A new year: 5 of 5

2017 Gaming got off to a good start in January: 25 different games played, and already a few racking up repeat plays. I thought I’d offer a quick run-down of a few of the different things I’ve been tracking.

5 of 5

Not surprisingly, I’m still some way from getting anything up to 10 plays for the year, but I have passed a few mini milestones.

deadeyes
It’s good that this still gets lots of play. Maybe one day I’ll even finish the painting…

“Play 1 Once” I managed on New Year’s Day (Elder Sign being the first game out of the box this year), and “2 Twice” a few days later as both Star Wars Destiny and Zombicide made repeat appearances.

“3 of Three” took a bit longer to pin down – Legendary and Zombicide got there relatively quickly, but they had to wait for a third to join them (Eldritch Horror felt like it had earned a place on the list after a normal game with two of us, as well as an epic 5-hour, 8-player session but, as Gimli would say of the big game- “that still only counts as one.” Instead, it was beaten to the punch by Elder Sign.

“4 of Four” was where things started to get a bit skewed – some games were already past the mark, with 5 or more plays, but getting a 4th game past 2 or 3 proved a bit of a sticking point, especially when a game like Eldritch or Mansions needs several hours at a time to be played. In the end it was Destiny that got me there as I manged to make it to another meet-up.

By the time it came to “5 of Five” things were starting to look fairly familiar, with the usual suspects making up the list: Legendary, Elder Sign and Zombicide, got there first, with Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror lagging just behind.

By the end of the month, it looked like this:

1 of 1 01/01/2017 Elder Sign
2 of 2 04/01/2017 Zombicide, Destiny
3 of 3 13/01/2017 Legendary, Zombicide, Elder Sign
4 of 4 Zombicide, Elder Sign, Legendary, Destiny
5 of 5 Legendary, Elder Sign, Zombicide, Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror

 

Some of those games have made it up to 6 or 7, and there will be more to come from them in the coming months, no doubt.

2017 actually got off to a much slower start than last year, although with hindsight January 2016 does look like a bit of a freak occurrence – in the whole of 2016 there were only 17 instances of a single game getting played 10+ times in a month, and 5 of those came in January, with Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary and Game of Thrones LCG all making it into double figures at the first attempt. It was the most prolific month of the year overall, with 90 total games played, and there’s really no disgrace in failing to repeat those numbers – 71 games for January 2017 feels more than respectable.

 

Un-played

As I mentioned when doing the 2016 wrap-up, I won’t be keeping a running “un-played” list in quite the same way as last year, if only because it would only have 2 games on it if I did (just for completeness sake, both have been crossed off). That said, I still want to keep track of the games I haven’t played yet this year, even if that will be “most of them” for the first little while.

The Hobbit and Trivial Pursuit found their way to the Charity Shop, 23 games actually got played, and I sold a handful of small games that were “fine” but unlikely to ever have people clamouring to play them. Not a massive financial windfall, but it frees up a little space, and hopefully the games have gone to somewhere they’ll be better appreciated.

The whole area of removing the un-played, by sale or by play, is the one place where I have out-done January 2016, and if I sustain this rate, I’ll have played everything I own by the end of March!

 

Money for Nothing

2017 has also started well for keeping above the red line in terms of the cost of my gaming. I’d already started scaling back my Memoir ’44 collection in the autumn, and I sold another couple of bits in January – thanks to them being out-of-stock, I got about double what I would have originally paid for these, meaning that gaming is a hobby I’ve actually made money from at this point. I don’t expect this to still be the case by the end of the year, but it’s certainly nice to be given a bit of a head-start in game-play over spending.

lovecraftjan
I can’t even find the Dunwich box, so instead, here’s the Elder Sign expansion I got my wife for Christmas…

Mid-January saw a wave of new Arkham Files content – Beyond the Threshold was the first “proper” expansion for Mansions 2nd ed., (the others were technically “tile and figure” packs) and there were multiple releases for the LCG, with both the Dunwich Legacy deluxe box, and the Curse of the Rougarou stand-alone scenario appearing. I managed to resist getting Dreamlands for Eldritch Horror, and picked it up as a review copy, along with Beyond the Threshold, so it was only the LCG where I actually shelled out a significant amount of money.

the-dwarves-board-game-4th-defenceI also picked up the Combined Might expansion for The Dwarvesthis is a fun little co-op based on a set of German Fantasy Novels, with a number of clever and innovative mechanics that really make it stand out. That said, there are a few pinch-points in the base game – 90% of the Quest cards which drive the flow of the game are the same every time you play, and the expansion was well worth the tenner it cost to more than double the number of possibilities in this area.

In the immediate aftermath of buying the new stuff, all the games I had spent money on were looking like bad value for the year – fortunately this was generally in pretty low numbers, and aside from the LCG, everything was clawed back to within a fairly small margin of difference by the end of the month. I know from experience that LCGs can get expensive quickly and whilst I’m not too worried about having shelled out on the first 2 expansions at once, I will be keeping a careful eye on this one, just to make sure it continues to justify its place.

 

Themes

destiny-villains
Thanks to a spot of trading, I can finally put together a viable villains deck

Zombies maintained their strong positions from last year, with Zombicide remaining the most-played game, and spanning some fairly hefty sessions to boot. Overall though, it was Lovecraft that dominated January, thanks to that flood of content: It ultimately accounted for well over a third of sessions, and nearly half of all gaming time in the month. Comics and Fantasy were still notable elements, but definitely a smaller portion of the time spent gaming than in previous years.

