Frag Beta Capsule Review (4/14/01)
Battle Cattle Minis Preview (2/28/01)

Live-On-Tape From Origins 2001

Plus, get a load of our Origins 2001 Photos!

Friday, July 06, 2001
9:37 AM: Mike Sugarbaker says...
*****Live from Origins 2001:*****
Big Ups To The Columbus Chamber Of Commerce
Or whoever's responsible for making this convention center suck so much less. Last year's site for cheap chinese food and expensive sodas is now a nice Internet cafe from which I can not only post to OgreCave but, since I forgot my cell phone charger again, actually communicate with the outside world. And there is much to tell from here at Origins 2001 already, including but not limited to a multi-level late-night Giant Icehouse game that gave new meaning to the term "throwdown." But anyway:

Avalanche Press Brings First of 3 Viking Sourcebooks for D20
The one that's actually here on the show floor is Greenland Saga: The Lost Norse Colony, and the one that might be out for Gen Con is Ragnarok: Tales of the Norse Gods. A third sourcebook (all three of these, by the by, are thinnish guys like AP's earlier Last Days of Constantinople, one of the more interesting d20 books so far in my opinion) will be out, um, sometime, and then maybe a bound collection of the trilogy? (That last is speculation on my part.)

Why Did I Not Even Notice This?
White Wolf has a huge new game out on the floor, and this time, it looks like it might actually not suck. At all. It's called Exalted, for those of you who are like me and are blind to the apparently massive amounts of hype WW did for this game... in the backs of their own books, that is. Its lead designer Greg Grabowski, a personable man who thinks monkeys are always funny and therefore clearly has his finger on the pulse of the American psyche, describes it as "fantasy for people who hate fantasy ... no dwarves or elves or throwing the ring in the mountain again, or any of that crap." It's all about epic ancient myths of the anime-influenced kickass variety, rather than the namby-pamby Joseph Campbell-esque stuff that's swept the Western world. The surprising number of you who voted "Mayan-Incan" in our old neglected-RPG-genres poll would do well to look at this one.

(Note from Sven: The Exalted website has posted new fiction today from the game's prologue. And Mike, you didn't notice Exalted because you rarely role-play, buddy. :-)

Early Candidates For Scariest New CCG
Upper Deck Entertainment, the fine folks who brought us the Survivor CCG (*shudder*), have teamed up with Lego on a property that was already plenty weird enough, but whatever - Bionicle: Quest For The Masks has a bunch of stat numbers that are all multiples of 100 for no apparent reason, and robots that are trying to collect masks, um, so that they will have something to stick to their heads. I don't know. Those Lego people are Danish or something, and therefore inscrutable. I admit I haven't looked at my free sample booster (which feels like it has about 6 cards in it), so maybe it's decent. It's just sad to be reminded of how the mighty Lego has fallen...

More later... I'm paying 15 cents a minute here...

3:16 PM: Mike Sugarbaker says...
*****Live from Origins 2001:*****
Journeyman Stops Suckin' The Collectibility Bong

Journeyman Press, publishers of last year's Scooby Doo and Age of Empires CCGs, is showing three standalone games here at Origins, and at least two of them look funny and compelling. The first, Zombies!, looks like a cross between Space Hulk and Wiz-War, in which players compete to kill the most zombies in a Hollywood-action-movie-esque downtown, or just get to the helipad and get the hell out. And then, there is the fabled eBay card game. It's real, it looks pretty simple and amusing, and it has art from the Nodwick guy. The third, more family-market-oriented game, titled Peasantry and apparently loosely based on Canasta, I didn't get a look at. It's great to see more companies moving back to self-contained games that are fast and fun for multiple players.

New Avalon Hill Titles Have Eerie Unpresence
I've spotted two boxes, both with little blue Hasbro stamps on the sides and big AH insignia on the covers. One said History of the World on it, and looks to be a straight redesign of the old AH standby. The other, Risk 2101 A.D., is in fact an update of good old Risk, that's playable either as straight Risk or as a futuristic world with underwater cities, multiple unit types, and even resource management(!). At least, that's how the WotC guy described it, and he said he wasn't fully sure. Both games seem to have sold out from all dealers at the show before I got here...

Troll Lord Is Doggin' You
Felsentheim, Dogs of War! Sure sounds exciting; can't say I've gotten a close look yet. But they have it here at the show, and it's a D20 adventure that apparently concludes a trilogy that began back before D20 even existed. The whole trilogy will be D20 soon, they told me. Also on deck from Troll Lord are more of their controversial modules on CD-ROM, but they'll be in nice boxes now, which may mollify reluctant retailers. Finally, they have a thirty-dollar hardback sourcebook coming out in December called Codex Germania that's all about... yes... the Norse (we told you about it a while back). If you haven't got enough Viking roleplaying now, then by Valhalla-or-whatever, you will soon.

