January

A new year, a new round of gaming.

January kicked off at full speed, with a pile of 70 un-played games to work through, a Hardcore 10×10 challenge to do, and the best part of 2 full seasons of Pandemic Legacy to get played by early Feb.

In total, January had 59 Sessions spread over 20 different titles, with Pandemic Legacy the runaway leader – 16 games played this year already.

 

10×10

10of10-2018-JanI’ve come up with a little graphic to monitor the progress of the 10×10 challenge, via this little grid. With 11 sessions in the first week, this definitely got off to a good start, but obviously this is somewhat skewed as any sessions past the tenth of these games won’t count for anything.

At the moment I’m not yet (at least consciously) letting the 10×10 challenge influence what I play – hopefully this won’t need to change, but obviously I might change my tune if I get to October and still haven’t ticked things off.

Pandemic Legacy notched up all 10 sessions within a few weeks – the only one to make it to ten in January, although Arkham Horror also had a healthy chunk completed at the first attempt.

LotMatWe finally had our re-scheduled Fellowship event for Lord of the Rings (Asmodee didn’t get the kits out in time for December). We’ve got a fun group of people who play LotR locally, so it was a good time, and my wife was a big fan of the new playmat. That said, the quest itself was just stupid, and we all died fairly quickly.

At the final count, I’ve clocked up 31 sessions out of 100 needed for the 10×10 in January. Obviously, this speed won’t continue – I’m already at the point where new sessions of Pandemic Legacy aren’t counting, and it won’t be long before the same is true of Arkham or Zombicide, so I’m not expecting to complete the challenge by the beginning of April (January’s rate extrapolated) – still, a good start all-told.

Current H-Index

By Sessions

2018 – 4 – (Pandemic Legacy, Arkham LCG, Aeon’s End, Zombicide)

All-time – 19 (no change)

By Hours

2018 – 4 (Pandemic Legacy, Arkham LCG, Aeon’s End, Zombicide)

All-time – 19 (Pandemic Legacy added).

 

Others

Dragonfire-Card-Game-BoxThere were still plenty of games not on the 10×10 list which got played: a few reviews from last year that still needed wrapping up (Dragonfire, Pandemic Rising Tide), a bit of L5R, and a few scattered odds and ends.

Dragonfire was a game that I was really excited for last summer/autumn, then slightly disappointed with when it arrived, thanks to a rather fiddly rulebook, an unexpected legacy element, and generally crushing difficulty. January was the point where it felt like something clicked – we won our first game, and generally started to get a better sense of what was going on. I’m still undecided on taking the plunge into expansion land, but am looking forward to getting into the core box in more detail.

Shiny

One game I want to talk about for a few minutes, is Legendary Firefly – a game that got two sessions early in January 2018 – not bad going for a game that only managed 3 in total last year.

LegendariesMarvel Legendary is a mash-up with any random line-up of heroes against an equally arbitrary ensemble of villains as the Mastermind tries to carry out a Scheme that may-well bear no relation to anything they’ve ever attempted in the comics. With so many expansions out you can get some fairly unbalanced match-ups, but the overall experience is generally fun, and doesn’t require too much detailed knowledge of the source material.

Firefly Legendary is a very different beast. You’re always playing through “Episodes” each one based on an Episode of the TV show. You’ve generally got a couple of objectives to fulfil, which will directly tie in to what happened in that episode and, most notably, there’s a strong thematic tie-in to individual characters.

Take Shindig for example –the episode where Mal and Kaylee crash Inara’s posh ball, and Mal accidentally gets himself into a duel (with swords). The Shindig episode for the card game comes with 3 copies of an event that simply says “If Inara is a main character, each player gains a talent” (talents are good) “If Mal is a main character, each player gains a flaw.” (yep, you’ve guessed it, flaws are bad). We played this twice in as many nights: on the first night, Mal was a main character, but Inara wasn’t and this cycle of flaws destroyed us. Second time around we’d switched up the crew, and everything was suddenly a lot more straightforward.

Even leaving aside the absolutely awful art (it really is a joke – 2 different cards for one character will look less like either other that they do to a completely different character…) I’ve never been as big of a fan of Firefly Legendary, as I am of Marvel. Marvel generally feels like a game where you’re building your deck and getting to do stuff with it. Firefly feels much more driven by the episode deck (which is very structured and specific), and you generally feel quite powerless, like you’re either poking around in the dark, making blind guesses, or else have no decisions to make at all.

Strangely, everyone else I was playing with commented on how they liked the episodic, more strongly narrative elements – whatever you think of it, it’s definitely shorter and a lot more accessible than Firefly the Board Game. Still, I can’t it making it back to the frequency of table-time it had when it was new.

