Words by David C. Obenour & Kristofer Poland
Origins Game Fair | June 12-16, 2019 | Greater Columbus Convention Center
Fill up your messenger bag with granola bars and apples, check your events schedule and get ready for more gaming! After our first round of highlights, we’re diving back into Origins Game Fair‘s exhibitor hall for part two of the games that caught our attention from this year’s convention!
Bosk (Floodgate Games)
Dave: Floodgate Games seem to be masters of eye-grabbing games by following up Sagrada, the stained glass game of translucent dice-rolling, with Bosk, a 3-dimensional game of majestic trees and falling leaves. Four separate seasons offer four rounds with connected but differing styles of play. Spring is for growing trees, summer is for scoring the park visitors’s appreciation, autumn is for gusting winds and falling leaves and winter ends by scoring the covered ground. Plenty of strategy within simple to understand rules – a real winner!
Kris: Dave’s not wrong about Bosk’s curb appeal. It’s a very attractive game. It also offers very straightforward gameplay mechanics that should be easy to learn over a series of quick 30 to 45 minutes gaming sessions. Bosk presents a cool idea for a game about some trees in a national park, and it really can’t be overstated just how cool this game looks on the table. Just watch out for those damn squirrels!
Fire Tower (Runaway Parade Games)
Dave: Fire Tower has the look and feel of a classic game unearthed from your parent’s attic. Bright orange gems represent a blazing forest fire and players compete from their board corner’s fire tower to spread the fire towards their opponents. While literally burning your competition to the ground might not be the regular desired outcome in fighting fires, it does look like it would make for a fun game with a fistful of action cards to fight and stoke the blazes and a randomizing wind die.
Kris: We tend to discuss the importance of board game themes a lot in these blurbs, and that applies here too. Forest fires seem like such an odd choice of weapon in what is essentially a fighting game, but if it works it works! The components help quite a bit. The board is simple, but there’s something about its translucent fire gems spreading across the board that just looks cool. Of course fire breaks and water cards are there so the fire doesn’t simply fill the whole board. What it boils down to is that Fire Tower is a 2 to 4 player fighting with fire (not firefighting) game that could easily become a favorite for smaller groups. I guess what I’m getting at is Runaway Parade Games found a way to make forest fires fun!
U-Boot (Ares Games)
Dave: Easily one of the most eye grabbing games from Origins, the board for U-Boot is a multi-leveled cardboard submarine for frantically moving around your cool sculpted miniatures in real-time with the help of a companion app. I’m of mixed feelings on apps with board games, but on one hand reviews talk about how amazing and immersive it makes U-Boot but then on the other hand there are horror stories of 3-hour gaming sessions ended with a crash or accidental closing. Hopefully some sort of solution can be found for this, because it definitely looks like an amazing game.
Kris: I didn’t get my hands on this one, but I definitely share Dave’s reservations. Nobody wants to get that deep into a game only to have it fall apart because of technical issues. That’s supposed to be one of tabletop gaming’s biggest advantage over video gaming! That being said, U-Boot’s playing surface is cool as hell! Plus, the idea of a crew members working together in real time as Captain, First Officer, Navigator, and Chief Engineer is incredibly promising. Here’s to hoping this one is as fun to play as it looks!
Mothership (Tuesday Knight Games)
Dave: The art for Mothership drew me in with its stark retro sci-fi horror. It’s the kind of art that if it were on a metal album, promising terror from deep space thought up in a drug-fueled haze, you’d pick it up without second thought. That said, there are a number of RPG settings that sound interesting, but often the bar for entry can be too steep with learning a new world, a new ruleset, and assembling a handful of friends to teach all of that to. Mothership’s zine-format rules kept me interested by promising an understandable framework for finding yourself stranded in the unknowable blackness. Definitely one to look further into!
Kris: Mothership could be the cure for the common RPG. With a vibe of substance over style, it sets up a simple premise that’s compelling to most gamers: explore the vast darkness of outer space without dying horribly. The classes are what piqued my interest. There are only four: Teamsters (versatile workers who thrive at low levels), Scientists (best at performing alien autopsies), Androids (powerful but cold and unnerving), and Marines (great fighters who freak out when left alone). That could be the setup to one helluva space opera!
Arraial (Pandasaurus Games)
Dave: Arraial was a standout at Origins both for its colorful art and the many ways bewildered attendees tried to pronounce the Portuguese-rooted word. Thankfully, a play-through proved that it was every bit as fun as its box and not near as confusing as its name. A wheel in the center populates with Tetris-y pieces that players rotate to their preferred orientation and then drop down into their gridded streets to make for the best summer festival. Smart components, fun illustrations, a cool concept and thinky puzzle gameplay, it was one of the convention’s best.
Kris: I didn’t get to play it but definitely saw it all around the convention and it looked cool! Tetris is also my desert island game, so thumbs up on this one!
Planet (Blue Orange Games)
Dave: With large magnetized D12s as your core, it’s time to craft your creation with Planet! Choosing between world tiles to snap on top of your core, players maximize their secret Habitat cards (specifying a region to score at game’s end) and create the most hospitable world to attract the incoming species each round. The three dimensional aspect of Planet is not only a fun gimmick, but an interesting mechanic as your world wraps around on itself. A fun concept executed smartly!
Kris: It’s always interesting to see how the “board” part of board games evolves year by year. I guess that’s one reason why we learn more toward the “tabletop gaming” nomenclature these days. Progress! Anyway, each player in Planet takes hold of a 12-sided planet core and slaps on magnetic ecosystems in order to make a world most suitable for all sorts of living things. The winner is the player who ends up with the most populous planet. While that may not seem very in touch with real world concerns, keep in mind it’s just a game!
