This is Hardcore

Having managed 10 plays of 10 games by mid-autumn in 2016, and by the summer of 2017 (final tally, 23 games played 10+ times), I decided to step up the challenge slightly for 2018.

For those doing the ‘official’ 10×10 challenge on Boardgame Geek, there are 2 basic ways to play it – normal, which is what I’ve done for the last couple of years (although I don’t actually log plays on BGG), and hardcore.

Whereas with the normal challenge, you play games, then write down what you played, hardcore requires you to name 10 games in advance, then play them ten times – if you are organised, and only finalise your list part-way into the year, then only plays after the list is confirmed can count.

I thought that this was quite an interesting way to think about the future, and decided to do it.

ArkhamStorageArkham LCG and Zombicide were the first and probably the easiest to put on the list – if I don’t play these 10 times, something seismic will have changed. I decided to keep “Zombicide” as a single, cover-all term – it’s definitely possible that I’ll manage 10 plays of Black Plague and 10 of Green Horde, but chances are, I’ll end up mixing a lot of the stuff together.

LegaciesWe’d just finished February in our Pandemic Legacy Season 1 campaign when New Year rolled around, so barring a premature death (don’t even know if that’s a thing that can happen), that’s got at least another 10 games left in it, and to follow, we have Pandemic Legacy Season 2. I was slightly concerned that it might be seen as a con to count these as 2 separate entries, so ultimately decided to just list them once – Assuming I managed ten sessions of each, it should be fairly safe to have this ticking 1 box, whichever way you measure it.

AE-WE-KSLord of the Rings LCG has been steadily dwindling over the past few years, but I’m still pretty confident that it will get to the table 10 times. Aeon’s End hasn’t had quite as much table-time as I thought it might since we got the expansions, but it should still manage 10 without too much difficulty.

MassiveLegendary is always a perennial favourite, and Massive Darkness has only just finished the core box play-through, leaving much left to explore, including the new Ratlings I got for Christmas.

Elder Sign has been one of the steadiest games of 2017, and with a new expansion due in early 2018 , this should be another fairly easy 10.

How to round out the list was a bit of a puzzle – Eldritch Horror was a plausible candidate but committing to play a 2 ½ hour game 10+ times seemed risky. Dice Masters, L5R and Runewars are all too dependant on getting out of the house and finding opponents.

Streets-of-Arkham-Box
We’re still playing through the scenarios from the last expansion

In the end I went for Mansions of Madness as my 10th – there are still a couple of scenarios we’ve never beaten, plus 1 we haven’t tried yet, and 2 which are DLC and I haven’t shelled out the necessary fiver.

The last entry on the list was a late(ish) addition when I decided to only count Pandemic Legacy once. Gloomhaven will probably be slow and steady rather than a sudden rush of plays, but I think we’ll comfortably have plenty more than 10 by the time the year is out.

So, the final list looks like this:

  1. Arkham Horror LCG
  2. Zombicide
  3. Pandemic Legacy
  4. LotR LCG
  5. Legendary
  6. Aeon’s End
  7. Elder Sign
  8. Massive Darkness
  9. Mansions of Madness
  10. Gloomhaven

 

Although I’m only getting round to posting this now, I had finalised the list by the time New Year rolled around, meaning I’ve already clocked up 8 counting plays towards 100 needed.

I’ll continue doing my monthly updates in 2018, but will give a special mention to how these 10 are faring.

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Just 17

A final look back at just the stuff which happened last year

 

Despite everything else that went on, 2017 was a good year for gaming. Over 750 sessions totalling almost 700 hours (should have played that final NYE game of Zombie Dice to tip me over the mark…).

That’s actually more hours than last year, although fewer games (and A LOT less TV to free up the time) In terms of what we had to play, there was a big stack of new games, plenty of new bits for existing games, and it was all done for only a 2-figure sum (net).

 

A – Z

A-Z Arkham Horror, new just before the end of last year, really came into its own in 2017, with the first full cycle released in its entirety, and the beginning of the next following after. It was easily the most-played game by number of sessions, clocking up over 60 outings.

In terms of time spent on a game, Zombicide retained its crown: although not quite as emphatic as last year, it hit the 100-hour mark, with Arkham in second barely clearing 50. A worthy winner overall.

Wide

2017 was a broader year than 2016, and a MUCH broader year than 2015. The top 10 games accounted for only 57% of overall gaming time, down from 66% last year, and 88% the year before (in fact, in 2015, the top 4 alone made up 79% of time). Whilst there was less of an intense focus on the top games, it did mean that for every position after 7th, I had more hours on the nth game than its counterparts from either of the previous years.

CanvasAt the final reckoning, I had an H-Index of 14 (that’s 14 games played 14 times) – Arkham LCG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Zombicide, Legendary, Aeon’s End, Elder Sign, Massive Darkness, Dominion, Pathfinder, Dice Masters, Eldritch Horror, Dungeon Time, Beyond Baker Street and Legend of the Five Rings. A further 9 managed at least 10 plays: Runewars, Mansions of Madness, Battle for Greyport, Runebound, Star Wars Destiny, The Dwarves, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Pandemic Iberia, and Apocrypha.

Of those games, Destiny has now moved on, and Dice Masters has gone into hibernation, with the death locally of organised play, to the point where I have no intention of buying into new sets, (a decision which in turn more-or-less removes any point to attending the Open events which crop up once a year). This is basically in storage until Ned is old enough to join in. Most of the remaining 21 I’d be confident of getting a fair amount of play next year.