 

Numbers

UnspeakableTaking a step backwards, the month as a whole was dominated by “Medical” on the thematic side (~30%), and “Save the World” (~40-50%) both dominating the month, thanks to Pandemic. Rather more predictably, Fantasy, Lovecraft and Zombies were the next biggest groups in that order, with mechanics rounded out with Questing, Mystery-solving and good old Survival.

Money-wise, I spent very little in January (just an single Mythos pack for Arkham), with most of the new arrivals being review games or using GQ Credit. That said, using my standard “value ratings,” the spreadsheet still look pretty unhealthy overall, with a few of last year’s big purchases still showing large totals in the red – Gloomhaven and Shadows of Brimstone could both really do with some more table time soon, to steady the ship.

Kicks?

GreenHordeI didn’t back anything on Kickstarter in January, just continued to plug away at last year’s releases – a reasonable helping of Aeon’s End, and a single session of Gloomhaven. Zombicide Green Horde arrived right at the end of the month, but I only managed the tutorial in January.

For February, Gloomhaven is (again) one that needs playing and it would be nice to cross off the last few games of Aeon’s End to bring things into the black. Green Horde will probably be the biggest category of KS play.

The pledge manager for Folklore: The Affliction opened at the very end of January, but won’t be closing for a few months, so I still have time before I make a decision.

 

Final Thoughts

Overall January felt a bit strange, simply because it was so heavily dominated by Pandemic Legacy. It’s a good game, and the second season truly does feel like something different. That said, once we’ve played a few more games so that I can finish the review, I think it might be time for a bit of a Pandemic detox.

Zombicide Green Horde arrived on the last day of the month, and will surely take up a big chunk of February.

I also have another review game, and the original Arkham Horror Board Game, both of which arrived too late in January to get played, along with Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle and One-Deck Dungeon which I only played a couple of solo games of, in order to figure out how they work. Plenty to keep us busy going forward.

 

Advertisements

Kickback: Aeon’s End

KSAs regular readers will know by now, when I get a Kickstarter game, and I’ve had a chance to play it a bit, I like to do an article reflecting on the campaign, the game, and generally how it’s all worked out.

Slightly later than originally planned, today it’s the turn of Aeon’s End: War Eternal.

 

First of all, a bit of background.

Aeon’s End was a game Kickstarted in 2016, which came out early in 2017, at which point I picked up a copy to review. The game-play was great, the components… less so.

Aeons-End-Card-Game-BoxThe basic premise of the game is that players control Breach Mages, living in Gravehold, the last refuge of humanity. Each game sees Gravehold attacked by a Nemesis, a different horror intent on destroying humanity, via a deck of attack cards, delayed effects, and minions.

Each mage has a starting deck with some basic spells (Sparks), basic currency (Crystals), and their own unique starter card. They will increase the power of their decks by buying better Gems, Artefacts and Spells from a market, and try to reduce the Nemesis to zero life.

If the players get the Nemesis down to zero life, they win. If all Mages are ‘exhausted’ (reduced to zero life), or if Gravehold is reduced to zero life, the players lose.

It’s a fun game. I like marketplace deck-builders, working out card-combos and the like, and the fact that this is cooperative means that I can bring it to the table repeatedly, and therefore delve slightly deeper into the strategy than I can with something like Dominion.

 

AE-WE-KSA month or 2 after I got Aeon’s End, I read that they were Kickstarting a stand-alone expansion.

Now, to be honest, I hadn’t gotten even close to exhausting the content of the base game. As I got a Kickstarter copy to review, I had the base game, the retail expansion, and the expansion that was made up of a load of KS Promos bundled together. In numerical terms, that was 7 Nemeses (1 used per game), 12 Mages (1-4 used per game, generally 2 for us) 9 Gems (3 used per game), 10 Relics (2 used per game), and 22 Spells (4 used per game). The only real pinch point at that moment were the basic Nemesis cards – regardless of which Nemesis you were confronting, you also shuffled a random selection of generic Nemesis cards into their deck and (depending slightly on player-count), you saw 90% of them in every single game.

 

I guess that kind of begs the question of “why back this?”

There are a variety of reasons (some good, some bad) for getting involved. For one thing, I’m an expansion junkie and a completionist (I will never believe Microsoft, no matter how many times they tell me that completionist isn’t a real word).

On a more useful note, for any game like this where you buy cards from a marketplace, the re-play value increases exponentially as you add more possible cards to the marketplace – with 1/3 of the Gems getting used in every game, it doesn’t take long to start feeling like everything looks very familiar.

Basic-Nemesis
ALL the basic Nemesis cards from the first wave

As already mentioned, the prospect of additional basic Nemesis cards was very appealing, as these were something that would crop up in most games, but the principle here was the same – adding long-term value, rather than necessarily making any big changes immediately.

Putting Together the Pieces

The other, slightly complex, issue was around the components.

