September was an interesting one, a month with a LOT of gaming all told. Certainly the most sessions in a single month that I can remember, although not the most hours. There were some big new additions for popular titles, and even a little bit of the brand new. I did a little bit of house-keeping around here, including a new section – “Story-Board” where I’ve gathered together, all my story-stuff (like Chance Encounters) as well as the growing number of book reviews I’ve been doing for Asmodee’s tie-in fiction subsidiary, Aconyte. The book reviews have kept me pretty busy recently, but I’m nearly caught up with their release schedule, so I’m optimistic about getting back on top of things.
Marvel Champions had fallen a little behind Arkham in the race to be the most-played game of 2020 for the last 2-3 months. However, the arrival of the Rise of Red Skull box saw Champions reach double figures for the second month in a row, almost 30 sessions since the start of August, and 100+ sessions since I picked up the game just under a year ago! It’s now looking like a near-certainty to be my most-played game of the year by sessions (the only serious challenge to this will be if Covid restrictions remain light enough for us to send Ned to his grandparents and do an Ironman session at Farkham Nights).
I think that the difficulty level is pitched much more enjoyably in Champions than in Lord of the Rings, in terms of being able to take a deck and go, without being required to custom build for each individual scenario, and the addition of 5 new scenarios (as well as 2 new Heroes) more-or-less doubled the number of combinations available to be played in a single box. September was also the month when we got to chat with Caleb Grace, lead developer of Marvel Champions and Lord of the Rings, and you can listen to some of his thoughts over at the Card Game Cooperative.
The Ring goes North and South
Speaking of Lord of the Rings, this also got a bit of table-time this month: Spurred on by Caleb’s comments on how proud he was of how a particular set of Orcs used in these quests turned out, I finally finished off the last 2 quests of the Haradrim cycle which (for some reason which now eludes me) I’d never gotten to in the past.
I had a Radagast/Tactics Eowyn/Hirgon deck, the basic bones of which I believe I net-decked a while back, and I swapped the new Gwaihir hero in for Hirgon, as well as shuffling the other cards around to make space for the new Eagle allies in the most recent pack. Gwaihir Hero is a fun little puzzle to play around, although the deck is definitely dependent on getting some key cards early (Radagast’s Staff, Eagles of the Misty Mountains).
Around the same time, George and I are playing through the Ered Mithrin cycle, which I had played Solo around the time it was coming out, but we’d never tackled 2-player. We’re still using the Rohan Forth, the Three Hunters deck that I’ve had built for a while, paired with an Eomer/Imrahil/Lothiriel deck – it’s nice thematically, and can handle a lot of the challenges that the encounter deck throws at it, although unavoidable damage is a problem for the no-agenda deck, as there’s no Lore amongst the various decks – I did consider an off-sphere Warden of Healing (together with some kind of resource card) but eventually opted for a Dunedain Remedy – it’s often dismissed as a bad card, but I tend to not need it until mid-late game, by which time I’ve got the resources and the draw to hit it fairly consistently and be able to afford to shuffle it around.
We completed the Deluxe box and the first scenario of the cycle, but ran into a brick wall with Fire in the Night, which basically requires the ability to take a hit from a 7-attack, immune to player-card effects Dragon, not just once but anywhere up to 3 times a round! Back to the drawing board for some new swarm decks.
Dogs the Bark in the Night
Compared to the other 2 co-op LCGs, Arkham looks a bit like the poor relative for September, but it still hit the table 6 times! – after a worrying few hours when I discovered that my pre-order wouldn’t be fulfilled, I ultimately managed to secure a copy of the wonderful Barkham Horror! We beat it at the first try with Bark Harrigan and Kate Winthpup, although Bark died in the final round and a later spotted a mis-play that leaves a definite asterisk next to the win.
Meanwhile, we’re also taking the various Investigator Starter Decks through a few campaigns, using them as standalone products, with upgrades coming from within the box only (it really pains me to not take Charisma when given story-allies, so we’ll see how long my resolve lasts). So far Harvey and Winnie have made their way Beyond the Gates of Sleep and done a bit of searching for Kadath, whilst Nathaniel and Jacqueline cleared a hospital of Spiders in Waking Nightmare – overall the pair of linked 2-player campaigns seem to have been going pretty well, although my wife has basically given up playing Daredevil level zero because it’s “too much effort” to discard half of your deck as you look for a Rogue skill card to commit!
For all of the investigators, I’m seeing a lot of potential synergies with the wider card-pool, and Winnie will definitely benefit from having additional skills in her deck. Meanwhile, Stella has been making her way through the Dreaming side solo in a 4-part only campaign – she managed scenario 1 fine, then utterly crashed and burned in her search for Kadath, defeated by enemies 1 location from the start, with no Signs discovered. Fortunately she at least got 2xp from the Intro, so will have a slightly better gun for session 3!
