Origins Number Nine (2015) - after a 4 year break
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My other Origins reports:
Origins 2015
Origins 2011
Origins 2010
Origins 2009
Origins 2008
Origins 2007
Origins 2006
Origins 2005

The last time here was kind of disappointing: not much gaming, and the Board Room was blah! I'd hoped to attend again last year, just for the weekend, but weather delayed my flight for over a day (!) so I ended up canceling. I'd previously thought about getting a Puffing Billy ribbon but decided to skip it this time and just try to play for free at the various venues (dealer room, expanded dealer areas in the game hall, open play area). I did look at the train gamers' schedule at some point, but it was mostly filled with crayon rails, 18xx titles, and Ticket to Ride. Why no Age of Steam?!? Actually, there would've been a few things I would have enjoyed, although probably not enough to justify a ribbon (vs. just getting event tickets) -- if I'd looked at the schedule early enough and not already missed the events.

This trip, things were generally better:
- I ran into a bunch of people, if even only briefly!
- Ate a lot of good food! The North Market is still pretty great (despite/because of the changes/upgrades), and there are some excellent restaurants here!
- I played 29 games (vs. 15 in 2011), 20 of which were new to me
- I managed to sell a few things through the Origins Virtual Flea Market, although I was too slow in my organizing and didn't manage to participate at all in the Origins Math Trade. Next time! (although selling is always better than trading)!
- I finally attended a live Dice Tower recording show. It was fun, despite the fact that it took away some gaming time (which I may or may not have been able to fill, anyway).
- I did have a hard time sometimes getting into a game as quickly as I would like. Maybe I'll need to arrange to walk around with someone next year? Either that, or just accept that it's less a playing con and more a socializing con?
- I never did make it to the open gaming area. Maybe next year.

So, a fun time was had; I should be back next year!
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1. Board Game: Kobayakawa [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:2232]
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Hillsborough
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WEDNESDAY

Spent the morning wandering the exhibitor hall and chatting. Then, delicious lunch at Barley's, followed by Jeni's ice cream -- yummy sun popped corn and butter almond brittle ice cream sundae!!

Back in the game room to deliver a flea market game, then play something!

This is sort of like poker, although we may have been missing some rules. The deck of cards is numbered 1-15. Players each get one card, and one card is face up in center. Each hand is once around, with 7(?) hands in the game. On your turn, either:
- draw a card and add it to your hand, then play one of you cards face up in front of you.
OR
- flip the top card of the deck and place item the face up card in center.
Then, players may get a chip or pass, and bank adds one chip (in final round, 2 chips each). All players R still in reveal their hold card (put it face up, covering the card in front of you, if any). The player with the lowest card adds its value to the card face up in the center, while the other players simply use face value of their card. The player closest to 15 (ties resolved by seating order, closest to dealer being better) wins the pot! Most money at end wins.

So it's a very quick bluffing-y game. Is that player discarding a 13 'cause he has a 15, or is he holding the 1 and banking on adding the 14 in the center to his value? Not much control, seemingly, and kind of random. Cute, but not great. I won the first few hands and just passed the rest of the game to avoid losing money. However, we may have allowed people to bet too much -- maybe that isn't possible with the right rules?
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2. Board Game: Welcome to the Dungeon [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:808] [Average Rating:6.71 Unranked]
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Like Dungeon of Mandom, but with some additions: 4 adventurers (barbarian, wizard, rogue, cleric?) instead of just one, each with a different mix of equipment, and some new types as well. Very nice production, while still being a small box game!
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3. Board Game: Nations: The Dice Game [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:715]
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Asmodee has a big space in Hall D, the gaming area, instead of an exhibitor hall space. It was so WEIRD seeing games from all those companies, stacked next to one another in the same booth!

I love civ-themed games but wasn't a big fan of Nations -- I'd much rather just play Through the Ages (one my top 3 games). But I've wanted to try this for some time. Fortunately, the table was free!

Unlike most "... the dice game" games, this is NOT a Yahtzee variant. Instead, it's a very streamlined version of the big box game, using tiles in place of cards. You still have the various classes of improvements (wonders, colonies, advisers, etc), but acquiring them is simpler, as are their powers. The game uses dice to generate your resources each turn; improved production is represented by improved dice (vs. more resources). As you cover the basic buildings, you lose the starting dice and replace them with better ones! The military/food events are still here, but simplified: everyone either meets the goal and gets a reward, or not -- no penalty for failure.

It's all very clean and works quite well. Your buildings are pretty generic, though: you can cover any of them, rather than having to match building type (color) like you need to do in Nations. Advisers are, too: they merely give you reroll tokens. I also miss having different starting setups (no double-sided player mats here!). And it all seems a bit too simplified, with little tension between players.

 
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4. Board Game: Roll for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:60]
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We went to dinner (huge! tasty!) at Moy's, a regular stop for the R&R guys but our first time. The food is pretty darn good! I prefer Thai food, but this was a great experience: excellent company, and very good Chinese food (best in Columbus?). Frank and Dan are regulars: little ordering off the menu; instead, they just told the owner what kind of food we wanted (chicken, seafood, etc.) and she had them cook us something tasty!


Then, we went over to the Bar on Two so Mary could finish her Tichu game while I joined Gil and Mike to play this, new to Mike (he'd never played Race, either).

