The Games of Origins, 2017: Part Two

ORIGINS GAME FAIR, June 14-18 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center
by David C. Obenour & Kris Poland
Welcome back, proud nerds and gaming geeks! We’re returning with more coverage of the 2017 Origins Game Fair. Last time we covered 16 of our favorite offerings from the exhibitors hall. This time we have 16 more games that piqued our interest. Origins may be where gaming begins, but it certainly doesn’t end there! Check back later in the summer for our thoughts on the largest gaming convention in North America as Ghettoblaster takes you to Gen Con 2017.
Rabbit Island (Infinite Heart Games)
Dave: As an enthused Watership Down reader from childhood, Rabbit Island immediately jumped out at me (get it? “Jumped”? Rabbits? …anyone?). Rabbit Island doesn’t delve into the harsh realities of nature and humanity like Richard Adams’ book though, you’re just hopping around Rabbit Island, exploring, collecting carrots and building dens. Sure, some other rascally rabbit might come along and thwart your hard work, but you can always go back to finish it later. Currently in it’s Kickstarter, this was a fun, tile-laying, 4X’er.
Kris: Our first game, and Dave has already succumbed to bad wordplay. If you’re into the cute and cuddly side of rabbits more than teeth-gnashing and bloodletting, the G-rated competition of Rabbit Island might be just the thing for you. Modular tiles keeps things fresh with multiple replays, and action cards keep things from getting too predictable during a single game.
Armageddon (Queen Games)
Dave: Sold to me as a mix between The Walking Dead and Mad Max those are two pretty amazing franchises to live up to! In Armageddon players build up a post-apocalyptic community of soldiers, engineers and scavengers. This motley crew will go out and claim you more land, help build up infrastructure and most awesomely, construct amazing wasteland dune war buggies! Getting a quick explanation between their ticketed demos for the games, it sounds like the one thing that may prove a problem for some is a lack of balancing mechanisms. Apparently Armageddon isn’t a welcoming place.
Kris: Who knew a nuclear hellscape would be so inhospitable? Pretty much everyone. Armageddon is a competition to rebuild society while constantly warding off attacks by wasteland raiders. There’s bidding, worker placement, and plenty of meeples. The art has the necessary post-apocalyptic feel. I’d just like to see more of it. Also, when I think Mad Max I think action. In this sense, Armageddon is like Mad Max in theme alone.
Oktoberfest (Rio Grande Games)
Dave: A game about Oktoberfest in Germany? Of course I want to play this ultimate beer and pretzels game! For Oktoberfest players take on the role of supplying beer to one of the many tents of tipsy revelers. This is accomplished by stocking up on kegs, building demand in the tents, and then closing it down before your opponents transfer the demand to something that they’re better stocked on. Oktoberfest’s artwork had me thirsty for our entire demo, but the game doesn’t adapt much of the theme into its play. Still, it’s a well-balanced mix of push-your-luck and stock-holding mechanics for a fun 40 minutes or so.
Kris: I don’t like beer. [ed note: Kris was playing in a Magic tournament when we demoed this – pretty obvious who’s more fun, right?]
Hounded (Atlas Games)
Dave: A really good two-player game is hard to come by. A lot of the fun that comes with gaming is the “well, what is the other guy going to do?” When it’s just one-on-one, the other guy’s probable options are more limited. Hounded is the perfect head-to-head contest though as one player takes on the role of the hunter and hounds, while the other assumes the role of the cunning fox. Running around the forest, the hunter’s goal is to corner the fox, while the fox’s goal is to expose the morning, noon and night tiles to have outlasted the hunter. Clever use of mechanics mixed in brilliantly with a novel theme. Gotta love games like this!
Kris: Dave’s right. It’s hard to find a recent two-player offering that does something new. Classics like chess and backgammon are difficult to improve upon. Hounded draws players in by focusing on clean design, simple gameplay, and portability. There’s some degree of tactical depth here too. The fox, master, and various hounds all have different rules for movement. It sort of reminded me of Onitama on a larger grid with slightly more complex rules of movement. Hounded promises a lot of fun in frustrating one’s opponent.
