A friend (Dave Richtmyer) and I drove down to Columbus, Ohio on Saturday (the 15th) to make our pilgrimage to gaming's Mecca - the 26th Annual ORIGINS. After a rather leisurely 3 hour drive, we reached the Convention Center only to find it under construction on the north end where we had parked in the past. So we ended up in an exterior lot on the southeast side of the center across from a Damons restaurant. It was a lovely morning for a walk so we weren't too disappointed. The parking fee was $5 for the whole day which when you live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, sounds like a good deal.
We entered through the Hyatt and reached the first part of the con (the Avalon Hill Gaming area and the Auction room), but we were looking for the registration area so we didn't spend much time there right away. The first problem we encountered was finding our way to the registration area. There were no signs directing us! There were a couple of maps on easels but they didn't have a "You Are Here" notation so they weren't terribly helpful. I ended up snagging a weary looking passerby and he helped get us around some interior construction and on our way.
As we moved towards our goal, we passed an interesting collection of games behind a counter with someone standing there. Both my friend and I rubber necked the stacks and I spotted a copy of TSR's "The Hunt for Red October" which I have been coveting for awhile. I asked the man how much he wanted for it and he replied, that these games were to borrow and not for purchase. A lending library! Great idea. All you needed was a badge and an picture id and off you could go and try something new (or old). We thanked the man for his explanation and continued on our way. Hoping we might get back to him.
We entered the "walkway" (a wide glass connector between the Hyatt and the Convention Center about 50 yards long, commonly referred to as the Breezeway) and observed all sorts of gamers mingling on the floors and at tables that lined both sides of the connector. Of course the youthful CCG gang was present at several tables but also the RPG people in their strange cloaks, sporting thick books were there too. A few boardgames were spread out (some homemade looking stuff) and some basic card games. The gamer aroma was ever present and it would have been nice to have some additional ventilation in the area.
After passing through the walkway, we went down the big escalator into the belly of the beast. By this time it was about 10:30am, and the crowds were getting thick. We reached the registration area and the lines looked long. We sighed and got in the queue. I talked to a gamer in front of us who attended my old college alma mater Eastern Michigan University. We talked of this and that and filled out our little registration sheets. I was dismayed at some of the information requested on the form. I was there for a single day and they wanted two phones numbers, a fax number and my e-mail address along with some data questions. I didn't fill much of it out as they just didn't need to know this things. The line moved rather quickly but grew monstrously behind us. There were freebie bags next to the lines so I grabbed one. I got the usual promotional material (Pokeman blather) but also found a pack of Pez candy and a Pez game card for some new money hungry CCG. The card looked silly but I figured the assorted fruit Pez would come in handy. I also found a black 20-sided die (which later someone told me was a free promo for a new D&D offering) in there which is always nice to have (never know when a Formula De game might pop up). When I finally reached the registration desk, I was greeted by what was obviously local convention help. I asked a question about participating in the auction if I only bought a Visitor's pass and was met with a very blank stare. The woman wouldn't get an official person's assistance even though she was standing 5 feet to her right! Instead, she whispered to her friend posted next to her who in turn asked the woman. Strange but true. As my badge was being printed, I asked them if I were to receive the official program for the con and a woman said they were strewn about here and there and could be easily found. I smiled. She turned to a youth sitting next to her (a brother?) and sent him out to get some books and he returned shortly with a couple of boxes of programs. I think having books next to the badge area is sort of a fundamental for cons and a patron shouldn't have to point that out. But this seemed to typify my impression of the 2000 version of ORIGINS - an organized mess.
With my visitor's badge swinging from my neck by a long chain of white beads (sort of Marti Gras like) and a program tucked into my shoulder bag, my friend and I headed out. I wanted to catch the wargames auction and by the time we got out of the registration line, the 10am to Noon auction was down to its last 20 minutes. We got there in time to see several offerings but nothing caught our eyes. I spied lots of neat stuff sitting on the shelves just waiting for my money (my friend kept commenting as to how he could have bought all these games when he worked at a hobby store 20 years ago for $7 each and now they fetch $45 in the Auction!). But the games would have to wait because when the Noon hour came in so to did the RPG stuff and so out we went.
