As always, I bring you my coverage of the Origins Game Fair, an intense gaming event that ran from Wednesday to Sunday last week. And, as always, my coverage will be largely superfluous ramblings. I didn’t play any of the new releases or do anything important. I just had fun with friends and played lots of great games.
So with that said, let’s get on to the awards!
Worst person at responding to emails during the con: Yeah, this was me. I invited all my backers to demo Gloomhaven if they were going to be at the con, and I was very good about getting back to them and scheduling times up until the con actually started. Then I missed a number of people’s requests and felt bad about it. Still, I ran quite a few demos and was happy with the results. Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. Once I got back to the real world, though, my email account was a bit of a horror show.
Best group of people to lodge with: Last year at Origins, I spent a lot of time at the Cabalist House, which was a big group of guys who rented a house near the convention center for the week and spent every waking moment playing games. It was a blast, and I jumped at the chance to join them again this year as an official member. The house was annoyingly far from the convention center, especially when the Pride Fest shut down the buses to downtown on Saturday and heavy construction made the bus schedule unreliable even before that. But everything else about rooming with these guys was great. In particular, my new friend Joe is an avid heavy Euro gamer and brought an extensive collection of games I’ve never played. In the evenings, I always had someone to play with and a new game to experience.
Driest Theme: One of the first titles Joe broke out was Lignum, a game of supply chain logistics and engaging mechanics. The theme and graphic design, however could not have been more dry. In the game, you are the owner of a wood shop, with the goal of cutting down logs, moving them from your woodpile to your shop, then sawing the wood into planks for maximum profit. If that sounds exciting, well, then I feel a little sorry for you. As if to emphasize how dry the game was, there was even a drying rack in the game, which you could use to dry out your wood and make it more profitable.
Best game I haven’t played in five years: Later in the week, the Cabalist House had a barbecue night and we broke out a game of Castles of Burgundy in the backyard while we ate. I hadn’t played the game in a long, long time, but everything came back to me very quickly and I ended up having a great time dominating the game and trash talking everyone else. This is something I normally don’t do, but we were all drinking and it seemed appropriate.
Best economic sandbox games: This has to be a tie between the two games responsible for most of my lack of sleep, Food Chain Magnate and Railways of the World, both of which I really wanted to get played for the first time. Both games also got started very late at night, though, and lasted for a good 3 hours each. I enjoyed both games immensely, and, even though I did surprisingly well for my first plays – coming in first in Food Chain Magnate and second in Railways – I walked away wanting to play again and improve my strategies, which were developed haphazardly on the fly. It’s always fun to see a host of options in front of you and just start trying things out to see if they work.
Best Euro war game: I will never refuse a game of Kemet. I had only played it once before a couple years ago, but have always had fond memories. When I got the chance to play it again with my friend Brian, who has all the expansions and all the minis fully painted, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. The game did not disappoint. I am usually not an aggressive gamer, but Kemet makes it feel like crushing your opponents’ armies is just another move on the board, no more aggressive than taking that stack of three wood in Agricola before your neighbor can. I had a blast.
Best podcast to hang out with: Admittedly, I did spend a lot of time with Brandon from Brawling Brothers, another member of the Cabalist House, and many good times were had, but I can’t quite explain home at home I felt hanging out with Rob, Patrick and Christina from Blue Peg, Pink Peg. Listening to them for so long over the years and connecting with their thoughtful discussions on an intellectual level, I just get that feeling of, “Yeah, these are my people.” Hopefully they felt similarly, as I spent the majority of Saturday tagging along with them like a groupie.
Most dependable game for having fun in a ten-minute time frame: Man, I really like Fuse. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t like Fuse. Even my wife thinks it’s great. It takes about 5 minutes to explain, and then you’re off to the races, rolling dice as fast as you can and also, more importantly, making difficult, tactical decisions in the process that involve plenty of communication with the rest of the players. You are interacting with the game on multiple different levels, but that time pressure is always there to make sure that you have to make your decisions quickly. It’s great.
Strangest game that turned out to be fun: I was pretty apprehensive about playing Master Fox, a kid’s game that involved blindfolds and feeling around inside a box for specifically shaped objects at the same time as all the other players. Patrick wanted to try it out to see if it was something his kids would enjoy, so the group obliged, and it turned out to be kind of fun and unique. Picking out objects based solely on feel turned out to be an interesting challenge, and navigating the box through other people’s hands turned out to not be as awkward as I expected.
Best trick-taking game: Trick-taking games don’t excite me all that much. I own Tichu but still haven’t ever gotten it to the table. Blue Peg, Pink Peg, however, cannot sing enough praises for The Dwarf King, so when they wanted to play it, I was more than happy to jump in. Each round of the game revolves around a completely different scoring mechanic, which forces you to think about the dynamics of trick-taking differently as you play through a game. One round you might be trying to get as many face cards as possible. The next, you want to get high-value blue cards, but avoid low-value ones. It really keeps you on your toes.
So those were all the stand-out games and experiences from Origins 2016. I can’t wait to go back next year and hang out with the Cabalists again. It was a fantastic experience, though I should probably make more time for myself to keep on top of my emails. And I of course am also looking forward to Gen Con in a couple months, which should be a crazy whirlwind of madness and lack of sleep as well.