I’ve already talked about conventions a little bit when I went to Who’s Yer Con earlier this year, but Origins Game Fair is another thing entirely – taking up most of the Columbus Convention Center in Ohio. Just wait, Gen Con is more than double the size of Origins (both in attendance and dealers – and Origins is around eighteen thousand people)! With that amount of people, there is a ton of stuff to do and see. I don’t want to compare or contrast all the conventions I manage to go to this year. What I will say is Origins is a great convention for RPG and tabletop gamers alike. Also, its rewards for GMs are the best I know so getting a free ticket for running games is pretty simple. I wish I could say that I got to many of the booths to look at all the new stuff, but I was pretty busy. Helping the local Pressgangers with some tournaments and playing in the CABS (Columbus Area Boardgame Society) board room took most of my convention time. Still, I managed to play a few games off the list, try out a couple of new games on their way to Kickstarter and hung out with some pretty cool people. I think this is going to either be a long one or I’m going to just fly through all the games.
First game off the list was Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery. This game is based off the HBO series a couple years back and it is great fun. Very true to the show there is politicking, auctions, backstabbing, and every round ends with a gladiator combat for fame (complete with a bidding round on the fight). Be prepared for a raucous fight to victory. The game in of itself is pretty easy to learn. I have played the short game (start at 7 fame and be the first to 12) a couple of times and I really think it’s just a bit short and fairly luck dependent. Start the game at 1 or 4 glory for a full experience but be ready for a longer game!
Next was Empire Builder – This train game is a part of the Mayfair crayon rail game series. It’s a simple pickup and deliver game where the building of train tracks on the game board is done with crayons. Since I played in the Train Gamers Association area (http://www.traingamers.com/) and most players are looking to win a tournament (or two) I got completely crushed – it was equal parts impressive and scary. Still, I can’t complain getting Empire Builder complete in less than 2 hours (heck, I think we finished the three player game in about 1.5 hours honestly). Playing with those people made for a decent game – I’ve had some really drawn out games of this one in my day and I’m glad that one didn’t drag!
Next played is Pitchcar – a dexterity game that has players flicking disks around a race track. This one is pretty simple in its design but the components are the interesting part – interlocking wooden track pieces. Turns are simple – you flick your car/disk about the track trying to avoid falling off of the course or causing anyone else to fall off during your turn lest you go back to where you initially were. If you manage to flip your disk over but stay on the track, you lose your next turn. That’s the complete rules! Normally when I play, we play a couple of tracks (between 5 and 10) and have each race be three laps. It makes for a good racing circuit that can be played in a couple of hours. Honestly most often this one is played at Subbuteo tournaments – odd that after a day of flicking a soccer ball about a pitch, people want to flick a disk about a track.
I also played the original Sentinels of the Multiverse. I talked about this game in a previous episode when I talked about the Vengeance expansion. Let me tell you – if you take the right team of superheroes (some bruisers and some controllers) and everyone knows the rules and is vested in the experience, it’s a much better game (which is kinda obvious as I write this). The only sad thing is I played the exact same hero (The Sentinels) which is funny for two reasons, one – it’s not a hero, but a heroic team and second, I own all the expansions – like 20 heroes total and played the same one twice…
Race for the Galaxy was next. This is a galactic empire building card game that uses a role selection mechanic. Players are forced to make hard decisions on which action to play each turn since everyone benefits for what you take. Another interesting point of this game is that everyone has all the action cards available and since all players pick secretly, there is a chance that everyone picks the same action in the turn (rare but it happens). This game can a bit of a learning curve for two reasons; the first is the iconography on the cards can be overwhelming to a new player. The second one is that since everyone gets to take the action you picked it can greatly help your opponents (the action order in every turn is fixed). I played a couple of games with two experienced players and the games were fast and furious (and I got crushed in the game by more than 20 points). I can’t recommend this one enough if you can manage to learn all the iconography.
Continuing on the game-trek was Mice & Mystics which is a cooperative game where an evil sorceress transformed the heroes into mice. Not to be beaten by their mere size, the characters venture force to attempt to thwart her plans. The game has a couple of great mechanics that really make this one a blast to play. I mean the mechanics (from combat, movement and even how the exploration works) are gelled perfectly together. Be warned that the game is much better with the story so take time to read those sections out loud (or buy them as audio files from the designer). Trust me that the game can suffer if you just move through the motions – so get your best Redwall impression ready and give this one a whirl!
Last (but not least) off the list was Battlestations. This is part RPG and part tactical board game where all players are characters on a spaceship. There are four main roles (marine, pilot, scientist, engineer) that each have a specific function on the ship. If you are thinking that this is basically a tactical board game on a Star Trek ship, you are right. This one has to have a game master that picks the scenario and controls all the bad guys which is why I call it part RPG. The GM doesn’t have to do much pre-game work, but I have found that you have to be a good storyteller, know the rules by heart and a decent multitasker to succeed (just like a GM). I play this game at Origins and Gen Con every year with the designer of the game – you can play the same character at convention games and continue to gain experience and prestige. Over the years, I have managed to get to rank 5 with a very interesting (if not slightly insane) engineer!
Until next time – Play a game!