Mechanically, Surviving the Monsters was a full third of what we did (up to 45% when measuring by time). Mystery Solving was a consistent 22% whether measured by time or by session. World-saving, Quest Completion and Villainous Plot-stopping were the other significant activities. “Kill the other side” was also a more significant chunk than has previously the case, thanks to Destiny – 13% by session

Closing Thoughts

Obviously, I don’t expect these trends to continue all year, particularly not the crossing off of ‘unplayed’ games – After all, it’s much easier to play a game on the list when all the games are on the list. Some games will always be more of a struggle to get to the table than others and as the year goes on it becomes more-and-more likely that those are what will be left on the list. I don’t know right now whether it’s possible to make a profit out of gaming for the entire year, but I certainly intend to keep new spending a lot lower than previous years. Lastly, spread-sheets or otherwise, I’ll be continuing to stay mindful of what actually gets played, and looking at what needs to happen to those games which don’t.

Modern Classics – Ticket to Ride

She’s Got a Ticket to Ride – should we care?

ttr-europeThis month’s Modern Classic, bearing absolutely no relation to the Beatles, is Ticket To Ride. Another one of the classic “Gateway” games, this is a fairly simple, family-friendly offering from Days of Wonder, in which players compete to claim various train journeys.

The Basics:

On their turn, a player can take one of 3 actions: they can pick up train cards, they can spend those train cards to place their plastic trains on routes, or they can pick up journey cards.

warsawwienTrain cards come in a selection of colours, and at any point in time, there will be 5 face-up for you to choose from, along with a face-down deck – you can pick up two the same from the face-up selection, or two different. If you don’t like any of them, you can take two blind from the top of the deck. Alternatively, you may want to take one of the Locomotives (rainbow-coloured wild cards) – if you take one of these (face up), that’s all you get, but the versatility they offer is often worth it.

To claim a route, you need to pay a number of cards matching the route you want to claim. So if a route is 4 carriages long, and blue, you need to pay 4 blues for it. 3-long red? You need 3 reds. Simple!

berlinwarszawa
You can’t mix-and-match Yellows and Purples, but you can use Locomotives

There is a bit more to it than that: some routes are grey, meaning that you can pay for them with trains of any colour – so long as the cards you use are all the same colour. It’s also worth noting that the aforementioned “Locomotive” cards can be used as any colour – helpful if you can’t find the colour you want (or someone else keeps nicking that colour). “Ferry” routes (i.e. those which cross water) will contain spaces that can only be paid for using Locomotives.

Once you’ve paid for the route, you place your plastic trains on the spaces. This achieves a number of things.

  1. Firstly, you get some points – if the route was only 1 train long, you’ll only get a single point, but the increase is exponential – 7 points for a 4, 10 for a 5 and so forth. Ultimately victory goes to the person with the most points.
  2. Secondly, you now control that route. This means that you can complete tickets (see below) connecting those cities.
  3. On the flip side, you opponent does not control the route. Most routes can only be claimed by the trains of a single player. Some particularly dense areas have double tracks, allowing a second person to stake their claim, but the second route only becomes active with a high-enough player count.

ticketThe third and final thing you can do on your turn, is to draw tickets. At the start of the game, and then again when you take this action, you will be dealt 3 cards showing 2 cities and a number. When you take new tickets, you draw 3, must keep 1, and can keep all of them if you wish.

At the end of the game, you will score each of the tickets you have kept. If those cities are connected by a continuous line of your trains, you score that many points (typically equal to the minimum number of trains that could have been used to make the journey). If they are not connected, then you lose that many points, so you can’t just hoard tickets.

Overall, Ticket to Ride is a fairly light, easy game to pick up. The game ends when somebody is down to their last 2 trains (everyone gets one last turn), and you add up the scores: although you can get an impression of who’s ahead from people’s ongoing totals, the fact that tickets remain hidden generally leaves at least some suspense in the end.

The Versions

The original Ticket to Ride was set in the USA, but since then it has spread globally. There are probably too many different versions to count, but I’ll attempt a quick overview here.

Europe

ttr-europeFor us, Europe was the “original” version of this game- it’s the one that was owned by the friends who introduced us to the game, and the one we bought. In large part, it functions in the same way as the North American version (which I’ve only played a handful of times). Europe is regarded in some of the more “hardcore” circles as being an easier / friendlier version, due to its “Station” mechanic, which allows players to complete routes into cities that they have otherwise been blocked off from.

On the flip side, Europe has some fairly mountainous areas, and in the mountains you need to tunnel, an uncertain and potentially expensive business – every time you claim a tunnel route, you discard the top 2 cards of the train deck, and any revealed card that matches the colour you’re building with increase the cost by 1.

Nordic Countries

ttr-nordicSet in Scandinavia, and with a strangely purple-y/pastel-y colour Scheme, the Nordic Countries version of Ticket to Ride is specifically designed for 2-3 players. As the large maps can accommodate 4 or 5 players, a game with 2 can feel a bit lacking in tension, as you both have ample space to roll around in, without ever needing to step on each other’s toes. This version keeps things a bit tighter for space, and stops the game from descending into multiplayer solo.

Both Ferries and Locomotive cards are done slightly differently in this expansion too – broadly speaking, Locomotive cards are easier to acquire, but less powerful once you have them.

Germany, UK, the World!

The “Marklin” edition, sets your game of Ticket to Ride on a map of Germany, and its most distinctive element, is that it allows you to transport passengers. More recently, a United Kingdom edition represented the patchwork independent railways of the 19th century which remain in regional clusters until a nation-wide consolidation in the mid-to-late game.

Most recent of all was the “Rails and Sails” version of the game – taking the Ticket to Ride you know and love, and shifting it onto a global scale, at the same time as mixing in boats to go with your trains.

