Number of players : 1-4 (Best 3 from BGG)
Playing Time : 60-120min
Designer : Adam Kwapiński
Publisher : Board&Dice
Primary Mechanics :
Before we start, some background…
Hi there ! Since this is my first ever gaming blogpost, I feel I needed to do a little bit of intro before I get rolling here. So long story short, Vinay asked me a few weeks back if I would be interested to write on the board game blog for his website. I pondered on that idea something like 1.635 seconds before answering…you guessed right…positively! Coming a long way with board games in general, I think of myself as an active gaming community contributor for a wide variety of game styles, themes and mechanics on both solo and multiplayer games. I comment a lot on gaming forums, Facebook Pages and BGG, usually to share my experiences on what I have been playing but also quite a bit on guiding players to make the right purchases based on their tastes and experience. I also provide support and sometimes training sessions live during gaming events and online for some of the heavier games, especially for historical wargames. I also enjoy taking pictures of the intriguing, inspiring or simply beautiful game designs that hit the tables. I may come back one day with a little more details about my personal gaming experience and habits which possibly started when I discovered brick and mortar institution LeValet d’Cœur. It was around 1983…
Now back to today’s topic, my experience with the recent release called Origins: First Builders by designer Adam Kwapiński. For the record, I have played the game 3 times with 2P, once with 4 players and tried the basic solo training mode once at the time of this write-up.
So it would appear that Aliens came to Earth in a distant past and helped our ancestors building the foundation of new prosperous societies using alien resources and technology. In Origins: First Builders, you will personify an Archon, head of a group of Freemen to race against others and build the most prestigious empire there is. Using you Archon personae and some of your most reliable leaders, you will, over a period of time gather resources, build your city around your temple and agora, increase your influence and gain stellar abilities from the water, earth and mountain temples aligned with the influential zodiac signs.
As your empires’ civilization grows, you will increase the knowledge of your leaders, promote some of them on seats of power giving your archon additional abilities or use them to lead the people to greater potential in your capital. You’ll have the ability to develop the land in the most effective way and also compete in a test of arms to gain additional prestige over your competitors. Meanwhile, you must not neglect to raise your influence in the temples which can also become significant to the eyes of the advanced aliens. They will help you thrive, but in order to do so, you’ll have to prove your worthiness by managing wisdom as a currency, along with stone, food and gold as a wild resource. At the end of the game, the player whose capital and archon’s influence has built the most prestigious civilization, wins.
As I opened the box and browsed through the clearly-designed rules booklet, my first impression of the game was, as it is often the case, which is not always good, but also not always bad, to compare it to some extent with other dice placement games like Coimbra and a bit of Teotihuacan in some way as well. Now that being said, I will not make further comparisons as Origins branches off to a completely direction from there apart that you play dice as workers called Freemen sitting in holders and their value increasing as they age and become wiser.
The Game material is rather nice and sturdy with thick nicely illustrated board, thick cardboard tokens & city tiles, and a slew of dice in 5 different colored shades. I have to say that the plastic parts, which include the dice holder and the 5 circular motherships appear a tad lame against the overall game material presentation. The imprinted dice are not visible enough and I would recommend using a dark sharpie to dot the dice pips in black. I have seen this and approve as the result is rather adequate and fixes this issue. Also, the resource tokens are in my opinion sub-par, reminding me of the older civilization game called Nations for those who know it. I often refer to this kind of token quality as bland German design, as we see in too many of Stefan Feld’s collection of games from Alea-Ravensberger game series if you are familiar with these.
Key Actions & Mechanics
Each turn, the players will have a choice over 5 Player actions:
- Visit a site with your Archon or Freemen
- Grow your population using food
- Close a district using an active Freemen
- Build a tower using gold
As implied earlier, Origins: First Builders clearly borrow some of the mechanics we see in other games but integrates them in a unique and effective manner. There are 5 primary actions which are intuitive to use. When you VISIT an encounter site with an alien mothership, you will need to decide which Freemen will lead the action and activate 1, 2 or three actions depending on the color match and its value. If the dice is of lower value than the mothership’s, you will have to spend wisdom to activate it. If the color matches, you get to do an additional setup-variable action. And if you Freeman is very wise (e.g. value of 6), you get to do all basic actions at that location. Therefore proper planning can seriously pay off and is a key aspect of the game’s basic engine. If you are short of wisdom to spend, you can then send your initially colorless Archon and avoid paying entirely, once per round. Pacing yourself is one of the nice system in this game. After a player visit a site, its cost is increased by 1, affecting every player to visit the same locations afterwards… unless it was at 6, after which returns to 1. Will I be helping someone then…? This aspect works really well as it is neatly and tightly stitched together.