I really like Race, especially as a 2-player game and with just the first expansion (or maybe #2 as well? Can't remember), but Roll is growing on me. And it is just so much easier to get to the table! I wonder how long it'll be before Roll surpasses Race? I think I ended up winning this one by building a bunch of developments (starting tile gave me a 1 discount for building anything with a reassign power), just before Gil could get his point-generating engine churning!
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5. Board Game: Skull King [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:959]
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Hillsborough
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After Roll, it was late and I was tired! Tichu was done, time to go, right? no. Instead, we decided to to play this, which Vinnie thinks very highly of. Unfortunately, no one else was nearly as fond of the game! we ended up quitting just a few hands in, to move on to another Vinnie recommendation.

1 play, partial game

This is a trick-taking game very much like Wizard, but with even more special cards and chaos to go with them! It's basically the same game, actually, but with:
- only 10 hands
- a super-Wizard (the Skull King)
- more special cards
- more scoring opportunities (treasure chests on some cards)
- simultaneous bidding (say yo ho ho! Bid on the third "ho" by holding that many fingers out)

Certainly there's skill in the game, but it sure felt random! I like the idea of fewer rounds, but never liked the 1-card hand ... why not deal out x+4 instead of just x (on round x)? And why complicate the scoring so much? It's probably better after multiple plays, when you're familiar with all the cards and scoring, but most people weren't having much fun with it so we quit early.
 
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6. Board Game: Letter Tycoon [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:1829]
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Hillsborough
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Vinnie suggested this next. I think he knows the designer or publisher?

--- Rules Summary ---
A display of 26 patent cards, one per letter, is placed on the table. Each card has a cost in $, and a VP value (for end of game) The rarest letters have a special power. A deck of letter cards is shuffled; deal 7/player. Also place 3 letter cards out face up in a public display.

On your turn, use your letters and/or the public letters to create a word (Scrabble rules). Earn money (and possibly VP certificate) according to a table, more letters is better. You may use money immediately to buy an available patent card for one of the letters in your word. In the future, earn $1 every time another player uses that letter. The patent may also give you a special power (eg, use a letter card twice in your word, or add an 's' to your word). The game ends as soon as someone's patent VP totals to 40(?) or more; most VP wins.
------

A very good word game mixed with some economics. Good, but with a few (fatal?) flaws all of which are related to the public cards. In a game this thinky, being screwed by having crappy cards flip for you, or seeing someone else get a exactly what they needed just come up (after the previous player's turn) is ANNOYING. And the fact that those public cards change so often means that you can do little or no planning, especially in games with a large player count! It sure seems that part of the game needs some tweaking!

Maybe a variant as simple as this would do the trick:
- At the start of the game, place 6 cards on display, in 2 rows of 3: CURRENT and FUTURE.
- During a round, players may only use the CURRENT public cards. Players score normally but these are _not_ discarded when used.
- At the end of the round, discard all 3 CURRENT cards, FUTURE becomes CURRENT, and you place 3 new FUTURE cards on display.
You can plan, maybe even two turns out -- the game should fly by! Earlier players do have a bit of an advantage: they can buy stock in those CURRENT letters and get some money back as others use them this round. But you could compensate by giving people later in turn order an extra $1 at the start of the game.

Or maybe increase hand size and limit use of the public cards (max 1), so it's easier to make words from your own cards and there's less change in the display?

Or some other variant? Sure, the variants need testing, but it seems as if the game needs some kind of change! Or maybe just better players, who can come up with long words faster than we could.


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7. Board Game: Parfum [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:2120]
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THURSDAY

Another nice breakfast at the hotel, then over to the hall for some gaming! The demo tables aren't all filled this early in the con, so I was able to join a table to squeeze in a quick game before the dealer hall opens.

It's a cute game, but ultimately not for me: too much randomness (dice rolls, the order in which perfume orders appear). It reminds me a lot of Fresco (earlier turn order = fewer actions; use actions to get ingredients, put them together in specific combinations to score points) to its detriment -- I'd much rather play Fresco! This is like a simplified Fresco:
- you just have generic actions (no workers). You use actions to do various things (get dice, roll dice, add perfume components to available display)
- instead of getting money and priority in market to acquire resources, you simply use an action to get a die of the color you want ... and hope to roll the resource (3 have 50% odds, 2 have 33%)
- instead of having all VP tiles available from start, you have a deck of perfume orders that gradually appear in semi-random order

Good family game, I suppose; gamers should just go to Fresco!
 
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8. Board Game: Tiny Epic Kingdoms: Heroes' Call [Average Rating:7.33 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.33 Unranked]
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The Exhibit Hall opened shortly after Parfum ended so I went over to do a quick walk-through and check everything out. The place seemed to have a good number of visitors, but thankfully it's NOTHING like the crowds at GenCon (where you're sort of shuffling along the aisles pressing shoulders with everyone else)! I got to see a bunch of people and say hello, and check out all the booths. There are only a few of the costume places; instead, mostly game companies -- yay!


Afterwards, we went to lunch at the new place that took over the upstairs room (which used to be the nome of a local cooking show), Hot Chicken Takeover. YUM! I got the drumsticks: 3 hot, 1 holy -- they're really not that hot, and I prefer the taste of Duff's in Buffalo, but they are very good: moist, very crisp, and served with tasty mac and cheese (and also coleslaw, but that was just OK).

