ORIGINS GAME FAIR, June 14-18 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center
by David C. Obenour & Kris Poland
It’s Con time of year again and Ghettoblaster’s intrepid editor and gaming associate editor were thrilled to be out there in the crowds (well, maybe not always thrilled about the crowds) doing the hard and dirty work of demoing, demoing, demoing! With belly’s full of bourbon and Lan Viet’s delicious grilled pork ban mis we dove into the Columbus Convention Center once again for another amazing few days of gaming! Here’s the first of two posts of what we played.
Lazer Ryderz (Greater Than Games)
Dave: Man, who gives a crap about how this game is played – look at that packaging! A Tron-like sci-fi game from out of what looks like a shelf worn VHS box set? Hell yeah! Thankfully, after you’ve spent hours dazzled by the game box and its components, getting to the rules proves pretty damn rewarding too! You’re riding your lazer bike around, leaving a trail of lethal lazer behind you and collecting power prizms for points and glory! With a similar move mechanic to Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures Game it seems quick to pick up on and play. Let’s go Lazer Ryding, boyz!
Kris: Excellent over-the-top 80s art direction and refreshingly straightforward game mechanics make for a perfect match here. As Dave mentioned, Lazer Ryderz takes the simple movement mechanics from the X-Wing Miniatures Game and turns it into a fast-paced race to claim Power Prizms. A healthy dose of randomness in Prizm placement ensures that every game is anybody’s game, and a relatively brief playtime makes this one a strong candidate for either a quick diversion or a lengthy tournament scene.
Attack on Titan: The Last Stand (Cryptozoic Games)
Dave: Cryptozoic has finally found the perfect use for their ubiquitous cardboard stand-up! Included with almost every game from the publisher, the stand-up model for Attack on Titan: The Last Stand is the towering and terrifying titan! With multiple levels up and down the stand-up, and two more levels for the nearby castle, all but one of the players roll dice to cooperatively swing back and forth, fire, stab, and dodge their way to taking down the monster. The other player takes on the role of the titan, using sacrificed player dice to eat villagers, attack other players, and generally be a big jerk. As one of the two companies to continually surprise with their licensed games (GaleForce Nine being the other), Cryptozoic does not disappoint here!
Kris: As far as I’m concerned, this one was an early contender for cooperative game of the show. Knowledge of the Attack on Titan anime and/or manga isn’t required, but it certainly helps get into the spirit of things. I like the way each character has specific strengths that require good teamwork and communication in order to reach their greatest effect. The Titan is a constant threat, and its ability to grab other players’ dice when its face is rolled make for constant risk/reward evaluations. Licensed properties are good again? What a time to be alive.
Vast: The Crystal Caverns (Leder Games)
Dave: A dungeon crawl unlike any other, Vast has players taking on the role of a knight and a thief (okay, still like others), goblins and the dragon (a little more uncommon), and… the cave they’re all in? Utilizing different goals and play mechanics for each, this really reinvigorates one of the most classic gaming themes out there. Vast is currently on their second printing, and the folks from Leder were also teasing an upcoming asymmetrical sci-fi 4X board game called Deep.
Kris: What a cool concept! This almost seems like a tool for better understanding quality level/dungeon design in games of all sorts. So rarely do most of us concern ourselves with thinking about the ecology of a game environment that when a game reminds us of such relationships we can’t help but think, “Why hasn’t anybody already done this?” Check out Vast to peer behind your GM’s screen and see just how much work they do for you!
Castle Flutterstone (Lion Rampant)
Dave: Castle Flutterstone is definitely a family game. Players place lightweight bats on the bellows, line them up and then slam down to release a gust of wind that lifts their bats up to the game board. Go through the hole – move x, land on a platform – move y, first player to reach the end wins! Unfortunately the less than exact art of bellow-lifting will probably make this little more than a fun but short diversions for those without kids. Still, there are worse ways to spend 20 minutes!
