27 May 2022
Standing on the shoulders of aliens
Do you want to know who built the pyramids and pioneered the processes of agriculture? Me. Last night. Turns out all it took was some dice, some cardboard, and a friendly chat with some aliens. This is essentially the premise of Origins: First Builders, a dice worker placement game that reimagines the dawn of civilisation through an intriguing science fiction lens.
Players assume the role of archons, tasked with leading their citizens to prosperity through the acquisition of knowledge and resources from the Builders: a benevolent alien race who have popped down for a visit. As a competitive game though, only one meticulous archon will definitively steer this interplanetary relationship toward their immortalisation in the annals of mankind.
For designer Adam Kwapinksi, Origins: First Builders marks a bold shift from his tensely cinematic and immensely popular breakout hit Nemesis. Here we have an unmistakably Euro style strategy game which, at first, seems to fall immediately in line with its Board and Dice brethren, most notably the “T” series of games (Tzolk’in, Tekhenu, Tawantinsuyu) from designers Daniele Tascini, Simone Luciani, and David Turczi. Indeed, the latter provides a characteristically in-depth solo mode for the game. Ultimately though, Origins: First Builders stands on its own as a relatively accessible yet repeatedly clever take on dice placement.
Over a variable number of rounds players will be using their citizen dice and archon to visit encounter sites. Here they will gather additional citizens, materials to expand their cities, and the means to advance along the military and temple tracks in pursuit of resources, victory points, and unique powers. Visiting these sites requires sending a die (housed in a Coimbra-esque plastic base) to one of the five circular motherships, each of a different colour and randomly placed at the start of the game. Taking the associated action though will require a die value either equal to or greater than that mothership’s value, indicated by the orientation of the six embossed die faces. Placing a die of a matching colour will also grant bonus actions, encouraging players to maximise efficiency through careful planning. Motherships are subsequently rotated one step making that site increasingly more difficult to access until it loops back around.
Of course, there are means of mitigation here through the spending of knowledge tokens, but mostly this difficulty ramp up is handled by having players’ dice increase their value at the end of each round. Furthermore, on the eve of receiving their seventh pip, these aged citizens are torn from the main board to become advisors, adding the action bonuses of their colour to the initially colourless archon.
Managing and navigating this dynamic and innovative puzzle is at the heart of Origins, and thankfully it is a joy to explore. It also helps that I find this thematically hilarious. The idea of these increasingly cagey and particular extraterrestrials only doling out their knowledge to citizens of a certain intellect (or age?) before suddenly letting their guard down? Fantastic. As is imagining the smugness of players’ advisor dice as they whisper insider knowledge to their bemused archons.
Elsewhere enjoyment can be gleaned from physically arranging the building tiles – a separate puzzle requiring an adherence to particular district layouts in return for points. Building towers at the palace further adds to the puzzle, with each stacked disc sharing a colour with a dice present in players’ completed districts multiplying that die’s value at the end of the game.
There’s a fair amount of moving parts here – often literally – but overall Kwapinski’s mechanical concepts gel together wonderfully. Strategically rich, thematically interesting, Origins: First Builders is well worth a look for Euro fans.
PLAY IT? YES
A solid and innovative dice-placement game with a unique setting.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED TEOTIHUACAN: CITY OF GODS
Another dice and tile placement game and yet another fine addition to the Board & Dice catalogue.
Designer: Adam Kwapinski
Publisher: Board & Dice
Time: 60-120 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 5 Plastic motherships
- 4 Archon miniatures
- 49 Dice
- 24 Plastic dice Bases
- 20 Marker discs
- 60 Tower discs
- 83 Building tiles
- 100+ Cardboard tokens
- 12 Zodiac tiles
- 12 Zodiac cards
- 45 District cards
- 4 Player aid cards
- Game board
- 4 Unique player boards
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