Summer 2015 started out, as usual, in the beautiful city of Columbus. There we were making our annual pilgrimage to Origins, my favorite gaming convention. I enjoy seeing all the new games, meeting old friends, making new ones, and spending time with my husband.
Origins Game Fair is a five-day event, running from Wednesday through Sunday. Even after five conventions, we have not yet made it to every day of the convention. This year we attended three of the days; Friday through Sunday. Board and card games are the main attraction for me, but there is so much to see and do at Origins. Attendees can try their hand at Role Playing Games, LARPs, Miniatures Gaming, seminars, costume contests, auctions, and so much more.
Even though I have come to the convention for a few years now and felt like I know my way around, there are always new things to discover. This year was no different. There was gaming in every corner of the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
June 5, 2015 – Day 1
Friday started a little later than I had hoped due to traffic congestion and construction. We arrived around noon and were able to check in quickly. This year Origins had bar code scanners for pre-registration. The idea was to scan the card, make sure your name showed up and then print out your badge. It went pretty smoothly for most people though our badges didn’t want to work. It was quickly worked out, and we were soon on our way to the Dealer Hall.
Lost Battalion Games
Our first stop was Lost Battalion Games, a company and family I have gotten to know and love over the last few years. Jeff and Debbie Billings are always so welcoming and willing to talk. This year LBG was debuting their recent Kickstarter success, Sergeants D-Day Board Game. Sergeants D-Day is a card driven WWII game that shares a lot of the same elements as Sergeants Miniatures. Players control a unique squad of soldiers as they try to combine wise decisions with the perfect strategy. It is a lot smaller scale than Sergeants Miniatures with all the great elements.
Jeff was also kind enough to give us a demo of “Rally Round the Flag,” which is currently on Kickstarter. Rally Round the Flag is the “…first time a table top board game allows Gettysburg to be played with the ability to zoom into the battles as they are fought. As a player, you can play with divisions, brigades or even regiments and move between the different points of view on the battlefield.” Every day of the convention, Jeff had the map set up for a different day of the battle. Friday was day two, and we focused on the battle in the Wheat Field.
Jeff told us about the game featuring the amazing art of Mort Kunstler and the three levels of games available. The smallest version, which still includes a surprising number of cards and figures, plays in about three hours. The middle level, which we played, may be played in 5-9 hours. The game can be broken up by day allowing for a shorter session. For the hardcore wargamers, the largest game comes with 2308 cards, over 1000 standees, 60-inch map, and the Brigade game is included. This version can take from 24 to 40 total hours to play. But this gives you a true sense of the entire battle of Gettysburg.
The game looks magnificent, and even the prototypes were great quality. I liked the mechanic of zooming in on a specific battle off the main game map. The resolution of the battle was quick but deep. The Battle of Gettysburg is always a theme that draws me in, and I think that “Rally Round the Flag” will please a lot of people. While the largest version may be too much for you, the other two levels will please a lot of players. Check out the Kickstarter project here for more information: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1649576328/rally-round-the-flag.
My first official interview of Origins was with HABA games and Lea Culliton. I admit, that HABA games are my guilty pleasure. I only have nieces and nephews, but the amazing wooden pieces and yellow boxes have always drawn me in. All of this made me quite excited to get to talk to Lea.
When I arrived, the HABA booth was busy, as expected. It wasn’t just families with children, but a few grown-ups. Maybe, I might not be the only one obsessed with HABA games.
2015 was HABA’s first year at Origins. Lea told me she was surprised at how nice that the other game publishers and attendees were. She has mostly had experience in the toy market and was pleasantly surprised by the kind reception from Origins. I wasn’t surprised to hear this, as I have always commented at the amazing people involved in this hobby. She also seemed disappointed that she had not brought some of the bigger games as there was a demand for them. The booth had mostly smaller games focusing more on younger children including titles from the “My Very First Games Series”. These games included such titles as Bubble Bath Bunny, Evening in the Stables, First Orchard, and Animal Upon Animal.
