Origins First Builders: A four-sided review

The Origins First Builders board game is a worker placement tableau building euro game for one-to-four players. It is a complex game with lots of moving parts, but the 14+ age limit suggested is a bit steep. I’d say 12+ is fine, as there is no hidden information so you can walk players through issues as you play. It takes 2-3 hours with more than two.

The theme is a slightly odd Stargate-ish sci-fi idea, with each player building their own city via tile buying and placement. The artwork is nice without ever getting in the way, but the size of font used for the text on the tiles is laughable. You don’t use the abilities often but still, it’s barely legible.

In the box you’ll find the main game board, four small player boards, 83 building tiles, 49 dice, 61 small cards, 33 plastic pieces, 80 wooden discs, and more than 100 cardboard chits. The component quality is about average and (for me) the game looks great on the table. The resource tokens are awful, but more on that later. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £40, which is great value for a big box euro that’s crammed full of stuff.

Teaching Origins First Builders

This is an action selection game that uses dice as workers. There are five (non-contested) worker spaces, each matching the colour of a worker dice. Each space has two basic actions to choose from, plus a colour-matched one. Send a non-matching dice and you choose one of the basic actions; send one of the correct colour and you additionally get to do the colour-matched action. At the end of each round, when you take your worker dice back, they go up one number. When they reach six, they get a super turn where you do both actions – plus the coloured action, if you colour match the dice.

At the end of a round when dice were used as a six, they’re retired. They go to a special area of your board and enhance your one non-dice worker. This chap can go anywhere, anytime, and counts as every colour you’ve retired. So he starts colourless, but through the game can become very powerful – especially as he has no number restriction. You see, each of the five worker spaces has a dial numbered 1-6. Each time a worker goes there, it goes up one (or back to one, if on six). If you place a dice there with a number lower than the dial, you need to pay resources to make up the difference.

so what do these workers do?

Origins First Builders has three basic resources, plus a wild one. Every action space has an option that gives resources, and another that lets you spend them (the coloured bonus actions do all sorts). The colour positions are set at the start of each game, adding a nice level of variety. Some of them synergise nicely in certain spots, which will point more experienced players in a particular direction. But there is plenty else to consider.

Other actions allow you to open up new worker bases (that you put your dice in), take new dice, move on military/god tracks (for various bonuses and points), and buy building tiles. Building tiles (which are also in the dice colours) give you a one-off bonus when you take them. Your main aim with them is to match the patterns on (randomly selected pre-game) bonus cards. Once you have a square of four buildings, you can choose to place one of your dice into the middle to ‘close a district’. This gives you those bonus points, while also re-triggering any buildings in the district that match the dice colour.

As is the way in this post-Feld euro world, almost everything everywhere scores points. When one of several game end triggers occurs, the person who has done a bunch of stuff the most efficiently wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I do love a good worker placement game, and Origins First Builders is most certainly one of those. There’s just the right amount of random in the setup to make each game feel like a different puzzle, while every action selection feels both tricky and meaningful. And it feels very competitive, despite being largely passive.
  • The thinker: While I enjoy the game, it feels a little as if it is decided in setup. The way things come out will favour a particular strategy, and if one person spots that early and the rest don’t – forget about it. Also, two players trying to do the same thing can be particularly painful. Going for the same tile colours means they’ll likely be more expensive. While the amount of tower discs in each colour (they multiply the score of your district dice) can do for you if you compete for them. But this is a common euro issue and didn’t stop my enjoyment.
  • The trasher: When I saw the military track, I had hope! But no – it’s just another euro game, with the track being a way to score points and grab resources – but not from your opponents. The one bright spot was the multiple ways a game can end, which keeps you on your toes. Things can end really fast, so you need to be on the ball. But generally, meh. It’s OK.
  • The dabbler: I thought Origins First Builders looked pretty and colourful during setup, but more and more components kept appearing from the box! It looks overwhelming at first, but it actually plays smoothly. However, a good and/or experienced player is absolutely going to rip the rest apart. This is very much a game of skill, where the players picking and sticking to the ‘right’ paths are going to wipe the floor with us dabblers!

Key observations

Looking through naysayer comments, the same theme keeps coming up: balance. This seems to be from players who think playing a complex game once, and losing, is enough to call it unbalanced and give it a one or two out of 10. The funny thing is, read enough of the comments, and you’ll find that every single part of the game us unfairly broken and using it is an unbeatable strategy. As mentioned above, every game plays differently and you have to look for what synergises best once the game is set up. This is not going to be to everyone’s tastes, but it isn’t ‘broken’ – it’s a feature, not a bug.

The flipside to this is that if two players see that killer strategy, and compete over it, someone else can benefit greatly and trump them both. Stubbornness isn’t going to help, and while it’s relatively easy to pivot – you’re of course leaving the other person with the golden ticket.

The theme is pretty stupid and barely implemented – but I didn’t care at all. And while the text on the buildings is unreadable without picking one up and staring at it, it isn’t actually a big deal. These bonuses are small and you’re unlikely to be taking tiles for them – you’ll be taking them for the colour. As there is only one tile of each colour in the market at any time, you’ll be taking it when you can afford to. I feel players who complain about this are rather missing the point of the tiles.

Generally I liked the components, which made the terrible resource tokens even harder to fathom. There are two few, they’re small, but worse they look pretty similar. Each fiddly token has a small whitey/yellowy symbol on a grey background, making them incredibly easy to muddle up. And in a game where resource management tends to be a big part of winning, this is an issue. It sounds small, but is incredibly frustrating. If I find myself playing a lot, I expect I’ll upgrade them – but I hate that it feels I need to, rather than want to.

Conclusion: Origins First Builders

Origins First Builders is a good euro game. There will be too much going on for some, while the random setup – that can create some killer combos while leaving other strategies pretty useless – is certainly not going to be for everyone. But personally, it won me over. There’s enough passive interaction to keep you looking around the table, lots of snappy actions making short meaningful turns, while both strategy and tactics are important as the board situation is constantly subtly changing. A keeper for me.

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