Origins 2003: Saturday, 28 June

Reported by Neal Sofge, Super Genius, Fat Messiah Games

11:00
Dealer Room Sweep

As usual, I'm on the prowl for small-press, and so I'm sticking to the edges of the dealer room instead of the extravagant Hasbro and WizKids displays you can read about elsewhere. So many new companies have appeared out of the woodwork in recent years that the existing distribution system has not picked them all up, so I'm noting distribution status in each entry.

First up is Games for the Mind, a small-press manufacturer if there ever was one. (No distribution, so special-order through your Friendly Local Game Store or hit their site.) They have a bunch of products, but three jumped out at me.

Obligatory happy-people shot; could be the back cover of the box

Number one is The Slums, sort of like Monopoly in reverse. By "improving" lots with slums instead of hotels, you drop nearby property values and screw your fellow landlords. The interesting part (to me, at least) is that Games for the Mind will produce a custom set to order with your photo on the paper money, taking advantage of their micropublisher nature to give you something you can't get from the big guys.

Party Conversations (no photo, unfortunately) is a $7.50 attempt to one-up the infamous Murder Mystery games, with a less-scripted system that's really a low-complexity LARP.

Finally, there's Chobolo. This "customizable board game" is a hex-based character-oriented wargame. Each player takes a wizard and three other characters (rangers, fighters, archers, etc.) and tries to get to the center first. Each box has a random assortment of 8 character cards from a total of 11 possible (two wizards guaranteed per set, but the rest will probably include duplicates) but the game is fully operational with just one set.

Fleet Games owns the next booth I hit. Their somewhat abstract galactic conquest game Fleets seems to be coming into the hobby from the outside, attempting to take on Hasbro rather than Cheapass. It's a good-looking game, and apparently a hit at the NYC Toy Fair, but it's currently mail order only. Too bad Insecta blocks me from getting back later to demo the game.

Here we have a Myth Intentions staffer showing off their Don: Continuing Criminal Enterprise TCG. A game takes 25-45 minutes for experienced players. Resource cards are rackets that generate money, used to deploy & maintain other cards. The object is to bankrupt the other player, by either destroying rackets or using ha-take-that cards to disrupt their cashflow. They've got European distribution, but are direct to retail here in the States.

This is Blood and Cardstock's noncollectible Showbiz Shuffle. It's a fast-playing (30 minute average) game for 2-4 players, about making movies. Most stars have a limited range -- casting an action hero in a love story is a recipe for disaster, but you play with the cards you're dealt (so to speak). BaC is carried by Alliance.

Faultline Studios has a seriously ambitious project for a startup: a new full-color CCG, Crown of the Emperor. It's got 5 different starter decks, and is deliberately designed to avoid the Mr. Suitcase Effect. The game is essentially a race for the throne instead of a pitched battle, and so they describe it as "Christian-friendly" since there is no overt bloodshed. (Combat units in the game are all robots.) The game wasn't out at the show, but starters should be released this month. One interesting promotion that's running until Labor Day is that you can get your name on a character card, but I didn't follow up on how. Faultline is not yet carried by distributors, but that may change once they get product into the pipeline.

9th Level Games was running a weird variant on the old Wheel of Fortune, using a couple of very big dice. I won this fine clay figurine, modeled here by sculptor Dan Landis. (I didn't notice until later that the clay was grape-scented, but decided not to find out if it was grape-flavored too.) 9th Level is, of course, carried by everyone.

Boy was I surprised to find out that '80s publisher Timeline is back! They've reprinted the third edition of the classic postholocaust RPG The Morrow Project, plus all of the old modules except Ruins of Chicago (which is in prepress). A fourth edition is in the works, and the plan is to publish about 2 modules per year. I was too overcome by nostalgia to ask about distribution.

Seeing all this stuff makes me sad I lost my Morrow stuff to moving frenzy back in 1989. Along with Call of Cthulhu, TMP is one of the most intense roleplaying environments possible, and all you youngsters who grew up after the Berlin Wall fell should check this out, if only to get an idea of how times have changed (both culturally and game-design-wise). Besides, any RPG where the GM starts out by nuking the crap out of the world has got to be an interesting experience...

Here we see the handy STAT-TRACKER system, from fellow Pittsburgh-area manufacturer DaGOOM. It's a modular quick-configuration basing system that includes three tracks with sliding plastic indicators, allowing miniatures players to take advantage of clicky-base-style on-field statistic tracking without changing from the figures or rules they're used to.

This view of the DaGOOM basing system shows off its ability to create irregular formations that are still easy to move as a unit. Note that stat tracking is optional; the bases easily remove from the stat trackers. You'll never need to cut sheet metal to size again! DaGOOM sells directly to retailers.

