This year Origins finally drove for me that cons are less about what I’m doing and more about who I’m doing it with. Cons are different, of course, regardless of who you’re with. They focus on different things and some are simply better at what they do than others. But pretty much everything I did at Origins this year was influenced and enhanced by the company of fellow CGE demoers I met last year. A lot of your con experience is dictated by the people you know there- a whole post on that subject is following. But first, disclaimer given, here are my Origins 2019 impressions.
I like Columbus. I don’t travel a lot, or get to meet people who didn’t self-select by moving to the Bay Area. It’s hard to get out of the con’s gravitational pull, but even little details of the city seep into you. Once I stumbled over a beautiful community garden around the corner from the hotel. When I looked up from the squash, I realized that a man in his mid fifties, in casual accountant attire, was wailing on nun-chucks about 50 feet away from me. One Lyft driver tried to grab a cop to arrest two black people who were, “stumbling around like they’re on drugs,” and was pissed when there was no one in the patrol car she’d parked next to to drop me off. The next laughed at that story, and told me about the farmers he would drive ten minutes home from downtown, talking about how scared they were of the “Big City” the whole time.
There are reasons some people might feel uncomfortable downtown. I, for example, was disturbed by the obvious effort made to keep homeless people away from the con area. If you’re not from an urban area, this is one, and you’re going to have to deal with that. You will be asked for money, both by the remaining panhandlers and more interestingly by people who just got out of the city jail, which was right across from my hotel. So a lot of people get out of jail with nothing in their pockets and walk up to the convention center looking for money for a ticket home. Again, I live in Oakland and walk by tent encampments to get to the subway, so this doesn’t bother me. But in the same way Columbus is an experience for me since it’s a smaller city in the Midwest, it’s going to be an experience for you if you’re not used to cities at all.
The Columbus pride parade runs next to the con on Saturday, and it’s awesome. One of the biggest in the country, as I understand, and definitely worth wandering out into the blinding sun to check out. Plus a lot of people from the parade end up in the convention center, and their joy kept a smile on my face all day. There are ‘gaymer’ and ‘ally’ ribbons you can pick up for your badge, and it’s just great to feel that the board game community as a whole is supportive of LGBT2QA inclusivity.
The food is great, comparatively. Everyone raves about the north market and it is a great food court. It is very good if you go to the right places- I was actually able to get an ristretto shot of espresso there. The polish food is great, the Thai or Indian not so much, (I have never seen garlic Naan made with garlic powder). We went out to a German restaurant that has been around as long as the city of Oakland, and it was amazing food in an amazing environment. I even got food in a vendor hall, and although rice, sauced chicken, corn and cheese sounds very weird it was actually quite good. It’s almost impossible for me to rate the food objectively though, because it was so cheap. Since I live in the Bay Area, everything, especially food, was 20%-30%. Even when the food wasent’ great, I’d only paid like $8. When the food was great, it was still 15-20 for a meal, including tip. Whatever I got, it at least felt like a good value.
Origins itself, which many people will never leave anyway, is a very well-balanced experience. All the major categories of con activities are covered pretty well: open gaming, events, demos, and shopping. There is a lot of room for open gaming in various areas around the edges, and a dedicated open play space with a game library. Which I didn’t get to check it out, because you have to pay for it, and I was demoing too much to have enough free time during the days to make it worthwhile. I heard the library was good. I didn’t get much open gaming in at Origins, and it was all at the staff hotel after we closed. Which means I didn’t play a lot of games at all, maybe a couple a night, but they were a ton of fun.
There are an overwhelming number of scheduled events at Origins: board games, LARPS, roleplaying, tournaments, panels, even mega-games. And I like their reservation system, mostly because you get assigned events early enough to plan your day around them. There’s True Dungeon, a live action dungeon crawl. There’s pods you can climb into to play a mech combat game. There’s a video game room, and probably a bunch of other stuff I forget. There’s even a quiet room for autists. I couldn’t get into any scheduled events, because of my schedule and when I got it, but you can always get into an event that has room with generic tokens you can buy, and events rarely fill, in my limited experience. If you wanted to you could happily spend the whole con just doing scheduled events.
It was very well-run, from the attendee’s perspective. They streamlined badge retrieval immensely, making it the smoothest system I have probably seen: you scanned a barcode from your phone or printed email and a machine automatically printed your badge. You even went into a separate line to get materials, so you could skip that step or do it later if you liked. The hall staff is professional and polite, and kept up with the bathrooms better than we had any right to expect.
I was demoing for CGE at the con, and you should really check us out sometime if I do say so myself. Even if you don’t, you could pretty much spend your whole day demoing. Larger companies like Rio Grande and CGE have large demo spaces outside the main halls, the exhibit hall has a lot of booths eager to demo their games, and the gaming halls on both sides of the exhibit hall have demo spaces for companies in the exhibit hall. I don’t know if you could make a whole con out of getting games demoed to you, Demos do stop at some point in the evening), but it would certainly make a satisfying day or two. I need to plan out my demos more: mapping out what you’re trying to hit and where they are cuts down on the wandering time. Wandering through once is fun, but dodging everyone wearing gigantic gamer backpacks wears thin.
Shopping I can’t speak to much, as I didn’t have room in my carry-on and don’t like it much anyway. The main reason to buy things here, as I see it, is to grab stuff that isn’t yet in distribution or isn’t going to be, like Too Many Bones. Or if you want to support your favorite publisher for coming to the con and buying their games at full price, have to. I did pick up a few storytelling games and a cool small box hidden role game called Tortuga 1667 I would not be able to get at my FLGS.
There’s also a huge amount of trading that goes on, both formally and, especially with pins, just while you’re walking around the con. There are math trades of all sorts, trades arranged on BGG, it’s just a great place to swap your games. So if you’re driving, you can switch a lot of games out of your collection for new ones, get the hotness that no one else back home will have for at least a few months, and pick up less mainstream stuff you’d otherwise have to scour the internet for.
This balance is why I think origins is so great. It’s big enough to have enough events and a big enough exhibit hall and enough demos to be a good time pretty much regardless of what you’re looking for. It’s in a fun town, and not so big that town becomes a clusterfuck. It’s not seen as a destination con as much as Gencon, but even if you’re out of the area I think it’s a great one to try out if you’re looking to make a vacation out of your first big con.