Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My ORIGINS Game Haul

Sultan Sevy (that's me in Orcish form on the left) reports about his trip to Origins...

Greetings, hobby game lovers! I'm back from Ohio. I spent a fun and exciting 3 days at the Origins game convention from June 27 thru June 29 in Columbus, Ohio.

In actuality, it was really more like half of a Friday afternoon, a good chunk of Saturday, and a quick Sunday morning last-chance visit. Prior to the trip, I hoped that I might have a little more time available to engage in some open-gaming, but unfortunately that didn't turn out to be the case. Bummer dude. Maybe next time. I still had a blast anyway.

The trip was bookended by a 6.5 hour drive on Friday from Harrisburg, PA to Columbus (we got caught in a long traffic jam created because a stretch of the interstate was flooded), and a 6-hour trip home on Sunday afternoon. In between those lengthy drives, I spent time at the convention and also wanted to make sure to spend some quality time with my wife Anna. She told me it wasn't necessary ("just go have fun" was how she put it), but anyone who sacrifices their weekend so their hubby can act like a kid again deserves some quality time! Anna is a casual gamer but wasn't too keen on going with me to the geek infested Convention Center, so she hung out at the hotel and worked on a cross-stitching project while I went on my game shopping sprees at the Origins Exhibit Hall.

My basic day consisted of:

  1. Get up, get washed and dressed, and go to breakfast with Anna.
  2. Make the 8 minute drive from the hotel (Homewood Suites) to the Chestnut Street Garage and park the car.
  3. Hoof it from the Garage through the Skywalk to the Convention Center.
  4. Make a beeline for the Exhibit Hall and shop 'til ya drop!
  5. Carry packages back to the car -- a damn long walk when the games are heavy.
  6. Cycle thru steps 3 to 5 as many times as necessary.
  7. Drive back to the hotel around 6 or 7 PM
  8. Go to dinner with Anna. (We went to the Cheesecake Factory and Smokey Bones, both located in the Easton Town Center, which is a superb place to shop & eat.)
  9. Go back to the hotel and crash.
We added going to the movies to that fine mix on Saturday Night (we saw Wanted -- a really weird, far-fetched movie, but loaded with tons of action. Angelina Jolie is easy on the eyes too).

So what did I do while I was at ORIGINS 2008? See item #4... I shopped until I dropped!

There are very few things in life that stimulate the "shopping lobe" of my brain as much as tabletop games and toy soldiers. Since I usually go to 3 miniature wargaming conventions in central Pennsylvania every year (Cold Wars, Historicon, and Fall In), my focus at Origins was going to be mainly on board games and card games.

I stayed within my pre-con budget, but still spent a darn good chunk of change. Thank goodness the hotel was relatively cheap! By the way, here's a fond shout out to the folks at the Homewood Suites. It was a really nice place to stay (quiet, clean, comfy, plenty of space, free breakfast) and I would gladly stay there again.

I picked up 8 games (one was an expansion), along with some sexy new Chessex dice, a pack of pre-painted Confrontation minis (Wolfen), and some neat terrain from War Torn Worlds. I also purchased a copy of Campaign Cartographer 3, a software program for creating maps. I'm going to use it to create the world map and some battlefield scenario maps for the fantasy miniatures wargame that I'm currently developing (Sword of Severnia).

So what tabletop games did I end up buying?
All of these games were on my personal Hot Games WishList, so I was pretty ecstatic about this haul of goodies. By adding these games to the batch that I recently picked up on our wedding anniversary trip to New York City in May (a group that includes Kingsburg, Colossal Arena, Cutthroat Caverns, and Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage), and several games I received for Christmas and still haven't gotten to play yet, I'm pretty well set game-wise for quite a long time. At least that's what I'm telling myself today!

So what are these new games all about, you ask?

El Grande is a game about spanish knights acquiring territory, and it's widely regarded as the definitive euro-game focusing on Area Control (a category of games that I really enjoy). This is a truly elegant game and one that I've wanted for quite some time.

The Downfall of Pompeii was another euro-game that I was after because the cool theme (getting your people to escape from Pompeii before the hissing volcano erupts and they become extra crispy) sounded too fun to resist. The fact that it was designed by Klaus Jurgen Wrede (of Carcassonne fame) and includes a volcano cone game piece is icing on the cake! The folks at the Mayfair booth suggested using M&M's instead of the wooden bits that come with the game so that you can eat your little people when they get drenched in lava. I guess gaming can be fun and tasty at the same time!

