ORIGINS, June 13-17 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center
by David C. Obenour and Kristofer Poland
Loaded up on coffee, bahn mi sandwiches, and a messenger bag full of fun (not too full, have courtesy for your fellow attendees), it was time to venture into the colorful-in-every-sense-of-the-word exhibitor hall of Origins! Embracing the excitement of another great gaming convention, we cast only a scant eye at the press releases in our inbox – preferring the complete surprise of “What are they going to make a game out of this year?” over marketing hype. Over the next two posts, here are some of the games that excited us at Origins.
Drop It (Kosmos)
Dave: Landing (pun) somewhere between Plinko and Connect Four, Drop It is equal parts dexterity, luck and careful planning. On their turn players must carefully drop different shaped tiles in the hopes of balancing them on the ones before, scoring the most points as determined by the changing row and column guide tiles. A different kind of thinking than most games, Drop It would be a short and fun excursion to any game day.
Kris: Drop It is like Tetris if the shapes didn’t nicely lock into place at 90 degree angles. Game pieces include rhomboids, triangles, and oh so tricky circles. Each piece is one of four different colors. The tricky part is that scoring game pieces cannot touch other pieces of the same shape or color. Stack ‘em high, but stack ‘em carefully! Drop it requires a bit of planning, a bit of adaptation, and a lot of luck to win. A great all-ages pick, Drop It could have a high degree of replayability. I’m excited to spend more time with this one.
Yummy Yummy Pancake (Mayday Games)
Dave: Mayday Games are masters of fun and quirky game components with fun and bright illustrations for fun and dexterity-challenging games. I said fun a lot, because their games are extremely fun. And while Yummy Yummy Pancake may not be another Coconuts, or even another Garbage Day, this new global release of the Korean game looks like fun for all ages with it’s tile-ingredient flipping skillet.
Kris: I love pancakes and games with easy to follow rules, so Yummy Yummy Pancake is right up my alley. It’s essentially a memory game with a wee bit of dexterity thrown in. Remembering how many flapjacks of each topping are in the pan isn’t too difficult, but things become harder and harder to track with each flip of the pan. Maybe it’s unfair to hold every Mayday game up against the impossibly high standard set by Coconuts, but that’s not going to stop us. Pancake is no killer app, but it’s likely to provide a brief but enjoyable gaming experience that even the youngest gamers can enjoy.
Dave: For all of the thinking that goes into designing and playing them, games are meant to be toys and few of the toys at Origins this year looked more fun than Iquazú. Known for creative and inventive children’s games (that are way too cool and inventive for parents not to want to play with their kids), HABA has also produced some deceptively simple to explain but more thinky to play games such as 2016 Spiele das Jahr nominee, Karuba. Iquazú finds players safely hiding away the Inox people’s valuable gemstones in a waterfall blocked off by a snake dragon. How this looks on your table is a rail system of water tiles rotating to expose the game board grid of varying value locations.
Kris: With a bright and colorful field of play that consistently changes throughout each play session, Iquazú brings new gameplay mechanics to the realm of family-friendly boardgames. It’s really cool to see HABA expand their reach and offer up something that adults can enjoy just as much as kids. Iquazú boasts a fun, relatable theme and compelling gameplay that manages to be just complex enough to keep everyone engaged. Just don’t tell the good folks at HABA that the box art looks like something out of James Cameron’s Avatar. They don’t care for that comparison.
Catch the Moon (Studio Bombyx)
Dave: Only teased at Origins for a release two months later at Gen Con, the prototype of Catch the Moon that Matagot had on display was beautiful. Simple rules allow for a dexterous game of crooked wooden ladder stacking as players attempt to “Catch the Moon.” As game developers explore further into the endless creative possibilities of dreams, games like this are as beautiful as they are captivating.
Kris: Catch the Moon is a beautiful reminder that sometimes the best games are also the least complex. It’s as straightforward and elegant a tabletop game design as you’re likely to ever find. Roll the die to determine rules for adding your ladder to the stack. Make your contribution while following those rules, or else you’ll make the moon cry. That’s it! It’s a straightforward dexterity game with a whimsical feel and sleek design. Catch the Moon was definitely a highlight of this year’s Origins for this gamer.
Dave: Waaaaaagh! Hop into your buggies, it’s time for a race that’s as violent as it is random. Gretchinz! is set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe with brightly-colored and ramshackle vehicles smashing, shooting and careening their way to victory. Games play out fast and chaotically, but for gretchinz racing is not meant to be a science. Well it is, they’re just not that good at it. There’s enough decision-making to be engaging but this game is really all about excitement in whatever form it comes in that turn.
Kris: In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. Oh, and kart racing! I really enjoy it when games set in the incredibly skull-heavy Games Workshop universe don’t take themselves so danged seriously. That’s why things like Blood Bowl and Gretchinz! are such a delight. Yeah, most races are determined more by luck than careful planning. But the Waaaaaagh! is unpredictable, and that’s just the way the Grots like it! Gretchinz! is a chaotic, frenzied game in which shooting at an opponent is just as likely to blow up your buggy as it is theirs. It’s a great reminder that sometimes it’s fun to just roll the dice and not worry too much about what happens next.