The Lost Expedition (Osprey Publishing)
Dave: Osprey Games have quickly emerged as one of my favorite publishers over the last few years. From their brilliant and easy to pick up Frostgrave miniatures rule set, to great reissues like Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space and Escape from Colditz, I’ve spent a lot of hours enjoying their hard work! Their latest game, The Lost Expedition comes from Let Them Eat Cake’s (another Osprey title) designer Peer Sylvester with art from comic illustrator, Garen Ewing. Taking on the role of jungle explorers, there are three ways players can play – solo, head-to-head, or as a cooperative. With a deck full of the hardships that come from adventuring in the tropics, it’s a race to be the first to find the prize – but can you survive?
Kris: Masterful use of Garen Ewing’s pulp-style art, Osprey! It perfectly fits both the theme and intensity of the game and immediately pulls players into this battle for survival against nature. Kudos as well to the young man who explained everything we needed to know about this game in well under ten minutes. There’s the underlying race, the battle against the elements, and plenty of risk-reward balancing. The Lost Expedition is one of very few games that stuck in my head for days and had me excited to play more.
Rocky Road a la Mode (Green Couch Games)
Dave: I’ve said it before, but Green Couch Games really knows how to pack an amazing game into a small little box. They also know how to put it all together for a really reasonable price! For Rocky Road a la Mode players circle around the block selling ice cream from out of their cool little truck meeples. Cards are used for supply and demand and jingle volume as you attract folks of all ages to your truck. They sent us home with a copy and I can’t wait to get this one to the table!
Kris: I’m going to agree with Dave again here, but don’t get accustomed to it! Green Couch are the masters of tiny, budget games. Other board game designers could learn a lot from their efficient use of space and small (but detailed) components. The only aspect of their games that isn’t condensed is the delight gamers enjoy when playing them. I just wish the creepy guy driving the ice cream truck in my neighborhood better represented the wholesome, delicious fun of Rocky Road a la Mode.
Guns & Steel (Tasty Minstrel Games)
Dave: Given a quick run over of this one, I was initially drawn to Guns & Steel by misremembering Guns, Germs, and Steel (a really smart book I own and should really read one day). Not sure if there’s a direct correlation there (maybe they could make a Germs Expansion) but it seemed to be a similar idea. Build your civilization up through scientific advances to best all of the other civilizations. Taking such a weighty theme, Guns & Steel gets you through all of known history in under an hour by utilizing a card pyramid mechanic of advances that you’re only allowed to unlock once the ones below it have been discovered.
Kris: Upon first look at Guns & Steel I thought to myself, “Okay. This is Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Card Game.” Turns out I wasn’t that far off the mark! Players can invest in their culture, build magnificent wonders, or focus on military might. There is even a technology tree, as players attempt to advance from horseback riding to rocketry. If you’re looking for a card game that plays like Civilization and requires under an hour of your time rather than weeks or months, then Guns & Steel may be the perfect game for you and up to three other friends.
MoonQuake Escape (Breaking Games)
Dave: MoonQuake Escape’s awesome mix of plastic and cardboard that sticks out of the game board can only be compared to Mousetrap. Taking place on a planetary space jail, the captors made one big oversight in construction as the planet’s unstable core is erupting and the whole thing is about to blow! Fortunately, there’s only the one spaceship – so it’s not like all of the jailed aliens will escape. Your goal is to be that one lucky space convict as you battle your way to the surface and spaceship in a race to get off this doomed rock.
Kris: The board may look like Mousetrap, but this is a very different game. There’s an undeniably frenetic feel to the gameplay. Players must not only rush to escape on the single rescue rocket but also deal with an ever-changing board layout. I didn’t get to spend much time with this one, but I immediately fell in love with its wit and whimsy. Bonus points awarded to MoonQuake Escape because designer Jeff Johnston, who gave us the most memorable demonstration throughout all of Origins, is a dead ringer for one of the Ghettoblaster staff’s favorite comedian Andy Daly! Seriously though, Jeff’s energy and enthusiasm and passion for his product was much appreciated. Check it out!
