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What I Saw At Origins '99
By Matt Goodman
About This Report:
This isn't a comprehensive report on the convention, but instead a report on what I saw there, so there may be glaring holes in my reporting.
First, some info about me. Until I went to DunDraCon in February of this year, I had never attended a gaming convention, and had only been to a few Sci-Fi conventions. Origins was my first really big gaming convention. Second, I went primarily to scope the show out to limit the number of surprises we'll have next year when we go as exhibitors. Finally, my primary interest is in historical gaming, so the report is definitely skewed in that direction.
Columbus is an ideal convention city. There are direct flights there on America West from many cities in the US, and it's centrally located. The airport is small and uncrowded... when we were taxiing in after landing, I didn't see ANY other planes!
The downtown area is the cleanest I've seen in a city with buildings over ten stories, and there are plentiful pedestrian overpasses to assure that you don't get run over... although the cars actually STOP for pedestrians!
It also felt very safe. On Thursday, as I was walking back to my hotel, a teenager leaned out a passing car window and shouted at me "Hey Fatty Arbuckle!"
If this is what passes for hostility in Columbus, bring it on!
The convention was held at the combined Hyatt/Convention Center in the downtown area. It was easy to locate event rooms (once you found out where something was), and it was clean, well lit, and there were ample sources of food and drink, including a food court. There were plenty of areas with tables set up for open gaming, and there was always some open gaming space free the entire convention. There were Origins/WotC/Andon staff at convenient points around the area as guides, and they usually knew where things were being held.
I heard directly from several bumpees that the Hyatt had bumped people with reservations to another Hyatt miles away. I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown, which was only two blocks away from the Con, and it was very nice.
Registration went very smoothly, and I didn't see any long lines during the convention.
I don't think I'll ever pre-reg for events at an Andon/WotC convention again. Only two events I signed up for (Live Action Kill Dr. Lucky and the 7th Sea Demo) had more people who wanted to play than slots available. Every other game I pre-reged for had plenty of open slots.
I don't think I'll bother with 8am games again. I've been to three at two different conventions, and they all had problems. At DunDraCon, the game had a player that kept falling asleep and snoring loudly. Compared to the problems at Origins, that was merely an amusing anecdote. The GMs were late to both of the Origins games, one because he'd been reassigned to the other Hyatt hotel, and the other because he stayed up until 4:30am and was hung over. One game was rescued by the players, who were very entertaining, and the other was a fiasco all around. The expression "Keep Your Pants On" has an all new meaning for me now.
Good thing that GM's screen is there!
Cool Stuff At Origins
Diskwars, from Fantasy Flight, is the Next Big Thing. It has all the fun parts of miniature and/or wargaming without all the bad parts. It's a diceless fantasy army wargame with the armies and individual heroes represented by POG-like disks. The basic rules are easy to learn (it takes less than five minutes to explain the rules you need to get started), and most of the exceptions to the rules are printed on the disks. Movement is handled by flipping the disks over, and combat occurs when the disk overlaps another disk. Missile combat is simulated by dropping arrow disks from a foot off of the table. The game also includes magic, both as part of the individual disks, and as spells that certain disks can cast.
Currently there are eight different armies, and each army comes in a box that holds seven cards of discs and one card of counters. Four contain the basic units of your army, and three are randomly inserted into the box to give you other disks to integrate into your army or trade to other players. You can play with just two armies, but more is better (of course).
I purchased two sets of each of the armies (sixteen boxes or 112 cards), and I still didn't get all seventy of the cards... I'm still missing at least one, possibly more. While I may not have a complete set, I do have more than enough discs to form large armies from each group.
I played in several demo games, and even though they were short, they were a lot of fun. Disc Wars is a very good bridge product: people familiar with collectible card games were able to play it (and related to it in card terms), and miniatures players also enjoyed it. It definitely has plenty of replay value, and is definitely worth the $9.95 a box retail.
Personally, I'm looking forward to Fantasy Flight branching out from Fantasy Wargaming into other areas with the same Diskwar mechanics.
I played in a very interesting Blue Planet demo run by Greg Benage of Biohazard Games. It was the best Con RPG game I've been to... if you want to try it out, stop by the Blue Planet booth at GenCon to sign up for the demo.
They also had Access Denied, the Blue Planet Gamemaster Screen available at the con. I bought one, but I gave it to my Blue Planet GM. It looked really good!