 

My all-time H-Index is up at 19 – Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, Arkham LCG, Game of Thrones LCG, Dominion, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness, Mapominoes, Aeon’s End, Beyond Baker Street, Machi Koro, Massive Darkness, Zombie Dice, Yggdrasil, Eldritch Horror, Dobble. Again, “all-time” is reduced to “Christmas 2014 onwards” as that’s when I started keeping records. Probably if I stretched it back a few years more it would go 2 or 3 higher, but I’m fairly happy with this as a reference point.

 

Show me the Money

Shortfallers
I didn’t actually spend anything on Apocrypha in 2017, but it was the year it arrived, and hasn’t balanced out its 2015 purchase-price

I actually spent around £100 more on games this year than last: However, the fact that I more than doubled the amount I made in games sold smoothed over this bump fairly comfortably. I could probably have forced the final balance even lower than the £96.35 it ended up at, by using GQ store credit for more Legend of the Five Rings packs, but as this is a game I’ll be playing exclusively at the FLGS (and haven’t yet had to pay anything to play there), I felt somewhat obliged to at least be buying the packs from them.

Although 2017 was good overall from a financial perspective, there were a few individual offenders. Gloomhaven, Shadows of Brimstone, and Apocrypha were all one-off big-hitters that are still some way short of the hours needed to justify the expense. Pandemic Legacy Season 1 ended up as a Christmas present, leaving me only 6 days to try to make up the deficit: I don’t think it was a bad attempt, but inevitably it took a little longer (less than a week in to January, I’m nearly there).  Legend of the Five Rings hit me hard in the wallet with a content-dump early on, and whilst it was played intensively enough to break even, I‘m hoping that this will start to look like better value during the upcoming lull in the release schedule.

OldShortsThere are also still 3 games from previous years that show a deficit: Commands and Colours, Race for the Galaxy and Dixit: Dixit is incredibly close to catching up, and Race is not too far behind. Commands and Colours still has a way to go, and will probably need to wait until Ned is old enough to play to truly catch up.

Looking only at games with an individual historic shortfall, the grand total is £50 or so better than it was at the start of the year, but it’s a long way back up from September, where I was close to breaking even. The numbers are a bit funny right now, with Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven double-counting, all-time, and all-time by player count – on the flip side, this does mean that each game improves the overall numbers by £15-30 for a single 2-player game!

 

Most Improved

ArkhamStorage
Custom storage is generally a pretty good sign of a game that’s made its mark

As I mentioned during the numbers run-down, Arkham Horror was a really big hit last year. I already knew that it was a game that had a lot of potential from when it released in 2016, and I’m pleased to say that it has delivered. The character development, deck-building, scenario design and campaign progression have all hit the right notes. I’m a little way behind on the game at moment, but that’s a price worth paying for getting a lot of the new content from GQ – I look forward to seeing what 2018 has in store.

Eld-GamesHonourable mentions go to Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign – Eldritch arrived in a maths trade November 2016. We’ve gone a long-way in on expansions, and been rewarded with our 3rd most-played game of the year by time. Elder Sign has undergone a strong renaissance since going un-played in 2015, whilst, and the only game to keep up a serious challenge for the accolade of “played in every single month” before falling at the penultimate hurdle. In the end, Zombicide and Elder Sign were the games played in the most months (11/12 each), with Arkham just behind on 10.

A few games which I acquired part-way through the year were played in every month I had them – for the most recent acquisitions, that’s nothing much to shout about, but the longest streaks chalked up in this way were 5 months out of 5 for Massive Darkness, and 4/4 for Codenames Duet.

Notable Achievers for Most Months Played:

Zombicide                        11/12
Elder Sign                         11/12
Arkham                             10/12
LotR LCG                            9/12
Eldritch                              9/12
Legendary                         8/12
Aeon’s End                         8/11
Dungeon Time                   8/10
Mansions of Madness      8/12
Massive Darkness             5/5
Codenames Duet               4/4

 

Best Newcomer

In terms of games that were actually new in 2017, there was plenty to choose from: Aeon’s End, Massive Darkness, and Legend of the Five Rings were the big-hitters from among the 2017 releases, although there were plenty of other fun new arrivals – Runewars gave me some more to paint as well as getting me out of the house to game, Dungeon Time, Battle for Greyport, Codenames Duet, and Gloom of Kilforth all showed a decent amount of staying power, whilst Gloomhaven and Dragonfire were interesting late arrivals, albeit games that were with us too briefly to compete for the top accolades. I decided that “Newcomer” did need to be an actual 2017 release, which knocked out Runebound, Descent, Shadows of Brimstone and a few others.

MassFigsMassive Darkness is lots of fun, and has loads of nice miniatures to paint (I’m working through them slowly): I think it’s a testament to the amount of fun in this game that, even with the deluge of figures that comes with a Kickstarter, I ended up asking Santa for more (I opted for the Ratlings as they seemed to offer the most variety game-play wise, although that Hellephant is still calling to me…).

NewScorpionsL5R is a very different beast, one which scratches that competitive itch now that Dice Masters and Destiny have gone. Sadly I lack some combination of the natural ability, concentration and free time for practice and play-testing to get really good at the game, but I’m still enjoying it whilst it lasts. It’s nice to feel a growing sense of comprehension, of what’s going on, and how to control the situation, and I think I’ve definitely improved a lot, even whilst I continue to make lots of stupid mistakes.

MagesAeon’s End isn’t quite as much of a brain-burner as L5R, but it’s a bit more cerebral than Massive Darkness, as well as feeling like a more refined, balanced game. Set-up can be somewhat time-consuming, but it’s still a good one to play, with stats to match. There’s a “Legacy” version coming in 2018, which I can’t make my mind up about – brilliant addition or shameless cash-in. I’ll follow the campaign with a moderate amount of interest and see.

