This article originally appeared in Pyramid #9
Gamers of all stripes descended upon San Jose, CA, for the annual National Games Convention, Origins '94. By all accounts, the show was more successful than last year's Origins -- though not by enough to make most people happy.
The Origins Report
Thousands of Gamers Attend Origins
The big problem from most game companies' perspective was attendance. The convention drew about 3,500 gamers (and game company employees, convention staff and game masters pushed the total over 4,000), a sizable improvement over the nearly deserted Dallas/Ft. Worth show of the year before. But sales in the exhibitor's hall -- the main gauge by which game companies judge the success of a game convention -- were still disappointingly low. "Dallas was an unmitigated disaster," GDW's Loren Wiseman said. "This was better, but to call it a success is not right, either."
A detail of the gorgeous City of London fantasy diorama.
Wiseman's opinion was echoed by nearly every other dealer at the show we talked to. But since a convention is not judged solely on how much cash the gamers forked over to their favorite game companies, let's take a closer look:
What Went RightAfter several tumultuous years with a now-dismissed convention management company, Origins '94 was run by Andon Conventions, who performed like seasoned veterans instead of first-timers (which makes some amount of sense -- while Andon had never run anything as big as an Origins before, they had lots of experience in the Midwest running smaller cons). Convention registration and individual event registration was computerized and smooth-running; no long lines, no snafus. The San Jose Convention Center and adjoining hotels had plenty of room, and gamers had no trouble finding a place to pull out a game with some friends and get going on the spot. The hotel staffs had obviously been well-briefed; nobody raised a peep when three tables of 1830 started up in a hotel bar the night before the con. "I think this was a particularly well-run show," Chaosium's Anne Merritt said.
Two Magic: The Gathering jokes making the rounds at Origins:
Q: What's the difference between Magic and crack cocaine?A: You can get crack.
Did you hear that the Wizards of the Coast executives have to go to Washington? They've been subpoenaed by Congress to testify about the nicotine levels in Magic packs.
What Went WrongOther than the relatively low attendance, not much. There was the usual occasional no-show GM, or a scheduling glitch that put two events in the same room at the same time -- hard to avoid in a con of this size -- but they were kept to a minimum. The auction had plenty of everything but games to sell -- expecting 4,000 lots to work through, the auction staff got a chance to relax and sell at a leisurely pace, as only 1,000 lots or so were registered.
What People PlayedYou wouldn't have to be Kreskin to predict that Magic: The Gathering would be the single most popular game at Origins '94. The game was everywhere -- in open gaming, at restaurant tables, and at dozens of tables set aside in the RPG gaming room for the Magic tournament. The Star Fleet Battles and Car Wars gang got together for their annual World Championships (for more on the AADA finals, see the "AADA News"), and the Train Gamers' Association had over 700 participants in their Puffing Billy Tournament, a smorgasbord all-weekend event with every train game known to man.
Unlike many other conventions where roleplaying (and now Magic) dominates, Origins is one of the last cons where the miniatures and board wargamers still turn out in numbers. In the miniatures room, everything from medievals to Napoleonics to the French-and-Indian wars to modern urban skirmishes to pirate fleet actions were played out on huge tables all weekend long. Andon reported that the attendees were over 90% male (no big surprise there), but that the average age was 30.2 years -- a sure sign of the wargaming influence on the overall attendance.
FASA's Tom Dowd makes an animated point during a Shadowrun demonstration.
What People BoughtIt seemed that every other table in the Exhibitor's Hall had Magic cards -- entire sets, unopened cases, individual rare cards in three-ring binders, you name it. As for new releases, the pickings were relatively slim. R. Talsorian was proudly showing off the just-back-from-the-printer Castle Falkenstein RPG (previewed in Pyramid #4, remember?), and Precedence Publishing had their brand new RPG Immortal. GDW had a boxed set for Traveller: The New Era -- Battle Rider covers large fleet actions, task forces, etc. in space. GRD had the much awaited Second Front wargame, the Europa series release they were touting as the "biggest wargame ever." And Avalon Hill had a new card-based game called Guerilla.
What Else HappenedWith the game distribution network much better developed than it was years ago, gamers no longer attend cons like Origins solely to buy current products; instead, they want the latest on company's upcoming releases, so they'll know what to be on the lookout for at their local game stores. For that purpose, Origins was a grand success. "It was very successful on a 'show the flag' basis," GDW's Wiseman said. GDW was promoting Volley and Bayonet, a new set of army level miniature wargaming rules; Wizards of the Coast spent the entire weekend showing off prototypes of the latest Magic supplement, The Dark, and their first completely new card game, Jyhad. Both were tremendously popular. Steve Jackson Games fans enjoyed demonstrations of Illuminati New World Order, due out by the end of the year, and a preview of In Nomine. Chaosium was pushing their new RPG, Nephilim, while White Wolf was also promising great things for their latest Storyteller RPG, Wraith.
Live-action roleplaying made its strongest showing ever at this year's Origins, with large games run in three systems. White Wolf's The Masquerade drew another crowd of dark-clad would-be monsters, while R. Talsorian's Castle Falkenstein live-action events (complete with many in Victorian costumes and waltzing lessons provided free beforehand) were a smash. And Chaosium debuted their new Play This Book! line of live-action roleplaying adventures with Nexus and an all-weekend live-action event in an art deco hotel a block or so from the convention center. "People were just having a blast," Chaosium's Merritt said.
Winners! Winners! Winners!Two lucky Origins attendees won drawings for $400 worth of Steve Jackson Games merchandise. Congratuations to Tony Lee of Torrance, CA, and Doug Sundseth of Lafayette, CO.
