Origins Game Fair 2017

This past week was the Origins Game Fair, which I spent several hours attending.  Over the course of six hours Friday and a couple hours Saturday, I ended up demo-ing or otherwise playing about a dozen board games, most with my son.  I also wandered around the Exhibitor Hall Saturday, checking out artists and game companies, seeing Timothy Zahn & Jean Rabe, and chatting a bit with Sheryl Nantus, Donald J. Bingle, and Margaret Weis’s table minion.  Also talked a bit with wonderful artist, David Lee Pancake.


So, without further ado . . .

Menu Masters (Calliope)

A fun game in which each player is a chef with a number of kitchen minions.  The goal is to complete three menus (when one player completes three, the others have one turn to finish with the ingredients they have on hand).  Each player has two secret menus and all players can work from three public menus.  The goal is to combine the most high quality ingredients (as noted by stars on each ingredient).  Minions can be sent to the stores—produce, butcher, bakery—to purchase ingredients or to “own” the store for the round (to get more money).  Had a blast playing and trying to balance the elements and strategies of the game.

Wordoku (Calliope)

Combination Boggle and Sudoku with a few tweaks.  Neither of us enjoyed this one as much as the others.  Personally, I’d rather stick to Scrabble or Upwords.

Running with the Bulls (Calliope)

Described by the company as board game plinko, that’s a pretty apt description.  Players all start with a number of dice randomly assigned to five starting points where they are chased by randomly placed “bull” dice.  Each player has a number of cards they can use to affect the outcome of the run, remove runners, change directions, and modify bulls.  The locations at the end of the run also affect points.  More enjoyable now than when we played last year in the pre-production version since they seem to have ironed out the kinks.

Ugh (Calliope)

Simple, fun card game in which the goal is to build sets of three—person, home, pet—with a caveman theme while avoiding the, truly evil, “Ugh” cards.  Artwork on the cards is done by John Kovalic, of Dork Tower & Munchkin fame, with his typical sense of humor.  The difference in scoring is what sets this one apart.  The point scores for each card in a set are multiplied, then the sets are added.  So, a set of Person 3, Home 4, and Pet 2 = 24 points (3 x 4 x 2).


Captain Silver (Queen Games)

A bag draw game that went well with a young child.  Each player has a ship and a bag of pirate items.  Most of the board is four rows with pirate item icons.  Items are drawn from the bag and placed on the board, if they fit the next space on a row.  If not, they go on the island at the end.  Once one row is complete, the play shifts.  Players either get to move their ships or are given gold based on which item spaces they managed to cover in each row.  Moving the ship gives additional treasure and points.  Items left on the island remove points.

Wendigo (Iello)

Somewhat fun game for kids.  The tokens represent campers with one player chosen as the wendigo and the others as scout masters.  During the night phase, the scout masters close their eyes while the wendigo replaces a camper.  During the day phase, the scout masters try to find the wendigo (one guess per player per day phase).  The next night phase, the wendigo gets to remove a camper from the board and play continues until either the wendigo is caught or six rounds have passed.

Sheriff of Nottingham (Arcane Wonders)

Fun deception style game in which players take turns as the titular Sheriff.  The non-Sheriff players then try to smuggle legal and illegal goods into town, potentially bribing the Sheriff not to search their cart or to ignore them and search another player.  Each player places a stated number of cards in a pouch (cannot lie about the number) and states what goods they are, ex. 3 chickens (can lie about this part).  Penalties apply for being caught lying, and for falsely accusing a player of lying.  Reminds me of a board game version of the old card game BS (aka Cheat or “I Doubt It”).

Barenpark (Mayfair)

Rather fun spacial awareness game in which players attempt to construct the best bear park.  The best description I came up with is a board game version of Tetris because the goal is to fill four cards with different shaped pieces.  The game rewards fast building, as most of the pieces and the bear statues that one acquires for finishing a board, are awarded in decreasing point values (e.g. first player to get a bear statue gets 16 points, second gets 15, third 14, etc.).


Costa Rica (Mayfair)

Tile flipping game in which players send out six expeditions each from different starting points (all players start at the same six points).  Most of the strategy depends on willingness to weigh benefit-risk ratios of continuing the expedition versus taking tiles versus passing in the hopes of taking more tiles.  Enjoyed by both myself and a six year old, the game play mechanics are straightforward and the game is fairly quick to play.

Saboteurs (Mayfair)

Another fun deception game in which most of the players are constructing a mine to find the gold (one of three cards, the other two are useless).  Players cooperate to get from the mine entrance to the gold.  However, there are players who secretly want to gold to remain where it is and the other players to fail.  These saboteurs can break mining equipment, redirect tunnels, cause cave ins to remove tunnel sections, and look at the target cards to lie to the other players about which is the gold.

