Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Andrea Mainini


No. of Players:
2 - 4



The first announcements about the new MATAGOT game Origin sounded like the game would fall into the class of typical Civilization-games: "The greatest adventure of all time: Mankind's expansion. Starting in Africa, the world's cradle, explore the entire planet, improve your knowledge and progress on the evolution scale." Upon reading this introduction experienced gamers will suspect conflicts, different types of units, technical developments and growing empires, and indeed all these topics are lightly touched by the rules of Origin. However, despite these superficial similarities the game is much more abstract, and so it cannot really be categorized into the same group as games as Civilization, History of the World or Mare Mediterraneum.

The gameboard used in Origin shows a rough drawing of the whole world, with all continents being split into several regions and some connections between the continents. These connections have to be marked with Straits tokens, and some regions on all continents will be assigned a random Hunting token. The map itself is centered on Africa, and here all expansion starts since only one region in the center of Africa is occupied by a small, slim pawn at the beginning of the game. The nature of the pawn has been described here, because the game features pawns of three different colours, sizes and widths. The common pawn stockpile features pawns with all possible combinations of these three attributes, so that a total of 27 different pawns exists. Most of these pawns are unique, with the exception that the 9 medium height pawns are available twice if the game is played with four players.

As indicated, one of the weakest and smallest pawns of a random colour has been placed at central Africa at the beginning of the game, and the players now may use their turns to place one of their villages together with a pawn from the common stockpile into regions neighboring a region which already contains a pawn. This action is called "evolution", and this term describes the action rather well because the newly placed pawn must share at least two characteristics of a pawn in a neighboring region. So, the newly placed pawn may have a different colour, height or width, but not more than one of these characteristics may change. In addition, evolution does not reverse, and so a change of height or width of the new pawn may only lead to an increase of one step, but never to a decrease.

Here it must be kept in mind that this basic action of evolution by nature is limited by the pawns available in the common stockpile, so that the choice of available pawns is more and more restricted as the game goes on. For the players evolution is the key to some different objectives, so that a Hunting token may be taken if they expand into a region featuring such a token, or a Straits token may claimed if a player has placed villages on both sides of a strait. In addition, the colour of each region allows a player who has made a placement there to draw a specific kind of reward, ranging from Innovation tiles to Action cards, Permanent cards and Objective cards which are arranged in face-down piles next to the gameboard.

In order to make the drawing of cards slightly less random, a player who claims cards as a reward always takes three cards from the corresponding drawing pile to his hand, and then he will have to return two cards of the same kind to the bottom of the deck. As can be guessed, the different types of cards can be used for different purposes. So, an Action card allows a one-time benefit during the game, whereas an Objective card lists some conditions which the player may fulfill in order to gain some additional victory points at the end of the game. The Permanent cards offer a lasting benefit, but a player can only activate such a card if he has at least one Innovation tile of the level indicated on the card. This brings us to the Innovation tiles, and despite their name and small graphics of inventions all that matters about these tiles is their level. The players may collect Invention tiles in ascending order, meaning that a new tile only can be taken if it can be placed upon an already acquired tile with a lower level. As indicated, these tiles allow the activation of Permanent cards, but in addition the highest levels of all Invention tiles in a player's possession also will contribute to a player's final score at the end of the game.

So far all developments on the gameboard have been driven simply by the "evolution" action which allowed players to place new villages and pawns into regions neighboring already occupied regions. However, the players also have the possibility of movement (called "migration" in gaming terms), and depending on a pawn's height a player may use his action to move one of his villages together with its pawn for a range of one to three regions. Like evolution, migration also allows the active player to collect the benefits of his newly occupied region, and here some first observations about playing strategies in Origin become visible. So, it may be sensible for a player to place a village with a big (both in height and width) pawn into the borderland region of the gameboard, and from this basis the player may move around in order to collect some benefits from the gameboard. Other players will find it difficult to make a placement by evolution next to this pawn because of the restricted stockpile of pawns, and so they would have to bring in their pawns by movement which might prove to be too time-consuming.

A third type of action available to the players is "swapping", but behind this term hide the real conflicts in the game. So, a player may make a migration-type movement into a region already occupied by a different player's village and pawn, and if the active player has a stronger (bigger in width) pawn than the current inhabitant of the region a swap will be initiated, forcing the village and pawn of the current inhabitant to go back into the region where the active player's pawn came from. This type of action allows a player to get strategic control of important regions, so that the valuable Straits tokens can be collected or continents can be sealed off.

The game ends when the card decks, the Innovation tiles, the pawns or all players' villages have been used up, and now the players will calculate their final scores based on Objective cards, Hunting and Straits tokens, Innovation tiles and Permanent cards.

With the different types of cards and the "strength"-based solution of conflicts Origin reminds slightly of the much older 2-player game Hellas by KOSMOS. However, these similarities are only superficial, since Origin offers a much deeper and more balanced playing experience. Indeed, the challenge found in the game caused MATAGOT to include a set of streamlined "junior" rules, since despite their seemingly manageable volume the full rules feature a game of great strategic depth where the interaction of all elements must be understood properly. As said at the beginning of this review, the level of abstraction in Origin is much higher than in other Civilization-games, but author Andrea Mainini actually succeeded in creating one of these rare gaming gems where an abstract set of rules is carried by enough story elements to satisfy theme-based gamers. With this game MATAGOT is once again living up to its fame of creating unusual boardgames!

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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany