Summer is always a chancy time for tabletop games releases, some years seeing plenty of games trying to beat competitors to a traditional Gen Con release, others where every publisher holds back and releases only at the big July-August convention itself. Either way, the yearly Origins convention in Columbus, Ohio usually offers up a preview of what’s coming to print, and this year we were there to get in a few plays of the lineup and tell you what we thought was best.

Where available, we’ve included links to the game if it’s out or a crowdfunding campaign if it’s running. Now get to planning your future gaming!

Bring Out Yer Dead

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A game of comically inept gravedigging from first-time designer Aaron Watts, Bring Out Yer Dead is a game where down on their luck nobles scrabble to have their families buried in the places of highest honor in the cemetery. Each turn, players’ scripted actions take place in a careful order that might see some players’ family members buried and others tossed in the river. See, in a given round, the digger will only bury so many coffins, which is randomly determined by a drawn card. Actions are based on a hand of cards, each with a number determining when it does its power in the round – like put a coffin into the queue to be buried. Additionally, players can gain fortune and treasure cards for bonus effects or extra points based on where they’ve buried their relatives. It’s a nice mix of euro-style gameplay, gallows humor, and pushing your luck that scratches a lot of itches at once. You can learn more at Upper Deck Entertainment’s official site.

Note: If you follow the retail links in this post and make purchases on the site(s), Defy Media may receive a share of the proceeds from your sale through the retailer’s affiliate program.

Bottom of the 9th

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Okay, this game is about baseball. Wait, no, come back!

Sorry, sorry. This fun game is about baseball.

Bottom of the 9th is a fast playing game by oddly-themed-but-fun-games mavens Dice Hate Me Games where everyone is always doing something, which is not only rare for the two player game genre, but just… good design. In the game, one player is the “Evil Empire” who has somehow managed to tie with the terrible local team. The evil empire must strike out the locals’ batting line to push into extra innings and win. The locals must score one single hit to win. Each team has a stable of players with their own stats and special abilities. As the face off goes down, players try to outguess each other with chits marked Low/High and Inside/Outside, with bonuses going to the batter if he guesses how the pitcher will throw and the pitcher if he tricks the batter. Dice rolls determine what kind of pitch is thrown, with a number on one die and a symbol on another determining who has to roll above or below the other player. It’s fast, fun, and easy enough to learn that those with even a passing interest in sports should check it out. All the fun of the last inning of baseball without hours of cheering and hot dogs beforehand.

Bottom of the 9th was a Kickstarter from Dice Hate Me Games.

Epic

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Epic is the “trading card game in a small box” currently on Kickstarter from the creators of Star Realms, White Wizard Games. We got a chance to sit down and play it at Origins, and found a lot of fun in small package. While it might not be the second coming of the collectible card game, it certainly provides what feels like a tight CCG experience in a small package – and won’t have the Magic itch of feeling the need to constantly buy new cards. In essence, the game drops you into the tense fight-for-your-life period of late-game Magic play, where players have big nasty cards with huge effects available to them constantly. If that sounds like your bag, get in on the Kickstarter while you still can.

Jarl

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Catalyst Game Labs’ The Duke was a surprise success over the past few years, so it’s no surprise to see a new set – and pretty cool that the set is themed after kickass television show Vikings to boot. Players lay down tiles and try to protect their Jarl ala chess, but the trick is that after a tile moves it flips over, giving it a new and differently unique set of moves. It’s a delightfully abstract game with a concrete twist – you can see neat things like a character with a shield in one hand being defensive on that side and offensive on the other. The set is also completely unique from The Duke‘s tiles for cross-compatibility, though they’re made of a harder plastic rather than wood. The game releases generally soon, and was on pre-sale at Origins.

New York 1901

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Family games company Blue Orange Games has been threatening expansion into the hobby games market for a while now, and it looks like their Ticket to Ride level of complexity game, New York 1901, is going to be pretty good. I got a game in at Origins and was surprised by the depth of complexity I found in the simple mechanics. Players take a randomized lot card and use it to claim an area of real estate, then build from their pool of available buildings on that lot. As they play more, they’re able to unlock and place larger and larger buildings – even demolishing old buildings to make room. The challenge comes in as you need to compete with opponents for space and for the best spots on whichever street is trendiest at the moment. It definitely scratches the itch for an intro game that still speaks to the experienced gamer, and will sit perfectly at the sweet spot for those gamers whose preferred complexity level is fairly low. Plays quickly to boot – certainly one of my favorites at the show!

Tesla vs. Edison

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Aggressive and Area Control aren’t terms you’d usually associate with a stock market game about 19th century inventors, but Tesla vs. Edison does the job like you wouldn’t believe. My choice for complicated, fancy game of the show, this thing incorporates auction mechanics, stock markets, Power Grid-style infrastructure building, and even a public relations war into a simulation of the War of Currents, the competition between various companies over whether alternating or direct current electric power would be the American standard. Each turn you use your various 19th Century personalities to either invent new tech, engage in propaganda, buy and sell stocks, or build infrastructure. As the game goes on, you bid with other players to recruit new people to back or join your company, allowing you to do more each turn. It’s a nicely rising complexity curve that allows you to keep from committing to fully to a strategy before the final turns, where you take the majority of your actions. In play, it avoided the kind of analysis paralysis that hangs up many big games – though its many moving parts definitely restrict it to more dedicated gamers.

