Origins Haul
My meager haul of games from Origins 2016. I wanted to buy many more but I exercised self restraint.

I love Christmas!  Even though I am 43 years old I still always love Christmas.  Family, gifts, good times, snow, love and joy….who doesn’t want that in their lives?  As you know Christmas comes only once per year for the world, which is always December 25th.  But, for those that love games, including board games, roleplaying games, card games, talking about games, looking at games, buying games, smelling games, being around games…we are lucky!  We have at least a few other opportunities each year for a 2nd or 3rd (GenCon) Christmas!  This year for me, I decided that I would finally attend Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio (where I would even see Santa!).  I have attended GenCon going back at least 10 years but I have never made the short 3 hour drive over to Columbus from Indianapolis to see what is there.  This year, on a whim, I texted my friend Tim Vail and asked if he would be interested in going for one day.  He was ecstatic and agreed to go with me.  We purchased our 1 day badges which were only $20 and looked at events to decide what we wanted to do with our approximately 12 hours at the Con.

5:00am – I awoke Thursday and began the long journey across I-70 to Columbus.  On our 3 hour tour, we discussed what else but GAMES! We talked about the new games we wanted to demo or consider purchasing including Mystic Vale by AEG, Tau Ceti by Outer Limit Games, My Village and Bear Valley by Stronghold Games.  We also talked about some games that we wanted to make sure and get an event ticket for including Campaign Trail by Cosmic Wombat Games.  We talked so much about games, that I actually tried to change the subject a few times but Tim kept the gaming conversation going as he had never attended a Con.  He had lots of questions about what would be there, how we would get around, what vendors would be there, etc.  I tried to explain the magnitude of the Con experience but I truly believe that you have to experience it to get a real feel for what they are and the energy that they have.

8:30am – We arrived in Columbus and surprisingly enough found the Convention Center and parking garage fairly easily.  We had a little trouble getting oriented after parking but a friendly fellow attendee pointed us in the right direction (I love Cons as people are generally really nice and helpful and love to talk to you about games!).

9:00am – We had pre-registered for our badges but weren’t able to do any events on-line so we had to wait in the line for events. This was my first problem with Origins. They had about 6 event registration areas and there were a lot of people there.  Because we had already got our badges and had pre-registered, we were waiting in the line that said Events.  As we waited, we noticed that people were getting into the lines that stated Pre-Registration and Events and were being helped much faster as they had 5 booths to the 1 for the line we were in.  While waiting, we met a really cool guy named “Frank” and we talked about the geo-political landscape in the Middle East and the economy of Borneo…no we talked about GAMEs!  We then decided to abandon our line and move into the faster moving line which was a really good move as we moved through the line in about 30 minutes and were able to get event tickets for 2 games, Medina by Stronghold Games (Tim really want to try this one out to see if his family would like it) and Campaign Trail by Cosmic Wombat Games.

10:00am – Our 1st event of the day was Medina by Stronghold Games.  Tim will be doing a blog entry this weekend on the game and our experience but it was an enjoyable 45 minute game. We had the opportunity to play it 3 player with David from Michigan. He ended up winning with a score of 51-44 (me)-42 (Tim) but it was a good warm-up event.

10:45am – We next made our way into the Exhibit Hall or as I like to call it “Santa’s Workshop”.  As we made our way in, I purposefully looked at Tim’s face to see what he was feeling.  His face was a mixture of joy, glee and excitement, similar to a child’s face on Christmas morning.  We entered near the Gaming Hall area which is right next to the Crystal Caste area where you can get a free Origins 2016 die. The 2nd problem of the day was that we were never given a coupon book because they ran out!  They didn’t print enough or someone hijacked the shipment and was selling them on the black market!  This was a lot disappointing as that free die coupon is the least valuable of all the coupons as there are 10-20% coupons for each of the major booths in that book.  I was able to eventually get a free die coupon off a fellow gamer who wasn’t interested in the dice so thank you whoever you were!  You made my day (I could have purchased the die for $2 but it was the principle that I was concerned about).

Dice
The 3 dice that I was able to get for FREE! The commemorative Origins 2016 die from Crystal Caste (thanks as always), from Osprey Games for demoing Odin’s Ravens and from Gamelyn Games, creators of the Tiny Epic series.

We walked around for nearly 2 hours stopping to demo several games along the way. The 1st game we demoed was Spellcaster by R&R Games.

Spellcaster
We were able to try out a new card game from R&R Games called Spellcaster where you are battling mages trying to steal the life force from your opponent.

In Spellcaster (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/165877/spellcaster), players begin with three spell cards in their hands, a stack of energy crystals (yellow), and a separate stack of Sorcery Sapphires (blue). The players then can draw a card each round to replenish their hands as many of the cards require you to discard cards to gain certain benefits.  Each player also gets 3 actions per turn which include drawing a card or potion, playing a card on one of the colored staging areas or activating a played card’s ability to benefit your cause or hurt your opponent.  Nearly every dueling game out there bases the win on wearing an opponent down so that they hit points reach zero. Spellcaster has that mechanic in its energy crystals, but it also adds an interesting and sneaky victory point gathering mechanic in its sapphires with the first player to collect 15 winning. Players will have to determine a strategy not only of offense versus defense, but also whether to try to defeat an opponent by wearing out their energy or through gaining wealth.