What the Muckety-Mucks DidThe Game Manufacturer's Association (GAMA) the trade organization that runs Origins, had a meeting where several new officers were elected. Dave Babb of Stone Mountain Miniatures was elected president, replacing Mike Pondsmith, who decided not to run for re-election (see "Industry News"); Winston Hamilton of Game Research/Design was elected vice-president. Stellar Games' Lee Cerny and Iron Crown's Bruce Neidlinger were re-elected as secretary and treasurer, respectively, and TSR's Jim Atkiss and Robert Carty of Liberty Hobby were re-elected to GAMA board positions. Babb promised to continue the "proactive" programs that Pondsmith started, and promised continued gains for both GAMA and Origins.
Adventure Game Hall of Famer Mike Stackpole shows his impeccable taste and class by signing up for a year's subscription to Pyramid.
Who Won WhatThe Origins Awards for the best games of 1993 were handed out, and Steve Jackson Games was proud to win in two of the four categories in which we received nominations -- GURPS Vampire: The Masquerade was named Best Role-Playing Supplement, and Hacker II was named Best Modern-Day Boardgame. The Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame was split into two Halls -- one for products and one for people -- and named four honorees: the games Diplomacy and Ace of Aces and gaming legends Donald Featherstone and Mike Stackpole. A complete list of Origins Awards winners can be found elsewhere in this report. Wargame fans also picked their favorites of '93 with the Charles S. Roberts Awards, also listed elsewhere. And the Academy of Game Critics also met and took their satirical swipes at anything and everything in the game industry, but the Pyramid correspondent decided to go freeze in the fog at Candlestick Park instead of attending the ceremonies, so results are not available.
The FutureWhile Origins '94 was a business disappointment, it was a gaming success, and the improvements everyone saw this year are expected to continue next year, when Origins moves to a semi-permanent (locked in for the next three years, at least) site in Philadelphia, PA. "I am expecting great things next year," Flying Buffalo's Rick Loomis said. FASA's Tara Gallagher echoed that sentiment: "We're hoping that everyone will come to Origins in Philadelphia because we're expecting great things."
Origins Awards Winners
* 1993 Hall of Fame *
Michael A. Stackpole
1993 Product Hall of Fame
Ace of Aces
Designer: Al Leonardi
Rules: Douglas Kaufman
Illustrations: Jerry Redding
Games Research International,
The Avalon Hill Game Company
Designer: Allan Calhamer
1993 Awards Winners
Best Historical Figure Series of 1993
Soldiers & Swords
Scupltor: Robert Perez
Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Figure Series of 1993
Ral Partha Enterprises
Sculptors: Dennis Mize, James Johnson, Geoffrey Valley, David Summers,
Jeffrey Wilhelm, Richard Kerr
Best Vehicular Figure Series of 1993
Ral Partha Enterprises
Sculptors: David Summers, James Johnson, Richard Kerr, Jeffrey Wilhelm
Best Accessory Series of 1993
Designers: Dennis McKiernon, Peter Busch
Best Miniatures Rules of 1993
Warhammer 40,000, 2nd Edition
Designers: Rick Priestly, Andy Chambers
Best Role-Playing Rules of 1993
Traveller: The New Era
Game Designers Workshop
Designers: Frank Chadwick, David Nilsen
Best Role-Playing Adventure of 1993
AD&D: Dragon Mountain
Designers: Colin McComb, Paul Lidberg
Best Role-Playing Supplement of 1993
GURPS Vampire: The Masquerade
Steve Jackson Games
Designer: Jeff Koke
Best Graphic Presentation of an RPG, Adventure or Supplement of 1993
Art Director: Maria Cabardo
Best Pre-20th Century Boardgame of 1993
History of the World
The Avalon Hill Game Company
Developer: Don Greenwood
Best Modern-Day Boardgame of 1993
Steve Jackson Games
Designer: Steve Jackson
Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame of 1993
Magic: The Gathering
Wizards of the Coast
Designer: Richard Garfield
Best Graphic Presentation of a Boardgame of 1993
Magic: The Gathering
Wizards of the Coast
Art Director: Jesper Myfors
Best Play-By-Mail Game of 1993
Designer: Draper Kauffman
Best New Play-By-Mail Game of 1993
Quest: The World of Kharne
Adventures By Mail
Designers: Kevin Cropper, David Bolton, Nigel Mitchell, Steven Fairbrother
Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1993
Designers: Larry Holland, Edward Kilham
Best Military or Strategy Computer Game of 1993
Seven Cities of Gold, Commemorative Edition
Original Designers: Bill Bunten, Dan Bunten
Updated Design: Michael Kosaka
Producer: Chris Wilson
Best Professional Adventure Gaming Magazine of 1993
Editors: Roger Moore, Kim Mohan,
Best Amateur Adventure Gaming Magazine of 1993
Berg's Review of Games
Editor: Richard Berg
The Charles S. Roberts AwardsThe Charles S. Roberts Awards for Excellence in the Conflict Simulation Game Industry are voted on by the readers of a number of military simulation game magazines. The winners for 1993 are:
Best Pre-World War II Board Wargame
When Eagles Fight
Designed by Ted Racier
Best World War II Board Wargame
Designed by Dean Essig
Best Post-World War II Board Wargame
Crisis: Korea 1995
Designed by Gene Billingsley
Best Professional Wargame Magazine
Edited by Ty Bomba
Best Amateur Wargame Magazine
Edited by Rich Erwin
Best Historical or Scenario Article
"When Eagles Fight: First World War in the East," Ted Racier, Command Nr. 25
James F. Dunnigan Award for Design Elegance and Playability
Clausewitz Award (Hall of Fame)
For Best Pre-20th Century Era Computer Wargame, Best 20th Century Era Computer Wargame and Best Game Review or Game Analysis there were no winners.
Article publication date: October 1, 1994
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