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Like Family (Reflections from Origins 2015)

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As my first big convention ever, last year I sort of wondered about Origins with little forethought and even less of an idea of what to do…and how to do it.  Going into 2015 I was no longer a green rookie and felt more at ease.  I went armed with a list of things to see and a schedule of games to play.  Alas, I either over-booked my itinerary or misjudged my time!  And while I didn’t get to do everything I set out or planned, my experience still ended up fascinating…and just as unique this second time around.  Next year, I could be even more diligent with a detailed programme and structured routine.  Alas, I think I won’t, because that’s not what Origins is all about to me…

Again, I attended Origins as a temporary representative of Asmodee Games.  I Guess I didn’t mess up too badly teaching World of Tanks last year…100 times.  You may know this company for its great games, wonderfully diverse line of titles and dreams of world domination.  Let me tell you about the people behind the brand.  They are honestly genuine ambassadors of the hobby.  I’m not claiming Asmodee is any different from other major game makers in this regard.  Still, we everyday players generally don’t get to see the human side of the hobby’s business.  And that’s too bad.  I know you’d appreciate what you see.

asmodee booth
Our work started even before the convention began!

Besides their full-time employees, the individuals staffing the Asmodee booth were a tremendous bunch, as well.  We all hit it off like family.  It was work, but it was a blast.  We were on our feet for 8+ hours, lost our voices, taught the same games over and over and did all of this on whacked out schedules away from families for seven days.  No one complained.  We had no “incidents.”  Still we encouragingly dragged people into to play more games…even forcibly on occasion!  It was something special to enjoy such camaraderie and friendship among a group of people, most of whom I had been strangers with but a few days before.  Now we were gaming until 3:00 in the morning, as if we were a long established club.  I only hope the other demo teams throughout the vendor halls had half the experience.

While my teammates felt like family, the attendees I interacted with seemed as distant kinsmen.  I’m sure it’s all because we share that common bond: gaming.  Or as my road trip buddy’s wife succinctly put it – “You’re with your people now!”  In the Asmodee booth, it was my pleasure to sit down with guests and show off wonderful games.  Whether it was rolling for civilizations, Mancala in the Arabian Nights, running from the sheriff on a speeding train or even making perfume, our guests were awesome.  Patient and understanding in waiting on tables to free up and accommodating while I plodded through rules as succinctly but adequately as I could (even and especially when messing up), our visitors were a fun bunch.  There was a kindred connection between “us” and “them” that gamers and publishers can’t otherwise enjoy.  People’s compliments and surprise and enthusiasm with Asmodee’s open arms, generosity and accessibility were sincere and numerous.  Seeing many of them return day after day to try something new or even just to say, “Hi,” made all the efforts worth it!  Hopefully, Asmodee really appreciates and values the significance of that presence!

Would you like to play a game?
Would you like to play a game?

Those I gamed with in my free time were also just as enjoyable.  This year, I decided to join a BGG discussion thread in which random users scheduled games with (mostly) total strangers.  I must admit to being a little hesitant and nervous.  Would personalities clash?  Would I be stuck with “that” guy for an hour or more of gaming etiquette faux paus?  The reality was anything but.  Once again, the experience was more enjoyable than I could have hoped for.  I learned some games I’ve always wanted to try and taught a couple of my all-time favorites.  All with willing players more than happy to get together.  And always just strolling in and picking an open and available table.  It was stress-free, worry-free, and always about gaming.

Indeed, my Origins was more about gaming than games.  Sure I wandered through the exhibit halls and saw some things on my list, tried some demos and checked out the new hotness.  However, I mostly booked myself with the aforementioned gaming sessions.  And that’s okay.  Actually that’s great!  I wasn’t concerned about adding to my collection.  Although I did.  However, my small haul of loot was geared toward the kids.  Plus I received some new-to-me titles in my first ever no-ship math trade, which was a fun experience.  After taking stock of my inventory, I returned with an eclectic variety.  What were those?

Game: Concept – party game that’s essentially Charades with a board, symbols and tokens.
How: Purchased from Asmodee.
Why: Should prove a hit with my wife’s family.

Game: Attila – quick Bruno Faidutti kids game…yes, a Faidutti kids game!
How: Purchased from Blue Orange.
Why: Faidutti is my favorite designer and I have kids; seems a logical choice.