Map Packs

Most other versions of the game come as double-sided map-packs. 2 different maps, typically each with their own slight difference.

ttr-team
Most of the box is taken up with bits of wood for you to beat your partner over the head with… sorry, I mean “to display shared cards”

Asia takes a heavy toll on your train supply, as rolling stock gets irreparably damaged by the steep climbs of the Himalaya.  The Asia Map Expansion also introduces Ticket To Ride Team Play or, as we like to call it “divorce in a box” – I assume that the designer of the game wasn’t trying to ensure that the game ended with team-mates no longer on speaking terms, but if they were, it’s hard to see what they could have done differently:

  • You build using a shared pool of trains, and a route is claimed for your colour, not just for you individually.
  • However, when you take tickets, they go into your own hand. When you take train cards, 1 goes into your hand, and 1 into a shared reserve.
  • You are not allowed to discuss the contents of your hands (train cards, or tickets).

It can be annoying towards the end of a game of Ticket to Ride, when you’ve carefully planned a late-game building blitz, and an opponent blocks your route. It’s much, much, more annoying when your teammate uses your cards and your trains to build in the wrong place. We played this version once. That was once too often.

mapcollection
The Map-Packs are pretty slim-line

There were other maps, for the Netherlands, Africa, and a few other locations – I haven’t played all of these, but it’s probably fairly safe to say that they’re designed for fairly dedicated Ticket To Ride fans. Aside from anything else, Map packs don’t generally come with trains (cards or plastic miniatures) – just a map and the new tickets.

Mini Expansions

There have also been other expansions for Ticket to Ride, designed to integrate with existing versions of the game. New destination Tickets for Europe and USA placing different emphasis, depots that allow you to horde train cards for points, Dice to replace the train cards (out of print, and highly valuable) or even a Dinosaur and an Alien!

 

Going Digital

Ticket to Ride also has a massive online presence. It was available to play fairly early in the days of Board Game Apps, and at least in a limited format, it was free to play. Nowadays, there’s a lot more competition out there, but building up such a strong following early on has definitely helped.

 

Overall thoughts

Ticket To Ride is easy to learn, easy to understand. It doesn’t take too long, and it’s generally a fairly pleasant experience, with neither too little interaction (why are we sitting in the same room, I could be doing this at home…) nor too much (leave me alone, I just want to build a railway). Whilst this doesn’t get nearly as much play in our house as it used to, and it’s not likely that we’ll be picking up the most recent whole-world version, it’s easy to see why it has such enduring popularity, and I’m sure it will continue to be regarded as a key gateway game for years to come.

What are you playing at?

A question of theme and mechanic

 

At various points throughout 2016, and again in the end-of-year review, I talked about which games I played, and how much.

As a final musing on this topic before I lay 2016 to rest, I’ve been thinking about something a little different – less focus on the specific name of the game, and a more general consideration of the theme or the overall aim.

Theme

topfantasyTheme was the easiest one to do: 37% of what I played was Fantasy, 16% Comics-based, 14% Zombies, 9% Lovecraft, 6% abstract (I won’t bore you with all of the tiny details).

As Fantasy was so large, I decided to break it down further: 30% Pathfinder/Golarion, and 30% Middle Earth. 16% was Game of Thrones/Westeros, another 16% “generic” and a few odds and ends to round things out.

lovecraftsGiven how much I’ve talked about Lovecraft on here over the past 6 months, I was surprised at how low this was – although, that “9%” still accounts for 68 sessions of gaming.

The other numbers were no great shock: Fantasy would have been one I expected to see high on the list, and Zombicide is our most-played game of 2016. Comics isn’t a common theme – it only really applies to Dice Masters and Legendary, but those are the 4th and 5th most-played games, so together they still count for a fair chunk.

allzombies
Something of a theme for 2016 in our house.

Of course, it’s never quite that simple. Play-counts and play-times are 2 very different things, and given the way my spreadsheets seem to breed tabs exponentially, it was inevitable that I’d end up looking at those too. Using the same play-session lengths I’ve been using to measure cost:value on games, I ran the numbers again.

Fantasy dropped somewhat, to 30%, and Zombies took a big jump up to 24% (Zombicide is a fairly long game). Comics went down slightly from 16% to 12%, and Lovecraft sneaked up into 3rd place with 13%. Sci-Fi also overtook Abstract for 5th place (lots of short abstract games), but neither accounted for more than 5% of the total.

 

Mechanic

“Theme” was fairly easy to deal with as a category – it’s not that difficult (mostly) to decide whether a game is about Pirates or Zombies, whether it takes place in a Fantasy Setting, a Sci-Fi world, or a Comic-Book.

Mechanic was trickier. For the most part, I don’t own multiple games with identical mechanics or, if I do, they get classified as the same game – as I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve struggled slightly with consistency in this area, but overall, it seems reasonable to say that Ticket to Ride Europe and Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries are basically the same – the most “similar” games I have are ones that only narrowly miss out on being lumped together- like Pandemic and Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu, or Carcassonne and Carcassonne Star Wars.

In an attempt not to have 90 different mechanics for 93 different games played this year, I attempted to lump things together in some fairly generic groups. After a lot of struggle, I managed to narrow it down to a number somewhere in the teens – roughly ten major categories and a few minor ones.

My biggest realisation was that there would be games which spanned 2 categories (I tried never to go beyond 2) as they were essentially a mixture of the 2, and it wouldn’t serve any purpose to create a new category.

Dominion-Storage-Card-Game
(Deck)-Build the best place?

The major categories include things like Build the best place – a broad description that covers games like 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Carcassonne (either version), but can also include games like Blood Rage or Age of Conan where build up your empire engine is vital for winning the military conflicts.

Complete the Quest Together is a cover-all term for a range of Co-ops. It includes all table-top RPGs, meaning it scores very highly on the time-weighted version of things, but also includes Pathfinder, LotR LCG, and lighter things like Shadows Over Camelot or Avalon.

