Origins 2015 Recap
Matt Snodgrass, Play Unplugged
Ah, the week coming off a long 4th of July weekend. What better time to get my Origins review posted, right? After all, it was only a month ago! We’re now officially closer to GenCon than we are to Origins. What can I say – I’m slow like that, and life has gotten in the way. Better late than never, though.
So, for those of you who weren’t able to make it, and haven’t read about it elsewhere, here’s the Play Unplugged Origins 2015 experience – let’s get to it!
To kick things off, I had to get in on both the Battles of Hoth and Endor because, hey – walkers! We saw a split here, with Hoth being a resounding Imperial victory and Endor being saved by the Rebellion. A great way to start off Origins ’15!
Making the rounds of some of the miniatures tables, I found a couple of western scenes (not sure what the game was). This feeds into my recent western addiction (see BlackWater Gulch later) so if any of you readers have any western scenery you want to liquidate – let me know!
Life sized King of Tokyo – yes, please. Admittedly, it’s not the greatest game in the world, but if you haven’t tried it at one of these cons, you have to. It almost makes you feel like a monster smashing through the city!
War Stories – The first of two games at Origins sporting the War Stories title (more on that later). Aaron Welch and his team at Geek Ventures, LLC have created a competitive storytelling game rooted in helping veterans tell their stories and work through PTSD issues. The game is simple – players will each play various hero, villain, item, or plot cards and the active player has one minute to then tell a story that incorporates each of these cards. Players then vote (read: argue) to determine how well the story takes into account all aspects, assigning points for each card successfully used. It seems similar to Hobbit Tales but is certainly lighter and more humor-based.
Unfortunately, their Kickstarter was cancelled in mid-June, as they were notified of the trademarked War Stories series of games from Conquistador games. But they’ve promised to be back with a revamped KS and a new title. Learn more about this War Stories here and check out their origins video. It’s pretty compelling, and I salute these guys for what they’re doing.
Paradox — A space-time disturbance called The Quake is fracturing entire worlds’ timelines and removing these worlds from existence. Play as scientists trying to repair these connections to the past, present, and future by making new time strands out of various colored discs. Think Bejeweled combined with set collection. I first played Paradox at Origins last year and was immediately stuck by the uniqueness of it. I’d not seen anything like it. There are some overly complex elements to the review version I have, but @split2ndgames has streamlined these. It looks to be smooth sailing for their Kickstarter. As I write this, they’re just over 50% funded and a couple of weeks left. Give them a look and back it if you’re looking for something new.
(Shameless plug time: my brother-in-law owns a performance clothing line called Rudis. You can see their logo on the hat in this next image. He was amazed at how many hex-based board and war games are out there, so we had to get the obligatory comparison picture. If you’re a wargamer looking for a sweet hex-hat, check it out.)
Blackwater Gulch – Who knew that a ticket to an early Saturday morning casual event would result in me dropping $100 on miniatures? Oh, wait — that’s not all that surprising. Blackwater Gulch, from Gangfight Games, is a quick western horror skirmish game of outlaws, lawmen and savage beasts. I haven’t played any savage beasts (their new Kickstarter is coming this summer) but the western element of this is fantastic. I’m not usually a fan of western-themed games, but for some reason, Origins really put me in the mood. An easy-to-learn d6 mechanism for all model activities and a simple move-and-fire scheme make this game more about quick narrative action rather than being bogged down by minutiae.
The rules are available for free and, as the demoer pointed out, this game can be played with classic plastic western figures. So there’s no need to purchase any models if you just want to try it. Many of their figures are based on famous Wild West heroes that were, of course, necessary for me to buy. Give it a try! Once I get all my figures assembled and have a few games, look for a formal review.
Flick ‘em up! — Yet another western-themed game, but we really shift gears, here. This one is a family-friendly, almost party-type game. It’s played on a large table, and each player takes one of their oversized meeples and engages in a gunfight with the opponent. The object is to flick (fire) your discs (bullets) in order to knock down your opponent. There are a number of meeples on the table, and the object is to knock out all your opponent’s before yours are knocked out. Not a very in-depth game, but one that’s great for kids and your non-hardcore gaming friends. It’s one that could be “casually” set up on a table and would grab the attention of anyone who walked by. “Oh, this little thing? It’s nothing . . . Why sure, I’d love to show you how to play!” This is up for pre-order now and is slated to be delivered in August/September.
Apotheca – You play as black-marketing apothecaries trying to create three potions by placing hidden tiles on the board, recruiting apothecaries to your cause, and using their various powers to move tiles around to form sets. By far the best-looking game I saw at Origins, this just funded to the tune of 563%!
Bin’Fa: The Tao of War—this is the dark horse of Origins 2015. What I took to be some updated version of Chinese checkers turned out to be a whole lot more. As the commander of an army in this strategic abstract, you’re tasked with eliminating enemy forces by cornering them, thus removing them from the game. There’s no flash here – you don’t play on meticulously groomed terrain with exquisitely sculpted miniatures. No, you’re playing on six triangular terrain boards which can be aligned in almost any configuration imaginable and using round plastic discs to represent your armies. Simple. Pure. Elegant.
