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I was really excited for my kids first board game convention, and knew Kid’s Day would be the perfect opportunity for it, considering its proximity to home and it being planned with kids in mind. But I also knew I wouldn’t be doing the things I normally like to do at a convention, as I knew my kids wouldn’t find chatting with boring adults interesting (no matter what games they designed or companies they ran), and demoing or playing anything heavier or longer was out, as I had to make sure my attention and focus was on them and not on a game -- temporarily misplacing my kids would have, rightfully, been the end of this hobby for me.
So I was going to let them pick and choose whatever interested them, and in doing so, I really got to see the convention through new eyes, and saw a bunch of things that I am not even sure how I missed earlier.
But first, since I was with my wife and kids, who did not have exhibitor badges, we had to wait in the queue to get in. This is where it becomes clear that PAX knows what they are doing and can handle large crowds. In large hall near the main hall, they set up a series of roped areas, parallel to one another. They filled each roped area into rough lines. At 10:00 am, they allowed one line at a time to begin walking into the main hall -- much different than the Gen Con opening door rush. It was fairly orderly, and even standing at one of the last lines, it took less than ten minutes to get in.
My eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son, both very proud to have their very own shiny Kid’s Day badges, had eyes as big as saucers upon entering the hall. Not knowing where to start, I steered them toward the APE Games booth, as I remember Jason Lees telling me they had a game called Major General that was good for all ages. Of course, when we got there, my kids weren’t interested in that game at all, because Duck! Duck! Go! was set up on the table -- with actual rubber ducks as player pieces. We demoed the game, and my daughter instantly said she wanted to buy it. I told both my kids that I would buy them each one game that day, but not until the end of the day after they played everything and picked their favorites.
After the demo, I steered the kids away from the exhibitor hall for a moment to meet up with my friends Marti and Sarah from Open Seat Gaming. I had promised them I’d teach them NMBR 9 and sat down with them and Devon, who we’d met up with earlier, to play a quick game. Sarah picked the game up right away and crushed all of us.
My wife -- a veterinarian and animal lover -- came back to the table with a game she had just bought on impulse, called You Gotta Be Kitten Me! It played up to ten players, so we opened it right up and jumped in a game. It was a bidding/push-your-luck game where you had to guess how many of a certain symbol or color there was on all the cards in every player’s hand. Bidding would go up until someone would say “You Gotta Be Kitten Me!” and the players would then count that item. If the player’s bid was correct the person calling them out would lose a card, if the bid was over, that player would lose a card. The last player with cards remaining won. The game wasn’t very good, but the company made up for it.
Not long afterward, walking around the exhibit hall, we saw a demo for Schrödinger's Cats. We stopped because my wife loves cute animal-themed games, and listened to the pitch -- and were really surprised to hear it was about a bidding-push-your-luck game that played almost identical to You Gotta Be Kitten Me! What are the odds that we would find two nearly identical cat-themed card games back to back? And what happened to doing market research before publishing? For the record, BoardGameGeek says Schrödinger's Cats came first, being first released in 2015.
Devon suggested finding Chip Beauvais so the kids could play Chroma Cubes, the “roll and color” game he designed. So we did. Of course, a game revolving around rolling colorful dice and coloring in pictures with crayons was a big hit with the kids -- as well as the adults at the table -- and I can’t wait until this one hits Kickstarter next year, as it’s a no-brainer for my household.
At this point, it was nearing lunchtime, and we headed toward the food court. We passed the Alpha Build room (a.k.a. The Unpub room) on the way, and Ben corralled us into a playtest of Shapes: The Game. The game involved drawing cards and stacking the oddly shaped pieces referenced on those cards onto a triangular base. Unlike, Junk Art, there was only one ruleset, and all the players played to the same base. This made the game more interactive, but otherwise it felt similar. It was fun, but I am not sure there is a market for another block stacking game. Even so, we all had fun playing it, and I wish the designer the best of luck with it.
