The Cardboard Hoard: Origins Recap - Thursday; or Would you like some Demos with your Demos?
About a month before Origins, I sat down and figured out what would be available to demo at Origins, and, of that, what I really wanted to prioritize while I was at the convention. I tried very hard not to over-schedule, and was largely successful. However, I was less successful with spreading out that schedule, as that was contingent on the availability of the people that would be showing me their games. Hence Thursday wound up being demo day, with five demos planned ahead of time, and one more spontaneously added during the expo hall for media hour.
The spontaneous one happened as I walked past the Smirk & Dagger booth, and stopped to say hi to Curt Covert. He told me what was new in his world, and pointed at SHŌBU, a new game they were demoing that I hadn’t heard of before. I looked over and saw four wooden boards with smooth river rocks laid out on them, and an actual rope laid out between the boards. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in ancient times, and I wasn’t sure if it was a new design, or something unearthed by an archaeologist. Being a fan of abstract games, and loving this particular presentation, I sat down to play a game against Curt. The game took about 10 minutes, and while I was able to launch a few good attacks his way, he bested me in the end — a good sign for an abstract game, as it means there is something to the design that takes time to master. Curt gave me a review copy, and I look forward to exploring it. Most likely it will be with my father, who also appreciates abstract games.
My first scheduled demo of the day was at the Queen booth, which was located in Hall A, the next hall over from the exhibitor area, which was in Hall B. Don’t ask me why it was set up this way, or why certain companies were in Hall A — and also in Hall C, where Inside Up Games’ booth was located — as I honestly have no idea.
I sat down to the Copenhagen demo with three others, including one middle-school aged child. It’s a gateway style game that features polyominos — which are definitely in the conversation along with roll-and-writes as the current hottest mechanism in board gaming — and card play. It can probably best be described as Ticket to Ride meets Tetris, as you draw pairs of cards from the offer until you can get enough of the same color to buy a polyomino to add to your board. The player boards are the facades of buildings in Copenhagen, and you earn points by finishing rows and columns on that board, with the first one to twelve points winning. I think this is a great family weight game, as noted by the fact the boy who joined us in the demo had no trouble playing.
At this point, I grabbed a quick lunch with Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games and Jake Bock of the Draft Mechanic podcast over at the North Market. I had passable Indian food, but was fine with my choice as I didn’t have to wait on a crazy line, like the one in front of the BBQ joint. While eating, Kirkman told me he’d picked up Slide Quest from the Blue Orange booth, which I had been excited about for a while, but didn’t realize would be on sale at Origins. He said they were going like hotcakes, so I took off after lunch and snagged one of the last copies. At $20, it was a bargain.
My next demo was Refuge: Terror from the Deep from B&B Games Studio, which pits turn-of-the-century deep sea divers against a giant many-tentacled Kraken. It has beautiful miniatures, and features competitive, cooperative, and solo modes. As it was developed by John Brieger, an accomplished solo mode designer, I look forward to checking out more of the solo play in the future. Alas, being the middle of the day in the crowded exhibitor hall, I was only able to run through a few turns of the game. But it was definitely enough to “wet” my appetite for another chance to “dive” in.
I had a short break before my next scheduled demo, and found my podcast co-host Patrick Hillier and Carl Gannon wandering the exhibitor hall, and we sat down to try Slide Quest. The game is a modernized Labyrinth — the old wooden maze puzzle game with the marble you need to roll through — by way of Looney Quest. Many laughs were had, some of which I’m sure were due to my decision to immediately skip to level 19 of 20 of this light dexterity game.
At 3:00pm I headed to the Plaid Hat Games booth to meet Niki Shults, who led us to a table where Isaac Vega was setting up Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein. I sat down with Patrick, Ryan Gutowski of One Board Family, and Scott King, and we started a four-player game. The thing that most surprised me was how heavy Abomination was in relation to other Plaid Hat titles. There was a lot going on, with events happening every turn, multiple ways to collect different types of body parts, having to worry about the collected material decomposing, needing to manage three different tracks for morality, reputation, and knowledge, and having two different types of meeples — scientists and assistants. One thing that didn’t surprise me, coming from Plaid Hat, was that the theme was very present in all of the actions as well as in the components — you literally construct a body by taking a head, torso, two arms and two legs — although I do wish the board were less grey. We didn’t get to play a full game, but playing for about an hour, got a good idea of how the game flowed. I think, at four players, a full game would have taken two hours.
Next I headed to the Thunderworks booth, where I finally met Twitter-friend Tim Virning in person, who was manning the booth. While he handled that, Keith Matejka led Ken Grazier and me to their demo table and taught us Lockup: A Roll Player Tale. Despite the name, this is not an expansion or sequel in the traditional sense, but an entirely new game that shares some thematic elements from Roll Player. The game’s main mechanism — everyone placing out their identically numbered characters, up to two of which can be face-down — is a hybrid between worker placement and semi-blind bidding, with each spot giving out rewards to the highest rank, and occasionally to lower ranked players present. There was also the potential for penalties, depending on where the guards were put out. Placing always felt meaningful, and each turn’s reveal was tense — and occasionally infuriating, when I was outbid for something by a single point, or due to losing the first-player tie-breaker. But this just makes me want to play the game again, and better, to out-think my opponents better. And really, I can't be too upset losing to Keith, when he helped develop and publish the thing.
My one meetup that did not fall on Friday was the Greatway Games meetup, which was in A216. I wandered around Hall A looking for it for it before realizing A216 was a meeting room, upstairs, outside of Hall A. When I finally found it, I was sadly less than shocked to see that Origins had given a game meetup a room with no tables. The absurdity of that aside, it was great to see Nicole Hoye represent Greatway Games, along with proxy Ryan LaFlamme, as well as Ruth Boyack of The Five By podcast and others. Undaunted, we had a fun time playing Just One without a table, and later dragged in two tables to play some games of Slide Quest and Silver & Gold.
My final demo of the day was thankfully with Bruce Voge, one of the highest energy people I have ever met. This was good, because I drafted off his energy to learn North Star Games upcoming game in the Evolution line, Oceans. While I had never played any of the Evolution games, I had no problem picking up how to play Oceans, and really liked how aggressive it was for an engine-building style game, and how well it fit the theme. Better yet, after the game, Bruce told Brian, Will, Sarah, Marti and me a hysterical story about being a minor-league baseball announcer, and rage quitting when they wouldn’t make him his own baseball card. I laughed more at his animated storytelling than I had at anything in a long while.
At this point, just like the previous night, I realized that I again did not eat dinner. This time the line was too long at Late Night Slice, so we wound up at Barley’s. I normally avoid Barley’s as it is a convention hotspot during the day, especially as they give out free pint glasses to Origins attendees every year. But at this point in the night, we were sat immediately and I enjoyed a nice, if late, dinner of wings and a reuben. After that it was right to bed for another night of not enough sleep.
Continue reading: The Cardboard Hoard: Origins Recap - Friday; or Meetups All The Way Down