Origins 2017

I went to my first board game convention!
Apparently this is what happens when I go to a board game convention. Yay for 19 new board games and/or expansions (and promos, besides)?

I went to Origins in Columbus, Ohio with Kevin, Jenny, and their friend David. It ended up being an awesome experience; we basically played board games every waking and non-eating moment from Wednesday afternoon until Saturday evening.

It looks like I played (or sat and watched an entire game of) 47 different games. I think I only played four games more than once: Saboteur, Roll for the Galaxy, Codenames Duet, and Caverna: Cave vs Cave.

Photos of the entire trip are at my photos site.


I don’t want to forget my experiences and game impressions, so here is a brief summary of every game I played on the day I first played it, along with some brief thoughts about each. Also pictures, of course.

Day one (Wednesday):

Hounded – Asymmetric chess-like game where one player tries to corner another’s fox using hounds. Decent, but very easily broken (just block off a corner using your hounds), and not something I’d really replay. Also it’s only two players, and I wouldn’t ever really get a chance to play two-player games. The huge version of it was impressive though.

Codenames Duet (Prototype) – 2-player cooperative version of Codenames, due to be released at Gen Con. Plays really well, and is an interesting twist on Codenames. Would have bought it if it was available.

Glux – Well-made strategy game. Not too memorable (forgot we played it until I went to write this), but fine mechanically, and well-produced.

Captain Silver – Fun shape-feeling game (like sensors in Space Cadets) that is slowed down a lot by the scoring phase. Enjoyable enough, but meh.

Puppet Wars Unstitched – Miniature games for people that don’t want to build miniatures. Not really something I’d enjoy, but decent enough game.

Galaxy Trucker – The classic that I’ve played so many times and love.

Top Secret Spies – Hidden-role game where you move spies around a board with die rolls to maximize your points. Actually a really, really good game until you add in the top secret cards, at which point the game just falls apart. With the cards, this is probably one of the bottom 5 games I played. I’ll probably try making a version of this (basic rules only) with board game people’s faces.

Roll for the Galaxy – Dice-rolling game that fixes everything I dislike about Race for the Galaxy. Amazing game (easily top 5 of the games I played). Bought a copy of the base set plus the first expansion after playing it.

Day two (Thursday):

Radiant: Offline Battle Arena – A customizable card game apparently based on a video game. Decent enough gameplay, although like many customizable card games, it sometimes gets into weird loops or degenerate situations. Enjoyable, but I probably wouldn’t play it again.

Pinball Showdown – Everyone is a pinball and you’re trying to hit targets for points. It sounds weird, but it actually plays really well, and is a lot of fun while remaining really thematic. I bought a copy and got it signed by the designer.

Russian Roulette World Championship – Social bluffing game that is really, really well done and is a lot of fun. I would have bought a copy, except I think the theme (while it fits the game mechanics perfectly) might be a little off-putting to people in my usual gaming group. David picked up a copy, so we can play it, though. Really fun.

New York Slice – Set collection game that is mechanically awesome, and has probably the best production of any game I played. (The box opens like a pizza box, and the score pad is an order receipt). Easily in the top 5 overall, and might be my pick for best game I played there. Picked up a copy plus a sheet of promos.

Werewords – Social deduction game similar to Werewolf, except with a secret word that people are trying to guess by asking yes/no questions. Really good, and a lot of fun. Top 5 of the games I played. David picked up a copy, but it really just needs the phone app to play.

Century: Spice Road – Production game that reminds me a lot of Splendor, except it feels really clunky and was rather off-putting for me. The deck-building aspect of it was interesting, but I felt like I was often way too constrained to be able to do anything useful. Bottom 5 of games I played.

Trickster: Champions of Time – Trick-taking game (ha!) that is actually the best trick-taking game I’ve ever played. Mechanics don’t screw lead players and the abilities give you a lot of “outs”, plus you can collect the most of any given color to negate those cards. Bought a copy, and got some promos with it.

