August 18, 2022

Origins 2022 – The Armchair Dragoons AAR

Brant Guillory, 24 June 2022

We’ve now got Origins a full 2 weeks in the rearview mirror. With some time to discuss and reflect, as well as time to collect feedback from both our players and GM team, we wanted to try to sum up the convention with a multi-faceted AAR.

PREP WORK

To say that we start working on Origins a year in advance isn’t really true, but there’s some truth to it. When we collect our lessons learned from the previous year, we immediately transcribe them into the organizing discussions for the next year, along with any other ideas we want to make sure we discuss going forward. Although we generally don’t do anything with them for 4-6 months, we at least want to capture everything while it’s fresh in our minds.

From there, we generally reconvene the team for planning about 6 months out, and start discussing the events we want to present for our players, the days/times we want to aim for, which games we need to coordinate with vendors, and start looking for additional GMs to help fill any gaps we’ve identified. Shortly after this process gets underway, we also start integrating any new GMs that reached out to us at previous Origins to possibly join the crew.

The key tasks we’re looking at completing around this time are

  • The draft of our schedule, sorted by table where the events are played
  • The draft of our roster, with by-name assignments to the events they’re supporting
  • The draft of our additional team members for other roles we fill (such as our media coverage)
  • If we are supporting any War College events, we coordinate with their scheduling team to sort out time slots, because we submit our own events for that track

As we get closer, we’ll refine the schedule and roster, until we’re to the point that it needs to be submitted to Origins. One of these years, we’ll actually get it submitted sooner than the week it’s due1. Once it’s submitted, we’re at their mercy until it’s approved by the events team at Origins. However, we have yet to have Origins turn down any of our proposed events, so we’re usually pretty confident that our schedule is solid.

Once we get our allotment of GM badge codes from Origins, we parcel those out as best we can among our team, with the knowledge that there are still a few people that will need to buy their badges. We try our best to mitigate that, but it doesn’t always work out.

During this time period, we’ll also start sharing our plans in order to promote the upcoming events at Origins, and drum up interest & support for our area.

Finally, as we’re packing to head out to the show, we’ve got our booth decor, playing copies of our games, raffle prizes that are usually sent ahead to Columbus, and anything else we can remember to bring.

O22-parking
There’s always parking

FACILITIES

The convention is in the Columbus Convention Center in downtown Columbus, OH. One good thing about Columbus is that it’s about a day’s drive from a good 40% of the US population, so there’s plenty of people that could make it. There is far more parking in the area that the “sold out” prepaid parking makes it seem, but it is pricey. You’ll easily spend as much in parking as you will on a badge for the long weekend.

In previous years, the large sectioned walls were used to literally wall-off the dealers’ room to control access during the off-hours. Last year, with a much smaller October Origins, the entire convention was fit into one of those halls, and the dealers’ “room” was just a curtained-off area at the back of the single exhibit hall. It was weird, but everyone was willing to live with “weird” because it was a “weird” year all around.

This year, however, Origins did it again, and we got a hybrid hall layout where all the vendors were at the south end of one giant exhibit hall, with all of the folding walls opened all the way up. It was… interesting.

O-22-Overhead-gamehall-left
Board Room / open gaming in the far back with the card game tables front & center and the minis & train gamers to the right rear
// organized gaming, including the Armchair Dragoons Wargame HQ, is to the right (see image below) ->

 

O-22-Day2-Overhead-01
<- open gaming that way (see image above) //
This is the middle of the open hall, with the Armchair Dragoons right in the center of the image
// exhibit hall that way (see image below) ->

 

O-22-Day2-Overhead-08
<- organized gaming this way (see image above) //
Overhead view from the center of the exhibit hall

 

click images to enlarge

THE WARGAME HQ

Overall, we had 38 events scheduled out of an Origins program with over 5200 total events. Even charitably expanding the wargaming footprint to the 170 or so events we identified in our Origins preview, that’s still only about 3% of the events at Origins that are wargame or wargame-adjacent. So what purpose does our Wargame HQ serve? It’s the rally point, right? It’s the guaranteed “arrr, here be wargamers!” spot on the map that every grognard knows they can use as a home base for wargaming. It’s not that we want every single wargaming event to be “ours” but that rather than dilute the games throughout the open gaming area or organize glorified pickup sessions through geeklists, we have our own space in the main gaming hall where we can let our Dragoons banners fly, and know that we have our own space for wargaming.

