Words by David C. Obenour & Kristofer Poland
Origins Game Fair | June 12-16, 2019 | Greater Columbus Convention Center
With the continuing surge of new games and new gamers, modern gaming is a colorful and exciting hobby and few places are as colorful and exciting as a gaming convention in 2019. With almost just as many ways to experience these gatherings as there are attendees gathered, days are filled with tournaments, panels, film fests, signing sessions and much more, all circling around the the massive exhibitor hall, filled with new and new-to-you games.
Celebrating its 45th year, Origins Game Fair brought together a wide array of vendors, designers, celebrities, authors, artists, fans, and anyone else with a connection to the world of tabletop fun. It also took place again on the same weekend as Columbus Pride which was great to see both communities mesh together so well. So whether you’d sport a “Gaymer” or “Ally” ribbon on your badge, here’s the first half of our favorite games we heard about and played at Origins 2019.
Over the Edge (Atlas Games)
Dave: Over the Edge sounds like a RPG version of Lost with only yourself to blame if all of the conspiracies and threads don’t tie together at the end. Presented to us as an early exploration of what a loose-form improvisation meets RPG could be, Atlas Games have ventured back to the fictional island of Al Amarja for a new edition. Mad scientists, secret agents, and conspiracies true and false all align for the great Last War. The rules seem easy enough to pick up and more like a framework or suggestion on how to guide the mind-bending reality.
Kris: Some RPGs focus a great deal on stats and combat. Over the Edge is not one of those. It’s more about character development, motivations, and exploring mysteries both in players characters’ pasts and on the unknowable island of Al Amarja. Tracing all the way back to the early 90s and developed by respected game designer Jonathan Tweet, Over the Edge has long set itself apart from other RPGs by focusing on surrealism and chasing conspiracy theories. Fans of Shadowrun will dig the use of a “dice pool” to determine characters’ aptitudes or deficiencies regarding specific tasks. Those searching for a dungeon hack should probably look elsewhere, but anyone who loves the actual role-playing part of RPGs could find a satisfying deep dive into Over the Edge.
Proving Grounds (Renegade Games Studio)
Dave: A good single-player game can be hard to come by. It is easy to just make one player control all of the roles, but that can start to feel more like work than play. Crafting a game that thoughtfully engages a single player intentionally is something different. Proving Grounds throws you alone into the gladiatorial pit where you have to roll your way to victory and freedom over the challengers that come. The game even raises the drama with an included novella that tells you your character, Maia Strongheart’s story up to that point.
Kris: While the name Maia Strongheart might induce giggling, Proving Grounds’ gameplay is nothing to laugh about. Different colored dice are rolled to simulate attacks on Maia’s gladiatorial opponents. How these attacks are assigned to Strongheart’s eight enemies lead to some difficult choices. It’s a great way to add player agency to the randomness of dice rolls. Proving Grounds could easily lead to hours of solo fun, as this new breed of single-player tabletop games that gaming alone has evolved far beyond the confines of Solitaire.
Songbirds (Daily Magic Games)
Dave: Originally released in Japan as Birdie Fight, Songbirds is a fun and light puzzle game. With rows and columns dealt varying point tokens, players take turns filling the empty playing grid with their differing colored and numbered bird cards. After a row or column is filled, the point token is given to the color of bird with the highest number total present. Play continues until the last space has been filled and players then score for the bird color of the card that they kept – provided no other player kept a higher number in that color!
Kris: Our demo of Songbirds was quick and easy, and it seemed Dave and I only got a sense of how close our game was at its very end. The fact that each player keeps a single card in hand to determine which color of bird will score at the end of the round kept us guessing. It’s impressive how Singbirds keeps players on their toes even though the gameplay is quite simple. I just wish it kept the name Birdie Fight in the US. That name rules.
Mystery House (Cranio Creations)
Dave: I’m always a sucker for inventive use of boards and components, which made Mystery House an immediate standout. Utilizing a sideless box, the game inserts doors and walls into the top slots as dictated by the current scenario to build that game’s Mystery House. Players then take turns exploring by crouching down and starring into the box at these spooky tokens and interacting with a game app that moves the narrative along. The base game includes two adventures and additional ones are planned quarterly after Mystery House’s release.
Kris: I’m a curmudgeonly gamer, so I’m hesitant to embrace the use of apps in tabletop gaming. I want everything included in the box, dammit! Nevertheless, Mystery House sucked me in with its novel concept and smart use of technology. Not only does the app track what players have seen in various rooms in the Mystery House, it also counts down each adventure’s one hour time limit. That gives this game a sense of urgency and prevents the slow, meticulous gamers in a group from holding everyone else back. The solidly-designed modular box could lead to nearly endless possibilities if the game’s developers continue to support it via updates.
Tuki (Next Move Games)
Dave: I am a sucker for a good building blocks game and Tuki is exactly that. On a turn, the lead player rolls the die to orient that round’s card (showing a layout of blocks) and players then race to build a three-dimensional replication of that design from the ground up. Fun to look at and fun to play, Tuki is a great adrenaline-fueled few minutes to add into your game night.
Kris: Tuki walks the line between friendly competition and cutthroat conflict. Tensions are high as each player races to quickly build their structure exactly as it is displayed on the chosen card. The addition of the die roll multiplies building options by three and should keep each build fresh for a great many rounds of play.
I really enjoy short dexterity games than can be played with the whole family or as a short amuse-bouche for more committed gaming groups. Building/stacking games seem to be all the rage nowadays. Tuki fits in nicely while maintaining a unique identity rather than coming off as cash-in copycat.
The Crusoe Crew (Graphic Novel Adventures / Van Ryder Games)
Dave: A choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel turned into a cooperative game, The Crusoe Crew is Graphic Novel Adventure’s first multi-player game. Each character has their own graphic novel with extra clues hidden determined by their strength. Scour the panels and lead your team on an adventure! A fun concept well-executed, it’s exciting to see where they go from here.
