Origins '15
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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Origins felt depressing this year, mainly because turnout was way down. I don't have any statistical evidence for that, but every other year I've attended, there have been long lines at the food court at prime times. This year, I didn't have to wait at all. Looney Labs didn't come, and Fantasy Flight has been missing for a couple of years. Presumably a lot of people didn't come because school was still in session in most places. It is hard to see how a convention that has put so much effort into making itself family friendly (and done a good job, I thought) would make this mistake. I read the explanation, but it appears that they did not consult with enough (any?) people outside their organization to realize what a disaster would be. I hope next year, which is a week later, will be better.

The decline of wargames at Origins didn't need a special reason, as it has been going on for a decade. There have been no tournaments for a while, but I still like having the companies there to look at their products and talk with the designers. This year, I missed Columbia Games (admittedly, they often have a small booth that is easy to miss), L2, MMP, GMT, and Against The Odds, all of which have been there recently. I didn't see any wargaming companies to speak of except for Decision Games, and they were mostly selling Rio Grande items.

On the positive side, there was still a ton of games that I had never seen, and it is easier than ever to get in a game. (This is where not having tournaments is an advantage: if you just want to play lots of new games, demos are much better.) I spent less time learning games than I usually would because both my kids were there (also a great blessing -- I've been dreaming of this for a long time), but I still managed to play 2 dozen new games and learn about several more. I knew I missed many, but I didn't realize how many until I saw Eric Martin's preview list. Oh well, more for another day!
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1. Board Game: Commissioned [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:1855]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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A co-operative game about spreading the Gospel from Jerusalem to the rest of the Roman world. On a turn, you suffer a "Trial" that does something bad, then all players silently "pray" (choose a card from their hand and place it face down). The "elder," which rotates each turn, chooses which two of the cards to play. He can consult with the other apostles unless he rolls a 3 or less on an 8-sided die. Actions consist of moving some combination of apostles, missionaries, and church members to an adjacent church; or making a "mission move" to a city without a church; or playing a card as a section of the New Testament. A church grows in a town if there are three or more pieces there, but Trials can prevent growth in a town or movement out of it. After three turns, you use your leftover cards to acquire new faith (cards from decks numbered 1-4 in ascending value). You win if you can spread churches into all cities on the map and collect all books of the New Testament before the Trials deck ends. This is a clever game with beautiful graphics and nice mechanisms to overcome the problem of one player dominating a co-operative game. It also has multiple scenarios and different levbels of difficulty. Thumbs up.
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2. Board Game: Monster Factory [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:3683]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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This game by Donald Vaccarino is a simple variation on Carcassonne. Instead of building cities and roads, you are building monsters' body parts and limbs. Each player has his own monster, but you can play your tile on anyone. This leads to some funny monsters, but the game suffers from the same problem that Carcassonne does: the main strategy is to keep your opponents from completing their monsters. Probably a great game for kids under 10 in a family setting (where people will not work hard to stop them from finishing their monsters).
 
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3. Board Game: Mogul [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:2390]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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A game by Michael Schacht, whose designs I usually like because of their minimalist approach. This game is no exception. As shares of stock are turned over, players bid either to own the share or to do the activity on the card, which is either (a) place a station on the given rail line (not the same as the share of stock), or (b) sell shares of that rail line. According to the rules, this game first appeared in 2002 and introduced the bidding mechanic that is now well-known through No Thanks and Lascaux. The most interesting thing about this game is that each stock is worth 1 victory point for every share in the game. Thus, when a player sells shares, the value of the stock plummets. You only have so many opportunities to sell a stock, because the right card has to come up and you have to win the bid for it. I had fun playing, but I'm afraid the game would come down to one person having to outbid a player for a crucial share of stock to keep him from winning (see also 49).
 
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4. Board Game: Dominion: Adventures [Average Rating:8.20 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.20 Unranked]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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I spent a lot of time playing this because my kids love it. They are also better at it than I am, which means I lost a lot.
 
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5. Board Game: Rococo [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:196]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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A game about making dresses. I have to admit that the theme did not appeal to me at all, but the game is quite interesting. It is a unique combination of worker placement and deck-building (sort of). The different scoring options seemed obscure at first, but I understood what was going on pretty well after a few turns. Thumbs up.
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6. Board Game: Parfum [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:2122]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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A game about making perfumes. Notice a trend? The player currently last in victory points picks his place in the turn order first, which is a nice feature. The player going first gets fewer actions to balance out the fact that he has more options. The heart of the game is selecting different coloured dice to roll to try to make various scents that are available. You can also choose a water token, which allows you to re-roll dice, so the luck factor isn't overwhelming; it's more a question of how efficiently you use your actions. The water tokens are also worth 0-3 vp at the end of the game, so you have to consider what you're giving up when you choose to re-roll. The game's outcome will obviously depend in part on how lucky your dice are and whether you choose the right water tokens worth more victory points, but I felt that this uncertainty added to the game rather than dominated it. Then again, I don't care for 1830 or Agricola, so your mileage may vary.
 