Kris: I like dexterity games quite a bit. In fact, Dave and I had lengthy discussions throughout the weekend in an attempt to answer one question. “What game is this year’s Coconuts?” In other words, what game is easily-accessible for the youngest gamers but still offers enough strategy and complexity to maintain adult gamers’ interest? Castle Flutterstone may not fully meet those criteria, but it nevertheless appears to be a good time in short spurts.
Paradox (Split Second Games)
Dave: I didn’t fully get the rundown of Paradox as I was in the back of a group and no amount of peeking through or wiggling to the other side really seemed to help me. That said, what I did hear (and later confirmed online) was about a cool game on a space-time disturbance that is fracturing entire worlds’ existences! As scientists trying to repair these connections in time, Paradox utilizes drafting, set collection, resource management and more. They also enlisted 15 different artists for the game, which was a cool way to showcase the vast difference of the unknown universe.
Kris: Sounds like Interdimensional Cable to me [ed note: nice Redgrin Grumble reference, Kris!]! A strong theme can either be that element that gives a game immediate curb appeal or that slowly pulls you into a bigger picture over time. Dealing with the problem of space-time getting wonky is a perfect setup for a chaotic game, and drafting is a mechanic that really jibes with such a narrative. Art can make or break a game experience, so kudos to Split Second for addressing that thematically with a myriad of art styles.
Element (Rather Dashing)
Dave: For all of the promise of Element, the game did prove more than a little bewildering in our demo. Players utilize the four primal elements; earth, wind, fire and water in an attempt to trap the player counter-clockwise from them on the board. The only problem with that is as you move around the board it becomes a little hard to remember which player that was. Also, play advances counter-clockwise too, which… why not go clockwise as in almost every other game? It’s a shame these two issues proved as confusing as they did (especially because 4 colored cardboard tiles would solve one problem and omitting “counter-” would solve the other) because the different flow of elements and the rock-paper-scissors succession of elemental strength was really interesting.
Kris: Ah, how many times have I walked away from a game demo bewildered? Sometimes it’s the game itself that deserves blame. Often it’s the person running them demo’s attitude or personality that can turn one away from a game. Nevertheless, sometimes certain people and certain games don’t mix. Who knows? Element may be perfect for your gaming group. It just isn’t necessarily a good match for ours.
Onitama (Arcane Wonders)
Dave: Simple rules can often make for strategically rewarding games. Taking inspiration from Chess, Onitama pits two player’s rows of four pawns and a king against each other. On their turn, players utilize one of two available moves on cards and then swap that card with another idled move to the side of the board. The next player then does the same, leaving the two players swapping between one of five available moves in a race to capture the other’s king or take their king to the other king’s starting position. No luck here, it’s all about getting out ahead of your opponent and forcing the finishing move.
Kris: This one quickly grabbed my attention with sleek, simple design and deceptively deep tactical play. I disagree with Dave in that I believe there is a single element of luck in Onitama. You don’t know which of your opponent’s two movement cards will be implemented. Enemies can be baited, but plan too far ahead or rely too much on access to that one card you desire and you’ll likely fail. A small and simple game with huge tactical possibilities, Onitama nears the top of my list at this year’s Origins.
Lisboa (Eagle Games)
Dave: Designed by the creator of The Gallerist, Lisboa is a heavy Euro (and just pick up the box to see it’s heavy in every sense of the word) from Vital Lacerda – who actually walked me and my friend through his own game! #nerdout
Anyway, for Lacerda’s new game, players take on the role of rebuilding the capital of Portugal in 1755 after it was destroyed by an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, and finally followed by 3 days of raging fires. In the broadest strokes possible, this is done through courting the favor of the king, the marquis, and the royal builder. With a number of different interactive mechanics, the theme still relates well in the gameplay and the art helps to break up the charts to provide a breath-taking visual.
Kris: I’ve learned something about myself as a gamer over the last few years. It’s something that could immediately reduce my gamer status to pariah in certain circles. Oh well. Time to out myself. I don’t like heavy Euro games. I won’t go so far as to say I hate them, but that style of game will always be the last I want to play. Therefore, I ask you to please just read through Dave’s thoughts again. I’ll be over here checking out some Reaper Miniatures.
