I think the official subtitle of this year’s Origins trip is “Better than we expected.” In addition to playing many, many, many games that looked crappy at first glance that ended up actually being fun, I also came back with many fewer games than I thought I would, we didn’t burn ourselves out playing like last year, I ran into Tim more than I expected, and we also got a discount on the hotel room. So in general a bunch of things went better than expected this year.
So yeah. I went to Origins again this year, with the same group as last year (where we were occasionally joined by Kevin and Jenny’s friend Sam). It was a ton of fun. We went for one less day this time (starting Thursday instead of Wednesday), and due to having to bus home, I only had one suitcase for games this year. I think that worked out better anyway, since it helped me make decisions on what to buy.
This year’s haul: three promos, and 13 games (two of which are signed).
Noteworthy is the fact that we actually played every game I bought this year! Given around half of last year’s purchases remain unplayed, that’s a great thing.
As always, photos are at photos.
Anyway… The Games! Looks like we played (or got explanations of) 52 different ones this year, which is surprisingly more than last year despite having one less day. I think that’s due to us being more willing to stop playing games we weren’t enjoying, rather than sitting through them. We may have also just played a bunch of lighter games, compared to last year.
Day one (Thursday):
Dragon Castle – Tile collection and placement game that looks visually similar to Mahjong, where strategy is as much in what you leave open for other players as where you place the tiles you do take. A much stronger first game than last year’s.
Superhot: The Card Game – 2-player coop card game that’s intended to be a simulation of an FPS, where you work your way through a line of enemies, dodging bullets and using weapons. I didn’t play this, but the game seemed a little sloppy, and Kevin and David both seemed to dislike it. Probably bottom five games, based on their impression of it.
Shogunate – A quick hidden-role game where players distribute honor among different clan leaders, trying to prioritize their clans over other players’. Enjoyable, and I bought a copy and got it signed by the designer.
Orc-lympics – A deceptively simple drafting game that’s as cute to look at as it is fun to play. Immediately after we played a game, all three sets of us (Kevin/Jenny, David, and I) bought a copy of the game. Definitely in the top five for this year’s Origins, at #2. One of three games we played more than once this year.
Pikoko – A trick-taking game where you can’t see your own hand of cards. Instead, players bet on how well they think other players will do, and then you play for your neighbor. A lot of fun, and the art and game components are also gorgeous. Will seriously consider buying a copy, but didn’t mostly because of the size of the game box.
Escape Tales: The Awakening – A detective/escape room type game, where you explore different objects within a room, along with a storybook, to progress the plot and move on to the next room. It felt a little clunky, and it really wasn’t helped by the storybook being so badly written. This was a good example of a game that was basically all theme and no game. In the bottom five games for this year.
Altiplano – A “bag-building” game… basically a deckbuilder crossed with a worker placement game, where you collect tiles, draw them from a bag to execute different actions, and generally score points. It is definitely a cute game, and it was enjoyable enough to play, but it just didn’t feel special. Would play again, but wouldn’t buy.
Echidna Shuffle – Probably the cutest game we played. A kids’ game where you move echidnas around a board to collect bugs and move them to stumps, but with a surprising amount of strategy. Also mitigated dice screw in a good way — each roll determined your next two turns’ of moves, summing to 9 across two turns. A good game, and something I’d gladly play again, but it was maybe a bit too simplistic for what we usually play. Definitely “better than we expected”.
Curio – Best described as “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes”: The Board Game. A series of small puzzles requiring interaction and communication between players, where you speed through things as accurately as possible. I bought a copy, and got it signed by the designer.
Senshi – Disc-collection game where you want to strategically play colored tokens based on your stacks, while minimizing other players’ points. Another game that was “better than we expected”, but wasn’t particularly interesting.
Decrypto – Team game where you send clues about words to your partner while not letting the other team figure out the words as well. Interesting enough, and I’d play it again.
Potion Explosion – Resource-drawing game where you build up potions from marbles pulled from a track. Another game that was “better than we expected”, but it wasn’t all that interesting.