My son and I had tickets for a learn to play Pokemon: The Card Game, so we were a bit pressed for time, and made the mistake of eating at the extremely overpriced food court. The pricing and food quality were similar to professional sports stadiums, but it did allow us to get back to the hall in time for the Pokemon Master Trainer to teach my son and a half dozen other kids how to be Pokemon trainers. The game was better than I expected, and the event came with a deck of Pokemon cards. Of course, I need to buy another deck so we can play together, but Christmas is around the corner, and I have a Pikachu deck on its way for us.
While the kids were still having fun trying all these games and walking around, they were also getting a bit tired. To be honest, after three days, so was I. So we agreed to walk around the exhibit hall for one more hour, get the kids each a game, and then head home.
My daughter pulled me over to the Beasts of Balance demo, which she had tried while I was learning the Pokemon game with my son. The game was a stacking game that was heavily integrated with an app. The cool toy factor on this one was off the charts, as it sensed which animals and other pieces you stacked on the base, and modified the game goals and points accordingly. I was spared the kids asking me to drop $80 on it only because it was already sold out.
Another demo we tried out that had a high toy factor was Maze Racers, which gives each player a white board and a set of rectangular pieces made of foam and magnets, and allows them to create a maze. When each player has created one -- which can be timed -- they switch and see who can solve the other’s maze the quickest. We all loved this one, and my son asked to bring it home. As they only had two copies left, and we were leaving shortly, we bought it on the spot.
Our final demo of the day was at the Calliope booth, where my kids wanted to try Scott Almes’ Dicey Peaks. This was a dice-based push-your-luck that reminded me of Zombie Dice with a few added elements, including a hex-based mountain to climb. The kids and I enjoyed it well enough, but I enjoyed my Friday demos of Capital City and Ancestree more.
My daughter, not swayed by any of the other demos she played, still wanted Duck! Duck! Go! as her convention purchase, so we swung by and picked it up on our way out of the convention hall. From there we headed back to the hotel and our car, out of Philadelphia and onto the New Jersey Turnpike, for our drive back home in Sunday evening traffic.
Overall, PAX Unplugged seemed well attended, but not overcrowded, and had a good, but subdued, publisher presence, as almost none of the pubs were pushing hot new games. The convention seemed tentative and lacking a firm identity; a golem without a soul. I look forward to seeing it evolve in future years, as publishers, designers, and convention goers -- both from the PAX crowd, and from the non-PAX board gaming community -- return with more concrete ideas and expectations from it, and infuse it with the life they want in return from it.
I’m not normally a morning person, but conventions have a certain indescribable electricity to them that makes me buzz with excitement and wake early. After a quick shower I headed to the convention center with time to spare for a quick breakfast and coffee. I stopped at the Reading Market and got in a long -- but fast moving -- line for a apple fritter donut from Beiler’s, a Pennsylvania Dutch bakery that has been hailed by Fodor’s as one of the 20 best in the country. They’re not wrong.
Sugared and caffeinated, I headed into the convention center and circumvented the queue process with my exhibitor badge. I helped Zach set up his Deathbot Derby demos at the Royal N Games booth and chatted with him for a bit, then made a few stops in the exhibitor hall, picking up review copies of Whistle Stop from Bezier Games and Alien Artifacts from Portal Games, and introducing myself to, and setting up an interview with, Looney Labs CEO Kristin Looney.
I was hustling with a purpose, as I knew my wife and kids were heading down that night and my convention would be very different after they arrived. My kids -- eight and five -- had never been to a convention before, and had asked to come to GenCon and Origins with me previously. This convention being driving distance was a much better fit for their first convention, so I was thrilled to get them Kid’s Day badges and have them meet me there. However, it meant that anything I wanted to do -- especially any networking and longer, heavier games -- needed to happen before they arrived.
As I rushed about, I swung by the Button Shy booth, and was introduced to their newest microgame designer, Duane Kolar. He was demoing Herotec, a drafting and multi-use card game about outfitting superheroes with high-tech gear, and I sat down and beat him at his own game (He totally didn’t let me win). It was a fun one, and I hope it finds a wider audience after its Kickstarter campaign flew a bit too far under the radar, despite funding.