Next stop was the GMT/Columbia/Gamers gaming area. We wanted to see the demo set-up for the Gamer's upcoming release of "Circus Minimus." Well it wasn't hard to find as it was outside the main gaming room with a few other tables but no one was about. We stared at it making some comments but without assistance, a game wasn't going to happen just then. So we went into the main gaming room and started shuffling through it. It was lovely to see several block games set-up (those games have a great visual presentation) and people pushing blocks and rolling bones. I saw "Pacific Victory", "Bobby Lee", and someone's hand drawn "Quebec 1759" map (?). GMT stuff was also around including a very cool oversized "Tigers in the Mist." Imagine if you will, a map maybe 5x8 feet! With oversized counters mounted on foam at about a 2x2 inches in size. I wanted to push those babies around the minute I saw them. But we kept on and headed for the playtesting area along the back wall and ran smack into QED's "Blue vs. Gray" designer Evan Jones. We introduced ourselves and had a friendly talk as Evan described some of the projects sitting there in front of us. Evan has an infectious passion for gaming and a sparkling intelligence that makes for a dynamic person. We finally moved down the table to our real target, GMT's soon to be released "Battleline" created by legendary German game designer Reiner Knizia. The cards looked great even in mock-up stage as they were printed in color with great looking Rodger MacGowan/Mark Simonitch artwork. The game has a theme of warfare during the age of Alexander the Great. Elephants, Cavalry, Phalanx, oh my! There are troop cards and wild cards. The play has some poker elements and some mathematics and logic. It's sort of a capture the flag (5 of 8 or 3 in a row) as the 8 flags sit between the two sides. The game looks to a great lunch hour game for the wargamer. Evan did a demo play with Bill Alderman, Events Coordinator for GMT. Bill was hacking off large pieces of venison sausage from a fat tube with his over-sized Swiss army knife while playing and holding a conversation with us. The game looked fun (we were ready to pre-order on the spot) but the aroma of Bill's venison sausage finally got to us and our gamer tummies told us it was time to eat lunch.
After saying our good-byes, we headed towards our lunch destination (a suggestion by Dave) across from the convention center - Frank's Diner. On the second floor of a quaint renovated warehouse to the west of the center is a great little diner. I had an out of this world Patty Melt (good rye bread, American cheese and a touch of thousand Island dressing on a ½ pd. beef patty). My friend had an open-faced beef sandwich which he devoured in record time. The place had only a few gamers for patrons and that was their loss. After lunch was a delicious almond crescent cookie from the downstairs bakery and then back to the center.
After making the harrowing trip back across High Street (we were game and avoided crossing at an intersection), we re-entered the center and stopped by the Jolly Roger miniatures setup. Imagine if you will, about a 100 sq. ft. area with the four corners serving as ports. The port towns have people and docks and one includes a fort. Between all this are ships. Lots of ships. Sail models sitting atop what looked to be plastic poles bobbing on an imaginary sea. In the middle was a wind gauge indicating direction and intensity. This was an amazing setup with lots of people buzzing about. People were actually photographing it as it did look spectacular and the group has obviously put years worth of labor into this project. Long live that kind of enthusiasm.
From there we made a commitment to go through the Dealer's area. Now to fully do this you have to spend about 2 hours time. It's huge. For the gamer, it's like being a hog in hog heaven with one catch - nothing's free not even the mud. We made our rounds to our favorite boardgame companies.
Columbia Games had a modest setup with plenty of their boardgames and a few of their card games. No discounts which became a theme for the show. They had "Pacific Victory" front and center and the pieces looked very nice (very attractive stickers). I can't say that I've gotten into any of the Victory line -- yet. I do have all of their 19th century themed games. The fellow there said he had been packaging PV right up until show time with different parts coming in from across the country. He also said that their American Revolution game, unfortunately, was developing slowly.
GMT had a decent sized booth that was long and narrow. They had a fair inventory on the table and did have a discount going on their older games but nothing on the new ones (though I believe they were giving out coupons at events and demos). Austerlitz had a nice location sporting it's 1,000 plus counters. I'll never play a game with that many counters but it's lovely to look at.
The Gamers booth seemed a bit cramped and out of the way. I only own one of their games from the CWB series and though most of their games don't appeal to me, I do like their coverage. Plus, they are going to publish an update of "Circus Maximus" called "Circus Minimus" so I was looking for any info on that. Again, no deals that I spied.
Mayfair had a rather large booth with what looked like every game in their current inventory stacked up on the floor. There must have been about 500 copies of "Quo Vadis?" sitting there (that's optimism for you even considering it's a very good game). They had a special little train game area which included a few copies of Francis Tresham's "1825" import and a some of his homemade expansions. They actually had several copies of "Simply Cosmic" there which I thought was getting hard to find. They had their recently translated copy of Reiner Knizia's "Tigris & Euphrates" which was pretty but I know little else about it. "Elixir Card Game" was also present with some humorous looking cards. Again, I know little of this game but it was good to see ICE coming out with some new stuff. They still had some "SimCity" cards lurking about. I think it's time to put those things in a landfill and write them off.
Avalanche had a nice site with plenty of room. And they had one of the most interesting pre-production products at the con as far as I was concerned: "Rome at War I - Hannibal at Bay." This is a beauty. The counters are a wonderful combination of miniatures and wargame chits. Some counters consist of a top down view of a line of troops plus modifiers. Flip it over to the reduced side and you see fewer troops and new modifiers. The board looks to be a sort of plain desert sand with area squares to move in. Counters are large and medium in size and some are very colorful. This looks to be a very playable system, the same one used in their Napoleonic series. And it will have mounted boards! A nice fellow at the booth did a good job explaining some of the play elements and other aspects of the system. This should be out by late summer or early fall.