O-22-ACD-HQ-start
How it started…

 

That space is generally a 20×40-foot chunk of bare concrete, and the last few years we’ve spent re-inventing the table layouts we use. This year, we liked our table layout enough that we captured it on a computer sketch and will be reusing it in the future. It gives us 2 spots for weekend-long “big” games that stay up the entire time, a pair of split tables where we can run double-blind games, or some larger single-table events, and a set of single tables where we have smaller-footprint games for quicker play. In the middle of it all is the CPX area, as they need a good chunk of space and the monitors & power to run it.

O-22-Day2-Overhead-03
… how it’s going
Overhead view of the Wargame HQ
Europa on the front right table (with our green ACD banner)
Rick leading Age of Dogfights in the front left
Catastrophe Games directly behind Rick’s table
Jeff (blue mask) prepping the next CPX session
Song For War set up behind him on our showcase table.

 

Over the years, we’ve swapped events in & out, and directly supported publishers and had out of print games from defunct companies. We’ve tried a kids’ program and we’ve tried co-locating with companies. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Lately, we’ve tried to emphasize more “tentpole” events – the big stuff that you need a convention infrastructure around to pull off. We still play & teach some smaller single-sitting games, but we want folks to get a convention experience they can’t replicate at their local game store or weekend gaming session. So we’ve built the schedule around multi-table games like the Team COIN games or double-blind naval games. We always prioritize the CPXs.

This year, we brought back a true “monster” game and took all of Wednesday night to set up a Europa game that was played throughout the weekend, with all sorts of players joining us for a one-turn session of the game.

We also set up multiple sessions of a double-blind Midway scenario, A Distant Plain split across 2 tables, and 3 CPXs, as well as leaving Song For War of a big table all weekend long. Of our “smaller” tables, we dedicated one to Catastrophe Games, who provided their own GM’s all weekend for sessions of Zurmat and Judean Hammer as well as a playtest run thru the upcoming Arabian Uprising. Another one we dedicated to Fort Circle Games, whose GM/owner/designer/impresario unfortunately had to head home early for a family issue. Our final table was split between smaller games run by the usual Armchair Dragoons GMs for single-sitting games like Brief Border Wars or Bayonets & Tomahawks.

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Finally, we had a handful of games “off the books” where GMs set up to play things that weren’t in the official Origins program. These included a pair of sessions of Robotech Reconstruction, Mike showing off Assault: Red Horizon ’41, and some demo sessions of the old BayonetGames’ Warfighter system, and Fort Circle’s Votes for Women.

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What did the players think about the Wargame HQ? Well, we asked them! Thru the Tabletop.Events feature that let us contact the registered players in our events, we got a variety of feedback from them

Look for their events every year at Origins; nearly all members of AD I encounter are cordial and engaging.

 

I thought everyone I met in that area was approachable and informative.

 

The location was well run and a fun place to game.

 

Always had a good time playing events here, GMs well versed in events they run

We asked the players to rank us on a 1-6 scale, with higher numbers being better, and the Wargame HQ’s overall score was a 5.5, with only 1 rating below a 5.

We’ve already had another 4 people approach us at Origins about joining us as GMs next year. If only 2 of them actually follow through, that gets us another 8-10 hours (minimum) or wargaming over the weekend that we can still get some wargaming in. Our goal for next year is to get ourselves up over 50 total events. A secondary goal would be to also add 2 more wargame vendors to the exhibit hall, but while we can influence that, it’s beyond our actual control. Speaking of that, though…

 

VENDOR HALL

It wasn’t as big as normal, in large part because there are companies that were unable to adequately staff their booths, or took too much of a beating over the past 2 years to afford to go, or have just decided Origins isn’t in their future. And we encountered a few of them that came to similar decisions while at the show this year. Our extract of wargame (and wargame-adjacent) vendors isn’t that big, and feels like it keeps dwindling. Wargamers won’t show up because the companies aren’t there and the companies won’t show up because the wargamers aren’t there and no one wants to be the first ones to break the cycle.