Robert Eng, Customer Service Manager for Game Table Online, shows off a long-standing FMG favorite. GTO is in the process of bringing all sorts of tabletop games to the Internet, where you can play them with people across the world for just $10 a month. Lord of the Fries, Nuclear War, and Cosmic Wimpout are live now, with many more on the way. Robert here was giving away free games to anyone who joined the service, so be sure to check GTO out if you go to Gen Con.

This is Origins Award winner Steve Long, mastermind of the the latest incarnation of the legendary Hero system. Upcoming from Hero will be Champions Battlegrounds (due in August), a series of location maps & descriptions all linked into a huge scenario, including a new master villain who's behind it all. I hate to wax nostalgic twice in one page, but Champions is another of my all-time favorites, and it's good to see the system still going strong after more than two decades.

Angela at Plenary Games demonstrates how Fresh Fish works. This title went out of print in Germany so fast that copies of it reportedly still go for a hundred clams on eBay. Angela thought the game was so good that she bought the rights, and so this legendary title should be available nationwide as soon as it's available in quantity.

(A closer view of the Fresh Fish pieces, though marred by my damn flash.) As you can see, the game uses a tile-placing system, with players staking out territory with those little cubes. Each facility must be connected to the road grid, and so eminent domain can kick in, paving over your carefully-placed territory. It's a clever system, published by a one-woman show in Colorado, so it's probably up every Chimera reader's alley.

14:00
Insecta Macro #3

After yesterday's catastrophe, I'm ready for anything now. A teacher from Oklahoma named Dwayne helps me set up the map, Phil is nowhere to be found, and for about 15 minutes it looks like we're in for a pretty dull 2-player game. But then Marcelo convinces an entire family (3 boys and their mom) to join in, and my other pre-reg (John) shows up, and suddenly we've got enough to run the experimental termites vs. spiders scenario. The family takes the termites, the other three of us take the spiders, and the battle is joined.

Two minutes into the game, a tiny little girl named Linda drags her dad into the room. I give her a chalcid wasp, figuring she won't do too much damage with it. Boy was that a mistake -- this sweet child (couldn't be much older than 5) proceeds to decimate the board, gleefully stinging spiders and termites alike to death. Meanwhile the family has been flinging poisonous goo everywhere, including amongst themselves, and the spiders are barely holding their own. As usual, I'm the first to die, followed quickly by two termites and the rest of the spiders. (I'm still so flabbergasted by the waif-turned-executioner that I forget to take any photos, much to my regret.)

By now the boys have wandered off to open their crack vi.. er, Magic cards, apparently bored by this slow monochrome game. John is also gone, probably irritated at having to put up with all these kids. (If my guess is right, and you're reading this, please contact me.) But Linda and Dwayne happily soldier on, playing three more "King of the Hill" rounds, sending ants in against the termite/wasp alliance and then a literal bug team (homoptera) to dislodge the victorious ants. All in all, a successful run, and a guarantee of a grump-free rest of the day.

18:00
Games for Math & Science

For a panel put together in the last week before the con, this ran exceedingly well. Sharon Green of Dream Green handled the math section, from the perspective of an educational games company outside the adventure games industry. Phil then gave a long impassioned oration about his vision of classroom use of games to show an orderly universe, the rules of a game being analogous to the fact that rule-based reasoning can be used to understand reality.

After that heady bit of business, I went into my lengthy list of games I thought were good for teaching science, some of which I excavated from the FMG Design Library for sample use during the talk. This ended up being a suboptimal format, and next year I'll probably run demos instead. For those who are interested, the list will be posted shortly after this report goes live.

21:00
Bunny-Crocodiles and the SEC

I figure tonight's good for another American Megafauna game, and we start one up, and then some of yesterday's players show up. By now it's the Triassic and I've gotten the bunny-crocs into a pretty good position, but I decide to relinquish my spot anyway -- it's a convention, and the point of Phil's presence is to show off the game to newcomers.

I end up wandering over to the demo table for Diet Evil Games, where I get to try out their flagship card game Fraud Squad.

The four players include me, Diet Evil overlord Anne, Sharon from Rogue Publishing, and, still basking in the Origins Award afterglow, Ann the Grey Ghost.

We all take on the role of SEC investigators, looking to solve who cooked the books. Our department is downsizing, so we don't want to cooperate, and we each have unique evidence. The result is sort of like a more involved card-based version of Clue, with information-transfer and ha-take-that cards added on to confuse things further. It's far deeper than it looks, considering the simple mechanics, because the cards move around (!) as the game progresses -- each turn you roll to see what you can do, and in addition to Clue-style queries, you can sometimes just flat-out steal cards from other players.

To keep track of all of the information flying around, a downloadable "Evidence Tracking Sheet" is available on the Diet Evil site. I end up fumbling mine pretty badly, but I can see how it would make an interesting game even better. At less than $10, Fraud Squad is a bargain for the play value if you like this sort of brain-teasing game. Diet Evil's got a second title, Nobody but us Chickens, coming in August, and I'll look forward to seeing it.