Let the Summer Conventions Begin!

I was lucky enough to attend the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio last week. I've been working in the board game industry for about eight years but this was my first trip to Columbus for Origins and it kicked butt. Much like BGG.CON, it's a show where you can really play games and get down time with other people you usually only see on the internet. I love PAX and Gen Con, but there's a different kind of experience at Origins & BGG.Con in what happens off the show floor because there is less of a business agenda, no buyer's meetings, and time to really play. And Columbus is just adorable (Jeni's Ice Cream & Dirty Frank's - I <3 you).

One of the standout bits of the show for me was being invited onto the Origins at Night podcast with Mike Selinker, James Ernest, and Paul Peterson. They are a great group of people and fun to talk with. Before and after the show, I also got to spend some welcome time talking to Marie Poole, who ran the podcast with the guys - she is the CEO of Lone Shark Games and newly elected to the GAMA board. We talked about my blog, Munchkin Guest Artist Editions, food, and most importantly games!

I played a lot of games at Origins and want to share the ones that really stand out to me a week after the show:

  • Escape The Room: Mystery at Stargazer's Manor (ThinkFun). Played this one with a big crew including Paul from Games & STuff; Josh from Czech Games Edition; Anne-Marie and Sam from Fireside Games; Brandan from Blue Orange Games; and Rhea from Steve Jackson Games. It was a good introduction to escape rooms but left me wanting an advanced version. We had way too many puzzle solvers in our crew for it too last long enough for my liking but we had fun!
  • World's Fair 1893 (Renegade). A fun follow up to Lanterns from Foxtrot & Renegade! I played it with Nate from IDW Games & Daryl Andrews. I can tell this will be one I play again and again. It's beautiful and is just the weight of game that I like.
  • Button Men (Cheapass Games). You know who's fun? James Ernest. In the midst of all the talk of his upcoming abstract, Tak, James taught me an older game of his that I wasn't familiar with called Button Men. It plays off the title (which means hit men) and uses pins to represent characters that attack each other with dice rolling combos. Pairs & Deadfall are some of James' games that have been in heavy rotation for a bit but I'm excited to add a few more with Tak and Kill Doctor Lucky.
  • Isle of Skye (Mayfair). This games reminds me of Carcassonne but somehow seems less complicated even though it has more steps. You get to bid on three tiles you draw on each of six turns, one of which must be discarded - the other two can either be bought by another player or must be bought by you. Then you attempt to build your individual tile set to maximize the types of sets that score, which change from game to game. I was really happy to get a chance to play this with Mike Webb & Charlie Tyson from Alliance Game Distributors. This one is also a Spiel des Jahres nominee so congrats to Mayfair!
  • Onitama (Arcane Wonders). Still really loving this one and its smart packaging.
  • One Ring RPG (Cubicle 7). I got to sit on a game of One Ring with a group of friends. It was my first time witnessing a full-fledged RPG and it was very entertaining and made the idea of starting one way less intimidating. Thanks to Travis from Millennium, Scott from Renegade, Paul from Games & Stuff, Josh from Czech Games, and Steve from Rainy Day Games for letting me hang out!
  • Kingdom Builder & Alhambra (Queen Games). These have been on my list to play for some time so I'm really happy to finally have them in my collection.
  • Dead Last (Smirk & Dagger). Didn't play this one but I heard and watched a lot of people having fun with it, so it's on the short list to play before GenCon.

I also fell in love with a prototype from Matt Loomis and Isaac Shalev that I hope to see published sometime soon. It was such an elegant play experience and felt really uncluttered- I've been thinking about art direction for it ever since playing and can't wait to see how it turns out.

There were so many great games at Origins that I didn't get to all of them. I ran out of time for The Networks (Formal Ferret), Betrayal at House on the Hill (Avalon Hill), and CV (Passport Studios).  But I did get to pick up Imhotep since Origins and I'm looking forward to more time with the difficult levels. 

The day after Origins ended, it was off to the Licensing Show in Vegas. It was interesting as always (plus I got in a bonus visit to Hoover Dam). There is a new potential license that I'm excited to share more about once it's signed and there are some cool things coming from Steve Jackson Games we worked on at the show. Then it was on to Austin for meetings about the Munchkin CCG with Eric Lang & Kevin Wilson (who were great sports to pose for the above pic at the offices and be entertaining and productive all week).

Next up is DiceTowerCon & my post on Tetris!  Hope you have a happy 4th with lots of games!

Game 2: Smash Up


I played Smash Up for the first time a year or two ago and I really wanted to play at that time because it was everywhere - demo'ed at cons, in my favorite local game stores, at the Looney game night. It even seemed popular at trade shows and buyer meetings... which doesn't happen for every game.  A lot of games are perfect for certain niches but when you start seeing people whose careers and hobbies are built around games playing something new over and over again, you get the sense that it must be good.

But... I didn't get it. And yet, it's on this list and I know people that LOVE it.  So I set about furiously playing this past month to figure out what went wrong with those first demos.  And I'm here to report that I get it (and kinda love it) now!  I don't remember what I didn't like last year but my first demo this year felt familiar. 

About a month and a half ago, I was on a business trip in Atlanta with a bunch of other game publishers.  I played with about five or so guys, some of whom had never played before, others who clearly were fans of Smash Up.  We had the Pretty, Pretty expansion mixed in but because there were so many people playing a lot of playtime or turns to ask questions about how to use my minions and actions because pretty quickly someone had won. You're given these two types of cards and the minions have a power value.  A collection of minions (and some actions) on a base will eventually have enough power to smash the base.  When your minions contribute to the smashing of a base, you get victory points. The game has many different mini-decks and you get to choose two of these mini-decks to "shufflebuild" together the deck you play with.  This is where it gets fun, but back to that game in Atlanta...

I've never played Magic or any other CCGs and only played a few deckbuilders and I'm only guessing, but I think the guys who jumped into Smash Up so quickly are more familiar with those. The reason I say this is because I took Smash Up on a camping trip with some friends over Memorial Day weekend. Everyone there who played Magic loved it and caught on right away. I had Ninjas, which allow you to play out of turn but I kept hesitating to use them because it hadn't yet completely clicked for me that you must play to your decks' powers.


And this is what's so cool about Smash Up - each mini-deck has a set of special powers and when you take advantage of them, you realize it's super clever, funny and it's fun to get into character.  But it's also limited to 2 sets so the complications of collecting and building aren't there. I really started to enjoy the game when I played again with my friend, Leo, and we dipped into the Pretty, Pretty expansion.  The princesses are all really high powered minions, the kittens come back to life, the ponies work together to give you bonuses and the fairies let you mess with other actions and minions.  There's a great review (and photos) of the Pretty, Pretty Smash Up expansion on GeekDad. I love that AEG made this - it always makes me happy when these cool mechanics aren't lost to guts and gore. Smash Up does a great job of bringing in light art and fun mechanics for each type of faction it includes - there is a good balance of male and female minions and I think the art is inclusive, which I really appreciate.


So after playing about 30 times in the last month or so, I think it's fair to cross this one off the list. And it's definitely staying on my shelf.  Just narrating the game is fun - my favorite quote so far comes from Andy, who boasted last time we played, "I'm sending Queen Fluffy to Ponyland." Even Magic Ponies couldn't save him against the wrath of the Princess Kittens, though!