Oh My Goods (Mayfair)

Played this resource building game last year, but played it again this year to give it another chance.  Unfortunately, I still think it is needlessly complex and clunky in its mechanics.  Most of the players I demo-ed with (all veteran board gamers) became quickly confused about turn segments and resource counting as well as card data.

Ciúb (AMIGO via Mayfair)

Another that seemed to be an interesting concept, but needlessly convoluted.  A dice gathering game with the intent to finding the right dice combination to cast a given spell card (and collect the card for points).  The over-complexity could have been on the end of the demo-instructor and the fact that we were checking it out right before lunch.  If Mayfair’s still demoing it next year, I may try it out on my own again, to give it a second chance.

Shadow Earth (VI) (2017)

Salmagundi: A heterogeneous mixture

—Merriam-Webster Dictionary


Welcome to Salmagundi, crossroads of the multiverse.  If you can’t find it here for sale, it doesn’t exist.  All worlds, all realms meet here.

—Garvindis the Great, self-proclaimed master of tourism, Salmagundi


Beyond these doors, two things will happen.  First, you will take an oath to defend Salmagundi and its laws with your life.  This oath is taken before all the gods, so do not take it lightly.  If you feel the slightest doubt about devoting your life to the Order, turn away now.

<pause to let people leave>

Second, you will approach Chaplain Thurian and draw a stone from her bag.  This stone will guide your training.  Each has one of four divine sigils.  Among civilians, they say magic has many branches.  We don’t have that luxury.  We only care about: communicators, healers, scryers, and warriors.  The gods will tell us your talents and place through the stones.

—Marec Hassan, Training Director, Bronze Guard, Salmagundi


Many centuries ago, visitors arrived from a distant land.  They were dismayed by the rule of the dragon lords.  Thus, they taught the secrets of sorcery to those outside the Magisterium, including knowledge the dragon lords forbid.  In time, the sorcerers trained by the strangers built three towers to which they anchored powerful spells that enclosed and shielded the land.  This became a haven for the people under the reign to a family chosen by the sorcerers, who knew they would be too busy to govern.  The new land attracted priests worshiping the gods of the First Men, hunted by the dragon lords.  the gods granted knowledge of the divine language to their priests, who sanctified the ruling family and supported the sorcerers’ efforts.

—from The Chronicle of Thyure, Dragonland

Shadow Earth (V) (2017)

Welcome to Paradise . . . Resort at the St. Kadesh Islands.  It is a magical place, unlike Tahiti.  Your every wish is our command, simply say the word.  Please follow the dock to the left and inform the attendants as to which island is your destination.

—Padma Hamdan, Paradise Resort


The St. Kadesh Islands are an anomaly.  They are not unique in this, but we have no information on them and attempts to scry the location continually fail.  Attempts to so much as locate the islands have been unsuccessful.  However, we are certain they exist, through significant anecdotal evidence.  Similar fruitless searches in the past, for other sites, have indicated the presence of powerful magical devices or beings.  Current recommendation is to take a hands off approach, but passively monitor any information that comes to our attention.

—Septimus Gottwald, intelligence report to the Demjan Chantry elders, NYC

Shadow Earth (IV) (2017)

Son, you do not want to mess with a dragon. Caught one, oh, ‘bout the time Sumer was building its walls, I guess. This was up around, I suppose it’s Kiev now. Massive bastard it was. Three, no five, heads, each one worse than the last. All of ‘em breathin’ mist cold enough to freeze steel. Not that we had steel back then, most of us had bronze. Took him down, but lost half my people doing it. Damn things were forces of nature. Pray we never see another of those scaly bastards in this world ever again.

—Veris, in Berlin (claimed to be one of the first moroi)


You might think that in this era of smart phones and security cameras, concealment would be more difficult than ever. However, the opposite has been our experience. Between the explosion of conspiracy theorists on the internet, confirmation bias, and the human mind’s incredible ability to protect itself from anything that challenges its worldview, skeptics are on the rise. Two centuries ago, if you said your neighbor was a witch, there’d be a trial the next day with dozens of witnesses to witchcraft turning out. Post a video of a man flying unassisted by the Statue of Liberty today and within an hour you’ll have thousands of people commenting that they can “see the wires” or critiquing the poor editing quality of the effects.

—Jeri Mayweather, Galliard Chantry, NYC

Shadow Earth (III) (2017)

When the earth was made, the gods soon grew bored and sought an outlet for their creativity. They fashioned the first race of beings, known as immortals, as their deathless companions to walk creation at their side. These nine beings ushered in the Age of Immortals, for all the land was theirs.

