Once again the summer convention season starts with Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. Origins is held at at the Greater Columbus Convention Center right in downtown Columbus. It’s a great location in town with lots of restaurants and shops within walking distance or a short ride away on the CBus.
Each year, since we have joined the hobby, we have traveled to Columbus. It is always an enjoyable trip, and I have enjoyed seeing the convention grow and change over the past few years. Columbus is also becoming a familiar city, and we enjoy visiting it, just as much as everyone at the convention. We weren’t confident we would make it to the convention this year, the week before I came down with the flu, yes, the flu in June, and I was still recovering. While I spoke with a lot of people, I didn’t have any formal interviews and had decided to take a different approach to my coverage this year. Each year more and more new people travel to the show but don’t know much about it or the city of Columbus. Columbus has embraced Origins, so we should do the same for this city. For this year’s coverage, I want to cover a few things about Columbus as well as what is new and exciting for board games.
To get into the convention, you must register. There are a variety of badges option, or you can come for just a day or two. If possible, I suggest registering online, this way you can avoid waiting in the long lines. But, if you plan to only come for a few days get there early to get a good spot in line. The lines were long almost all day. The registration process has improved over the years, and we have not had any problems once we get to the convention. Registration usually starts around 7:00 am, and if you are willing to get up that early, there probably won’t be any lines.
Early Morning Stops
If you get up early, you may want to get a snack or breakfast if your hotel doesn’t serve it. I’m always on the lookout for an excellent breakfast location, and there are some great choices close to the convention center. The furthest away, but the best spot for a complete breakfast is the Sunny Street Cafe near the Arena on Nationwide BLVD. We usually eat at least one meal here and have never been disappointed. At the North Market, a shorter walk from the convention is a great place for breakfast and lunch. Destination Donuts are always popular with their offering of unique flavors. Inside the convention center, you will find a food court and Starbucks.
The Exhibit Hall
There are two main rooms where we spend most of our time at Origins. The Exhibit Hall and the Main Gaming Hall. There are also plenty of other places to attend events, play in RPGs and more. The Exhibit Hall is where you will find most of the game companies, artists, Origins Awards and Library and a variety of other exhibitors selling clothing, jewelry, dice, gaming accessories, and more.
Right up front in the Exhibit Hall, you will usually find Steven Bunocore and Stronghold Games along with all their new releases. This year was a banner year with many anticipated games making their debut including Pit Crew, Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium, Cottage Garden, Frogriders, and Fields of Green. The booth was always busy, and we had a hard time getting in a demo but finally managed to play Fields of Green, a farm management game. It is an interesting mix of card drafting, card placement, and simultaneous action selection. The game was inspired by Among the Stars. Card drafting is a popular mechanic, but it doesn’t always work for a two player game and since our demo was four players it was hard to tell how smoothly it will work in a two-player game. It was still a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the engine building and interplay of the cards.
Wormwood has been at the convention for a few years, and I have always been an admirer of their wooden dice trays, dice vaults, and deck boxes. They use a variety of wood including oak, cherry, rosewood, and flamebox elder. Every product is high quality and simply beautiful. Seeing them at a convention is a great way to see, compare, and test all the variety of woods if you are thinking of buying a dice tower or dice tray. You also get the advantage of choosing your favorite piece among the available pieces, something you can’t do online. The prices are high, but they match the quality and craftsmanship of the product. We decided to pick up one of their dice towers in black poisonwood with a dice tray to go with it. The dice tower uses rare earth magnets so you can break it down and fit it in a neat package inside the dice tray. A dice vault will also fit inside the tray along with the dice tower. This makes the entire system very portable, though we will probably keep it set up to enjoy the beauty.
