I admit that Plano storage isn't perfect, as components can occasionally be difficult to remove from the Plano boxes, I do think the sheer amount of tiny bits that can be easily separated and sorted into one case, that a) keeps them logically sorted in the game box and b) makes them easily accessible at the table, make up for the minimal downside.
I hope this post was helpful for anyone struggling to store any of their games, and feel free to let me know in the comments if there are any other useful Plano sizes I've neglected.
The phrase "solo gaming" often puts a puzzled look on the faces of those unfamiliar with it, followed up with a variation of the question "you mean, like video games?" But no, I don't mean like video games, and the thing is, almost everyone is familiar with the most basic solo game -- Solitaire (as well as its cousins, FreeCell and Spider Solitaire). These games are so popular, they've been pre-loaded onto computers for decades. So I guess, technically, the video game question isn't too off base, but I digress.
Getting back to the point, while Solitaire is a good tool for getting others to understand the idea of playing a tabletop game solo, it's not a good game, anymore than Monopoly is a good modern gateway game. Solitaire is far too random, with too many starting set-ups that are impossible to win, and the choices are mostly obvious, leading to a game that usually plays itself to its predetermined success or failure.
But what if I told you there is a solo game that uses one-third the amount of cards to make an exciting, updated version of Solitaire? One that serves as an excellent gateway into solo gaming, is a great quick-to-play puzzle, and has the added benefit of fitting easily in one's pocket? Would you be interested? Of course you would.
That game is Pentaquark. Published by wallet game publisher Button Shy Games and designed by solo savant Mullins, who previously worked on solo variants for Bottom of the Ninth and New Bedford, Pentaquark combines Mullins' love for science with his passion for solo design.
In the game, players will struggle to contain the elusive pentaquark -- a very particular configuration of five quark cards -- while battling annihilation cards. It plays as a mix of set collection and deck building, although unlike most deck building games, the deck gets worse instead of better, as each shuffle adds more annihilation cards. Pentaquark plays in about ten minutes and takes almost no time to set up at all.
The game plays similar to Solitaire in that it is only played with cards, which then get separated to different areas in order to achieve an end goal. It also plays similar to a modern solo card game, Friedemann Friese's Friday, in the way that negative cards are added to the deck with each shuffle. But the strength of Pentaquark against both is that it packs its game play into less cards, and has a smaller table footprint. It also has a much larger decision space over Solitaire, and has less accounting to track than Friday.
I'd highly recommend Pentaquark as both a gateway into the solo gaming hobby and for experienced solo gamers looking for a quick solo fix. For anyone that may need a little help learning this new type of solitaire, Button Shy produces playmats that lay out exactly where the cards should be played. And for the more experienced gamer worried about getting bored, the game has a number of variants that are easy to add in, with more quark cards that have their own quirks, and alternate colliders that change the win condition to alternate card combinations, such as the tetraquark.
Tue Mar 21, 2017 10:35 pm
Every year, I like to set myself a board game challenge. Two years ago I successfully completed the 10x10 challenge. Last year I (mostly) completed my challenge of playing all of my games, leaving about five of my games unplayed.
This year, I'm not going to set a goal dictating which games I'm going to play ahead of time. I'm going to play whatever I'm in the mood to play, and just enjoy my collection. The spirit of enjoying the collection I've already built is exactly what inspired the challenge I'm going to attempt this year.
So with that said, my gaming goal for 2017 is to limit my retail purchases to twelve games over the course of the year, and not to Kickstart anything (although I am going to make exceptions for the expansions for The Networks and Raiders of the North Sea). I don't need to constantly be acquiring new games, because I already own a ton of great games, and more than a few games I've yet to play. I also don't need to use Kickstarter to get games 12+ months later when there are so many great games available now.
Noble intentions aside, I expect this goal will be tough, because there are already a few games I've been looking to purchase once they're released, including Charterstone and Victorian Masterminds. Again, I'm giving myself a pass on expansions, in the event the Jamaica: The Crew expansion is released. I also have been looking for a copy of Bruges for months, so if I find a reasonably priced copy -- new or used, I won't hesitate to pick it up. Add to that the two games I already picked up this year, Concordia and Belfort, both of which are either out of print or just generally hard to find, and I haven't left myself a lot of leeway for additional purchases this year.
