Origins – First Builders
- Designer: Adam Kwapinski
- Publisher: Board&Dice
- Players: 1-44
- Age: 14+
- Time: 60-120 minutes
- played with review copy provided by Board&Dice
Well, my apologies if the title is misleading this week – as it turns out, I can’t make it to the Origins Game Fair – which starts today in Columbus, Ohio – so I thought the next best thing to do is to review a game which shares a name with that show. This is a 2021 release from Board&Dice which took a bit of time to filter its way into the Gaming Basement. Our group had a chance to play it earlier in the spring, but it took some mandatory time off to allow me time to break it out again (this time for solo play) – to get enough experience to write it up.
The story, from the publisher: “They came to this planet, and they chose you. They uplifted your people and promised great prosperity. They provided the wisdom and the resources to build your cities sky high. They taught you the ways of culture, science, and warfare. They promised knowledge for any willing to learn. Come, Archon, guide your citizens to victory, under the watchful eyes of the Builders, our benefactors from beyond the skies above. In Origins: First Builders, you are an archon, guiding a population of freemen, influencing the construction of buildings and monuments, climbing the three mighty zodiac temples, and taking part in an arms race — all in an effort to leave the greatest mark on mankind’s ancient history.”
So, it’s essentially a boardgame about Ancient Aliens! The main board is placed on the table – it has a number of important areas. At the top are the five circular (and futuristic plastic) round motherships with some actions printed above them; these all start at a value of 1. To the left of this is a space for storage of tower discs (in the 5 colors of the ships). A tableau of District Cards is dealt face up here for all players to see. There are three temple tracks in the bottom right; each gets its own constellation card placed at the top. The bottom left has a track for the market of building tiles; there are 5 different colors here, matching the colors of the motherships. The round military track in bottom center; each player puts a marker on the starting space of this track. And above this, you’ll find space for Citizen dice (in mothership colors) and neutral (white) dice. Finally the score track circles the whole board.
Each player starts the game with their own player board, a set of bases to hold their dice, and some starting resources. Each player also starts with a city consisting of just two building tiles: the Agora tile and the Palace tile (which starts with one disc of each color on it). As the game develops, the cities will grow in both size and strength as players add new building tiles, each of which has a special ability that triggers when it is first added to a city and when closing a district. Advancement on the military track indicates the rewards received when you attack and your chances of becoming first player.
Origins: First Builders is played over a number of rounds, with a round ending only after each player has passed. If a game end condition has not yet been triggered, the game continues with a new round.
On your turn, you perform one of the following actions:
Visit an encounter site with your workers. To do so, you must put one of your freemen (colored die in your holder) or speaker dice (neutral white die) or your Archon (plastic figurine) underneath one of the colored ships. If you place a die, the number must be at least as large as the number currently on the disc. If not, you must pay Wisdom resources for the difference. The Archon is always powerful enough to take an action. As you place your marker, rotate the value of the corresponding ship (increasing the number, and it will loop over from 6 to 1) – then you take one of the two actions available there. In addition, if you have played a die with a matching color to the ship, you also can optionally take the bonus action. to gain resources and additional citizen or speaker dice, advance on the zodiac temple tracks (and potentially gain zodiac cards), and advance and attack on the military track. Also, if you use a Freeman of value 6, you will get to take both regular actions.
Some of the possible actions are:
- Gain Resources
- Move forward on the Military Track – as you pass the blue superiority token icons, you collect the matching chit. You can spend one superiority token per turn to immediately take another action.
- Make an attack – gain the resources located next to the space you occupy on the military track
- Advance on a temple track – pay 1 Stone to move up 2 spaces on the specified track, and you take the Zodiac card for that temple. Whoever holds the Zodiac card can use the special ability printed on it.
- Build a building – choose one of the buildings on the track, pay the cost in wisdom printed on the board next to the tile, pay the cost in stone on the tile, and add it to your city. Buildings are placed adjacent to a previously built building. You can choose to take the printed action on the building as you place it. Slide all tiles upwards and replenish the color building at the bottom of the column. You could also choose to build a tile as a farm, paying nothing, and flipping the tile face down in your city (on the farm side)
- Pay food to increase a die’s value or to move on the military track
- Gain a citizen die – take a Citizen die from the market in the center of the board, paying the wisdom cost printed on the board for that space. Do not change the value and place it in an empty population base. Move all dice to the left, and roll a new die of the color you took to place in the rightmost space. If it is a 6, reroll it.
Close a district – when you have formed a 2×2 grid of city tiles, there will be a “Seat of Power” formed in the middle, exactly the space for a die. You can choose to place one of your dice in this space to close the district. If the pattern of colors matches one of the district cards, you can gaining victory points (VPs) and possibly gold for matching the pattern. You then can get additional bonuses based on the buildings you activate as you are allowed to activate any building’s effect of tiles that match the color of the die placed. Finally, you will score VPs at the end of the game based on the value of the citizen die you use to close the district.
Build a tower level to increase your endgame scoring based on the tower heights and the matching color dice you use to close your districts. Choose an available tower disk, and pay an amount of gold equal to the current level of the tower you are growing.
Grow your population. To gain more population bases to hold dice, pay the amount of food listed above the base on your player board. Take the base and add it to your active pool. You can hold more dice now.
When the round ends, all dice that have been used are rotated one higher in value. If it is a colored die that is already on 6, it becomes an advisor. Place it on the row at the bottom of your player board. You can only have one advisor of each color. If you already have the color on your board, discard the die and instead score a number of points found just to the right of your rightmost advisor. Now, when you use your Archon, the Archon can take on the color of any of your advisors (to gain you bonus actions). If you have a white speaker die which is a 5, it must be rerolled. Return the speaker dice to the main board. Look at the three temple tracks and give the Zodiac card for each to the player leading on each track.
