The Opinionated Gamers Guide to Origins

[This is the first version of the Opinionated Gamers Guide to Origins  — it is definitely still a work in progress, and we hope to add to it each year!]

The Origins Game Fair will be held June 22 to 26, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio.  It is one of the largest gaming conventions in the US, and for many of us, it is one of the highlights of the summer gaming calendar.  More information can be found at their website:

Many of the Opinionated Gamers have been to Origins in the past, and this Guide is a collection of advice from those folks who have been in the past.  Many of us have been as tourists, though some of us have also been there to work the fair. We’ll break down our comments into a few broad areas to help organize our thoughts…

  • How to get to Columbus
  • Where to Stay (and/or Park)
  • What to do before the Convention
  • What to do at the Convention itself
  • What to do after the Convention
  • What/Where to eat
  • Everything Else

How to get to Columbus

Dale Yu: Well, I drive there – so it’s easy for me.  While I often stay at a friend’s house, when I’ve stayed in a hotel, I’ve tried to choose something with free parking…

Mary Prasad: I fly from NC – luckily a direct flight, although some years none were offered (I miss our AA hub!). I take a cab to the hotel once there.

Valerie Putman:  There is an on/off ramp for the highway (670) directly behind the convention center.  It’s very easy to get to!

Where to Stay (and/or Park)

Dale Yu: Again, I usually save a bit on costs by staying with a friend who lives in Columbus.  But, that means I have to drive in every day.  The best parking lot for me is one found on E Goodale St, directly across the street from the convention center side entrance.  Other good options are the parking garage on Vine Street (near North Market) as well as free street parking on the side streets north on High Street (towards the Art District).

Ted Cheatham:  I am a one day person and park in the convention center parking on the south side under the building.  Usually, I never pay for parking because the booth closes around 11 or 12 PM and I usually leave after they are closed.  But, if you have to pay the cost was not that bad.

Mary Prasad: Ugh, not all of us can fly their own plane, Mister “One Day” Ted.

Mary Prasad: My husband and I used to stay at the Hyatt, attached to the convention center but it is a long walk even though it’s inside… you have to pass the food court, RPG gaming, registration, and information. Now we stay at the Hampton Inn across the street. It is much closer due to it being almost a straight shot to the gaming halls. The drawback is that it fills up very quickly so making early reservations is a must. The Hampton also includes breakfast. Yay!

What to do before the Convention

Dale Yu: Though the lines aren’t as bad as GenCon, there is still plenty of value in pre-registering for your badge (and possibly tickets and ribbons).  Many of the events at Origins require event tickets or ribbons.  The hot item last year was the Board Room ribbon which granted you access to the Board Room for the duration of the fair.

Ted Cheatham:  I am not a pre registration guy.  The line there moves very quickly but, you should expect about a 15 minute process to get your badge.  I say this as a Saturday attendee arriving around 10 AM.  The line could be longer at opening or other days.  But, this has been my consistent arrival time for several years.

Mary Prasad: Sign up for the No Ship Math Trade on BGG … just be very aware of your luggage situation if you are flying. I usually bring along a small journal to keep notes of what games I played and with whom along with my own ratings and notes. If I have time before I leave, I will make a list at the front of the journal of games I would like to play. I also take a look at the CCG, board game, and special events schedules, available as an Excel download under the Events tab on the Origins website: I make note of any I would like to attend. If I am really interested, I will pre-register for those events.

What to do at the Convention itself

Dale Yu: I’m usually in one of 3 places: the Dealer’s Hall, the Board Room, or the Rio Grande gaming area.  Of course, for the past few years, I’ve been working in the Rio Grande Games room for much of the fair… But even if I weren’t working, I’d still only be in those three places.  In my opinion, the Board Room is the best organized open gaming area at any convention I’ve ever been to.  You need a ribbon in order to play games there, but it’s $15 well spent.  Not only do you get access to the CABS (Columbus Area Boargaming Society) Library, but you usually get door prizes and chances to win bigger prizes!  Last year, Rio Grande Games also provided free food at meal times in the Board Room.

Ted Cheatham:  Let’s talk the one day person, Saturday.  Dealer room, dealer room, dealer room, lunch at the brew pub or the market, dealer room, dealer room, open game room, Board Room.  These days if you are a drinker, there is a bar area with gaming near the board room that is pretty cool.  Since I am a one day attendee, I am a dealer room guy.  You can see the new things, play some new things, and just hang with a lot of great folks.  Many companies have demos going in the dealer room especially Mayfair, Rio Grande,  and Out of the Box.  Many other companies will have a table or two to show you a game or at least a turn or two. And, for one day, this can consume all of your time until the room closes at 6PM.
Once the dealer room closes, take a walk around the open gaming area.  Here you will find many demos of some games that you could not find in the dealer room.  Finally, I would close out the evening at the board room…, I agree with Dale, this is an awesome place.  The one day plan makes this area less valuable than a longer stay.  I just love catching up with the CABS folks.  However, my day ends with only one or two games in this area.  If you had a longer stay, you would be there a lot!!
Now, I know what you are thinking……I mentioned lunch but, not dinner.  Dinner is a bag of White Castles on the drive home!!!