Innsmouth Conspiracy should be here very early in October, so a bit of catching up to do with all the overlapping campaigns.
Once More Unto the Breach
Another big feature for September was Aeon’s End – technically this wasn’t a new game, but we did roughly double the amount of it we own, and have (so far at least) played the new stuff by itself, and not mixed in with what came before. For anyone not familiar with the game, it’s a Marketplace deck-builder, where the players control “Breach Mages” – women and men who have learnt how to sunder the fabric of reality and call forth power from within, in order to defend their homes from powerful abominations known only as “Nameless.” It’s a really interesting, fairly unique fantasy setting, as well as a really solid co-op card game.
So far, they’ve released 5 “waves” of content, each of which was its own Kickstarter campaign, combining a stand-alone big box of content, plus 1-3 small boxes worth of expansion content. I reviewed Wave 1 (Aeon’s End) back in 2017, and backed Wave 2 (“War Eternal”) on Kickstarter, but then dropped out of tracking their new releases when they went Legacy for Wave 3. Having had the game long enough that some fresh cards felt like a good idea, and heard positive things about the stronger emphasis they were placing on the narrative in the more recent releases, I jumped back in with the 5th Kickstarter, picking up wave 4 (“The New Age”) and 5 (“Outcasts”) which arrived earlier this month.
We’ve played all through the mini-campaign that was introduced in New Age, as well as a few standalone games before starting the expansion campaign. Once that’s done, I expect we’ll try a few more stand-alone games before breaking into Wave 5. There are a few odd features – like the weird way that they send you the Kickstarter edition in 1 big box, with the expansion boxes flat-packed inside, and one unfortunate printing error, where a punchboard didn’t get punched (so it’s just a giant board with 2 separate components for 2 separate characters stuck to each other), but overall the narrative/gameplay experience remains really good.
My obsession with Solo Carcassonne continues. I’ve been playing this a lot, ever since the solo rules came out, and have managed most of the achievements now, although a few keep eluding me. First is the challenge to Score 4+ Monasteries. The problem here is that a Monastery cannot be shared between multiple colours, so in order to complete the challenge, you not only need to completely surround 4 Monasteries with tiles, (invariably leaving meeples tied up for a fair while as you do so) but you also need to do so in a sequence which ensures that at the point of completion, the colour occupying the Monastery is the one in last place.
The other challenge is to score a 4-tile city with 3 different colours: this one is fairly straightforward conceptually, you need to get 3 end pieces, each with a different colour meeple on them, all facing towards the same tile. Then you need a 3-sided city tile to join them all together – in terms of scoring, this one is a fair bit easier, as the city is shared by all 3 colours, so will always count for scoring – however, the number of specific tiles you need to come, and – crucially – the timing of when they appear (each of the 3 colours needs to draw an end-piece, and be able to join it to the existing map, and not run out of Meeples whilst waiting for the 3-side piece which can only come at the end). [yes, I’m playing this too much. Yes, I’m thinking about it too much. Yes, I should have beaten this by now].
Between those 5 games, that was over half the sessions accounted for. Aside from that, things looked fairly normal – a bit of D&D, Zombicide, Death May Die. We introduced a friend and his wife to Pandemic and Mysterium, and I even played a couple of games with Ned that felt enough like a real game to warrant inclusion on the spread-sheet. A lot of people might say that playing Cobra Paw without the “race to find it first” element is pointless, but for a fairly-distractible 3 year-old, I decided that counts!
The 10×10 hardcore challenge continued to tick along. Dragonfire became the 8th game to read 10+ sessions, and the 2 outstanding titles got some table-time too. Mansions of Madness will hopefully be getting a new lease of life now that I’ve got Valkyrie working properly on the laptop, but there were definitely some teething difficulties which choked some of the life out of our first game. For Gloomhaven, the obstacle is the same as always – finding the time to set it all up and pack it all away again!
September was when I finished off my 12×12 Challenge(?) with a 12th game of Dominion. The question mark is because the BGStats App tells me that I’m still a session short, as it has inexplicably decided to exclude D&D. A single session of Imperial Assault or Eldritch for October will definitely finish things off (if needed) – in fact, I thought I had finished it, until I looked back to check the date, and realised that I was still 1 play short!
We’re into the final quarter of 2020 now, and like most folk around the world, just hoping that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the headlamp of an oncoming train. Aside from a couple of smallish expansions, I’m not convinced that anything new is still yet to arrive, with delays cropping up across Kickstarter projects left, right, and centre. As mentioned above, we’re hoping to send Ned to his grandparents for a day or so at the end of October, so that we can attempt to play an entire Arkham LCG campaign in a day! We’ll find out later whether that turns out to be a good idea or not…