Overall, it’s hard to pick a winner between Massive Darkness, Aeon’s End and Legend of the Five Rings, as they’re all such different games, and were all so strong in the latter half of 2017: 16% of sessions, and 22% of hours since the beginning of August.

Theme

RuneboundOverall, the year was dominated by Fantasy, around 40% both in terms of hours and sessions. Within Fantasy, a good quarter of the action took place in Terrinoth, with notable chunks in Middle Earth and Gravehold (Aeon’s End). I finally tired of the biggest group always being “generic” and you can read about the changes I made here.

In terms of what we did this past year, we were mostly completing quests, solving mysteries, or saving the world, although there was a fair amount of just surviving.

 

Looking forward

17Hangovers I’m not entirely sure what 2018 has in store – there’s likely to be a lot of Pandemic in various shapes and forms, with Legacy 1, Legacy 2 and Rising Tide which were all sitting unopened on Christmas Day 2017, but have clocked up double-figures of play by the first weekend in January. Zombicide Green Horde looks set to be the 2018 new arrival that has the biggest impact, with the base game due fairly early in the year, and a stack of expansion/KSE content coming in the summer. 2018 will also be arrival time for Legends Untold, expansions for Apocrypha, the fabled 9th World, and the expansion to Gloom of Kilforth. Aside from the new arrivals, there are also games where we’ve barely scratched the surface – Gloomhaven in particular has a lot left to unpack, and I’m still trying to make my mind up about Dragonfire.

Some games which made a significant impact in 2017 will probably be a fair bit quieter in 2018: there have been recent mutterings of Dice Masters drafts starting up again (including one over the Christmas break when we were away visiting family), but otherwise I could see this spending the year in complete hibernation. Pathfinder likewise feels a bit dated, and may well struggle to see much table-time.

Firefly
2 plays in 3 years, things aren’t looking good…

This year, I think the amount of money made from sales will drop significantly again. Although I did make a fair amount last year from selling on review games that I didn’t think were going to be long-term hits, a large chunk (probably the majority) still came from clearing out old games that weren’t getting played any more – the more time goes on, the leaner the game collection gets in terms of un-playable games. Common sense says I’ll need to rein in my spending a fair way in order to keep things looking healthy, but if I compare my collection to where I was 2 years ago, it’s a lot easier to see extensive possibilities for things I’d want to play without forking out too much on new stuff.

The only real certainty is that 2018 should be another year with plenty of gaming and a fair-amount of number-crunching. I hope you’ll keep coming back to read my assorted musings on everything that goes on.

 

Plenty of Crackers and Not too Many Turkeys – December Round-up

December has always been the red-headed step-child of the monthly recaps, being largely ignored in favour of the annual run down. I decided to do something about that, with this lightning recap, whilst I work up the annual run-down for the end of the week.

PallidMask
The scariest monsters don’t always have tentacles…

As feels only fitting around Christmas, December saw a good strong focus on old favourites, with all the top 6 games getting table-time: Legendary dominated the early days of the month with 9 games (7 in the first weekend), and there was also a return for Elder Sign as we ran up against Cthulhu himself – even managing to seal him away at the second attempt. Arkham LCG got its obligatory share of table-time, buoyed by the arrival of some new packs to kick off the Carcosa cycle and an OP event, there was plenty of Zombicide, a bit of LotR (although the OP event was cancelled) and Aeon’s End continued to tick along.

Mansions of Madness went very quiet over the summer but started to pick up over the autumn, and came back strongly this month as we attempted the scenarios from the latest expansion with varying levels of success. On New Year’s Eve, we finally managed a successful Escape from Innsmouth (well, my character got torn apart by monsters, but everyone else made it out…)

L5R was a bit quieter than in previous months, but still got played a few times, keeping just ahead of a punishing release schedule in the value stakes.

Pandemics DecemberDecember was a big month for all things Pandemic – there were odd sessions of Iberia and Cthulhu, but the big hitters were both new arrivals, with Santa bringing me Legacy Season 1, and Rising Tide arriving for review. Both really interesting titles which deserve to have more said on them later.

Although, in keeping with Christmas, December was mostly about the Greatest Hits, we still had a few more novel games getting played.

This War of Mine is a truly remarkable game: it’s fantastically well-crafted, but dark and depressing at the same time – in many ways this just does too good a job of capturing life as civilian trapped in a modern-day siege. It’s definitely a game designed to play over multiple sessions, and we decided that we needed a break before taking this any further. If you haven’t already, do look at the review I wrote for this.

GloomNed
baby not actually included with Gloomhaven…

Dragonfire and Gloomhaven were the new games I wanted to get to the table (I’d played them solo in November, but hadn’t managed to inflict them on family or friends), and I managed with a limited degree of success. Dragonfire is, apparently, slightly easier than its predecessor Shadowrun: Crossfire, but still feels brutally tough. We got completely smashed on our first multi-player attempt, and definitely still have some way to go to master this one. Gloomhaven was again, basically a dry-run, and most of the real exploring of this will come in 2018.

Themes and Mechanics

In terms of what got played, there was a typically high level of Lovecraft, Fantasy and Zombies on display. “Historical” was the surprise entry into the upper echelons, tying with Comics for time, and edging it out by sessions.

We had a good amount of mystery solving and good old-fashioned survival, but once again, it was Pandemic which provided the shift, as “Save the World” broke into the top categories.

That’s about all for the December re-cap. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with the overall 2017 run-down.

Some Generic Thoughts on Fantasy

As readers of my regular monthly updates will know, “Fantasy” is a big enough chunk of our ongoing gameplay that I often break it down, so that we can see exactly how much time has been spent in Middle Earth, Terrinoth, or whichever other place we’ve been this time.

More often than not, though, a dominant category is “generic” – a term which conceals as much as it communicates. I decided then to have a dig into what exactly I meant by this.