I've wanted to play a Tiny Epic game for a while. In fact, I even downloaded the print-and-play version of the original game, although I never actually printed it. They were demoing the Heroes' standalone/expansion, their next Kickstarter, so I joined 4 others to play this game (the rest had played the base game before, though).

The game keeps it's promise: a lot of game packed into a tiny little box. There's a little map tile (1/player), with several terrain types on it. Players start with 2 meeples, a regular and a Hero, in one region on their tile. On your turn, select an action; like in Glory to Rome, everyone else may do the same, or collect resources instead (each meeple produces based on they region it's in). The actions allow you to do things like patrol (move meeple to adjacent region), quest (move from one tile to another), build (spend ore to build tower in that space), research (spend mana to advance on knowledge track), or expand (spend food to place new meeple onto tile). The game ends when any player reaches the last space on the knowledge track, or builds their last tower or meeple. Score VP according to advances on the various tracks, and for your builds; most VP wins!

Even with all we newbs, we finished in under 50 minutes. I won, by just one point! My reward was a PnP version of the game, and this pic with the Gamelyn Knight. Maybe I'll go ahead and print the original version factions as well, and some kind of little deck box...
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9. Board Game: Gold Ahoy! [Average Rating:5.57 Overall Rank:12011]
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So, over to the Mayfair booth to do the great ribbon quest. It's a great way for them to advertise: people play lots of their demos, and walk around with Mayfair ribbons all over the convention! And since they have a pretty large catalog of games, it works out for me as well: I get to learn a bunch of games without having to read the rules!

This is a simple, quick, abstract tile-laying game. Tiles have a mix of land and streams, with treasure chests scattered along. A starting tile is placed in the center, then players (sitting across from one another) alternate placing a tile using the following rules:
- max 7x7 6x6 (thanks, Hilko!) grid
- only you may start a new row on your side of the board

The game ends when the 7x7 6x6 grid is complete. Each player scores the land masses and water networks connected to their edge of the board, 1 VP/treasure. For streams or land masses that go all the way across (connecting your edge with the opponent's), only the player with more entrances on their side of the grid score the treasures. Most VP wins!

It's an abstract, so not a favorite of mine, but still it's not bad! You get a feel of the area grabbing you see in Carcassonne, but in a much more streamlined package. You still create large scoring areas, then try to secure them by blocking off your opponent's access while building/maintaining your own. Nice little game!
 
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10. Board Game: Mad City [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:5560]
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Hillsborough
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This was at a nearby table, and new to me ... time to give it a try!

This is a simultaneous puzzle game. Players take a random set of tiles face down. These show some combination of regions with different colors/icons. Flip the timer, and everyone simultaneously creates a 3x3 grid. The first player to finish grabs the ranger token: that player will score for their lakes and forests. Everyone scores for each of the other regions/icons, with each one scoring differently (different scoring chart for each). Repeat until someone gets to 90(?) or more points; most points wins!

It's sort of a fun speed game, but a bit too long and repetitive.
 
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11. Board Game: Flea Market [Average Rating:5.64 Overall Rank:11928]
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Also at a nearby table, and available!

Kind of interesting auction game, much better than I expected after I saw that it was a Colovini design (and the production isn't all that great, either)! But it's a bit too random for me.

This is nothing at all like the usual dry abstract design I expect when I see "Colovini". Instead, it's a light, kind of fun auction game. Some of the fun is, of course, from all the cool stuff you get to bid on -- it's all geeky stuff, or at least stuff eerily like geeky stuff but not license-infringing (I don't remember exactly what, but stuff like ruby slippers, the Tardis, a light saber, the one ring). But the game play is also fun: you get to roll dice and think about whether or not to reroll: if you want the item, you want to roll high enough to go first but not any higher, so you can pay the minimum possible cost. And you have to consider how close people are getting to winning ... will the game end before your items are rolled to come up for an auction?

Fun game but like Acquire, if you don't get any purchases (mergers) early, you'll have a hard time catching up. Also, if your rolls are high when the good stuff (i.e., items most likely to be rerolled -- in the 9-12 or 8-13 range) comes up, you'll end up behind. The game may be long enough, with enough rolling, for that to sort of average out. And regardless, it's a pretty light and quick game so maybe it doesn't matter all that much. Still, it was a little annoying! It would help, too, if the bits were better! Some day, when they want to push this at a show, maybe Mayfair will have a version with actual minis of the items, and decent money!

--- Summary ---
Players start with some money and 2d6. The goods tokens are numbered 3-18 and placed on the board. Each turn, the current player rolls 3d6 and that item goes up for auction. If it's another player's item, that player becomes the Auctioneer. Bidders (non-Auctioneers) all roll 2d6 secretly, and are allowed one reroll. Then reveal your dice: from high to low, players get the option to buy the item for the sum of their dice, paying the Auctioneer. If the token belonged to a player, that player also gets a bonus $3-7 (depending on how far in the game you are). If no one buys it, the current player gets it for free (if it's another player's item, they keep it)! The game ends as soon as someone gets $45 = winner!
 