In time, the immortals grew strong and proud of their abilities and tested themselves. In their early, young, hubris, some decided to make companions for themselves, as the gods had made them. Their creations were imperfect. They were immortal, like their creators, but fed on beasts, early mortals (an experiment of some gods), and each other to maintain their immortality. The result was an age of darkness and fear for mortals, the Age of Shadows. Many immortals fought against the new creatures, thus beginning a war that has continued through the ages. The immortals, though, were too few in number, only nine after all, and the gods refused to intervene.

Seeking aid to end the terrible mistake that was the shadows, the immortals continued experimenting with creation. They modified several beasts and men, resulting in five magical races and the first of the shifters. Even these allies were not enough. The shadows bred faster than the new races. In order to increase their numbers, the six species began breeding with the rapid spawning humans. The result was the kinfolk and the Age of Sorcery. During this age, the immortals vanished from the world. However, with their allies, the six races fought the shadows to a standstill. Then, believing their work done at great cost, the few survivors of the five magic races left the world to seek their immortal creators.

The sorcerers governed humanity and the shifters their own lands, for a time. But, humans chafed under their dominion after centuries. Revolts occurred, rebellions, and deaths. Outnumbered, the sorcerers and shifters faded into the background, quietly protecting humanity from their shadow enemies. Thus was ushered in the Age of Man, a lesser age in many ways, but one in which humans believe they shape their own destiny.

—Adjeret’s Four Ages of the World (translated into prose from the original draconic verse)

 The ancient gods who held sway so long ago their names have been forgotten created nine immortal beings to be their companions. It is from these beings—Amurta, Besanna, Erenungal, Hahepri, Kisheb, Nabis, Ningoth, Sham’at, and Sogal—that the magical races are descended. Each of the nine mingled their bloodline with humanity, a later creation of the gods, producing dragon, fae, giant, goblin, moroi, shifter, shtriga, and troll. The ninth, the demons, became extinct before their line could extend to survive the ages.

–from Byron Wycliffe’s “On the Origins of Magic” (1831)

Shadow Earth (II) (2017)

Code of Osane

Strength through control.

Growth through unity.

Protection through concealment.

Power through influence.

Influence through patience.

—from Osane Volysovich, founder of Scholomance


Sorcery is . . . a sort of paradox. It is simultaneously simple and complex. We know at its basic level sorcery is willpower properly applied to energy. Thus, grab energy, shape it, release. Nothing could be simpler, right? Wrong. If it appears easy, it probably isn’t; if it appears difficult, it probably is. It takes years to master, so the ease you see in your instructors will not come overnight.

—Jessica LeFrancis, Headmaster of Zatenai Academy, to incoming students


You are imitheos, from the Greek for “demi” and “god”. But, your ancestors were not gods, they were immortals who mingled with humans. We can’t tell which immortal line you’re from, frankly it doesn’t matter, that was millennia ago. What does matter is that you have access to powers and we have a duty: to teach you to control those powers and to protect this world from the rest of the realms.

—Marcus, to newly identified imitheos


You can have any weapon you want to train with, even any gun you want. But, some advice. The shadows, most magical creatures, shifters . . . they aren’t fazed by a bullet, they won’t even bat an eye. Hell, bullets only make the shifters mad. You’re better off with a sword or bow.

—William Isaak, self-defense instructor, Zatenai Academy

Shadow Earth (I) (2017)

Just some little pieces I’ve been putting together for a massive (160+ pages of moderately detailed notes) urban fantasy multiverse worldbuild.

When a priest sacrificed blood on the pagan altar to protect the land, when a king spilt his seed on the ground to bring fertility, these were not the empty rituals of primitives. They were echoes, among mundane humans, of the oldest, some say strongest, of the primal magics. Even in these refined and advanced days of enlightenment and scientific understanding on the sorcerous arts, the eldest magics retain a certain value, raw and wild as they are.

—Tanith, from A Practical History of Sorcery


Contrary to popular beliefs, the so-called First Cities have no basis in reality. Rather, they are symbolic representations of socio-cultural ideals held by the earliest of magical persons and societies, utopic visions for stories that reinforced social mores.

—Michael Vortigern, from Treatise on the Legendarium


If humanity discovered the truth about the world, they would try to exterminate both us and the shadows. They would get in our way and cause us to fail in our duty. They would do this out of, a not unreasonable, fear. It’s happened before, although not on a large enough scale to completely destroy us—Alexandria, the Inquisition—but if it recurred today, all would be lost.

—Nefre Hersi, on the necessity of continuing the Concealment Doctrine


There is a war in the grey spaces. It has been waged for millennia. Both sides claim righteousness, claim their side has altruism and seeks to protect the unwitting humans from the other side. Both sides lie. After hundreds of generations, they simply fight to fight. To beat the other side at any cost. I know because I spent a century fighting for one side, then the other. And I was good at it. I hunted shadows, I hunted shifters and kinfolk. I bought the shite both sides sold. Until I no longer could.

— Taren the Apostate, from The Chronicle of Taren the Apostate