 

Sometimes, generic is used where I just hadn’t gotten round to finding out where things were. Mistfall, for example, takes place in a land called Valskyrr. Having spent a mighty 2 hours on that particular game this year (before getting rid of it), lumping this in with generic is probably not a big deal. I don’t know where Near and Far is set – I’m pretty sure it’s the same place as Above and Below but, having sold the game, I’m in no rush to track it down.

 

The DwarvesIn other places it’s laziness. Lots of games start under generic, then get moved later. I moved The Dwarves from Generic to Girdelgard once it felt big enough as a category to care about. Not having played D&D this year, I haven’t moved it from Generic to “Forgotten Realms” – but will probably do so next year, once Dragonfire gets this category moving. Gloom of Kilforth is long overdue a push from Generic to… you’ve guessed it – Kilforth!

Sometimes laziness gets blurred with trying to keep things tidy. Obviously, Arcadia Quest takes place in Arcadia. The sensible thing to do would be to categorise it appropriately, but have Arcadia counted under “other” in the final analysis – that’s a change I can make now.

 

Generic FantasySome settings, of course, truly are generic: Braggart or Dungeon Time are so light on detail, that it would be impossible to really guess anything much about where they belong. Dungeon Time can probably go into a Low/Historical sub-group, but I really don’t think that there’s a sensible alternative for Braggart.

Munchkin, if I had to push, I’d probably go for “meta-Fantasy” as this is a setting that’s both very self-aware, and more concerned with mocking tropes than building an immersive experience.

Gloomhaven is a city. Does the land it is set in have a name? probably! Now that Gloomhaven is actually getting played, this is something to check.

B-Sieged is very much its own setting, and couldn’t really be confused with most other Fantasy games we play. That said, I’m not convinced that the even the city has a name, let alone the country.

Greyport- Red Dragon
If you look closely there might be one or two clues that this is linked to Red Dragon Inn

Lastly, some of the biggest games within Fantasy are in places that are hard to pin down. Massive Darkness in particular does a good sweep of narrative fluff, without ever giving you the slightest clue that you could use to name the world in which the game is set. Battle for Greyport is set in the same world as the Red Dragon Inn games, and Slugfest games have pulled together a remarkable amount of lore on the place, but it still doesn’t have a name.

An Ongoing Mistake

DominionPolish
I’m sure everyone’s seen the standard Dominion art a thousand times, so I found this nice image of the Polish edition

Dominion gives us lots of information about the setting, but in a rather evasive fashion – is this a Low Fantasy setting (Europe + Magic) or is it its own land, tantalisingly stripped of any key identifying features? I started a BGG thread asking that very question, and got a lot of interesting and undecided speculation before Donald X Vaccharino himself stepped in.

It turns out that Dominion doesn’t have a Fantasy setting at all – it’s simply Europe, mostly Late-Medieval / Early-Early Modern period, although with some outliers (Roman stuff in Empires, Age of Exploration in Seaside). Anything magical/fantastical and the like is simply folklore and popular superstition.

Well, that told me. Dominion is removed, not only from “Generic” but from Fantasy as a whole. The true genre here, is “historical

 

 

If you don’t have something useful to say…

I putting this piece together, I posted a number of threads on BGG for various games, asking if anyone knew the names of the worlds / anything concrete about the setting.

Some of the responses were… less than helpful, shall we say.

For “Where is Dominion set?” I got

“my Dominion set is in a wooden box in my living room”

For “I know the city is called Gloomhaven, but does the wider world have a name?” I got

“Planet Bob.”

I guess I shouldn’t really have been surprised by the Dominion query – every internet forum eventually turns into another Dominion storage solution discussion…

 

Final Picture

Fantasy CategoriesDoing a little bit of tweaking like this makes things look better: Generic is now only 14% of sessions, 20% of time. “Other” sits at 4%, ensuring that we haven’t just muddled things by sliding stuff from one category to another.

70-80% of that “generic” time is Massive Darkness. Insofar as it belongs anywhere, you could argue for this sharing a universe with Zombicide, due to the official cards which allows characters to cross-over between the games. However, I’ve got Zombicide classed under “Zombies” rather than Fantasy and, although the similarities are there, there are definite differences in tone between the games that make me dubious about dragging them together.

It’s quite possible that eventually, I’ll end up creating “Massive Darkness” or “Gloomhaven” as their own categories. For now though, I’m happy that I’ve got things a little bit less muddled.

World Enough and Time

What gets played

In 2015, I played a grand total of 58 games, 30 of which I actually owned, the rest belonging to friends, or being the odd session at a local gaming meet-up (none of them played more than 3 times). 28 of my own games were un-played.

In 2016, I played 90 different games, 73 of which I owned (at least at some point during the year). Only 2 of my own games were un-played by the time the year reached its end.

Legacy2
Season 2 – probably best played after Season 1

In 2017, so far, I’ve played 90 games. By this time, things seem to be getting very tight, with 81 being games I’d owned, at least at some point. Currently 9 games I own are un-played. (although 1 of those is stuck in a chronological queue, and another only arrived this morning).

What arrives

In 2015, I owned 58 games. I think only 2 of those were new acquisitions (Machi Koro enjoyed medium-term, moderate popularity, and Marvel Legendary was a smash hit which continues to enjoy success).

In 2016, I acquired 31 new games. I think six of them I bought/traded for – Arkham LCG, Zombie Dice, Legendary Firefly, Eldritch Horror, Super Dungeon Explore, Side Quest (A couple of hits, a miss or two, and the rest somewhere in middle). The vast majority of games were free, review copies (although I then spent a fair whack on expansions).

