Origins 2017 Recap by Justin Gibbons
“How was your board game trip?” is a difficult question my non-gaming coworkers ask. I’m not quite sure how to describe Origins in a way that accurately captures the scope of what it is and what it means to me. “Basically, like being at Disneyland for board game fans,” is what I usually go with.
This was my second year attending Origins, so that makes me a professional now, I think. Right? I came locked and loaded like a Rusviet Mech, having learned a ton of lessons as a newbie last year (see my 2-part article about that on this website). I managed to get more gaming in this year, playing 29 games, with 28 being new plays to me!
Since there’s no way to share everything that your legendarily-verbose writer (that’s me) experienced, I thought I’d recap my time at Origins in a few different categories;
- What were the favorite games I played?
- What were the things I enjoyed about Origins this year?
- What areas in Origins need improvement?
My top 5 favorite games of Origins
1. The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire
This was hands-down my favorite game. I played a full event at the CMON booth and had an absolute blast (pun!). The Godfather has some simple resource management and Thug-placement, combined with territory control. It’s not hard to learn and the turns move faster than tommy gun spray. This is one of those games were epic moves happen that will leave you talking about the game well after you’ve finished. Case in point; we had one round that the instructor described as “the most carnage I’ve seen in a game.” Two car bombs and a drive-by… yes, actual cards that you can play in the game… left 11 figures floating in the Hudson river (that is literally where you place your figures when they “die”). There are several nice touches that complete the package; from the tin briefcase where you launder your money and jobs, to the horse-head first-player token. The theme drips out of every corner of the board.
2. Lorenzo Il Magnifico
Yet another full-event at the CMON booth. I love crunchy cube-pushing Euros, and this is an exceptional one. The shared dice mechanic that affects the strength of your workers creates tense competition for spaces. It seemed really complex at first, but once we got going, it was a breeze and offers a relatively concise play time compared to similar games. There are a variety of strategies to pursue, and the players at our table each started pursuing different paths toward victory. It was an insta-buy for me. Some people might be put off by its competitiveness- you can aggro-block if you’d like- but the group I played with stuck to their strategies and it was tight, but fair.
3. Rise of Tribes
A game that’s still on Kickstarter as of the date I’m writing this. What attracted me the most is that it has a dice mechanic I have not seen in another game, which you can see on their Kickstarter page. This dice mechanic ties players in a communal feel to a game that’s otherwise a competitive race. I also enjoyed that this game combines territory control, resource management, and civ building into a 45-minute package, with a lot of variety provided through the board setup and special leader powers. It may feel a little lite to some, and the endgame can ramp unexpectedly, but it’s worth checking out if you like any of those game types.
4. The Grimm Forest
Trust me, I’m not being paid to say this (am I, James Hudson? I mean, I wouldn’t say no…). The Grimm Forest’s fairy-tale theming is excellent, creating a whimsically loose vibe to what is a mechanically-straightforward deduction and bluffing resource-grab. You use your resources to build 3D miniature houses, and the first player to complete 3 houses triggers the game end. The fun factor comes through the highly interactive Fable and Friend cards which unveil some great “take that” moments, that are never-too-mean and amp the competition. In fact, I preferred this game hands-down to another "race-to-complete- X-objectives" game that was wildly popular *cough*CenturySpiceRoad*cough* simply because of the player interaction and fun factor. The surprises kept coming with each card that flipped, and I’m eager to see even more, as quite a few cards were not seen by game’s end.
5. Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time
A cooperative game featuring a steampunk theme set in a mysterious mansion. You play as a group of adventurers who are trying to nab treasures in the mansion before the unseen Professor Evil steals them from you. If he grabs 4, game over. We played it on easy mode and grabbed our 4 treasures before Professor Evil had even grabbed one. So, I do wonder about the challenge it might offer on repeated plays. I do think we got lucky a few times and made some crucial decisions just before things could have turned south. On first play I’d say it’s more challenging than the Forbidden Island/Desert games but less so than Pandemic. The theme and fun-factor left a lasting impression, and I’m interested in seeing the final release.
The Adrenaline 6 player expansion- offers team 2v2v2 & 3v3 team play (which creates some seriously wild weapon combo actions) and unique player powers and weapons so that every figure is totally different!
Gekido Bot Battles- the “better” King of Tokyo. The gameplay is fast and action packed, and the bots are gorgeous and truly unique.
Unearth- I was wondering how fun this dice-placement game could be, but it offered some interesting choices, AND it even offers strategy for people who are notoriously poor dice rollers like me!