Visit them here: https://wyrmwoodgaming.com/
Easy Roller Dice Co
Keeping with the accessory theme, next up is a new company to the convention, and one I hope to see there again, Easy Roller Dice Co. This new company, from Ohio, sells polyhedral dice sets, RPG gear, dice bags, and metal dice. We are always looking for great accessories to add to our gaming experience, and I have a bit of an obsession with finding a good dice bag. Their dice were beautiful and came in a variety of colors and stand up to the competition. The prices were also very reasonable; the only downside was that we weren’t looking for any dice sets and would have preferred a set of each type of die. Their website does offer some bulk sets of dice. My favorite piece was the self-standing microfiber dice bag. This is the perfect bag to hold all of our dice at 7 inches tall. The quality and craftsmanship of the bag is exceptional, and I love that it is reversible. They come in two styles, a red/black wyvern or a black and white skull bag. We chose the wyvern because I’m not a big fan of skulls, though I did love the color of that bag. I know we will be using this bag for many years.
Lost Battalion Games
We always enjoy a stop at Lost Battalion Games to talk with Jeff and Debbie Billings about our old favorites as well as what is new and upcoming for the company. My favorite game from Lost Battalion is “Sergeants Miniatures,” a game that I am always surprised I enjoy. But I think it’s the ease of play, unique soldiers, story deck and beautiful miniatures. The “Hell on Wheels” expansions introduces vehicles to the game and there is also a smaller version of the game called “Sergeants D-Day.”
Jeff let us know that the divisional version of another one of their games, called “Rally Round the Flag,” a game about Gettysburg, will be ready soon. The pieces from the game are made of acrylic and look beautiful from the Kickstarter updates. The Brigade and Regimental games, because they are so much more involve, took a bit longer to manufacture, but will be using some of the same pieces. This has been a highly anticipated game, and I can’t wait for my chance to review the divisional game. Gettysburg has always been a special place for my husband and me, and we have been waiting a long time for a great Gettysburg game.
For up and coming games Jeff told us that he is working on some new themes and evolving his game manufacturing process. He is working on a unique gaming system about Ireland. The basic game components will remain the same, but expansions will change the gameplay. For example, you will start off with a game about the early history and settling of Ireland and a future expansion will be an economic game about the Irish Potato Famine. I’m excited to see how this will work.
He talked about how they have lowered some prices because the have gotten better at the manufacturing of their cards and boards. Beginning with “Rally Round the Flag” they are also using acrylic for some of their games. In the future, Jeff hopes to develop a gaming system where people can develop their ideas for components that could be made available for others to purchase. There are many things in store for Lost Battalion, and it has been a joy to see the company grow and change.
Osprey Games were at the fair with a much bigger booth this year and lots of beautiful games on display. It was great to see Shahrazad, a game I recently reviewed, enjoyed by many people. It is a beautiful game and a great two-player abstract strategy game. Osprey was also showing off Lost Expedition a cooperative exploration card game about trying to survive a jungle expedition. I loved the theme, components, and artwork of the game. The object is for players to survive the jungle and find El Dorado. You need to be careful of your resources and card play. The game can also be played head to head as players try to make it to the city first. It seemed like a very challenging game that offers some great choices and variety from solo to head to head play.
A surprisingly fun demo was “Fantasy Realms” a card game that is similar to gin rummy. While the artwork is pretty generic, the graphic design is excellent, and the game is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the interplay and possible combinations of the cards. It was a very straightforward and fast game to play as on your turn you draw a card from the deck or discard area and then choose one to discard. Once ten cards are in the discard area the game is over, and players count up their points. The combinations offered risk and reward gameplay, and it will be a lot of fun to explore it more in depth. It was an easy choice to pick up this awesome little game, I encourage you to look beyond the artwork to find a great game.
Main Gaming Hall
A newer addition within the past few years to Origins is the Main Gaming Hall that is located right next to the Exhibit Hall but is much bigger. It opens earlier and stays open longer than the Exhibit Hall. The Main Gaming Hall contains a few vendors that aren’t in the Exhibit Hall like CMON, Ares, Queen and Grey Fox Games, the Origins Board Room, tournaments, miniatures gaming, and for the first time True Dungeon. True Dungeon is an immersive dungeon where players take on the typical fantasy roles of spellcaster, rogue, and fighter. Teams need to work together to fight monsters and solve puzzles.
