by Dave Richtmyer

    After having missed Origins for the last couple of years, Greg Nichols and I drove down from that great Buckeye nemesis of the North--Ann Arbor, Michigan--to Columbus for a day at what was billed as the "Millennium Origins." Millennium? Seemed pretty much like any other Columbus/Andon Origins I've attended, but there were indeed changes in the gaming universe, as you will shortly see.

     The first thing I noticed was that CCGs were noticeably less conspicuous; previous years had seen MAGIC players (plus enthusiasts of every other imaginable CCG) literally spilling forth out of the various gaming rooms into the corridors and halls of the Convention Center, playing and trading on anything even remotely resembling a playing surface--including the floor. This year one did not have to step over anyone, and in fact the "only" CCG I found being played (and at a proper table, at that) was MIDDLE EARTH. The dealer room too seemed to feature far fewer decks of cards being hawked than in past years; the only game of note that caught my eye was Wizard's MLB baseball game.

     If CCGs weren't exactly on the ascendant, then RPGs were clearly on the wane. Yes, there were RPGs being played, including the getta-lifer Orc-types playing live role play games, but the genre (which in my opinion was dealt a nastier blow by the CCGs than boardgaming suffered) had drastically reduced support in the dealer room. I remember when TSR and others literally dominated that area; this year finding chainmail-clad young lovelies hawking D&D-style materials was more difficult than getting your 30th-level Dwarf into the dragon's lair.

     But if CCGs and RPGs were thin on the ground, boardgames were positively ubiquitous. Leading the insurgency were the Euro-game companies, which were located virtually everywhere in the dealer room. These firms included Tilsit, Jeux DesCartes, Rio Grande, and Mayfair/ICE. Their offerings, with gorgeous boards and components, caught my eye at virtually every other booth.

     Jeux Descartes, for example, was showing a nifty little card/board game called CASTLE that looked a treat and probably played as well. Also on display were more FORMULA DE race tracks than I thought possible, a reprint of one of the greatest multi-player power-politics games of all time, DUNE, and MONTGOLFIER. Tilsit had a very impressive display with JOAN OF ARC, Charley Vasey's CHARIOT LORDS, COURTESANS OF VARSAILLES (which my local gaming group loves), and a new one to me, AZTECA. Mayfair, bless their hearts, were selling little add-on packs for Francis Tresham's 1825, which the salesperson told me were still being assembled by Francis himself personally. Mayfair had their host of Euro-style goodies on display, including a favorite of mine, QUO VADIS. Rio Grande's booth was the largest of the lot, and was filled with predictably beautiful games, including UNION PACIFIC and more El Grande expansions and variations than I thought possible.

     The USA answer to the Euro invasion, AH/Hasbro, had a huge display, with games of their new line being demo'ed by how appropriately fellows in black jumpsuits. Richard Borg was on hand to lead a beautiful miniatures setup of BATTLE CRY; he's a very approachable and likable fellow. The other AH games, like COSMIC ENCOUNTERS and ACQUIRE, were using the components from the actual game boxes, and they "were" gorgeous, especially COSMIC ENCOUNTERS.

     Positioning themselves between the new Euro companies and the traditional wargame companies were loads of little game developers; one of which that caught my eye was the delightfully-named Hillary's Toybox. They produce a couple of card games that have eye-catching graphics and fun play. Their first, PLAGUE & PESTILENCE, readers of this sheet will probably know of; it's sort of NUCLEAR WAR goes medieval. But they had a new offering, PIRATES & PLUNDER, that looked like great fun but which I'm sad to report I did not get a chance to play.

     Wargaming companies have reinvented themselves, too, with sharper graphics and a variety of complexity levels to offer something for everyone; this contingent included Avalanche, GMT, The Gamers, Clash of Arms, Columbia, The Gamers, and Decision.

     Avalanche was displaying PANZER GRENADIER, SOPAC, and their new Eagles of the Empire-goes Roman game, all with "mounted" boards. Hooray! A salesperson told me that finding someone who could mount the maps reliably was a bit tricky, and that output was slow, which meant that getting product to the market took longer than necessary, but that there was no doubt that PG's sales were in no small part due to the mounted maps. I'm rather taken with the Eagles system as a playable system for battles in "one sitting", and seeing the graphics for the Roman game (which featured Hannibal and his bros. vs. the usual Latin suspects) just made my mouth water. Avalanche seems to be focusing on wargames that can be played in a reasonable amount of time and space, both trends I highly laud. Now if they could just get their feet out of their mouths ... (hi, Brien!)

