September’s update on the 2016 Gaming Challenges
It was a big month for gaming goals. The biggest news is that the 10 of 10 challenge came (more-or-less) to its conclusion, but it was also a fairly successful month for trimming the un-played as well.
11 of 10
This is done! ¾ of the way through the year, and as September comes to a close, the 10 of 10 challenge is complete.
The game which carried me over the finish line was Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition. 7 games in August had put this one into a strong position, and it took about a week and a half of September to get the extra 3 tied up.
As this was a review game, I’m going to point people towards the Games Quest blog rather than going in to too much detail here, but there are a few things I want to touch upon.
First up is the app. One of the earliest articles I wrote for this blog was about the place of apps in Board Games, and as far as I can recall, I was pretty lukewarm on the whole topic. The implementation in Mansions though has been a real eye-opener, and has definitely redeemed the concept in my eyes.
I also want to praise just how atmospheric the gameplay in Mansions is. This is a game where there’s a definite sense of being able to empathise with your investigator as they go mad. I mentioned back in August that I hoped 2016 was finally the year where we got a good Cthulhu game that would make it to the table regularly, and so far it has not disappointed.
I’ve got a few wordy/number-crunchy articles in the pipeline at the moment, so I’m hoping to break things up soon with a picture heavy look at some of the painted miniatures from this game- keep your eyes peeled.
Beyond Baker Street
Games reaching 10 plays, it seems, are a bit like buses: you wait ages for one, then two come along at once. Also reaching the magic ten this month, was Beyond Baker Street. This is another one I reviewed for Games Quest, a month or so back, and is basically a Sherlock-Holmes re-theme of Hanabi. Again, you can read a detailed account in the review, but my overall impression at this point is of a fun, engaging game – the sort where you lose and immediately want to try again and beat it, rather than losing and wanting to hide in a cupboard for a day or so.
Despite this “completion” there were a few issues with “10 plays” list – for one thing, I realised whilst I was logging plays for a different spreadsheet that I’d been slightly inconsistent with my accounting: for Bananagrams and Boggle, I’ve been operating a strict policy of 1 session = 1 play. I belatedly realised though, that I hadn’t been applying the same principal to Zombie Dice, despite it being a game of similar length, and similar likelihood of doing multiple games in a row. Fortunately, we’d played this game enough that even after the adjustments had been made, I could still count 10 distinct sessions, , although it should have come in July, and after Bananagrams, not back when originally claimed on here.
This was also the month when I managed to get my hands on a review copy of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. It was as much fun as I remembered, but it did pose an interesting problem. With 8 games of regular Pandemic already played this year, that meant that as soon as I completed the second game of Cthulhu, the ‘family’ had made it in to double figures. What do I have? Is it one game played ten times? Or 2 games with a single-fingered-handful of plays for each of them?
Ultimately I decided to count it as 2 games. The base-level mechanics of the two games are, certainly, very, very similar, but there is no compatibility between them. For every familiar aspect you spot, there is a different twist.
Thinking about other games which I have grouped together, something like Pathfinder ACG comes from 3 entirely distinct base-sets, but at least 80% of the cards (possibly more) could be slotted in to a different set without causing any mechanical problems. Marvel Legendary is clearly one game no matter how many expansions you have, but playing Legendary Big Trouble in Little China this month, I decided that that too was similar enough to go under the same umbrella.
There are a few other games where I’m in doubt over about grouping: take Carcassonne and Star Wars Carcassonne – if you’ve played the original, you’d be hard-pressed to miss the similarity between the versions, but there is more than just the colouring to differentiate them game-play wise: both the faction affiliation of terrain features and the dice-based combat drastically alter the levels of interaction involved, and the lack of farmers is guaranteed to confuse Carcassonne veterans taking their first steps into a Galaxy Far, Far Away.
Command and Colours is also tricky, 2 games bearing the name (Ancients and Napoleonic), and 1 under a different brand (Memoir ’44) that all replicate the same basic structure (units on a hexagonal board, activated by playing a card that targets a sector, attack opposing units with custom dice), but spin the theme different ways and to different levels of complexity in order to reflect the theme of a particular era and warzone. For the moment, none of these other games have been played enough for the counting to make a huge difference, but it’s still a question to bear in mind for the long-term.
The Future of 10?