Kris: I found The Crusoe Crew to be one of the most innovative offerings at Origins 2019. Cooperative reading is such a cool idea! While we played the game with two other fully grown men, this game would be a perfect fit for young readers. The graphic novels are beautifully illustrated and boast a playful, cartoonish feel. The numbers that send player-readers to different pages in the graphic novel are deftly incorporated into the illustrations, so a keen eye is required to find all of the treasures hidden throughout the game. Additional books and other expansions could keep this one fresh and interesting for some time.
Darwinauts (Green Couch Games)
Dave: A bigger box than normal for indie fave, Green Couch Games, Darwinauts just launched on Kickstarter this Wednesday to a great response. An unstable rift has been opened, showing us a portal to a new dimension filled with new wonders and species. It’s up to you as adventurous Darwinauts to boldly explore these new vistas while you still can. It’s akin to a more dynamic version of Carcassonne with a cool theme and even cooler art.
Kris: I didn’t get a chance to get my hands on Darwinauts, but I definitely fell for the elevator pitch. Who wouldn’t enjoy exploring strange new places and discovering new forms of life never before gazed upon by human eyes? It makes me think of a tabletop version of No Man’s Sky that doesn’t require downloadable updates to make it fun.
The Refuge: Terror From the Deep (B&B Games Studio)
Dave: Though it got great reviews, the original version of The Refuge didn’t grab me. I’m more of a thematic gamer than a mechanics gamer and I had a hard time getting immersed in the Frogger meets checkers gameplay (a gross simplification, granted) for a zombie game. However with Terror From the Deep, this mechanic clicks in perfectly for a steampunk deep sea diver versus monster kraken game. With threatening tentacles blocking your way to the monster’s cavernous maw, now I get it and want to get it too! Go check it out for one more week still on Kickstarter.
Kris: The original Refuge came off as just another zombie game upon first impression. Terror From the Deep (not to be confused with the classic X-COM video game sequel) breaks it free from the shackles of zombiemania and takes it in a far more compelling direction. It’s surprising how much a reskin and update in mechanics can breathe new life into a game property.
Letter Jam (Czech Games Edition)
Dave: The thing about gaming conventions is you’re going to play some bad demos – sometimes the fault of a volunteer and sometimes the fault of a gamer. So in spite of a mess of passive-aggressive awkwardness caused by our new table mate, Letter Jam proved to be a great time! Like a word puzzle version of Hanabi, players have letter cards facing away from them and try to figure them out by having each other spell words using the known and unknown.
Kris: Letter Jam asks players to achieve a sort of mind meld state in order to succeed. English is a vast and bizarre language, and adding proper nouns only complicates matters. It’s challenging to form words when some of the letters in them are mysteries. Add in the wildcard that could be any letter in the alphabet, and the guessing game grows in difficulty. It’s a useful tool that can make things easier or harder for your teammates depending on how you use it. Play with the right group, and great times with expanded vocabularies are in store.
Calico (Flatout Games)
Dave: Calico is a game that fully realized for me a trend developing over the past few years, the zen game. Whether it’s coupled with nostalgia as in Bob Ross: Art of the Chill or with vacationing as with Tokaido or with nature as with Photosynthesis, the zen game is a welcome refuge in the midst of our worried world. And perhaps the nirvana of that zen gaming? A game about making quilts to attract cats to come sleep on them. A fun puzzle and set-building game, it’s hard not to want to play this one. Keep an eye out for it on Kickstarter later this fall.
Kris: I’ve played far more zen video games than tabletop games, so this one is still a bit of a mystery to me. Cat people and quilt fanatics will no doubt be all over Calico. Others might be harder to persuade, but after a relaxing game or two, Calico’s appeal shines through. Puzzles can feel like rewarding head-scratchers or involve rage-inducing leaps of logic, so thoughtful design is of the utmost importance. Calico hopes to chill you out, keep you entertained, and give some kitties a nice place to nap. I can’t deny that sounds really appealing in 2019.
One Small Step (Academy Games)
Dave: After watching Apollo 11 earlier this year, One Small Step is an excitingly timely game (even more so with the Kickstarter “launching” on July 16 of this year – 50 years after the Apollo 11 launch). Coming from Academy Games, you know you’re in for a somewhat weighty and entirely fascinating delve into history, taking into account the many aspects of Space Race and mission. There wasn’t much info on this one yet, but it will definitely be one to look out for.
Kris: There’s something undeniably compelling about outer space. It’s vast, dangerous, and unknowable. Yet, humanity is nevertheless driven to explore it and learn its secrets. One Small Step does well to capture that adventurous spirit as well as the technological and scientific developments necessary to break free of our earthly bonds and venture forth into the great unknown.
Bubble Tea (Renegade Games Studio)
Dave: Bubble Tea is a great example of a game as a toy. Using a fun and maybe even functional shaker, colorful wooden dice spill out each round and dictate the number of cartoonishly illustrated bobas that players need to fill their customer’s cups with. Four drink bases make for the board on which layered transparent boba cards are placed as players hide and rotate their bobas to fulfill the exact order. Great components, a fun theme, fast-paced game play and a very reasonable price tag of just $20!
Kris: Fast, frantic and fun are all words that accurately apply to the short amount of time we spent with Bubble Tea. Its clear cards sort of reminded me of that old favorite Gloom, but they’re used for a different game mechanic. Roll those dice and race to create your drink faster than your opponents! That’s really all you need to know about this short but highly enjoyable experience. Bubble Tea is a winner.
And that’s it for Part One of our review of the games from Origins 2019. Be sure to check back next week as we highlight more games from the convention!