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7. Board Game: Nations: The Dice Game [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:715]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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Two people told me they played "Nations" at Origins, but, when I mentioned the war mechanic, they had never heard of it. That's because the game box for the dice game prints "Nations" in large print and "The Dice Game" in smaller white print, making it difficult to tell that this is a variant of the original game. My friends and I have taken to calling it Nations the dice game. It keeps to the overall mechanics and feel of the base game more than most dice games do, and it plays pretty quickly. It feels like luck plays an exceptionally large roll, but mainly because there are fewer rounds and fewer things to buy coming out; it's easy not to have any good options. The dice play a factor, too. I am looking forward to trying it again to get a better feel for it.
 
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8. Board Game: Trains [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:377] [Average Rating:7.22 Unranked]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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This is one game that I was looking forward to, as I had heard several people describe it as their favourite deck-building game. The principles are familiar, with the addition that some cards allow you to lay track or build stations on the map. These are the main ways to get victory points; however, each time you build, you add "waste" cards into your deck that just take up space. Some cards allow you to remove them, or you can spend a turn and trash all waste cards in your hand. I'm not a big train gamer, nor did I feel that it was especially thematic. I liked the fact that you have to deal with waste cards accumulating.
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9. Board Game: Renaissance Wars [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:8226]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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In my previous life, I was a Renaissance historian, so I was immediately attracted to this game. It has beautiful components and gushes with theme. The main mechanic is trick-taking, which could be interesting if done the right way. Instead, you get a random set of cards that you basically have no control over. Imagine bridge without the bidding.
 
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10. Board Game: Tentacle Bento [Average Rating:5.47 Overall Rank:13891]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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What a bizarre concept for a game. The players are monsters trying to abduct (and presumably devour) buxom Japanese school girls. The game is a variation on rummy, but the raison d'etre for the game is clearly the anime of teenaged girls in miniskirts. The four suits in the game are Smart, Cute, Sporty, and Sexy. To capture a girl, you have to play her, a location, and an event, almost all of which lead to sexual innuendo (especially if you read the flavour text).
 
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11. Board Game: Karate Fight [Average Rating:5.25 Overall Rank:13800]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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The artwork in this game is nearly as provocative as that in Tentacle Bento, but the game is more interesting. It is basically slapjack, except that there are various card combinations that can also be slapped (two of the same defense card in a row, three of the same attack, or all four offenses or defenses played consecutively). It keeps you on your toes. You can also win cards by playing an attack that your opponent doesn't counter, or by flipping over a card that makes you play rock-paper-scissors with your opponent. My kids and I like real-time games, and this was an interesting variation.
 
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12. Board Game: Hogger Logger [Average Rating:5.65 Overall Rank:12823]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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This is a game about guessing whether the next card from the deck will be higher ("hogger") or lower ("logger") than the face-up card. If there is anything interesting about it, I didn't see it. The designer was a little too assertive in trying to get a sale.
 
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13. Board Game: The Spoils [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:2950] [Average Rating:6.92 Unranked]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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A ten-year-old CCG that the new owner, Arcane Tinmen, is trying to revive. The game was obviously created as an attempt to fix some of Magic's issues, and I think it is largely successful. You can either draw a card or play a "resource" (like a land) on your turn, and you can play any card face down as a factionaless resource (i.e., a colourless land). I bought a base set because it was only $20 and it seemed like it could be fun. The worst thing about this game is the awful theming. Resources represent traits like greed and obsession, and the artwork is often violent or sexual. (One event, for example, is "Drive By Boobing," which is exactly what it sounds like.) It doesn't bother me in a moral sense, I just find it hard to get interested in the dark humour, and the art isn't nearly as engaging as what one finds on Magic cards.
 
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14. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2246]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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Jack Attack is not actually unpublished, or at least it seemed to be in final form, but I don't see it here. It is another trick-taking game without much of a point. It uses a standard deck of cards with four one's (not the same as aces) and four jokers, two high and two low. This is obviously inspired by the card game Wizard. Unlike Wizard, however, there is no bidding; you simply gain one point for every Jack you take, and lose when you get to ten points. You can get -4 if you take all four jacks. I just didn't see what this game added to hearts or spades, as the four jokers seemed to introduce more randomness.
 
