Origins Game Fair 2021 – After Report Part One

With Origins Game Fair 2021 over and in the books, I reached out to several publishers about their experiences at the show. In this two-part series, Chaosium, IGDN, 9th Level Games, Imagining Games, Gooey Cube, Fragging Unicorn Games, Inkwell Ideas, World of Game Design, Chris A. Jackson, and Penny for a Tale shared their reactions to the show and talked about their fans and games. Before I attended Origins 2021, I asked publishers what they were looking forward to and discussed some of the games that I wanted to check out at the show. After the convention, I wanted their reactions to the return of Origins.

Origins Game Fair Logo.png

To contextualize some of their experiences, let’s talk about the show and its 2021 attendance. Origins Game Fair 2021 by GAMA was hosted in the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio from September 30th to October 3rd, 2021. Origins is one of the largest tabletop gaming conventions in the western world. Unlike 2019 (their last in-person show), the convention center hosted Origins and one or two non-gaming conventions at the same time. This was due to Origins move to a new date (Origins is normally conducted in June) and their reduced attendance, both necessitated by precautions against the pandemic. These moves, as well as Gen Con’s move to two weeks before the show (the two host cities are under 3 hours drive from each other) and CinCityCon happening the same weekend in neighboring Cincinnati, brought 2021’s total attendance down around 42% from 2019’s 18,648. That said, this decrease is in line with all tabletop cons when comparing their 2019 and 2021 attendance:
  • UK Games Expo 2019 (25,704) vs. 2021 (10,671)
  • Dragon Con 2019 (85k) vs. 2021 (42k). I attended Dragon Con and spoke with several publishers about it here
  • Gen Con reported a 48% decrease in attendance
  • CinCityCon (a local RPG con in Cincinnati) 2019 (901) vs. 2021 (382)
  • Origins Game Fair 2019 (18,648) vs. 2021 (10,476)
With those numbers in mind, some of the biggest drivers in RPGs gave their reactions to the con.

Lurking Fear and KULT- Divinity Lost.jpg

Rick Meints, President - Chaosium Inc. [Website Facebook Twitter DriveThruRPG], shares his thoughts on Origins from fan attendance numbers to vendor. It’s worth noting that Chaosium is hosting a convention in 2022. He mentions Lurking Fears, a GMing group I played Kult: Divinity Lost with at the show, which was a fantastic time.
“The Chaosium is very happy that Origins was able to host an in-person convention in 2021. We've been an exhibitor there many times and it was great to interact with our fans after over a year's pause to the convention cycle. While attendance was certainly down (I would have guessed total attendance was maybe 7000), those who did attend got to play in a number of great Call of Cthulhu games run by the Lurking Fears team of GMs. While total sales were down due to the lower attendance, the average spend per customer was higher, which helped a bit. Customers were certainly keen to buy all of our titles that had been published in the last two years. We are confident that attendance will rebound in 2022 and then grow from that, so we're already planning on being an exhibitor for next year. The combining of Origins with GDEX seemed like an odd fit and it seemed like many of the GDEX exhibitors in the hall didn't get much traction with the mainly RPG and Tabletop Game buying crowd. The alternate date chosen (instead of the usual date in June) was not particularly convenient for us, and having the event held in October a mere two weeks after Gen Con probably hurt attendance.”

9th Level Games' The Excellents.jpg

Heather O'Neill, CEO 9th Level Games [Website Facebook Twitter Instagram DriveThruRPG], arranged a number of interviews for me in the past. At the con, I played The Excellents, an intro session that was so good that I bought 9th Level Games’ Mazes zines (I did an interview about them sound months back here). In addition, we talked about their next Kickstarter, Women are Werewolves, their nonbinary story game.
“I felt very safe in terms of COVID exposure. I never saw an attendee without a mask and there was plenty of room to space out. However, I question that 10,476 attendance number. It felt that the show was even less crowded than I expected knowing that this was going to be a lower capacity. As you would look around the sea of tables in halls A & B it was very sparse even on Friday and Saturday. Sales were ok, but the flow of traffic through the exhibit hall was minimum to say the least. We had a special on the Meeple Party board game, so many came to check that out. Otherwise, our new RPG's seemed to be the hot tickets, especially REBEL SCUM - A cinematic TTRPG about a "war in the stars" inspired by a deep love of old school action figures and of punching Nazis in the face. We ran many games and almost all of them were sold out. This is not a surprise as Origins has typically been a place for fans to play games more than just shop.”

Fragging Unicorns' Misspent Youth.jpg

O.C. "Opti" Presley, Fragging Unicorn Games [Website Facebook Twitter Discord DriveThruRPG], took over the Misspent Youth RPG. I interviewed Robert Bohl, creator of Misspent Youth, before he exited tabletop gaming and transferred the property to Fragging Unicorn.