Three Kingdoms Redux (Capstone Games)
Dave: Capstone Games are doing the noble work of re-releasing critically acclaimed European games Stateside. They started with Arkwright and my only issue with that game is the same issue that I have with Three Kingdoms Redux – the art. It’s not that either game is particularly unattractive, but both being dense Euros the boards end up looking like a set of charts that would intimidate even an accountant. After playing Arkwright I mostly got over this, and I hope the same would be true of Three Kingdoms Redux. The theme is captivating with the unification of Feudal China (the same as with Koei’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and the idea of a well-balanced three-player game is interesting too.
Kris: While Dave was checking out another “dense Euro” I continued to browse miniatures. A figure with pointy ears dressed all in black approached me. “YOU LIKE REAPER MINIS?” he asked in a booming baritone. “Sure,” I replied. “IS THERE ONE THAT YOU REALLY DESIRE?” the stranger inquired. “Not really. Just browsing,” I said, slowly backing away. Who knows what wonders I missed out on by cowering away from that conversation. This wondrous stranger may have gifted me the resin model of my dreams… or he could have tied me up in a van down by the river.
The Climbers (Simply Complex)
Dave: I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve got a thing for building with blocks. You add in a set of rules and turn building blocks into a game and you’ve got me completely! Adding new blocks each turn, players’ goal for The Climbers is getting their meeple to the highest point possible. Did I mention this game also comes with ladders for climbing the blocks? Ladders that can double as bridges as you build up separate towers alongside the main one? Originally released in Germany, Capstone Games offshoot Simply Complex has also increased the quality of art and components for this new edition.
Kris: You are not alone, Dave! Building blocks remind us of our early years, of simplicity and imagination. They fulfill our need for play in the most primal sense. While I cannot claim to understand the popularity of customized meeples, I certainly get their utility as game pieces. The Climbers taps into that childlike wonder of creating something you know is only temporary. There is great joy to be found in building, destroying, and rebuilding in this game. The Climbers is a sure bet for kids of all ages.
Dave: We’ve established that building with blocks is fun (or at least I think so), now we get to build with balls! For Dimensions, players take from the four colored balls at their disposal to build the biggest tower possible. For each round, new rules are introduced that penalize any transgression – white can’t touch green, orange can’t be on top of any other balls, all green balls must touch orange. You’ve got 60 seconds to build the best one possible! As a timed game, this one’s all about the adrenaline rules cross-referencing as you build to maximize within the parameters.
Kris: More building. More tactile feedback. More exploration of the deepest elements of play. Dimension is another dexterity game, only this one requires quick decision-making while the timer ticks down. Building one’s creation within the strict timeframe of only a single minute adds an element of stress that drives competition and keeps us coming back for more. Stacking spheres is rarely this fun!
Unearth (Brotherwise Games)
Dave: As a fan of the great phone puzzle game, Monument Valley I was immediately drawn to Unearth. It features the same unmistakably modern take on Escher-esque geometric and mind-bending art… accept the same artist didn’t do it. Potentially murky inspiration versus replication issues aside, Unearth proved to be as fun in the playing as it was to look at. Players roll D4s, D6s, or D8s to add up your claim to ruins, but low dice rolls allow players to collect stones – yet another way to earn victory points. Brotherwise Games currently has a pre-order up too.
Kris: I sincerely thought Dave was going to get litigious regarding the similarities between Unearth’s visual design and Monument Valley. I’m just relieved he didn’t cause a scene. There’s a lot of potential here, regardless of your opinion of the game’s artwork. I’m a man who enjoys rolling big handfuls of dice, so there’s an immediate appeal for me when a game uses different dice to achieve different goals. Promising!
