Last week I attended my fourth straight Origins. Once again it was as a temporary representative of a games publisher – this time Cool Mini or Not. So my experience was perhaps a bit different than the majority of the 17,001 attendees. With the exception of an hour lunch break each day – on which I did not eat lunch – I wasn’t able to roam the exhibit halls and spend time checking out new games or sit down to demos. Mostly I was the one doing demos. And it was amazing.
Aside from the fact that it’s really cool to get paid to play games, the experience of interacting with gamers of all stripes and ages is rewarding. I wasn’t trying to cajole someone into playing one of my favorites. These players enthusiastically wanted to sit down to these titles. Well, most of them. Sure there was sometimes a half-hearted companion along for a friend’s ride. Or the occasionally lukewarm guest that we essentially dragged into our booth from the aisle as they walked by (I’m not afraid to do that). Still, demoers largely have an attentive audience that really wants to learn. They’re excited to check out the new hotness or a game they’ve had their eyes on for some time. I’m happy to facilitate that and ecstatic when it leads to a sale that finds a game a good home!
It helped that the staff and volunteers in Cool Mini or Not are an admirably tremendous bunch, all of whom are enthusiastic and knowledgeable ambassadors. We worked effortlessly as a team, despite the full-day shifts, constant standing, hunching over tables and losing voices (well, I fared worse in the vocal department than others). Of course none of us knew every single game in the booth (except Sean Jacquemain), so we took turns at various tables and readily jumped in on the fly to help each other with rules clarifications, when needed. It all reminded me of working with Asmodee in previous years. Partly because many of the people were the same. But also, the experience that CMON’s Legionnaire representatives bring is surpassed by none in the industry. We all hit it off like family. It was work, but it was a blast. No one complained. We had no “incidents.” It was special to enjoy such camaraderie and friendship among a group of people, still some of whom I had been strangers with but a few days before.
I was also proud to be a part of Cool Mini or Not. In less than a decade, the company has entered the tabletop publishing industry and exploded on the scene. And they’re no longer just about Cool Mini, but also expanding rapidly into the Not part of their name! Yes, we demoed Blood Rage, Zombicide, Rum and Bones and answered a hundred questions about Massive Darkness and Rising Sun. But CMON has dipped into many other gaming genres. There was new Euro game Lorenzo il Magnifico, which is as German as German can get. The party games Ta-Da and Raise Your Goblet. A silly 3-D tower free-for-all fight in Banana Bandits. There’s the extremely popular family and casual Match-3 style hit Potion Explosion. The company is even reprinting a classic Knizia auction game Modern Art. We had robot battle arena combat in Gekido. The extremely streamlined and accessible area majority and set collection game Ethnos. If you like worker placement games, but think they’re too peaceful, then you need to try The Godfather. And my personal favorite of the week, Unfair, a tableau-building card game of theme park development and unscrupulously harsh business shenanigans. One, it’s nice to have this variety for a change of pace in teaching games – even if I did demo mostly Ethnos, Blood Rage and Unfair. But more than that, how rewarding to welcome attendees into a booth with such an array of styles and genres, where they’re all on tables and available to check out. For free!
Yet I was still able to take in the greater experience. At my pace and for the reasons I attended. Other than to work, that was to simply play games. Many attend Origins to buy games. Of course, I made some purchases. But I was focused on a handful of titles with my kids in mind, my main gaming group. So I finally picked up Seas of Glory for Merchants & Marauders and completed my collection of Iello’s Tales & Games series.
Others like to check out the latest buzz. But while I certainly roamed and longingly window shopped, I’m never particularly interested in the hottest hotness or demoing any old game that I’ll never add to my collection. Though I did have to stroll over and check into IDW’s Escape from 100 Million B.C. and Rayguns and Rocketships. Yes, please!
Still many take advantage of the events and learn to plays. I was shorter on time, thanks to working during the exhibit hall hours. Plus I’m not keen on paying to play games, though I certainly understand the efficacy of the practice, especially at crowded conventions.