I’d walked by this booth several times without giving it a second thought. I just wasn’t drawn in by what I saw. I’m a man who likes flash, who likes sharp miniatures and great paint jobs. What a mistake that was! Finally, on the last day, I stopped by to talk with Ken Hodkinson, the creator, and his daughter, Erika. In just a few minutes, I was hooked. There’s so much simplicity and depth to this game. Look for a formal review in the future.
Rally ‘Round the Flag – If you’re a civil war buff or a fan of Gettysburg and are looking for something with the potential to be huge, this is it. By “huge” I mean something that’s literally very, very large.
Rally is a game that can be played at the Divisional level (17” map, playable in 3 hours), at the Brigade level (34” map, playable in 5-9 hours), or at the Regimental level (60” map, playable in 24-40 hours). Yes, you read that right – it plays in one to two days. This is not for the faint of heart. You can play at the highest level (Divisional) but can zoom in to a more macro view using the Brigade and Regimental maps, if you really want to get down to the operational level and fight each engagement individually. It’s a wonderful design and Lost Battalion Games has pulled it off pretty darn well. And did I mention that at the Regimental level you get over 2300 cards and more than 1000 standees of troops? This a big, big game. And it recently successfully funded!
World Championship Russian Roulette — (If you’re squeamish about the subject, skip to the next game in the list.)
The second major offering from Tuesday Knight Games (after Two Rooms and a Boom) has you playing as the captain of one of the teams making it to the World Championships of Russian Roulette. While it may seem thematically dark at first blush, the game is a surprisingly light and humorous take.
In WCRR, you’re betting on how many times you can pull the trigger before things go bad. Once you get a bang, you lose one of the players on your team. The last person with players left is the winner. It’s not all bidding and trigger pulls, however; there are action cards that are played like “Peek the Boo,” “Pull Harder,” and “Everybody Bang Someone,” which have effects on the game play, sometimes forcing you to draw another trigger card, point your gun at someone else, or look at the top x cards of your draw deck. Look for this on Kickstarter in the fall.
War Stories – The second game in this list (but the original) that’s titled “War Stories.” Dirk Knemeyer set out to design (or redesign) a WWII strategy game that combines medium to heavy crunchiness, a light playability and low barrier to entry, and the most immersive fog-of-war system in any game. The result is not one, but two games — War Stories: Red Storm and War Stories: Liberty Road. These are largely the same game, but tackle different fronts and time periods during the war. Red Storm focuses on the eastern front in 1942-43, while Liberty Road is based on the western front in 1944.
The pieces are nice, big, solid wooden blocks, representing infantry and vehicle units. Each side gets a scenario book outlining their objectives, unbeknownst to their opponent.
A couple of selling points about War Stories are that movement is extremely simple, and all rules are on the cards and playing pieces. There are no cumbersome charts to look up and reference – it’s all included on the pieces. It plays in about an hour, once you learn the ropes. I didn’t have a chance to play this one, but the few minutes I spent with Dirk explaining it to me were enough to whet my whistle. If I decide to pony up for one of these, you can be sure there will be a review here!
Albion’s Legacy — Lynnvander brought two games to Origins this year: last year’s Albion’s Legacy (an Arthurian themed modular co-op) and the recently Kickstarted Sherwood’s Legacy (a cooperative tower defense-style, worker placement game). In Albion’s Legacy, players take control of heroes from Arthurian myths in an attempt to confront the threats facing the realm as well as to complete their own, character-specific quests. I didn’t get a chance to demo either of them, but Albion sure did look pretty. In the words of one of the Lynnvander booth staff, “The entire game is a system of checks and balances.” I’ll try to get in a play at GenCon.
The Spoils — Years ago (before the dark times; before the Empire) I’d played a previous iteration of The Spoils (from Arcane Tinmen, the folks who make Dragon Shields card-game sleeves) and enjoyed it very much as a snarkier alternative to Magic: the Gathering. I was, therefore, eager to check out the new incarnation of the game. Suffice it to say, I’m equally pleased with what I saw, so much so that I went ahead and picked up the starter set and a bunch of expansion packs. Expect a more thorough review in the near future.
Witchborn – From their press release: “The Witchborn uses innovative smart phone apps to deliver an impressive variety of encounters and the kind of rich storytelling usually only found in roleplaying games.” At first glance, I thought maybe I’d be seeing a clone of Golem Arcana, but I’m happy to report that this is much more similar to “standard” skirmish games that you’re likely familiar with (Song of Blades & Heroes, Mordheim, Warmahordes) with the inclusion of some digital assets. Interactive PDFs can track the growth of your warband as they complete adventures, accruing power, glory, and physical prowess. The app runs the adventure for you, functioning like an electronic deck of cards, displaying encounters, drawing discoveries, and explaining situation your warbands may encounter. The demo I had at Origins was pretty intense. There’s a lot to take in for this game (183 pages of core rules and 175 pages of warband details). I’ve got the entire game, so expect a review within the next couple of months, as I plow through 300+ pages of reading.
And that was my Origins 2015! Questions, comments, concerns, disagreements? Feel free to give me a shoutout below and I’ll answer.