Wallet – Party game where you pull random cards from a pile (or, in this case, an actual cloth wallet) to try and get the most money without violating any of a few goals. Fine, for what it was, but not something I feel the need to play again.
End of the Line – A game set in a post-apocalyptic future where you send your family members to stand in lines gather resources while messing with other players’ families in line through various events. Was actually a fairly interesting game, and I may have been interested in a copy, except it felt too expensive for what it was.
Dominion: Hinterlands – It’s Dominion. Hadn’t played this set before, but it didn’t feel particularly different than usual.
Dominion: Nocturne – The newest Dominion that actually feels like a rather different game. In addition to a new “Night” phase, happening after your usual plays and featuring unlimited plays of “Night” cards from your hand, it also adds a bunch of starter deck replacements (swapping out your copper or estates), player statuses, and boons and hexes. It was actually really enjoyable, and this has the privilege of being one of only three games that we played more than once this year.
Day two (Friday):
Prowler’s Passage – Two-player tug-of-war game where you fill in pieces of a city while collecting tiles and controlling those colors. Seemed decent enough, but wasn’t particularly interesting.
Junk Orbit – The one big disappointment for the con was that this game was sold out by the time we played it. Pick-up-and-deliver game with a great twist, where you’re in space and you throw your junk in the right direction, causing your ship to move backward that number of spaces. Easily top five of the con, and probably #3 for me. Then again, it being sold out was perhaps a blessing, because its game box (a large hat-box-looking cylinder) would have been impossible to carry home. What were they thinking?
The Climbers – I’d played this years ago, but it’s been re-released, and it’s just as fun now as it was then. A game where you physically move blocks and maneuver your piece upward, trying to reach a higher point than other players. Super enjoyable, especially for its differences in a sea of board- or card-based games.
Kitchen Rush – Essentially “Overcooked: The Board Game”. We didn’t get to play, but they were showing off the game. It looks fun enough, but my question is why you’d want to manually control the fiddly bits of Overcooked. I’d rather just play the video game.
Shaky Manor – Best described by Jenny as a game “I had to play once, but never want to play again”. A game where you physically shake components around a tray to get desired ones into a room as dictated by a goal card.
Cytosis – A rather classic worker-placement game themed around a cell, that was actually great fun to play. Collect cubes representing RNA, proteins, lipids, and carbs, and use them to make hormones. Another example of “better than we expected”, and it’s a great example of how you can do a classic genre well, without innovating too much, and still make a really great game.
5-Minute Chase – Asymmetric real-time tile-laying game where half the players legally lay down tiles to escape prison, and the other half study those tiles carefully to chase them. Enjoyable enough.
The Mind – The ultimate example of “better than we expected”. A card game with a super simple premise: Players have a card or two, from a set uniquely numbered 1 through 100, and have to collectively play them to the middle in order. But they cannot communicate with each other. Was surprisingly fun, like when Jenny pulled out her phone and started fiddling with it to indicate her high card, or when Kevin stared at Jenny for like 30 seconds to get her to play her card.
Dinosaur Island – Essentially “Jurassic Park: The Worker-Placement Game”. A game where you’re trying to assemble a dinosaur-themed theme park, create real dinosaurs from DNA to attract visitors, and prevent the dinosaurs from eating your guests. Its neon coloring and plastic (rather than wooden) components were surprising turnoffs for me, but didn’t distract too much once the game was actually under way. Enjoyable enough, but not particularly memorable.
Reef – A game where, similar to Dragon Castle, you lay pieces down on a grid in optimal ways to score points. This time they’re four colors of coral instead, and the goals differ based what cards are out, and the cards can also chain with each other if you plan it right. Enjoyable enough.
Rwby: Combat Ready – A fighting game themed after an anime show (apparently?) where you play cards to attack a villian and cooperate with each other. Mechanically fine, but it just didn’t feel like something I wanted to play. In my bottom five games for the con.