Find the Traitor exists almost exclusively as a sub-group of the ‘complete the quest’ group, but was still just-about numerous enough to be significant.

Get the most stuff is another broad category, and covers treasure-acquisition games like Karuba and HMS Delores, loot-focused Dungeon Crawls, Pit, even Zombie Dice (get the most brains!)

versusKill the other side is a pretty straightforward description – it covers historical wargames, along with most head-to-head duelling type games: Dice Masters and Game of Thrones make it a much bigger part of the year than I expected, and Star Wars Destiny is the newest addition to the genre.

Make Words covers Scrabble, Bananagrams and Boggle – it does more-or-less what it says on the tin.

Save the World is one where things can start to get slightly complex – I’ve used it to cover most things in the Pandemic family, along with world-spanning co-ops like Thunderbirds and Eldritch Horror. It also ended up taking in one or two which didn’t quite fit elsewhere, where the emphasis more on saving even if scale was decidedly less-than-global.

Solve the Mystery covers lots of Lovecraftian games (most of which ended up being in multiple categories), any of the choose-your-own-adventure styles games (Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Mythos Tales), and even some more abstract lines like Beyond Baker Street.

CivilWarStop the Villainous Plot was a category created solely for Marvel Legendary – I was happy enough to put Firefly Legendary in the “complete the quest together” section, as the players have game-by-game objectives to complete. In the Marvel version though, the players’ job is simply to take down the Mastermind before he can finish you. “Kill the other side” didn’t feel quite right, nor did Survive the Monsters (players must do more than just survive), or Save the World (this is probably the closest). At the moment, it sits at about 7%, just because Legendary gets played a lot, but it may ultimately get absorbed into another category.

Survive the Monsters is Zombicide, a lot of Lovecraft, and a few other odds and ends – obviously most of these will have specific win conditions on top, but holding off the monsters felt like a key element.

Tell Stories is a simple enough idea – it covers a lot of party/social games like Dixit, Braggart or Balderdash.

The last category big enough to not simply get absorbed into “other” is “Win.” Obviously, one level, this is the objective of almost every game, but it felt particularly fitting for a game like Munchkin, or for Fluxx, where the objective is constantly shifting. I used it to categorise Discworld Ankh-Morpork, where players all have different win conditions (area control, money, mayhem, and just running the clock down), and Ticket to Ride, just because I couldn’t think where else to put it.

The biggest categories were Complete the Quest Together (25%) and Survive the Monsters (22%). Kill the Other Side accounted for 16% of games this year, with “Solve the Mystery” and Get the Most stuff” finishing off the top 5 – although if “Stop the Villainous plot” does get merged into “Save the world” that will claim 4th. Build the Best Place and Make Words are the only others accounting for more than 2% of the total.

Again, I also ran the numbers when adjusted for time. The length of Zombicide sent “Survive the Mosnters” soaring to 38% and top-spot, ahead of the slightly smaller 20% for Complete the Quest. Get the Most Stuff suffered the most from this way of looking at things (lots of short games of Zombie Dice), with only Kill the Other Side and Solve the Mystery keeping their hold on a double-figures score (although, again, Stop the Villainous Plot + Save the World would be up on 12%, 4th overall).

 

Although it was more complicated to assemble (foolishly, I created the spreadsheet a few weeks ago using hard-numbers, then had to wade back through and replace everything with hyperlinks, so that I didn’t have to type on 6 different sheets every time I played a game), I think I actually found this half of the exercise more useful/interesting. I’ve mentioned a few times that I think of us as a big co-op gaming household, so seeing “kill the other side” as the third biggest mechanic and 16% of our overall play was quite a surprise: as things stand, I’d expect that figure to be much lower next year, with Game of Thrones having gone, but that could change if Dice Masters proves more stable than this year (the mid-December tournament was cancelled when only 2 of us showed up), or if Destiny gets a solid foothold(the mechanics are so good, but the distribution model is so bad…)

I actually ran a final tally, dividing games into “good” (cooperative, being nice to each other), “bad” (fighting, trying to beat others) and “neutral” (storytelling, or things that came under “other”) roughly 2/3 of our games by session and ¾ by time fall into the “good” camp, which suggests that co-op is still the way to go for long games.

As I said at the start, this was the last article number crunching the games of 2016, and it will be a while before 2017 numbers are in any way meaningful (at one point on Sunday, 100% of all games played in 2017 began with “Eld”), but I’ll try to ensure plenty of other content over the coming weeks.

2016: The End

2016 is done, and overall, it was a pretty successful year for gaming. I played 793 games – 90 different games, for a total of around 554 hours of gaming in the year as a whole.

As regular readers will know, I also set myself a few challenges in the gaming department, and this seemed like the obvious moment to look back at how that went:

Un-Played

hobbitIn 2015, I counted 26 games that I owned and had not played – I set myself the challenge of either playing or getting rid of all them. In the end, I played 15 of them, and sold 11 – contrary to what Maths might lead to expect, that left 1 still un-played (I sold one game after playing it). The Hobbit Card Game.

The game that I had left un-played, The Hobbit, has been listed for sale or trade so many times that I’ve lost count. It isn’t even a bad game per se, it’s just fairly underwhelming, and the theme to mechanic link is fairly tenuous (it’s essentially just Hearts, pretending to be thematic.) Unless something changes soon, this might be bound for the charity shop.

coupAside from the previous year’s “un-played” games, I was also keeping an eye on the games which had been played last year, but not since – again, I had a good amount of success with this – several were moved on: sold or traded, but most were played and again, at year end it’s a very small pile that haven’t been played: just Coup (and a game I won in a competition, which only arrived in December).