Even though the challenge itself is complete, I’m going to keep an eye on the double-figures threshold. The “easy” version of the challenge is complete (as opposed to the “Hardcore” version where you have to pick the games before you start playing), but for me this challenge was much more about having a useful yardstick for balanced gameplay, and I want to see what else winds up joining the list. There is also a part of me that wants to have ten “worthy” games on the list, and there is that slight sense that the game which was played exactly ten times then sold, and/or the 5-10 minute fillers don’t quite fit this.
For now though, it’s a relief to have hit the “10 of 10” target, and I’ll keep you updated on what follows.
3 of 9
The “un-played since last year” list was down to 9 at the start of September, and it has continued to grow shorter.
A slight surprise disappearance from the list was Settlers of Catan. This had been dusted off for September’s Modern Classics article, and it struck me a.) just how much stuff I had for this, and b.) just how little enthusiasm I had for playing it. In the end, I decided that this was a game I could get some money for (enough to be worth selling), that was never going to hit table, unless it was for the reason of “I need to get this off of the list.” It’s gone, and has hopefully found a happy hope elsewhere.
I was also quite pleased to get Avalon off of the list. I backed this on Kickstarter a few years ago, having heard good things about The Resistance, and liking the Arthurian theme. We played it once, and it fell really flat. Nobody seemed that enthused, there was some confusion about what was going on, and at least one character was missing a piece of crucial information, but had no way to bring this to my attention without giving away his identity (and the secret identity is basically the whole point of the game).
This time, things were much more successful. I’d spent a bit of time making sure I was extra clear on the rules, and probably did a better job of explaining it than last time. We also improvised some more story around the quests that we were sending people on, and had two really enjoyable games. A personal highpoint was in the second game where, as Percival, I’d figured out who Merlin was, and had managed to identify the evil 4. I then appeared to “reluctantly out myself as Merlin” in order to ensure that my wife didn’t send any of the traitors on the final quest, and followed it up by feigning dejection with our hollow victory so well that the assassin targeted me, and we won the game. (Apologies to anyone not familiar with the game, for whom that account will have made no sense).
As a game which probably needs 7 to be enjoyable, this isn’t likely to get lots of time on the table, but after this most recent session, I’m much happier at having got it in the first place.
Guillotine is a light, quick, family-friendly game about beheading Frenchmen. You heard. The basic premise is that players are executioners during the French Revolution, trying to earn the most adulation and glory by executing the most famous and hated figures, and avoiding the heroes and martyrs popular with the masses.
Played over three “days” each day sees a dozen nobles lined up next to a Guillotine. On your turn you may play an action card, then you take the first noble from the front of the line, then you draw an action card. Actions cards can be used to manipulate the order of the line, allowing you to grab Marie Antoinette (at 5 Points, the most valuable card in the game), chuck the Hero of the People (-3 Points, the least valuable card in the game) into an opponent’s pile, or generally tweak things in your favour.
There’s obviously some strategy to this game: you need to manipulate the line to your advantage, but obviously your opponent will be doing the same, and there’s no real advantage to shunting a negative card out of the way for this round if you’re going to have to pick it up next term – you might be better off grabbing something high value, and just living with the small setback.
This was a fun enough game – it used to get played a lot back in the day, and after a few minutes, the rules all clicked fairly easily. Some of the packaging decisions seem a bit sub-optimal (if you got rid of the cardboard guillotine, it would all fit in a standard deck-box, and the cards might not get quite so warped), but it’s still far from huge, and I expect it’ll be sticking around.
At this stage, crossing off the final 6 looks like it will be fairly do-able. They can all be played with 2, even if it’s not the optimum way to go, and probably the biggest thing needed is just a mental shove on my part.
As mentioned at the end of August, it’s now getting to the time to be looking over my shoulder at the games played last year, but not yet this year.
This group is actually larger than those which are un-played altogether (8 vs 6 at time of writing), probably down to a mixture of factors, including the fact that I wasn’t actively targeting this group from January, the fact that there was nothing in here that was so unlikely to get played that I actually sold it (at least not yet) and of course, the fact that my reviewing job means the pile is constantly being added to.
Obviously it would be ideal not to have any games I own that go a whole year without being played, and I’ll certainly be paying careful attention to games that are still there at the end of the day. That said, I certainly won’t be losing sleep over this list, and I know that this is only one aspect of some fairly detailed number-crunching as I try to decide which games are not earning their keep and need to be moved on.