Origins 2014 Wrapup

The 2015 iteration of the Origins Game Fair has concluded. So here’s my big rundown of the whole event, sans pictures because WordPress is unhappy today. But if you want ’em, they are HERE.

On Wednesday, I spun down to the con early after work to get the registration thing done and but tickets for events. Which was good strategy, because there was a snafu whereby they didn’t have me in their system — even though I was in their system. There had been some crosstalk about this over on G+, so I kind of saw it coming, and the onsite staff bent over backwards to make things work out. A bunch of my events were, predictably, sold out, but I managed to schedule stuff for that evening and the following day, with the intention of doing Games on Demand on Friday and spending the day in the Board Room on Saturday.

The first game was a fine little World War II game called Quartermaster General. This is a very high-level grand strategic game aimed at six players. We had three, which was only slightly awkward. But I enjoyed it and am contemplating picking it up at some point. This is not by any means a game for the hardcore grognard, but it was sufficently wargamey to be suited to my tastes. Had the opportunity arisen I’d happily have played it again.

The second game was supposed to have been Traveller: The New Era, but I misread the start time and missed it, alas. I’ve always felt that TNE is a bit under-appreciated, and would have liked to have fired it up again. So instead, I hit up the Board Room but didn’t find anything of interest that wasn’t already full.

Thursday was going to be the first big play day for me. In the morning I got to play HârnMaster, a game I like a lot but haven’t had the chance to play in several years. Together, shipwrecked Ivinians Kjartan and Bork used their wits to navigate an ancient cavern and rescue the local lord’s bastard boy — and save him from being killed by his conniving stepmother as well, making friends with an alcoholic Nolah along the way. Despite having only two players (plus the GM) it went very well, ending with a promise from the GM to continue the saga next year, which I’m totally up for.

Between games I again cruised the Board Room with no luck at actually gaming, although I did swing a trade for Avalon Hill’s Fortress Europa, yet another game I once owned but foolishly sold off years ago. Afterwards I headed over to the dealer’s hall to buy some dice and the latest issue of C3i, GMT’s house wargame magazine. I don’t normally buy them, but this one had the errata counters for The Dark Valley, which I own and would like to have accurate counters for. As a bonus, the mag came with a complete wargame: Unconditional Surrender: Case Blue, a mingame about the Case Blue and Operation Uranus campaigns in southern Russia in 1942-43. It’s a micro-version of Sal Vasta’s much larger Unconditional Surrender, which covers the whole of World War II in Europe. This will be a great way to feel out the system to see if I like it, and it’s also a good target for a future wargaming video, since it’s small and can be played to completion in a couple of hours.

In the evening I tried, for the first time, one of those events that I think about doing every year: the National Security Decision Making Game. This is very much a LARP, although there seems to be a general reluctance to call it that, in which you play as segments of some real-world historical faction. In our case we played various internal factions within the USSR at the height of the Cold War. It was a ton of fun, and I did end up as the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, kind of by accident. It was very worthwhile and I got the chance to talk a lot of Soviet history before and after the game with some folks very knowledgeable on the subject, which was almost worth the price of admission by itself.

I would absolutely play it again, with one caveat: the game I played was the “short form”, four-hour version of the game, and I was pretty wrung out by the end of it. I’m not sure I could take the full eight-hour game. I wore bad shoes that day, a bush move that I have no excuse for (this was my 19th Origins,) which may have contributed to my discomfort. Also the room was approximately the same temperature as an actual Siberian gulag. The game was enjoyable enough to get me through it, but I’m still leery of an eight-hour marathon.

On Friday I arrived at the convention relatively late; there were some real-life things that needed to get done that day. Nevertheless, I did arrive in time for the 2 PM slot of Games On Demand. I landed in a session of Ken Hite’s Night’s Black Agents, sort of a vampire thriller game powered by Robin Laws’ Gumshoe system. The seesion itself was very enjoyable but I have reservations about the themes of NBA in particular; I like vampire stuff but the corporate espionage thing leaves me a little cold… but I’d like to read it to be sure.

In any event, when I spun down to the dealer’s room between events, I did my earnest shopping of the con. I picked up Crown of Roses, a block game and GMT’s answer to the classic Avalon Hill Kingmaker and Caesar’s War, a minigame from Decision Games that I’ve heard positive buzz about, and something else that’ll make a nice video at some point.