Rick Thornquist: If you’re a boardgamer, it’s a no brainer – get a Board Room ribbon and head straight there.  Okay, you’ll want to spend time in the dealer room, but when you’re not there you should be in the Board Room.

Mary Prasad: I’ll echo what the others have said – get the Board Room ribbon! It’s an awesome place to game and a great deal, especially considering the door prizes (games!). When the Exhibit Hall (a.k.a. Dealer Room) is open, likely I’ll be there. Find great deals on games and retired CCGs (be still my heart!), play the newest releases (e.g. Rio Grande area), get demos, participate in Mayfair’s Ribbon Quest, and sometimes meet game designers. This year, The Dice Tower will have a booth complete with demos and prize giveaways.

Valerie Putman:  Sadly Rio Grande won’t be at Origins in 2011 (or so my sources tell me), but they will still be donating a ton of games again for give aways.  Since the members of my local game club, CABS, is coordinating this, I would assume that the give-aways will be again associated with the Board Room.  Queen, who also had a large presence in the Board Room last year is also rumored to be absent this year.

What to do after the Convention

Ted Cheatham:  Again, White Castle on the way home…..just hope the drive is not too long….8)

Mary Prasad: Sleep. Then play all the new games I bought.

What/Where to eat

Dale Yu: I must admit that I’m a fan of North Market, which is a sort of upscale food court.  Many different ethnic foods are represented in the stalls here, and it’s a great place to go as everyone should be able to find something they want to eat here.  I also know a lot of locals swear by the Sauerkraut balls at Barley’s pub – which is just across High Street from the Convention Center.

Ted Cheatham:  Barley’s pub Scottish ale and a burger!  North Market is great with many food options but, just too crowded for me.  Oh, no matter what you do, go early….11:30 at the latest to beat the crowds.

Rick Thornquist: Yup, the North Market.  I try to avoid unhealty food at conventions, which is tough, but the The North Market makes it easy by being very close to the convention center and by having a nice variety of good food.  One more thing: Columbus is known to gamers as having great ice cream and there is a great place right in the North Market – Jeni’s.  If you have a car, make sure to also check out the other great ones – Denise’s and Graeter’s.

Valerie Putman:  Hey, Rick.  I got some bad news for you.  Denise’s has gone out of business.  But don’t worry convention goers–Jeni’s is better and right across the street!

Mary Prasad: NORTH MARKET! Go to Jeni’s for ice cream (the best in the area, IMO), Taste of Belgium for the crepes and Belgian waffles, Flavors of India for the Indian food, and Holy Smoke for BBQ – just to name a few favorites. I also enjoy Max & Erma’s (across from the Hyatt) for their tortilla soup (basically an excuse to eat a bowl of cheese with some chicken and veggies thrown in) and hot-out-of-the-oven cookies (be sure to give them at least 15 minutes notice to get them to the table). The Dice Tower will be having a dinner at Max & Erma’s for fans and listeners on Friday at 6:15 PM. There are also plenty of other restaurants in the nearby Arena district including a BD’s Mongolian Barbeque, Chipotle, Buca di Beppo, and Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (a favorite for beer drinkers).

Everything Else

Dale Yu: Don’t forget to pre-order your badge!  And, Origins is the one big convention that offers a nice one-day option.  From their website: “For each day the exhibitor hall is open (Thursday thru Sunday) we will allow people to attend the show for an admission fee of only $5/day. You can bring the whole family for only $10/day!”.  While you don’t get access to the ticketed events, it’s a great way to experience Origins in a single day!

Mary Prasad: Other things to do and visit in the area:
German Village – also has good restaurants, check out Schmidt’s Restaurant and Sausage Haus
Columbus Museum of Art
Center of Science and Industry (COSI)
Ted Cheatham:  Oh, Mary just reminded me.  If you have a car and like German food, Schmidt’s Sausage House for the 11 sausage buffet with all of the German trimmings, great beer, and super puff pastry desserts.
Factory tours –
Graeter’s Ice Cream
Velvet Ice Creams
American Whistle Corporation
Anthony-Thomas Chocolates
Mosser Glass
Krema Nut Company

Hopefully you will have a chance to make it to Origins this year – it’s a great time!  We’ll continue to update this with our new experiences and re-post it next year.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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14 Responses to The Opinionated Gamers Guide to Origins

  1. Nate Beeler says:

    I’d echo Schmidt’s as a destination. Just be sure to leave plenty of time, as they don’t take reservations and the wait can be tremendous. Their cake is not a lie. In fact it’s really amazing.

    Also, something we’ve done before the show is to hit up the great amusement parks Ohio has to offer. Well worth a day trip!

  2. Randy Cox says:

    Don’t forget that Columbus has a wonderful Metro Park system if you have transportation and want to commune with nature (or if you have kids along).

