ORIGINS, June 3-7 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center
by David C. Obenour & Kris Poland
Welcome back, dear reader! We’re continuing our coverage of the 2015 Origins Game Fair with round two of our game previews, observations, and insights. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of every game at Origins. We’re just hitting some of the highlights. Be sure to check back soon for in-depth reviews and interviews featuring some of the titles discussed here. Enjoy, roll them dice, and grab them cakes!
ENCOUNTERS: BRAVEST WARRIORS (Catalyst Game Labs, unreleased)
David: A really simple, really fun push-your-luck game set in the world of Cartoon Hangover’s Bravest Warriors. Choose a warrior, utilize their ability and then it’s off to slay monsters! Monster cards are flipped one at a time, exposing an encounter value that players need to meet exactly with one or more of their six D6s rolled in a turn. After each successful encounter, players can choose to flip another enemy, but an unsuccessful roll gives your opponent the chance to steal all of your glory from that turn. Short, sweet, and full of glory and defeat! Can’t ask for much more.
Kris: Pendleton Ward’s simple, bubbly character designs are already iconic representations of cartooning in the 2010s. They’re also a perfect match for a simple, bubbly game like Encounters. Having already struck gold with Adventure Time: Card Wars, Catalyst nailed it again with another of Ward’s creations. Encounters is quick and fun as a two-player game and begs to be played for just one more game. Adding the blue and red sets together makes for up to eight-player games that likely take longer to complete but are just as straightforward in the rules department. A nice, inexpensive break from the rules-heavy games that dominate tabletops of late, this one is highly recommended for adults and/or kids.
CONVERT (Yodeo Games, 2014)
David: No matter how old I get, blocks will always be fun to play with. A simple and sharply designed puzzle game, Convert pits two-players against each other as they place different shaped blocks on a 4×4 grid to convert rows to their solid color for points. Blocks have to be placed within the grid and must be full supported underneath (no hanging moves allowed). At the end of the game, bonus points are awarded for each exposed brick of your color on top and the highest brick decides ties. Eat it Kris! I’m the highest! (Also, as a bonus, if you follow Yodeo Games on Facebook they release a monthly puzzle for you to try to replicate with the blocks provided. More playing with blocks!)
Kris: Whoa, Dave. Way to get aggro. Win or lose, there’s an undeniable charm to Convert. The chunky wooden blocks feel great in-hand, and the minimalist black and white design offer a much needed reprieve from the incredibly busy and colorful box art that most games use to grab players’ attention. Ian Reed has created a game that is quietly understated but has tons to offer. It rewards thoughtful play and strategic planning. Monthly downloadable puzzles offer an awesome bonus that mean endless replayability. And you don’t even have to bother with Facebook. Just look for the monthly puzzle on Yodeo Games’ site.
WAR STORIES: THE GAME (Level 42 Media, unreleased)
David: Party game, story-telling, celebrities and inappropriate humor. Eh. There’s a kind of cool story about this being used to help the designer’s friends deal with PTSD but I don’t know if I really want to talk about this one. Do you?
Kris: Sure. I’ll give it a go. War Stories: The Game is not to be confused with Artana’s War Stories: Liberty Road and War Stories: Red Storm. The latter two are wargames in which WWII battles are fought. The former is a competitive storytelling game. Each player gets a minute to tell their story using as many cards as possible. Cards feature items, locations, heroes, villains, and more. Once a storyteller’s time is up, it’s up to the rest of the players to decide which cards were used correctly. There are plenty of opportunities to take cheap shots at celebrities, and the only real limit is a player’s imagination. This could be a strength or weakness depending upon players’ creativity or likemindedness. I fear a similar weakness to games like Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity. That being that they aren’t really games. They’re more ways to find out the political leanings, prejudices, and limits of taste of the people with whom you’re playing.
EDIT: It looks like War Stories Kickstarter has been cancelled after they noticed what Kris noticed – Artana already has a game called War Stories. Hopefully they will regroup and be back shortly!
ROLL FOR THE GALAXY (Rio Grande Games, 2015)
David: Admittedly, I was late to Race for the Galaxy but it’s been in pretty heavy rotation since we picked it up. The original version was a deck-building sci-fi game that focused on maximizing card synergy to get the deepest discounts and score the highest victory points. You could choose to focus on military, colonization, technological developments, producing and consuming or any combination to any degree. Each hand plays out differently based on what you get and what you do with what you get. For as many options as there were, design and gameplay were smartly crafted to assist and not overwhelm. Yeah. It’s a great game.
After a number of expansions, we now have Roll for the Galaxy. I spent so much time describing Race because Roll is essentially the same game in everything except for how it plays. It shares the same theme, the same art, even the same end goals. However, trading card based play for dice make it play surprisingly different. Collecting cards let you plan out in advance, but rolling dice throw wrenches in the works, forcing rethinking and adapting. It’s all of what makes Race for the Galaxy great, only different.
