The Cardboard Hoard: Origins 2018 Recap
My usual convention travelogue style is to review my experience in a very detailed chronological manner, but I switched things up a bit with this one and separated out some of the new, notable games I played into their own posts -- with Initial Thoughts posts on Starship Samurai, Wreck Raiders, Overlight, and Vast: The Mysterious Manor -- so I could go into greater detail on each of them. Here I’ll give a broader overview of my time at Origins 2018, with some thoughts on my overall convention experience.
I flew into Columbus on Wednesday, getting to the Hyatt attached to the convention center shortly after noon. Wednesday is a strange day for Origins -- while the convention has officially started, it’s really the calm before Thursday’s storm. With the vendor hall not open until Thursday morning, on Wednesday there is no buzz from publishers, no sales of whatever the new hotness is this year, and no whispers of which demos are exciting or dreadful.
I spent most of Wednesday in the open gaming room, playing games with a number of friends I usually only get to see at conventions. This, of course, was only after I found the opening gaming room, which was hidden far off the beaten path in D283, with neither a sign on the door or a banner nearby to mark it. The entire room probably had seating for 100-120 people, so in some ways it was good that it was hidden -- it simply couldn’t accommodate being a centralized meeting spot. On a positive note, it was good to see there was an open gaming room this year, and it did have very nice tables, both rectangular and circular, with clean white tablecloths.
Over the course of the day, I taught others Yspahan, Prowler’s Passage, and Crystal Clans, and learned Glory to Rome, Ganz schon clever, and Dice Forge. But my highlight of Wednesday in the open gaming room was Isaac Vega joining us to teach a group of us Starship Samurai. My detailed thoughts on the game are here, but I want to say here that Isaac was an absolute pleasure to meet and hang out with.
This year, they moved the vendor hall from Hall A, which is on one side of the convention center, to Hall B, which is in the middle of the convention center between Hall A and Hall C. This created a lot more foot traffic in the vendor hall, which I’m sure was the intention, but also broke up the gaming and demoing areas into two different areas in Hall A and Hall C. In general, it seemed the vendors liked the change and the people looking for open gaming space liked it less. But since the open gaming area was not in Hall A or Hall C, as those areas were being used to ticketed demos and tournaments, I think it worked out fairly well. In the future, though, I would like to see a larger, more clearly labeled open gaming area.
Thursday morning the vendor hall opened. The first thing I noticed was there were very few games with major releases at this year’s Origins. Deep Water Games had limited copies of Welcome To… at their booth, which caused some booth charging, and Emerson Matsuuchi had two hot releases at the Plan B booth -- Century: Eastern Wonders and Reef -- both of which sold out, but beyond those and a few others, it was a lot of “sorry, you’ll have to wait for Gen Con for that one.”
I spent some time demoing games during the day on Thursday. I sat down and played Gorus Maximus with Conor McGoey of Inside Up Games, which was a good time. It’s a trick-taking game with a few new twists and awesome art from Kwanchai Moriya, and I’d definitely recommend fans of trick-taking games check out the Kickstarter. At the Grand Gaming Academy demo area, I played Wreck Raiders, a family-friendly worker placement game from Kids Table Board Gaming that’s also currently on Kickstarter. My full thoughts can be found here, but I’ll note that I backed the game on Kickstarter, so -- spoiler alert -- I really enjoyed it. I also demoed Pyramid of Pengqueen at the Brain Games booth, and immediately purchased it to bring home to play with my kids. Brain Games does a phenomenal job making tactile games with beautiful, interactive components that are great for families to play with their kids, and I can’t say how much I appreciate that as a parent.
The second half of Thursday I attended two events, first going to North Star Games’ party at Barley’s right across the street from the convention center. There we played Most Wanted, which I cannot say more about, as it is under embargo. I will say that Bruce Voge, North Star’s PR person, is always a riot to hang out with, and I love how he integrates cosplay into his launch parties. The second event I stopped at was the Greatway Games meetup, which was in Hall A, and I had the chance to play Fuji Flush with seven other people there. Afterward, I wandered back to the open gaming room, and played Finca, Junk Orbit, Custom Heroes, and Fantasy Realms.