Element – Place elemental tokens on the board to trap other players’ pawns. Interesting mechanically, but wasn’t really memorable in any way.

Deadline – Detective story game that feels like someone wanted to write murder mysteries and slapped some card mechanics on top of it. Decent enough for what it is, but not something I’d want to play again.

Unearth – Dice-rolling and set-collection game that falls flat and doesn’t really feel like you have any control over it. Easily bottom 5 of games I played, and possibly the worst of the bunch? We didn’t finish the game the first time, and walked away from it when playing again on Saturday from frustration and lack of interest.

Portal Heroes – Card game where you collect number cards and use them to collect character cards. Fine, and plays fine, but not really memorable.

The Colonists – Worker-placement game with a moving worker on a hex board. Has the ability to be super complicated and deep (4+ hours), but has ways to reduce complexity for shorter or easier games. I really enjoyed it, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use a 50% off coupon on it, reducing its price to $45. Hopefully I’ll be able to convince enough gaming group people to play it.

Chicken Cha Cha Cha – Children’s memory game with chickens. Fine for what it is, but not something I enjoyed.

Dominion: Prosperity – It’s Dominion, the classic deckbuilding game. We played with only Prosperity cards, so the game was ridiculously full of trashing duchies and getting free gold for buying them. Final scores were over 100. Kind of ridiculous, but fun. It’s Dominion. :P

Near and Far – The “sequel” to Above and Below, except it’s only really related to Above and Below as far as the world goes. Story-telling adventure game that is really, really fun, and it has a campaign mode that I’m interested in trying if I can get a group to commit to it. Got my copy signed by the creator!

Day three (Friday):

Saboteur – Hidden-role tile-placement game. I’ve played it before, and it’s always enjoyable enough. Would probably buy it at some point, but didn’t pick it up here.

Costa Rica – Push-your-luck set-collection game. Fun enough, but not really memorable in any way.

Cottage Garden – Really fun game where you try to fill a board with differently-shaped pieces, themed around flowers and planting. Mechanic for piece-selection is what makes this interesting. Top 5 of the games I played, and I would have bought a copy except the asking price didn’t seem worthwhile (I think it was $65?).

Welcome to the Dungeon – I mostly tuned this out, so I don’t know what it’s about other than you finding items and fighting your way through some enemies.

Agricola: Family Edition – A variant of Agricola that strips down the rules and complexities of the game in a way that really works and keeps it interesting. If Cavera fixes Agricola by giving you more choices and complexity, this fixes Agricola by giving you fewer options but making feeding less stressful. Bought a copy (partially due to having another 50% off coupon), and I’m looking forward to playing it again.

Ethnos – Area-control game with card set collection. Decent game, but I feel like the card randomness is too random, with no real way to mitigate it. Would be much better with a couple rules tweaks (like having a constantly-refilling set of cards to select from when drafting). Probably wouldn’t play it again regardless, though.

Alchemists – Logic-puzzle game that “requires” a mobile app to play. Was a really interesting concept, and the puzzle-solving aspect was really interesting, but it felt like there was too much game around it, such that it stopped being interesting for us. We didn’t finish a full game of it, and stopped playing so David could attempt to solitare the puzzle in as few steps as possible, instead. Wouldn’t play it again as-is.

That’s a Question! (Prototype) – Social “would you rather” game that would be good as an icebreaker game, but that feels like it needs to support more than 6 players to be good. Decent enough, and it works well as what it tries to do.

Lyngk – Similar to chess or checkers, where you try to strategically move pieces and stacks to collect more sets than your opponent. Decent enough, but not really the kind of game I enjoy.

Tiffin – Cube-placement game where you collect colored cards and use them to complete routes. Had too much deck screw to really be interesting (both in routes and colored cards). We didn’t finish a game of it.

Piñata – Kids’ game that doesn’t try to pretend to be anything it’s not. Good game for what it is, but not really interesting enough to hold our attention.