Lea taught us about HABA’s experience in the US market and the differences between the two countries. Lea told us how HABA is much more of a household name in Germany and other European countries. They have been around for over 75 years and known for their high-quality games and toys. There is also a cultural difference, as most families don’t work on Sunday. Instead, this time is for the family, with board games an important aspect of the day. Lea also told us why some HABA games don’t come in the famous HABA yellow packaging but are pink or blue. It isn’t for boy or girl games, but to keep the HABA section from being too yellow.
I like the distinct look of HABA games and the amazing wooden pieces. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about HABA’s manufacturing process and finally learn the answer to my question about what kind of wood is used for the games. HABA uses regional forest beechwood. HABA uses reforested timber for their wooden pieces; they plant a new tree for every one cut down. HABA creates the wooden shapes with a lot of love and care. Non-toxic, water-based stains show the wood grain and make a safe toy. In this way the natural beauty shows through.
Lea is responsible for choosing games to bring to the United States, and I asked her what she looks for in a HABA game. Lea likes to bring games to the US market that use the wooden pieces, as they are a known part of HABA. She also likes games that use the box as part of the game. I also like this in games. I am always amused by the creative ways designers incorporate the box into the game. Some of the notable games at Origins that did this were Hungry as a Bear, Bubble Bath Bunny, and Here Fishy, Fishy. Another very important element that Lea looks for games that involve both adults and the children. Gaming is a family experience, after all.
We also spoke about the educational value of HABA games. The Loco Lingo series offers many suggestions and ways to play. Parents can read stories, poems, riddles or more, as the children listen for clues. They develop listening, motor, language skills, and their imagination as they play the games. I was impressed with the Loco Lingo series for this aspect. As a teacher, I can see the value of a good literacy game. As an aunt, I see the fun yet educational value for my nieces and nephews. The toy value of the components mixed with multiple play ideas creates an open-ended game that can grow with the children.
Children are not the only ones who can play HABA games, and a great example of that was the popular Rhino Hero game. Lea told me about playing this game with her teenage son and the fun they had. She also talked about the gamers who told her how they bought multiple copies and put them together for an epic game. Rhino Hero involves stacking cards in a tower and moving around the wooden Rhino superhero, all while trying to not knock the tower over.
I had a wonderful time speaking with Lea and learning all about the different games and company. I encourage you to check out the amazing games HABA has to offer. There is a lot to watch out for, Monster Laundry is game of monsters trying to get rid of their smelly laundry. Fans of Gulo Gulo will be pleased to hear that a new Egyptian re-theme will be coming out soon in US markets. Look for Pharaoh’s Gulo Gulo in the United States, this summer.
My next stop was Stoneblade Entertainment where we talked about one of my favorite games, Ascension and the “Dawn of Champions” expansion. We spoke with Ian Estrin about the latest game. We have seen multiple faction heroes, but in Dawn of Champions we also see multi-faction monsters, something that intrigued me. There is also a new mechanic introduced called Rally. This mechanic lets players acquire heroes or defeat monsters of the same faction. Players are also controlling champions with over-sized champion cards. Players need to build up their reputation to unlock powerful cards and effects. I can’t wait to explore all these new ideas. Whenever I think Ascension is complete, Stoneblade continues to surprise me with new ideas and ways to play.
There was still a bit of time between my appointment with Stoneblade and my last meeting for the day. Mike and I decided to do a quick tour of the Dealer Hall. This year the Dealer Hall was packed from front to back. It was the fullest I have ever seen it since I have come to Origins. Hall D was also much bigger this year.
