Words by David C. Obenour
Origins Game Fair | June 9-12, 2022 | Greater Columbus Convention Center
After an abridged but welcomed return as an in-person convention last fall, Origins was back at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on its regular weekend and closer to its regular feel. Room after room of gamers sat down with each other again, and special guests presentations, exhibits, and workshops all filled up with excited attendees cashing in event tickets. Masks were worn, vaccine checks were conducted, and while things were still a little different, the fun and excitement were familiar.
For our part, we spent days wandering the snaking aisles of exhibitor tables in the large hall, listening to game summary after game summary and resting our feet to sit down for a few turn demo with strangers. With no shortage of creativity on display, here are a few of the games that caught our attention.
Ark Nova (Capstone Games)
The latest and greatest climbing “The Hotness” from heavy euro darlings, Capstone Games. A little more theme imbued than some of their previous games, Ark Nova sees players building their own modern zoo and filling it with concessions, attractions, and exotic animals. Not overly complicated in how it’s actually played, the game does offer an exciting depth of available options for building your park.
City Builder Ancient World (Inside Up Games)
Building your ancient frontier city is easy. Attracting nobles and loyal citizens used to a certain style of life to move into these newly occupied lands is more complicated. The elevator spiel would be “Like Carcassonne… but wait, there’s more!” The only hang up is, for as intricate as the tile illustrations are, some game elements get a little lost. Not entirely lost but takes some squinting and getting used to.
Cat in the Box (Bézier Games)
Cleverly based off of Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment, Cat in the Box is a trick-taking game that deals out suitless numbered cat cards that only expose their suit when played. Was that 4 cat a red suit? Was it blue? The truth is only revealed when the card is played and once claimed from the board of options, it cannot be taken again. You also determine when you are out and can no longer follow suit – trying to get no more and no less than your bid.
[EDIT: we actually missed this thematic tie-in during our play-through but had it pointed out to us after. Should have looked more closely in the box, I suppose!]
Bigfoot Roll & Smash (XYZ Game Labs)
Now any day can be Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! The first licensed Bigfoot Monster Truck game in several decades, XYZ Games Labs bring back the action with deafening engines revving. A programmed movement game, players roll large tire dice (they noted, the final game’s will be bigger) to accumulate action points, card abilities, and hazards thrown their way from opponents. Jump an airplane, smash over a row of cars, do a donut beside the flaming tire pylons – you may have chairs for everyone in your gaming group but they’ll only need the edges!
Free at Last (The Dietz Foundation)
The fight to end segregation and gain equal rights in the United States continues to be a complicated and long fought battle. Presenting the history and stakes of the critical time of 1960-64, players assume roles as heads of the major civil rights organizations in this semi-cooperative game. What follows is an enriching and gamified history lesson of balancing non-violence and militancy, public support and the support of your constituency, and the many other factors and events of the time.
Castles by the Sea (Brotherwise Games)
Full disclosure: I am a sucker for playing with blocks and Castles by the Sea is a box full of sand-castle-building, block-placing, lighthearted-fun. As tiny “shoreling” folk, your goal is to build wonderful and majestic castles… before the tide comes in… or that dog runs across the beach… shoot, is that a rampaging toddler? It’s not easy building Castles by the Sea but it sure looks like a lot of fun.
Mountains out of Moehills (The Op)
A turf war fought underground, Mountains out of Moehills is the three-dimensional board game of cartoonish hijinx. Underground (the bottom board), players program out their moves each turn. On the surface (the top board), mole trails of disturbed earth snake around, building higher and higher for more notoriety. Leave your trail well-marked and plan moves to avoid edges and getting blocked in by a rock!
We’re Sinking! (Ludamus Games)
Board games are toys and it’s really hard to think of a better toy from this year’s convention than We’re Sinking! A semi-cooperative game of pirate alliances and double-crossing, players work together (or don’t) to fight off horrible sea creatures, or failing at that, make sure they haven’t plundered too much treasure to get away on a lifeboat with. Pairing great illustrations, components, and a plastic pirate ship – cleverly sliced in layers from the bottom to simulate sinking – We’re Sinking! is fun for all ages.
The Stifling Dark (Sophisticated Cerberus Games)
A hidden movement horror game in the style of Last Friday – or the less terrifying Nuns on the Run – The Stifling Dark pits one (the adversary) verse many (the investigators) in a chase and escape. Sharing the community board, investigators work on completing tasks armed with their flashlight as represented by the clever and fun transparent template (a real improvement from complicated line-of-sight charts or coded space coloring). But in the dark, the adversary secretly lurks on their own hidden movement board and their own ghoulish objectives.
A favorite of this year’s convention attendees, Forgotten Depths is a beautifully illustrated (and modestly priced) dungeon adventure for 1-3 explorers. Working cooperatively, adventure – not monster bash – is the focus as players explore countless rooms and mysteries. While the gameplay feels exciting, it’s worth pointing out again how Image Comic’s Marian Churchland really draws players into exciting dungeon exploration with an extensive collection of detailed and not-quite-retro-styled illustrations.
Veiled Fate (IV Games)
Creating your own mythic pantheon and adventures, The Veil pits gods against one another as they control secretly sired demigods on quests for glory and power. Such a play must be measured however, as you suspect your fellow gods have similar motives and methods. The game comes at a high price tag but the theme is set wonderfully from out of a hefty box with impressive miniatures, beautiful illustrations, and thoughtfully produced components.
The Spill (Smirk&Laughter)
DeepWell•4 has ruptured and is gushing oil out into the ocean. Working together (in a style somewhat similar to Pandemic’s crisis management), players balance worsening conditions by containing the oil flow, removing what’s already leaked, and rescuing the native wildlife. Weather dice dictate conditions and adding to the volatility of the game – and the impressiveness of the board itself – oil dice are cast into the rig, spraying randomly into the surrounding areas.
Fun for the kid in all of us who dreamed of growing up to become a paleontologist, Fossilis is a game of physically excavating sand, mud, and stone tiles in a race to expose and collect dinosaur bones. Utilizing a playing board grid of stacked tiles atop recessed pits of fossils, players collect tools, plaster needed for extraction, and discovery points as they work away at the earth around them.
And that’s it for Part One of our review of the games from Origins 2022. Be sure to visit our coverage from last fall’s Origins 2021 and then check back next week as we highlight more games from Columbus!