Adrenaline – Basically “First Person Shooter: The Board Game”. Really good theme, and it felt like playing an FPS, but I didn’t really enjoy it. The jumbled rules explanation we got before someone else stepped in to correct everything probably didn’t help. I think Kevin, Jenny, and David enjoyed it, but this is not something I would play again. Still, playing with the giant version of the game was nice.

Lemming Mafia – Kids’ game where you race lemmings and/or cause them to drop out by putting their feet in concrete and making them “sleep with the fishes”. Bought it because it was on the $7 discount rack, and it actually ended up being a really fun game. Plays quickly, and is super easy to understand and explain, but still manages to have a lot of depth. Great game.

Johari – Card collection game with action selection that reminds me a little of Puerto Rico or Race for the Galaxy. Mechanically a good game, except the rules were really vague on some important points, and the graphic design was terrible enough that it hindered play a few times. With some small rules clarifications, would be a good game.

Day four (Saturday):

Food Chain (Prototype) – Quick card game where you try to play around what you think your opponents will play. Fun, and easy to learn, and has super cute art. Would play again.

Arena: For the Gods! – Combat game with dice that fails to be interesting and has way too much dice screw. We didn’t finish our game (even after resetting and trying it with the proper draft mechanics). Easily one of the bottom 5 games I played.

Lorenzo – Worker-placement game that is really well designed and that also has some of the best graphic design I’ve seen. Iconography is used so well in the game that we corrected the game-demo person a couple of times based on the icons not matching the explanation. Still, for some reason, it didn’t really click with me, and I can’t explain why. Excellent game, but not one that I’d want to buy or play.

7th Sea Miniatures Game (Prototype) – I don’t remember the name of this, but it’s a miniatures game in the 7th Sea world that seems to really accurately simulate ship movement and combat. Jenny played a round of it, and she seemed to enjoy it, but I have no interest in either the mechanics or the theme.

Paradox – Set-collection game where the primary mechanic is playing Bejeweled with colored tokens. Sounds weird, but it actually fits together really well, and was enjoyable to play. Fun, especially because we played it with the creator.

Caverna: Cave vs Cave – 2-player variant of Caverna that is super simple to play and explain, but that has a good amount of depth and strategy. If it wasn’t for my dislike of 2-player games (because I would never really get a chance to play them), I would probably consider buying it.
(No pictures because I only watched other people play.)

Lobo 77 – Quick card game that is a little like 6 Nimmt. Quick and fun and easy, but has player elimination that can be a little rough. Doesn’t try to be anything it’s not.

Bärenpark – Same core mechanic as Cottage Garden, but with the interesting mechanic being around placement order and position instead of piece selection. A lot of fun, and seemingly has more strategic depth than Cottage Garden, and a much better price point ($40). Top 5 games that I played. I bought a copy.

Spirit Island – We didn’t get a chance to play this, but it’s a co-op game where every player is drastically different (different character, different cards and abilities, different core functionality in the game). Looks really good, and is really pretty, but I’m not a fan of co-op games.

Jump Drive – It’s Race for the Galaxy with all the interesting parts of Race taken out in an attempt to simplfy the game. But, if Agricola Family simplifies Agricola well, this is the exact opposite. Mechanically seems interesting until you get to the point where you’re drawing 15 cards a turn (with cards already in hand and a hand size of 10), and you have to study all of those cards to figure out what to keep. Also snowballs in a ridiculous way (50 points ends the game, and I scored 42 points in the final round alone) that just isn’t fun. Easily bottom 5 of the games I played, and would probably be my pick for the worst game I played — it generally feels and plays like a mess and would benefit greatly from mechanical changes (like having separate currency that isn’t cards).


