In 2009 I went to Origins. Two boardgaming buddies, one with girlfriend in tow, and me in a mini-van drove to Columbus and back. I’d been back in the hobby for three years after a long-ish hiatus. Not that tabletop had been entirely out of my life: more that the last ten years had seen me start my teaching career, get married, and have a child, and so my creative and social energies had been focused elsewhere.
Origins was my first “real” Con. My local gaming group (the Toronto Area Boardgaming Society, or TABS) had quarterly day-long game days. But Origins was The Real Deal. Sponsors. Lanyards. Badges. Events. Going to Origins felt like the culmination of my tabletop ambitions. The big releases of the show were the first Dominion expansion, Intrigue, and the re-release of Tales of the Arabian Nights. Copies were snatched up as soon as they left the boxes.
It was all amazing–and at the same time overwhelming. I found I could only take a few hours at a time, and then had to retreat to my hotel room and recharge. One morning I walked through the centre of Columbus down to Germantown where I’d heard there was an amazing deli, Katzman’s. It was pretty amazing–but I was struck at how empty downtown Columbus was: almost no foot traffic, many storefronts boarded up. This was just after the 2008 crash, but I was shocked at just how hollowed-out Columbus seemed.
Over the past year some of us in TABS had become interested in game design, and we formed a weekly group to try each other’s prototypes and give feedback. I loved it. I love taking games apart and seeing how they tick. I was working on a game about Broadway. I wanted a game where players had to recruit actors, hire scripts, and put on shows–like Showmanager or Dream Factory but a little more true-to-life, maybe with different eras that reflected different tastes.
Earlier that year TABS had held a game design contest. All entrants had been given the same bag of components and told to make a game. I had come up with a bidding game called Odd Lots. When the day came to submit, I felt very humble; some of the other prototypes looked mighty sweet, whereas mine was pretty basic, graphic design not being exactly my strength. So it came as a rather big shock when the winners were announced a couple of months later and Odd Lots won.
The victory emboldened me to make some more prototypes and bring them down to Origins to try to get it published. Tom Lehman who was then at Rio Grande Games played it and passed. I felt pretty down in the mouth about that until my friend John said, “What the fuck does he know?” which cheered me considerably. Zev Schlasinger, then owner of Z-Man, said he’d publish it if I could figure out how to make it fit into a much smaller box; I never did figure out how.
Although I was ready to go home by Sunday, the drive back from Columbus felt bittersweet. I had enjoyed four days of being kid-free and being master of my own schedule. I was also starting a new teaching job that fall, after being home taking care of our son for the last few years, so I suspected (correctly, as it turned out) that my game design days were probably numbered, at least for a while.
It’s so hard to believe that Origins trip was ten years ago. Now Toronto has its own multi-day Con, organized by TABS, growing from strength to strength. The city itself is a hub of game activity, whether we’re talking design, publishing, or just playing. One of the buddies from the trip has moved to Fredrickton–with the girlfriend who gamely joined us. The other mainly games from home these days because That’s How Life Goes. The child I came home to is now sixteen. And I am older, with an even bigger tabletop collection, back to thinking about game design, blogging about it, and trying to make a career out of it.
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