Game: Longhorn – accessible 2-player, condensed Five Tribes.
How:  Purchased from Blue Orange.
Why: Quick and easy kids accessible game.

Game: Dark Seas – dice rolling, variable powers and tile-laying/activation with pirates!
How: Purchased from AEG.
Why: Has some of my favorite mechanics with one of my favorite themes.

Game: Legendary: Paint the Town the Red – expansion for Legendary: Marvel Deck Building Game.
How: Purchased from CoolStuff, Inc.
Why: Sons really enjoy the base game.

Game: Fistful of Dinero – wild crazy Western game of card-drafting, action programming and dexterity.
How: Purchased from Magic House Games.
Why: Right up my kids’ alley and they love it anytime they can take out their old man.

Game: Piña Pirata – Crazy Eights style shedding card game with animal pirates and changing rules.
How: Purchased from Iello.
Why: Quick playing card game, again great for the kids.

Game: Nations: The Dice Game – distilled, fast and dirty dice version of Nations.
How: Review copy from Asmodee.
Why: I really like it and am going to review it!

Game: Ticket to Ride – um, duh!
How: Leftover demo copy from Asmodee.
Why: Rectifying a gaming sin from never having played it before last week.

Game: Boomtown – Faidutti bidding game with chaos and interaction.
How: Acquired in math trade.
Why: Again, Faidutti; I’d like to collect as many of his games as I can.

Game: Hotel Samoa – veiled bidding with hand-management for hotel upgrading.
How: Acquired in math trade.
Why: Looks easy, quick, variable and charming.

Game: Star Trek: Deck Building Game – The Next Generation and Next Phase expansion.
How: Acquired in math trade.
Why: Big Star Trek: TNG fan so thought I’d give it a try despite lackluster reviews.

Game: Race for the Galaxy – king of the space-themed, role selection, tableau builders?
How: Acquired in math trade.
Why: Have always wanted to try it out and this afforded that opportunity.

Game: Mad Zeppelin – role selection, interaction and chaos – with steampunk.
How: Acquired in math trade.
Why: Yes, it’s been thoroughly trashed, but that’s why I never wanted to pay for it.

Nothing like 7 grown men playing Hearts of Attraction together late into the night. <3
Nothing like 7 grown men playing Hearts of Attraction together late into the night.

All-in-all I consider my trip wildly successful.  I made new friends and connections that I will hopefully renew next year.  I interacted with gamers and sold them great games.  I only mixed up my personal Twitter with the Dragon’s official feed about 18% of the time.  And I finally played Roll for the Galaxy!  I’d say that’s all a win.  So what did I play?  Well, I could just list them all.  But keep in mind these were often long, exhausting days – so maybe the more important question is what state of mind was I in when I played them?!  Here’s the list with my thoughts and comments:

Game: Monstrous
Mindset: Played several times day and night while refreshed, teaching, learning and exhausted
Rated: Fun dexterity and strategy with lots of variety –  A-
Collection Status: Own pre-production copy for preview

Game: Lost Legacy
Mindset: Morning and refreshed
Rated: At least it’s quick –  D+
Collection Status: Will not get this game, if it indeed can be called a game

Game: Harbour
Mindset: Day and refreshed
Rated: Great resource conversion game –  B
Collection Status: Own and reviewed

Game: Nations: The Dice Game
Mindset: Night learning game + demos
Rated: Distilled civ-building with lots of good choices –  B+
Collection Status: Acquired review copy

Game: Elysium
Mindset: Night learning game + demos
Rated: Meaty card drafting and unique tableau builder –  A-
Collection Status: Probably not for my kids, so will hold out for now

Game: Five Tribes
Mindset: Night learning game + demos
Rated: Lots of choices and always setting up the next players –  A
Collection Status: Would like to have, but bear of a set up and can’t play with AP prone players

Game: Endeavor
Mindset: Day learning game
Rated: Great use of building activation for developing and interaction –  A
Collection Status: Wish I had, but hopelessly OOP

Game: In the City: Origins and Harbor
Mindset: Day demo game
Rated: Light gateway card drafting and tableau builder –  C
Collection Status:  It’d work great for my kids, but, you know, so many other games…

Game: Dark Seas
Mindset: Day demo game
Rated: It’s got it going on –  A-
Collection Status: Bought

Game: Roll for the Galaxy
Mindset: Day learning game
Rated: Good implementation but frustrating to waste all those dice –  B-
Collection Status: I’ll see how Race is first…