2017 Buys In 2017, I have so far acquired 31 new games. 4 Bought (Rune Age, Runebound, Shadows of Brimstone, Legend of the 5 Rings), 2 traded for Review games (Descent, Robinson Crusoe), 3 Kickstarters (Massive Darkness, Apocrypha, Gloomhaven), and the remaining 22 all reviews (depending on perspective, you could probably move L5R more from ‘bought’ to ‘review’ as GQ sent me 1 core set, and I bought another myself). I’m expecting one more game from Santa.

What goes away

I don’t think that I sold any games in 2015. In 2016, I sold 18. This year, I have sold 25, plus some excess bits of a few others.

 

Consequences

All of this leads to a number of different things.

SplitShelfie
I now have to turn through 180 degrees to take a Shelfie

For one thing, by my count, I now own about 69 games. That’s slightly less than at the peak of last year, but very little of what remains are games that don’t see at least some interest in being played. If I round it to a very conservative pool of 65 “play-worthy” games, that’s a long way up on 2015, where it was more like 40. [40 is a slightly arbitrary number based on 1) “games I owned and played” + 2) “games I owned, didn’t play, still own, and have played in the meantime.”]

On average, I’d guess that a lot of the games that get played now are also longer than in 2015. That’s quite hard to confirm/quantify, as I didn’t keep time-based data that far back, but there are definitely indicators. I can say for certainty that 75% of 2015 sessions were on 3 games with half-hour play-times, and the next 10% of sessions were on games that have a 45-minute play-time.

Compare that to this year where around 11% of sessions have been on games with 2+ hour play-times, and another 22% on games with 1 hour or 1-and-a-half hour times, then it starts to look fairly clear.

 

So: More games. Longer games. More of the games I have are games I want to play. That all sounds good, right? Plenty to keep me occupied.

Well, sort of.

Nederoo
I was sure I had a more recent picture of him in this thing…

As I may have mentioned once or twice, we also had a baby earlier this year. Ned likes to play. His favourite game is “insert whatever I can reach into my mouth,” but he’s also happy to play a bit of “Bash this thing I’m holding on the high-chair” or “Kick and flail wildly.” He finds Peepo hilarious, but I’m not sure how well he understands the rules.

Ned’s feelings on other people playing games are mixed. Sometimes he’s quite happy playing on the floor with his toys, or in the baby abandonment console jumperoo. Sometimes he’s asleep, or out. Sometimes I’m out gaming at the FLGS and he’s at home.

NederooChristmas
update 23/12 – that’s better. He’s even looking at the camera for this one…

Sometimes though, he wants feeding, or entertaining. Sometimes, he just needs cuddling because he woke up alone in his cot, and had an existential crisis that he might be the only human being left alive. Either that, or he’d just done a massive poo. Sometimes he’s ill, and nobody gets any sleep for days at a time.

Either way, there’s a whole new set of things we have to do with the waking hours (and the “sleeping” hours), and ultimately that means less time for gaming.

A couple of months back (it was “last week” when I started writing this article, which tells its own story…) we started a game on a Saturday. At 9.15 on Sunday evening we finished it. The game probably only took 2 hours all-told, but finding 2 hours uninterrupted is not something that can be guaranteed these days.

 

Reviewer It’s certainly not in my plan to stop doing review work (reviews being my principal source of new games). It’s interesting to keep on top of the newest releases, and this is a remarkably cost-effective way of doing so. Sometimes it’s a money-saver for games I would have got anyway, but more often it’s trying something that I otherwise wouldn’t. That said, the hour or two of writing time, and – more to the point, the hour or two of photographing and formatting is a bigger chunk of life than it used to be. I need to think carefully about what I ask for, take slightly fewer ‘risks’ with unknown games than before (and accept that no more how rich the narrative or beautiful the art, my wife won’t enjoy a worker-placement game).

 

Thinking Big

The other thing about having ever-more constricted time – whether that because there are fewer hours to game in, or simply because there are more games competing for that time – is that it makes taking on a new gaming project something that needs more consideration.

Big5 2017 Zombicide, Arkham Horror LCG, Eldritch Horror, Massive Darkness, Legendary – 2017’s 5 most-played games by time. 3 of them were new last year, 1 new this year.

In order to play those, other things have got pushed aside, but even then, the space is compressed.

If I spent £100 on a big game a couple of years ago, it wouldn’t have been too tricky to find time to get it to the table – 76% of this year’s play-time was on games that I’ve acquired in the past 2 years. If I look at Shadows of Brimstone, my most recent purchase, the 6 hours of table-time it’s clocked up so far, would have been enough for a top-ten place in 2015’s “most played games” – for 2017, it’s hovering just outside the top 25. Nowadays, a game doesn’t just need to be good, it needs to be good enough that I’d want (at least sometimes) to play it rather than a stack of other top titles. That has a couple of implications – for one thing, it’s harder to get a new game up to the required number of hours, and if it does, it likely comes at the expense of another game.

Now, obviously, one approach would be to stop spending money on new games altogether. Just play the things I have, and the things I get given. My Old vs New spreadsheet tells me that money spent on expanding old games tends to be far more efficient in £/hour than money spent on new games.

I’m not going to do that. I’m far too much of a magpie to just let shiny things pass me by. I also don’t think that 4 or 5 new games purchased a year is particularly excessive. That said, it definitely has to give me pause, when I think about doing something really stupid, like spending $350 on a Kickstarter…

 

Overspend

One of the metrics I’ve been looking at more recently, is “overspend” – essentially looking at what % of spending a game accounts for, and what % of game-time. Where the spend % exceeds the game-time %, that’s an “overspend.” As with most things I do with game-stats, I’ve broken it down into the current year and “all-records” (i.e. since Christmas 2014).