The game finishes at the end of the round when one or more of the following conditions has been met:
- At most three colors of tower disks are still in stock.
- No gold remains above any district card.
- No citizen die of the proper color can be added to the citizen offer.
- A player has moved all three of their zodiac disks to the top space of each temple track.
Now tabulate your final score –
- 1 VP per gold
- VP to the right of your rightmost Advisor on your palyer board
- VP from the spaces of your two LOWEST temple markers
- VP for each die in a seat of power – multiply the face showing by the height of the matching color tower on your Palace
The player with the most VPs wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most Building tiles.
My thoughts on the game
Origins – First builders is a game that felt convoluted at first glance (especially from reading the rules), but became moderately easier to grok once we got started with the game. Once you strip it down to the basics, it’s a worker placement game, with the strength of your workers being represented by the value of their die. Each time you use a worker, it buffs the value by 1. You can also spend wisdom to buff up the value of a die. However, once you push them past 6, they essentially retire and become advisors.
Each round gives you a puzzle to try to figure out how to best use your dice. You have to take into account the current value of your dice, the anticipated actions of yourself and your opponents (because each time a spaceship is used, the value of the ship rotates forward one space), whether you want to try to collect neutral dice, etc. Of course, it helps to use a matching color die in the action spaces as you’ll get the bonus action as well. Or if you can’t use the matching die, save your 6s for when you need the bonus of getting both regular actions at a space.
The rotating nature of the ships makes timing and turn order important. You can choose to do your actions in any order, but don’t get shut out of a particular action site because you waited too long! Of course, if there are a limited number of tower discs left or a particularly valuable building in the market or a really nice die in the center, you might have to move on those first in order to get the things that you want.
The game at times can slow down when the value of certain ships gets high (and no one is willing to bite the bullet to play a 6 or their Archon there) – so there is some cagey turn order shenanigans that can happen. The good news is that you’ll never be shut out of a round because you’ll always have your Archon… And as the game progresses, your archon will gain some color abilities, so you’ll be able to hopefully get a few bonus actions thrown in as you go.
The game also can move along slowly due to some AP. There are a lot of choices available to you each turn, and it’s important to consider your options before starting your turn (for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above) – as a result, you’ll look at the spaceships and their numbers, the buildings available and what order, the dice available and what order, the number of tower discs remaining, your own personal dice situation, etc. For me, I just try to play by feel and do what seems right; but this could be a significant issue for those with innate AP issues.
As I mentioned earlier, managing your dice is key to the game. You need to have them in order to take actions, and you’d prefer them to be high in value. Later in the game though, you may also want to use them to close districts; and again, you’d prefer the value to be high as they will score you points at the end of the game. You’ll have to weigh the pros/cons about whether to keep the dice to use for actions versus the end game scoring. But, those high value dice may also be valuable to you as an advisor – these score you a few points, but do give your Archon some valuable color activity. As you can see, it’s not clear what your optimal move is – and this is what makes the turn decisions interesting to me.
I have found that concentrating on a color works best for me. I get some synergy from building tile actions, and then when I try to close a district, I can use the same color die to maximize my multiplicative scoring at the end. Additionally, I get the most bang for my buck when I close the district as I’ll be able to reactivate more buildings if I am trying to focus on a single color. Of course, I also then have to concentrate on that color die from the market as well as that color tower disc in my Palace.
That being said, the game had a mostly average reception here. For me, the rules got us off on the wrong foot. There are a lot of things going on here, and I found that the rules were not organized in a way that I could follow them easily. It starts with setup (and there are a lot of setup rules), then a big section of definitions/descriptions of game components and board areas. But, don’t skim over these parts, because there are important game rules hidden in this section. Then, we get to the meat of how to play; complicated enough to take up 8 full pages of rules; but don’t forget that some of the things you need to know were back in the definition portion. Maybe it’s me – one of the other gamers in my group played this at BGG.con, learning from the reading the rules cold as they setup, and they didn’t have as much issues as I did.
The components also hindered our enjoyment. First, while the plastic spaceships have some bling value, they are super hard to play with. The numbers of the dice on them – which is central to the game – are impossible to read unless you are right on top of them. We had to sharpie the “1” on each one to have some reference. I would have much prefered a cardboard circle with colored art that I could read.
Also, all of the resources use a bland color scheme, and two of them Wisdom, Food (french fries) and Gold (coins) both use a gold colored fountain like icon. Seriously, couldn’t Food have been some other color other than gold? We got these confused on a number of occasions in our game.
Adding to the color issues are the fact that the player boards are seemingly color coded, but the archons/player pieces don’t match the colors? This also doesn’t make sense, and it is really out of character for Board&Dice who usually have top notch components.
There are a lot of things to like about this game – namely the worker placement aspect with the dice and the constantly rotating minimum value of the action. The idea of the temples, scoring for your two lowest, but gaining the special power if you are leading is also neat. However, it feels like there are too many things going on here at once. This is one of those games that I wish had been slimmed down and made more focused rather than the kitchen sink idea of glomming as many mechanisms as possible in the game. As a whole, the game works, but it takes a long time to play – longer than I want this middle weight game to go. I wonder if a few of the ideas were trimmed off, this game would be a 45-60 minute game instead of a 90-120 minute plodder. For me, that would be better. Also, the number of different playability issues really inhibit me from wanting to keep playing this again. That being said, there are enough interesting ideas in the game that I’d still recommend that you try it. Other groups that I have talked to enjoyed it, much more so that mine did.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Jennifer G
- Neutral. Dale Y
- Not for me. Steph