The 7th Sea demo was about two hours long, and largely consisted of an explanation of the rules and world background, followed up by a bar fight. It was very interesting and fun. I think 7th Sea is probably the next big RPG/CCG/Miniatures hit... we'll be playing it around here, anyway.
Live Action Kill Dr. Lucky
Live Action Kill Dr. Lucky (based on Cheapass Games' Kill Dr. Lucky) was entertaining, largely due to the fellow playing Dr. Lucky, Cheapass Games head honcho James Ernest. The map was marked out with tape on the floor, and for the extremely large playing pieces we were using (our bodies) it was frequently a tight fit. That might have been on purpose... I dunno. It was fun to watch, too. I'm eagerly awaiting Live Action Pass Me The Brain.
The awards started a little late. One person waiting outside told me that someone from the awards ceremony had asked if anyone had a copy of the nomination ballot... and no one did.
I hadn't been to an Origins Awards ceremony before, but I thought it was interesting. James Ernest was the MC, and he opened up the ceremony by balancing a chair on his chin (a trick I witnessed him warming up for at the Live Action Kill Dr. Lucky game.... or maybe he just has a compulsion to balance chairs). He was very funny, and if they can trick him into MC'ing in future years, they should.
The first section (I believe they were the Charles A. Roberts awards) on wargames felt rushed, and there wasn't anything in the program about it, so it was kind of hard to follow.
One award recipient expressed surprise at winning and mentioned the late balloting. The winners didn't get to carry away their plaques (they had a model of the plaque for the photo shoots), and James said it was because of the "loose lips" of plaque makers (the man has great style for conveying sarcasm. The guy who won for best card game was clearly emotional about it, as were his compadres. Dave Arneson got a standing ovation when he came up to the podium to give out the awards for computer games.
The rest, I assume, was par for the course. A number of the award recipients weren't there (both the play by mail and computer game sections were complete washouts).
The thing that bugged me the most is that almost none of the authors' names were mentioned during the entire process if there was a company name to stick on top of a product, even for the fiction. I'd like to see author names included, if not in the ballot, at least in the program.
The GAMA site still doesn't have the winners up, but the Andon Unlimited (the people who ran the con) site does at:
FASA ran Crimson Skies demos out of their booth, and released Wings Over Manhattan, the first Crimson Skies suppliment, at Origins. It's a nifty expansion for CS with two new maps and a sourcebook with plenty of senarios and background info, as well as rules for autogyros.
Crimson Skies won Origins Awards for Best Graphic Presentation of a Board Game and for Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game. When the rep from FASA received the award, he said something to the effect that you didn't have to have a game set in the 17th Century to be a pirate (sorry for the mangled quote... I should have taken notes!).
My biggest complaint about Origins was their handling of the War College. Essentially, the War College is a series of seminars on wargaming topics... the one I manage to make it to was Frank Chadwick's "Horse Flesh and Horsefeathers, Cavalry Tactics in the Black Powder Era", which concerned wargamer misconceptions about Calvary in the shot and pike era. It was very interesting and strongly applicable to our upcoming 7th Sea campaign. I would have gone to some other War College events, but I didn't see the War College schedule until I was on-site, and I already had conflicts for most of the interesting ones. It would have been nice if they'd included the War College stuff with the other seminars on the regular schedule, and I had to ask a few WotC staffers where it was being held before I was able to find someone who knew.
Soldier's Companion: WWI On Mars
Paul Westermeyer, who ran this event, should have a write-up for me in the near future. Here's the short version: Van Siegling won by a bonzai! attack, laying his Warm Winds full of Japanese soldiers directly across the German trenches. The picture is of a strafing run over a German machine gun position by a plane... special effects by Paul. You can click on it for a bigger version.
Sky Galleons of Mars:
Chris Jones has promised me a writeup for this one, too. In an expansion of one the original Sky Galleons senarios, the British were handicapped by restrictive orders, but managed to squeak out a victory. The GameTech Sky Galleons minis look very nice... this was the first time I'd seen them live. You can click on this pic for a bigger one, too.
I had a good time at Origins '99 and will definitely be attending next year. I learned what to do (and more importantly, what not to do for demo games, got to see a bunch of great new stuff, and made some important contacts for Heliograph.
If you're going to GenCon, I'll be working at the Hogshead booth. Stop by and say hello! I'll be wearing the Heliograph, Inc. shirt.
Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:53:28 EDT
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