by: Valerie Matthews
I attended Origins for one day (Friday) and spent my day in the dealer hall. I was able to try out (and play full games) of 8 different games: Sea of Plunder, Miller Zoo, What the Cup!?, Keys to the Castle, boop., Echidna Shuffle, Block and Key, and Hands. Read on if you are interested in my first impressions!
Sea of Plunder (2020)
Designer: Rusty Lumpkin
Publisher: Three Nail Games
Each turn players add two cards to their hand and then, typically, play one to move their own ship around the board and one to move a pirate ship. The movement cards reminded me of chess moves, but with considerably more variety. Your goal was to visit treasure islands, islands that produced goods, or to encounter other players to steal their goods. You also tried to avoid pirates while sending them after the other players. The game ended when a player had three treasures (worth 3 points each). The goods were more valuable if you could make diverse sets (for example, a set of one of each of the four goods was worth 8 points). We were all concerned, at first, about the potential for lots of take-that, but we ended up enjoying the cat-and-mouse chase around the board quite a bit. In fact, my only complaint was that player interactions that involved losing a random card could impact your score quite a bit if it broke up a set. All in all, this was great game to kick off the convention.
While the game play was nice, I do have to note that the game’s graphic design was exceptional. The treasure islands popped up around the board randomly using two 14-sided!! dice, one with numbers and one with letters corresponding to the grid on the board. Second, the cards had some artwork that resembled scrolls and, were so well done that they seemed to be scroll shaped when viewed in your hand!
Miller Zoo (2022)
Designer: Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance
Publishers: Randolph and Hachette Boardgames USA
This one came home with me! (In fact, it’s the only game that I bought at the show.) Miller Zoo is a cooperative game with some Legacy elements. Players work together to take care of the animals already on exhibit at the zoo while trying to add additional species to the collection. In our game (the staring set up), we needed to add 7 new species to the collection before running out of resources. Those resources were used to move around the zoo, acquire new animals, and meet the needs of the animals already in the zoo. While I haven’t explored the legacy components yet, my understanding is that there are new cards, stickers for the board and the rule book, and new challenges to overcome in subsequent games. I don’t think that you destroy and of the components—simply increasing the difficulty with additional components and rules. It sounds to me more like a campaign where you start with the beginner version and increase the difficulty as you continue to play.
What the Cup!? (2023)
Designer: N/A (According to BGG)
Publisher: The Op
First, the game components are awesome. They designed a special two-piece cup that allows you to roll a 12-sided die, peek at it, keep it covered, and pass it to other players without risking changing the die roll. At the start of the round everyone rolls their die and contributes an ante to the pot. Then, players take turns revealing cards with instructions like, choose whether to have everyone pass their dice to the player on their left or their right, pay another ante to re-roll your die, or peek at the die of another player. You could also choose not to follow the instructions on the card—which then changed the entire round from “highest wins” to “lowest wins”. Of course, another player may change it back. When the round ends, everyone reveals their die and winner takes the pot. The game ends when any one player is out of chips. Player with the most chips then wins. We played one round and it was fun, but it felt like you had very little control over the final outcome. It had some memory components and, perhaps, a bit of bluffing. In the end, the components were actually my favorite thing about the game.
Keys to the Castle (2017)
Designers: Michael Adams, William Foster, Eric Foster, Alex Foster
Publishers: Outset Media, AMO Toys, Falomir Juegos
Players are trying to cross a grid of locked doors. The first player to reach the other side wins. Keys are used to unlock doors, other cards can slow down your opponents. One card in particular, which prevents an opponent from moving for two entire turn, felt too punishing in such a light game. This was quick and light, but not a favorite of the day.
Designer: Scott Brady
Publishers: Skellig Games, Smirk & Laughter Games
Oh, my gosh—could a game be any cuter. The box turns into a bed with a comforter cover and in this two-player game, you are placing kitties on the bed—causing nearby kitties to bounce around (possible right off the bed). If you can manage to get three kitties in a row, you swap them out for full sized cats (which are less easily “booped” around the bed). The first player to get three full sized cats in a row wins. While adorable, this was actually quite the brain teaser. I loved the cute components, but I would also enjoy this two-player abstract with plain stones or discs on a simple grid board. In other words, the game play is good! The cuteness factor just takes it to the next level.
Echidna Shuffle (2018)
Designer: Kris Gould
Publisher: Wattsalpoag Games
It’s no surprise that, with a convention hall full of hundreds (thousands?) of games, the ones with cute bits and nice art or more likely to get you to stop for a second look!! And I declare this the cutest game of the day! The Echidna pieces were large and so well-made. Your goal was to move them around the board (always following the arrows) in order to collect bugs and deliver them to tree stumps of your color. It was a nice puzzle to solve with some opportunity to both work on your own deliveries while thwarting others. I particularly appreciated the handling of luck and movement in the game. Every two turns your movement added up to nine. If you rolled a three on your first turn, then you moved six on your next turn. (The six-sided die had numbers 2 – 7). There was a handy chart to help you keep track. This meant that each turn you had a random number of moves, but everyone had the same total number of moves as the game progressed. I would love to see more games use this mechanism!!
Block and Key (2022)
Designer: David Van Drunen
Publishers: Inside Up Games, Maldito Games
The game box tuned into a large three-dimensional platform that served as the game play surface. It was impressive to look at, but I am concerned that we might have had a few rules wrong. Players placed three-dimensional Tetris-like pieces on the board and tried to re-create patterns (as seen from their own viewpoint) found on score cards worth 1 – 4 points. But at the end of the game (when one player reaches 7 points), you are also awarded points for pieces of a particular color that are visible from your side. In our game, one player earned 33 points that way—almost 5X the points earned from the rest of the game play. It just felt like me must have misunderstood something. One player at our table said that it was getting a ton of play in the open gaming area, so this is definitely one I would try again after reading the rules.
Designer: David Van Drunen
Publishers: Inside Up Games, Maldito Games
Players simultaneously make hand signs to match the American Sign Language signs on their cards, trying to find another player with a match. It was a speed game, with some hilarity, and a light, fun way to end our day at the con.
So, some final thoughts. I can’t tell you how many times “Kickstarter” was mentioned today. It seemed like almost every game we saw had originated there. Most of the publishers I knew and loved 10 years ago were nowhere to be found. It was a fun day and I’m happy to have brought home a new game to add to my collection, but I definitely felt like I am out of the loop! Still, I hope you found something useful in my ramblings. It’s been a long time since I regularly wrote my Prose On Cons blogs or attended a dozen cons a year, so it was fun to revisit my old stomping grounds for the day.