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Tesla vs. Edison will be published by Artana later this year, and was funded via Kickstarter.

Three Cheers for Master

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A fun game of evil minions trying to form a cheer pyramid for the dark overlord, which, frankly, doesn’t need me to provide much more description before I recommend it, does it?

Anyways, you draw and place your monsters in either your own pyramid or in opponents, with the goal of making your monsters murder each other less when a fight breaks out and making your opponents’ tower of critters collapse. The player with the best pyramid at the end wins. It’s a simple, fast, silly game that seems to avoid the overtly terrible and random screwovers that similar games like Munchkin deliver all too often – because most of them are going to come from your friends rather than the deck.

Three Cheers for Master is from Atlas Games, who you might also know from a little hit called Gloom. Best of all, it’s in full release right now.

Tide of Iron: Next Wave

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Successfully Kickstarted in 2013 and released at Gen Con last year, Tide of Iron: Next Wave is a revival of the hit Fantasy Flight Games World War 2 wargame by new publisher-developers 1A games. I’d not gotten my hands on it yet, but it has a wonderful quality and is now available with reprinted versions of the Days of the Fox Expansion for North African combat and a Stalingrad Expansion for the Eastern Front – as well as the still in print old Normandy and Fury of the Bear expansions. It’s a very simple hex wargame with very clear rules writing that plays in about an hour for medium-to-large scenarios. It ditches some more complex rules from other games – things like facing, complicated line of sight, and mission-specific rules – in favor of a customized deck of random events and a handful of terrain types that use very similar rules. Combat is as simple as rolling a handful of six sided dice for attack and others for defense before comparing total successes and failures, and the game has easy to use chits to represent damage to a unit or indicate that it has acted already that turn.

If you’re interested, you can find it on Amazon or your local game store, or check out the 1A Games website.

Tiny Epic Galaxies

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Shooting to board game fame on the back of their successful Tiny Epic series, Gamelyn Games seems to have nailed it again with Tiny Epic galaxies. Kickstarter earlier this year, I found Galaxies exceedingly playable and smooth at Origins. Taking on the miniature version of something like Twilight Imperium, Galaxies eschews traditional combat in favor of allowing players to push each other off of worlds and tag along as others take actions on their turns. Each turn, players roll dice and get to take a few actions based on the symbols rolled – with optional re-rolls. The follow mechanic lets you take an action an opponent has just taken, giving you a really good reason to be excited about what dice your opponent is rolling on their turn instead of totally zoning out like in many other empire building games. Best part? It also lived up to its playtime promise, and with an experienced teacher available to answer quick questions I learned and finished the game in less than an hour. It’s scheduled to be released later this year, and is currently on pre-order to ship later this summer.

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If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, go see the previous games in the series: Tiny Epic Kingdoms is the fantasy battle equivalent and Tiny Epic Defenders is the cooperative defense equivalent.

Voyages of Marco Polo

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Due to release later this month, The Voyages of Marco Polo is a dice rollilng resource collection game optimized for relaxed, noncompetitive play. The goal is to make it from Venice to Beijing in five rounds while making as much money as you can along the way. Each round you roll a pool of dice, then use the rolls to perform actions like get resources, earn money, collect orders for resources, and travel to a new city. The end of the game is a very standard victory point count up, with a few extra tricks thrown in – like secret objectives – that keep the game from getting predictable or stale. It’s certainly on-trend for this year’s games by including a dice element, but despite that seems to provide a very tight scoring spread and be very competitive. Those looking for their eurogame fix for the year should look out for this one.

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed seeing what we thought was the best of Origins, and the best games coming this summer. We’ll check in with these again come release for full reviews.

What? You’ve clicked on? But… but why? That was it.

OR WAS IT?

Spirit Island

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Oh snap, it’s a secret preview. I’m not going to say much, but Spirit Island is the game in playtesting from cooperative game mavens and Sentinels of the Multiverse publishers Greater Than Games. A sort of reverse Catan, Spirit Island has players as powerful spirits protecting their homeland and people from the despoiling presence of a colonizing power. By destroying the invaders’ cities and scaring them off the island by increasing a fear track, the spirits can gain victory. Spirits themselves have a Sentinels-style hand of powers they can accrue and use a light deckbuilding mechanic to deploy them while synergizing elemental symbols on the powers for bonus effects. While the mechanics are still being finalized, the different spirit characters on offer had an exciting range of powers and playstyles – from simple to advanced. It’s coming to Kickstarter later this year.

Goodbye! That’s it! Seriously this time.

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