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Well, I had a fabulous time in Columbus, OH at the annual Origins game convention Thursday afternoon to early Sunday morning. If you love board games, consider going one year. GAMA or the Game Manufacturers of America puts on Origins and it is one of the two big US conventions...though still way behind Essen in Germany. Anyway, well over ten thousand gamers filled the convention center.

There were the usual peasants and Klingons and people "fighting" with padded weapons. There was eye candy in the usual forms of chain mail bikinis, beautiful tuxedos, evening gowns, latex, leather and corsets. They had 25 fast PCs hooked into a real time competition playing Warcraft III a day after the game was released. Some idiots broke the world's record for playing the longest game at 103+ continuous hours by the same players. There were obscure film series and bands and a reportedly good political humor show and lots of seminars. Reiner Knizia, the best living game designer in my opinion, gave one talk which I tragically missed.

I went to my first collectable game auctions and unexpectedly had a blast. There were a bunch of truly hard core experts debating the provenance of different games. There were quite a few neat games, lots and lots of which I had never heard of previously. There was a nice game published in the 1880s based on Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad. There were Ravensberger and Milton Bradley designs from 75+ years ago. I got a 1960 game called Investment Club for $19 that has charming stock certificates from companies that no longer exist. There were games with bone dice and Bakelite pieces, the plastic-like material which pre-dates plastic. There were games I might not have paid over $10 for which sold for $800, though this was rare.

I spent most of my time in the "Tabletop" game area, a cavernous place able to hold almost 100 tables which were each much larger than the big school cafeteria tables. I spent lots of time in the big national Star Fleet Battles tournament, where I was the 159th entry Thursday afternoon. I had not played a single game in over one calendar year and was happy to make the top 16 before getting beaten by a truly distinguished player. I recovered with a nice game of Warhamster Rally, designed by my friend Frank, using a 20 by 10 foot map an life sized beanie baby hamsters.

I met a neat game designer from Baltimore, Andy Looney of Looney Labs. Andy won the 2002 Calliope award during Origins for Best Abstract Game, a medium-to-big deal for geeks. He wrote a story I had never heard about in 1986 talking in part about his ideal game using translucent stackable pyramids. People often said "the story was nice, but I really want to play that game". At the time, there was no game. Andy, his wife and a friend eventually designed game components and invited people to use these components to create their own games. This has been done before; the GIPF project in Germany is the best, but had not really succeeded before in the US to my knowledge. Anyway, three years ago they rolled the financial dice and started working full time to make the game company work. I really liked these guys, hung out in their company's room quite a bit.

The National Security Decision-Making Game or NSDM got more prominent after 9/11. NSDM had great new posters and Origins had quite a few obviously military folks around. I tried NSDM for a little while. The scenario was a rapid military strike into Iran using forces largely based in Yemen after a radical Iranian tried a power grab and terrorist strike vs. the US. Time was tight and political considerations a big fat hairy deal. Each human plays a different constituency. The scenario used a huge terrain table with micro armor miniatures. They got so detailed they discussed how certain helicopters were exposed to small arms fire if a specific fuel line was hit. My problem was a couple of younger "intelligence community" guys. These guys did not specify their jobs, had zero sense of humor, and were incredibly stressed out over performing "well". One was obviously in over his head and NSDM became non-fun and I left.

After visiting with a cartoonist whose work I admire, Phil Foglio, I finished up with a three-hour poker tournament. One prize was an all expenses paid trip to Essen in Germany but I did not win. Still, I had a great time over the weekend and found myself enjoying Columbus. The statehouse was across from my hotel and a lovely Greek Revival structure. There was a nice historic theatre next door and a pub with a fantastic old bar and a very good acorn nut dark beer. I am still smiling.

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