AllZombicide
Actually, the big spend is the Green Horde Kickstarter

Overspend is not without its issues as a metric: a lot of games don’t get anything spent on them at all – anything that’s a review and I haven’t bought expansions for, or anything bought more than 3 years ago. If 30% of gaming is on games with no spend, then that’s 30% of overspend to be spread amongst the games that do cost something. As such, my first calculations came out as a bit of a mess: Zombicide (2016 and 2017’s most-played game by hours) ended up 7% in the red! Any metric which makes Zombicide look like poor value clearly needs tweaking.

I decided instead to create sub-sheets, looking at time spent playing only games that have had money spent on them. When I exclude games with no spend, I’m left with a zero-sum set of over-spend values, and numbers which look like they make a lot more sense.

GloomNedFor 2017 only, Gloomhaven and Shadows of Brimstone are the big losers, just behind Legend of the 5 Rings. Runewars and (perhaps surprisingly) Lord of the Rings LCG are also 2-3% in the red. Best value were Eldritch Horror (which combined low-cost and high hours), Zombicide (lots of money, but even more hours), and Descent (about as cheap as you can get without being free).

DiceMastersSkulking
skulking in shame

Moving to “all-time” the numbers have slightly more guesswork involved, but I think the overall shape is about right – Dice Masters is the stand-out culprit, at a shocking 6% overspend, the Gloomhaven at 2.61% and everything else under 2. At the other end, Eldritch and Pathfinder look reasonably healthy, but Zombicide is the runaway winner, 6.25% more play time than spend.

Pathfinder Remembering
Remembering the Glory Days

This was a slightly unusual set of numbers to crunch, and there were 1 or 2 surprises – with Pathfinder so out-of-favour at the moment, it’s odd to think of it as 2nd-best value overall during the last 3 years, but when I look at how it dominated our dining table in 2015, it makes sense. With this being a zero-sum calculation, games that look bad now can only improve at the expense of others, and it will be interesting to see how this ebbs and flows, particularly in terms of games that have now moved on, and will gradually account for a smaller-and-smaller share of both the time and the spend.

 

Closing Thoughts

Again, this is a reflection piece that hasn’t necessarily gone anywhere. We live in a golden age of board-gaming, and sometimes that means being spoiled for choice: in the absence of common-sense and restraint, an excess of spread-sheets and blog articles looks like a decent way of keeping the game collection in check. I’m sure that my game collection and gaming habits will continue to evolve, as free time ebbs and flows, and Ned eventually reaches an age where he can join in. Hopefully all of this will lead to enough interesting things to keep saying about games to keep this blog ticking over.

 

Kicks of Future Past

A few weeks back, I did a retrospective look at the “value” of all the Kickstarter projects that I’ve been involved in during the past year. It turned into a bit of a monster, leaving no space for me to muse on what comes next. The plan was to look next at the Kickstarters I was thinking about backing – sadly, by the time I had the article written, all of those campaigns had ended. Instead then, this is another reflection: what drew me to those campaigns, and what ultimately put me off.

 

Forbidden Fortress

First up – Shadows of Brimstone: Forbidden Fortress.

Forbidden Fortress I was alerted to Shadows of Brimstone during Massive Darkness discussions. Another game that put fun ahead of precision rules-crafting, SoB was cited as a good way to do character progression and an engaging overall campaign.

I investigated the already-released Shadows of Brimstone games: 2 core sets and many expansions in a Weird West setting. I managed to get hold of one – eventually. Lots of fans online though pointed me towards the chance to late-pledge for the inter-compatible, standalone, Samurai-themed version, due in early 2018.

Even having just picked up the Western version, I was still tempted by the pseudo-Japanese option. Samurai, Monsters, options to play as a Kitsune (fox-person) or an umbrella-wielding Geisha. Have a monkey as an ally. What’s not to like?

Positive aside though, the Forbidden Fortress Kickstarter was a hard sell. For one thing, the KS options range from “very big” to “very, very, big” – and the ‘smaller’ option doesn’t include the Kistune, the Geisha or the Monkey!

MonkeyThe Kickstarter promises great value: based on the publisher’s estimates, $125 gets you $375 worth of stuff, or $350 gets you $835 worth (plus exclusives, of which there are more at the higher level, obviously).

Big savings! ($200ish and $480ish) IF you buy everything later. But it begs the question – do you need anywhere near as much stuff as the pledge includes?? Savings against a fictional total are irrelevant. If the game only needs a single core and one expansion, then over-spending on hundreds of extra figures is a bad deal, not a good one.

On top of that, even if all of the stuff does add to the gameplay experience, and you need all of it, $350 is a hell of a lot of money. It would make Shadows of Brimstone instantly one of the most expensive games I own, behind only a very select list of titles that have been played for hundreds and hundreds of hours over many years. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a game, to justify a bigger spend than Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness, all in one fell swoop.

Cost aside, the Wild West Shadows of Brimstone Kickstarter has been a nightmare: long delays and poor communication seem to be taken as standard, and lots of stuff hasn’t delivered, years after the base game hit retail. Frustration I’ll get over eventually, but if the game arrives 3 years late, then we’re back into the Apocrypha scenario, where I might not want to play any more games of that ilk.

BrimstoneTown
After each scenario you have a travel event, then visit this town, with 7 different places to visit, and a range of events and items available at each one.

Having spent much of October assembling miniatures, I managed 3 sessions of Shadows in November. The between-scenario character levelling stuff really shone, but the scenarios themselves were… fine. We had some bad luck, made some rules mistakes. Some issues seem to have been generally acknowledged as lacklustre, and should be fixed by the new iteration. It seemed to really need Class Sheets printed off to keep track of things, and I hadn’t. Overall, whilst I’m still positive about the game, it didn’t grab me in the way it needed to if I was going to spend that kind of money.