Super Show (SRG)
Dave: I first saw this game at Gen Con last year, but it was in a shared space with another developer and when I went back through for a demo the table had something way less cool being played. What really caught my eye this year was a number of cool new promo packs for wrestlers like Colt Cabana, David Starr, Johnny Gargano, Lio Rush, Kenny Omega and more. They were a little pricey at $15 a pack, but apparently the wrestlers get a rub from that – so that’s cool! Anyway, Kris is the real professional when it comes to wrestling (I’m just a not-particularly-smart mark) so I’ll let him take this one.
Kris: It’s difficult to capture the unique intensity of a pro wrestling match in a tabletop setting. Many have tried, and only a few have succeeded. Super Show actually does a great job at merging the two worlds into one. It’s clearly made by people who love wrestling for people who love wrestling. Players choose a wrestler (or tag team) and enter the squared circle. Dice are rolled, stats are compared, and cards are played. Pins are handled well too, adding a heightened intensity to every match. Excellent attention to detail makes each wrestler feel unique, and officially licensed likenesses of independent wrestlers elevate Super Show to the next level! Kudos to SRG for taking wrestling games seriously and having a hell of a time while doing so!
Macroscope (Mayday Games)
Dave: Mayday Games are masters of simple and fun. Two years ago they gave us monkey flinging action with Coconuts. Last year they gave us balancing trash in an overflowing bin with Garbage Day. I’m pretty sure both games were made with children in mind, but that didn’t stop them from being two of our favorites. This year we’ve got Macroscope, which features a beautiful 3D playing board that hides simple line drawings underneath small covered holes. On a player’s turn they lift a piece and determine whether they’d like to hazard a guess at what’s the drawing underneath. Without the dexterity element of Coconuts and Garbage Day, the “simple” is laid a little too bare for this to appeal to older audiences. Still, I’m sure this would be tons of good family fun!
Kris: I love this! Macroscope reverse engineers the pixel hunt games that eat up space on smart phones around the world. Instead of looking for minute details in big images, players try to identify a simple line drawing by revealing little bits of it at a time. It’s clearly geared toward young ones, but any age group can have 15 minutes of fun with a few rounds of Macroscope. The design is clean and appealing, and there are enough images on the included double-sided cards to play for a long while before repeating the same game twice. Keep it up, Mayday!
They Who Were 8 (LudiCreations)
Dave: They Who Were 8 was a really unfortunate example of demos and walk-throughs being heavily reliant on who is doing the walking-through. On our first pass, we were given a somewhat distant and very tired run down of the game, complete with a few opinions on its short-comings. Granted, it was 20 minutes before the hall closed, so I get fatigue. But really enjoying the art I went back the next day to ask again with someone new behind the table. This time we were explained a really interesting game of bards telling tales of gods! For this, players were given two god cards, one paired up with the player to their left and one paired up with the player to their right. Glory and infamy tokens get piled on each god and the goal is to be in the most glorious pairing, but being the more modest of the two gods.
Kris: A fairly simplistic game with absolutely beautiful artwork, They Who Were 8 is a cool little game. As Dave mentioned, players are bards singing of the virtues of their two gods. Bards must interact with their rivals to either side, and gobbling up all the praise doesn’t guarantee a win. Enter modesty as the game-winning quality, and you have an experience unlike anything else we saw on the convention floor.
Near and Far (Red Raven Games)
Dave: Racking up a ton of awards in 2015 and 2016 for Above and Below, and having a buddy who got it and won’t stop raving about it, I was really interested to hear more about Above and Below and their new game Near and Far. Unfortunately, Red Raven Games was only offering ticketed demos at Origins and didn’t have an open copy of either game to leaf through and marvel at. From what I could gather, Near and Far is a sequel to Above and Below and is run like a campaign as players try to reach the story’s end. Maybe like a choose your own adventure meets RPG meets board game? It all sounds very novel and cool, so I hope to find out more for you (and me)!
Kris: Like Dave, I’ve only heard tales and never had the opportunity to get my hands on this one. The only thing I can say for certain at this time is that I am intrigued!
We’ll be back with part two of our review with more games from Origins!
ORIGINS GAME FAIR, June 14-18 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center