The spell cards in Spellcaster come in four colored suits of different types of spells. Red combat cards like “Demonspawn” and “Flame Beast” focus on dealing damage to your opponent through diminishing their yellow crystals. Yellow healing cards such as “Repel Curse” and “Word of Guarding” rebuild one’s own life crystals. Blue sorcery cards like “Djinn’s Door” allow you collect sapphires. Green conjuring cards like “Dreamcloak” and “Fumbletongue,” meanwhile, change up the game with extra draws or discarding an Active Spell, which recasts upon its benefactor (or victim) at the beginning of every round. Many of the more powerful cards also feature a bonus for the opponent, so players will need to evaluate each one every turn and decided if they keep them or play over top of them with a similar colored card.

We also were able to add in the new Potions expansion that adds a fantastically made mini-corked vial that represents a potion bottle.  These potions can be used to do a variety of things from activating abilities on new cards (such as spend a potion to gain 4 life crystals) to discarding 2 potions to take an additional action on your turn.  Tim ended up winning by reaching 15 Sorcery sapphires.  We enjoyed the game and it does very well what it is intended to do, to create a simple dueling game that is enjoyable and can be played fairly quickly in about 20 minutes.

Spellcaster Potion Bottle
The potion bottle that is found in the Potions expansion.  A very well made and neat component.

We then demoed My Village by Stronghold Games.  I have been keeping my eye on this as I love dice allocation and meaty civilization (or in this case Village) building type games.

My Village 1
When you pass over the bridge, Death follows! My Village from Stronghold Games is a very meaty game that was a big surprise!

In My Village (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/172381/my-village) each player is in charge of his very own village, controlling its progress and course and racing to build a better legend than their competing villages all while trying desperately to delay the advances of Death and his icy grip, which comes to us all! Familiar places and characters seen in Village (also published by Stronghold Games) join with new mechanics to make an experience that is familiar yet different and in my opinion, a lot more interesting.  If you like and know Village, you will see several core elements, for example the life time track and the village chronicle but you will also see a new dice allocation mechanism that gives the game a whole new focus and vehicle to taking important actions like building farms and buildings, fulfilling contracts and creating goods.  The dice mechanic allows you to choose 2 dice each turn that have been rolled in order to activate or take certain actions on your player board or special actions that are allowed because you have constructed or purchased a certain building, contract or field.  You then add the pips on the dice together to match the numbers printed on the functions that you wish to take.  For example, if you have 2 buildings that are 11, you can choose a 5 and a 6 dice to add together to equal 11 and take the actions of those 2 buildings in the same turn.  In addition to the cost of the dice, the actions or buildings have a time requirement that you must pay by moving your time dial around drawing ever nearer to the bridge and your impending encounter with Death (the nicest looking Grim Reaper you will ever see on cardboard).  Once you cross over the bridge, Death will follow you and you must choose 1 of your 6 characters to kill off.  But don’t worry if you kill off the 1st or 2nd type of that character, they will have an honorable death and be interred into a grave in a place of respect and score you points.  If not, they will be laid to rest in an unmarked grave only to fade into memory.  You then will be required to train up a new worker to take their place or you will be unable to use that ability for the remainder of the game, which is ok if you are trying to win in another manner.  As in the Village, the Village Chronicle track is where you can score victory points by recording the exploits and advances of your Village in the form of stories.  But watch out, the rats (of N.I.M.H.) can come into the village and eat your pages of stories (or victory points) if you haven’t recorded them and made them permanent.

Village Rats
The Rat meeples in Stronghold Game’s My Village.

I really enjoyed the 3 or rounds that we played of My Village and definitely am interested in purchasing it for my collection.  The game is very deep and fairly complex upon first examination, but once we got the concepts down, it became more understandable and didn’t seem as complex as at first.  I definitely recommend this for anyone that loves dice allocation and euro game concepts.

I was then able to approach Stephen Buonocore with Stronghold Games. I approached and simply asked him for a high five.  He readily gave it to me with a smile and then asked if he knew me!  I said no but told him I just feel like I know him as he is always on social media taking pictures with people.  He then very graciously offered to take a picture with me and snapped the following shot!  I like him a lot and feel he is one of the coolest dudes on the planet and appreciate his openness and presence on social media to connect with us gamers who are fans.  Thanks Stephen!

12:30pm – We then broke for lunch and ate at Subway which is right inside the convention center.  I got a 6 inch Club with turkey, roast beef and ham, chips for $7.50 as I didn’t need a drink because I had several Diet Mt. Dew’s (my drug of choice) in my backpack and Tim followed suit but added a drink and paid $10.00.  I felt like I had been robbed and kicked in the teeth but the food sure did hit the spot and gave us more energy to get after it again.

