Husband and I swept down to Columbus to spend Thursday at Origins Gaming Convention. Didn’t think about it in the planning process, but it was basically a day long, incredibly nerdy date. We got in around 9am, grabbed badges and wandered the dealers floor trying out games and listening to rules explanations while occasionally holding hands. If that doesn’t sound sweet to you, then I have no idea why you’re reading this.
This was our first time getting to Origins — despite the fact that we regularly attend GenCon while living in Ohio. So, thoughts on the Con in general: It was quite nice. The dealers floor was extensive without being overwhelming or over packed (although, we were there on Thursday, so take that with a grain of not-Saturday). Onsite reg took awhile, but I was frankly expecting that. Attended no panels, so can’t speak to those or the other programming. So let’s talk about some games…
A lightly competitive game of building a tree to house the Kodama (tree spirits). The branch cards are marked with different symbols, which you try to chain to get more points. You play through three seasons of four rounds each, with the chance for bonuses at the end of each season.
Action Phase Games ran a successful Kickstarter for the game last October (they funded in six hours) and I can see why.
It’s a lovely game. The art is charming and the game encourages aesthetic choices by the way the symbols are integrated into the tree branches, rather than sitting in the corners of cards. Although play is competitive, plenty of the fun comes from making your tree. Not to say that a hefty end of season bonus, the satisfaction of a long chain or the proper card flipping up for your turn aren’t contributing to the fun — they just aren’t necessary to enjoying the game.
The scoreboard is trying to be elegant, and ends up more convoluted than it needed to be. Playing as one of the symbols starts to get odd when everyone’s chaining the same symbols — the person keeping score ends up leaning across the table and asking, “Which are you again?” But those are minor complaints —
This was a short satisfying play: easy to learn, and you can see where a little familiarity with it will make you a better player, but not so much that it will stop being fun to introduce people to it. The art is gorgeous and thoughtful. The trees are pleasing to create, whether you win or not. Awesome start to the day.
Escape: The Curse of the Hidden Temple
In Escape: The Curse of the Hidden Temple you play cooperatively as adventurers stealing treasure from a hidden temple. You move and collect treasure by rolling dice for the proper symbols. Your dice have a one in six chance of coming up cursed — which locks them until you roll the unlock symbol. After you’ve got all the treasure, you have to find the exit room and escape.
I think this one suffered from only playing with two people, not being able to hear the soundtrack, and the person teaching it dropping a few rules so we could have a sort of quick play version. With all that in mind here are some thoughts.
This game plays off nostalgia for Indiana Jones, and that’s absolutely going to work on me, so I was excited to give it a try. Alas, even with that in the bag, it didn’t do a whole lot for me. I learned Space Cadets: Dice Duel relatively recently, and if I was looking for a game of manic dice rolling and rerolling, that’s where I’d lean. Dropping a few of the rules made our game more leisurely — and I think it would have been more fun if there was more pressure — but it still comes down to rerolling dice that are spent to move, pick something up or unlock your other dice. Felt like I spent a lot of time standing in a room and trying unsuccessfully to roll keys.
Art was fine and I still like the idea behind it. I’d be interested to try it with more people and all the rules to see how it played, but I’m not going to pick it up before I get the chance to do that.
The Big Book of Madness
To be entirely honest, I’m still getting a handle on this one.
The Big Book of Madness is a cooperative game where you play as student magicians who have accidentally unleashed monsters captured in a magical book. You throw mana at spells which let you beat the monsters, help each other and survive while your hands become cluttered up with ‘madness’ cards.
I’m pretty good at picking up the basics of a rule set without a whole lot of trouble, but this one eluded me for the first few rounds. My first turns were entirely random actions — which felt like flailing. Because it was flailing.
Then around the end of the second monster something clicked in our brains. We suddenly had the game, and started crushing it. There was a sort of satisfying zen mania to it as we hashed out next moves — we were setting each other up and taking out monsters with turns to spare. We won handily.
I don’t know what exactly fell into place — this is one of the most cooperative co-op games I’ve played. We were constantly giving each other turns and setting up resources for the other player to use. We talked back and forth a lot, but the exchanges were brief plans rather than extended wrangling over optimal strategies.
I think this would be a rather different play with more than two players, and I liked it as a two player experience. It’s a cool looking game, and runs pretty fast. I definitely want to play again — like in a slightly worrying obsessive way — but I don’t know how much it would come off the shelf. That learning curve was rough, and I worry that getting a lot of people through it might be painful.
Shoutout to the people at the IELLO playtest area! Everyone was super kind and the gent who taught us the game patiently answered a lot of questions. Much appreciated!
Those were the big ones we tried.
A last note on the Con — the North Market a block away made for a great lunching spot — though we went at 3pm, so the rush had passed. Will probably be back next year if we can. And as always: Looking forward to GenCon!