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12. Board Game: Patchwork [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:58]
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Hillsborough
North Carolina
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I was still messing around in the Mayfair area. This table had been in near constant play, but I waited a bit and grabbed it next -- after hearing so much about it, I've been wanting to play for a while now. Even though it's a 2-player and likely wouldn't get a lot of play here! Otherwise, I may have used my 50% off coupon to buy this game.

This is very good, even though I'm terrible at puzzles! I ended up with a negative score, which is probably how I'll score most often. Still, it's quick and fun!

The rules are very simple: players each start with a 9x9 grid board, and 5 buttons. The time track has spaces for 1-box pieces; place them there. Lay the puzzle pieces in a circle around the board, randomly. Place the token in front of the smallest piece.

The player behind on the time track takes turn(s) until theyre in front. On your turn, either:
- take the piece 1-3 spaces ahead of it and put the token in it's place. Pay the price (in buttons) as indicated on the piece, then place it on your board. Advance on the time track by the number of spaces indicated on the piece.
OR
- move your time marker just ahead of the other player, taking 1 button from the bank for each space you advance.

Whenever you advance your time marker past certain spaces on the track, take the size-1 piece and place onto your board.
The first player to completely fill in a 7x7 area of their grid gets the bonus VP.

The game ends when both players reach the end of the score track. Score 1 point per button, and lose 2 per empty space on your board. Most (positive!) points wins!
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13. Board Game: Guess the Mess! [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:6519]
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It was the end of the day, with the dealer hall closing. We played a quick game of this while waiting for the R&R guys to clean up their booth, before heading out to "dinner". While waiting at the bar (the new Hilton seems pretty nice), five of us gave this a try. ("Dinner" because I was still stuffed from my chicken lunch! I wasn't even really hungry, but it was good company.)

There's a big, messy, pile of face down cards thrown in the center of the table. Each round, players are each dealt one location card. Then, before the timer runs out, use one hand to grab cards (one at a time) and either keep them in a pile in front of you, or throw them back. When the timer runs out, pass your pile to another player (determined randomly). Shuffle all the location cards, along with a random one, and flip than face up into numbered spaces. Players simultaneously look at the piles of cards, then make 3 guesses about which location that player was trying to describe -- ranked from most to least certain. In order, each player reveals their guesses; both the guesser and the player the pile belonged to get points if correct -- 3/2/1 if 1st/2nd/3rd guess was right. After x rounds (1/player?), the person with the most points wins.

The game is kind of fun, but I think the timer is too short: it can be difficult finding anything remotely connected to your location in the allotted time! The reveal phase can take a bit too long, too, as everyone goes through their 3 guesses. It's fun, especially when someone guesses correctly despite your weird oddball cards! But still, I like their other party games better.
 
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14. Board Game: Tichu [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:123]
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We had dinner at Rodizio (the worst Brazilian steakhouse ever! We had REALLY slow service). My "dinner", though, was just a couple of drinks and cheesy bread. Fortunately those were pretty good! But wow, the service was just terrible! When the guy with the 3 little chicken hearts on a skewer came by, we basically laughed him away! Most of the early meats came by with little portions on the skewer, after (apparently) they'd visited every other table! And several times they seemed to skip the table entirely! Eventually, though, the service picked up. Several of the staff were pretty entertaining, too. Like, for example, this guy:

At least they took half off our meals (but not my drinks!).

After dinner, we went back to the hotel to play a little Tichu. Sadly, Mary and Frank beat me and Vinnie. I blame the cards: I couldn't get a decent hand all night, and Vinnie's luck wasn't much better!
 
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15. Board Game: Mogul [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:3060]
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FRIDAY

I ran in to Michael and joined him and Mike for this game, in the Rio Grande area. New games, teachers floating around, what's not to like -- Rio always does a great job supporting the hobby here!

This is an old game, updated and reprinted. I'd never played the original version. This is the same game, I think, with two additions: the board (and depots on it), and maybe some change in how to sell stocks?

It's a very good little stock game! It plays quickly, has decisions throughout, and just a dash of luck -- not unexpected in a stock game -- in the order that cards come up and when the game ends! The auctions, with players passing the chips amongst themselves, is tense (especially if you lose track of how many chips each player is holding)! It feels a lot like No Thanks!, but with stocks and area majority (of sorts). The stock speculation bit -- should you sell now, or try to wait until your shares are worth more? will the game end before that last share shows up? will you even be able to win the chip auction when that key card comes up? -- keep you interested throughout. And all this in a quick, filler-length of game ... well done!

--- Rules Summary ---
Players each start with a bunch of bidding chips, their player markers (houses), and a set of stocks (5 colors) face up in front of them. The rest of the stocks are shuffled, with the game ender (stock crash) in the bottom few cards of the deck. On your turn, reveal the top stock from the deck. Everyone earns $1 for each of their shares of that color. Then auction the card: to stay in, toss a bidding chip into the pool; if you pass, take all the chips in the pool. The winner takes one of the following choices, then the last player to pass takes the other:
1. keep the share (add it to your display)
2. Each stock share is associated with a DIFFERENT color (indicated on the card). Either sell ALL your stock of that color, or place a house in an available space of that color on the board. If sold, shares are each worth $1 per share of that color in all players' displays. Mark $ on the score track.