1:00pm – We sat down at the Osprey Games booth to demo the recent release of Odin’s Ravens (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4396/odins-ravens) which is a remake of an older game.  Odin’s Ravens is a race game for 2 players where you are controlling one of Odin’s 2 pet ravens, Huginn and Muninn, and trying to navigate a course of various terrain tiles and return to the start line to your master Odin in front of the other player.

The game includes cards that represent Loki, the Trickster God and are intended to be used to inhibit the path of your opponent or make your path a little easier.  The art in this game is absolutely fantastic!  The terrain type cards are beautifully drawn and colored (I was a little bothered by the cliffs and desert terrain that appeared very similar) and are also an odd shape which adds flavor to the game.  The Loki cards are fantastic as well and offer several “tricks” to be used either to hinder your opponent by changing the terrain type, reorienting the terrain card in the race line or adding an additional card that must be traversed.  The player has to decide when they draw how many cards of each type to take as you can only draw 3 new cards each round from the 2 decks.

Odins Ravens 2
Huginn and Muninn, the best component of the game!

The best component by far though is the laser die cut wooden raven meeples.  They are stunningly intricate and beautifully designed.  I cannot even begin to imagine the precision required in that laser to cut out these shapes. I almost purchased this game as it was only $24  but it was early in the day and I didn’t yet know all that I would find!  We also were able to secure a cool Osprey Games 6 side die as well so thank you!  Tim was able to beat me to the finish line as he added an extra card in my way and I was unable to do anything about it.  So good win Tim!  This game is a very interesting and a simple game that I would recommend and will consider buying soon.

2:00pm – We had an event to play Cosmic Wombat Games upcoming Kickstarter Project Campaign Trail, a worker placement game where the players control the Democrats, Republicans or Independents and play in teams of 2, one player being the Presidential candidate and the other being the VP candidate, vying to win votes by any means necessary and become the President of the United States.

Campaign Trail
Only a prototype board and components but Campaign Trail was a solid game with great theme and a neat Electoral Vote track (see top of picture) where each State can be removed and added to the side that now controls it. Look for it on Kickstarter.

Tim will do a review of this game in his blog entry but let me just say that we were the Independents, had less ability to raise funds (as I was playing the squeaky clean candidate), but great power to get voters registered in our camp and came in second, only 33 Electoral Votes behind the Democratic winners!  Had we been able to secure Texas and it’s 38 Electoral Votes we would have one and were only 2 votes away from that feat!  Great game that I definitely found very interesting and engaging.

4:00pm – We went back to the Exhibit Hall to shop some more and also to try to get in a demo of the new Card Crafting Game Mystic Vale by AEG.  After having walked around the area previously and seeing what there was to buy, I finally  made my first purchase of Mayfair Games Welcome to Walnut Grove (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/103185/walnut-grove).  The game was only $10 and I had heard good things about it so I figured for that price, I had nothing to lose.  We also went to the Northstar Games booth to look at Evolution: Climate but found they didn’t have any and ended up demoing a new card game adaption of Evolution.  This card game is very familiar to me and similar to its namesake but has some definite differences.  Tim will talk about it in his entry so I will only say that I liked it a lot and will consider buying it as I don’t own Evolution but have loved that game since first playing it a year ago (Tim why did you sell Evolution?). Unfortunately the game is not releasing until August but will be available at Target’s around the country.  Thanks for the demo.

5:30pm – We were able to finally find 2 spots at a table at the AEG booth to demo the new Card Crafting Game Mystic Vale by AEG.

Mystic Vale

A Card Crafting Game uses a concept similar to Gloom where you have clear cards that can be added to in order to “craft” a better card to score more victory points than your opponent.  At its heart, the game is a deck builder but with this new “crafting” twist becomes something unique and interesting.  Tim will write up a full review on his blog post so I will only say that this game is fun, unique and very interesting.  I love deck building but have grown a little tired of the mechanic as the decks become stale and repetitive after several plays.  I do believe that the re-playability on Mystic Vale will be better as you can literally make new cards focusing on different strategies.

Side note.  This is where we met Santa Clause and his wife Mrs. Clause.  This man (whose name is “Chris”) was garishly dressed in red and green pants, what I can only describe as a “blouse”, suspenders and a fancy neckerchief.  He had the full white beard and was even a little plump (I didn’t poke him in the stomach though to see if it jiggled like a “bowl full of jelly”) and was possibly the nicest person I have met at a Con.  I asked him for a copy of Mystic Vale for Christmas and he only stated that he couldn’t make any promises as there were 6 months until Christmas and that I could still end up on the “naughty” list.

5:45pm – Just prior to the Exhibit Hall closing, I made a mad dash back to make my final purchase, a copy of D-Day at Tarawa by Decision Games which is a solitaire World War II war game that I have had my eye on for while.  With that purchase, I was out of money, exhausted as I had only got about 3 hours of sleep and ready to eat some dinner and make the 3 hour trip back to my family in Brownsburg.  So, our experience was amazing, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and now are eagerly awaiting GenCon in August.  This trip was like Christmas in July (even though it was only June) and the best part about it is that we get to experience it all over again in about 6 weeks!

-Grant