Quick D20 Bits

  • Mongoose Publishing has their Slayer's Guides out at the Wizard's Attic booth, for Hobgoblins and for Gnolls. Both are slim and affordable, and have considerable details about the cultures of these species, which your players can ignore as they move in for the senseless kill.
  • Vengeance Games has two of their Friday Night Six-Pack packs out now, for a grand total of 36 premade characters, if you count each of the three levels they come in. I have no idea if these are new. Also, they have some neat color map-mats called Paper Passages. Yay.
  • Green Ronin is showing the first of their Legions of Hell creature books, which has something in it called a Knocker. Nobody have a pair of these in an encounter, please; too obvious. Hell in Freeport should be out for Gen Con, with the Monster Slayer's Handbook classbook thingy possibly as early as October, then the Secrets of Freeport sourcebook in November.
The Origins Awards ceremony is in a couple hours, I'll try to make it in. Do you need a ticket? Damn I hate tickets.

8:23 PM: Mike Sugarbaker says...
*****Live from Origins 2001:*****
Origins Awards Winners

We probably won't be first online with this, but I sat there and wrote them all down in my Palm, in Graffiti, and now I'm going to type them all AGAIN so you'd all better appreciate it or I'll turn this thing around and go home.

And the Origins Award winners for the year 2000 are...

  • Best Game Accessory: Munchkin's Guide to Power Gaming
  • Best Game-related short fiction: "Matt & Gilly's Big Date," Dork Tower
  • Best Game-Related Novel: Dragons of a Fallen Sun
  • Best Historical board game: Axis and Allies: Europe
  • Best Abstract board game: Icehouse: the Martian Chess Set (yaaaay! oops, sorry, back to editorial impartiality now)
  • Best Historical Miniatures Rules: Fields of Honor
  • Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Miniatures Rules: Mage Knight: Rebellion
  • Best Historical Figure Miniatures Series: Hammer's Hellhounds (US Paratroopers)
  • Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Figure Miniature: Beholder
  • Best Vehicular Miniature: Shadowsword Titan Hunter
  • Best Amateur Game Periodical: Alarums & Excursions
  • Best Professional Game Periodical: Pyramid
  • Best Play-by-Mail Game: Starweb
  • Best Fantasy/sci-fi board game: The Great Brain Robbery
  • Best Traditional Card Game: Chrononauts
  • Best Card game expansion/supplement: Brawl Club Foglio
  • Best Trading Card Game: Sailor Moon CCG
  • Best Graphics for Board game: The Hills Rise Wild!
  • Best Graphics for Card game: Brawl Club Foglio
  • Best Graphics for RPGs: D&D3 Monster Manual
  • Best RPG Adventure: Death in Freeport
  • Best RPG Supplement: GURPS Steampunk
  • Best RPG: D&D3
Tomorrow, some of my favorite small-press finds. Oh, and about Bionicle: a couple days before I came out here, I actually saw a big ol' 4x4 truck with a camper shell driving around Berkeley, that was all painted up with Bionicle promo graphics. Lego is targeting... the college crowd with these things?

Oh, and I sat three rows behind Origins special guest Julie Caitlin Brown on the plane. She was in first class. She has nice shoulders.
Saturday, July 07, 2001
1:42 PM: Mike Sugarbaker says...
*****Live from Origins 2001:*****
The Year of the Hex

It started when Eric got all excited about designing an Icehouse game on hex paper at our game night. Then people on my favorite BBS started asking around about where they could get hex paper. Now we've got Fantasy Flight, a company as apparently committed to round things as a company could be, doing the Tom Jolly-designed Vortex, and Precedence publishing Sack Armies. They both have units and terrain made of hexagonal tiles. They both have units with a bunch of numbers in their corners, and special rules. They both have a rule that says you can't move hexes so they'll split off from the group. They are actually fairly different when you get down to the combat mechanic - Sack Armies has lots of luck in theirs, Vortex has none - and I'm not sure about the win condition. But they'll both be hitting stores this month. There's still Settlers, of course, and the new English edition of Starfarers of Catan has plenty of hex action. And then I found this little game called Chobolo, which has - get ready - hex board pieces which are themselves made of hexes. What does it all mean??