At 11:00 am, I had the only event I had signed up for at the convention, The Reckoners from Nauvoo Games. I won’t lie, the entire source of my excitement for this game involved being a huge fan of the book series the game is based on, which were written by Brandon Sanderson. The books are about a ragtag team of “Reckoners” leading a resistance movement against superpowered villains. We sat down for a full game in the free play area with a full complement of six players, and I was happy I would be able to see how all six heroes played, but concerned that this would mean there would be significant downtime. But my fears were unfounded, as the players all rolled dice and played simultaneously. Each player had a specialty, and communication between the players was key to efficiently managing threats from various villains and henchmen, all with the goal of defeating Steelheart, the arch villain of the first book. The game did an excellent job of adapting the first book, and will be a big hit with fans of the series for that reason alone, but it was also a smooth playing cooperative experience that actually worked well at six players. My only gripe was in between each of the heroes turns there was a lot of bookkeeping to do on the villains turn, and that probably would have taken even longer without the game’s co-designer there to manage it for us.
Since I was learning The Reckoners from its co-designer, I asked how exactly a small board game publisher like Nauvoo got permission to make a board game based on the intellectual property of a well known speculative fiction writer. The answer: Simple, they went to one of Brandon Sanderson’s book signing and asked him. Sanderson asked if they had already made games, they sent him a copy of Stockpile, and that was that. Proof right there it never hurts to ask.
Two guys from my local game group, Andy and Matt, had texted me that they’d arrived to the convention center, and I met up with them in the First Look area. Matt broke out his brand new Kickstarter backer copy of Pocket Ops and I played against him in what I can best describe as Tic Tac Toe meets Chess. This is one of those little $10 games that will probably see a lot more play than a lot of bigger, way more expensive games just because of the combination of its size, how easy it is to play, and how quick the games are.
After a few games of Pocket Ops, I suggested Card City XL, a recently fulfilled Kickstarter that I’d brought with me in hopes of getting to the table. We started a game, got halfway through it, and realized we were playing at least half the rules wrong. To their credit, Andy and Matt volunteered to restart the game instead of pitching it in the nearest recycling bin, and our second play we managed to play a basic game with the rules correct. Unfortunately, the combination of 1. the “I cut, you choose” drafting method making everyone feel like they’re always choosing the “least bad” option, 2. the rules being very restrictive about placement and growth, and 3. the rules for growth and scoring being expressed as mathematical functions (the rule book has phrases like “N+1” in it), made the game feel more frustrating than fun. I think this may be a case of errant expectations, as I was hoping this would be a city builder along the lines of SimCity, but there is no indication from the actual game that it would deliver on that, despite the similar theme.
At this point it was back to the Reading Terminal market for lunch. If you are wondering “could you only eat there for the whole convention?” the answer is yes, and you wouldn’t even have to go to the same shops twice. This time I had a boneless rib sandwich with a side of mac and cheese, which was exactly the kind of substantial lunch I needed after a breakfast consisting of a donut.
While chatting over lunch, Andy, Matt and I realized we were all interested in checking out Root at the Leder Games booth. So that is exactly where we went next, only to find a group had just sat down and we’d need to return in 45 minutes. So we walked around the exhibition hall until I found a demo for the Unlock! games. I’ve played a few escape room board games, but never one from the Unlock series, so I gave it a go. Frustration ensued when I realized I was simply searching for tiny hidden letters on some of the cards in poor convention lighting with glare coming off the sleeved cards. I prefer the EXIT series, as I like the puzzly nature of those games better, but I am sure at home in better lighting the Unlock series is more fun than my demo would otherwise lead me to believe. I did succeed and win a special Pinny Arcade pin, though.
Our second stop at the Leder Games booth was timed better, and we only had to wait a few minutes to hop into the next Root demo. The demos, understandably, due to the length and complexity of the game, were not full games, but a few turns. It was enough for me to get a decent handle on my faction, and a vague idea of the other three factions worked -- note that the game, like Leder’s earlier game Vast, is totally asymmetrical. I liked the art style, and what little I saw of the game, but a very hesitant to make any broad proclamations based on playing two turns of such a complex game -- just that I am looking forward to playing a full game when it becomes available.