Merchants of Araby (Daily Magic Games)
Dave: Negotiation games are ones that people either really tend to enjoy playing or don’t. A certain amount of conflict and battle over interests is needed, and without that thoughtful negotiation, these types of games can really fall flat. That said, if you are part of a gaming group that is willing to hash it out over what’s good for me and what’s good for you, and won’t be at each other’s throats at game’s end, Merchants of Araby is a fun game of shrewd moves.
Kris: Maybe I was just hungry for another banh mi, but all I could see was Arby’s in this game’s title. Anyway, the design concept was to combine Magic: The Gathering with the classic Euro-style board game (I’m about half on board knowing that). Dave’s right that negotiation is quite the divisive mechanic. No amount of rules lawyering or clever planning can account for what may happen when deals are struck. All of these disparate elements may combine perfectly to scratch your gaming itch. The coolest thing about Merchants of Araby to me was how the magnetic box cover also acts as the play board. I expect this design aspect to be copied a lot in the next few years.
Kerala (Kosmos)
Dave: Every time I walked by Kosmos’ booth I’m pretty sure I audibly said “Oooo! Pretty!” when looking at their new game, Kerala. A tile-placing, puzzle-based game, in Kerala players are trying to claim the most impressive fairgrounds with the most elephants possible. Named after the Indian province, artists Claus Stephan and Antje Stephan did an inspired job that is sure to bring even the most skeptic of non-gamers to the table.
Kris: Those are indeed some aesthetically pleasing elephant meeples! Kerala seems to offer a pleasant midpoint between simplistic kids games and five-hour sessions of deeper experiences. Players want to claim as many adjacent tiles of the same color as possible. While simplistic on the surface, there’s a lot of depth to enjoy as players familiarize themselves with the underlying tactics of Kerala.
Arena: For the Gods! (IELLO)
Dave: Man, IELLO really knows how to make a game look fun! King of Tokyo, the Tales & Games series, The Phantom Society and Dungeon Fighter, it’s really hard to see these and not want to sit down and play them. Arena: For the Gods is no different and from the quick description I got it sounds like its as fun to play as it is to look at. Players start the game with an auction on mounts, weaponry, and armor. The catch is, you’re paying from out of your health for the arena! So you may be able to get super kitted out, but you’re going to be a little worse for wear in battle. Health is kept secret and it’s a race to strike the first killing blow for the gods!
Kris: Gladiatorial combat from the people who brought us King of Tokyo? I’m in! IELLO really know how to make cardboard cutouts appealing with designs that are instantly recognizable. Bidding life points for equipment is an ingenious way to strike a balance between quality gear and a hearty pool of HP. It seems to streamline the whole gaming experience in Arena. I also like how it can be played with up to six people. That must make for a chaotic experience in combat!
H.I.D.E. (Mayday Games)
Dave: I’ve already talked about how great Mayday Games is in part one, so I’ll save that whole song and dance this time. For our second new demo from these purveyors of fun, we tried out H.I.D.E. Feeling similar to Ca$h ‘N Guns in its hidden identity, threat of assassination, prize grabbing goals and mechanics, H.I.D.E. introduces a few new welcome twists to the former’s simple game play. There’s still a lot of bluffing still, which I think I’m just horrible at so it all just feels like random chance to me, but if you’re into it than have at it!
Kris: I really enjoyed H.I.D.E., or Hidden Identity Dice Espionage. There is randomness in the dice rolls, but a much larger emphasis is placed on aspects like deduction and trickery. It can be played very aggressively if players want to assassinate their competition. Alternatively, gamers can instead choose to hide in the shadows and wait for their rivals to make a single deadly mistake. While a bit more complex than their more kid-oriented games, H.I.D.E. is just as appropriate for pre-teens as it is for adults.