Coup is a fun enough game fairly short and light, so I couldn’t really put my finger on why it didn’t make it to the table. It’s not at its best with 2, which is probably a factor. I’ll hang on to this for now, and see how it fares over the next little while.

trivialTrivial Pursuit was the last game to make it off the un-played list: it isn’t a game that we’re ever likely to break out at home just the two of us, but it’s stayed around because it’s a sufficiently non-threatening, familiar brand that you can wheel it out with people who aren’t really in to games. That said, this year’s game was seriously painful. We have a version that allegedly divides questions by difficulty, but the levels felt arbitrary, if not just wrong. At 9 years old, some of the questions are also getting really dated. For the most part, it was just a game of trying to land on the right space. Articulate and Balderdash (both owned, both of which I’d somehow forgotten I owned, both got played over Christmas, so doesn’t really matter) both feel like better options, and I’m seriously tempted to move it on.

 

There are still a few games in my collection that may have outlived their usefulness; games that got played once to take them off of the “un-played” list, and will probably sit idle until next time I’m doing a similar check – realistically, there’s always room to be more brutal with the pruning. If I’m going to continue with the game reviewing (I have no particular plan not to), I’ll have new games coming in, so I’ll need to keep making space – also with a few personal changes on the horizon, it’s definitely worth being mindful of which games I have and which are still relevant.

Perfect 10s

unknowns
A year ago, I’d never heard of most of these, and didn’t own any

My other challenge, one I picked up from Board Game Geek, was “10 of 10” – to play 10 different games 10 times.

As I was doing this challenge for the first time, and as I could see that I hadn’t done it the year before, I went for the “easy” version of the challenge, where I could just play the games, rather than having to decide in advance which 10 I was aiming for – it’s a good job I did this: 5 of the games which got played 10+ times I hadn’t heard of back in January (Zombicide being the most obvious example): others were names I heard that hadn’t been released (like Pandemic Cthulhu), or simply games I’ve rediscovered this year after long fallow periods (Elder Sign was a big winner in this respect).

The other reason it’s a good job I didn’t write my list of ten before I started is the age-old question of availability. This time last year, I was convinced that Apocrypha would be one of the most-played games of 2016, and that Numenera had a good shout of getting played 10 times. As it stands, neither of them has yet been released.

At year-end, the most-played games looked like this:

  1. Zombicide: Black Plague (90)
  2. Pathfinder ACG (81)
  3. Lord of the Rings LCG (81)
  4. Dice Masters (61)
  5. Marvel Legendary (55)
  6. Game of Thrones LCG (44)
  7. Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition (21)
  8. Arkham Horror LCG (20)
  9. Elder Sign (16)
  10. = Legendary Encounters Firefly, Zombie Dice (14)

Others to pass the milestone were Beyond Baker Street and Dominion, (13), Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, Bananagrams (12), and Pandemic, Mapominoes, and Curse of the Black Dice (10).

Of those 18 games, 2 have already been and gone: Curse of the Black Dice was one of the first review games I got, and I sold it shortly after – the 10 plays reflect the fact that it was short, solo-able, and a first burst of enthusiasm for all things new, but ultimately it didn’t have enough to keep our interest.

Valar
All games must die

Game of Thrones LCG by contrast, was a bit different. I played the first edition, but sold up because there weren’t really any other people playing locally. I bought into 2nd Edition when it came out, and played for nearly a year, including a few months where I was getting a lot of games in, and actually doing quite well: the peak of my success was a Store Championships in January, where I was one mis-play away from making the top-4 cut (and the shiny play-mat that would have come with it…) As the year wore on though, I was finding it harder and harder to make it along regularly to the shop to play. I still think that this is a great game, but it’s also one with a very high skill-cap. If you turn up at a tournament, even a small, local one, with a deck you’ve not play-tested, and not having played at all in several weeks, then the games you have are likely to be so one-sided that it’s not going to be worth playing.

In the end, I decided to sell up: an LCG is an ongoing financial commitment and, particularly with the competitive ones, you can’t hope to keep playing if everyone else is buying all the new packs, and you’re not. With the Arkham Horror LCG about to release, I knew I couldn’t justify keeping up with 3 LCGs, so this was the one which had to give way – I didn’t get back all that I’d spent on the cards, but certainly a fair chunk of it, so it felt like good value for the amount I’d played.

A few honourable mentions for games that came close: Machi Koro, B-Sieged, and Yggdrasil are all games which have a lot going for them, but in a hectic year, they never made it past 8. Star Wars Destiny was a late arrival, great mechanics, rubbish randomised distribution- I’m still trying to make up my mind on what I’m going to do with this game long-term, but it was a fun inclusion for December, when it was played 8 times.

Ultimately, as I’ve mentioned before, the 10 of 10 challenge was never about numbers for numbers sake – it was about broadening the range of games that I properly got to grips with. In 2015 3 games accounted for 76% of all the games I played – 595 sessions out of a total 788. The next 4 accounted for a further 11.5% (91 sessions), and no other game made it into double figures, or as high as 1% of all the year’s gaming.

By contrast the top 3 games in 2016 accounted for only 31% – just over a third, instead of more than three quarters, or 252 plays out of 793: to get to 76 % you need to take in the whole of the top 20 most-played games – it actually feels like I have a proper collection of games that I play, rather than just 3 games and a lot of pointless boxes.

The Future

Looking forward into 2017, I have no real idea what the future holds game-wise. I expect it to be a very different year game-wise (for reasons that people who know me in real life are probably aware of) and I strongly suspect that I won’t be looking at numbers in the 700s when it comes to next year’s re-cap.

I’m not going to do an “un-played” challenge – it would only consist of 1 or 2 games, so there hardly seems much point, but I will be continuing to keep an eye on what does and doesn’t get played, to work out which games are the dead-weight, and need to be moved on.