Pyramid of Pengqueen (Brain Games)
Dave: A reskin of 2008’s Curse of the Mummy, Pyramid of Pengqueen takes place in the basement of Brain Games’ Ice Cool high school. Four brave (or foolish) penguin students sneak through the labyrinth in a quest to seize the pyramid’s treasure. With a double-sided game board stood up between players, the mummy player hobbles around while the penguins hide their movements as restricted by the exposed dice roles. Fun and simple and quick to explain, a promising new addition for hopefully even more Ice Cool games!
Kris: Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend much time with Pyramid of Pengqueen. I did, however, get a kick out of the brief glimpse I was able to catch. Pitting the mummy against an adventurous band of penguins looks like a great time for two to five players. It’s a testament to Brain Games’ skill at taking something old and making it relevant once again. Keep an eye on this one!
Illimat (Twogether Studios)
Dave: With a cloth game board, metal playing tokens and illustrations similar to an old deck of playing or tarot cards, Illimat is looks like a game you found in your grandparents attic. Were they in the Masons? Probably. Cards are combined within the changing seasons and luminary cards further complicate play, giving Illimat the feel of a classic card game. Oh, and it also was developed by members of the Decemberists with clever veiled references woven in.
Kris: Gaming is becoming more of a mainstream, culturally acceptable pastime with each passing year. You can now even boast to your friends that the game you’re playing was made by indie rock darlings! Whether you’re a fan of their music or not, the aesthetic appeal of Illimat is undeniable. This could be a noteworthy addition to any gaming night and, at an average playtime of just half an hour, a pleasant reprieve from much longer and more complex options.
The Big Score (Van Ryder Games)
Dave: Playing as the leader of a rag-tag group of criminal specialists, your goal in The Big Score is to compete in a number of smaller heists before having your team together for… you guessed it, the big score. A party game for one to six players, card-drafting and press-your-luck mechanics make for knuckle biting and sweaty brows as you try to crack the safes.
Kris: Party games are wearing pretty thin on me as a whole, but The Big Score brings enough of a new take and really nice artwork to offer something unique. With solid drafting mechanics and a relatively short time investment, I could see this one working its way into heavy rotation in all but the most cynical of gaming groups.
Most Wanted (NorthStar Games)
Dave: Shrouded in the shadows of a Columbus brewery’s basement, we were invited to an unveiling of the new NorthStar Game, Most Wanted. What we can tell you is the game is reported, “to do for poker what King of Tokyo did for Yahtzee” and is set in the old west… that’s it for now! The rest is embargoed, partner, so you’re just going to have to mosey on along until next month when we’re allowed to say more.
Kris: I didn’t get invited to Dave’s secret party.
Dave: Hey, don’t be all boo-hoo. You weren’t even in town that night.
Dino Dunk (Twin City Games)
Dave: T-Rex may not be one for shooting threes, but you can’t deny his dominance in the paint. So limber up those fingers, because it’s time for some dino dunks! With a few different player special abilities, Dino Dunk is a fun game of flicking discs around the court (board), pressing up, passing, shooting threes, and I assume there are other basketball terms I could use. Good, light-hearted fun and easily picked up for all ages.
Kris: Dino Dunk could easily have been an excellent video game in the mid to late 80s. I can picture a ten-year-old version of myself draining three pointers with a velociraptor while sitting on shag carpet just a few feet in front of a CRT television and loving every minute of it. Instead, Dino Dunk is an excellent tabletop experience in 2018! There’s a good deal of dexterity involved in flicking passes to one’s best offensive players and setting up a tactically sound defensive formation. Plenty of planning is also necessary due to each dinosaur’s particular strengths and weaknesses. Dino Dunk has both an easy ruleset for kids and one that requires a bit more forethought for older players. My inner child and my grizzled gamer exterior both walked away from this one smiling.
Nut So Fast (Smirk and Dagger)
Dave: Our inner teenagers snickered endlessly at the name of Smirk and Dagger’s latest game, Nut So Fast. When we finally got over to the table to give it a go we were happy to find it was more than just the maybe unintended double entendre of the weekend. A handful of illustrated wooden nut blocks sit in the middle of the table. On their turns, players flip over cards with various numbers and configurations of nuts – if ever there are four or a multiple of four, snatch up those nuts as fast as you can!
Kris: I can’t help but giggle still when thinking about Nut So Fast. It requires nothing more than basic addition, keen eyes and fast hands from its players, and that’s really all it needs to work. Angry walnuts, smiling cashews and shy pistachios must be snatched up at precisely the right moment to ensure success. Players must always be on their toes, for a pose down just might catch them off guard. Nut So Fast is a lighthearted, quick experience that’s definitely good for a laugh or two.
Robotech Ace Pilot (Strange Machine Games)
Dave: Robotech was just before my time, so I didn’t have the nostalgia connected to this one. Still, hotshot space fighter pilots – that’s enough to get my interest! I’ll let Kris handle this one.
Kris: I am super excited that the Robotech license is available for plucky gaming companies to grab onto and make something fun. Giant fighting robots have captivated my imagination since I was a child, and seeing the revival of this property warms my jaded heart. Ace Pilot is a dice rolling/card drafting game in which the heroic, hot shot Veritech pilots of the Robotech Defense Force compete for the most kills while fending off the Zentraedi invasion. Targets fill a 3×3 grid, and each hero utilizes a unique attack pattern. Brand new artwork based on the original designs make Ace Pilot just as great visually as it is mechanically. Strange Machine Games have a number of Robotech themed games on the way, so keep your eyes peeled!
And that’s Part One! Be sure to come back next week for Part Two of our wrap up of the games from the 2018 Origins.