Origins Game Fair: A first-timer’s strategy guide

Origins Game Fair is a really great convention, especially for designers and aspiring designers — nearly every publisher you can think of has a presence there, and many (most!) are willing to talk to just about anyone about their publishing process, what kind of things they are looking for, and occasionally able to set up ad-hoc meetings for pitching or socializing. I’ve made a ton of industry friends there: gamers, designers, media people, and publishers alike. Relationships are the lifeblood of the tabletop industry and I’m really grateful for all the ones I’ve been able to cultivate. And Origins has been one of the best ways to meet people.

I’ve been talking to some of the folks in my local designers meetup that they should get out to Columbus this summer if they can (Oh god, it burns even typing that… #GoBlue). It’s taken me a few years to really feel like I’ve got my legs under me going into ‘con season’, and all the questions they have are the same ones I had my first year, so I suspect others jumping into the game design game may have a similar experience. So here’s a little strategy guide for the run-up to Origins. Maybe I’ll do another one for how to make the most of your days there, but we’ll call that one a “survival guide” or something.

The Site…

Man oh man, the websites for some of these venerable conventions are a trip. Getting registered for Origins is only the most confusing thing you’ve ever had to figure out… until you try and get a badge for GenCon.

The top-line here, is that going through the signup process, you literally don’t need to buy anything but the convention badge, in accordance with the number of days you’re able to be in Columbus. In my experience, it’s pretty chill until Thursday evening the day the con starts, and things start winding down around Noon on Sunday. That said, I always do the “four-day badge” and don’t think too much about trying to game how many or which days attend. Ribbons, passes, and signing up for specific events… are superfluous for getting in, you don’t actually need any of that and you can still do a TON of stuff while there. But, since it’s there, here’s the rundown:

Every official event at the con costs a ticket to get into… they’ve all got different entry fees, anything from a buck or two to get into a board game session run by a leader who will teach the rules, all the way up to ~$40 for an event like True Dungeon. You can pre-buy specific events through the site, as well as “Ribbons” which are “all access passes” to a specific category of event, like… all the Werewolf events, or all the ‘board game’ events. I’ve never done one of, and they’re certainly not critical for your first time. There are also Generics, which are $2 apiece, and get you into anything, so long as it’s not already full of pre-registrants. I usually buy ten or twenty on-site with cash, and then return my few leftovers on Sunday morning (Return them early! They stop taking them back just as groupthink sets in: “Oh shit, I should return my generics!”). There’s some rank order for who gets in with registrations, ribbons, and generics; all I know is that Generics are last priority and I’ve very very rarely not been able to do an event I wanted. So, if an event looks cool, sign up for it, but I find there’s SO MUCH to do anyway, between vendor demos, other folks looking for extra players, and breweries around that… I’m 90% On-site, game-time decision Generics.

…with one exception.

Publisher speed dating.

SIGN UP FOR THIS SHIT. And while I would definitely prefer to help those coming along after me not suffer the same mistakes, here’s one time I’m nervous to do so, since it’s already really hard to get into this event and I usually end up missing it. Camp the sign up page and register for this as soon as you catch wind that it’s open.


Not gonna lie, as I post this, it’s already getting tight (for 2018), so you should be thinking about this already — the walkable hotels are mostly full, so if you’re going, get on it stat. Columbus has fully embraced Uber and Lyft, so that’s available, but can get pricy if you stay too far from the convention center. It’s also warm and muggy in Ohio that time of year, so take that into consideration as you plan your lodging, in case you think walking might be your mode de transport.


While I’ve had a bit of luck over the years wandering up and down the aisles of the vendor hall, asking publishers if they have any available time during the con for pitches, it’s far far better to get meetings set up with them ahead of time. TBH, I’m still learning the ropes here, as every publisher has their own system for scheduling — some have insider email lists of designers they notify when they open their meeting calendar, others you can email whenever and ask; but definitely be targeted, don’t just blast everyone you can find contact info for. I find many publishers to be responsive on social media, so a tweet at their official account can never hurt, additionally, asking other designers for intros to people they may know.

Make sure your designs are ready, and be honest and up front about your pitching strategy — some publishers are okay with being one among several companies to be shown a game, and some aren’t. The best way to know is to ask them.


But I can’t overlook the (IMO) most important thing at Origins — there’s an row of “Mech” simulators that you can lock yourself into a plastic cockpit like in really fancy Flight Simulator. Every year, I annoy the shit out of my friend Josh by insisting on referring to it as “playing tanks” instead of by its proper intellectual property title. I’m pretty terrible at playing tanks, and I usually choose my Mech based on which has the coolest name instead of stats, and it’s one non-tabletop thing I look forward to year after year.

If you found this post helpful, and you DO end up attending Origins, track me down by badge (“Jonathan Woodard”) or  at one of the parties, and challenge me to a game of tanks!