I am going to set myself the 10 of 10 challenge again. With (hopefully) 3 or 4 games arriving from Kickstarter in 2017, and (again, hopefully) several as-yet-unknown games arriving to review, I’m not going to upgrade to the hardcore version, and will stick with counting as I go along – as I say the aim is to know a good handful of games well, not to grind out plays of things I’ve lost interest in.

I hope that those who have been reading will stay with me in 2017 – aside from the challenge updates, I’ll do my best to keep producing other articles – looking at themes, reviewing things that are new to me, and showcasing any game-miniature painting I get chance to do. I wish you all a happy new year, and may bad dice be the worst problem you have to deal with!

 

Batman: not so Smelly after all

smellsIn a break from the recent tide of Arkham content, I wanted to drop in again on a topic that’s been a bit quiet on here for a while: Dice Masters.

It’s no secret that our local Dice Masters scene has been struggling for numbers: we managed a very successful Regional Championship at our FLGS back in November, but December’s tournament (open, constructed, but with prize-priority going to those using at least 4 dice from the recent Dr Strange set) was another flop with only me and one other turning up, not enough to run the event (in the end we had 1 game of Destiny then went home).

The Thursday between Christmas and New Year had been designated the Wizkids mega-day, and they were running events for Heroclix, Attack Wing, and various other games including, of course, Dice Masters.

After some long Facebook discussions, they’d settled on a 1-set-only constructed format – aside from AvX (banned for reasons of availability), you could bring dice from any set, so long as they were all from the same set. It was going to be touch and go again for numbers, but I like the team-building challenge that this sort of event creates, so I went along, armed with a team, plus a box from another set. In the end, there were only 2 of us: me plus the shop’s WizKids event organiser (he probably has an official title, but I don’t know it). One of our regulars was off with the flu, and his daughter is reliant on him for transport. Others were still busy with family etc. Still, I managed to give both my main and my back up teams a run-out, and wanted to share some thoughts on them.

Part I – Dawn of Justice

The set I had chosen for the event was Justice League – the third released overall, and the first DC (as opposed to Marvel) set. There are a good number of characters in the set with the Justice League affiliation, and they have a fair amount of synergy between them.

stargirlI’ve used variations on this build in the past – it can do quite well in limited formats (there’s a commons and starters only version which works quite well), but is just too slow for Regional-championship style events. For today though, I was optimistic.

I had also been wanting to take another look at this set since we did the DC Bombshells OP Kit a few months back – the OP Stargirl finally gave me a use for a set of dice that were otherwise doing nothing, and felt like it might add the missing ingredient this team needed.

In the end, I went with the following line-up:

  • Aquaman – Arthur Curry
  • Batarang – Tool of the Bat
  • Batman – World’s Greatest Detective
  • Firestorm – Atom Rearranger
  • Green Lantern – Willpower
  • Martian Manhunter – Green Martian
  • Stragirl – DC Bombshell
  • Wonder Woman – Champion of Themyscira

Basic Actions:  Assemble! and Teamwork

justice-leagueFirst two purchases for this build (dice permitting) are always Aquaman, who reduces the purchase cost of Justice League characters by one, and Wonder Woman, who reduces their field cost by one. All the characters in the team have the Justice League affiliation, and the Batarang is the only card without it.

Of the remaining characters, Stargirl spins herself and other affiliated characters up a level, Firestorm does a bit of targeted damage, ideal for clearing out sidekicks, or glass cannons like Quicksilver and Ant-Man (both of whom I ran into this time out). Manhunter has good numbers and overcrush, Batman gives you healing along with a bit of direct damage. Lastly, Green Lantern is the card half-elf Bard should have been: an attack boost for all your characters, but capped at 2, and on a 6-cost character, so a good closer, but not a turn-3 death sentence.

The basic action cards played very little part- I didn’t buy Teamwork, although it could have added a little to what I was doing – technically, of course, this is an OP card, and some might argue that it’s an AvX card, either way, I don’t think it would have made much difference if I’d removed it (also, I just really love this card- I once gave it a whole article to itself). Assemble! was mostly chosen as I thought it was too expensive for there to be much chance of it being using against me, but again, I think I would have got more use out of it than my opponent, if I had wanted to shell out the 5 needed.

kitty-constantine
Kitty never stuck around long enough to get Bataranged

As it turned out, for my control option, Constatine: Hellblazer would have been a better option than Batarang, as most of the damage I took came from Shadowcat, but overall, this team works well, so long as the game isn’t going to be over inside 5 turns. I won my first game, lost the second after a massive swing reduced him to 2, but left me with an open field, then won the last fairly comfortably by the time we’d both figured out what the other was trying to do and I was able to keep the field full until I could get the critical hit off.

 

Part II – Keeping it in the Family

allies
It was failure to launch for the flying Sidekicks last time out.

As there were only 2 of us there, after the first match was over, I threw together a team from the other set I’d brought with me, World’s Finest. Keeping the Jingle Bells theme going, I opted for a “Batman Family” team. I mentioned Alfred on here a few weeks ago, as a card I was really impressed with at Regionals, and after he failed to get his day in the sun alongside Wong in the flying Sidekick team I’d built for the Dr Strange event, he was my first pick, followed by the remarkably powerful Bruce Wayne Uncommon.

