Origins – Day 1

Origins is always a good time, although it has cooled off a bit from the thrill-a-minute event it was in and around the late 90s, when the Middle-Earth CCG was still in print and drew significant numbers of players, when organized wargaming still existed, and when the boardgame companies were doing a better job organizing play. Back then I had no trouble filling my schedule wall to wall. It hasn’t been quite as successful for me in recent years and even with picking up some RPG events I haven’t been able to fill my schedule quite as tightly as I would have liked. It’s still a very fun event, though, and the one place you can meet lots of industry types from every corner of gaming, meet all the people who have been just email addresses and avatars until now, and generally play just about anything.

Ever since Avalon Hill was sold and the wargame side of Origins went down the tubes, Wednesday nights have been a bit thin; the last time I remember getting good mileage out of a Wednesday night session was back in 1998 or so when there were Successors games. We did pretty well this year, although it was mostly pick-up games.

Carabande was an event run by our friend Mark, and we played just a short track (one basic set, no Action set), which worked out quite well. After playing big tracks for so long, you forget what a good game just the basic game is, and of course my rule of thumb is that shorter is almost always better – compared to the vast number of games that would be much better off shorter, the number of games that would be better if they were a bit longer is miniscule (Sumera? A Game of Thrones maybe?). We used the Audi-branded version which, interestingly, does seem to have different properties than my original Carabande – the track seems a little higher-friction. Not sure this is better, but interesting for a change. We played two games back-to-back. I seem to recall I did poorly in both.

This was about my third playing of St. Petersburg, and I must say I’ve been surprised the extent to which I’ve been taken with it. I knew it was a solid game, but I really didn’t expect it to take off quite as much as it has. I don’t think it’s so good that I’ll still be playing regularly in a year, but still, I’m impressed. Tension, tough and interesting choices, neither too heavy nor too light, just the right length … good stuff. Maybe even better than San Juan, although it lacks the variety of decision-making that San Juan has.

As I mentioned previously, I had been informed that Goa was broken. So I figured well, if that’s true, I better find out. So this game I went all-out for the Exploration strategy, advancing that track at the expense of all else. And I won. Interestingly, though, this did little to convince me that Goa really is unbalanced. Firstly, I found that yes, as suspected, it’s impossible to simply “max out the Exploration track”; for that you need boats, and plantations, and colonists, so you still have to have some balance. And even playing this strategy, and managing to play a fairly well-executed and more or less significant mistake-free game I thought, most of the margin of my victory could be ascribed directly to a few errors in judgment made by other players. So I remain unmoved by any claims that there is any unbalanced strategy. I’ll agree that the Exploration track is important, no question, and you want to be drawing a few cards. But it isn’t the be all and end all, that seems clear.

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