Underwater Cities (Rio Grande Games)
Dave: With some great illustrations and just a few simple components, Underwater Cities caught my eye with its plastic domes, bright tokens and dark blue ocean floor player boards. For as engaging as the game looks, where it really shines is with clever design that guides players through rounds and choices. A unique match of actions from cards and actions from limited board spaces create for a nice thinky mix of turn maximization. With the exception of making sure to grab your desired board action or deny your opponent’s, Underwater Cities has the feel of a communally played set of solo game – comparing your best laid out plans to those of your opponents. Good times!
Kris: I didn’t get my hands on Underwater Cities, but if you’re into what Rio Grande is laying down you’ll definitely appreciate it. Underwater Cities boasts bright, beautiful cards and game pieces that set it apart from less colorful offerings. This game almost seems like a sequel to Blue Orange Games’ Planet. The world is getting cramped, so we better figure out how to live underwater! It’s a straightforward premise experienced largely through card placement in this competition to build the most livable network of cities.
Shikoku (Grand Gamers Guild)
Dave: Climbing the steps of an island temple on the Japanese island of Shikoku, in true Buddhist tradition it is desirable not to be first or last. Instead, the “middle path” leads to victory for the player who finishes second from the top and second from the bottom in their pilgrimage. Using a unique Mantra Line order, players select cards and work their way up the stairs. Quick to learn and play and beautifully designed, there’s lots of bluff/deduction and puzzley fun to be had.
Kris: Shikoku spits in the face of the notion that second place is the first loser. It’s a game that actually tasks players with coming in second. The game boasts an attractive board and easy-to-learn rules, but something about it didn’t sit well with me. I’m certainly no theologian, but I question whether a Buddhist monk on a pilgrimage would embrace the idea of “winning” or “competition” at all. Nevertheless, Shikoku looked to be a quick good time as long as players don’t ask too many questions.
Tribes: Dawn of Humanity (Thames & Kosmos)
Dave: Not to be confused with Five Tribes or Rise of the Tribes, Thames & Kosmos has its own entry into the tribal world with Tribes: Dawn of Humanity. A 4 X game (explore, expand, exploit and…) with a lesser emphasis on exterminate, players lead their tribes from the very beginning of civilization. Packing a whole lot of game into under an hour of play, Tribes includes an advancements tree, tiles for each tribe’s separate expanding region, and utilizes a set of tokens to create a rotating chain of actions, where players can choose any but have to pay more the further back the action sits.
Kris: I was impressed by how much Tribes was able to streamline the 4X experience. I might have audibly groaned as we approached this game, as I’ve played plenty of its ilk and am pretty much done with the genre for now. However, I gained an appreciation for what its designers had accomplished just a few minutes later. Tribes features a snappy pace that sets it apart from other multi-hour slogs. It is well-balanced and offers plenty of variety. This might actually be the game that brings me back to the fold!
Die Hard (USAopoly)
Dave: A one versus many game pitting John McClane against the thieves in Nakatomi Plaza, retro stylized illustrations made Die Hard stand out as more than just a cash grab from diehard Die Hard fans. It turns out the reason for this art direction is due to murky rights issues, but no matter the case, Die Hard is a fun game of elevating tension and elevation as John fights his way through the many floor’s game boards of Nakatomi. It was also definitely made by fans with well-thought out rules that nod to famous scenes. Welcome to the party pals!
Kris: Die Hard was one of my favorites of Origins 2019. It takes a popular Hollywood franchise and actually makes it more about the game than the movie. Don’t get me wrong, everything diehard fans of Die Hard would want is here. However, even the completely uninitiated will get the gist of the lone wolf versus multiple terrorists gameplay. The artwork is so much nicer than it would have been had USAopoly just slapped on a bunch of movie stills. The board itself reveals during gameplay, and there’s an immediate feeling of tension throughout. Die Hard is well worth a look.
Volcanic Isle (Arcane Wonders)
Dave: Our demo of Volcanic Isle was a particularly memorable one. Starting off with what seemed like an odd amount of reassurance that it was impossible to tie in this game our game ended… in a tie. Not the fault of our volunteer or of the rules, we just happened to blow through the three or four tie breakers in a dead even heat. Definitely a rare occurrence. A fun enough and quick to pick up game of constructing huts and moai, Volcanic Isle’s plastic components, 3D volcanoes and bright illustrations were definitely the main attraction.
Kris: Volcanic Isle was the final game we played before leaving Origins 2019. After an entire weekend of gaming, I was feeling pretty burnt out. My goal going into this one wasn’t to win, but to cause as much destruction to the island as possible. I guess it worked! Volcanic Isle’s rules are easy to master, and the included board and game components have real personality. It was a good time and a great way for us to wrap up the convention.
Dave: Fantasy miniatures clash in the squared circle for glorious mayhem with TTCombat’s Rumbleslam. Facing off two teams of differently skilled and sized grapplers, there’s just enough dice-rolling and decision-making to make for a fun and fast-paced exhibition. Apparently there’s a number of rules for different styled matches, as well as a foreign weapon boxed set expansion and new expertly sculpted minis to fully immerse you in the kayfabe of it all.
Kris: Wrestling done right in a tabletop game? Rumbleslam nails it! It offers true “fantasy” wrestling with grappling orcs, dwarves, and other mash-ups of wrestling personalities and fantasy tropes. Gameplay is fast and fluid, and there seems to be an excellent balance between big, strong bruisers and wily, agile luchadores. The games components all look great, and there are plenty of teams and individual wrestlers available to fit any player’s style. Rumbleslam practically dares you to have a bunch of friends over on a lazy Sunday to throw your own pay-per-view event. This game rules!
And those are the games we played at Origins 2019! Be sure to subscribe to our Digital Zine and follow along for more gaming interviews and features, including our upcoming coverage from Gen Con 2019!