Century: Spice Road (Plan B Games)
Dave: As more of a thematic gamer, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Century: Spice Road. It’s not that there isn’t a theme, players take on the roles of merchants trading goods, but the theme is secondary to the mechanics of set collection, deck-building and hand management. Which I know, I know, could be argued is the sort of wheeling and dealing that you do as a merchant, but still, this is a very mechanic-centric game. When the mechanics work this well together though, it’s sort of just argued details. Brilliantly developed and designed, Century: Spice Road was one of my favorite games of Origins 2017.
Kris: I didn’t get to spend time with this one, but it sounds a helluva lot like Dominion to me. Trading spices isn’t the most enthralling theme in my mind, but a good game is a good game regardless of artwork or thematic details. I’m definitely eager to see where the Century series goes in the future. The possibilities are infinite!
The Shared Dream (Odam)
Dave: Only getting a description from one of the game’s designers, this impression is going to fall woefully short of everything that seems to be promised by The Shared Dream. As Odam’s first board game, The Shared Dream is an adaptation of their RPG series Of Dreams and Magic (oh damn, that’s O.D.A.M.!). Players work cooperatively in both the dream world and the waking world, utilizing a dreamed persona and a “real” persona to try and combat the coming nightmare. Utilizing scenarios, a campaign, and a tile-laying mechanic, it seems like there are hours of gameplay here and rich opportunities for replay.
Kris: The Shared Dream is a unique concept that shows a great deal of promise. I tend to enjoy the interactions between two different realms, realities, or the flip sides of the same coin. They remind me of Silent Hill and Stranger Things. I’m curious as to how these interactions work in this tile-based interpretation of their already established world. A board game version of the same intellectual property could also serve as an excellent gateway to Odam’s RPG offerings.
Flipships (Renegade Games)
Dave: Nostalgia alert! Flipships is a board game version of Space Invaders mixed with a drinking game. If that doesn’t appeal to every 30-something year old out there that still kindles even the smallest flame of fun, then I don’t know what will. The mothership is sending out wave after wave of kamikaze fighters to attack earth. Our core will stay strong for only so long. Do you have what it takes to flip your missiles onto the oncoming waves of aliens and ultimately the mothership itself? Better limber up them digits!
Kris: Another dexterity game! This one has the twist of combining a classic video game with that paper football game we all played when we were bored in elementary school. Players flick a cardboard disc onto cards representing incoming starfighters or into the gaping maw of the mothership. Alien ships are relentless in their approach, so player’s flicks must be both accurate and precise. Flipships does stellar work at combining different aspects of other games into a singular, cohesive experience. Great job!
Pinball Showdown (Shoot Again Games)
Dave: The second of my favorite games from Origins this year had to have been Pinball Showdown. Developed by a professional pinball repairman, Diane Sauer has created the second best thing to actually playing pinball. For Pinball Showdown players are the balls released during a multi-ball. Targets can be struck and points earned, but momentum needs to be spent. Go down to the flipper and you don’t get points, but you build back momentum. Heck, if you can get some awesome music and flashing lights, this may be just as good as playing pinball!
Kris: Dave and I both love pinball, so this one immediately grabbed our attention. The main issue this game addresses is a simple one that has plagued designers for years. How does one translate a game that is perfectly fun in its original form to an equally enjoyable tabletop experience? Diane Sauer figured it out. In Pinball Showdown players act as the actual pinballs during a brief period of multiball mania. It’s all about maintaining the perfect balance between speed and control. The all-important multiplier also comes into play and can be the difference between a high score and a humiliating drain. If it’s in both of our top fives, you know this one rocks!
That’s it for Origins this year! Thanks so much to the organizers at GAMA, all of the great exhibitors, and throngs of volunteers that made for a great few days of gaming for Kris, me, and about 17,000 other passionate gaming nerds.
Be sure to check back in a couple of months when we hit up all of the great games at Gen Con!