Noria – A game where the interesting mechanic is set of spinning gears that limit what actions you can take on a given round, and where strategically placing new action tiles on the gears was crucial to success. Also an interesting mechanic where you improved scoring for some elements while simultaneously hurting others, leading to natural specializations. Otherwise a standard exercise in building your engine to collect lots of points. Was actually rather fun, but its price doesn’t seem worth it for the gameplay.
Raiders of the North Sea – Probably the biggest surprise of the con, for me. A game that looked easily dismissable, and looks like a typical worker-placement game, but that actually has a lot of depth to it due to the shared worker mechanics, as well as the requirement to upgrade workers to make progress. This is on my list of things to buy, later, and is probably in the top five for this year’s Origins, at number 5. (Then again, worker placement games are my favorite genre of game.)
Broadhorns – A game with decent enough mechanics, but where the iconography was among the worst we’ve ever seen in any game. It was enough to ruin the few gameplay mechanics we enjoyed, and it just generally wasn’t interesting to play once we finally figured out what certain things meant. Bottom five for this year, and would probably take the lowest spot if not for the Carcasonne dice game.
Tzaar – Another game in the GIPF series, this one resembling checkers. I didn’t actually play it, but it seems decent enough.
Gizmos – Basically Engine Building: The Board Game. The entire game revolves around improving your ability to do actions so that you can do more and more actions. For example: buy a card so when you buy future blue cards, you get a pick action, and when you pick a blue gem, you get to store a card. Actually a really enjoyable game, and I think everyone was surprised afterward by how much we liked it. Another of the (much) “better than we expected” games.
Roll for the Galaxy – Nothing new for any of us, but Kevin and Jenny hadn’t played since last year’s Origins. You should already know how much I love this game, and it’s still probably either my #1 or #2 game from last year’s Origins.
Captain’s Wager – A betting game where you try to win the most of three “fights” with a given hand of cards. Purchased it because it was $5, but we solidly found this one “better than we expected”. This one will actually likely see play again, and was enjoyable to play.
Get Reelz – A party game where you’re creating movie titles based on cards in your hand. Purchased it because it was $5, and it doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. A good alternative to Apples to Apples, in any case.
Day three (Saturday):
Coimbra – A dice-action game primarily distinguished by the ability to gain points in a number of ways. A good example of “dice done right”, and also one of the few games where “multiple paths to victory” is actually a real thing: There is so much you can do in the game to get points that it’s pretty easily to go in different directions than everyone else. Enjoyable enough, but wasn’t personally terribly interesting.
Oceans – The sequel to Evolution. It’s still in the design stage, so we played a prototype version and gave feedback about it to the creator. In general, it’s a much more streamlined game than Evolution, and plays a lot smoother and is more enjoyable. Has some balance issues, as is to be expected right now, but I’m looking forward to this when it comes out.
Spy Club – Detective game where you collect cards to solve a case, with a legacy component where you can play a series of five games, unlocking more content across the campaign. Seems to be intended for kids, and was a decent enough game, but was a little too simplistic for our tastes.
The Legend of the Cherry Tree – Push-your-luck game where you draw colored flowers from a bag and try to collect sets without busting in each draw. Enjoyable enough, but didn’t feel particularly special.
Herbalism – Initially described as “Card Counting: The Game”, which immediately turned me off of it. It wasn’t until I watched a play of it, and then played it later after Kevin and Jenny bought a copy, that I really got into it, and got a copy for myself. Basically, given 12 visible cards and known numbers of each color, figure out what color(s) the two hidden cards are by asking questions of other players about their cards. A super simple, but surprisingly deep, quick game. Kevin and Jenny played this twice, but I only played once, so I’m not counting it.
Welcome To Your Perfect Home – Best described as a cross between Yahtzee and Racko, this is a game where numbers are revealed and you have to slot one of them into a line of monotonically-increasing numbers on your neighborhood design. Different icons increase the choices and ability to do different things. Went into it not expecting much, but this easily lands in the top five at the #1 spot for this year’s Origins. Managed to pick up a copy thanks to Kevin: The game isn’t actually released yet, so they had 100 copies for sale (and were releasing 25 copies a day), so on Sunday morning, we waited in line for the hall to open, and then Kevin ran to secure a spot in line for me to buy a copy. So good! One of three games we played more than once this year.