  3. Ken Hill says:

    I don’t want to contradict Valerie’s statement above, but I can confirm that Rio Grande Games will indeed be well represented at Origins. They are one of the main show sponsors. Unlike previous years, however, RGG will have a separate room for demo’s instead of being in the exhibit hall. It will be open extended hours and staffed at all times. (This is a similar arrangement to what RGG has had at Gencon for the past few years.) Rio Grande will also be represented in the exhibit hall in the usual spot in front of the main hall.

  4. Valerie Putman says:

    Ken, my bad! I’m glad you spoke up if I was wrong. I heard that Jay wasn’t going to be there and I guess I just made the wrong assumption. I’m thrilled to hear that RGG will still be there.

  5. Willi B says:

    Glad to hear RGG will be there. What about Jay? Will Mr. Tummelson be present?

  6. Ken Hill says:

    Jay will not be attending in person this year. It is my understanding that he will be at Gencon.

  7. Marc Specter says:

    I have been fortunate enough to attend Origins, from soup to nuts, for the past 6 years. I agree with a lot of what was said in the original post, but a lot seems to be geared toward the one-day gamer. For those who are going to attend the full con, here is some advice from years of gaming glory.
    1) I always stay at the Drury. Not only is this amazing hotel connected to the convention hall, but they have free breakfast, and a free happy hour/dinner. The rooms are spacious and clean, and the cost is on par with any other hotel not connected to the hall.
    2) Bring a jacket and/or hat. At first blush you may say “Huh?!?”, because Columbus is just as muggy as many other midwestern cities. However, at night the gaming halls, spacious as they are, get very, very cold.
    3) Balance your time. I have attended Origins as a guest, as a volunteer for the con, and as a GM. I have parceled my time out in various ways and I have yet to find the perfect balance, but I think I do pretty well.
    a) The dealer hall is amazing! I think you need to spend at least a few hours each day in the dealer hall. Repeat tours will always reveal something yous missed previously. However, there are only so many times you can go up and down seeing the same things. If you don’t schedule enough time for gaming, you might just find yourself in the dealer hall all too often.
    b) Gaming is awesome. That’s why all of this exists right? Contrary to one opinion, I think you should not only pre-register for the con, but also for as many games as you think you can stand. If you have to ditch–and yes that’s a crappy thing for the other players, so don’t do it–at least you only paid $2.00 (or so). However, don’t overschedule. You will get fatigued, and no one wants to play with a crabby gamer. My recommended schedule:
    6:00-8:00 am Breakfast
    8:00-10:00 am Game
    10:00-noon Dealer Hall
    noon-1:00 Lunch
    1:00-6:00 Game and/or Dealer Hall
    6:00-7:00 Dinner
    7:00-midnight(ish) Game, Game, Game
    Then go to sleep for 6 or 7 hours and do it all over again!
    I will be running the heck out of Alien Frontiers this year, a slew of games from both Days of Wonder and RnR, and also some prototype demos in the board room. I hope to see you there. I eagerly await your comments and if you recognize me at Origins from this post, please say hello.

  8. Joe J. Rushanan says:

    FWIW, I have had great success staying about 5-10 minutes North on 71 at a Holiday inn Express (near OSU). The room rate and parking still puts it cheaper than the convention hotels, and I have never had a problem parking in the garage under the food court.

    Oh, and I’m curious: what do you all think about the change of dates for (at least) the next two years to the last weekend in May. Sadly, I will miss Origins this year, and with the date change, may not be back.

  9. Jay Bloodworth says:

    Denise’s went out of business? Say it ain’t so!

  10. Dale Yu says:

    @Marc – I think you’ve got a great schedule planned out there. Yes, my schedule looks much different as I’m often only in Columbus for a day – this year, I might get about 32 hours — so I don’t have as much time for schedule gaming events.

    @Joe – we’ll have to see how the schedule change affects things. In the grand scheme, I think that it will make Origins less of a family event (no comment on whether this is good or bad) as many kids will still be in school… or, like my kids, still involved in sports like select soccer which are not yet over in late May. Soccer involvement will make the logistics a bit trickier for me… but since I’m almost a local to Columbus, I should still manage to fit in a day-trip like I will do this year.


  11. Jim Ferguson says:

    Friday, 7pm, Terrace Ballroom 5: The 20th annual Smithee Awards
    More info at
    That is all.

  12. Ryan says:

    I’m one of the folks who goes from Thursday to Sunday. For anyone staying a handful of days I highly recommend getting the CABS Board Room ribbon. I will be in that room from Thursday to Saturday!

  13. Marc Specter says:

    @Ryan: I agree. The Board Room ribbon is a MUST, if only for the freebies you get. I will be in the Board Room for a short while demoing prototypes of 2 unrealeased games, and soliciting feedback. Ryan–and anyone else–come check out the tall shaved-headed guy with glasses for a unique experience.

  14. Prakash says:

    I’ve been attending events at the GCCC for 13 years now. Definitely, North Market is my first choice for eating, but the GCCC Food Court is pretty good too. Fame’s Diner, Krema Nut Company, Chicken and Eggs, and the Gyros place are all vastly underrated. Many of these also serve made-to-order breakfasts. Avoid the chains, though. You can have that crap anywhere plus the lines at the chains are a lot longer because people like same old, same old I guess.

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