Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Some thoughts on my first big con: Origins 2014

Two weekends ago I attended my first big gaming convention: Origins Game Fair in Columbus Ohio.

My wife and I have been talking about attending a con for years now. Many years. We've always put it off for one reason or another. Our excuse used to be that we didn't have Passports so couldn't cross the border anymore (pre-911 you could get across with a birth certificate). 

This past year we got our passports and no longer had an excuse. My wife gave me the option of going to either Origins or GenCon. Now I know a bunch of you are probably moaning and yelling at your monitors right now telling me I made the wrong choice. I don't think that I did.

In preparation for the trip I asked the awesome Google Plus gaming community what they thought of each con and received a ton of feedback. The consensus was that Origins was much more laid back, relaxed, spaced out and better for just chilling with other gamers and gaming. That was exactly what I wanted. I've heard stories about how awesome GenCon is. How it's The Big Deal. I also heard how busy it was and how much it cost to attend. So we I decided on Origins and I'm glad I did.

Initial thoughts:

Holy cow this thing is big! This is supposed to be the smaller con, isn't it? I wouldn't call this small at all. We were there five days and on the fifth day we were still finding stuff that we didn't even know existed. At one point I wandered into a huge hall that was filled with hundreds of Magic The Gathering Players. One of the busiest halls of the show and we had no idea it was there until our last afternoon when we were trying to find coffee (for some reason getting a coffee after 2pm in Columbus is a damn hard thing to do).

And this is the small con? GenCon is busier? No thanks.
This goes with the last one: there's no way you can do ALL THE THINGS. I wanted to, I really did, but it just didn't happen. I was there for five days and didn't play a single RPG. That was one of the things that was high on my Origins to do list and I never got around to it.

The auction: missed it. Tracey Hickman's World-building seminar: I think I was still in the 2nd row of the Exhibit Hall when that hit. The Munchkin Tavern: didn't even know it was there until I got home and saw other people posting on facebook.

It was all very overwhelming. At the same time though it wasn't overbearing. I never felt rushed. I never felt panicked. I never actually felt like I was missing anything. That's because I was finding lots of cool stuff to do, I was gaming and I was having a great time. Sure I didn't get to see it all but what I did see I really liked.

Awesome board games:

The main thing my wife and I did while at Origins was try new games. That was one of my main goals (other than hitting Games on Deman) and one that I feel we accomplished. This was not only a great opportunity to try before I buy for some games I've been on the fence about, but it was also a chance to check out new stuff that isn't even out yet. The best part to me was that there were people all over the place excited to teach you their game. As one of the main 'game teachers' in our local group, this was a relaxing break. 

I think I'm going to do a separate best of Origins post where I get into more details about the best games I saw and played at the event. For now, here's some highlights.

Prototype of Castles of the Mad King Ludwig
The most fun game of the entire weekend was Castles of the Mad King Ludwifrom Bezier Games. This is the latest from Ted Alspach who makes my current top game, Suburbia. It was a fantastic game, much quicker and more fun and thematic than Suburbia.

Speaking of Suburbia we also got to try SUBdivision. This one was like Suburbia meets 7-Wonders and was extremely fast while still being very strategic. 

Our first day at origins and our first trip into the Exhibit Hall A. we got grabbed by the designer and told we had to try Star Realms. This was a great two player deck builder that had some obvious Magic the Gathering influences. It's only $15 and became my first official purchase of Origins. Being taught games by the people who designed them was pretty awesome. Leaning a new game is great. Learning a new game from the people that created it is better. Even better is beating them at that game. I had to pick up a copy of Fleet for this reason; I destroyed Matt Riddle in our demo game.

There were games everywhere. Just sitting out by the registration area were copies of Monster Factory. After playing a couple rounds with my wife, we decided to pick up a copy to bring home to the kids (with full intention of borrowing it to play with adults at some later date). 

Gravwell went on my to buy list after doing a demo.
Mayfair games had a huge demo area and we tried out The Witches: A Discworld Game, Caverna, Hot Tin Roof, Star Trek: Catan, Mad City and Station Master. For each game you played you got a banner representing the usual Catan resources. Eventually we collected a full set and I took home a copy of Station Master at half price.

Iello taught us how to play a bunch of kids games like The Hare and the Tortoise, Fun Farm and Three Little Pigs. A great dude from Cryptozoic showed up how Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension works and taught us their unique deck building system through their soon to be released The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Deck-Building Game

Even with all of these and some I haven't listed, there was still plenty more I wanted to try and we just didn't get to. There were so many great games!

Really cool miniatures:

Just one of the amazing miniature gaming tables at Origins
There was an entire hall dedicated to miniature gaming. This was a hall I walked through and drooled at the huge amount of tables and wide variety of games. The miniatures were great, the scenery was breathtaking the games looked like a ton of fun. 

Sadly I didn't actually get to try any of them. I had planned to learn Zombiecide, Rivet Wars and maybe even Infinity and I did none of that. I did get some great pictures though :)

Other awesome stuff:

My Haversack
There was a whole ton of other cool stuff to see other than just board games. There were RPGs all over the place. Most major games had entire rooms dedicated to them. There was a Shadowrun room and a Pathfinder Room. There was an entire room dedicated to D6 Star Wars. There was also the Games on Demand room that I expected to spend way more time in. Next year.

There were authors selling their new books. Cosplay booths selling all kinds of different gear (a ton of Steampunk and LARP boffers). There were more dice than I could count and so much lead you could sink a ship.  
Pretty much all the major game companies were there as well as some of the biggest online stores. What I really liked finding through were the smaller independent companies. I found some great deals on some scenery, picked up a potion bottle piece of cosplay, grabbed a bag full of dice for use in Mobile Frame Zero and the last day my wife bought me a Handy Haversack to carry all this stuff in.

Then there was the food. Such good food. I took some time to write about that over on my food blog: Big Dude Likes Food so I won't get into details here. I do have one tip: leave the convention center and cross the street. It's amazing how much awesome is right there within a block.

Some lessons learned:

I already mentioned the main one: you can't do everything. So don't worry about it. One of the good discussions I had with one of the people demoing games was about how to handle Origins. His suggestion stuck with me and is the way we ended up going about things and the way I will do things in the future:

I will never buy one of these again.
Get the guides and event listings and figure out the one thing you must do. The thing that to gets you to say: "I went to Origins and got to do X" schedule your weekend around that. Buy an advance pass, schedule it and make sure you do it. Then make a list of the one thing you want to do each day you are there. Try to do that for sure. Plan to spend one day in the Exhibit hall shopping and buying games and nothing else. It will take you a whole day. Other than that, go with the flow.

The biggest mistake my wife and I made was buying badges for the Board Room. This was a complete and total waste of $40. We didn't play a single game in the Board Room. Not one. We were there five days and never used those badges once. There was no reason to. Why would I go to an area where I have to borrow a game and find people to play it with? As well as likely have to teach myself the game before I can play it. This had no appeal to me. 

I get that for some people this is an awesome chance to play games with new people, to actually get games they love to the table or whatever. For me though, I do that almost every weekend through Windsor Gaming Resource Events. I can play with strangers at least twice a month. I didn't need to go to Origins to do this.

Final thoughts:

I loved it. I really loved it. I had a way better time then I ever thought I would. It was just so much fun. There was so much to do and I didn't do half of what I wanted to do. It was one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had. I will be going back. Origins totally gets a: Thumbs Up!

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