I kicked off Friday with a long-planned game of Power Grid with Patrick Hillier and three others, and we played on the American side of the board, which was my first time playing that map. Despite several miscalculations that led to me seriously underpowering my power plants, I enjoyed our play of this classic. Patrick’s version with all the upgraded components gave it even more of a special event feel.
Patrick then took me over to Hot Chicken Takeover, a Nashville-style fried chicken joint on the second floor of the North Market. While I’d been to the North Market multiple times, I never knew there was anything upstairs other than some tables and chairs. So to discover this place was hiding there was a revelation, as it was the best food I ate while I Columbus.
After lunch, I headed back to the convention center, specifically to the Unpub room across from Hall A. It’s one of my favorite places to pop in, because I get to playtest and demo games that haven’t yet been released. I got to try the latest iteration of Ben Rosset’s Home Brewers and Daniel Solis and Drew Hicks’ The Curators, both taught to me Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games, who will be publishing both titles in the future. Again, I can’t recommend checking out the Unpub room enough, to get to meet the people in the industry that design and publish games, and to get a peek at upcoming titles before they are released.
The rest of my Friday was packed full of meetups. First I had a dinner with the Impostor Syndrome guys and girls, where Ian Zang led a dozen of us in a game of Dead Last at a local pizzeria. Then I hustled back to the convention center and over to Angelus Morningstar’s Pride event, where he was showing off his favorite social deduction game, Blood on the Clocktower, although I was too late to the party to play. Then I ran back to the Unpub room to help set up the Punchboard Media Meetup, which I had helped coordinate.
Like at the Punchboard Meetup last year, I was equal parts nervous and excited. We had cut back on the giveaways, as we decided we’d rather have a smaller turnout than have it be full of people just looking for free stuff and not interested in our network. We did however, try to feature some of our contributors in the giveaways, raffling off games designed by Punchboard Media members Trey Chambers (Eternally Board), Bryan Fischer (Geek-Craft), Darrell Louder (State of Games), and TC Petty (State of Games).
The turnout of the event blew me away, and I am beyond thrilled that what we are doing is connecting with so many people, and getting so much support. The best part of the meetup was just how many people were enjoying playing games together, from lighter party games like Word Slam and Meeple Circus, to roll-and-write Welcome To…, which was taught to about a dozen people by Deep Water’s Tiffany Caires, to heavier games like Ginkgopolis and Riverboat, to description-defying hit card game The Mind. The event started at 9:30 pm, but when I left at around 1:00 am after finishing up a three-player game of Spirit Island, Emerson Matsuuchi and Ben Rosset were still soldiering on, playing prototypes in the otherwise empty room.
Despite the late night, I was up early the next morning to check out Renegade’s new RPG Overlight, which I give my full thoughts on here. After our three hour session, I taught Majesty: For the Realm and Crystal Clans to a few people and played a few of Nat Levan’s microgame prototypes -- Supertall and Garnet, MT -- back in the Unpub room. Then I headed over to the North Market with Ken and Sam Grazier, where we got Momo Ghar dumplings and Jeni’s ice cream. Both were a hit, and hit the spot before the game of Vast: The Mysterious Manor that Ken, Chris Renshaw, and I played with Patrick Leder. Again, my detailed thoughts are here, but my overall thesis on the game is that this is something everyone should try at least once due to how interesting and boundary pushing it is.
There is one final point I want to touch on -- a very unfortunate and difficult topic. During the convention, more than one of my female friends reported being sexually harassed. One account, told in her own words, can be found here. This is not okay. I know GAMA was notified of these events, and hope to see stronger policies in place at future Origins, and to be part of a convention that is safe and welcome to everyone.
Early Sunday morning, I flew out of Columbus and back home to my family, to spend Father’s Day with both my father and my two kids. As nice as the trip was -- and this overall Origins experience was great -- nothing compares to coming back home to family.