Origins 2014 Recap

I went to Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio for the first time this year. I primarily went for Games on Demand and that’s where I ended up spending the majority of my time. I left the room pretty much only for food, bathroom breaks, & sleep. I barely even saw the vendor hall. I went in with the intention of walking around a bit, but got distracted by a board game demo right as I walked in and then the hall closed and I didn’t get a chance to go back.

Anyhow! Of course, what I really want to talk about is PLAYING ALL THE GAMES. All told, I played a total of 11 games. Two of which I’d played before: The Climb & Spark, though when I played Spark previously it was in a pretty early beta stage.

Day 1

On Wednesday night before Games on Demand officially started a couple pick-up games ended up happening. I managed to get in a session of “No Country for Old Kobolds” an Apocalypse engine game based on the players all being in a village of kobolds. It was a lot of fun and very tongue-in-cheek. Kobolds are weak, of course. In fact, the only way you actually advance is when you die. When you die, you make a new character that is the child of the previous one. So you end up taking the same stat block and adding 1 to it. There are also some skills & traits, some of which must be copied from your predecessor. And, basically, the village of kobolds are in the middle of a bunch of things that want to kill them (what those things end up being are up to the players at the beginning of the game). The Kobolds end up with a number of wants that are countdown clocks, so the game revolves a lot around trying to manage those while trying to keep the population of the village above 0. It was great fun and there’s a lot of parallels to be made with Kobolds Ate My Baby, though the designer apparently didn’t know about KAMB when he first created it.

Day 2

Thursday morning I got in on a game of Dark by Will Hindmarch. I’ve run Dark once off the beta toolkit (blog posts here and here), but I hadn’t got a chance to play it, so I was really looking forward to playing it. Plus, any chance to play a game with the designer is hard to pass up. I had a great time of course. I learned a lot about the game and how it should be run. It was really fun seeing things from the player side. I don’t have a lot more to add to what I said in the above two blog posts, but I definitely learned a lot more about the setting and hopefully I can present that better when I run it in the future. Which will be in a month at KantCon here in KC.

In the afternoon I played a game I previously hadn’t heard of, “The Devil, John Moulton”. The basic idea is that John Moulton has given you some sort of power in exchange for your soul. Of course, that never goes well, so now the group of PCs are trying to track him down. Oh, and it’s a western. Character creation was fun. There were cards that were passed around with prompts on them to build some backstory out of and they also affected stats. Everyone had at least one demon that gave them a special power. And after using a power you have to commit some sin (decided on by the other players & the GM) before you can use it again. Stats were interesting in that your stat is a die size as well as a value, so if you have a 6 in something, you roll a d6. When you want to accomplish something you want to roll below your current stat. When you roll below it your stat decreases (so you may have a d6 in a stat, but it’s current value is 4). Once it reaches 1, you’re basically out of the game. There were definitely a lot of parallels to made with Dogs in the Vineyard. Each session revolves around finding out what’s going on in a town, because John Moulton has been there and given someone power for their soul. So, you get to a town and find bad stuff happening and you want to try and find out what happened so you can find out where John Moulton went. The game is still in development. There’d be some tweaks I think I’d want to see, but overall it was a pretty solid game.

In the evening I played Spark. I was pretty excited to play this. I played it with Jason at Gen Con back in 2011 when it was pretty early in the design process. I had a good time with it then and even though I bought it through the Kickstarter I haven’t had a chance to read through the rules or play them. We played in one of the default settings in the book (which is a sort medieval/fantasy setting governed by elemental powers). The game revolves a lot around beliefs (strongly influenced by Burning Wheel). Each character has 3 beliefs and even the GM does. It’s in everyone’s best interest to help each other cover beliefs, because as you bring beliefs into play in scenes you get a benny of some sort (I forget the exact name now) and if you clear all 3 of yours, then everyone gets one. It’s a fun mechanic. The scene structure is also interesting, there’s a roll-off at the top of each scene and the 3 top rollers get to set the stage with 3 elements: the platform (the who/what/when/where), the tilt (what happened that the players have to deal with/respond to), and the question (what do we want to find out in the scene — also acts as a cue for when the scene is over). I really enjoy that aspect of the game. The conflict system is also pretty fun. Multiple players can have stakes in a conflict that have nothing to do with one another and it comes down to a roll-off (that can be modified by a poker-like ante mechanic). Then whoever gets the best roll out of that gets to take control and narrate the outcome of the scene.

Day 3

Friday morning I got in on Night Witches, which is currently in development by Bully Pulpit Games, ran by Steve Segedy. Night Witches is an Apocalypse World hack and is about Russian female bomber pilots in WWII. The real history aspects of the game are really fascinating. But, basically, you have a bunch of women flying WWI-era plans in WWII, flying at night over german camps and bombing them. Incredibly dangerous and they barely had any support from the Russian military. A lot of tragedy and heroism. One cool thing is that the game is split into night (bomber missions and such) and day (day-to-day duties, preparing for the mission, and the occasional daytime mission). I had a good time with it. I don’t think it’s a game I’d play a regular campaign of, but there was quite a bit I enjoyed about it. There’s mechanics for promotions and medals and such. Each character also has a countdown clock of sorts called “marks” which can happen in a number of ways, but generally come down to important moments like telling a painful story about home or seeing comrades die. The very last mark is “meeting your destiny and dying”. Definitely worth checking out if for no other reason than a fascinating history lesson.