It was getting close to the exhibit hall closing, and to my family arriving, but I had one more stop I wanted to make before I called it a day at the convention center. One of my all-time favorite games is Burgle Bros, which is a bit odd as I don’t normally gravitate to cooperative experiences. But seeing that Tim Fowers was at the convention, I knew I needed to stop by and tell him how much I appreciated his work. He was engaged when I got to his booth, so I demoed Fugitive while I waited. During the demo, Tim came over and I introduced myself and told him what a fan I was of Burgle Bros. We had a nice chat, and I’ll just say it’s just everything when the people that make things you like turn out to be such lovely people in person. I left the booth -- with a demo copy of Fugitive, so more on that game in a future review -- as the exhibition hall was closing.
At this point I had to check into my hotel room, as I had shared a room with five other people on Friday night, and that obviously wasn’t going to work with the wife and kids joining me. I chatted with Craig Marks a bit while carting my luggage -- made up mostly of board games -- through the hotel. When my family arrived, the kids chose our dinner location. Of course, they picked the brightest and flashiest option they could find, the Hard Rock Cafe, which may have been the loudest meal I’ve ever sat through. Afterward, I walked the family over to the convention center -- which was connected to the Marriott -- to give them a lay of the land, and to say hi to a few people in the Unpub room, which was still open after hours.
There we ran into board game artist Nolan Nasser, who, in addition to be a super friendly guy, may be one of the hardest working people in the industry, having recently cofounded a company called Deep Water Games that is partnering with international publishers to bring games to the U.S., partnering with U.S. publishers to bring their games overseas, and developing their own games based on IPs they’ve created. Whew, I’m exhausted just thinking about all of that. We also saw designer Emerson Matsuuchi playtesting a solo slot machine game designed by Chip Beauvais, and my wife ran into her college friend Devon, who we would have the pleasure of spending a lot of the next day with. After this very brief taste of the convention, we herded the kids back to the hotel room and off to sleep.
I’m a planner by nature -- compulsively researching, at great lengths, any new situation I’m getting myself into. But with PAX Unplugged being the inaugural non-digital PAX, information was scant. I was unsure of how big the convention would be and what I should expect in terms of, well, most everything. All I had was the list of exhibitors and convention center map to guide me. However, luckily for me, a friend had an extra exhibitor badge, allowing me to get into the exhibitor hall early, get my bearings, and not have to wait on the queue for the 10am entry time.
I started with a walk around the exhibition hall, which was a large space with wide lanes for foot traffic. It wasn’t as big or elaborate as GenCon, but was similar to Origins -- though possibly a bit smaller.
In conversation with Grey Fox Games “Chief Noisemaker” Alex Goldsmith earlier in the month, he‘d mentioned they’d be demoing Bushido, which he said would be a hit with Magic: The Gathering style gamers. So I made my first stop at their booth to check it out for myself. As a former MtG player, I can tell you he isn’t just making noise. Bushido played quick and fun, with exactly the kind of push and pull players want in a two-player dueling game. Add to that a nicely illustrated martial arts theme and lots of custom dice, and I see this one being a winner for them.
My next stop was the Button Shy booth, where Chip Beauvais showed me a partial demo of Universal Rule, proving to me that a 4X game, through designer magic I still don’t fully understand, is possible with a deck of eighteen cards. He also briefly showed off an early copy of the upcoming Universal Rule: Second Wave expansion, which will be able to be played standalone or integrated with the base game.
I took a break from the exhibitor hall at this early juncture, as I had planned to play my first game of Sid Sackson’s Acquire with Devon, an online friend I met through Twitter. The main hall -- a cavernous space -- housed the exhibitor space on one side and the free play area on the other. Once you cleared the last of the exhibitors, there were simply open gaming tables for days. I easily found Devon, as it was still early in the day and not yet crowded.