“I always enjoy Origins. It is, in most ways, my favorite convention of the year. Having said that, I have another level of insight this year I didn't in the past. This year, I am a member of GAMA. This year, I attended as an exhibitor. This year, I was spending time, energy, and money to make something happen for MY game, Gangs of the Undercity, versus just having fun and renewing relationships. So it was a mixed bag for me. Origins switched to a new software suite for their scheduling, which was not implemented well before or during. The crowd was fewer and more subdued. The convention center itself was a fraction of what it normally is, as far as space for the convention. Whereas normally, nearly the whole building is Origins, this time, Origins was one of three cons, and it showed. But. It was still fun. It was still great to see my people. And it was great to have a game that we made on display. Our hot item this year was Gangs of the Undercity. It is a minis-based cyberpunk/fantasy skirmish wargame, and the first product we've pushed out since we started the company. September cons were the first time we've sold copies in the wild, so we were all pretty excited. We also had copies of Robert Bohl's Misspent Youth, which we are now the caretakers of. We were intending to run a number of games, but due to the frustrating software mentioned above, most of our games were either not scheduled or mis-scheduled, leading to cancellation. In addition, there was some double-booking of space and... it was kind of a mess. But with the help of some friends and some folks from GAMA, things were made right to a satisfactory degree. We had a great learn-ament (learning tournament) for Gangs of the Undercity, and we got to run a few games of Misspent Youth, which was a big hit.”

IGDN Booth.jpg

Pete Petrusha, Creative Director at Imagining Games [Website Facebook Twitter DriveThruRPG], was there sharing the CHEW RPG and his other products. Well, those products that were available, anyways, as you’ll read.

“It was amazing to finally return to Columbus but the city felt like it was still reeling from COVID. Walking along the strip of bars and restaurants downtown on Wednesday night, it felt like a ghost town. This was great for grabbing a bite to eat, a coffee, or a beer. It also did wonders for making me feel safe in my mask out and about. As an indie RPG designer, it was weird being at Origins without Games on Demand. For many of us, it's home at Origins. They're a bedrock of the hottest new innovations in small press RPGs and their community of players is second to none. It was sorely missed! All in all, it was fun! It was great to hear so many people gaming and having a good time. Players were happy! Players were so stoked for CHEW: The Roleplaying Game! I hope all of our players found the Kickstarter. Rest in Pieces, my deadbeat roommate roleplaying game where you share a pad with the Grim Reaper was in high demand, but it has been another convention casualty of the shipping debacle of 2021. I believe it is in Chicago right now and should be going out to backers here shortly.”

Origins Memorial Gaming Area Dedicated to Brian Dalrymple.jpg

Joe Wetzel, owner of Inkwell Ideas [Website Facebook Twitter DriveThruRPG], talked to me before the show (here). This was Inkwell’s first booth at Origins, and I meant to connect with him at the convention, but I mindlessly walked past his booth without stopping in. For me, it was a busy show and I missed several connections, this being one of the notable ones.

“This was Inkwell's first time exhibiting at Origins, and we're looking forward to doing so again if the timing works out! (Next year's is late spring/summer, which can have a lot of conflicts.) Everyone seemed to be doing their best wearing masks and using sanitizer, although even better is that our next convention, PAX Unplugged, will require vaccinations for an extra level of safety. One of the best things about exhibiting at a con is the camaraderie with other booths nearby. We had great conversations with the folks near us at Skeleton Key Games, AC10, and MDG, as well as other booths as we explored the hall. While we didn't have any entirely new release at Origins, this was our first con where we had our more recent NPC Portraits Decks. They were released a little over a year ago. A deck of Adventurers, another of Henchmen & Hirelings, a third of Animal Companions, and two more decks of Townsfolk were added to other NPC decks we've done in the past. These did almost as well as our Sidequest Decks, which are usually our best sellers. At PAX Unplugged we'll have four brand new Sidequest Decks which are going out to Kickstarter backers in the next couple of weeks.”

I want to thank everyone that shared their impressions of the show. In the next part, I’ll talk to more publishers from the convention getting a deeper look at the con. In the meantime, if you’re looking for more about the games, read my publishing partner, John McGuire’s review of Origins Game Fair 2021 here and here.

While Egg Embry pays for his travel, hotel, and food, certain conventions discussed in this article provide complimentary entry to their cons because he registers as a member of the press/media. Egg’s written about the return of conventioning in 2021 at d20 Radio (here, here, and here) as well as past conventions (Dragon Con 2019, Gen Con 2019 [here and here], Origins Game Fair 2019, among others). Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry

Von Ether

Seeing that pic of Brian’s memorial banner puts some dust in eye. He was sort of the Will Rogers of gaming and gone far too soon.

As the Secretary of GAMA for 20 years, he pretty much knew or helped everyone who is an industry vet. Even If his name doesn’t ring a bell with you, it’s very likely your ttRPG heroes knew him and were saddened by the news of his passing.

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