ORIGINS, June 3-7 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center
by David C. Obenour & Kris Poland
Greetings, ‘blaster faithful! It’s summer games convention season, and the Ghettoblaster team kicked things off by attending Columbus’ Origins. 2015 was a kick ass year for the Origins Game Fair. With an extra day added and a record breaking number of attendees, more games were played by more gamers for longer than ever before. We’ve compiled a list of some of our experiences from the event, highlighting some games that truly impressed. Enjoy, and come back soon for part two of our trip to Gamesville. Population: nerds like us.
David: Great job to Brad Brooks, who designed a really fun take on a word-building game. Players form words out of the letter cards in their hand, earning money and stock and the opportunity to buy patents on any of the letters used. Build the most valuable letter empire and win the game. All of that said, just look at this game. Mackenzie Schubert and Peter Vaughan did a truly remarkable job in designing Letter Tycoon’s amazing artwork. It’s as attractive on your shelf as on your table.
Kris: Letter Tycoon could have easily been a lame rework of Scrabble. Fortunately, that’s not the case. It’s just as much about smart investing as it is about showing off one’s vocabulary. Our demo game was quick enough that Tycoon could end up being just as good a main event with your casual gaming friends as it is a quick in-betweener with your hardcore gaming group. While I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as having amazing artwork, the design is unquestionable attractive. Doubly so if you’re really into typefaces.
David: You can’t take it with you, but you can eternally remind folks of all of the “it” you’d accomplished in life with a great burial plot. The head of a family in Medieval Europe, it is your role to make sure your deceased relatives are buried in the most prestigious plots available. With vampires, grave robbers, fortunetellers and one lazy gravedigger though, things aren’t as easy as they might seem (it’s as much about making sure you win as making sure your opponents don’t). Lots of fun and maddening frustration to the very end. Max from Ginger Ale Games wins playtester of the Con award for his walk-through of this game too.
Kris: I 100% agree with Dave that Max Holliday gave us the best game demo experience of the entire convention. He was incredibly knowledgeable (no surprise, given his role in the game’s development) and provided us with the exact amount of information we needed every step of the way. It also didn’t hurt that Bring Out Yer Dead was a whole lot of fun to play. Planning ahead only gets players so far, as a single card played at the right time can turn the tide significantly. This is a game that focuses on actions and reactions. I have a feeling it will work its way into our gaming group’s regular rotation.
David: Whew. Real time board games sure can get your blood pumping! Jumping behind the wheel of a mystic monster truck (Cthuhlu, Valkerie, etc) players manically roll their way through the course – crushing cars, jumping buses, spinning out and boosting through turns. Three dice make up your action pool as you roll for pairs to move along. Three of a kind, and you’re forced to move that distance. End up in an oil slick and you’re there until you’re able to get three tires. Get too far ahead and you have to read a “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!” card, letting you show off your best late night commercial voice (and letting your opponents catch up). It’s short, silly and most importantly, a lot of fun.
Kris: Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to play Monster Truck Mayhem. However, I was genuinely impressed by the amount of whooping it up I overheard from the people who were playing it. I can accurately say this at the very least. It sure sounded like a helluva lot of fun. As a child of the ‘80s, just the look of this game brought back memories of Bigfoot and Grave Digger. And just to be absolutely clear, this game is in no way affiliated with the abysmal Monster Trucks Mayhem Nintendo games.
EDIT: It looks like Monster Truck Mayhem’s Kickstarter has been cancelled as of yesterday, though there are plans to bring it back. Here’s hoping, because it was a really fun game!
TESLA VS. EDISON: WAR OF THE CURRENTS (Artana, unreleased)
David: It’s funny that we were demoing Tesla Vs. Edison directly across the aisle from the hooting and hollering of Monster Truck Mayhem. A more different game, you’d be hard-pressed to find.
Taking on the roles of 19th century inventors and other luminaries, players compete in the high stakes industry of light and power. After the solid 30-minute game explanation and a few rounds played, the rules made sense, but the dizzying amount of options is what’s bound to fascinate some and overwhelm others. Will you spend your time developing patents, profiting in the stock market to the benefit and determent of your opponents, starting projects in cities across the northern states, or in publicity stunts to promote your preferred current as the most up-to-the-minute option? They’re all beneficial, but there are only so many actions in a round!
Artana Games, previously Conquistador, has a flawless record so far of smart, intricate and gorgeously designed games with New Science and Tomorrow (I haven’t played either War Stories games, unfortunately) and Tesla Vs. Edison is another winner.
Kris: While the demo we played went on way too long for my liking (I have other games to try, dammit), the core gameplay of Tesla vs. Edison is solid as a rock. Choosing allies, researching and patenting technologies, building power plants, garnering public approval, and smart investing are all critical gameplay elements that demand thoughtful consideration. Each inventor has unique strengths and weaknesses that should keep experiences varied over multiple sessions as players fight the battle between AC and DC. Unsurprisingly, the game is a delight for the eyes. If you enjoy the look and feel of New Science, this one is right up your alley. The learning curve may be a bit steep to begin with, but after a few play-throughs it ought to flow nicely.
