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A Hitchhikers Guide to Origins: Part I by Justin Gibbons

Ten Tips for Origins N00bs

Last year, I decided that I’d had enough of living in the doldrums of poor gaming habits and bad decisions. I made the life-changing decision to enroll myself in… a board game convention! One can only take so many “loot haul” posts before you must take drastic action!

Origins (originsgamefair.com) seemed to be the perfect mix of YUGE CON with a manageable feel. It’s the second-largest board gaming convention in the U.S. but the crowds aren’t suffocating and the gaming is spacious.  The big companies, demos, and debuts are there, but people aren’t all up in my invisible player screen.  When I arrived, I was promptly blown away.  But boy, was it a learning curve.

Now that convention season is upon us, I know there are many gamers out there heading to Origins for the first time in a couple weeks. In this 2-part series, I want to pass on the tips I learned, as well as my ideas FOR YOUR FIRST ORIGINS, as well as point out LOOT ALERTs when you can potentially get free games or swag.  In Part 1, I’ll share 5 tips related to getting to Origins, and in Part 2 I will share 5 more tips to help you navigate Origins once you arrive.

Without further ado, I give you my top 10 tips for Origins N00bs! 

PART 1- Getting to Origins

1. Registering for Events and Tokens - Maximizing your Generics

When you’re completing your online registration, you are prompted to register for Events.  And you’ll see something about purchasing Tokens.  Events are scheduled times to play games at the various booths.  To participate in an Event, you must pre-purchase a ticket for it, which you receive when you go through on-site registration. 

Alternatively, you don’t have to pre-register and can instead buy what are called “Generic Tokens” (or Generics, for short… use this word to gain gamer-cred) once you arrive at on-site registration.  Generics are Origins way of saying “a token counting as ticket-entry to playing one of the listed Events.”

Events cost either 1 or 2 Generics, which you hand over when you sit down at the start of the game.  Generics cost $2 a piece, so each Event is essentially $2-$4. The upside of Generics is that they can be used anywhere for any Event… as long as there are seats available.  The downside is that many Events are already sold out, and you can only get into those if there’s a no-show. 

FOR YOUR FIRST ORIGINS- I’d suggest getting maybe $10 worth (5 Tokens) of Generics once you arrive.  Here’s how you can use them.  On your first day, make a pass around the main Game Hall and note any games that you might want to play (I’ll discuss the Game Hall in a later tip). Look in your Event Guide that you receive at registration to note some times you might want to try those games.  Then, show up around 10 minutes before the game starts.  Ask the worker if there are any openings.  If they say no, you can move on with your day, or you can wait around to see if there’s a no-show.  If so, you may be lucky enough to grab a seat.  Sometimes the worker can clue you in on unfilled slots and suggest a time to come back. 

Two more notes about Generics.  First, there are other events you can use them for besides games.  I’ll mention one later.  Second, you can get a refund for any unused generics!  Before you leave the convention, swing by where you registered and you can turn in unused generics for a full refund!

2. Registering for Ribbons - The Board Room

When you register for Origins, you may have noticed something about Ribbons.  Ribbons are simply Origins way of saying “passes to a certain area of the convention.”  Certain companies, like Mayfair, want you to buy separate Ribbons to enter their special room and play.

FOR YOUR FIRST ORIGINSget just one Ribbon… The Board Room Ribbon.  For $20, the Board Room Ribbon gives you the best bang for your buck.  First, it’s hosted by the Columbus Area Board Gaming Society which has a library of over 1,000 games to check out (you can see the list at http://www.buckeyeboardgamers.org/library)! There is guaranteed to be a game you want to try there.  Second, it’s located in the main Game Hall.  You don’t have to walk to a separate part of the convention to get to it.  It is roped off, so you must have your Ribbon on-Meeple to get in. 

Let’s say you find a game that you want to play but don’t want to spend all day reading rules.  Or maybe you need to find a few more players to add to the game.  They have a simple system for finding gamers.  Once you’ve checked out your game from the library, grab one of the nearby orange cones, place it on your table, and hang the box lid on it.  This signals to people “we are playing this game and looking for players!” Often, people who love the game sit down and say, “do you know how to play? I can teach!”  It worked for us every. single. time. 

LOOT ALERT: There are free game giveaways multiple times each day.  As you’re playing games volunteers will come buy and drop off raffle tickets for you. And each day they’ll announce winners of raffle tickets.  If you win, you come to the front and there will be games that you can claim for free.  But what if you’re not there when the ticket is called?  No problem.  At night, they tape the winning tickets to the top of a game box that they’re giving away.  Check the giveaways each day to see if your ticket was called for any of the games.  If so, just present your matching ticket to a volunteer and you’re on your way with your shiny free game, wondering how you’re going to fit it all into your luggage. Last year, I came home with 3 games I won in the Board Room.

3. Packing Tips - Gaming in comfort

Three quick tips for having lasting comfort while you game the day away at Origins.