Acquire, originally published in 1964 -- ancient in modern gaming terms -- still holds up quite well. In fact, beyond the vast amount of arithmetic involved in figuring out the end scores (Manny, who won, scored $60,800), it was quite an elegant design. The version we played also had chunky plastic pieces that gave the game a nice tactile quality and an interesting, if retro, table presence. I also discovered, while chatting during our game, that Devon was a friend of my wife’s from college together years ago. It really is a small world sometimes.
Next up was the Calliope booth, as I wanted to check out Capital City and Ancestree, two upcoming games from their Titan series. For those unfamiliar, the Titan line, according to Calliope, is “designed by some of the greatest designers working in the industry” and “presents family-friendly tabletop games that are easy to teach, play in under an hour.”
Capital City, from designer James Ernest, is a game about drafting a Old West town full of anthropomorphic animals over the course of four seasons. The animals and the buildings they are placed in give players bonuses when activated, and are activated when other players play the same type of animal. So in addition to drafting, the game is mostly about engine building, but very fast, as the game is lightning quick at only four rounds. This is definitely a winner for the lighter crowd, and as a parent of young children, I fit that mold.
Ancestree, from designer Eric Lang, is also a drafting game. But this one is about drafting a family tree, with scoring for the vertical length of the tree, the riches of its members, and the marriages within. There is a set collection element, but again, like with Capital City, it is over quite quickly, with only three rounds of drafting before final scoring. This one was originally designed as a two player game, so it may be a rare unicorn that features drafting but works well with only two -- I can’t be sure, as I played it with three, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t scale down to two well.
These were so quick that I got to play full demos of both of them, and I walked away impressed with what I saw, not only with both games, but with the company, as it’s nice to see a clear vision and focus, especially on accessible games I can play with my non-gamer wife and kids.
It was early afternoon at this point, and my friend Craig Marks from the Botch Games Podcast had just arrived at the convention center. He picked me up a reuben from Reading Terminal on his way in, because he is the best. Reading Terminal is a market right across the street from the convention center -- similar to the North Market in Columbus Ohio, for those familiar with Origins -- with lots of different food options, from sandwiches to ribs to, of course, Philly cheesesteaks. Oh, and they also have an amazing donut shop, but I’ll circle back to that in Saturday’s recap, I’m sure.
The Philly convention center has a food court upstairs, which is where we ate. And I supplemented my sandwich with a 20 oz. Pepsi from the food court, which cost $5.50. Pro-tip: Do not get anything at the food court, it is beyond overpriced. After washing my delicious sandwich down with overpriced sugar water, we wandered the exhibit hall, as Craig hadn’t seen it earlier that morning.
At this point I spied a familiar Indiana Jones hat and jacket at the Level 99 booth, and knew I had to go say hi to D. Brad Talton, the man behind Millennium Blades, Pixel Tactics, BattleCON, etc. Brad was talking with someone, however, so I demoed two-player deduction game Automata NOIR while I waited. As someone that enjoys actual deduction games -- read as: not social deduction games -- I very much liked Automata NOIR. I played as the killer, and had to kill off characters from a grid while the demoer, playing the inspector, tried to deduce which character I was. I won, although I am developing a sneaking suspicion -- due to how often I win game demos -- that demoers are told to let those demoing win. Probably better for sales that way.
Anyway, when that wrapped, I chatted with Brad, mostly asking about how Empyreal: Spells and Steam was coming along, because it blends wizardry and trains. Because of course a train game from Level 99 would also have to have something ridiculously thematic and cool like technomancers in it. Anyway, look for that one early next year on Kickstarter.
Craig swung back around with Matt Halstad from the League of Nonsensical Gamers, and they were ready to play a game. We had previously discussed getting in a game of Forbidden Stars, so I figured there was no time like the present, and I suggested we go to the free play area and commence a galactic war for supremacy. We started setting up, and were joined by Chris Kirkman to round out our full table. It was just before 5:00 pm when we started. I’m proud to say that at one point, I held the four objectives I needed to win, although I didn’t hold them until the end of that turn, letting victory slip away from my Ultramarines and into the hand of Matt’s Chaos Space Marines -- almost five hours after we’d begun.