Actually, Chobolo has been on the market for a while now, so it doesn't really contribute to the Year of the Hex. It does, however, remind me somewhat of the online CCG Sanctum, with its interplay between board events and spell cards, and aspects of it reminded me of Talisman (not in a bad way, really), Dark Tower, and this weird old computer game Waving Hands (a story in itself: your wizard has two hands, and certain sequences of gestures cast spells on your opponents. Sequences can overlap and even nest inside of each other, so if you're not careful, you'll end up doing a lot of things accidentally. Chobolo echoes this in its mana-gathering for casting spells - sort of a push-and-pop system, for you coders). Mostly, though, it reminded me of something that's pretty fun and pretty cheap, so check it. He also apparently has a game called The Slums, born of the comment "When we play Monopoly, how come I can't build a crackhouse next to your Park Place hotel and drive down the value?" Worth a peek.

Z-G First Look
Well, my first look, anyway. I was worried that there would be essentially no strategy in this game, when I learned that combats get resolved by comparing the colors on card edges. However, there seems to be something smart buried in the way your "deck" is all the parts of your robot, and you hand-pick a few of those parts to take actions with (and be vulnerable) each turn. The bots themselves are decent, but not nearly as nice as the Virtua On action figure I got last week for just a few dollars more. And I have observed first hand that the game tends to attract nine-year-old boys who like to screech. So, who knows which way this one'll go. Click here, yay.

I'm Saving Up For The Jet Fighter
A guy at the Precedence booth, where they're showing the new Rifts CCG as well as lots of Sack Armies and a Wheel of Time CCG expansion, talked to me very excitedly about Precedence Points, a system that turns your CCG boosters into Kool-Aid packages. Maybe that's not the most precise way to put it. Here: Save the Precedence Points on your boosters and such, and get stuff. Save enough of them, and you'll be able to do things like trade them in for a place in the World Championships for your game. He seemed to be very into the fact that all the games use the same points: you can buy a little Rifts and put the points toward Sack Armies. Maybe none of this is a new idea, but I haven't heard of it being done before. Precedence also seems to be serious about providing prize support to tournaments and retailers, in an age where CCG prize-package price tags have been steadily rising.

Decorating Tips For The Tron-Damaged
When we get our Origins photos up, you'll see what I'm on about here. These folks at Aldebaran Imports have made a nice little positional strategy game called Vandorian Phlanx. From what I was told about gameplay, it could be played on a six-cent printed piece of paper with some cheap glass stones... but it isn't. Instead, it's played with custom plastic pieces on a raised plastic board that sells for $49. They can hook together, and there are rules for transporting between boards. Oh, and by the way, the $50 ones are the ones that don't light up. But they'll sell you a circuit board with the LEDs for you to pop in. The LEDs tell you when a piece is surrounded... which you can kinda tell by looking... but, uh, it's nice to have the lights too. Isn't it? Yehhhhhhsss. Time will tell, but this looks like another company that has failed to learn the Lesson of Cheapass.

Hungry Hunters

Also appearing in the these-guys-have-a-bright-future-if-they-don't-go-bankrupt department is OSTA Productions and their lavish board game Nomad. (Oh, hey, I forgot, this one has hexes too. Stop the madness!) In your green-pyramid-with-cutouts box, you get a big fake-leather board that wraps up to contain everything, a bunch of cloth player mats that also have little ties to wrap stuff up, color counters, laser-etched wood pieces (swank!), and some cards (which aren't full color... I don't think). This all adds up to what looks like a fun 2- to 3-hour board game about nomadic Paleolithic tribes in search of food. You can be Hunters or Gatherers, which each work differently, or you can be Raiders and try your luck at living off the others. Looks like fun, and they're picking up distribution from Atlas Games and others, but gosh, I hope their credit cards have iron stomachs.

More Quick Hits

  • Rolled Bones. How do they print full-color art on the sides of those dice? What does the stacking mean? And why did the guy actually admit to me that playing time is "five minutes to three hours"?

  • Tenjo is a beautiful, Samurai-themed historical war board game that actually looks like something the Emperor would have on his wall. Fans of Axis and Allies, or that kind of thing, will get into the game's mix of intense intra-provincial jockeying between tokens representing thousands of samurai, and inter-province travel by the daimyo. This makes for a nice game-and-metagame mix. I suggested that each clash between tokens could be played out in a game of Shogun: Total War on the PC - that's the kind of scale we're talking about - but, er, maybe that would take too long.

  • I'm not sure what to make of this story: Cutters Guild is showing Deathstalkers, a 600-page (tiny type, too!) fantasy RPG that ships in a binder. "This has everything you could possibly want," they told me. Except a quickly compelling game world, or anything that distinguishes it from a million other fantasy games, but hey. They're already selling a 60-or-so page expansion that slips right into the 3-ring binder (pages are mylar-reinforced so they won't tear out!). I started to think that these guys were headed down the same let's-print-ourselves-into-the-poorhouse road that so many other companies have limped down before... and I wondered at how they had gotten all the way to Origins with their everything-plus-the-neighbor's-kitchen-sink design philosophy (I mean, didn't we all go through that phase? These guys at the booth were pretty young, too)... and then I noticed that the binder they were selling, in a corrugated white box, for $50 (show special!) was also on sale on CD-ROM for $9. That gave me a little hope - you all know how I feel about the prospects of publishing electronically. Hopefully, these kids will figure out how best to spend their remaining money before it's too late...