Ultimately, this was always going to be a stretch: a really expensive project, from a company with a poor track-record for KS-delivery. The game needed to be something truly exceptional, and at the end of the day, it just wasn’t quite gripping enough. Technically I could still change my mind (it’s currently still open for backers), but I don’t expect that I will.

 

Bones?

Too-Many-Bones The other big Kickstarter I was looking at was Too Many Bones. This is a game that’s been frustrating me on and off for much of 2017.

My thoughts on Too Many Bones got so extensive that they spawned their own spin-off article [in a marvellous Freudian typo, I originally described those thoughts as “expensive”]. For those who don’t have the time to read the other piece, Too Many Bones is made by a company called Chip Theory Games, who make very expensive games in very small print runs, and only sell directly. There was a one-off opportunity to get this from GQ back in June, but I was slightly blindsided by it and missed my chance.

Stanza2October saw a Kickstarter for a stand-alone expansion, promising a “more cost-effective entry point.” And a guitar-wielding playable character!

Sadly, this “more cost-effective” still wasn’t cheap – £53 + shipping to try the game. That’s a lot of money for a taster. To get a ‘proper’ play experience (which the forums tell me is at least 1 more playable character than the number of players) I’d need to pay extra for add-ons, at which point I’d have been better just shelling out for the full-sized game in the first place.

Ultimately, whilst it is (apparently) a very good game, the large amount of expense, and the possibility of ending up with something that feels half-baked, and needs further investment to be enjoyably playable was too much of a deterrent. They unlocked a fair number of odds and ends during the campaign, but not enough in the directions of actually enhancing game-play options. $100 for something that might only have been a taster was too much, and this one ended up as a “no” as well.

 

In for a Pound, Dollar

I did something for the first time recently – backed a Kickstarter project for $1. A fair number of projects seem to have this option. Pay $1 for email updates and access to the Pledge Manager – an option to upgrade and get the bits you want at a later point.

The reasons for $1 pledging are simple: minimal cost, and extra time (either to save up or simply to decide whether you want it). Having stumbled on the project at the 11th hour, it gave me a chance to stay part of something I wasn’t ready to pledge for fully.

The main downside of the $1 pledge is that you’re not helping to get the game funded or unlock stretch goals. However, this particular project was for a second printing + an expansion: already well funded, and no stretch goals left.

FolkloreThe game in question was Folklore: The Affliction., yet another title promising an RPG in Board-Game form, probably sitting somewhere between Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven. The game looks very good: fantastic art, a dark, engaging theme. The Victorian-era Gothic Horror tropes seem well done, with just the faintest hint of a steam-punk twist (although the mock-Transylvanian accent on the KS video voice-over was pretty painful). The mixture between wide-angle campaign and zoomed-in miniatures combat was also appealing.

There were a couple of obstacles to backing. Firstly, the games mentioned above: Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven are both really interesting-looking games that I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of. Even allowing for a 9-month wait, do I have time to play this?

The second issue was a web of complex pledge levels. The base game is obviously the starting point, but where to go with add-ons? The big box expansion adding playable characters seems like a must, but there are also lots of mini expansions that add cards to decks, and will enhance replayability. Given the narrative focus of the game, the books that allow you to create your own adventures seem very useful too.

GhostsThis 2nd printing of the game comes with Cardboard standees to keep the costs down. However, as a painter I want the miniatures (now a separate box). Lastly there are the amazing clear miniatures to represent ghost-characters (unlike many games, character death in Folklore is only a limited obstacle to ongoing participation in the campaign).

For now, I’ll mull this over, happy in the knowledge that I’ve bought myself more time to think, and quite willing to give up the single dollar I shelled out if I decide not to follow-through.

 

Expanding Gloom

Kikforth EncountersGloom of Kilforth is a fun review game that I picked up just before the summer, and which had an October Kickstarter for a second printing / some expansions. I wasn’t that fussed about extra encounters, but the prospect of new Hero Classes and Races (unlocked via stretch-goals) was much more intriguing.

I had intended to let this one pass by, but on the last day of the campaign we had a really enjoyable session with some variant rules that made the game shine, and I jumped on. It was only £21, which felt very affordable.

Pirates!

GreyportPiratesBy contrast, I did decide to pass on the new expansion for Battle for Greyport. The appeal was pretty clear: Steampunk Pirates. Because Steampunk Pirates. Another one I picked up as a review, Greyport is a fun little game (it’s since hit 10 sessions), but at the end of the day, it doesn’t get massive amounts of play, and in all honesty, there’s plenty of content in the original box that we haven’t gotten into yet. The incentive to back the Kickstarter on this was also fairly limited, as it looks like the box will be available at retail next year, by which time I’ll have a far better sense of whether the game is going to get played in the long-term, and might be able to pick it up with some store credit anyway.

 

 

Closing thoughts

Overall, I think a lack of time will be what keeps me from backing (m)any of these projects – Kickstarters tend to come and go within a window which means that, if I’m not already anticipating it, by the time I’ve made my decision, it’s too late. Add to that the sheer epic scale of many new projects and it’s a case of finding both money to back the game and time to play it.

I’m not too worried by all of this, even if I don’t end up backing anything else for a while: as I mentioned in the recent Kickstarter review, I’ve got plenty of KS projects on the go, and even more in the way of other gaming to keep me occupied.

November: The 11th Hour

November was a month of mixed milestones, with a decent amount of gaming getting done.

 

Massive Darkness made it into the 20s, whilst Runebound, Battle for Greyport and Legend of the Five Rings hit double-figures. Shadows of Brimstone and This War of Mine got their inaugural run-outs, whilst vanilla Pandemic returned after a long pause, to set the scene for Legacy season 2.

