Origins 2017: Mark's Highlights


Mark Harris is a new contributor to Cardboard Vault! He's been working behind the scenes as our video producer. In his first written post, he recaps his highlights of Origins Game Fair 2017.

Last week, I had the fantastic opportunity to attend my very first (board) gaming con, and I jumped straight into the deep end with Origins Game Fair! Why did no one tell me these are a thing I should’ve been doing all along? Is this a big secret you’ve all been hiding from me? Because this was an incredible experience!

For the past few years, Origins has coincided with Columbus’ annual Pride Parade, so there was culture and joy flowing through the city. Add to that the North Market across the road (our daily source of delicious food and truly hipster coffee), and the Columbus Convention Centre really is the best place to host this extravaganza. 

The first thing to notice is the show floor: it’s huge! Divided into a main hall and an exhibitor’s hall, it spans two of the warehouse-like convention floors. The main hall had a plethora of table space for open gaming (which we kept doing easily til they locked up at midnight), and some of the larger exhibitors. Oh, and did I mention they had True Dungeon? Making its Origins debut, the one-shot scenario led us through mysterious rooms and dangerous caverns, but we managed to make it out alive! (If you’ve never played before, True Dungeon is a bit like a LARP and an escape room had a baby; armed with a character sheet and some equipment tokens, your group is challenged with a mix of puzzle and combat rooms to defeat).

But of course, we’re really all there for the games. We spent most of our time running around the exhibit hall playing as many demos as possible, and then playing MORE once we got kicked out at closing time. JR Honeycutt, our US host, ran a charity Nerd Night event where we even got to playtest some prototypes of upcoming games! If we weren’t playing games, we were probably force-feeding Americans Vegemite

Amongst the chaos, some stand-outs emerged from the pack.

  1. Codenames: Duet

Codenames has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. It strikes just the right chords as being both a party game and yet something so satisfyingly challenging. Duet is a fantastic 2 player co-operative version of the original that takes the gameplay to the next level. Agents, assemble!


Building off the spectacular competitive Spiel des Jahres 2016-winning game, you and your partner give each other one-word clues in order to deduce where your agents are and avoid the assassins. That’s right, assassin*S*, because Duet includes THREE assassins in case the regular one was too easy. 

You’ll now have a double sided key card - some of your agents cross over with your partner’s, while others don’t (and one person’s assassin could be the other’s agent, meaning you can’t just spam all of your positives). Since you’re not versing the other player, the game now includes a turn tracker which gives you 9 turns to escape unscathed. And just in case you need an extra challenge, the game even includes a mini-campaign mode that pushes you to complete the game quicker and quicker and see how long you can last! 

I got to play the game quite a few times at the show (though it won’t be out until Gen Con later this year). We even gave teams of 2 a shot which seems to work out nicely when one brain isn’t enough to sift through the wordplay. The original Codenames included a 2-player variant, but this perfectly iterates it as it should be. 

This is the game to get even casual gamers excited, and it’s probably the thing I’m the most enthusiastic to be getting my hands on when I can!


          2. Century: Spice Road

Three. Turns. In. 

That’s how quickly Phoebe and I snatched up this game, which then proceeded to sell out like life-sustaining hotcakes (available now, though there’s a bit of a back order). Oh my gosh, do you like Splendor? Do you like trading cubes for other cubes in order to trade other cubes into being the better cubes and become the cubiest cube of them all? Yep! 

It’s the height of the spice trade, and you’re a merchant out to out-merchant the other traders of spice. Ready, set, CUBE! 

Photo: lynebou_com (BGG)

Photo: lynebou_com (BGG)

This is the first in a series of games that explores history through the spice trade, with “more to come” promised on the box. Presumptuous? Perhaps, but with Emerson Matsuuchi (of Specter Ops fame) at the helm, Plan B Games’ debut is nothing but fun at its most distilled form. It’s elegant, easy to pick up, and immediately replayable. 

As spice traders, your goal is to establish the most trade routes possible with the various merchants across the land. A market of 5 merchants will propose their routes to everybody, as long as you can fulfil their buy-in requirements. By purchasing their cards with the required spices, you’ll earn points - the game ends when a player has established 5 trade routes. 

Each player begins their empire with two basic spices, and a simple spice caravan (deck) of two cards: one that earns basic spices (cubes), and one that upgrades ones in your caravan. The bulk of the game will be spent gaining new cards from the sliding market, in order to improve your spices. These cards contain various abilities - most importantly the ability to trade combinations of spices for even more valuable combinations of spices. Once you’ve got enough valuable spices to appease the merchants, use them to grab them before your opponents do - or don’t depending on how valuable they are at their current position on the sliding market! Most of the strategy in the game is taking cards from the market that chain well together - if this card lets me trade 2 yellow spices for 1 green, then I can use another card to trade that 1 green for the 2 red I need to claim that merchant. 

