Origins 2013: The Other Games

Concluding my three part look at Origins 2013, here are the games I tried that weren’t brand new. Even so, “new” is a relative term. I believe King of Tokyo and Puzzle Strike Shadows are the only ones that even existed at last year’s convention, and King of Tokyo was getting a big promotional push. (I also spent some time with a prototype game and playing a game I already knew. I don’t cover that stuff here, and also don’t go into the games I looked into but didn’t try.)

It’s amazing that I was able to fill my time with new games so efficiently that a debut from last Fall’s Essen festival now seems old. Just a few years ago, I remember spending most of my Origins time in the Board Room, because there  weren’t enough games around the rest of the convention to hold my attention. And even then, a lot of what I played in the Board Room was a couple years old. Board gaming has really taken off, as well as taken a starring role at Origins. Admittedly, this probably gives me a skewed view of the convention as a whole. Not everyone agrees with my claim that the convention is healthier than ever, and that’s probably because I don’t notice how categories like RPGs and miniatures are fading away. My posts about Origins are admittedly biased towards the subjects I care about. However, I can say that in a short time, board gaming has gone from being an unimportant sideline of Origins to the main point. I don’t know whether it will be enough to keep the show going if everything else dries up, but I definitely hope so. This is an incredible event if you’re a board gamer.

And now, onto my first impressions of games.

Article 27Article 27: The UN Security Council Game (8/10): Negotiation games can be tricky, but Article 27 works because it has a short time limit and a solid structure around what can and can’t be done. Thematically, players are the Security Council of the United Nations, with their own agendas about what items they want to see pass or fail. There are only a few votes, each with multiple items in it, so players negotiate to get specific items added or excluded. A single player can sink the final vote with a veto, but that costs them points, so they should be willing to work out a deal. There is a simple but elegant system of bribes, motivations, and a time limit to the negotiating.

Our four-player game was a little lacking, but I think it’s designed to work best with six. That way, the game will last a little longer, there will be a lot more conflicting viewpoints in the negotiations, and all the tiles will eventually get a chance to be voted on. I’m looking forward to trying it again.

Cinque TerreCinque Terre (6/10): Cinque Terre is a pick-up-and-deliver game with a strong resemblance to Ticket to Ride. On their turns, players can take cards from the table, trade those cards in at orchards for fruit, or sell the fruit at various cities for points. For bonus points, they can complete missions to deliver specific fruits to specific combinations of cities. The biggest difference from Ticket to Ride is that some of these missions are shared, with the first player accomplishing them getting the points.

Cinque Terre playIt’s a good idea for a gateway game, and it is fun and appealing for new players. But players track what they have delivered by keeping all sold cubes on various spaces of their player board, and both that and the mission cards are a little hard to read. Watching all of those to figure out which missions different players might be going for, and which ones you can finish first, actually requires a lot of focus. Worse, figuring out even the basics requires all that focus. A game like this should have a happy medium between playing haphazardly and slowly overanalyzing everything, but Cinque Terre doesn’t.

CopycatCopycat (6/10): The design approach of Copycat was to mimic as many other big games as possible. Players bid for turn order, then place workers on a board, and then buy cards, in ways that make use of the systems from Through the Ages, Agricola, and Dominion. Copycat could have easily been an unplayable mess, but designer Friedemann Friese was careful to make it an interesting, balanced game that feels unique after all. The ways the different “stolen” ideas interact creates some new elements, too. It feels very strange to discard from your Dominion hand to bid for turn order!

Copycat playI was a little disappointed, though. Even though the mix of games works well, it feels like the blandest parts were taken from each one. The cards are all analogous to the simplest ones in Dominion: Draw more cards, add money, and so on. The actions on the board are similarly basic, and the only thing taken from Agricola beyond the worker placement is the way new actions appear every turn from a slightly sorted stack. The really interesting and distinctive things about Agricola are the Harvest phases, the way resources grow until someone takes them, and the personal set of cards that gives each player their own technology to build up. None of those were there. Copycat was fun to try, but I expect it will feel exactly the same if I play it again.