Round House – A game where you move workers around a circular board to execute actions and gain points. Wasn’t paying too much attention (and didn’t actually play this), but it seemed unnecessarily complex for no good reason. Seems likely to have made the bottom five if I actually played it, but since I didn’t, I don’t feel qualified to pass judgement on it.
Sorcerer Stones – A game where you move and rotate tiles to control and collect colored cubes. I didn’t play this, but Kevin really enjoyed it, and it looks like an interesting game. They bought a copy, so I’m sure I’ll give it a go at some point.
Mystery of the Temples – Gem-collection game where you put them onto a track to trace a path through specific colors and gain points. A rather unique mechanic combined with a circular action board. I picked up a copy.
Eko – Basically a variant of checkers. I had no interest in it, but it seems like a fine game.
Merlin – A dice-action game where you move around a circular board (seems to be the theme of this afternoon) executing actions to gain points. One of the most complicated games we played, component-wise, and also didn’t feel particularly interesting.
Pulsar 2849 – The surprise of the day for me, after Merlin and Coimbra both were just “okay” games. Another game with dice actions, but the dice were done in a really balanced way, and the exploration and upgrades felt compelling and perfectly-timed. Also noteworthy for its excellent iconography, which meant we were able to pick up the game extremely quickly with a few basic explanations. Lands as #4 in my top five for this year, and I will look at getting a copy.
Fresco – We only got a brief explanation of it due to the hall closing, but basically a collection game where you collect “paint” cubes and use them to complete a painting. Seems fine, but not terribly interesting.
Carcassonne: The Dice Game – Push-your-luck game themed around Carcassonne, where you assemble city pieces into the largest city you can while avoiding catapults. Bought it because it was $5, and played it over dinner. It was… not good. Definite bottom five for this year, and probably the worst of the bunch.
Conquest of Speros – Another $5 game purchase that ended up being rather fun. An area-control game that looks like it was built by someone reusing Magic: The Gathering cards, but that actually is interesting to play. Enjoyable, and I’d do it again.
Day four (Sunday):
The Flow of History – I think of this as Through The Ages: Light. Build different types of cards, representing things like military or culture or leaders or monuments, to get the best city. The most interesting part is the bidding and stealing mechanic. Rather enjoyable, and given I went into it not expecting much, definitely falls under “better than we expected”.
Luxor – A game where you move along a path, collecting tiles, with movement controlled by playing cards from either end of an ordered hand. Enjoyable enough, but not particularly memorable, and it unfortunately felt like a light game with non-light game setup requirements, which turned me off of it.
Purchases (in order of purchase):
Conquest of Speros – From the $5 clearance rack, but ended up being surprisingly fun.
Captain’s Wager – Also from the $5 clearance rack; also surprisingly fun.
Get Reelz – Also from the $5 clearance rack. Interesting enough as a party game.
Orc-Lympics – My first real purchase of the con. A steal at only $10, and I think it’s also not officially out yet. Super quick, super fun!
Codenames Duet – I’d played this at last year’s Origins, and really liked the variation on Codenames. Bought it primarily because of the free copy of That’s a Question (thanks to David also buying a copy).
That’s a Question – First played last year, and played again at Carnival this year. It’s always enjoyable, and it was free, which is even better.
Curio – Got it because I could get it signed by the creator, and also because I think my group would enjoy a board game version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.
Shogunate – Seemed like a great filler game, and I really enjoyed it, and I was able to get it signed.
Paradox – I played this at last year’s Origins, and thought it was fine then, but not particularly worth a buy. This year it was on sale for $10, which seemed worthwhile.
Carcassonne: The Dice Game – Can’t win them all. A bargain bin miss.
Welcome to Your Perfect Home – Detailed more above, but I love that I got the game before it’s generally available.
Herbalism – Picked up a copy thanks to a buy-one-get-one-50%-off deal, after enjoying it so much.
Mystery of the Temples – Paired with Herbalism above. Looking forward to playing it.