In the afternoon I played 2 great american freeform LARPs: The Climb & The Juggernaut both from Bully Pulpit. The Climb I played once before last year before it was actually released. The premise is that 6 climbers are on a mountain where they shouldn’t be (so no back-up). A decision has to be made on which 3 climbers will continue on to the next camp and from there which 2 climbers will make the summit. So the game revolves around everyone trying to convince the expedition leader and doctor that they should be the ones to go. So there’s 2 phases: the first phase is what I just mentioned and then the second phase when 3 climbers go on (and actually leave the play space). The second phase is really fun because those players end up crafting a story (with some prompts) on what happens on the journey to the next camp and up to the summit. They also stay in contact with radios (or cell phones if no one has radios). I’ve had a really fantastic time both times I’ve played.

The Juggernaut takes place in 1950 8 days after the start of the Korean War. A group of people have made The Juggernaut which is able to predict the future. And the Juggernaut is never wrong. In play there’s a group of people in “the tabulating room” talking about the situation and running jobs. And since the Juggernaut is never wrong it’s up to all the players to ensure the predictions come true. The predictions are pre-made as part of the game and actually always come out in the same order. You may think that lessens playability, but the interesting part is more about who gets which card since sometimes they require certain actions or mind-sets of that character. I really had a blast with this game. I played a hard-core skeptic for almost the entire game, but by the end with some of the predictions he got he had a harder time being the skeptic as time went on. It’s still in a testing phase, but I’m really looking forward to playing again and see how it goes.

Saturday night I got in on a session of Swords Without Master. I went in with very little preconceptions. I’d heard of it and I knew it was a sword & sorcery game, but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of it. Amusingly I found a copy of Monkeydome somewhere a few years back and read it (I talk about it here). Turns out Swords Without Master is a direct predecessor of it. The main driving mechanic of the game is tone, which switches between Jovial and Glum. So when it comes to describing what’s going on it depends on what tone was rolled on the dice (there’s two d6s, one for each tone, higher sets the tone). All sorts of interesting things happen on ties that add stuff to the game, but by and large the tone is the main driver of the game. It’s largely about narrating what’s going on and there’s ways to pass that around the table by passing the dice. There’s 3 phases to the game that focus on: 1, the GM putting pressure on the players, 2, the players investigating & discovering things about the world & 3, the players doing bad-ass stuff. A session will bounce between those throughout the game. Overall, really a lot of fun, playing with the tones and fitting those into the narration is a lot of fun. It’s also fun to narrate & discover things about the world/setting as you play.

Day 4

Saturday morning I played Feng Shui II a follow-up to the Robin Laws’ Feng Shui (released in the 90s). Expect a Kickstarter later this year! Feng Shui is a Hong Kong martial arts action movie rpg. So picture your favorite Hong Kong action movie and that’s the sort of thing you can expect from the game. It’s fun, over the top, and everything you’d want out of a Hong Kong action movie. Mechanics are relatively simple with two dice being rolled (a positive & negative), then the difference being added (or subtracted) to a skill score, which is compared to a set number or opponent’s score. MoS generally determines how effective (and how much damage in combat). The game seems to be mostly about combat. In the game I played we started with a big brawl, had some small bit of role-playing in the middle, and then another large fight. I had a lot of fun with the fights and narrating all sorts of different things. I could see getting a little burnt out on just doing combat all the time, but I don’t know what the general flow of the game is supposed to be like or what a multiple-session campaign might play like. I’ll almost certainly get at least the pdf from the Kickstarter when it goes live later this year.

In the afternoon I played Urban Shadows, which is a dark/gritty urban fantasy rpg (powered by the Apocalypse). Currently being Kickstarted here. If you’re a fan of things like The Dresden Files, Angel, Supernatural and the like, then chances are you’ll enjoy what this game does. I really enjoyed the game, it’s everything you expect from an Apocalypse World-based game (with the levels of success) and I felt like it really felt the genre well. I’m a big Dresden Files fan, but I’m not much of a Fate fan, so the current Dresden Files RPG doesn’t really do much for me, but this really scratched my itch for being able to play in that sort of world. It really wouldn’t take much to have a Dresden Files setting (and I believe a Chicago city guide will be released through the Kickstarter). Anyhow, if you like Apocalypse World hacks and urban fantasy drama, then you’ll probably like this. I really enjoy the debts mechanic which is really similar to Strings in Monsterhearts, which is one of my favorite mechanics.

Saturday night I played World Wide Wrestling, my last game of the con. Another AW hack, this one about professional wrestlers. I’d been wanting to play it for a while because of the posts I’d seen about it on G+. I had an immense amount of fun playing it and I wouldn’t really consider myself a wrestling fan (though I did watch it when I was younger). Like all AW-style games there’s a number of archetypes to choose from which you can then customize (in this case I played the “Anti-Hero”). In the game you can do thing like cut a promo and play to the audience. These things can help you get momentum which are used when actually wrestling. A match then comes down to collaboratively describing what’s going on and occasionally making movies to do things and earning/losing momentum as well as earning heat with your opponent. At some point the Creative (GM) will let you know who is slated to win and the rest can be played out. And depending on the type of character there’s even ways to go against who was scheduled to win, which may or may not turn out well for you. It was a lot of fun to get in the mindset of the wrestler and all of the over the top antics that come with it. Talking trash to other wrestlers, doing interviews, etc. It was really a lot of fun. Currently the beta rules are available here, but I believe Nathan said he’s planning to do a Kickstarter later this year.

I had a really great time at Games on Demand, as I knew I would. I made new friends, got to see old ones, and played a lot of really awesome games. Origins is definitely a con I’ll be going to again. Mostly for Games on Demand since the rest of Origins was not too impressive, but that’s a topic for another time.

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