Escape Curse of the TempleEscape: The Curse of the Temple (6/10): This is a cooperative dice-rolling game in which everyone tries to get symbol combinations to reveal and move through tiles. The end goal is to discard all the cursed gems and find a way out of the temple. The twist is that this is all done real-time, with players rolling, re-rolling, and finding moves as quickly as possible.

This was a lot of fun at first. But, assuming the official company demo staff taught me the game correctly, I soon realized that the time limit meant very little. We just had to be back in the start room (or have made it to the exit) within a ten minute time limit, and afterwards we had ten more minutes. You can repeat that as many times as needed, so as long as you go slowly and carefully, you’ll win without experiencing any of the frantic spirit of the game.

Escape could easily be fixed with house rules to add stricter time limits and penalties, though even then the rules would feel a little too simple to me. I’m surprised by how much fun the basic system is, though. I hope to see a more advanced dice game in this spirit someday soon.

FantastiqaFantastiqa (6/10): A deck-building game in which you play symbols to subdue monsters (adding them to your deck), with the goal of getting specific symbols to complete quests. It’s pretty bland, with the symbols adding no strategic synergy to your deck and the only game advancement being tougher monsters that give you more symbols. You do move around six areas as you subdue monsters, and your location matters for completing quests or spending crystals at different locations for bonus cards. Either way, this game has no serious flaws, but one of its strengths is that it goes by pretty fast.

Fantastiqa playIt does have great production quality and theme, though, and that makes it bearable. The box and cards use soft, evocative art that set it apart from most fantasy games. Much of it appears to be taken from Impressionist paintings in the public domain, which I’d call cheap, except it is effective. That money saved apparently went towards good stock for the box and cards. And the quest descriptions are light and funny (“Battle and burn the Pernicious Piñata of Polentia!”) It doesn’t save the game, but it is a cute experience.

Goblins, Inc.Goblins, Inc. (7/10): I agree with the people who compare Goblins, Inc. to Galaxy Trucker, but not for the reason you might expect. Yes, you’re building a device out of tiles that can then fall apart, but the building and the destruction in the two games feels completely different. The part that is the same is how funny it can be to watch your plans literally fall apart before your eyes. Not many games are this amusing to lose, so it’s always good to find one.

The gimmick to Goblins, Inc. is that each round, the players form temporary teams of two to build a robot and then fight. Without communicating, they share duties (such as one person deciding which tiles to keep and the other deciding where they go). However, each one has secret objectives that may give them reasons to make choices that actually hurt their team’s chances in the robot fight. It’s a bit chaotic, and sometimes your score can be seriously damaged by events you couldn’t predict, but that’s not a huge disadvantage in a game like this. My only real concern is that it seems to take longer than it should. I enjoyed that time, though, and didn’t notice how long it actually took until I looked at a clock afterwards. That’s not bad, then.

King of TokyoKing of Tokyo (7/10): This dice-roller is a couple years old, but it was one of the most popular games this year. Everyone who discovered it seemed to have fun, and several demo tables stayed full at all times.

You play a giant monster wreaking havoc, as represented by Yahtzee-style dice rolls. The results can earn points, do damage to other monsters, heal you, or gain crystals to be spent on upgrade cards. The trick is that, as the name implies, there is a “King of the Hill” element here. Only one monster is in “Tokyo” at a time, and they take all the attack damage from other monsters. They can leave at any time, at which time the monster who just attacked them enters Tokyo, but staying in the city is worth points.King of Tokyo play There’s some fun risk-taking involved in that decision, and because you’re able to bow out and avoid most other monsters’ attacks, the directed attacks of this game don’t get as out of control as most battle royales.

I liked it enough to play twice, though in the second game I saw some good dice rolling earn a player lots of points in only a few rounds. He was able to win without ever getting involved in the combat that should be central to the game. That dampened my enthusiasm for the game, though I still had fun overall.