We have started to spend more and more time in the Main Gaming Hall and have noticed more and more vendors setting up booths only in the gaming hall rather than the exhibit hall. It’s nice because you can have more space for demos and of course more chances to buy games.
At Ares games we wanted to get a demo of the game “Sword and Sorcery,” but because of the demo schedule, they only offered ten learn to play sessions so we were only able to get a comprehensive explanation of the game. I wish they would offer more chances for demos of their hot games, but I was grateful they were willing to explain the game and let us watch a few minutes of gameplay. “Sword and Sorcery” uses the well thought of “Galaxy Defenders” system and has updated and evolved the system. It seems like it will take a bit to learn but the overview and Rhado’s favorable review convinced us to buy the game. Getting an extra set of dice, a coveted Tree Beard Promo for “War of the Ring,” and a free game helped sweeten the deal.
Gray Fox Games
At Gray Fox Games we tried out a few games we have been contemplating for awhile. First, we tried “Champions of Midgard,” and while this isn’t a new game, it was a good chance to play a game we have been thinking about but weren’t sure we would enjoy. “Champions of Midgard” is a Viking themed, dice rolling, worker placement game where players are trying to win the most favor from the gods. While I didn’t do very well in the game as the dice were just not rolling my way I enjoyed the game. We were also assured that it plays well with two. They were demoing the first expansion of the game “The Dark Mountains.” This expansion adds new monsters, the ability to travel to distant lands, and a 5th player.
Another demo that helped us to see if a game was for us or not was trying out “Order of the Gilded Compass.” This is an area control/ influence dice rolling game that we have been debating for awhile as well. It played well, but we just didn’t have the “wow” factor that we want for an extensive board game collection. I was grateful we got to try it but decided to pass.
Lunch Stops & Dinner Stops
Almost everyone who travels to Origins will make their way to the North Market at some point and, with the incredible variety, who would blame them. There are more than 30 merchants with a variety of ethnic stores, bakeries, and deserts. I love Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and their variety of flavors, and I would recommend them to everyone.
The Short North Arts District
Not far from the convention center you can walk to the Short North and find many great shops and restaurants. If you are interested, many of the restaurants offer great happy hours, if you are willing to leave the convention center a bit early. I love the vibe of the Short North and that so many of the restaurants offer open and outdoor seating. One of my favorites was the Pint House; I know the Blue Peg Pink Peg Podcast had an event at the restaurant. We were eating there but didn’t realize it was going on in the back, so it is gamer approved. And if you have a sweet tooth like me I would recommend Simply rolled Ice Cream. It’s Thai inspired rolled ice cream and watching your ice cream being made is part of the experience.
While you can get to a lot of great restaurants and shops with a short walk, the CBus gives you the option to get just a bit further away for free. The CBus is the free downtown circulator that goes from the Brewery District, downtown, and into Short North. Somehow we have missed this over the years but made good use of it this year. There are a few stops close to the Convention Center and with buses every 10 to 15 minutes you won’t have to wait for long for a ride. We took the bus to get close to The Ohio State University, to the Riverfront, and to the German Village. We could try out new restaurants we once avoided before because of the distance. It is also nice to take a walk and visit some of the sites at the The Ohio State University. Being a college football fan, we decided to visit the Buckeye Grove next to Ohio Stadium. Here they plant a tree for each All-American, and though small it is a beautiful tradition.
The Arena District
The Arena District offers many other great restaurant choices. One of my perennial favorites is Ted’s Montana Grill, a great place for burgers and a traditional turkey dinner if you visit on a Sunday. If you enjoy baseball you may want to take in a Columbus Clippers baseball game during your stay.
2017 was another great year for Origins. There are many interesting games, accessories, and products to see and demo. The great thing about conventions is that you can try before you buy to see if you will enjoy a game. Origins is the perfect Game Fair for both first timers and veterans. It continues to grow and evolve each year, but never feels too crowded or overwhelming. I recommend getting out of the convention center and exploring the great City of Columbus. Visit the North Market, Short North or even take a walk on the Ohio State Campus. Just please, remember to take off your badge… everyone doesn’t need to know your name.
Thank you to Michael McCarty for all the great photographs!