Photo: e0004252 (BGG)

Photo: e0004252 (BGG)

What I like about it that moves it beyond Splendor is the card market is on a track, meaning there’s strategy needing to be put into outwitting other players while you build your deck. You can see what’s coming up, but do you hold off on grabbing that card now, or should you spend additional cubes to get that high value trade which you know the other player is vying for? This, plus the addition of point bonuses for taking particular goal cards depending on where they are on the track, makes for some incredibly diverse strategy. 

Oh boy this game is addictive.

Photo: rhombusleech (BGG)  

Photo: rhombusleech (BGG)

3. Professor Evil and The Citadel of Time

 Egad! The dastardly Professor Evil has stolen greats works of art from throughout history. Using his somewhat unstable time machine, he’s now strewn these objects around his mansion and secured them. Now, 2-4 adventurers are co-operatively racing against the clock to retrieve these artifacts before Professor Evil dooms them into the void forever! Edward Wyre - Lord of the Gears, Destiny Bradshaw - Mistress of Randomness, Irene Elder - Queen of Time, and Leroyyyyyyyyyyyyy J...ohnson - Ruler of Switches. Together you’ll flip switches, teleport, unlock doors, and outwit the Professor. Each player has unique powers at their disposal, and in the vein of co-ops like Pandemic, a fun and victorious game comes down to working together to maximize the efficiency of your available moves.


I knew nothing about this game before I got to Origins, but I walked away from it being one of the most fun experiences I had at the show.This was one of the few games that struck that real chord of excitement with me. The theme is gorgeous, and if you’re a fan of fantastical time travel, whimsical adventure, and mad science like me (think Back To The Future, Carmen Sandiego, Broken Sword), then this is completely up your alley. 

Now granted, we only got to have one playthrough of the game, which took about half an hour. I would love more time to explore with each of the characters’ different abilities. I can see the game beginning to lose steam after quite a few playthroughs as each character has a limited number of abilities (and you’ll get to see them all after 3 turns). However the experience I had, and the whimsy I injected into the playthrough really gave me something stand-out, and I cannot wait to snatch up this game when it releases.


4. Purrrlock Holmes: Furriarty’s Trail 

Now this one was a surprise! Tucked away in the IDW Games booth at the back of the exhibitor’s hall was this little delightful pun-erific card deduction game - Purrrlock Holmes: Furriarty's Trail. 

In Purrrlock, you play as the newest investigator for Scotland Pound - assigned to track down the terrorizing Furriarty on the streets of London. To do this, you’ll have to bust his top gang leaders in order to get closer to the scoundrel. Can you whisker up the courage to follow his tail? Can you claw to his location before it’s too late? It’s a hairball of a time (ok, fur real, I think I’ve used up all my cat puns)! 


You’ll start the game with one random suspect to catch (a card with an animal and a time). All the other players can see what it is, and it’s your job to figure it out. On your turn, you’ll choose two cards from your hand to reveal to the other players. If either the animal on the card matches your suspect or the time written on it is within 1 of your suspect’s, then the other players will tell you it’s a clue (but not what it pertains to, Mastermind style). After playing your cards, you can try to guess what your suspect is using these tidbits of deductive knowledge you’ve managed to gather, but be careful; if you guess incorrectly then your suspect is reset and you get nothing! A correct guess moves the team one suspect closer to Furriarty, and also earns you points. Ultimately only one of you will be crowned the Chief Inspector of Scotland Pound (or if Furriarty gets away, the Litter Box Inspector), so you need to use your clues carefully to catch as many suspects as possible! The game is indeed... a-woof (there are dogs in this game - that one counts!). 

The artwork is adorable. If you couldn’t tell, I’m a major sucker for pun and games (stopping now!). The deduction element is fairly simple, but absolutely challenging enough to keep the game moving. Sadly on our playthrough, we were taught a rule slightly wrong which literally doubled the difficulty of the game, but the basic gameplay we got to try out was fun! Once again, something with a simple enough main mechanic, which could possibly lead itself to wearing thin on repeated playthroughs, but I’ll still be on the lookout to grab the game myself.

North Market chocolate, because why not?

North Market chocolate, because why not?

Among the other games I got to play, notable mentions go to Spirit IslandWhistle StopWerewordsThe Godfather: Corleone's Empire (a change of pace from Eric Lang), Modern Art (a revival of the Reiner Knizia classic), and Trickster: Champions of Time (a surprisingly deep trick taking experience that actually handles well with 2 players).

Origins was definitely an amazing way to kick off the con season! During our US Trip Extravaganza Bonanza, Phoebe and I still have Dice Tower Con and Gen Con to attend (of which I’m fortunate enough to have some films in the Film Festival - come check out the “Fantasy” film block if you’re around!). More to come, and more games to report!

As always, thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with your friends and following @CardboardVault on your social media of choice. You can also follow my personal Twitter account at @markh110.