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.


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.

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.



“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.

(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.


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