After we wrapped up the game and repacked the mammoth box, Chris and I headed for food. While I don’t normally love chain restaurants, the quiet and relaxed atmosphere of the Maggiano’s one block away was just what I needed after the intensely stimulating first day that was PAX Unplugged. The two cocktails I had there didn’t hurt either. However, unwinding over the meal, I realized that due to my early 4:00 am start from New York, I had nothing left in me, and called it a night before midnight. I’ve learned this after attending a few of these -- conventions are a marathon, not a sprint. Better to call Friday early and get a fresh start on Saturday morning.
Legends of Sleepy Hollow, designed by Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback, and published by Greater Than Games, is going to be rather tricky for me to discuss for two reasons. First, the preview copy I was sent only had the first chapter of the game in it, and second, because even with only the first chapter, there are spoilers, as the game has a very strong narrative element that runs through its eight chapters. These limitations are also why I am only giving my initial thoughts, as opposed to a full review. As for my specific experience, I played the first chapter twice, first at the full player count of four, and the second time solo. That all said, let’s start with what’s in the box -- without any spoilers -- and then I’ll get into the specifics of gameplay.
While the version I played was a preview copy, and did not have finished components, the artwork -- which was done by a team that includes Hugo award-winning artist Abigail Larson -- was, by itself, enough to draw me into the world of the supernatural fable. And while Washington Irving’s source material never makes clear that anything supernatural was at play, I won’t be spoiling anything to say this board game adaptation comes with ten pumpkin-headed Gobkin monsters, as well as ten evil ent-like Schrikroots, making it clear that this imagining of the source material has more at play than a suitors’ quarrel. I’d like to digress a moment to say how happy I am this game decided to use the Dutch folklore found in the Sleepy Hollow mythos, and is not yet another game revolving around Cthulhu or zombie theming.
Legends of Sleepy Hollow is played on a series of maps, with the first chapter taking place in the schoolhouse where Ichabod Crane taught. There are four unique characters in the game, and players will always play all of them, regardless of player count. This makes sense, as each character has a very specific skill set, with strengths and weaknesses that tie into it. There is sturdy undertaker Jeremiah, armed only with his shovel, calming minister Elijah, wielding his faith and a staff, nimble ace hunter Emily, armed with her bow, and finally, battle-hardened war veteran Matthias, pistol at the ready.
Before starting the scenario, some flavor text is read aloud, setting the scene and the goals of the scenario. In the case of the first chapter, the four heroes are looking for two journals they believe will provide clues to Ichabod’s whereabouts, and will need to find them and bring them to the teacher’s desk to progress the story. Of course, this is more difficult than it sounds, for two reasons. First, there are twelve tokens that need to be investigated and only two will reveal the journals. Second, the schoolhouse is already populated with both Gobkins and Schrikroots, and more will spawn as you search the area.
The gameplay is very straightforward. In fact, the rule book -- at least in its preview copy form -- is only three pages long, and allowed us to jump right into playing the game. A character’s turn consists of both an action and a movement, taken in any order. Once each character takes their turn, the environment gets its turn, with the monsters moving, attacking, and spawning. The intimate scope of the game keeps this from being too fiddly. Even when I played solo, I was able to control all four characters and the environment without any issues or confusion.
Each player has standard actions they can always take -- attack, rest, and interact with the environment -- as well as a few special actions which can only be taken once each before refreshing. One interesting mechanism featured in the game is the fear system. When characters are attacked, they not only lose health, they gain fear tokens. Acquiring these tokens is not only a potential loss condition, but each fear token also becomes an action token, meaning characters cannot refresh their actions -- and use their more powerful special actions -- until they use or cull their fear tokens from their action token pool.
When I played with four players, the exploration of the schoolhouse felt similar to a traditional dungeon crawl, with each player becoming one of the characters. While, due to the openness of information, this created the potential for “quarterbacking,” the non-deterministic combat and the narrative pull of the game made it feel less like a puzzle one player needed to solve, and more like a difficult situation everyone needed to survive together.
When I played solo, however, the game felt like a turn-based tactical video game, such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, where I was the tactician, in control of the actions of all of the heroes. Despite controlling multiple characters, playing Legends of Sleepy Hollow solo gave me a similar feeling that I had playing Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and I feel it will likely appeal to those that play AH:CG solo for its story-driven, exploratory horror experience.