Kris: Race for the Galaxy never really grabbed my attention the way it did with Dave. I played it twice and must say I found it more complex and overwhelming than the other players did. Thus, I spent the period of time Dave checked out Roll feeding quarters into Reaper’s gumball machine amassing as many cool Bones miniatures as I could. However, I like the element of randomness that dice rolling adds to any game. Given that, this might be the version of an already popular game that manages to sink its claws into my brain.
David: I’m not the biggest party game fan, but Billionaire Banshee is pretty fun (and quick enough that as long as you don’t play it into the ground it will stay that way). On your turn you flip a perk and a quirk of a person to hypothetically hookup with, you secretly pick whether you’d date or deny them and then your friends all try and guess your answer. It’s funny, it’s inappropriate and it uses 8-bit art – and though 8-bit art is feeling about as played out as zombies these days – those are all the touching points of a successful party game.
Kris: One of the first cards we came across in our first game of Billionaire Banshee was “Butt Stuff”. Oddly enough, I can’t remember if that was a perk or a quirk. Regardless, this is a fun little game. After a few rounds, our friends made our own rules that basically turned Billionaire Banshee into our own version of Comedy Bang! Bang!’s Would You Rather? I’d argue that’s a significant strength in a game. We could build on the already salacious cards, making them even more ridiculous as we played. Plus, designer Steven “Razlo” Bailey spent a good ten minutes discussing Japanese wrestling with us. Bonus points!
DUNGEON FIGHTER (iello, 2014)
David: It’s fun seeing more and more games of skill coming out these days. After spending a couple of hours building a Medieval farm or banishing an ancient Lovecraftian horror, giving the right brain a break while you roll dice from under-the-leg to land onto a target damage board is a welcome change of pace. Somewhere between party game and board game, games like Dungeon Fighter offer up something that most everyone can appreciate. It’s cooperative too, so everyone’s on their feet, rooting you on.
Kris: I wouldn’t necessarily call Dungeon Fighter (again, not to be confused with Dungeon Fighter Online. Let’s make up some original game titles, people!) a party game. I’d say it’s a board game with dexterity elements. Players team up to explore dungeons and fight various monsters along the way. The monster battles are where things get interesting. There are three main dice (red, green and blue) that correspond with a special ability belonging to each character. There is also a pool of white dice available to all players. The catch is that once a player rolls a dice of a certain color that color is no longer available to other players. This adds a small amount of teamwork and planning to the often hilarious, dexterous dice rolls that follow. Players must bounce dice off of the table and onto a target to determine how much damage (if any) they will inflict on a monster. If their chosen die lands with its symbol facing up, that player’s special power activates. Dungeon Fighter seems like a feasible alternative to get players out of their seats between marathon rounds of D&D or Axis & Allies. As an added bonus, the artwork is light, playful, and very high quality. It sort of reminds me of the cover of a Terry Pratchett novel.
COCONUTS & COCONUTS DUO (Mayday Games, 2013)
David: I was pretty skeptical when Kris picked up this game. Flinging coconuts into baskets from a little plastic monkey? What seemed silly and childish quickly became a good-hearted, emotionally-charged game of skill as we lined up are monkeys and drew back their spring-loaded arms. It also quickly became a drinking game.
Kris: I’ll admit it. This was my favorite game of the convention. I was thrilled to see it, and purchased it immediately. I’ve been excited to get my hands on Coconuts when I first learned of its hardcore following and tournament circuit in South Korea. Maybe my brain is just getting softer as I age. Perhaps I’m burning out on rules-intensive gaming. Whatever the cause, this game is just what I needed. 95% dexterity with 5% tactical card playing turned out to be just the right combination of what I was looking for. It’s just as appropriate for kids as it is for adults, and it can be played as a quick diversion or a lengthy tournament. The addition of Coconuts Duo is awesome as it turns a three-to-four-player game into a two-to-six-player game when combined with the original. Kudos to Mayday for seeing the simple brilliance of this game and purchasing North American distribution rights. Laugh at me all you like. I’ll have a blast playing with my Coconuts.
CASTLE ASSAULT (MomentumVolsk LLC, unreleased)
David: The jury’s still out for me on the whole combat lane mechanic. Part of me thinks it’s overly simple and confining but another part of me thinks that I haven’t played them enough to pick up on the nuances. Either way, Castle Assault is a quick and fun enough take on the style. With a number of race decks to choose from (undead, vampires, elves, humans, etc) players are pitted head-to-head in a, you guessed it, castle assault. Each deck has its unique strengths and weakness, and the designers did a great job of fitting those within the game. Great art too.
Kris: In another somewhat rare occurrence where Dave and I disagree, I’m totally into combat lanes. I’m not sure if there are a lot of nuances to pick up as much as it’s just a case of surrendering to certain limitations. I like that each playable race not only has its unique tactical advantages, but they also have completely different art styles on their cards designed by a different artist for each race. Our game was awesome in that the ending came along in a totally unexpected fashion. I thought I was in a great position to take Dave’s castle out, when he suddenly wiped out my castle’s hit points in a single attack. It was one of those moments for which we all play games. I’m not saying every single instance of Castle Assault will play out as such, but it’s a game that certainly has that potential.
…and that’s all for the games of Origins! Be sure to come back in a little over a month as we bring to you the games of Gen Con 2015.