Origins 2008

June 30, 2008

The majority of my posts, as you know, have nothing autobiographical about them. However, having just returned from Origins 2008, I've decided to write about the excellent time that I had playing games nearly nonstop for six days. It was an amazingly good time, and something that I've attended with my father for thirteen years now.

Each year, for the past 12 years, my father, Uncle Fee, Guy, and I have made a journey to play games with thousands of our closest friends at the game convention known as Origins. Origins is an enormous game convention, a conclave of all manner of folks who enjoy flipping cards, casting dice, and punching out paper tokens. There are board games, card games, roleplaying games, and any other sort you might imagine. The entire Greater Columbus Convention Center is for the better part of a week overrun with gamers of all sorts, of which a non-zero percentage are dressed up as vampires for the weekend.

This year started early. On June 26, Dad, Uncle Fee, and I boarded a jet to take us to Columbus, Ohio. Dad and Fee have been going to this together for the past 34 years. It began as a gaming convention held during the summer in college dorms and has blossomed into the having 14,000 people. For over a decade, it has been held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

The first surprise of the convention occurred when we arrive at the airport at six in the morning. Although Dad had ordered three tickets already, the self-service checkin machine was unable to spit out our tickets for us. After talking with the customer service representative from Delta, it turns out that the computers had become confused by having two different passengers registering together with the same name. My father has somehow ended up also being named Richard Shay, and this apparently caused sufficient confusion to the antiquated mainframe systems in use that only a single Richard Shay managed to be recorded as having a ticket. I can't imagine that including a middle initial field in the process would have cost all that much.

After a game of Settlers of Catan while waiting for this to be resolved, we discard our coffees and board the small direct flight to Ohio. We reach the Midwest after a sleep-infused flight and take a taxi to the Columbus Hyatt. The hotel, which is connected to the convention center, has not failed to be a fine place to rest between long gaming sessions; this year would be no exception.

As has been the case for many years, our old friend Guy meets us there from New Jersey. Fee and Guy split a room while Dad and I have an adjoining room. We get in a brief nap, grab a bite from the hotel's food court, and then waste no time in grabbing Fee's copy of Power Grid and finding ourselves a table. Guy is off to set up his booth in the dealer area, so it becomes a three-player game.

Power Grid is a Euro game. "Euro" is a genre of game, named as such because most of them are designed in Europe; fortunately, they are often translated and distributed in English too. These games are classified, for the most part, by being resource management games. The most well-known game of this sort of likely to be Settlers of Catan, a great game for gamers and non-gamers alike. In Power Grid each player assumes control over a power company attempting to provide power to as many cities as possible while maximizing profit. The game itself is a blast to play, and no small challenge; it requires carefully managing resources, and outbidding other players for ownership of power plants.

As we are playing our game, an Origins volunteer ambles past, hauling behind him a sizeable cart full of boxes. He pauses and observes that we are the first game of the convention. He asks where we are from; we look up and say that we're from Norwood. He says, "Nice, Norwood, Ohio" before he continues away. I bolt up from my chair and catch him down the hallway, informing him that we are in fact from Norwood, Massachusetts. "Even better" comes the reply. After the game of Power Grid is finished, we three are all given nice messenger bags for being the first gamers actually playing at that year's convention.

Registration itself follows. We had all preregistered, but needed to spend some time in line getting our tickets. Given its size and usual inefficiency, preregistering for Origins is essential to save large amounts of time. Later that weekend, when the line was small, it took thirty minutes for me to order some generic tickets and a ribbon to admit me to the boardgame room. Given the number of people who attend, the line can grow to enormous proportions.

Dinner that night was at BD's, which is a great Mongolian Barbeque. I don't think that I saw any actual Mongolians working there, but nonetheless the concept is a fun way to eat. Diners take plates up to the buffet which includes vegetables, noodles, and raw meats. They then select sauces from a wide variety. The entire thing is then tossed atop a large circular grill where it is cooked by two rather enthusiastic workers. The food is flavorful and the process itself is fun.

Thus concludes the first day or Origins. The rest of the weekend followed suite. While there was much less Magic at Origins this year than I would have preferred, it was made up for by a bountiful array of other gaming options. There was, as the saying goes, never a dull moment. I played Magic, more Power Grid, San Juan, Race for the Galaxy, Settlers of Catan, and likely more that I can't recall now before the week had finished.

The highlight of the Magic side of things was getting to play Magic with the father of the man who founded Wizards of the Coast, Peter Adkison. After that, Peter and his father Gary and I had a good discussion about gaming in general, and the state of role playing games. I even described some of my current research with Gary. They were both awesome guys; it was a nice surprise to get to hang out with a legend in the gaming world. I asked both to sign a Magic card for me, and those two cards are in my Vintage deck now.

Thanks to Dad, Uncle Fee, Guy, and everyone I hung out with at Origins -- Chuck, Chad, Nate, Eric, Jason, Steve, Gary, Peter, and anyone whom I'm forgetting. Looking forward to next year already.