  • First, bring a sweatshirt or light coat.  The air conditioning runs full-blast in the main Game Hall and you may start to wonder if they’re going to eventually do life-size IceCool.  It’s the summer, so many people come in their shorts and t-shirts.  Last year I had to stop on the way to the convention center one day and buy a hoodie because I was shivering as I played.

  • Second, bring some comfortable shoes for walking.  The convention center is large and you may be trafficking some decent distances especially if you’re going to some other events in the hotel complex, or eating outside the convention center.  Your legs may hurt by the end of the day.  Bring some comfy shoes to keep those bunions from blistering.
  • Lastly, bring a tablecloth for the board room.  The board room is notorious for having old, splintery, wooden tables which are deadly to the hands. If you don’t want to look like you spent the day patting Hellraiser on the head, then you may want something soft to cover the table.  Long sleeves can help.  A tablecloth will make everyone want to game with you.

DO NOT PACK- Board games! You will not get around to playing the games you brought. There is plenty at Origins to play.  And if you’ve bought the Board Room Ribbon, any game you want to bring is probably in there.  Save the luggage space for all the stuff you’ll end up bringing home!

4. Eating and Parking on the cheap

  • The cost of Origins can stack up quickly.  You’ve got the registration fee and maybe some Ribbons.  Then you add Event tokens.  Then you start shopping in the Exhibition Hall.  Then you want the T-shirt.  Next thing you know, you start cancelling all the CMON Kickstarters you have going because you’ve already blown your budget.  But you still need to eat and park at the convention if you drove, which bring more costs. So how can you tackle these things to save your cash for games? Here’s a few tips.
  • First, parking.  Know that not all parking decks are the same price.  In fact, some of the further-out decks cost more than the ones right next to the convention center. If you park at the first deck you see, you may end up paying more than you need to.  Some try to find street parking, which vanishes rapidly (except Sunday.  I noted that Sunday morning it was easy to find a spot down the street for free).  But there is a parking lot right behind the Convention Center which had some of the cheapest prices I saw. Also, carpooling can be a great way to cut down on cost.  If you go with friends, load into one car and rotate who pays each day.

  • Second, food.  There is a food court in the convention center that has reasonable prices, and this is probably what most people prefer.  There are also many restaurants in downtown Columbus that are reasonable.  But my solution?  Pack a lunch.  My buddy Glen and I packed lunches into small coolers and left them in the car in the parking lot (the convention doesn’t want you to bring in your own food and drink).  Then at lunchtime we went to the parking lot and sat in the car and had a daily “car picnic.” It gave us a chance to digest the days’ activities while we digested our food.  And call the spouses and thank them profusely for handling the screaming kids while we played games all day. The money we spent on groceries to make some simple sandwich lunches was much less than it would have cost to eat out for every meal. And we saved time to get back to gaming faster.

FOR YOUR FIRST ORIGINS- Plan on eating an early dinner each day.  The restaurants downtown operate on the business-district schedule, which means they don’t have great weekend hours.  Many restaurants close by 7pm.  You could very well end up walking around and having a hard time finding something open if you aren’t careful with your eating times (this may or may not have happened to us… while it was raining). Also, check out the North Market.  This is a hotspot for attendees, and the reason why many board game reviewers say Origins has the best food of any Con.  You’ll find food from around the world there, and there’s something for any mood you’re in.

LOOT ALERT- Barley’s is a pub across the street from the convention center, and they historically offer a free annual Origins pint glass with a coupon in the coupon book.  We didn’t head there last year, but heard several people bring this up.

5. Get there on Wednesday if you can! But keep your expectations in check.

Origins starts on a Wednesday and ends on a Sunday, with the largest crowds on Friday and Saturday.  But, there are some perks if you’re able to get there before the weekend rush. The earlier you can get to registration, the better. But be prepared for very, very long lines at registration.

One of the biggest bonuses of arriving on Wednesday…The coupon book.  These things are like slices of fried gold come Thursday morning.  I’ll share more on this in Part 2, because it deserves its own mention.

You need to have a different set of expectations for Wednesday.  You may notice that things feel… under construction.  That’s because they are!  Wednesday was originally not a day that’s part of the convention, but so many people were arriving to start gaming before the Thursday kickoff that it became an actual day of the con.  Just know that many game companies will still be setting up their booths and gaming areas. Some may be up and running Wednesday morning, some not until the afternoon, and some won’t even bother opening until the next day (Mayfair, I’m looking at you.) Also, the Exhibit Hall, where all things gaming-related are sold, will not be open until Thursday as well. 

A final note about Wednesday.  While it’s a great day to get some quieter gaming in as the crowds are lightest, it is also the perfect day to meet some of your favorite gaming celebrities.  They are setting up and aren’t too slammed at this point, so this is the perfect time to walk up and say “hi” to a few.  Some of the folks I got to meet (like the Dice Tower guys, or Lincoln from Game Night!) were very open to talking for a few minutes or pausing for a photo op!

Conclusion

So that’s it for Part 1!  Hopefully these will help you prepare you for arrival and give you expectations to help you craft a solid schedule.  In Part 2 we will discuss some tips that will help you navigate Origins once you arrive.  Stay tuned!