Origins 2023

We went to Origins Game Fair for the first time since before the pandemic. We played games.


  • Empire Builder "pot luck": this was a general sign-up, specific groups and games to be sorted out on arrival. We ended up in a four-player game of Eurorails, which I enjoyed. It took longer than usual; part of that was one player, but I think part of it was also some unfortunate card draws. (Fortunately, this was the only thing we signed up for Wednesday evening.) The game has gotten some usability upgrades since last I saw it: the goods chits are now colored with corresponding color-coding on the contract cards, and we played on a dry-erase map (single sheet). I asked about the map: that's something the folks running this did, not commercially available "but maybe later". (The organizers had a large art portfolio with all the maps.)


  • Hamburg: Nominally a city-building game (the veneer is kind of thin), the idea is that you have cards that can be used for different purposes: building (two stages), getting workers (needed for buildings), averting catastrophes, building walls, and (if I recall correctly) getting money. In each of eight rounds, the player with the most advanced position in each of five categories gets to check off an accomplishment (if not already met) for end-game points. There's not a lot of interaction among players. It was ok.

  • Fortune and Famine: You're playing leaders in a fantasy setting and your goal is to maximize the grain you have stored by the end of the game. Each round you can bid on new workers: the two fundamental ones are the farmer (pay coins, get grain) and the merchant (pay grain, get coins), and there are several others. In later phases there are upgraded versions of workers, like more lucrative merchants. There are also wizards who perform one-time actions, some of which are attacks on other players, and there are thieves. Sometimes when you draw workers you get famine cards instead and all players lose half their unprotected grain. You can protect (store) grain, so it's safe but no longer available for spending. Each leader has a special ability; mine was being able to protect three grain and/or coins without storing, another was being able to ignore famine effects three times during the game, and I forget what the others were. It's a pretty light, fast game -- I'm going to guess 45 minutes once you know the rules. I enjoyed it enough to buy a copy.

  • Familiars and Foes: A cooperative game in which you're playing low-powered familiars trying to rescue your witches and wizards from monsters. The session was led by the game designers, one of whom also played. It felt a little juvenile; I don't know how much of that was the game itself and how much was this particular session. (We were all adults, to be clear.) I felt it was trying too hard to be cute.

  • Wingspan: I've been hearing good things about this game, and it did not disappoint! (We bought a copy on the way home.) Your goal is to attract birds to your habitat; each bird type contributes to your score and might have special powers that help either the game engine or your final score. Birds can lay eggs (usually needed to get more birds), and birds require the right food to be brought into play. On your turn you can draw bird cards into your hand, play birds, lay eggs, or collect food. Each round has an additional goal (like "birds in trees" or "eggs in box nests") that awards extra points. The game is well-designed (except for storage), well-made, pretty, and fun.

Having two "F-something and F-something" games on the same day was tripping us up all day.


  • La Familia Hort: Players are competing to inherit granny's farm by building the most profitable plot. Each turn you can buy crops or farm animals, water and fertilize (limited options so you have to choose), and -- when a crop is ready -- either sell it or use it to feed livestock for income. There are also some tools that help you enhance the value of other tiles. You can only have six tiles at a time, though, so you're giving up substantial space to play a tool. The game was light, cute, and pretty forgettable, and did not consume more than half of its two-hour slot.

  • Final Strike: Players are gladiators competing for glory points by killing monsters and their sidekicks. You have a hand of weapons (everyone starts with the same hand), which deal varying amounts of damage and can be upgraded for better weapons that sometimes have special powers. You're trying to deal damage but not so much that someone else can "scoop" you for the kill; the killing shot brings a lot more glory. This game was run by the designer.

  • Gempire: Zarmund's Demands The novelty of this game is simultaneous play with actions recorded on dry-erase boards for simultaneous reveal. The boards were laid out well so you could easily see what your options are. I am now out of positive things to say about this game.

  • New York Pizza Delivery Lightweight resource-allocation game. You're building pizzerias in different NYC neighborhoods to meet delivery orders and collect victory points and maybe tips. Ingredient cards in your hand can be used to match delivery orders, or you can use them to add permanent ingredients to one of your pizzerias (can satisfy an order without more cards), or you can discard them to improve your range. There is a "marketplace" of ingredient cards that, in our game, grew quite large and unmanageable. There are also event cards and other special abilities. I came away thinking "meh", though possibly with a better playing space and fewer players it could be fun.


