So, I spent last week with a bunch of Canadians in Columbus, OH (that is NOT them pictured above). Amongst that bunch, I discovered that bathrooms are actually washrooms – apparently because you don’t take baths in them. And hockey sweaters are really called jerseys – I guess they should know…it’s their game. And never once did I hear an, “Eh?” Although to be fair, these were predominantly French Canadians.
I also spent my time with thousands of gamers. Many different gamers of all stripes. It was Origins 2014. It was my first Origins. In fact, it was my first “big con.” Last August, when I was rambling on about my anniversary with iSlaytheDragon, I set some gaming goals for myself in the coming year. One of those was to attend a big convention. And while I attended Origins for a different reason than I imagined, it was still a blast. So what did I think of the event? Well, pardon my musings…
1. Getting Paid to Play Games!
Sounds like a gamer’s paradise, right? Well before you get jealous though, keep in mind that I played the same half dozen titles over and over and over and over. Specifically, World of Tanks, Desperados of Dice Town, Splendor, Sultaniya, Seasons, 7 Wonders, The Builders, Dixit, and Concepts. Indeed, I believe that World of Tanks is now my most played game ever! But it was a ton of fun teaching games to people of all ages, preferences, and backgrounds. I didn’t see or do as much as the average convention attendee, but that’s okay. I wasn’t there to test prototypes that I’ll never see again; or try out the new hotness I’ll never buy; or to add more games to my collection of titles that rarely see the table already. Sure, I took advantage of some of that while I had the opportunity (my favorite was previewing the upcoming Alien Uprising from Mr. B. Games). But in the end, I had a great time just demoing games all week – and losing my voice while at it.
2. Meeting a Dragonslayer
Conventions are not generally a solo affair and I was able to experience Origins with a fellow Dragonslayer, Andrew. We had never met before. Thankfully, despite being a hardcore Euro-gamer and Canadian, we hit it off famously. Our odd, sometimes dry, senses of humor mixed well. Plus it helped that we both shared the same values. Our different gaming preferences made for a dynamic tag-team duo in the Asmodee booth. I was often able to save him from the luck-fest Desperados and aggressively interactive World of Tanks, while he handled the bulk of the more cerebral Splendor and AP-inducing Seasons for me. Outside of working, we played several games, namely Roll Through the Ages: Iron Age, a bit of Subdivision, The Builders: Middle Ages, Jaipur, Traders of Carthage, Outlaws, and Pirate Dice. We also met up with Derek of iSlaytheDragon partner, iheartprintandplay, playing a couple games and having lunch – which was cool! We strolled through exhibitors to, among other things, get a preview of Pagoda (AEG), strong-arm a Star Realms promo card for @FarmerLenny (White Wizard), and gloriously roll for a 35% discount via Tumbling Dice (Eagle/Gryphon) when the pressure was all on me. I came through spectacularly, despite having never played before, I might add. By the end of the day Friday, we were pretty slap-happy after long hours and late nights. I’m not sure a session report of our 3am Pirate Dice game would even be possible! Somehow, we made it through Saturday.
3. Asmodee is Impressive
Before you write me off as a homer, I really mean it. Asomdee USA is not just impressive because of their eclectic selection of games with outstanding art and fantastic components. Thanks to their own publishing endeavors, plus distribution deals with a couple dozen other companies, they offer a diverse product line that offers something for everyone. But it’s the people behind the company which truly impresses. They are genuinely wonderful people with a knowledge and passion for the hobby. Open, friendly, and generous, Jules, Giancarlo, Stefan, Carol, Ruby, and (non-Canadian) Josh knew their product, knew how to sell it, were enthusiastic about it, and had the best booth at the show. Myself excluded, Asmodee had a great group of demoers, too – thanks to Adam, Benoit, Shaun, Simon, Justin, Kim and Louis, Sean, and Peter (and some others I may be forgetting names). They were friendly, enthusiastic, and untiring. In addition to the seven games I demoed, we offered another 4-5 titles for free play, on about 15 different tables, simultaneously, with multiple demos at any given time. While there were plenty of other companies with great games, nice people, and noteworthy space, no publisher’s booth matched Asmodee’s presence in scope, free gaming, and most of all accessibility.
4. Too Much “Pay to Play”
Which brings me to my next musing. Yes, there were free games and prototypes and demos to be played throughout Hall D, where Asmodee was, and Hall C, the exhibit hall. But there was also a lot of “pay to play” demoing. Too much for my tastes – although just one is too much. Most of these cost an event token or more, which one could purchase for $2 each. However, why would I want to pay just to try a game? Many of these were non-publisher scheduled events, but the model persisted in plenty of company booths, as well. I can understand an entry fee to play in a tournament, with pride and prizes on the line. But to just try out a game? This was the only aspect to Origins that left a sour taste in my mouth. Asmodee did have paid tournament play. However, about half of their games for sale were also available to try…for free.
5. Supposedly Splendid Splendor?
I’ve already raved about Asmodee, so to prove that I’m not totally in their pocket, I’ll admit I don’t understand all the hype over Splendor (actually produced by Space Cowboys). It has taken the hobby by storm, up for the coveted Spiel des Jahres. Even @FarmerLenny exuded about its wonders. But, wow, is it a boring game. It’s slow, generates no laughter, and in fact no one even talks to each other. It’s two to four players starring at a table of cards and chips until some one says, “I have 15 points.” Yeah, yeah, so it’s simple, accessible, smooth, and quick – especially quick, so as to put you out of your misery – so right up the alley of the SdJ and will likely win. Luckily there was always a game nearby like World of Tanks to attack your opponents, or Desperados for rolling laughs, or Concepts for sheer fun, or even Sultaniya with it’s awesome sculpted djinns. So my theory is that Splendor impressed so much because other awesome games basked in their surrounding glow. Right?
6. Rubbing Elbows with the Stars
Well, perhaps that’s a bit of hyperbole. But it was my first connection with recognized names in the hobby. Of course, I worked with Giancarlo Caltabiano (of Board to Death TV fame). I sort of got to meet Tom Vasel (Dice Tower) as he was yucking it up with the Asmodee brass and crew a couple days early in the week. Even better, I got to play Splendor with Richard Launius (designer of Arkham Horror, Defenders of the Realm, and Elder Sign, among other titles) – who is also not a fan of the SdJ nominee. Then I taught him World of Tanks, with only a couple slight rules miscues I later discovered, and sold him a copy! He was down-to-earth, fun to be around, and I considered meeting him a highlight of my trip.
7. Variety and the Perfect Environment
In all seriousness, this is what struck me most about Origins. I was reminded how broad our hobby is, and truly what it means that there is something for everyone within it. It’s one thing to read about diversity and understand that people like different things; but you don’t really realize the scope of it all until you’ve immersed yourself in it. Other gamers won’t be a fan of everything that I like, and vice versa. It’s a concept few people keep in mind whenever they trash a game. I got to see that and interact with it on a practical, people-to-people level. While I would compare playing Splendor to balancing the checkbook, it’s clear that others – many others, apparently – find it challenging and stimulating.
Origins is a wonderful environment. It’s large enough to offer a vast array of events in board gaming, role playing, miniatures, CCG’s, and other events and special guests. The major publishers all show off their stuff. Yet it has an intimate feeling. The fair is spread out and never appears crowded, but you’re still aware of all of the activity buzzing around you and see reminders everywhere you go of all it has to offer. And there’s always open room to get a game in with old friends or new. It’s not an overly-commercialized event, but rather geared toward the gamer and what he or she really wants – to play.