Aside from Pandemic Legacy, headline new arrivals were a big-box expansion for Mansions of Madness, and Dragonfire.

It felt like a month with a lot of time spent punching tokens, unsealing decks of cards, and generally counting in an attempt to ensure that all of the pieces are present. Gloomhaven was the big offender here, a combination of the massive box of stuff, and the fact that I’d missed messages about an incorrect number of components quoted in the rulebook. I finally got the game to the table right at the end of the month, but it felt more like going through the motions to figure out the flow of the game than actually playing it. More comments to follow once this has had a chance to hit its stride.

ElderShelfNovember was also the month when Elder Sign finally gave up its title as the only game to have been played every month – a session near the start of the month got interrupted before I’d even finished set-up (I can’t remember by what, probably “real life”), and whilst I almost played a panicked session right at the end of the month, I would only have been doing it for the sake of ticking the box, and decided against it. Still a good game, and one I’m keen to get back to the table soon, but no longer an ever-present.

 

ShadowsShadows of Brimstone finally got played in November. We played it a couple of times and it was ok, but not mind-blowing. It feels like we got a bit unlucky in our first game, with a perfect storm of not-a-lot-happening, and there were some definitely rules mistakes on our part. I really like the intra-scenario character progression, in Shadows of Brimstone and, short of a pen-and-paper RPG, I can’t really think of anything that gives you a comparably individual and levelled-up character. That said, the book-keeping is pretty intense, and without printing out character sheets, things get really messy to try to keep track of – even then, XP and $ feel like they need to be tracked on the back of an envelope, as you can easily gain small chunks of XP 20 or 30 times in a single game.

All-in-all, it still feels too early to say how Shadows of Brimstone will fair long-term: I think my enthusiasm is probably greater than my wife’s for this one, so I’m wary of pushing it too much, but I still want to see it on the table another once or twice before the year is out.

This-War-Of-MineThis War of Mine also made it out of the box: there’s some interesting mechanics in here, along with a fairly dark theme that resonates with me personally – I remember visiting Sarajevo and Mostar in 1999 when the buildings were still showing a lot of signs of the war, and Kosovo a few years later. In a lot of ways this reminds me of Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed island, although the tone is certainly a fair bit darker: survival rather than adventure. This one is a review copy, so I’ll link to that once it gets published.

Pandemic Legacy is, arguably, the game you have to blame for a lot of the stats-spamming that I afflict you with. Check back here for the article that started it all, but this will definitely need its own write-up – I’ll probably revisit this one in the New Year, once I’ve had a chance to fully play through it all.

Battle-for-Greyport-Card-Game-BoxBattle for Greyport is a game I reviewed back in the summer. It’s a co-op deck-builder set in the same world as the Red Dragon Inn games, with a nasty difficulty curve that seems somewhat at odds with the rather light, fun art. That said, it’s still an enjoyable experience, even if bad draws can lead to players getting their faces smashed in by goblins, ogres or (As in our November play-throughs) dragons. I briefly considered jumping on a Kickstarter for an expansion to this back in October, ultimately deciding against it, as the game doesn’t get that much table time: the extra heroes would have been good, as that’s where the game tends to feel the most constricted, but we’re not really at a point yet where we’re desperate for new missions or monsters. Hopefully this will keep ticking along at a play or so each month, and if it does, I might look out for the expansion when it comes to retail.

 

DragonholtRunebound is a fun game, and definitely the one in FFG’s Terrinoth-based range that gives you the best sense of the place (this may change with Legacy of Dragonholt, if I can manage to land a copy). The new expansion which landed back in August made it fully cooperative, and added some new scenarios which pushed the boundaries a bit of exactly what could be done in terms of scenario objectives. At 2 hours a time it’s never going to take the world completely by storm, simply because it’s having to fight against games like Zombicide and Eldritch Horror, with most other things in our collection being over-and-done in less time. Still, it’s enjoyable, and I think it deserves its place on the 10s list for 2017.

 

L5Art I’m really enjoying Legend of the Five Rings right now, even though it turns out that I’m still not very good at it (I think I’ve won 3 of the 14 games I’ve played so far). The release schedule has been punishing, following the announcement that the first cycle of packs would be released in 6 weeks rather than 6 months! Aside from physically finding the cash, that also left me needing about 3 hours of play per week to cover the purchase price. Thankfully, the Wednesdays of November (mostly) fell quite kindly, meaning I made it down to the FLGS multiple weeks in a row: I’ve been able to try out a good selection of the new cards (for my clan, at least), and develop something approaching basic competence. I still make bucket-loads of errors, but I’ve enjoyed watching it climb into the higher echelons of various spreadsheets. This will probably get its own run-down sometime soon.

 

What got played?

In terms of the overall breakdown, Fantasy was still the main theme, around ¼ of sessions and of hours, although Lovecraft was only a few points behind. Historical suddenly jumped into the frame as I realised that I’d been mis-categorising Dominion all this time. Japan and Weird West scored relatively highly on hours, with Zombies being the last major group of note. Within Fantasy there was a fairly broad spread, although most of it got lumped under “generic”

In fairly close reflection of the theme, we had a good chunk of Quest Completion and Mystery Solving. Winning was suddenly a big chunk, thanks to the rise of L5R, with Survival rounding things out.

Moving Forward

There’s a lot that I need to get played in December – Gloomhaven is the big one, as I move from figuring out the rules in slow-mo to actually playing the game, and Dragonfire needs to move beyond the honestly-not-that-great tutorial to the game proper. Pandemic Legacy will be taking a lot of my time over the coming months, and I’m hopeful of Dominion: Nocturne and/or Pandemic: Rising Tide appearing on the review sheet…