In both plays, the game was difficult. In the first, we lost before retrieving both journals. In the second game, my solo run, I only “won” as I used the easier rule set, allowing for a character’s revival if they lose all their health. I don’t bring this up as a negative, although, of course, your mileage may vary, but as a selling point, as the difficulty of the game kept me on the edge of my seat for each token reveal and dice roll, and my decisions really mattered.
Legends of Sleepy Hollow, even in its first chapter, held some narrative surprises and the beginning threads of an overarching mystery. I won’t spoil them here, even with a spoiler tag, as I feel the storytelling element is one of the most compelling reasons to play this game, and I wouldn’t want to ruin those moments from anyone else that is yet to experience them.
That said, one very minor potential spoiler I feel compelled to mention is that after successfully completing the first chapter, I was told to open an envelope that had a postlude to the chapter. It also had a number of upgrade cards for each character, allowing for character growth before continuing on to the second chapter -- however, players are instructed to choose only one upgrade for each character, making them make difficult choices regarding which aspects they should boost, tailoring them to their individual play styles.
Final Initial Thoughts:
Or would this be initial final thoughts? Either way, based on what I have seen and played of Legends of Sleepy Hollow so far, I can say I’m in love with its art style, its commitment to a unique and underused mythology rooted in Dutch folklore and superstition, its storytelling elements and arc, and its streamlined gameplay -- with tough choices based on a set of easy to learn and manage mechanisms. The biggest compliment I can likely give it is my high level of frustration at having to wait so long to continue chapter two in my own search to find Ichabod Crane.
Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Legends of Sleepy Hollow from the publisher, Greater than Games. Chris Kirkman, Game Development Manager at Greater than Games, is a member of Punchboard Media as a co-host of The State of Games podcast.
I was only able to get a preview copy of New World Magischola House Rivalry when the Kickstarter campaign was already underway, so I wasn’t able to play it enough to give it a full review, but I did want to give some impressions after my one play for anyone considering backing the game.
The copy I received had prototype components and no box, but I want to mention a few notable things about the finished components I did receive.
The artwork on the character cards, the rulebook, and the player mats was charming and evocative, and did a lot to help sell the magical school theme. The player mats were laid out well, allowing us to play our first game with few references to the rule book. The tarot-sized course, club, and conjure cards allowed for a lot of information to be present without feeling cluttered, and left room to hold the grade and time cubes without obscuring the pertinent details on the cards.
My one component issue was with the scoring track, which is a hexagon shaped board that spiraled counter-clockwise toward the center, and made the score hard to see at a glance and a bit fiddly to update.
In House Rivalry, players are students at the New World Magischola wizard school, competing to score the most points by completing courses and clubs, and casting conjures. The game ends either when a player reaches 100 points, or completes their required course, three additional courses, and two clubs.
Every turn, the players will simultaneously select from three actions -- the first allows them to take new cards, the second allows them to play conjure cards, and the third allows them to manipulate the time cubes on their existing courses. Not only do players get to do their own action each turn, they also get a minor version of their opponents’ chosen actions.
The courses all take different amounts of times to complete, and are worth differing amounts of points, depending on the grade earned. Players will try to boost their grades for each course as they remove that course's time cubes. When the last time cube is taken off, that course is completed, and scores, regardless if the player is happy with their grade. Courses also have symbols on the side, such as skulls and moons, which will give bonuses or detriments depending on their chosen house, character, and other enrolled courses and clubs.
We played with three players, and it was the first game of House Rivalry for all involved. We were able to get into the flow of our simultaneous selections -- taking our actions and reaction actions, and getting our course engines running, fairly quickly. We found the game to be on the lighter side, with considerable randomness due to the drawing of cards off four decks. The Magischola cards added unique events at the end of each round, and helped to sell the whimsical magical school theme. The conjure cards added an element of take-that to the game, but we more often than not found it more efficient to use our actions to further our own goals over sabotaging the goals of others. Of course, I am sure that is quite group dependant.