Game: Parfum
Mindset: Night learning game + demos
Rated: Very nice Fresco light design, step up from gateway game –  C
Collection Status: It’s about making perfume, so no; sorry, not trying to be snooty

Game: Abyss
Mindset: Night learning game
Rated: Set collection and card-drafting with variable powers –  C+
Collection Status: It works, but didn’t grab me or feel tremendously different, so pass

Game: Paradox
Mindset: Day prototype demo
Rated: Drafting and set collecting with a very unique resource collection puzzle mechanic
Collection Status: It’s a prototype so I won’t grade it – but look out for this on Kickstarter soon

Game: Kings of Air and Steam
Mindset: Day learning game
Rated: Steampunk pick-up and deliver with zeppelin minis and interaction –  A
Collection Status: Went from want to gotta have.

Game: Hearts of Attraction
Mindset: Late night with 7 grown men
Rated: Throwing magnets; it is what it is –  C
Collection Status: Fun and silly and has it place, but thanks anyway

Game: 7 Wonders Babel
Mindset: Late night learning game
Rated: Wow, this makes 7 Wonders not even feel like 7 Wonders –  B-
Collection Status: Hard to say, we like 7 Wonder and chaos, but maybe not the two together…

Game: Witness
Mindset: Late night learning game
Rated: Appreciate the uniqueness and logic play of telephone, but –  X
Collection Status: Made me feel stupid, we were slap happy and I totally admit I’m not the audience for this one

Game: Mission: Red Planet
Mindset: Day teaching game
Rated: Role selection, chaos, steampunk and Faidutti –  A+
Collection Status: Owned, one of my Top 5 and waiting on the reprint

Game: Legendary: Marvel Deck Building Game
Mindset: Day teaching game
Rated: Thematic and narrative driven deck builder – B
Collection Status: Owned with (now) two expansions

Game: High Society
Mindset: Late night learning game
Rated: Guess it’s a nice bidding game if you like that sort of thing – C+
Collection Status: I do not

Game: Dead Man’s Draw
Mindset: Late night learning game
Rated: Adequate push-your-luck game, but doesn’t stand out terribly much – C
Collection Status: I have Incan Gold, so pass

Game: Cyclades
Mindset: Day teaching game
Rated: Epitome of how to blend Ameritrash and Euro styles – A+
Collection Status: Owned and one of my Top 5

Game: Fidelitas
Mindset: Night teaching game
Rated: Simple and fast card game of moving set collection – B-
Collection Status: Owned and soon will be reviewing

Game: Boomtown
Mindset: Late night learning game
Rated:  Auction game where powers and set collecting trump bidding – B
Collection Status: Owned…it’s Faidutti

Game: Funemployed
Mindset: Late night learning game
Rated: More “activity” of creating stories with cue cards – X
Collection Status: We had fun, probably because we were all slap happy (this was the last night), but totally not normally my thing

I’m more than pleased with that assortment of games.  I learned some and taught some; played titles I’ve always been interested in and others I’ve always loved.  How can I complain about that?!

My second Origins very much solidified my feelings from last year that the convention is a grand affair with an intimate touch.  You’re certainly aware of all the whir and buzz and activity – and it offers more than you’ll be able to take in over the course of five days.  There are new releases, a variety of events, crowds and publishers big and small.  Yet, it has a charming soul.  There’s elbow room, casual programs and always an open table.  It’s big but not overly commercialized, letting those of us who love the hobby mingle with the movers and shakers who make the games.  Perhaps that’s not really unique?  I don’t attend many conventions.  Still, I for one appreciate Origins focus on giving gamers a week of exploring this world with friends and family and publishers at their own pace and comfort level.  After all, they’re what they hobby is all about.

A Splendor trophy? For me? Or did I really win it? Oh, the irony!
A Splendor trophy? For me? Or did I really win it? Oh, the irony!

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Great article!

    Despite my 30+ years as an RPG player, 20 years with war games, and the last 6 playing myriad board games, I have yet to make a convention of any type. Those who have my story before are familiar with my friend’s attempt to get me playing Arkham Horror following his many years attending Origins. At the time, I thought it an anathema for an RPG player to play board games…wow, how the world had changed.

    I’ll get to one soon, hopefully, and enjoy time with “my people” as well.

    Cheers,
    Joe

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