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15. Board Game: Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:860]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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I don't like many race games, but this one is a lot of fun. Your spaceship generally moves toward whichever other ship is closest to it when you move, which means you spend a lot of time moving backwards. There are also cards that move you away from the closest object (essential to winning!) and others that move everything toward you. You draft a hand of 6 cards from sets of 2 cards laid out, one face-down and one face-up, so you know one of the cards but not the other. All players play one card face-down simultaneously, and move in alphabetical order. (The cards are labelled with chemical element abbreviations.) The faster the card, the later it tends to move, making it more difficult to know if you will be going forward or backward. There is a fair amount of luck since you are guessing what other players will put down, but the good thing is that those who are behind catch up easily, meaning no one is ever out of the race. Thumbs up.
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16. Board Game: Seven7s [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:4010]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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I have always had a fancy for small and short games, so the new offerings from Eagle-Gryphon and AEG were welcome. This one has seven suits of cards numbered one to seven. You play them in the appropriate column and you get to do a little manipulation. The game ends when one column has seven cards in it, at which time you score the three cards left in your hand. The interesting thing is that one suit causes the highest value card not to score; if there is one in play, 7's count for nothing, with 2 6's are also out, and so forth. It's not my kind of game, but it seemed intriguing.
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17. Board Game: Eggs and Empires [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:2020]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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This game disappointed me on two counts: first, it has nothing to do with empires (to my way of thinking); second, it is no fun. Each player has the same set of cards numbered 1-10, of course with special powers, and secretly chooses one to compete for the eggs in play that round. Egg values vary from -12 to positive 15. The fact that one card allows you to give a negative card to another player makes this into a diplomatic game (or a whining one: "But he's winning!). The fact that the player who won our game did it by drawing the 15 really made it seem random. He ended up with a score of 31, whereas he would have had just 4 if he had drawn the -12, which was equally likely. Do people like games decided by drawing cards randomly? I don't understand it.
 
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18. Board Game: King's Kilt [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:7581]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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This game, with a feeble name, was intriguing. You support 3 Scottish clans vying for the throne. To play, you move cards higher on a pyramid (which starts with a base of 6 and nothing else) and back-fill cards into the empty spaces. You have four cards that you can use to assassinate adjacent clans, but you don't get more cards during the game. I had never seen the game mechanism before, and I was intrigued enough to want to play again.
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19. Board Game: 12 Days of Christmas [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:7707]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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This game, on the other hand, is a retread of The Great Dalmuti and earlier card games that go by various names, including Capitalism and Feudalism. Beautiful artwork. I didn't get to play because one of my opponents flipped out when she couldn't play one round, but I can't imagine it's much different than the others.
 
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20. Board Game: Lost Legacy [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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A new game by the designer of Love Letter, based on the same idea of a 16-card deck and a one-card hand. The goal is either to eliminate your opponents or, when the deck runs out, to know where the "Lost Legacy" card is (in a player's hand or in the "ruins," a face-down pile). One interesting feature is that there are four versions of this game, with the same rules and the same numbers on the cards, but somewhat different powers. You can also mix the sets by substituting a card from one set in place of a card with the same number in a different set. I haven't played it enough to have an opinion, but I did by 3 sets.
 
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21. Board Game: Cypher [Average Rating:6.01 Overall Rank:4445]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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Different designer, same principle of a 16-card deck. In this one, the object is to have the most points in front of you when the game ends. The interesting mechanic is that, in addition to playing a card and drawing a card, you pass one card each to the players on your right and your left. I like the idea, but again haven't played enough to feel strongly abou tit.
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22. Board Game: Cheaty Mages! [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:2159]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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This game is like Titan: The Arena, but fun. It works on the same principle of betting on which monster will survive a fight, but all bets are secret, and all cards are played in a single round after which the strongest monster wins. It doesn't seem to be too deep, but feels like a nice light game.
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23. Board Game: Bottom of the 9th [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:1306]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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How can you make a sports game shorter than the sport it simulates? Limit it to the last part of the game -- the last half-inning, in this case. The premise is that the home team is hopelessly outmanned by the visitors, but has one chance to win; if it goes into extra innings, they will surely lose. The limited scope allows the designer to make each pitch into a turn of its own. The pitcher secretly selects the location of his pitch (high or low, inside or away) and the batter guesses where it will go. For each one the batter guesses right, he gets a special ability; for each one he is wrong, the pitcher gets an ability. The players then roll for the result of the pitch and apply their abilities. There is no such thing as a pop fly, and only certain batters can try to advance the runners by sacricing. Nevertheless, I thought this was a neat game that fits comfortably into its 15-minute time frame. I might have bought it had it not been still in production (like many of the games on this list).
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24. Board Game: Tiny Epic Kingdoms [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:988]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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I had had my eye on this one for a long time, so I was excited to see it there. It seems to have some great mechanisms, but the combat system is a blind bid, and I hate blind bids. After thinking it over for a day, I eventually bought it anyway on the grounds that it would at least make a good two-player game. I did try it with three and found it intriguing, but there is also nothing to limit arbitrary conflict (my name for the general multiplayer problem of "I can attack you or you; both attacks seem about equally likely to succeed and help me in identical ways; therefore, I will make an arbitrary choice").
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25. Board Game: Krosmaster: Arena [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:942] [Average Rating:6.89 Unranked]
Derek Croxton
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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The area with this game had people in it almost constantly, and I liked the 3-dimensional landscape, so I had to try. We only got the super-basic rules, which meant it was pretty much about dice-rolling. It could be interesting, but the theme doesn't do anything for me, so I didn't pursue it.
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