Founders of Gloomhaven- I was lucky enough to play the prototype of this super thinky city-building game featuring asymmetric races found in Gloomhaven. It’s nothing like its predecessor, but Isaac Childres, who taught the game, does not disappoint in his design. Look for it on Kickstarter soon.
What else did I enjoy about Origins 2017?
Since this was my second year attending, I knew what to expect for the most part. But a few things stood out as highlights outside of the games I played;
Man vs Meeple host the Origins Awards- Last year there was not a host like this, and the awards were fairly dry. This year the guys from Man vs Meeple created a lighthearted atmosphere that really elevated the awards and had us pondering “what does it mean to be a gamer?” Check out the video they produced for the awards here.
Last year I spent a total of zero minutes in CMON’s booth. This year was different. CMON has done a fantastic job at expanding the types of games they offer and suddenly they have become one of my game-company besties. While you saw plenty of their “dudes on a map” games, the majority of what took up their table space were things like The Godfather, Ethnos, Potion Explosion, Bloodborne the Card Game, Lorenzo Il Magnifico, Unfair, and Gekido Bot Battles. That’s quite a diverse list that kept me coming back over and over (Jim Goff- you know you enjoyed my daily visits!)
Eagle Gryphon flies in Vital Lacerda- The EGG insta-classic Lisboa, by Vital Lacerda, was demoed at Origins. So who better to teach such an epic and complex masterpiece than the designer himself?! EGG flew in Vital, who hung around the EGG booth all week teach people his newest. As a Kickstarter backer, I was able to pick up my copy at Origins, and Vital signed it himself!
Expanded Gaming in the Exhibition Hall- The one thing that I repeatedly hear that separates Origins from the other major Cons is how much gaming happens. I played on average 7 games per day at Origins, which is quite a feat considering time to learn rules, get meals, and handle other things like math trades. There is a veritable sea of gaming in the Game Hall, but the Exhibition hall seemed to have more room for gaming as well this year. IELLO had an Exhibition gaming area that rivaled what they offered in the Game Hall. And if you were looking for some of the unreleased hot games, they were often found in the Exhibition Hall too.
Crowd Control- Origins offers the perfect mix of large-Con with spacious gaming and light crowds. There was record attendance this year, with over 17,000 individual badges scanned, yet it still feels like you have wide open spaces, whether navigating the Exhibition hall, or finding a demo to try in the Game Hall. I hope Origins continues their magical way of offering the HUGE excitement in gaming with small crowds.
Where can Origins improve?
Theme - The theme of Origins this year was “Dragons.” Yet I only spotted one dragon in the entire convention center; a creature made up of dozens of balloons tied together. Last year the Robot theme saw many more humongous Mechs and Robot statues dotting the game halls… but this year, the Dragons were more like Dra-gone. Why have a theme if it’s not present?
Event Registration- one of the universal complaints about Origins is the web presence. The website for the Con does look like it’s from the Geocities-era of web design, and when the event registration goes “online,” you feel like someone just took down Skynet. It completely froze up this year, leaving event registrants to hit refresh for extended periods of time. It took me over 2 hours to squeak in with a glitchy event registration that then had to be sorted out with admins later. My advice? Next year, take a day off work so you can sit at home and prepare for some screen-staring, refresh-mashing Olympics.
Maps of the Hotel- there was no map of the entire hotel in the program. There was no clear map of the entire convention center either. Sure, you get a very nice spread of the Exhibition Hall and the Game Hall so that you can locate your booths. But if you have some special events outside of those areas, you will have better luck just asking a Convention Center worker. There were some maps to different rooms sprinkled across different pages in small picture boxes, and there were some helpful maps in the Event guide, but why not put all maps of all rooms being used throughout the week in one spot in the main Program guide?
I had another fantastic year at Origins and would certainly come back time and again. If you want a gaming convention where you play games all day and try some of the unreleased hotness, this is a great convention to attend. I played 15 that haven’t yet been released or made their debut at Origins. And there is truly something for everyone.
And a Note of Thanks
On one final note, I cannot go without saying a special thanks to some people. This was a bittersweet Origins for personal reasons, as the friend I was supposed to attend with was dealing with a difficult loss at home. Yet, there were some folks who moved toward my friend and I in a special way. So, to Brandon Nall and Josh Silva of Brawling Brothers Boardgame Podcast, Jeremy Salinas, David Waybright, and Gary Chumbley, of Man vs Meeple, and Tom Vasel and Sam Healey of the Dice Tower...thank you. You guys all showed that the board gaming hobby is special because it extends beyond the cardboard, cards, and cubes. We all love gaming because it draws people into personal connection with one another, and you showed your care for the folks that sit at the table alongside you.