In the end, the team looked like this:

  • Alfred Pennyworth – MI5
  • Batgirl – Stealth bat
  • Batman – Natural Leader
  • Bruce Wayne – Matches Malone
  • Catwoman – Former Burglar
  • Commissioner Gordon – Rallying the GCPD
  • Oracle – Hacker
  • Robin – Kid Detective

Basic Actions – Teamwork, Vigilante Justice

batman-familyThis build definitely had a few kinks in it that could have done with a bit of play-testing to iron out. For one thing, Alfred is a 2-cost, 4-dice blocker with zero total field cost, making him an ideal early purchase – however, he’s also the only Shield character in the team, meaning it has a slight tendency to ramp into a dead end.

unblockableCatwoman and Batgirl are both hard to block, along with being cheap, but I mostly just sat them out in the field along with Oracle who I didn’t really use in the first game, but proved to be a real game-changer in the second.

Once you have a string of Batman family characters fielded, Batman himself can be recruited for very little (I don’t think I ever paid more than 2), while Bruce Wayne – probably the card in this set that feels almost broken – is the ideal companion to get him into play, and damage your opponent at the same time.

I like the variety of options that this build has – you can get a lot of damage through from Barbara and Selina if your opponent sticks out a wall of sidekicks, or you can overwhelm them by building up weight of numbers, with some characters getting really big (Robin is a 6A, 4D minimum when Batman is out). In the second game, I used teamwork for a massive swing, and even managing to block half a dozen of the biggest hitters, 4x Alfred the Butler for 25 damage was an impressive sight to behold.

dick-grayson-brand-new-batFor something flung together in a few minutes, this build acquitted itself really well. There are other characters that tempt me from the Batman family – either the rather expensive rare Dick Grayson (6 cost but gets +2A, +2D and becomes (essentially) unblockable when a Bat-family dice is KO-ed), or one of the various versions of Nightwing, who all deal damage to target characters when they attack – I think the play here is to take the common Nightwing, and have him take out one of your own characters as he attacks, to ensure maximum Grayson carnage. Of course, the difficulty with those changes (aside from not owning the rare) is what to swap out – probably Commissioner Gordon and Catwoman would give way, along with Batgirl for the super-rare version would be the optimum version.

As an aside, it’s also worth mentioning the amount of double-duty you have people doing in this team – Bruce Wayne, Batman, Dick Grayson, Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl and Oracle – they may look like 7 characters, but they could easily be only 3 different people!

 

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed getting some games of Dice Masters in, and in particular getting in some games with dice that don’t hit the table all that often. As far as I’m aware Oracle is the only card across the 16 which gets a regular spot in top constructed teams, although my estimation of Alfred as a blocker continues to go up – he just doesn’t go away.

For 2017, I think the store will be pushing Dice Masters events fairly heavily again, and hopefully the local player-base will be back to a state of health. I know for a fact that neither of these teams would have been quick enough to survive in an open format, so I hope we continue to do various limited formats – I’d be keen to see an “any Marvel” or “any DC” event (they could even do “Any D&D” although I wouldn’t be taking part in that one).

As a final Christmas cherry on top of the afternoon’s gaming, I walked away with 2 very nice cards as a reward for my efforts (in turning up, more so than in winning). Neither of these are cards I use particularly often, but they’re certainly both playable, and it’s nice to have something unique to show for the day.

foils

Play it again

 

[Warning: This article contains extensive Spoilers for The Night of the Zealot Core Box Campaign in Arkham Horror the Card Game]

Play it again

And again?

Leaving aside the recent trend towards “Legacy” games, very few of us go out and buy a board or card game, expecting to only play it once. For one thing, the complexity of many modern games means that you need to play it once before you’re fully comfortable with the rules, mechanics and interactions, and for another, it would be an incredibly inefficient use of money and storage space.

For a lot games, that isn’t a problem – No matter how many times you play Pandemic, Carcassonne, Dominion or Ticket to Ride, the game remains basically the same, and the nuggets of information that you gather (what worked well last time, what is player X likely to be trying to achieve when they do Y) are fairly abstract, and equally available to all.

nightofthezealotFor a game drive by narrative though, this can be a very different matter. If part of the thrill is about uncovering a mystery, how is that going to play out once the mystery is no longer mysterious? Taking the initial campaign, Night of the Zealot from the Arkham Horror LCG Core set, I want to consider some of the practicalities of this.

The Gathering

The first scenario in the game, The Gathering, starts off with everyone gathered in the study of the first investigator – they have no choice in where they gather, because the door has vanished!

As we will no doubt see in a lot of scenarios over the course of the game’s life, in order to advance the act from this first stage, players need to gather a certain number of clues (2 per investigator). Once they have done this, they can read a brief bit of flavour text about the door mysteriously reappearing underneath the rug, and advance to the next stage, adding in the Hallway, Cellar and Attic locations. So far, no bother- the narrative detail here seems fairly limited in impact.

atticecellar2Moving on to stage 2, players need to explore the cellar and the attic to find clues: due to extremes of heat and cold, you can expect to suffer physical and mental damage when you enter these places and, on a second or subsequent run-through, you might want to avoid sending a particular investigator to the place which will hamper them the most. That said, the number of clues required means that you will have to visit both locations at some point, and unless you want your party very thinly spread, you might just have to suck up that damage and horror in order to reach the parlour.

ghoulpriestThe final stage of The Gathering is where the spoilers start to come thick and fast. For one thing, the rather large and unpleasant Ghoul Priest is going to spawn in the Hallway, and having advance knowledge of that is likely to impact where you position your investigators immediately prior to paying the clues to advance.

In the parlour itself is the mysterious Lita Chantler – with a big enemy like that in play, can you afford to use an entire turn evading the Ghoul, then moving to the Parlour and then performing an Intelligence check of difficulty 4 in an attempt to take control of her? First time round, we didn’t bother: Roland had Dynamite, and a beat-cop which was enough to put a good-sized hole in the Ghoul Priest without using that many actions in hope of gaining her “+1 to combat” “+1 damage to monsters.”