The game ends immediately when the stock crash card is revealed. For final scoring:
- $1 per remaining share in your display
- $1 per 5 bidding chips
- each house on the board is worth as many $ as you have houses on that color line (i.e., for each of the 5 color lines, square the number of houses you have on the line).
The player with the most money wins!
 
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16. Board Game: Switching Tracks [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:6762]
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Michael and I headed off to the dealer room next -- still games to try there! We played this with the demo guy.

This is a cute, fairly straightforward pick-up-and-deliver. Like most of these, it's an efficiency game: figure out the best route (although here, it changes when new goods are drawn), upgrade your train as needed, race to fulfill the requirements fastest. It would be a decent introduction to the genre, actually, except that the switches -- the main hook of the game -- make it a bit difficult to see all your (many!) options. Also, having to use all your Switchmen at the start of your turn (vs. as you move your train) forces you to plan more, slowing the game down as you repeatedly try options out in your head. The piles of power cards, too, slow things down: there are a lot of them to look through!

--- Rules Summary ---
The board shows a map of the US, with several cities connected by tracks. Most track intersections have a switch tile on them, either crossing or 2 curves, placed randomly. The cities also get random types of goods (3 each), using the deck of goods tiles. There are also piles of 3-6 length contract cards, with several placed face up in display. Players each start the game with a train with 1 load capacity (shown on train tiles) and 2 speed (use d6 to indicate), and 1 Switchman tile.

On your turn, first you may use each of your Switchmen to rotate or flip one switch on the board. Then, move your train up to your max distance (one speed/link), picking up and dropping off goods as you go. Delivered goods are placed behind your screen. Then, you may complete one of the face up contracts by returning the appropriate goods to supply. Most of these also allow you to either take 1 (or 2?) extra Switchman tile, or search through a deck of special power cards, adding one to your display. There's a wide variety of powers, e.g., skip a city, substitute goods when fulfilling contract, store goods in a warehouse temporarily. At the end of your turn, any empty cities are replaced with a random set of goods; sometimes with black discs which, in the future, may be picked up and immediately placed behind your screen; they can also be used as wilds when fulfilling contracts.

The first player to complete 5 contracts (including a 3-, 4-, and 5-length one) wins immediately!

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17. Board Game: Colt Express [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:306]
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Michael and I went our separate ways after that game. I went back to Hall D, to the Asmodee area to find something. This has been getting a lot of buzz, at the very least for the great production and 3D trains. I joined 2 other people new to the game. We started going through the rules but fortunately one of the booth staff came by and went through them for us. Our explainer said there were 2 ways to play the order cards: all in one stack, or each player in their own area (like RoboRally). We played the latter (none of us wanted to add a memory element to the game) but several people later told me that the game is MUCH better with the former -- more chaos and fun.

Our game, playing the cards RoboRally style, was just OK. We still had some chaos thanks to the face up/down card plays, but we were each mostly able to do what we wanted. For me, that's good: I don't like chaos just for the sake of chaos. But the game just wasn't all that much fun! Playing cards to one stack would simply add a memory element to the game, which I think would just be annoying. I would much rather play RoboRally, with players planning simultaneously under time pressure and then seeing what happens.

Nice-looking components (although the train cars don't exactly lock together well and are easy to displace) but not much game here.

--- Rules Summary ---
The "board" is actually a 3D train with several cars, each with one space inside and another on top (on the roof). Players each play a different cowboy/girl bandit, with a unique power. Place your meeple in the train, along with the sheriff and a mix of random gem/money sacks worth $250-500 each. Each (of 4) round, players draw a random hand of 6 from their deck of programming cards.

In turn order, place an order face up or down (depends on the setup card drawn for this round, modified by any character-specific powers) into a stack -- four or five times depending on the round card. After all orders are placed, they are resolved in the order played. Orders include things like: moving forward within the train or going up/down to/from roof, punching (someone in the same car as you), shooting (into next car, or anywhere on roof), pick up loot, move the sheriff, etc. If you end up in the same car as the sheriff, he shoots you. Whenever you're hit, you add a damage card to your deck and drop one of your loot tokens.

After four rounds, the player with the highest total value loot wins!
 
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18. Board Game: Trambahn [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:1178]
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Back to the Mayfair area! I've been wanting to play this ever since first seeing it here: it's a train-themed game (yay!), by the designer of Poseidon, Russian Railroads, and a bunch of 18xx games, and is the only table in the free play area giving out an ore ribbon (for the Mayfair ribbon quest)! But it's always been in play ... until now! Sort of. Actually, one of the Mayfair demo guys was playing against someone, trying to learn the game ... bastard! So I sat and watched to learn the rules. Eventually, though, the customer guy had to leave so I took his spot and finished the game.

Calling this a "train game", it turns out, is a bit of a stretch. Yes, there are pictures of trains and passengers on the card, and the rules use terms like "station", "passenger", "train", and "tour". But those terms largely get in the way of learning the game! It's easier to think about playing cards (which come in 4 different colors of passenger) in rows or columns, with periodic scoring. Maybe I'll try to reapply the theme later....