Nope, Origins is my opportunity to simply play. And with so many different people. Thanks to Board Game Geek, I scheduled some games to teach – which is crazy since that’s mostly what I did all week! That let me bring out some real favorites that I don’t often get to play, like Kemet (with the Ta-Seti expansion), Wings for the Baron and Cuba: The Splendid Little War. I also taught the fun pulpy dice game Ancient Terrible Things. And, of course, there were new-to-me games, as well.
I finally opened up my copy of Imperial Settlers – still in shrink from last Origins. Ignacy Trzewiczek’s reimplementation of his 51st State’s core mechanisms didn’t disappoint me. This is a really smooth tableau-building game that requires lots of tough choices in how to use your cards and when to go after your opponents. The artwork is fun, each faction plays uniquely and turns move quickly as you alternate actions – which generally take almost no time to resolve. My favorite element to the design is that you never know exactly how long a round will last because you can keep taking actions as long as you have the cards and resources, which all depends on how well you manage them.
Conventions are also about trying new things, too. In that vein, I joined in a game of Deception: Murder in Hong Kong – mostly with complete strangers. The game involves players laying a number of disparate images in front of them. A murderer, accomplice and witness are dealt randomly while the forensic investigator serves a Werewolf-style moderator role, providing clues to the pair of images that the murderer secretly picks from their tableau. Of course, I was the murderer and, of course, I couldn’t adequately lie to get the others off my trail. It was a fun experiment for me as I don’t ever play these types of games. And it proved what I always suspected – that I would be horrible at social deduction/interaction games.
Another spur-of-the-moment play was Champions of Midgard, which proved a surprise hit for me this week. It is fantastic! The worker placement, dice-rolling, Viking themed design captures the true spirit of Norse culture and mythology, I thought. While you need to collect and manage resources, the bulk of the game consists of recruiting Viking warriors of varying strengths (dice) and then sending them off to battle monstrous enemies. Most of them perish in the encounter, even if you’re successful, and it’s back to recruiting more dice next round to man the shieldwall. It was fun, strategic, sometimes humorous and always about glorious deaths to secure your place at the tables in Valhalla.
And while not the last game I played, another unique design I probably would have never tried was Fabled Fruit. The Friedemann Friese card game is not extremely different in style. You collect sets of fruit to make juice. But before turning in cards to collect the juice, you may instead place your token on it to resolve its special action. This results in taking cards, trading cards, swapping cards and stealing cards. Not terribly special. Where the game shines, though, is in its sheer number of juice cards. With a sort of variation on the Legacy system, the game includes nearly 60 action cards, 4 of each one, and they’re stacked in numerical order. In one game you might use six to eight different ones, so the design encourages you to take note of where you left off and return to that exact setup next time you start a game! So maybe after a dozen games or so you’ll get through the stack!
The entire experience – teaching, playing, wandering, interacting, shopping – reinforces the amazing concept that we all approach gaming in different ways and for many reasons. Every year I’m reminded about what strikes me most at Origins: our hobby is beautifully broad and truly there is something for everyone within it. Take a look at this BGG listing just to see the variety of favorites that attendees had – so many with so many tastes! It’s one thing to read about diversity and understand that people like different things; but you don’t realize the scope of it all until you’ve immersed yourself in it. No thanks to internet forums and social media, it’s easy to get caught up in negativity and horror stories about disrespectful and hateful people seeking to marginalize others from our entertainment. I don’t mean to dismiss those examples or sweep them under the rug, but it’s refreshing to know that after living it for five days they are the exception. And while the outliers must be challenged and refuted, the reality is that the hobby is overwhelmingly accepting and inclusive – from its passionate publishers to talented designers and on down through the masses of consumers.
I said it before. Origins is a wonderful environment. It’s large enough to offer a vast array across the board. Publishers big and small can show off their stuff. Events and special program abound. Yet it has an intimate feeling. The fair is spread out and never appears crowded – despite increasing attendance – but you’re still aware of all of the activity buzzing around and see reminders everywhere you go of all it has to offer. Most of all, there’s always open room to get a game in with old friends or new. And late into the night. While Origins is the only big con I’ve attended, from what I’ve read and heard it’s one of the best at combining business and casual play. It’s not an overly-commercialized event, but rather geared toward the gamer. And for me, at least, it offers plenty of what I really want in abundance – the chance to just play.