There is also, of course, the option to resign at various points in the game. Do you cut your losses and run? Well, once you know that at least one possible resolution leads only to death, you’re unlikely to bother with that one. Knowing that a surviving Ghoul Priest will find his way into the Encounter Deck for all future games is also likely to give you pause before turning your back on him.

Burning Down the House

yourhouseBy far the biggest issue for me with re-playing this campaign, is the question of burning down the house. In our first play-through, I reasoned that a by-the-book Fed like Roland was very unlikely to torch his own home, merely on the word of a strange woman who had appeared in his kitchen. The house remained standing, and we were rewarded with an extra XP for Roland, and the chance to start the second scenario at “Your House,” a location with clues, a low shroud value, and a powerful action ability to draw cards and resources at once.

The second time through, we torched the house. Obviously, there’s an element of wanting to just explore the different possibilities, but in all honesty, we were mostly motivated by the challenges we faced in scenario 3. We wanted to have Lita on the team, and correctly guessed that burning the house would bring her to our cause. No bonus XP, no “Your House” for scenario 2, and 1 mental trauma for Agnes, but in return we had a powerful ally who might prove… useful, in scenario 3.

 

Midnight Masks

cultistrevealThe second scenario is a fairly confusing one first time out, just because it is so open ended. At least with the current card-pool, I think it must be near-on impossible to defeat all the cultists in the deck before Doom causes the Agenda to advance at least once. Of course, having it advance from stage 1 to 2 is no bad thing as you quickly discover when you realise that the back of the first Agenda card is one of the 6 cultists you seek.

The first time we played this, we were very uncertain a lot of the time –how long could we spend investigating? How many cultists did we need to find? We defeated 4 in the end, and called it a day.

The instant you set up the third scenario, a lot more about the second one becomes clear: any cultists who survive are going to reappear looking for a fight just at the moment you need to get past them to the Ritual Site. Cultists still at large will also mean starting the third scenario with Doom already on the Agenda, effectively cutting the amount of time available to you there. Perhaps more to the point, you realise that there is no real drawback to allowing the agenda to advance once in Midnight Masks (as noted above, it can be a blessing in disguise, providing a cultist to defeat at the cost of zero clues). If you do run out of time, going “Past Midnight” leads to a simple cards-in-hand penalty at the start of the next game: certainly not something an investigator would wish for, but a price you may decide to pay if you think it will mean the difference between taking down that last cultist or leaving them to roam free.

The Devourer Below

At last then, you come to the third and final scenario of the campaign. First time round, Roland and Wendy were both in full health, and we had arrived ahead of Midnight. However, we then found ourselves in all manner of trouble – Doom was advancing fast, Roland got stuck in the twisting paths, and when it was time to head to the Ritual Site to stop the dark deeds underway, the way was blocked by 2 Cultists. Wendy was able to get past them thanks to the help of the Cat Burglar, but by the time Roland had cleared them out and joined her, all they were able to do was to die together.

umordhothhighlightedPlaying The Devourer Below crystallised things about the earlier scenario for us in a way that no amount of actually playing the earlier stages could have: we knew that we needed to be much more successful in defeating cultists first time out (Wolf Man Drew is a particularly nasty one to have to deal with). Agnes and Skids felt a lot more optimistic going into their attempt at Scenario 3 knowing only Victoria (pay resources) and Herman (discard cards) would be standing in their way.

Above all though, coming face-to-face with Umordhoth made it clear to us that we needed Lita in the party: obviously our investigators are decent folk and will do what they can to win the investigation properly, but knowing that there’s an ally we can throw under the bus makes a big difference.

Locations and Encounters

Away from the meta-narrative there will, obviously, be variation in every game of Arkham Horror that you play. The encounter deck is randomised and, even if you shuffle as badly as I do, that will mean some variation between whether you have to pass a skill test, sit hampered by a treachery you can do nothing about, or fight an enemy.

southsideOn top of the pre-existing randomness built into the mechanics of the game, there are some elements where additional unpredictability is built in through randomised cards: choosing between the 2 different versions of Downtown, or the different Southsides for example. That said, it’s still important not to get too carried away: there are exactly two versions of each of these locations, and even drawing at random, it won’t take that many plays to get through all of them.

twisting-pathsArkham Woods in the 3rd scenario is a little more complex: even though you will fairly quickly get to know all 6 of the locations on the revealed side, you still never know from game to game which one is which or where. Given the different challenges that these offer, this can make for a lot of variety in the final scenario, even if it also leads to a lot of frustration (Roland wasting 3 entire turns trying to get out of the twisting paths springs to mind).

Overall I think location variety is a good way to stop you from reaching a point where you have “cracked” a scenario, and it no longer offers any challenge, or reason to play again. However, I’m not convinced it really compensates for a narrative that has become sufficiently well-worn to feel excessively predictable.

Reflections

Overall, I enjoyed Night of the Zealot. At times, we found the difficulty really frustrating, but that’s a lot to do with the limited deck-building options you have from a single Core Set. No doubt in time, a couple of properly rounded-out decks will make the easy mode feel just that: easy. At that point, we’ll probably try it on a higher level (standard at least, we may not be going near “Hard” for a while yet).

Overall though, I do wonder how much re-play value this campaign will have. I’ve played it a fair few times now and I’m pretty confident that I know all the different ways it could play out. At that point, it’s very easy for the game to shift from being a narrative, role-playing experience, to a mechanical puzzle where theme is a slightly secondary consideration. That isn’t necessarily a problem – the game can scratch two different itches on early / later replays, but I think it’s important that we don’t have unrealistic expectations: the outcomes and possibilities within a given scenario or campaign are finite, and we’ll only be setting ourselves up for disappointment if we expect any different.