Avery Abernethy, 20 June 2019
Origins Game Fair 2019 was a lot of fun. I arrived at 8:00am on Wednesday and helped set up Rogue Cthulhu. My gaming started at noon Wednesday and continued through Sunday afternoon. My gaming experience touched heavily to lightly on ten organizations. This reviews my experience with the ten organizations, not the games themselves. I ran one session and played in thirteen sessions. Most of my Origins experience is as a player.
Organizations run a substantial, if not a supra-majority of the 7,000+ Origins events. Organizations propose sessions to Origins with Origins determining the overall schedule and assigning session numbers to the submitted events. Origins also handles individual registration, handing out free passes and even hotel rooms to some event organizers, plus selling dealer space and individual memberships. I’m sure much more goes on behind the scenes but I’m only writing about my direct experience.
Origins– GAMA is the trade organization running Origins. Origins was so ill-managed over the last two years that I wrote GAMA Board Members requesting firing everyone associated with high level Origins decisions and those responsible for online event registration. In the past two years event registration was a literal nightmare which never functioned properly until days after registration opened. Event locations ran out of water, trash bins often overflowed, and the Con was poorly run. In 2018 Origins had an inexcusable debacle with author Larry Correia. GAMA did not renew executive director John Ward’s contract, fired others, and hired replacements.
From a participant’s standpoint Origins was much better run this year. Website information was better. Origins staff responded to questions on web forums. Online registration worked smoothly. On-site registration was moved so registration lines stopped blocking doors to event halls. Convention bathrooms were much cleaner, trash was picked up, water dispensers were refilled, and table covers were provided so players did not pick up splinters. Random discussions about Origins experiences during events supplied additional evidence that for many, Origins ran much better run this year. Overall Grade: B+/A
Columbus Convention Center/Hyatt Hotel– I’m unsure if the responsibility for convention amenities is on the Columbus Convention Center or Origins. As mentioned above, the Convention Center itself was a much better environment this year.
The convention center melds with the Hyatt Regency and some of the facilities are seemingly the responsibility of the Hyatt. Unfortunately, the Hyatt restroom facilities became increasingly toxic as the week progressed. Please clean up your act next year. Grade: B+/A for Convention Center, D- for Hyatt.
Rogue Cthulhu/Chaosium– Rogue Cthulhu ran a massive schedule of Call of Cthulhu events and provided the space to run Runequest. Some events were modules provided by Chaosium, others were homebrew events written by individual game masters, yet others were previously published scenarios ran at the convention. Chaosium provided substantial prize support to Rogue Cthulhu. At every event the individual voted best player at the table chose an item off the prize table. Every session participant was entered into a raffle for large prizes. Individual prizes were published Chaosium adventures or collections of Call of Cthulhu short stories with retail prices running up to $35 an item.
Rogue Cthulhu was very well organized. They had a central information table, a display showing which tables were running which event, had an organized system for integrating individuals with generic tokens into games with empty slots (usually no-shows), with a seated waiting area for generics and those waiting for a game. Rogue Cthulhu has large physical props to set the mood. If a game session was canceled, those holding tickets for that event were seated first in alternate events.
The judges were on time with pregenerated characters for my two sessions. Every judge had a printed (or electronic) copy of the scenario. Every gaming table had a power strip for keepers using laptops or tablets which allowed players to recharge their devices. Everything including prize tables and information booth were set up and ready to go before the first gaming session on Wednesday.
From a game master’s perspective Rogue Cthulhu was very easy to work with. Judges running homebrew scenarios submitted the scenario in advance for quality control screening. Those running a Chaosium supplied scenario got pdfs including pregen characters more than two months before Origins. A backup copy of each Chaosium scenario was held by the organizers. Rogue ran ticket collection, raffle tickets, and participant seating smoothly from a Judges perspective. Last, Rogue provided a checklist for judges on core Call of Cthulhu rules, materials provided by Rogue, and keeper guidelines. Overall Grade: A+
Rogue Judges– Rogue Judges ran a massive and eclectic schedule of tabletop board games. Games ranged from simple to moderately complex. The variety of games Rogue Judges ran was staggering and they had a large gaming hall space. I played Scythe and the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game with Rogue. Each of my games had six participants.
Rogue Judges had an information table which also held games not being run currently. My Rogue Judges were on time with game boards fully set up before players arrived. One Judge ran two game sessions for each of my Rogue Judge events. Each judge knew the game, could interpret and explain the rules, and made fast decisions instead of dithering or being indecisive.