This is a Lost Cities style game, but a bit more complicated and with a train theme. You are each playing cards from a shared deck, to your own personal display in columns, in ascending order. Turns are quick, with the main decisions being which cards to discard to rows (to trigger, or approach, scoring) and whether or not to purchase a train (or wait to buy a better one). The game overall is also quick, unlike LC where playing 3 rounds sometimes feels too long.

Unfortunately, the game seemed to lack the tension of Lost Cities or Battle Line (a much better 2-player card game!). With no risk of your opponent picking up your discards, it seemed as if you're almost playing a solo game just hoping to draw the right cards at the right time. The only real decision was related to your discards (cards played to the rows), since that triggers scoring. But that decision seems pretty obvious: preferentially discard to the color(s) you're ahead in, then to neutral color(s). There is more to think about if you could also play those cards to one of your columns, or if they're numbers are low enough to start a new column of that color (but only if you have enough money to buy a train this turn). But once you've got a mid-high number on top you easily discard unplayable cards. And playing multiple columns of the same color, in a game this quick, doesn't seem advisable.

I'd like to try this one again.

--- Rules Summary ---
Place the 4 "Endstation" cards between the players, with room for a row of cards next to each. The train deck is stacked with all 2s on top, then 3s, then 4s. Place the top 3 cards in a row next to the deck, everything face up. Shuffle the deck of passengers (each of which has a number -- 2 1s, 2 10s, 3 each 2-9; plus 8 jokers -- and a VP value 0-3), give player 1/2 12/15 in a face down money stack; each gets a hand of 6 cards.

Your Turn
In order:
1. You must play 1 or 2 cards to the passenger rows (matching color). If a row gets to 4 cards, both players score (see below), then you discard those 4 cards. The game ends after 10 such "regular" scorings.
2. You may play cards into your personal display, in columns. Each column must be all the same color, and played in ascending order (no duplicates); once the 10 is played to a column, it is locked; you may no longer add to it. The jokers may be played to any unlocked column. If you play the 8th card to a column, a "special" scoring occurs immediately: only you score (see below), without counting this against the 10-scoring game limit.
3. Add any cards you want to your money pile.
4. You may buy 1+ trains from the face up display, placing each above a different column of cards (max 1 train / column). The 2/3/4 trains each cost 5/10/15. Any columns without a train are then converted to your money pile!
5. Replenish your hand to a size of 6. If the draw deck runs out, both players immediately lose half their money (round down?); then shuffle the discards to create a new deck.

Scoring
A column scores VP = (train value) x (sum of passenger VP values). Do NOT discard your column cards. Record the VP on a score sheet.
 
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19. Board Game: Star Trek: Five-Year Mission [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:2283]
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Hillsborough
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The Mayfair area had one table where they were playing a prototype, apparently to be released soon (at GenCon?). The game could accommodate a player walking in at any time, and they were giving out any color ribbon -- so I joined. I almost walked away, though, when part way through the rules I realized that it's a cooperative game! But then I felt bad about having them go through the rules for me, and make some space for me; plus, it looked like it wouldn't take too long to finish ... so I decided to stick it out. Maybe I don't hate co-ops after all?

Nope, I do. This one has a good theme, at least (Star Trek), but like all co-ops it's more a puzzle than a game. Here you're just rolling dice and applying them to pretty obvious choices, many times to the only choice for which your rolls meet the requirements! The main player decisions are which color dice to choose, and even that isn't too challenging -- you go where the missions take you, choosing the colors of dice needed to work towards finishing the worst of them or to score necessary VP. Beyond choosing color, you roll the dice and do your best with them.

Eh, not for me.

--- Rules Summary ---
Players each get a character with a unique power. Each turn, reveal a mission card (green/yellow/red alert = easy/medium/hard); these have varying sets of requirements to complete (specific colors/numbers of dice), and may impose a penalty on the players until solved (e.g., no talking, take damage = roll fewer dice, finish before sand timer runs out or mission fails). There are a bunch of d6 in the pool, in different colors. Grab any combo of dice (up to the number specified by your character; usually 5) and roll. Apply your d6 as able to the various missions. Unused d6 remain on your board and must be part of your allotment next turn.

Missions are worth 0-2 VP; when completed, add them to the group's score pile. You win with 12 VP (or higher for a tougher game), or lose when there are too many incomplete missions in play.

 
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20. Board Game: Pingo Pingo [Average Rating:6.41 Overall Rank:4556]
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I went back to the iello booth and found Michael and his daughter. They had paid the $6 to join the iello league for the con and were playing there. I guess I should have too, just for all the freebies you get -- they have some good games, and if nothing else you could auction off the stuff you don't want. The gamer in me, though, is thinking that now I'm still paying $6 but not getting the full 5 days of benefit the early buyers got! Bah, should've done it! The water bottle itself is pretty nice (metal, bright yellow -- the best gamer color!) even though I never carry those things around.

This is a cute realtime game that plays with a soundtrack and a very cool suction cup dart gun! Each player has 8(?) lives. Place some target placards (penguin, bridge, etc.) around the room. Divide the cards equally between them, then start the music. On your turn, flip the top card of your pile into the center, and do what it says. There are a variety of possible tracks: first to slap a treasure card gets it, divide the pile amongst all players, run and touch some target placards, use the gun to shoot the bear, steal someone's treasure, etc. Some treasures have traps on them, and others are supposed to be available only in daytime or night (according to the music); errors result in losing a life point (if you lose your last one, you're out). The game ends at the end of the 15-minute soundtrack. You get points for your treasures (and remaining life?). Most points wins!