So, a special shout-out to Enterprise Games, who are the official GMT Games rep at Origins, and an ardent supporter of the Armchair Dragoons Wargame HQ. Not only do they show up with a no-frills booth stacked with GMT Games (and the occasional game from other folks), but they go home with a whole lot less than they showed up with. Seriously, by Saturday mid-morning, their booth was visibly emptying out of product, and previously-full shelves had 2-3 games laying down on them. Enterprise Games are a fantastic partner for our program, and we’re happy to work with them as long as they continue to come to Origins.

 

Among the other wargamers in the vendor hall, Decision Games are always present, always fully-stocked with their own games & magazines, games from a few other companies (including some they shouldn’t), and a booth crew staffed by cacti. Academy Games have about 1% of the depth of Decision’s catalog, but they more than make up for it in how well they showcase them all on their tables, with a team that washes down happy pills with double-espressos made with Jolt Cola. Whether you want a multi-turn game, or a quick demo, or just take a moment to ogle the gorgeous components, Academy Games’ booth gives you a chance to do any of the above.

 

The Dietz Foundation, a non-profit in a hall full of semi-profits, had one of their wargames on the table alongside some other games like the pre-press demo of Free At Last, which covers the civil rights movement in the US in 50s and 60s. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a full copy of their upcoming Littoral Commander, but if they’re back next year, maybe we’ll get lucky with it.

O-22-Day2-Dietz-2

 

Wrapping up the true wargame companies, Catastrophe Games split a booth with Blue Panther (their printing partner). Catastrophe showed off Zurmat (with copies for sale) and their upcoming Stonewall Uprising (Kickstarter, soon), along with their existing stock of the USS Laffey and Judean Hammer, among others. The Blue Panther side of the booth didn’t have any demo tables, but rather several racks full of games from their publisher partners like Hollandspiele, White Dog Games, and (remarkably) The Historical Game Company. Given how rarely those games show up on the racks at conventions, it’s refreshing to see the smaller press guys get stocked for sale, and while most of the convention-goers might’ve breezed right by, we can confirm that the Dragoons left with more than a few games from the Blue Panther stacks.

O-22-Day1-13

 

Of course the Dragoons are not wargame-exclusive, and we always make it a point to drop some cash over at Black Oak Workshop for some of their excellent dice. We’re usually picking up something from the Studio 2 RPG racks. There’s often an unusual find somewhere like the minis booth selling the Venetian-inspired dice towers. The exhibit hall is not a cornucopia of wargaming, but we’re going to talk about that a bit more in a few minutes.

O-22-Day3-BlackOak-02

 

GAMEPLAY

There were over 5000 events in the Origins event guide. No idea how many of those actually happened or what the cancellation rate might’ve been. There were significant problems with the data that that populated the absolutely-useless mobile app that Origins promoted, and as a result, people relying on the app for their scheduling were often sent to the wrong place, or given the wrong time, or both, for their events.

O-22-Day3-Games-01
Aerodrome always looks soooooo cool

This was not a problem we had.

We lost 2 events when one of our GMs had to return home for an emergency, and we had 2 other events with zero participants. Of the remaining 34 events, they all had at least 1 participant, and most had at least 2. Roughly half of our events had at least 1 walk-up player without an advance ticket, who joined in when the event started. One of the CPX’s had 4 walk-up players.

O-22-Day2-Dominion-03
this is – no kidding – only one of several stacks like this, most of them taller

The idea of walk-up or drop-in players was not necessarily new this year, but the process was changed from past years. Previously, the badge for Origins got you in the door, and almost everything else had an additional cost to it, whether it was a per-ticket price for individual events, or a ribbon cost for all the events in a specific program, playing in the organized events had a cost. (Demos in the exhibit hall or open gaming tables never had a cost before). This year, Origins raised the price, but made the badges all-inclusive, which meant “no more event ticket costs”. This made it much easier for players to walk up to a table and sit down to play if there was space. And did they!