The Dresden Files game is a simple tabletop game. None of the six players had played the game before. Our coordinator provided a good game overview, a good rules discussion, and was readily available to answer questions. My session was professionally run and he oversaw two concurrent game sessions without problems.
Scythe is far more complex than The Dresden Files. Two of the six players had Scythe experience and those players helped the inexperienced interpret the rules. The game board was set up and resource pieces were in hand and organized. The judge quickly answered questions, including a couple of moderately difficult questions during game play. The Scythe games ran much slower than The Dresden Files, but this is to be expected given the differences in game complexity.
Overall, Rogue Judges provided a highly enjoyable game experience. The only obvious improvement would be having a prize table for participants, but that would require securing manufacturer support by Rogue Judges and as an outsider I’m unable to judge the feasibility of this. Given Rogue Judges professionalism, providing products for player prizes seems an inexpensive way to generate player enthusiasm for your game. Overall Grade: A.
Steve Jackson Games– I played the 2018 Illumanti game. Steve Jackson Games had an information table and quickly directed me to my game table. The game was set up and ready to play. Our judge arrived on time and gave a quick and accurate game synopsis. The judge oversaw only our session. All players had played earlier editions of Illumanti, but nobody had played the game in the last decade. No player was familiar with the rules.
Our judge started the session by giving each player a card which could be integrated into the game if owned or purchased. Our judge knew the rules, assisted in game play, and made quick decisions on game questions. The game session was too short to complete the game, but long enough to familiarize everyone with the rules and game play. Overall Grade: A.
Goodman Games– I played three sessions of Dungeon Crawl Classics. Two rounds in the tournament plus a homebrew game. Tournament judges were very familiar with the scenario, pregens were provided, and the scoring system was clear to the judges with key elements (but not details) given to players.
I played two of the three tournament rounds with my group knocking itself out in the semi-finals due to a dumb player decision. The judges kept everything moving and were careful not to provide suggested courses of action. Both tournament judges had run the tourney previously and it ran like clockwork. This was essential because the number of completed rooms was a key part of a groups score.
The homebrew game also started on time with pregens. The game keeper was knowledgeable but was a little slower in making decisions – but this was not a problem because it was not a tournament. Only three of six players showed up, but the judge quickly adapted, and play progressed smoothly. Every player got a Dungeon Crawl Classics bookmark for participating.
My three Goodman Game sessions were very enjoyable, but the organization was somewhat poorer than Rogue Cthulhu, Rogue Judges or Steve Jackson Games. There was no information table or designated individual to greet players and get them to the right table. The tournament judges could not clearly explain the prize structure. Nothing was given to players participating in the tournament – which is inexcusable given Goodman Games normal loot package for convention game players (I’ve played at many Goodman Games events at Cons and the lack of player loot was an oversight by someone given company support to judges). Don’t get me wrong, by now I have almost all common player loot and turned down another bookmark. But the other players would have appreciated the gesture. Overall: Grade: B. Would absolutely play in their events but small details were poorly executed.
Ares – I played two large Wings of Glory WW1 games. The first game had 14 planes in the air in a seven on seven dogfight. That game had twelve experienced players and two newbies. The second game had ten players and I was the only newbie. In addition to being utterly unfamiliar with Wings of Glory, I had also never played a miniature wargame.
The game was set up and ready to run before the players arrived. The judge was familiar with the rules and made quick decisions on rules questions or firing arcs (very important in an aircraft miniature game). Most players were very familiar with the game and eagerly assisted newbies.
Players shot down during combat restarted after a one turn delay. Both games ran long enough that a meaningful, but simple score could be assessed. The first game ran under simplified rules with everyone flying the same altitude and the second game allowed altitude changes. Prizes ($5 off coupons on Ares merchandise) were given to the winners with three players designated winners in each game. In a weird stroke of beginners’ luck, I was a winner in both games, but I gave my coupons to others who play Ares games.
Wings of Glory is a deceptively simple game. Both players and game masters were eager to help newbies and were forgiving of rookie mistakes (I played an Immelmann card when I meant to go straight ahead in game 2 which was highly embarrassing). The games ran efficiently, and players had a good time.