It is kind of frantic fun, although I think 10 minutes would've been better than 15.
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21. Board Game: Heroes of Normandie [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:725] [Average Rating:7.57 Unranked]
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Stephan finally showed up (working at his other job until last night)! He showed me the new stuff at iello (new games; the League thing they're trying here, which is going very well!), and some old games, few of which I have played. I finally checked my game log: I've only had one full day of gaming since the Gathering -- no wonder I can't get very many new games to the table! After our little chat, Michael and I gave this a try. Thanks, Stacy (?), for teaching the rules.

This is a pretty complex game! Fortunately, the production and design seem to be very good (possibly excepting the rule book?) so it should be relatively easy to learn. Relatively -- it's no M44! I'd like to try it again, although at first glance I think I might prefer Combat Commander and Conflict of Heroes for something slightly heavier but still in my reach, or M44 for a quickie? This reminds me more of a miniatures game, and I'm not really a fan of those (unless maybe they're very light, like Heroscape).

--- Summary ---
This is a scenario based game, with each one being set up differently with a unique set of units and/or objectives. There are different versions of infantry, armor, etc. After the initial set up, players assign their three order tokens, as well as a Bluff token, to four units. Then, starting with the player who has initiative that round, players each activate their number 1 unit, then number 2, then 3. Activating allows you to move and/or fire. As usual, you have to deal with line of sight and terrain modifiers as well as unit-specific factors. Fortunately, all that information is on both the board and the unit tiles themselves. Players also start the game with several cards in hand, which may be played during various phases of the game. They have a wide variety of effects, modifying the basic rules or giving you additional powers. You may use multiple cards if appropriate on the same turn. After the three activations, players are allowed to move all their remaining unordered units (no combat). Then, discard any cards you don't want and draw back up to your hand limit (4).

As units are killed, you allocate them to specific discard areas. Eventually, you will start to lose your command blocks, decreasing your ability to issue orders. There are also ways to get additional blocks -- if present on the board for that scenario.

You proceed this way until one player achieves the scenario objective and wins the game. Or, if you reach the end of the scenario (turn limit), the player with more kills wins? Or maybe it's defined in the scenario?

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22. Board Game: Elysium [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:316]
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After a great dinner at the new Indian place (Aab), and Jeni's ice cream desert (I got the same as 2 days ago, sans toppings -- YUM!), Mary and I went back to our hotel with Dan, to play Elysium -- both of them had wanted to try it. So we played the base game (again!). Dan _eventually_ figured out how the column payment thing works -- I think the nap through the rules explanation perked him up a bit!

Good game, but I'm still waiting to try those "advanced" gods.

--- Summary ---
At the start of the game, place 2-4 tiles (1/player) in the display. Players each get a random turn order tile. Choose 5 gods to play; shuffle all those cards to create a draw deck. Each player gets a pedestal board.

At the start of each (of 5) round, create an "agora" of 3n+1 cards. Players each get 4 column tokens (red, blue, green, yellow).

In turn order, take either a tile (if you have none already) or a card from the agora. To claim something, you must have an available column of the color(s) shown on the card. After claiming, discard any one of your available columns. After 4 turns, everyone must have claimed 1 tile and 3 cards. If you cannot claim a card (missing appropriate columns), take a face down "citizen" card from the draw deck. May not have multiple copies of exactly the same card in your domain. If you cannot claim a tile, claim one of the remaining tiles face down. All claimed cards go ABOVE your pedestal, in your "Domain".

During those turns, you may use card powers of cards in your Domain. These range from single-use to once/turn to always-on powers, and do a variety of things like give you money, earn VP, force players to discard cards, etc. -- each god has its own flavor of power.

After the 4 claims, adjust turn order based on the tiles taken. Then, in turn order, players may make transfers of cards from their domain to their Elysium -- the area below the pedestal -- up to the number of cards specified on the tile. Each transfer costs 1 gold per card number (1-3 total). In the Elysium, cards go in sets: either all the same color (god) but different numbers (1-3), or all the same number but different colors (5 in game). Once in a set ("legend"), they never move. Citizens are wild; pay 1-3 gold depending on what they are substituting for The first 2 complete sets of each god type earn the player(s) bonus VP chits (5/2 for 1st/2nd). For sets of 1s, 2s, and 3s, a different bonus chit goes to the player with the largest set (min size 2; keep token unless size of set is exceeded).

At the end of the game, all cards in the Domain are discarded, as are Elysium sets with only 1 card. Then, score VP according to type and size of set. Lose 2VP per citizen in your Elysium. The player with the highest sum of in-game and end-game VP wins!
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23. Board Game: Tales & Games: The Grasshopper & the Ant [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:4548]
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SATURDAY

After a nice breakfast at the hotel, I headed over to drop off the last of my virtual flea market sales. Then, off to do some gaming! I was about to get in on either Murano or Extra! Extra! -- both were available immediately after opening -- but Michael walked by with JamesM in tow! So instead, we looked for something lighter and newer (J had played Murano already); IELLO had a booth right next door and we settled in this one.