There were plenty of other games we saw when walking around. For example, there were a boat-load of variations on Dominion, fueled (at least in part) by the booth in the vendor hall with 10-foot stacks of Dominion expansions of all sorts. We also saw a good number of Terraforming Mars sessions on tables around the gaming hall. In the organized play areas, run either by companies or clubs, there were large sessions of Kings of War and the usual train gamers. Ottawa Red Shirts and Rogue Judges both had their usual big play areas set up, too.

We were boxed in by Battletech on one side, as well as the Heroes of Barcadia right across the aisle from us, and the Souvranti guys with their digital gaming platform were on the other side of our 2-foot curtain, giving us the side-eye all weekend. Cephelofair had a big play area in the vendor hall to show off Gloomhaven and Frostgrave. There was a “learn to play D&D area right outside the vendor hall, and old-timers were probably wondering “doesn’t everyone know how to play D&D already?” but it was consistently at least half-full all day long.

Truthfully, there was a ton of gameplay that we never saw. The card-gamers were at the far end of the hall from where we were, and while it was usually busy, it was invisible to us as we never had the time to head over that way. Similarly, the RPG events over the hotel ballrooms might as well have been in Dayton, as we never saw them, passed them, or interacted with them.

 

LESSONS LEARNED

Of course there were some lessons learned. Or re-learned. Or previously-identified-but-still-yet-unlearned2.

First of all, we need to do a better job of managing the schedule by table, rather than by GM. We had a few tight turnarounds because of the way the tables were scheduled. That one is completely on Brant, and he’s already been sent to bed without his porridge.

Of course there were some lessons learned. Or re-learned. Or previously-identified-but-still-yet-unlearned

Second, there’s room to improve the booth decor and signage. Although it’s better than it’s been in years past, there’s still room to get better, so we’re going to. We need better anchor/corner signs, and better on-table signs. The tablecloths were an improvement but could still get better. We need to schedule the “Wal Mart Greeter” role with the booth team. We need to better balance the mix of games for the publishers we’re supporting, as well as the length of time the games take. The publisher-driven tables should be running nearly-constantly for the time when they’re not in the exhibit hall, and close to it when they are, since that’s the best place to check out their games in action.

We need a better tie-in with the War College, which we normally have but slacked off on this year. With a full booth crew, we could have also incuded 3-5 War College talks with our group, but with our limited team, we couldn’t spare any man-hours to their program.

We need better bag control. Seriously. Our crap piles up everywhere, and we don’t even need 2/3 of the crap we’re carrying around with us all day3.

We need more wargame vendors in the exhibit hall.  We might not get the publishers to show up, but if Enterprise Games can clear out their very robust tables in 2-1/2 days as an official GMT rep that happens to stock some other games, there’s no reason someone couldn’t be the official Compass Game rep, or MMP rep, and sell plenty of their own games that are not on wide offer anywhere else in the exhibit hall.

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned is that if you put games on tables where people can see them, they’ll inevitably stop and talk to you about them. You get a chance to show off your games, make some new friends, bring some players into the hobby, and have a good time. And that’s what it’s all about4

 


ORIGINS 2022 COVERAGE
WARGAME HQ EVENTS ~ MiD PREVIEW EPISODE ~ EXHIBITOR SPOTLIGHT ~ CONSOLIDATED WARGAMING EVENT GRID ~ WARGAME HQ EVENT PREVIEWS
REPORT FROM THE SHOW ~ GAMEPLAY PHOTOS ~ EXHIBIT HALL PHOTOS ~ CONVENTION PHOTOS  ~ AAR
DISCUSSION FORUM THREAD


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Footnotes

  1. (hahahahahahaha)
  2. Yes, those too
  3. that’s one of the previously-identified-but-still-yet-unlearned lessons
  4. well, that and doing the hokey pokey and turning yourself about

Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

View all posts by Brant G →

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