From visiting mothership locations, they will grant the ability to gather resources, develop your city by BUILDing tiles and triggering some potentially strong effects in one of the 5 colored spheres while attempting to meet the alien city landscaping objectives. You can also gain military fame over your competitors by taking the lead in the arena and trigger more special actions, recruit new Freemen or speakers (additional but temporary workers) or increase influence in some of the 3 temples. To acquire a new Freemen, you will need to have GROW your population first and have an available dice tray. Each of these areas of potential influence growth have their own unique behaviors and will influence you decisions as the game evolves.
CLOSING a district implies committing a Freemen to a set of 4 city tiles in a square pattern, triggering city tiles of the same color once more and potentially increasing your end game scoring bonuses. The Freemen’s value in that district will be multiplied by the tower level of the same color in your city. Since at the end of each game round when every player has PASSsed, the Freemen on alien mothership locations will return and increase their value up to 6 after which they may have to use a seat of power. The game will force you to think when is best to close a district or to some extent let go and have this Freemen taking a seat of Power, giving your Archon a colored capability to trigger when he visits sites later. Another very nice implementation in this game.
Building and growing your city in Origins: First Builders is one of the key & fun element of the game
So I mentioned Gold is a will resource but it is also required to increase your tower levels for end game scoring multiplier bonuses. Again, convenient but think carefully when spending it as a wild, you may end up one short at one time! If you play lots of Euros, you’ll know what it feels to be short by one of…
The Arena brings a few useful advantages including in-game scoring triggers when declaring a fight while being ahead of some of the other players, winning the first player token for the next round, and winning power tokens which can be used to play twice in a row here and there, which is often a key advantage in worker player games where acting early means paying less. Remember that one resource short statement above?
As for the temple’s influence, they will prove the leader of each a unique ability which, if aligned with your strategy can be quite powerful. Not that they can be stolen and that increasing in all temples pays-off but keep in mind you’ll score the two lowest of the three. Another well designed system.
The game’s variable setup makes Origins: First Builders replay value pretty high. The colored motherships will not always trigger the same combination of special actions. The objective scoring patterns for city tiles drawn at setup will also impact the market’s availability as well as dictate the scarcity of the tower tokens limiting the amount of potential end game bonuses players can score. The pool of available Freemen (dice) recruits and their color and their value and will also influence player’s decision differently every time. And for every game, the temples unique ability will use 3 of the available 12 zodiac signs.
Ease of Play / Mental Toll
One thing I really appreciate after 5 plays of Origins is the ease of getting it back to the table even after 2 full weeks of playing other games. I look at the game and I do not need to go back at the rulebook after the second game, other than for setup at specific player counts. Otherwise, there are not many subtleties other than looking at the 3 Temple Powers and watching the available 5 city tile market and their bonuses. From there, there are not really any hidden or counter-intuitive mechanics in this game. I would rate this as a pure Mid-Weight Euro game, so around 2.75-3.00 on the BGG weight scale (reported 3.36 which I find a bit high).
Easy to Forget rules
- Increasing the Mothership visited right away after putting down your dice or archon – easy to lose track on these and it does affect the game quite a bit!
- Closing a District will trigger the district tiles of the same color as the dice once more
- Scoring points on the coliseum when triggering a fight
- Moving a Freemen to a district is an turn action which can be performed regardless of its value unlike moving a value 6 Freemen returning at round end to a seat of Power if available
Pros & Cons
- Game is what is consider a straight medium weight game, quite intuitive to play and easy to great back into after a single play. I suspect I would not have much grief to get it back on the table in 6 months or more and should be good to go with a very light rules refresher.
- It’s a worker placement where you are not blocked to perform an action just by the presence of another worker.
- Many ways to score big and you cannot do everything in the game, which is a plus.
- Game is not overly long.
- Game comes with out-of-the-box lightweight solo system available, just to test your abilities and game mechanics.
- Game also comes with a more involving David Turczy developed AI called UFOBot to measure yourself against a tougher human-like opponent which can be downloaded and printed from here (I have not tried it at the time of writing this review).
- Wife loved it (definitely a plus for me) !
- Some of the material bit and design is a tad sub-bar for such a modern game released in 2022.
- The theme is a bit dry and does not transpire much throughout the game.
- Many combos leading-decisions are usually available each round. Therefore the game could lead some players to do a little bit of AP (Analysis Paralysis) for some of the action related decisions. Mostly due to the fact your worker value will influence the cost to trigger an action (for yourself later and others) but also provide the ability to perform one or more additional actions based on its value and color.
Sometimes, I want to play a deep & complex worker placement game, but there are these occasions when you would need or feel for a slightly lighter and shorter game to put on the table. Origins: First Builders is great for these occasions while still providing opportunity to play for meaningful decisions, plan for the optimal choices while having to account for your opponent’s position in the game. You’ll chase for available crew of Freemen, maintain city layout advantage, watch for neighbors available Freemen and those in the market up for grabs, push your advancement at the coliseum, maintain your edge at temples of power and grab the limited and expensive but valuable tower levels needed to pull the win. Yes, I will play this game again.