This is the lightest of the series, at least of the 3 I've played. And unfortunately, the basic game is not up to par -- the first two were much better. It's a guessing game, mixed with a some set-collection. There's a grid of tiles of 4 types. The ant player creates a contiguous path using 6 ant tokens. The other 2 players (a grasshopper, and a fire ant) try to guess which type of tile the ant player chose. If the grasshopper guesses correctly, he scores; otherwise, if the fire ant is right he scores; otherwise, the black ant scores. To score, count all tiles of the type chosen; advance that many spaces in the score track (max 4 spaces). The red ant draws off the top of the tile deck instead. Also save the tiles with bugs pictured. Then, refill the grid, and the roles rotate and you go again.

The game ends when any player gets two markers to the end of the score track. Score VP for each tile type (1/3/6/10 for advancing 1/2/3/4 spaces). Earn bonus VP for each type of bug collected, too (same progression). Most VP wins!

Very light, random, quick game. The advanced version is likely better?
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24. Board Game: Among the Stars [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:430] [Average Rating:7.18 Unranked]
Snooze Fest
United States
Hillsborough
North Carolina
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After that, we wandered through the Dealer Room. Slowly -- lots to see, and many people to chat with! Amongst the cool things here at Origins:
- Haba has a booth, finally! It's too small, but it's only their first time here. They really ought to have a big booth, especially for the weekend! And they should've brought their big box games!
- Kosmos is here! They also have a tiny little booth, and are only showing the new Ubongo (with simplified scoring - yay!), a cute stacking puzzle game (Dimension, and the new version of Barbarossa (Dohdles!).
- Academy Games: great games, that I never get to play
- Mayfair: back again with their ever popular Ribbon Quest
- IELLO: brand new league program that seems quite a success. It costs $6 (Mayfair's is free) but you get a very nice metal water bottle for joining, as well as a whole bunch of promo items as you play their games (including upgraded versions for doing specific things in-game). I almost wish I'd joined, although I don't really need all those things!
----------------

Well, I finally made it back to the Stronghold booth just in time to take an empty seat at the table. They were just playing a very basic version, which was OK to learn the rules but not really very exciting. It highlights drafting, which I already know about and might be the least interesting thing about 7 Wonders! This was just drafting with a space theme, and using the cards to build a tableau in the form of a spaceship instead of just having groups of colored cards. I think I might enjoy the game more than 7 Wonders, but their demo really wasn't very helpful to me. I guess I'll need to play this game for real some time ....
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25. Board Game: 20th Century Limited [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:4014]
Snooze Fest
United States
Hillsborough
North Carolina
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After lunch (more Hot Chicken Takeover!) I went back to the RGG game area. I'd played this game in its prototype version (April 2014) and wanted to try the final published version.

I don't think the game has changed much. It still feels like a slightly more advanced version of TransAmerica (simple track lays connecting cities) combined with Ticket to Ride (long connections to score big points). The removing-track-tile thing reminds me of Last Train to Wensleydale -- great little game with a similar theme: players are little guys, building little railroad companies and then selling them off to the large corporations. In Wensleydale, though, the track stays put -- it just changes color. It is a little weird, here, that tracks just pop right off the board!

There was just one other person free so I played it 2-player. This game took only 33 minutes: a nice, quick little filler though with a bit of meat on it (unlike the 2 hour game I played that first time, with all 4 newbies). The game is probably better with more than just 2 players, though. In our game I almost exclusively built company links (the ones that clear) while she only built the regional lines. With a wide open board, we were basically able to build how we saw fit. The tighter competition, both for track builds and demand tickets would make it more challenging. With two, I was able to push the pace of the game higher than she could (since I didn't need to waste turns reclaiming track sticks).

Good game, though probably better with more than just 2. The production is also good, except:
- the track sticks are a wee bit too big for the board (once you have a lot of sticks near each other, anyway).
- the diagonal banners for city names are weirdly distracting. They're also too small to read easily. I would prefer something more like TA, maybe (I don't remember having trouble seeing city names there)? Or maybe just a slightly bigger board?

--- Summary ---
Setup:
- Reveal 3 random bonus cards (each will be awarded to first player to meet condition on card).
- Shuffle the company cards, give 4/player, 4 on display face up; rest in deck. All show cities to connect by track, and VP value.
- Shuffle each deck of region cards 1-8 separately. Give each player 2 1s and 2 2s; each keeps one of each, discarding the other. These also show cities to connect by track.
- Each player gets _ cubes

Your Turn:
1. MUST: Either place 1-3 track sticks (your own color) ANYWHERE on the board, or pick up 1-3 of your track sticks.
2. MAY: Score either a regional or a company card, if you've connected all cities shown on card. May use other players' tracks (pay them 1 cube per stick used), but must use at least one of your own.
- Regional: draw 2 cards from the next highest region you've not had yet, keep one. Must be completed in order 1->8
- Company: remove all YOUR tracks used for that card from the board. Draw a replacement (from 4 face up, or deck)

Game End:
- End of round when any player has built 8 Regional or 8 Company cards.
- Score VP for:
... completed company cards
... 1/cube
... bonus cards earned
... number of regional cards completed (chart on board)
- Most VP wins! Tiebreaker = more company/regional cards
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