Avalon Hill/Hasbro had a huge area adjacent to the Wizards of the Coast mega-area. I got to meet Richard Borg and chatted with him for a few moments as he taught his "BattleCry" game. He was using a 25mm miniatures setup that was quite nice. I believe it was his own that was used in a gaming group that developed the core of this game system. He was a very nice chap. When asked about other games using this system, he shrugged and said that there's no firm commitment yet. I take it Hasbro needs to sell another 100,000 before they feel they've got a winner. Also at this booth was a copy of their new version of "Cosmic Encounters." Stunning is the word that comes to mind when looking at this setup. A spiral galaxy board complete with separate appendages. Colorful plastic pieces were everywhere. It's gets a ten on the eye appeal scale. A group of four had some how wrangled the demo copy and was actually playing a game when I was there. There was a box for an upcoming "Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit." Looks BattleCry-like with detailed plastic miniatures and three boards(?) plus a card management system. The theme is the recent Star Wars Episode I movie with Gungans, etc. Could be a fun time for the Star Wars gamer.
I stayed clear of the WOTC main area. I didn't want any of that Magic Madness to rub off on me. But their area was huge. Big blown up cards were hanging from the ceiling. Decipher was situated next to them and they had Young Jedi everywhere as well as their older Star Wars game. I picked up a couple of Young Jedi play mats which were free when asked for.
The autograph area was busy as Spike from the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series was there doing the signing thing. Not to many vampires present but certainly some odd looking types. The actor must get a kick out of seeing some of these get-a-life folks.
Very near the autograph area was a bizarre sight - three Ohio National Guard mechanized vehicles. Now I'm a wargamer (though predominately 19th century and earlier) and make no bones about it but the sight of an M1A1 tank sitting in the dealer's area made my skin crawl I put my head into the rear of it to look around but quickly moved on. Were we being seiged or defended?
Lots of small publishers and miscellaneous distributors speckled the large area. Old Crazy Igor was present with his "You've got to be kidding me" prices as usual. He is distributing Hillary's Toy Box products including a neat looking card game called "Pirate's Plunder." It was being demoed in the Walkway but we didn't have time to take it in.
The huge room was packed with people and other assorted creatures. People in cloaks were floating around. Star Wars costumes were here and there. I saw one fairly attractive young woman in a bikini of aluminum chain mail. She was sporting a thong under the bottom piece and maybe some band aids on the top. It certainly was "the" attention getting outfit of the room.
After a couple of hours in the dealer's area (and no purchased booty to show for - where are all the bloody discounts?!), we headed out to the playing areas in search of some dice rolling. First, we grabbed some Cokes at a Hyatt shop and then we went back to the Gamers area and settled down to the demo version of "Circus Minimus." The rules were laying there so we scanned the board, gathered up some counters and looked to get into it. Thankfully, a nice young French fellow sat down and as he had played it yesterday, was willing to explain the game to us. In a broken English, he went through the mechanics and just as we were about to get some chariots moving, a Belgian friend of his sat down making our group a foursome. Well we played for a couple of hours and the group had a good chemistry with lots of laughing and ribbing of each other. People were knocked off chariots and running around the track and spine. The French fellow eventually was killed as my friend ran him over while he was attempting to jump on his chariot. I also lost it in a corner but made it to the spine and ran the distance to catch the chariots at the final turn. I jumped on my friends chariot and threw him out and rolled on to victory. It was a wild two lap race. I saw Dean Essig observing for a few moments. And though we had a good time, it was mostly due to the French fellow keeping us playing properly and the chemistry of the group. The game itself is not all that different from AH's "Circus Maximus" and that's not a good thing. The game could use some additional work to trim the mechanics down. There's a bit too much fiddling. Roll here and check a CRT there. Check another CRT and roll some more. My friend suggested card play be brought into the system and that might help it as it still feels like it is weighed down with too much chrome.
Following the gaming, we headed off to catch some more of the auction before leaving for dinner. The auction room was humming and stuff was moving at a furious pace. I spied a few Columbia block games coming up so I prepared myself and won out on a shrink-wrapped copy of "Sam Grant" for a paltry $24. I also caught a copy of TSR's long out of print "The Hunt for Red October" for only $9. I was satisfied with my purchases and as the auction moved into the 8:00 hour, the Collector's stuff started to get into the queue. By this point, we were pretty hungry and still had a long drive ahead of us and thought it was time to head out.
We staggered out of the Convention Center and back to my car. We headed down to the German Village for some terrific beer and sausages at Schmidt's. Fine German food (Bahama Mama Sausages!), fun Polka music (and also the "Hail to the Victors" U-M's fight song!), and a festive atmosphere is what this place is all about. And no meal is complete there without a huge dessert. We both had the Coconut Cream pie which is the biggest and best in all the lands.
A three hour return trip filled with good conversation and some "Songs of the Civil War" made the time pass quickly. It was a fine day of gaming and fellowship.
Good gaming to all,
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