On the RPG front, I picked up the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, which I’ve had my eye on for a bit. To my surprise the massive hardcover was substantially cheaper than I expected, so it didn’t take much convincing. And I picked up Torchbearer and its accessories; it’s a dngeon crawling game based on Mouse Guard, which is in turn derived from Burning Wheel, a game I like a lot and consider a major inspiration.

Afterwards I hiked back up to the Hyatt for the 8 PM Games on Demand slot, where I got into… Dungeon Crawl Classics! It was great to see the game in action so quickly, and I had a great time; of our fourteen zero-level characters, about two-thirds of them died due to a single fire trap. It was glorious, and surprisingly, nobody else died for the rest of the session. DCC is a game I may do a separate post on once I’ve had the chance to digest the rules a little better; offhand it does some really nice things to baseline D&D, but I do retain some leeriness over the funky d14s and such.

Saturday was my #2 big gaming day, and started bright and early despite me oversleeping a bit. I started out again in Games on Demand, playing Microscope, an interactive Worldbuilding game that was a riot to play. The setting we came up with was a weird Meso-Polynesian society where the young spoke a different language than the old and ended up dying out, before the whole place was conquered by an Alexander-like foreigner who came in and settled the nearly depopulated islands.

After that: dealer’s room again, to pick up Trail of Cthulhu and the Dresden Files RPG, along with a couple more odds and ends. Both are fantastic reads, and my experience playing Night’s Black Agents earlier in the con sold me on the Gumshoe system, while Dresden was yet another piece in my Fate collection.

That night, again at Games on Demand, I got into a playtest of Wrath of the Autarch, run by its designer Phil Lewis. This is a Fate-powered kingdom building game, something that is incredibly up my alley, and it works wonderfully, although It does depart considerably from Fate Core. It was a joy to play, and probably my game of the whole con.

And that was Origins 2015. There was Sunday stuff happening, but I typically elect to go Wednesday and save Sunday for a day of cooldown before returning to the real life grind. And thus it was. Now, on Monday, I’m still tired.

Notes for Next Year

  1. I think this is my last go-round with the Board Room. It’s a great way to go for folks who want to play general-interest boardgames all con, but I have access to all I could ever want to play of those kinds of games (through CABS) and the kinds of things I’d want to get into at Origins tend to just not happen there. So barring something set up specifically in advance, I think that I’m just going to stick with roleplaying events from now on.
  2. On that subject, every year I tell myself that I should run games next year, but this year it feels a litte different. If there’s something I would specifically like to see, I should probably just run it myself, whether that’s some particular wargame or the kind of under-represented RPG that I like to get into at cons. Games on Demand can be a good vehicle for this, depending on the game — and even old school stuff like Classic Traveller and Dungeon Crawl Classics saw play there this year.
  3. My immediate thoughts on what to run would be old (but not OSR) stuff like Classic Traveller or Rolemaster. Or maybe have something of my own design ready to go by then, but we’ll see. It’s not like there aren’t several things in the pipeline.
  4. In a similar vein, I think that most of my RPG play will happen in the context of Games on Demand, which I felt was a huge, huge success this year. As this effort has grown the people running it have done a bangup job of keeping things organized, and even the last folks in the incredibly long lines tended to get into something cool.
  5. Wear good walking shoes every day. Dumbass. Also, maybe invest in some kind of wheely thing to carry stuff around. That damned messenger bag gets heavy after carrying it around for several hours.
  6. Socialize more. Gaming-wise I think my Origins was wildly successful despite considerable idle time. But I didn’t get to hobnob nearly as much as I’d like, or hang out with some of the people I wanted to hang out with. This is my own social anxiety aggravated by the logistics of having to drive in every day, so I had a reason to bolt promptly before midnight when my parking expired. Next year I’d like things to work out so I can stay later at least on Friday and Saturday.
  7. More and better forward planning. I was particularly bad about it this year, not even looking over the events listing until the day before the show. I’d also like to plan meal times better; I did make it to Bareburger, but otherwise made do at the Hyatt food court, which, aside from Subway, is about the same price as eating at North Market and not nearly as good. The issue is that RPG stuff happens in the Hyatt, which is at one end of the whole convention, and the High Street places like Barley’s and North Market are just past
  8. Since the amount of cosplay at Origins grows every year, I’m thinking of checking out the costume contest next year. I myself am very unlikely to cosplay (I have enough hobbies, thanks) but it might be fun to check out.
  9. Sunday will probably remain a stay-home day unless I take the following Monday off, which is probably not happening. I like to have a day to cool off after all the hustling of four days of con, so even if I have the extra day I’m more likely to blow it on Wednesday, where there is now plenty of quality gaming to get involved in.

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