However, Ares could make a simple improvement to help newbies. If a rules reference card with core rules plus a warning to keep your cards organized so you can discern between an Immelmann (which reverses direction) and a straight move would be helpful. I got the “no two diamond cards in a row” rule without problems, but another rookie kept messing that one up. Every other game I played at Origins had a copy of the rules and/or a rules reference card. I’m guessing that Ares convention games are predominantly played by experienced players so simple ways to help newbies was overlooked. Ares has pdf downloads of the full rules on their website – so providing a rules reference for newbies would not cost them money. Overall Grade: A for experienced players and B for Newbies.
Jasco Games– I played Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game at the Jasco area. Jasco had a large presence at Origins selling the Buffyverse games (Buffy; Buffy Expansion; Angel) and coordinated appearances by second tier stars of the TV series. Sales, game demos, and star appearances (costing $40 for a signed photo or selfie with few takers) were all in the same large area.
Buffy was set up and ready to go when I arrived. Enough players arrived that three games ran concurrently. Jasco had a big area, but the staff was much greater than the number of games, retail sales, and visitors to see the B-actors. In sum, lots going on at Jasco but somewhat overstaffed at the time given the number of customers.
Buffy is fun, but not complicated. One staffer quickly rattled through the rules – think the rapid delivery of a bored museum tour guide. My table had three experienced board game players none of whom had played Buffy. The adjacent table had five players, one of whom had played a game in this series (Angel). Unfortunately, the staffer who rattled through the rules quickly departed. The other staffers chatted with each other, checked their phones, worked other areas and were largely useless to us.
My group had many rules questions, mostly because nobody ran through the first complete turn with our group plus the rules were explained unprofessionally. The guy on the table beside us (trying to play his game) was a more consistent rules interpreter than the paid staff. My table eventually gave up trying to flag down staff to answer gameplay questions that could have been handled by supervising a full turn of gameplay and we turned to the printed rules.
Jasco was incompetent. They had enough staffing, but staffers were uninterested in helping our group. Rules coverage and introduction to game play were handled incompetently – far worse than all other groups I gamed with during Origins. I own an unopened copy of Buffy and read the short rule book in forty-five minutes after returning to Alabama. While this game is more complicated than The Dresden Files, it is far less complicated than any other game I played at Origins. Weirdly, this is a fun game with relatively simple rules. But if I had not already owned the game, I would have never purchased it given my unnecessarily unpleasant Con experience. Overall Grade: F. Heads should roll.
Everything Epic Booth – Everything Epic had a demo booth/game sales in the dealer hall. I purchased Big Trouble in Little China several weeks before the Con but had only briefly scanned the rules. Big Trouble in Little China has inventive game mechanics I’m unfamiliar with. It combines a board game with a “choose your own adventure” game mechanic. I’ve never played anything like it.
Everything Epic had three table set up for either Big Trouble or the Lo Pan expansion. I came by the booth the first time and talked with the staff. I mentioned that I owned the game but had only scanned the rules and that a playthrough would be very helpful getting up the learning curve. He asked me how much time I had (fifteen minutes) and suggested that it would be best if I could come by with thirty minutes or more to spend. He also referred me to the game designer who answered a lot of questions and was quite happy to talk with someone who had purchased his $100 game.
I returned on a subsequent day with forty-five minutes to play. They were not demoing very much so two staffers sat me down, quickly ran through the game mechanics, and walked me through three turns of play. One staffer ran Lo Pan’s minions, the other played Jack Burton, and I played Wang. I rattled off dozens of questions during play and all were answered quickly and competently. They sometimes suggested moves after I made my move (letting me change if desired) but let me charge ahead if I wished. After forty-five minutes of play I think I’m at least 50% up the learning curve on a somewhat complicated game with some innovative rules mechanics.
Unlike my other experiences discussed above, I did not buy an event ticket for Everything Epic. They were friendly, adapted to my time schedule, and did not push me to buy something after I explained I wanted to learn the core game mechanics and play through a couple of times at home before considering any additional purchases. Grade: A+ as they adapted to the customer, were fast, and very knowledgeable.
Armchair Dragoons– I know these guys and write for the website. I hung around the booth when I had gaps in my schedule and was uninterested in further exploration of the dealers’ room. Had good conversations, a lot of laughs, and shared a pizza on Wednesday. But I did not play any of the Armchair Dragoons sessions and cannot comment on a game experience with them. (ed note: we did not pay him to say this!)
This was Avery’s third Origins. Avery has been playing wargames, rpgs, and tabletop games since the 1960s. You can follow his work at his blog