Legends of AndorLegends of Andor (5/10): Ok, I don’t get this. Legends of Andor is a Kennerspiel des Jahres 2013 nominee, which is one of the “advanced” gamer awards. I’m used to these games still feeling a little light to me, but at least they usually have a purpose. Legends of Andor is a cooperative fantasy RPG-style game that doesn’t seem to offer anything new. The system of player stats and fighting is simple and inoffensive, but nothing interesting. It’s main selling point seems to be the campaign feature, in which players track the current “day”, and on certain days an event is read out loud. Legends of Andor playThese events will give the players new rewards or challenges, place monsters in awkward locations, or even change the objectives of the current game. The scenarios are designed to be played in order, creating one large story about the Kingdom of Andor and the evil forces besieging it. Based on the introductory scenario, though, this seems boring and linear. The only challenges came from not knowing what was going to happen, so playing the scenario a second time would be completely uninteresting. And with only a few scenarios in the box (and the gameboard set up for the same repetitive castle siege with each story), I don’t see much replayability for it.

I know that the introductory scenario is designed to be simple, so it’s possible that there’s more to the game than I know. From what I’ve seen, though, the game would need branching storylines and board changes similar to Risk: Legacy, and it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t go that far.

Update: People have told me that the later scenarios do add a lot of strategy and even new rules, and that the way these slowly build (without even a separate rulebook) is very innovative. I can believe that, and it does explain why I didn’t find anything interested in the rulebook when I checked it. I will probably never find out firsthand, though; My game group has a rotating set of people, so if a group of players has to go through multiple sessions together to learn the rules, it’s a non-starter for us. This isn’t necessarily a flaw in the game, but it doesn’t sound like it’s a fit for me.

LibertaliaLibertalia (7/10): The core of this game is simultaneous role selection. Everyone chooses a character with a rank and special abilities. Then, a few phases are evaluated in rank order. Abilities trigger on certain phases, and in one of them players choose a piece of “booty” from that round’s available stash.

There are thirty characters in the game, with each player getting the same set each round. (They are chosen randomly, so it will be different from game to game.) That means that everyone is capable of the same actions, and will need to outguess the others in order to use them best. None of us played very effectively on our first game, but there definitely appears to be a lot of different ways the characters can be used together, so the subset that is drawn each round will offer a lot of variety.

My main concern is that there isn’t a lot of progression throughout the game. On the third and final round, everyone is in basically the same position that they were at the beginning. The only difference is that, since players get to save a few characters from round to round without playing them, the hands everyone holds will be different at that time. I’m not sure whether the different (but still publicly known) hands make things more interesting or less, but they definitely don’t raise the stakes or make anyone more powerful, like I normally expect to see in a board game.

Monster FactoryMonster Factory (7/10): Monster Factory is a silly tile-laying game for children. There isn’t much to the game, in fact there’s so little that it seems silly that a major game designer (Donald Vaccarino) is credited. What makes the game fun is Nina Paley’s silly artwork, which can be used to make monsters piece by piece. But this was funny enough to keep adults amused through one short game, and it looks like it will be one of the best choices for me once I have a child of game-playing age.

Monster Factory play

Puzzle Strike ShadowsPuzzle Strike Shadows (6.5/10): I’m a fan of Puzzle Strike. But just like playing with a single set of Dominion, what I own becomes repetitive. Shadows is the other Puzzle Strike game (plus there have been a few promo pieces), and I was hoping that it would offer a lot of new gameplay. My initial impression was mixed, though. My game was definitely fun, and the powers I saw seemed to work as well as the base game’s. However, if there was a new theme, it wasn’t obvious with the pieces we played with. One nice thing about Dominion is that every set works together well, but also has a distinctive feeling. Also, the Puzzle Strike boxes are huge, but are mainly full of empty space. If the person working at the booth could have given me a good solution for consolidating the games, similar to how Dominion can be fit in small card box, then that probably would have been enough to sell it to me.

Box images are from Board Game Geek, while other photographs were taken by me. Follow the links on the box images for details and photographer credits.

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