So with just over eleven months to go, I want to limit myself to ten more purchases, and none on Kickstarter. Let's see if I can hold fast to this goal.
As I did last year, let me start this off with a few quick caveats.
First, I haven't played even a fraction of the games that were released this year, especially anything that released at Essen or after. Second, I am leaving expansions off this list. Finally, I'll reiterate that my preferences don't make a game objectively good or bad, these are just my opinions based on my tastes.
So that all out of the way, these were my favorite games from 2016 (in alphabetical order):
I really enjoyed this dice placement, tableau/engine builder, despite the very thin theming. It hit a sweet spot for how easy it was to learn, how quick it played, how many decisions there were to make, and how much luck was present. The variability right in the base box, as well as the great insert, also helped make this game a stand out.
A perfect family game. It has cute artwork and a non-threatening theme that will draw in grandparents and children, but maintains gameplay that can be surprisingly tense and cutthroat. It was easy to learn and teach, but not so simplistic as to become boring after a few plays. Also, the components and insert were both top notch.
I've been a big fanboy of Ryan Laukat and his Red Raven publishing company for some time, and Islebound has done nothing to change my opinion of either. The art, as always, is vivid and evocative of the fantasy world this game shares with Above and Below and the upcoming Near and Far. But more than just being a pretty presence at the table, the game play really engaged me in this game of archipelago exploration -- managing to be simultaneously thinky and breezy.
This past year may not be the best ever year for games, but it's among the prettiest. This game of simultaneously building a paint studio and creating a panoramic picture features stunning artwork by Jade Mosch and spared no expense on theme, coming with a bamboo playmat. But it was also designed by Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier (who also designed Abyss together), so the game play lives up to the game's lofty aesthetics.
One of my all-time favorite blends of theme with mechanics, and likely my favorite game of the year. The Networks is approachable, intuitive, has great pacing, a great decision space, scales well, and doesn't overstay its welcome at the table. The graphic design of the game's multi-faceted cards, by Heiko Gunther and Travis Kinchy, is also notable for its elegance and utility.
This thoughtfully designed Kickstarter game from Far Off Games and designer Cody Miller features an interesting card-based push-your-luck mechanism to simulate a surfing competition. It has a nice player count range, playing from one to six players, and scales up well due to simultaneous card play. It also contains an array of well designed components, including custom dice, that help sell the surfing theme.
I also have a few honorable mentions, the first because I enjoy playing it with my kids, but wouldn't bring out with adults, the second because it is a redesign of an older game, and the rest because I haven't played them enough to call them favorites.
If this was a list of top games to play with kids, this game would top the list. It's unique box-in-a-box design has a great table presence, and sets up and breaks down a lot quicker than other flicking games, such as Flick 'Em Up or Rampage. But there is not a lot of depth to the game, and it plays a bit more like an activity.
Order of the Gilded Compass
This re-imagining of Alea Iacta Est is another great gateway/family game. This dice-allocation game draws comparisons to Yahtzee when teaching to new players, but has more in the way of decision making, as well as a variable set-up to increase replayability, and finally, a fun -- if thinly presented -- theme. Since I lauded a few of the other inserts on this list, I do feel compelled to mention that this insert is garbage. As in it literally got thrown out because it wasn't functional in the least.
This collectible card game simulator doesn't make my list solely because I've only gotten to play it at two players, which, due to the two-player rule changes, leaves me feeling as if I haven't gotten to experience the complete game just yet. I expect to remedy that this year, especially with the Set Rotation expansion on its way to me shortly.
One Deck Dungeon
This is a game that I only got to play once, as the Kickstarter delivered during the December holidays. I would like to explore this more, both solo and with another player, but I was very intrigued by my one play.
I enjoyed my one solo play of this deck-building game very much -- to the point I opined that it could replace Marvel Legendary for me. And it might, but before I go making any grand pronouncements, I need to play it more to test its balance, and with other players to make sure the game is equally challenging at different player counts.
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