BATTLE FOR SULARIA (Punch-It Entertainment, unreleased)
David: Honestly, I’m not that much of a collectible card game gamer and a lot of what these guys were saying shot over my head. I’ll let Kris handle this one.
Kris: I love CCGs, so Battle for Sularia is definitely in my wheelhouse. I also love getting hands-on experiences with such games at conventions. Every playtest begins with the same question. “Do you play Magic?” When I respond affirmatively, the look of relief on the face of the designer/playtester/volunteer makes me smile every time. While Magic players will be comfortable with the basics, there’s also plenty to set this game apart from the herd. There are two different resources, Influence and Sularium, that are used to deploy different types of cards. There are also sites that can be played apart from familiar creatures and instants. Additionally, deck construction is based on a points system. Decks must contain at least 60 cards, and each card has a construction value of one through four. A deck’s maximum construction value is 90 points, so min-maxers cannot make legal decks just by gathering up all of the most powerful cards. This should lead to more balanced games. Perhaps most impressive is the amount of backstory created for this game. Sularia is a complex world full of multiple factions, political intrigue, and interesting characters. Most of what I’ve seen of the card artwork is top notch as well. I’m definitely looking forward to getting my hands on the first Battle Kit that pits the human-like Jotune against the mechanized Synthian.
TRICKED-OUT HERO (Prolific Games, 2014)
David: Kind of a fun concept here! Take a traditional trick-taking card game mechanic (Hearts, Spades, Euchre) and give it a nerdy twist. In Tricked-Out Hero, players choose a classic adventurer (mage, sorcerer, warrior, etc), draw a monster they’ll fight for the round, and then play a hand of trick-taking cards to build up Magic, Melee, Health and Monster points based on the suit of the tricks they take. Monsters are flipped, points are added and then battle is done with a D8 plus any bonuses. A good game to introduce some of your non-gamer friends into our weird and nerdy kingdom of fun.
Kris: I despise trick-taking cards games. It probably stems from the childhood trauma of being forced to participate in them during family gatherings when there weren’t enough adults around to play a full game. Tricked-Out Hero made this mechanic bearable for me. In fact, I actually had some fun with it. Adding the slick veneer of fantasy archetypes and battling monsters to a well-worn genre of card game was enough for me to embrace a gameplay style I never thought I would enjoy again. Well done, Prolific Games!
THE SPOILS (Arcane Tinmen, 2006)
David: Ditto on what I said for Battle of Sularia.
Kris: The Spoils is a CCG with a rocky past. It came. It went away. It came back again. And now it seems as if it’s here for the long haul. Again, if you can successfully navigate your way through a game of Magic: The Gathering the mechanics of this game will seem like second nature. The cards are pretty. The resource system prevents players from getting mana screwed. Starters and packs are also fairly inexpensive online now too. If you can pull together enough friends for a booster draft, then I definitely recommend this one for a fun night of deck-building and card combat.
FIEF: FRANCE 1429 (Academy Games, 2015)
David: Though it’s sold in multiple expansions with keep and castle pieces and metal coins (to keep initial cost down), the completed version of Fief was one of the most striking games of Origins. Like Game of Thrones set in 1429 France, players head up families vying for power through any means possible. This includes promotions of barons, earls, bishops and even a pope and king, strategic marriages and alliances to other families, wars, assassinations, executions and more! Originally a French game, Academy is reintroducing this game in English with updated rules, units and art. An involved game, both in terms of rules and play, but it definitely looks like it’d be worth the time and effort.
Kris: Fief looked absolutely gorgeous laid out on a table at Academy Games’ booth. The models of windmills and castle keeps and walls and the historically accurate metal coins scattered across the table really drew the eye to this game. Unfortunately, as Dave said these are expansions. While the base game isn’t as beautiful to behold, it includes the core of the basic gameplay. There were also five books of expanded rules in play. While they may not be as attractive as 3D buildings, I’m certain they add even more depth to an already complex game. It’s just a bummer that, purchased independently, all elements of the game will cost players near $200.
In a rare occurrence for a publisher, Academy Games seem totally committed to historical accuracy and education. It’s possible to actually learn something about French history while playing this game. If you’re interested in political intrigue, arranged marriages, religious oversight, and the occasional assassination in a game that’s likely to consume a few hours of a Saturday afternoon, then Fief is for you.
Stay tuned for part two of The Games of Origins, featuring Encounters: Bravest Warrior, Convert, War Stories: The Game, Roll for the Galaxy, Billionaire Banshee, Dungeon Fighter, Coconuts and Castle Assault!