Very early in the game, I drew the ‘Debate Club’ card, which did negatively affect the flow of our game, as it penalized me for not prefacing everything I said with “wrong.” Of course, since I was teaching the game, this became problematic rather quickly. There are other cards of this sort in the club deck as well, such as the ‘Sign of the Arrow,’ which does not allow the player to say “I, me, or my,” but I spoke to the publisher, and they are considering marking those cards so they can be easily removed in the case of a teaching game, or with a group that does not enjoy that kind of gameplay element.
The game took just under an hour to play, excluding setting up the boards and components. While we didn’t find any groundbreaking innovations or unique new mechanisms in House Rivalry, it blended existing board game mechanisms with a strong magical school theme that will attract fans of JK Rowling, Lev Grossman, Ursula LeGuin, Rick Riordan, and more. Importantly, the game was easy to learn and teach, giving it a low barrier to entry, and allowing non-gamers that are interested in the magical theme an entryway into the hobby of modern board gaming.
Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of New World Magiscola House Rivalry from the publisher.
Almost a year ago, I posted my favorite Android board game apps, and while I still enjoy them, tons more board game apps have been released for Android. Here are ten new favorites, measured as a combination of how much I like the game and how much I like the digital implementation:
A favorite of mine on the table, I was very excited when the digital implementation was released. The app has lived up to my expectations, with smooth gameplay and lots of options as far as characters and levels. Unfortunately, this does not support online play (yet?).
Lords of Waterdeep
I know this has been on iOS for a long time, so this is probably not exciting news to most of you. But for other Android folks like me -- it’s finally here, it’s a great implementation, and it has online play!
Just like regular Onirim, but without any shuffling -- so even better. And as the game is a solo game, it loses less than most in its transition to digital. Plus the app has added expansions.
Smooth gameplay with multiple difficulty levels and a campaign mode, as well as online play, makes the digital version of this classic two-player trading game a winner.
Despite some early stumbles with online play notifications, which have long been resolved, this app is a solid implementation, and honestly, a lot easier to play than setting up the physical, marble-laden cardboard dispenser version.
A beautifully done production with music and animations that really help sell the zen nature of the game. Like most listed, this too supports online play.
Race for the Galaxy
Do you prefer Race for the Galaxy over San Juan? Well now you can play it online, like San Juan fans have been doing for years. With multiple levels of difficulty and online play, this is great for an intergalactic engine-building fix.
Sentinels of the Multiverse
This app, which is intuitive and attractive, fixes all my issues with the fiddliness of playing this game on the table, but the one downside is that I find it works much better on the larger real estate of a tablet, and I do most of my app gaming on my phone.
Bottom of the Ninth
This sits near the bottom of the list solely because I just got it and haven’t dug in too deep with it, but from what I can see, Handelabra has done a nice job with this one, both mechanically and thematically.
Baseball Highlights 2045
This app version of this near-future baseball deckbuilder has two difficulty modes and a world series simulation against its AI -- CPU Stengel. While it’s not the prettiest, and doesn’t have the amount of options as many other apps on this list, it’s perfectly functional, and fun to play.
Honorable mentions that I don't personally like for one reason or another:
The app is slick, the tutorial is great, and the game plays just fine. But this is exactly the kind of game that loses something not being played on a table with its physical, overproduced three-dimensional components.
Eight Minute Empire
Again, my issue isn’t with the app implementation, which works as intended. I just think the game is a bit dull, like a less interesting El Grande -- and I say that as a huge Ryan Laukat/Red Raven fanboy.
Playing this on the table is a relaxing and pleasurable experience. Playing this on the app, despite how pretty it is, was a stark reminder of how few decisions are actually made and how much the game plays itself, as my AI opponents never over the course of an entire game skipped over a space on a move.
Apps available on Android that I haven’t yet played:
Brass, Terra Mystica, and Through the Ages -- For some reason, I just don’t play these heavier games using their app implementations, although I will play all three of these games using browser-based PC implementations. The most likely culprit is my mobile not being as conducive to these meatier games, or at least, my perception of that likelihood.
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.
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