Purchases

Near and Far – Detailed above. I loved Above and Below, and heard good things about this. The ability to get it signed was just gravy. Played once.
Above and Below: Groves – Expansion cards for Above and Below.
Above and Below: Extended game and tokens – Expansion book with new adventures for Above and Below.
Mysterium Promo Pack – Additional suspect, location, and weapon card for the game.
Caverna Water Expansion – Extra Caverna tiles. For Max and Yubin.
Coup Speculator Promo – Extra Coup cards. For Max and Yubin.
Trickster: Champions of Time – Detailed above. Played it, loved it, bought it. (Included promos.)
Pinball Showdown – Detailed above. Played it, loved it, bought it, got it signed.
Johari – Detailed above. Purchased due to it being on sale for $7, but it seems worthwhile. Played once.
Lemming Mafia – Detailed above. Purchased due to it being on sale for $7, but it was actually really good. Played once.
Roll for the Galaxy – Detailed above. Played it, loved it, bought it. (Got some promos for it as well from playing.)
Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition – Expansion for the above that was part of the demo set we played.
New York Slice – Detailed above. Played it, loved it, bought it. (Also bought a sheet of promo “Daily Special” cards.)
Agricola: Family Edition – Detailed above. Played it, loved it, bought it. (50% off helped make that decision easier.)
Bärenpark – Detailed above. Played it, loved it, bought it.
The Colonists – Detailed above. Played it, loved it, bought it, but only because I had a 50% off coupon.
Power Grid: The First Sparks – Had wanted this game a while ago, but it was out of print and unavailable. Saw it at the con as part of a buy-one-get-one-half-off deal, so picked it up with Roll for the Galaxy. Unplayed.
Gold Ahoy! – On sale for $4. Figured it was worthwhile even if we played it just once. Unplayed.
Zombies!!! Roll Them Bones! – On sale for $3. Figured it was worthwhile even if we played it just once. Unplayed.
Rocket Jockey – On sale for $4. Figured it was worthwhile even if we played it just once. Unplayed.
Forever Young – On sale for $7. Figured it was worthwhile even if we played it just once. Unplayed.
Monuments: Wonders of Antiquity – On sale for $7. Figured it was worthwhile even if we played it just once. Unplayed.
Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant – On sale for $10. Figured it was worthwhile even if we played it just once. Unplayed.

Blargh (politics, work, life)

It’s been a horrific week, both in politics and in work, but at least I’m home.

On the politics front, it goes without saying that this administration has been absolutely insane, hypocritical, dysfunctional, and ruthless in its actions regardless of (or perhaps in spite of) facts, reason, and the law.
I’ve been donating $300 a month to the ACLU, and will likely raise it next month, as well as making sporadic donations to the EFF and maintaining an NYT subscription. If you have the financial means to help, I encourage you to make some donations as well, particularly to the ACLU, which has already played a role in part of the immigration ban being stayed.
Also consider some more locally-impacting charities that will directly help your area. Here again is my list of charities (as well as suggestions by friends).

Seen on Facebook (via Greg): John McCain, Dick Cheney, Michael Moore, and the Pope are all on the same side right now.
I guess that’s how you know your administration is batshit insane. :\

On the work front, we’ve had a rather disastrous release filled with e-releases and customer cases… and the release isn’t even half deployed yet. I feel really bad for my manager, who has to deal with all this as well as pressure from upper management… and particularly bad because a lot of the issues that came up came up in features I built and designed. To be fair, the features themselves are working exactly as expected, and we put in existing toggles for customers that have problems. But due to either oversights or underestimates on the sheer magnitude of impacted customers, we’re having to pull out or tweak the features anyway.
Le sigh.

Things are depressing so here are some photos.


The new Apple store in Chandler is really pretty. (Also the outside of the store has no indication in any way that it’s an Apple store, but I guess it’s pretty obvious from the interior.)

I guess they have to clean escalators somehow…

Ikea is doing that “kids draw things and we make them into stuffed animals” thing again.

Pretty.

I also brought back a lot of TCGs (including my entire collection of Pokemon cards and X-Files cards, and my remaining WoW cards) and have been sorting them and generally assembling decks. I now have assembled WoW “booster” packs to do a booster draft (limited card selection to 4 different classes so drafting won’t be insane) and assembled two X-Files TCG decks, and will be making Pokemon and Case Closed decks as the next thing. Yay for TCGs?