Monday, July 09, 2001
2:22 PM: Mike Sugarbaker says...
Catching Up With Origins 2001
First, a correction: it's Risk 2210 A.D., not 2101 A.D. But what's 109 years between friends, eh? Still no page about this one on the AH web site.

Deadlands D20 Surfaces
Yes, it's printed, it was at the show. The cover doesn't look like your conventional Deadlands stuff - it's brown, it has a portrait of a boy gunslinger and a girl huckster, and the huckster's cards look like they're stuck together with bubblegum (magic, I imagine). I didn't inspect this one closely, but looks like it should be in stores soon, with the very intriguing occult-meets-WWII Weird Wars D20 sourcebook debuting at Gen Con.

Just Tell Mom You're Collecting Books Now
The good folks at Anoch Game Systems came out of nowhere at last year's Origins with Mystick: Domination, a fine card game with Tarot-inspired mechanics and beautiful artwork culled from actual classic paintings of the Rennaissance and after. Back then, they said they were working on a Mystick RPG built around competition. This year, they showed prototypes of the "trading book game" that evolved out of that concept. It's called Avatar: The Chosen (their website is still calling it the Mystick Pocket RPG as of now), and it will ship next April or something, according to Anoch's booth reps. It's a combat game in which your character is a stack of books, each book representing an aspect of your character, and when you get smacked, you turn the page. If the base book for your character class closes, you're dead. They said they're taking lots of inspiration from computer and console RPGs, which are of course very different from the paper variety. It sounds to me like they're crossing it with Lost Worlds or something. This will be one to check out, as is the current Mystick Companion standalone expansion set for Mystick. (By the way, they say they will still eventually do a conventional RPG on the Mystick theme.)

Later, I'll give you my first impressions of the SnarfQuest Card Game, a playtest report on Lemmings: The Migration, and some more rambling. Cheerio!

Wednesday, July 11, 2001
1:02 PM: Mike Sugarbaker says...
Origins 2001: The Final Mopup
Let's hope so, anyway. I caught a wicked cold halfway through the con and it's still messing with me. Don't sleep with your head too close to the AC, kids.

Series Archer Delayed
I don't know if any of the rest of you remember back when AEG put up this enigmatic web teaser for a spies-and-conspiracies game called Series Archer... anyway, I talked briefly with John Zinser at the con and he says the Warlord CCG is doing so well that they're putting off Series Archer until November or March 2002, so it can get the attention it deserves. He also disabused me of my notion, and God only knows where I got the idea, that Series Archer is a card game - it's actually a fast-playing RPG.

SnarfQuest: The Card Game First Look
The Agents of Gaming folks have done quite a job packaging this game. Every $10 deck comes with a Snarf lead, or one of the other characters - a different lead to match each different card-border color. The deck is the same in every color, but each player can own a different color deck for when you collaboratively construct the play deck. That's right, it's a one-big-deck game, but everybody can have their own say as to what goes in. The stone soup theory. The basic rules reminded Allan a little of the Tomb Raider CCG, which I haven't seen. The leads are part of the game, as the cards form a storyline and Snarf moves around on it. Cards never go into your hand, but instead go into the storyline, and you control Snarf on your turn, trying to claim the good cards for yourself and send clunkers to your enemy. Cards can block your movement in the storyline until someone activates them, some of them have global effects... ultimately, you're trying to score the most Treasure cards. We definitely look forward to playing this one, although our Elmore-signed cards may be going into cold storage with Allan's old issues of Dragon if he has anything to say about it.

Lemmings: The Migration Playtest
Before leaving the con, I actually managed to play one of the umpteen little card games I picked up, and it was this Cheapass-style joint from d20ers Vengeance Games that got the treatment. We played with the full allotment of six players, trying to be the last one in the game with any surviving lemmings. Some of the cards are very, very funny, but on the whole it felt a little bit soulless and random. To begin, I just kind of picked somebody to poke first, and then it was poke-poke-poke-poke-poke until somebody won. If you don't have the cards in your hand to deal with a given problem, you're pretty much screwed. So, lots and lots of luck in the game and not much skill. "Deep" is definitely not the word I'd use to describe this game, but when all is said and done, I'd probably play it again. It's only five bucks, so if the thought of rescuing a few stampeding lemmings with an overzealous crossing guard appeals to you, this is your kind of cheap thrill.

Plus, get a load of our Origins 2001 Photos!

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