May 5th, 2008


Origins the board game

For over four hours tonight we played Phil Eklund's Origins (Sierra Madre Games, 2007). With three players, one of us ran away with the game because of what seems to be a fatal flaw. A game about human evolution and cultural development is a fascinating idea and the essential design concepts of this implementation are sound. Players start as specific hominids with limited brain functions. In the first phase of the game each player develops brain capacity and function while domesticating animals and crops. Growing populations lead to chaos and a dark age from which arises a golden age when low levels of energy and metallurgy are developed. This golden age itself dissolves into chaos and anothyer dark age before emerging into a final golden age before a third dark age marks the game end. High populations with many cities can support many elders so if, as happens to us, one player has significant dominance and the ability to poach elders it becomes impossible for anyone else to acquire the culture cards that convey victory points. The specific cards that are of value to each player are different so there need not be direct competition for specific resources but if one player is cornering the market in all resources it becomes unstoppable. In our case the course of the game was determined after about two hours and the remainder played out the inevitable. I think that there is a fascinating game within the box if only the right tweaks could be made. As it was, we ended with a 32:9:4 result. Ending the game halfway through would have scored 16:7:6 and we cannot see how the last two hours could have played out in any other way. I really wanted to like this game. I loved the various mechanisms and their interactions but I will wait for a revised version with a more forgiving journey through the phases.