Edit: Woke up feeling unhappy this morning, and I wanted to use up my company match for their FY, so gave another $1500 to the ACLU. Take that, Trump.

Black Friday, weather, games

Life goes. It’s been busy — hard to believe we’re already halfway through December.

I took advantage of the Black Friday sales surprisingly little this year. I picked up an iPod Touch to replace my Samsung digital camera, at almost $50 off, which was nice. The iPod actually takes better photos, and is generally useful as well in places that have WiFi. It’s been a nice replacement for taking daily photos.
I also picked up season 11 of Supernatural (usual $10), and a few booster boxes of .hack//ENEMY ($3/each) since they’ve been out of print for years and it seems prudent to stock up now while they’re still buyable.
I also bought myself the new computer (a desktop this time) I’ve been wanting for years. My old laptop seems to be having a lot of trouble now, and I wanted something that could actually run Photoshop Lightroom (bought as part of my camera bundle at last year’s Black Friday), so it’s nice. :) Although it’s a little confusing now to sit at my desk and have 4 different keyboards and 3 different mice in front of me… I’ve typed on the wrong keyboard so many times.

We decorated our house for Christmas. Yay for garland things and big red bows!

The weather has been bizarre here lately. Friday it was freezing. Saturday morning the world was ice, and I walked to Giant Eagle and slipped a lot. By Saturday evening, the world was water, and I was overheating in even just a plain t-shirt with a sweater on top (never mind my usual winter coat). Today it’s cold again. Yay weird Pittsburgh.




Owen’s been visiting and there’s been board games.

We had a fun game of Salem where we killed all of the accused people. Also two of my three witches survived. Yay Salem. Also, I feel like the game plays better with 7 people. Everyone starts with totally equal information, and you don’t have to play weird annotation games with the shared colors. Limiting round 2 to 10 minutes and round 3 to 25 minutes also seemed to work well to keep the game moving.

We had a close game of Settlers with our new dice deck. It was a little weird (and maybe more awesome?) because the 8s came out mostly together, the 6s came out mostly together, and the 7s waited almost all for the end. This led to some interesting situations (abundance of wood early, abundance of sheep in the middle game, and sad everyone late game). It actually ended up being really close — Greg was one sheep away from winning for a couple of rounds, and I would have won had I rolled anything other than a 7 (due to having 8 cards and needing 5 of them to build my last city). So yay games.

Volunteering, Arrival, games, cards

Life goes. I’ve been purposely avoiding news and related things because I would like to not know how much of a shitshow this administration is becoming. (Although, from what I’ve heard anyway, it’s already quite a disorganized mess. So we’ll see.)

To do a (very small) part to combat the havoc this administration will wreak on the environment, we switched our house over to 100% renewable energy. It turns out it’s super easy to do… just go to http://www.papowerswitch.com, enter your ZIP code, and choose an option that fits your needs. We’re paying a bit more than normal because we wanted 100% PA-generated renewable energy (as opposed to renewables sourced from arbitrary locations), but it looks like you could actually see a discount in your bill by switching to renewable. So win/win for everyone!

We also went and packaged meals for 2 hours last Saturday with Stop Hunger Now. I don’t know what I was expecting (maybe pulling turkeys and cans out of boxes and repackaging them), but it definitely wasn’t standing in front of a funnel with 5 other people, filling bags with vitamin packets while others poured scoops of rice, dehydrated veggies, and textured soy flour into the bag. Apparently a bag feeds 6 people and contains all the necessary nutrients (thanks partially to the vitamins), and it’s probably a heck of a lot more shelf-stable than more varied foods, so that’s good?

Also on Saturday, we saw Arrival after a failed attempt at short films for the Three Rivers Film Festival (which was sold out by the time we got there). I thought it was actually a really good film… was scientifically (and linguistically) accurate, and managed to not over-emphasize the military or conflict portions of the plot. Given it was a big film, I was expecting them to have escalated the conflict more, or otherwise focus less on the linguist… but they actually did everything really well, and never took away from her and her role in the film. So yeah… really good, and would see again.