The usual companies, including, Stronghold, Mayfair, Catalyst Games, Rio Grande, Iello, Kosmos, Stoneblade, Arcane Wonders, Eagle Gryphon, AEG, Calliope, Plaid Hat, Ares, Jolly Roger, R&R Games, Cool Mini or Not, Academy Games, Star Realms and many more filled the hall. Many beautiful works of art were on display at the Artists Expo. Cool Stuff Inc had a large both for their first Origins. It always seemed very busy with people buying and selling, and carrying around the blue Cool Stuff bags. There were many booths selling costumes, accessories, jewelry, dice, and so much more. We made a quick run through but didn’t see the entire hall.
We also wanted to make a stop by the Board Game Room. We had recently culled our collection and had games we wanted to donate. They directed us to Andy Hopp, who works with Con on the Cob. We learned the Con on the Cobb is a convention that runs from October 15-18 in Richfield Ohio. Andy was so genuine and happy when we donated our games. It made me feel great to know they were going to a convention where many people could enjoy and play the games. Andy told us a bit about Con on the Cobb, which seems like an awesome convention. There is jazz music, art shows, and card and board games.
Every year at Origins, I enjoy looking at the miniatures games. I am usually scared away by the complex and endless rules. The commitment needed to paint and build the figures also makes me think twice. Still, I find myself drawn to miniatures games. Over the years, I have collected a few pre-painted miniatures, hoping to find a game to play. Mike and I have discussed how much we would like to play where we each controlled a faction. When Cory Kammer contacted me about his newest miniature game The Witchborn, I decided to give it a look. I was still a bit skeptical. After a quick overview and look at the Kickstarter page, I wanted to learn more. I was intrigued by how The Witchborn combines a tabletop skirmish game with storytelling.
Another great part of the game is the app. One of the recent trends in gaming is to integrate an app to enhance the game-play experience. This idea fascinates me, especially when it takes a lot of the bookkeeping out of the game. The app is one of the draws of The Witchborn. It randomizes encounters, discoveries, and hit results and creates an almost role playing like experience in a miniatures game. The app becomes the game master. The app was so easy to use and enhanced the game-play. Don’t worry, in case you don’t have a smartphone, you can also print cards and use those instead.
Another unique aspect of the Witchborn is the leveling up system, another RPG like experience. As the figures play through the scenarios, they gain experience points, wounds, treasures, weapons, and more. Players can track all of this on easy to use PDF rosters. Cory even has some tutorial videos on how to build your war clan.
When a hero levels up, a die roll will determine the reward. A bell curve is used for heroes to earn skills and proficiency. Rolling a double gives you master skills. This system gives you that zero to hero feel. Be careful because your well armored, experienced warriors can die. Fair warning, in Perdition, the game’s world, “dead, isn’t dead… not anymore.” When a hero falls their body is taken over by the WitchBorn, who will fight back against your clan. In this post-apocalyptic world, the WitchBorn have returned from the dead.
During our discussion, Cory told after about 8-9 years of designing and play-testing he was ready to put his game up on Kickstarter. The WitchBorn funded in February and went live in March. Currently, two adventures are available with more to come. The plan is to release one adventure every few months. The later campaigns will probably require a more experienced clan. The first adventure “The Chase” is all about a magical airship that has crashed and jettisoned cargo across the plain. The second adventure, Asylum, came out at Origins.
Cory was teaching the game and giving out free quick-start guides at Origins for “The Chase.” It’s a plus that 2-6 players can play. I was surprised with the quality of the physical components in addition to the beautiful artwork. The monsters are pretty gruesome. The map is a vinyl roll-out (46″x 39″) map, and it should resist scratches and spills. The attack dice and condition markers add to the game. The rosters are easy to read and use, and change as your characters gain experience. When you purchase the game an account is created for you where you can keep track of all of your digital downloads. Check out more about The WitchBorn at www.witchborn.com.
Our first day was incredible, and I left the convention center both exhausted and jazzed. I was excited about everything I had seen and done and couldn’t wait for day two to begin.
All pictures were taken by my wonderful husband. Thank you all for sharing your work.