     Columbia was displaying their PACIFIC VICTORY, Clash had their usual line, including OSG's stuff (though I didn't see Ed, Charlie, or Kevin Zucker anywhere), and Doc Decision had his full line as well. But it was with GMT and The Gamers that I was drawn to, as I was pumped to see/try out GMT's new Rainer Knizia-designed Battle Line, and Dean's new CIRCVS MINIMVS.

     GMT had a long booth with Dave Fox manning the wares; his AUSTERLITZ was everywhere, as was RHB's RISORGIMENTO. Dean had his full line at his booth as well, but neither BATTLE LINE nor CIRCVS MINIMVS were being played in the dealer room for that I had to go to the second-floor boardgame room that featured games by The Gamers, GMT, and Columbia.

     First stop was at the GMT section, which in addition to having setups for the above mentioned two monster games, had massively enlarged boards (say, 4 x 5 foot) of such as TIGERS IN THE MIST and WAR GALLEY. The counters were sized to match, being about 1.5 x 1.5 inches. All were mounted on foam core, and all were available to play by anyone who happened by! The TiTM board especially caught my eye (as I love the system). But before I could get a chance to entice Greg into a 5th Army scenario we ran into QED's Evan Jones, and what an enjoyable experience that was. Evan is very personable, positively bubbling about game design, both his own and others. It was quite clear that Evan finds many of the mechanics that the German designers use to be of use in wargame design; more than once he reiterated that a facile mechanic properly used could do more than a fistful of hexes and a telephone-sized rulesbook. And if to prove his point, he immediately began demoing Knizia's Battle Line with Bill Alderman (GMT's convention manager and a personable fellow himself). BATTLE LINE is a combo counter and card game; the cards featured typically-crisp and clean Mark Simonitch artwork of ancient infantry, cavalry and artillery (I especially liked the WAR ELEPHANTS), and the counters, at least in this demo game, were nine little green wooden pawns. The premise is that you must either blow a hole in the line (take out three adjacent pawns), or cause the line's cohesion to crumble (take out five pawns anywhere amongst theline). The cards are divided into six suits (by color) and are numbered 1-10; there is also a random events deck when it is your turn to take a card you must choose either to pick from the random event deck or take from the soldier deck. Game play is, to quote Evan, "simple, but deep, simple, but deep." You place cards down, one per your turn, in front of a pawn. You do so using standard poker hands (though reduced in number to only three cards perwinning hand): 3 of a kind, flushes, straights, straight flushes, etc. The trick is you can't put them all down at once, you only get to play one card at a time. And, of course, the random events allow for some nasty tricks. The game was producing smoke from Evan's and Bill's ears, as organic CPU's began to melt down trying to calculate the various odds yet it plays in about 30 minutes. A perfect lunch game! Greg and I preordered on the spot.

     As I mentioned earlier, Dean's CIRCVS MINIMVS, his remake of Craig Taylor's hoary old CIRCUS MAXIMUS, was also being demoed in this area, and Greg and I partook of a 4-player game with two fellows who appeared out of nowhere: one was from Belgium and one from Switzerland, and both were delightful opponents. C-MIN, as Dean calls it, is a streamlined version of C-MAX: no more plotting, as a little play aid card (printed right on the beautiful map) takes care of all that. Too, Dean has added physics to the equation in terms of whipping the horses: whip 'em too much and they get right tuckered out and start slowing down. All the C-MAX features, right out of Ben Hur, are included, along with some other variations that Taylor never thought of. We played a two-lap race and had a hoot. I ended up running over and killing my Swiss friend, who taught us the game; the Belgian fellow spun out and lost his team and chariot, but jumped on the now rider-less Swiss team. Meanwhile I jumped out to what I thought was an unbeatable lead, only to have Greg, who spun out too and was team-less, jump on my chariot, throw me out, and go on to the win. While C-MIN is not a simulation by any stretch of the imagination (nor is it intended to be), it still uses familiar wargame-type mechanics, with numerous CRTs and a fair amount of die rolling. I thought, echoing Evan's sentiments, that some of those mechanics could have been profitably pared down by the use of some Euro mechanics (the card play in Niki Lauda's FORMUL 1/DAYTONA 500/CLEVELAND-DETROIT GP being but one of them). That said, C-MIN was a lot of fun that wargamers and non-wargamers alike will enjoy.

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Page Last Updated: 4/10/03