We’ve been playing a lot of board games recently, between the usual Thursday board games, hosting board games over here, and having games at Pat’s for his birthday. The recent favorites are Above and Below, which is a really fun worker placement-ish game, and Codenames Pictures, which is like Codenames but with Dixit-crazy images (kangarooasaurus!) of awesomeness. Game photos for the month are up at photos.

I also splurged on some World of Warcraft cards. I’ve been looking for a new defunct TCG to get into, and WoW had base set starter boxes (6 decks, each containing a 30-card deck and 2 boosters) at $15 each, so I got a case of them (it was cheaper than even just buying booster packs), as well as a few boxes of Death Knight and a box of Drums of War.
I actually had some fun luck with decks… the first 8 base set starter decks I opened had different decks (8 of the 9 possible ones). Of course, then it took an entire box (6 decks) to get the last one I needed. After opening 4 boxes of starters, I have at least two copies of each deck. But I also have four copies of the Paladin and Druid decks, so decks (even within a single case) seem to not necessarily be distributed evenly. (One box of 6 decks had two Paladin decks in it.)
Slowly going through packs and decks (two more base set boxes to go), but I should have a good collection to build decks now, much like my .hack//ENEMY collection. Hopefully I’ll be able to find someone to play with me… Max is starting to get back into Magic, which is very similar, and we had a quick evening of card games, so hopefully this will continue.

Also continuing work on the next People Wars expansion. Still haven’t reworked the Facet icon, but cards are coming, slowly.

Hope everyone has a nice Thanksgiving!

Doors Open and life

Life goes. Things happen. Climbing and game photos from the past two months have been posted. Machi Koro seems to be a winner, but Lupin III seems to be a dud. We also broke out Concept again for the first time in a while… had forgotten how much fun that was.

We recently went to an escape room, the Imaginarium, and it was pretty fun. We got out, with not much time to spare, but it seemed we actually left a ton of puzzles unsolved since there were several locks and a door that we never got open. Oh well.

ITG has also been happening again, which is nice.

This weekend was Doors Open in Pittsburgh, where various downtown buildings open up and let you explore them (with cameras!). We went on Saturday, and saw a variety of buildings… most of them were apartments and hotels, but we also stopped in the Dollar Bank and Engineers’ Society, the former of which was really pretty and the latter of which was rather uninteresting. We also stopped in the city council chamber and mayor’s office, which included a stop in their vault that held pretty much all historical paperwork for the city.

The hotels were also interesting. Two of the three were setting up for a wedding at the time (the third may have been, on some upper floor we didn’t have access to), and seeing the William Penn ballroom all dressed up for a wedding is rather special. Also we got to see a $3000/night suite at the top of the Fairmont, which was also spectacular.
















The PSO was also on strike due to salary and benefit negotiations falling through. That was sad.

Also I am strangely obsessed with Rebecca Black’s new single (apparently she’s gotten rather good at singing) and The Sound of Silence cover by Disturbed.
Relatedly, Rock Band released the latter as DLC this past week, and we tried it today… the game rates vocals as a 3 (while rating Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger as a red 5, and Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl as a 4), which we think is utter bullshit. Yay for bad video game ratings.

I finished FFX Remaster this past Thursday, and the ending never fails to make me cry. I started FFX-2, and I’m just not feeling it, for some reason. I’ve never been a big fan of the ATB battle system, and I think coming to it from FFX’s super strategic battle system, I’m not enjoying combat at all. The music is also rather lackluster compared to X, and so many concepts are thrown at you all at once in the beginning (like dressspheres, skill learning, monster capturing) that I’m feeling rather overwhelmed. I don’t know. I guess at some point I’ll return to it, but unlike FFX, which was occupying much of my free evening time, I haven’t felt the same pull to play X-2.

Here’s weird soda flavors (corn, buffalo wing, bacon, ranch dressing, dirt, and grass) at a soda and candy shop in the Waterfront.