Warning: The following article is mostly composed of numbers and musings.
Last year I played a total of 788 games. Of those, 265 were of the Pathfinder ACG, 175 were the Lord of the Rings LCG, and 155 were of Dice Masters – in other words, those 3 games made up roughly ¾ of my total gaming for the year.
So far, 2016 is looking very different – 389 games played between January and June is not too far removed from last year (369), but the distribution is very different.
The most played games still feature some familiar faces. Although our most-played game of the year is a new entry – Zombicide: Black Plague with 60 sessions, Pathfinder is only just behind with 59 plays, then LotR LCG on 41 and Dice Masters with 34.
Even allowing for this new arrival, there’s a much broader spread of what’s being played: whereas the top 3 games last year accounted for 75% of what I played, the top 4 games this year make up fractionally under half (49.9%). Even these figures may be a bit generous – almost half of those games of LotR came on a single evening as I tried without success to beat a particularly irritating quest. Dice Masters is more-or-less in freefall, as our local community vanishes and I struggle to find opponents.
Just behind the leading pack, you can find a growing number of games in the teens and twenties of play-throughs: the Game of Thrones ACG and Marvel Legendary have both passed 25, having been discovered (or released) part-way through last year, they have kept a steady turnover, without really threatening the top 4 (Legendary is probably held back by its labour-intensive set-up, and Game of Thrones play is always capped by the need to build a functional deck and arrive at the FLGS at the same time as other players). Zombie Dice is a new entrant in the mid-teens, where it’s comfortably holding its own.
There was previously a line here about another game which appeared to have broken into this group, but it was disqualified when it transpired that I had typed a number in the wrong row of my spreadsheet…
The real change this year though, is in the single digits. Last year, I played a total of 58 games, but only 12 of them 5 times or more, and 30 of them (i.e. more than half) only once. This year, I’ve played 44 games so far, but already 17 of those have been played 5 times or more, and only 10 of them have been played just the once (for now). The selection of games being played is broadening.
Obviously, some of the changes in game-play have a fair amount of intentional behaviour behind them – regulars will know that I’m trying to play ten games ten times in 2016, which is something I didn’t do last year (I wasn’t trying, it just happened that 7 games got played ten times or more, and the others didn’t), so this definitely encourages me to look more often at games I like but haven’t played that much. There’s also the issue of trying to empty my “un-played” pile, which is causing the dust to be brushed off a fair number of old games – I’m trying to avoid this turning in to a token “play it once” activity, both in terms of playing games more than once (at least the shorter ones) and in terms of seriously considering whether I want to play that game again.
Reviews also deserve a mention at this point, as you can’t really review a game without playing it a fair few times, but only 1 of the 9 games I’ve reviewed so far has really taken the house by storm (Zombicide), so that’s another whole set of games that are getting played “a few” times, but not loads and loads.
Despite all of that though, I still think that there are issues with what have historically (at least for 2015 and the second half of 2014) been our “main” games.
Lord of the Rings LCG has been a family favourite for 5 years now, but as I’ve commented at length elsewhere, it feels like it’s reached a point where they have over-complicated the game, and increased the difficulty to the point where sitting down to play is just painful. Our local meet-up for the game has also missed a few sessions (I don’t quite know what happened for June, I think we all just forgot…) which doesn’t help, and the sense that you need to custom-build a deck for every quest you tackle makes a game at short-notice a real challenge. [Do I keep the 4-player decks built in the hope that friends will come over and want to play? Or build for 2 and push to do that mid-week instead of one of the newer games? Sadly the days are gone when you could have a set of decks ready that did both]. I had this come up on Saturday, when a friend suggested a game, and I had to indicate that I had nothing ready that would give us a viable game.
Pathfinder is still a solid game – As noted above, it’s still very near the top of the “most-played” list for the year, [there’s an ongoing tussle with Zombicide] and we’re still picking up the Class Deck expansions as they come out (looking forward to lots of Goblins in the near future).
That said, there are still factors weighing against the game. First of all, it’s worth noting that Pathfinder is in something of a fallow period in terms of the material they’re releasing: after a hectic first 2 ½ years of the game, they have opted for a long hiatus between the 3rd and 4th Adventure Paths, to let people catch up with existing content – as a result, there’s definitely a lack of urgency as we re-play earlier paths, no pressure to be finished in time to play the next thing out.
That said, I think my enthusiasm for this game took more of a blow from the final stages of the 3rd AP, Wrath of the Righteous: there was certainly intent on the part of the designers to make it “big” and “challenging” but it also felt badly scaled (the “Army” henchman are ridiculous against survivors groups of 6), and the excitement of having everything constantly turned all the way up to 11 quickly wore off – we still haven’t finished that path with our second character group, and I’m honestly not sure whether we’ll ever bother. Definitely a place where – for us – difficulty went a step too far.
Dice Masters I like. Given the chance, I’d still be playing this every week, but our local group has basically disappeared, with two people selling up, and others just not able to make it down very often. As a 2-player head-to-head, this one is never going to get much time at home, and working at UK Expo meant that playing in Nationals Wasn’t an option. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get some games of this in over the next month or two, but I largely let the Civil War set pass me by, and I’m not going to be spending money on the upcoming Green Arrow/Flash set unless something major changes.
Overall, I think the spread of this year’s gaming has been healthier than last: playing a broader range of games seems like a sensible way to go. As an added bonus, the fact that I’m doing review work means that I’m able to balance a lot of my costs in acquiring new stuff, either by getting the games I want as review copies, or at the very least selling or trading them to offset my costs. The only thing I’m really lacking is having as much time to play games as I do to write about them.