I really wanted a light, fast-playing card game that I could play with my family. No Thanks fits the bill and I've heard good things about it from members of the Dice Tower podcast whose opinions I greatly respect.

Everything else falls into lighter, beer & pretzels fun with themes that I absolutely love (monsters, zombies, fantasy dungeon crawls, and heroic battles). While I like a wide variety of games, I am unabashedly a person who gravitates towards exciting, colorful themes in games. When faced with the choice of a picking a dry game about finance, farming, colonization, or medieval merchants trading goods, versus thrilling games about war, knights, flesh-eating monsters, robots, baseball, gangsters, tanks, or trolls, well I'm gonna pick the later types of games in a heartbeat.

I stopped by the Red Juggernaut booth and was shown a demo of Battue. Not only does it look nice (lots of nice minis), the tile-flipping mechanic, card draws, and swarming style of play should make for a very chaotic battle game full of surprises. Matt Drake's review on his excellent blog (Drake's Flames) also played a big part in selling me on the virtues of this game.

I also stopped by the Flying Frog booth and saw a demo of Last Night On Earth. Like Battue, it comes with some very nice minis, and the production values of the game are just excellent. It's a zombie-killing adventure game with a heavy emphasis on theme and capturing the campy feel of classic zombie movies, rather than on heavy mind-taxing strategy. It's basically a fun little romp of blasting zombies before they eat you. Sounds like plenty of fun for me and the guys I regularly game with. I even got to talk to the very polite and soft-spoken lady who adorns the Lizzy the Shopkeeper card in the game's expansion set (Growing Hunger). I didn't even know who she was until I turned to see her gun-toting visage on a display piece in the Flying Frog booth. Kewl.

Fearsome Floors is a game about racing through a dungeon before it collapses on top of you and before a Frankenstein-like monster eats you for dinner. It's another beer & pretzels game, but since it's designed by Friedemann Friese (the man who invented Power Grid) it's bound to have some interesting strategy to it.

Drakon (3rd edition) is a dungeon crawling game designed by the famed designer Tom Jolly (the man who created the classic fantasy game Wiz-War among other games). It's a fast-playing dungeon crawl / strategy mix, with some nice production values from Fantasy Flight Games. I can't wait to try this one.

Lastly, I picked up the first expansion to Cutthroat Caverns, a game where an adventuring party cooperates in killing a series of monsters, but each character backhandedly tries to "steal the kill" and screw everyone else out of the glory. It's a lighthearted game of screwage with a fantasy twist. The guys at the Compleat Strategist in Manhattan told me I really needed to buy this some day because it made the game tougher and better, so I went ahead and took their advice.

There were a few games on my wishlist that I simply couldn't find (Manhattan, Aladdin's Dragons, Wallenstein, and Dragon's Gold), and a few others I passed on for now but hope to add to my collection some day down the road. But you just can't afford to buy everything you want. Nor do I have the room to store it all. In fact, I'm looking to sell off some of my other games on eBay to make room for the new stuff and recoup some of my expenses.

So that summarizes my game haul at Origins 2008. It was a blast. I saw lots of really cool games being demonstrated, lots of people having fun, and it got me really excited to start organizing some summer gaming get-togethers with my friends and family. I'm so loaded with new games now, that I probably won't be going back to Origins for a few years!

If I had to find fault with anything at Origins (which is something I really hate to do because there are much bigger things to worry about than finding perfection in life), it's that the miniatures gaming room was not nearly as impressive as I remember it in past years. Perhaps I'm spoiled by going to the 3 excellent HMGS East conventions each year and seeing the massive amounts of stunning games played there. Maybe I wasn't there at the right times. Whatever it was, Origins just didn't measure up to Cold Wars or Historicon in regards to the sheer amount of miniature wargaming spectacle or the massive variety of awesome toy soldiers to buy that's for darn sure. Origins is the place for board gaming; everything else (although fairly represented) comes second.

One final note to my readers: If you've never been to Origins, GO! There's so much to do, you'll have a hard time fitting it all in unless you stay on-site and devote several 10-12 hour days to it. If you live on the East Coast and love games, it's worth doing at least once in your life. I can't imagine you would be disappointed. And if you're a board game enthusiast, this is basically heaven. I've never been to GenCon, so it's not really fair to say Origins is better, but I can't imagine Origins being less-fun than GenCon from a board gaming perspective.

Anyway.... Sultan Sevy out!

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