Origins has activities other than board games too. Saturday morning we went to a lecture called something like "why you don't want too much realism in your game". This was put on by a wargaming group, so this realism was about battle plans and stuff. The presenter was an Army logistics officer who talked a lot about the stuff that needs to go onto the map that isn't "pieces shooting or blowing things up" -- stuff that's essential to an army actually functioning, but not very much fun for most people to play out. I wasn't the target audience but I still found it interesting. Apparently it was immediately followed by a presentation about making games more realistic (drawing from experience in Desert Storm, it sounded like), but we had somewhere else to be.

  • Mistwind (not published; that's a Kickstarter link): Players are competing to deliver goods to places where they're in demand, using flying whales (if there's a reference here I missed it) to navigate from place to place and building outposts to reduce costs. On each round you will play four of your five numbered tokens, discarding one at the beginning of each round. Each token can, in turn, be played in one of four places: a row of options that give you resources in different combinations, a row of cards that let you build outposts in specific locations, a row of action options (like building whales and outposts or taking the first-player position), and a row of cards giving special abilities or end-game scoring. The trick here is that each of these four areas has five numbered positions, and you have to play your corresponding numbered token. So you can only play one "3" position, for instance, among those four choices. That all sounds complicated and there was definitely a learning curve, but I was getting it by the end of the game and the next one would be smoother. We were playing a prototype and the session was run by the designer, who was taking detailed notes and asked us for feedback. I like what I saw and expect to back the Kickstarter when it goes live.

  • Railways of the World: Rail-building and goods delivery. We've played this successor to Steam twice at past Origins conventions and had one good and one terrible experience (which seemed to be players not the game itself). This time was a good experience; the map for the six-player game is huge and the convention gave them a big round table, which leads to visibility problems for me. The bad experience (last time) was other players basically saying "you'll have to cope"; this time, in contrast, the other players were willing to move the map toward an edge and let me choose my seat to maximize what I could see, at the cost of others having to work harder, and people were happy to help with reading things I couldn't see, and it was all very friendly and positive. With six players there's a lot of contention for routes; each player also has a secret goal that encourages building in different places, which helps mitigate that. You have to look at where the goods come out at the beginning of the game and think ahead to where you might be able to deliver them and what track you'll need to build to do that. It's more forgiving than Steam and we now own a copy (which we will not play on a big round table).

  • Obelisk: Cooperative puzzle-style game. You have a 5x5 grid of tiles, each with an exit arrow on one side, one of which is the monster-spewing portal. During the players' phase you can rotate tiles to build a path (one rotation per tile ever), build towers at intersections to capture monsters from the adjacent four tiles, mine resources needed to upgrade towers, and do those upgrades. During the monsters' phase, a random assortment of monsters (three different types, varying in speed and strength) emerge on the portal and start to move along the path. If you have a strong-enough tower when a monster passes by, you can capture it (one capture per tower per phase). If a monster escapes the board or visits a tile for a second time, the players lose. It's a quick game, maybe 20 minutes; we lost our first game, declared the second layout untenable from the start, and won a third game with effort. We bought a copy. This game, too, was run by the designer.


We had more gaps in our schedule than in past years, some by design and some by games running short. We planned for some of that and got a hotel room across the street from the convention center. That location turned out to be noisy, but the convenience of being able to go back to the room for an hour instead of finding a place in the convention center to sit and read was a big win. And the hotel room didn't have annoying fluorescent lights.

In the past there have been some "general game-store" vendors, but this year we didn't see that -- general vendors for trading-card games and lots of individual publishers, along with the usual assortment of auxiliary vendors (dice, art, t-shirts, special-purpose gaming tables, costumes, etc), but no general stores for board games. Fortunately, we have a local game store we can support, and they even had Wingspan in stock so we didn't have to wait.

We were on the fence about True Dungeons this year, and then learned they wouldn't be there -- dilemma solved. :-)

Attendance was a lot lower than what I remember from 2019 (and some vendors commented on this too). I'm guessing half?