Dodgy-Dial
It may not look like much in profile, but it spins way too much

As I mentioned, the component quality in the original Aeon’s End wasn’t great. The card stock was suspiciously shiny, and a bit thin. The dials were loose. The cardboard breaches that your mages cast their spells from were bendy, and the large mats which represent Mages and Nemeses were often warped and buckled. Partly this last seemed to be a consequence of a very inelegant storage set-up, where the play-mats were essentially balanced on top of a narrow-ish bit of box.

All of these were things that could certainly stand to be improved upon. Oddly though, that didn’t seem to be people’s focus.

There were, I discovered, a number of complaints flying around about the art and the graphic design of the game. Apparently, people didn’t think that a post-apocalyptic fantasy should be dark in its aesthetic.  There were complaints about the overall look of the game, and the whole thing was to be re-done. There were some nonspecific mutterings about improving the component quality, but these seemed to be secondary to the cosmetic makeover.

1st-Edition-ArtI liked the old art. I liked the old aesthetic. Because I had no problems with the art, I hadn’t spent much time in art forums online, and hadn’t felt the need to post loads of threads demanding that things be kept the same. Those who didn’t like the art felt differently, and had posted a lot, giving a (false?) impression that the vast majority were unhappy.

So – it looked like there was a simple choice. Stop with the content I have, or put up with clashing art-designs whenever I played a game that combined wave 1 and wave 2 content. I wasn’t thrilled by 1, and 2 was never going to be an option.

It turned out though, that there was a third option. For $10 I could have all the cards for the sets I already owned in the new card-stock/layout. This was very specifically a one-time-only offer: if I didn’t take advantage now, my only option in the future would be to re-buy the whole game. I decided to take the plunge.

Numbers

I spent roughly £72 on this – $65 for the base game (includes stretch-goals), $15 for an expansion, $10 for the re-prints of the first edition cards.

Pledging in April, this estimated delivery in August, and arrived in October. It’s quite a big miss as a percentage, but 2 months is still not a big deal in a board game kickstarter.

The War Eternal main box was retailing at £45, although it currently seems to be out-of-stock in most places. A UK site has the expansions up for pre-order at £16 and £18 (minus a few pence). Overall then, that probably puts me about a fiver to the good, but it’s fairly marginal, and I expect that over time / when sales crop up, any financial saving will be more-or-less wiped out.

Quality?

There is a difference in component quality between the editions.

Breaches
All 16 basic breaches from (L) 1st Edition, and (R) War Eternal

The breaches, subject to great ridicule during the campaign are the most obvious point for this – thicker, flatter, sturdier, and with rounder corners.

The dials are still a bit awkward (Fantasy Flight have spoiled me with their excellent dials), but not nearly as loose as before.

CrystalsThe card-stock is mixed. Generally speaking, it’s fractionally less shiny and fractionally thicker than before, although it’s still not amazing. There’s also a discernible difference between War Eternal cards, cards from the new expansions, and cards from the update pack.

Part of the issue with card-stock is that player decks (generally) don’t get shuffled, so this is one of the few card games that I haven’t sleeved. If I were to sleeve though, these cards would probably look fine (but then I’d have to buy a load of sleeves and work out a new storage solution).

MagesThe Mage and Nemesis boards still seem a bit prone to warping, which is definitely something of a disappointment, and one of them arrived decidedly bent (it will flatten out under pressure, but the crinkles are there to stay).

All in all, I think I’d have to rate the component quality as “disappointing” – there’s nothing here that’s preventing me from playing the game and enjoying doing so, but given that this is the ‘improved components’ version, it still feels a bit half-hearted.

Sparks
I would have liked to have seen the flavour text made bigger, rather than smaller.

I’m still not convinced that they made the right call on the art – here’s a comparison between original, update, and War Eternal Sparks (the starting spell): the War Eternal version is easily my least favourite, but I’ve got enough Sparks to use the update versions (old art, new layout/design) without things standing out based on card-backs.

 

Time

I’ve played this a dozen times since it landed – at an hour (ish) per game, that’s still a little way short of breaking even, but I’m not especially worried – this has got miles and miles of play left in it. Hopefully we won’t be too far into 2018 by the time I clock up the extra 3 sessions needed. (The game overall was fine for last year, because of the amount of play it got before the KS-content arrived).

Overall, this is currently showing a slight KS deficit, due to outstanding play, but I think it won’t be very long before this joins Massive Darkness in the positive column.

The point at which I’d start to worry about how quickly we were running down that shortfall, would be if I was shelling out more money for Aeon’s End content.

War-Eternal-Box-Insert
I’m quite pleased with the custom insert I made

The next product in the Aeon’s End line is “Aeon’s End Legacy” announced for 2018 – a campaign to create your own unique Mage, who can then be used in ‘standard’ games, as can various market cards from the new wave. I’ve warmed up a bit to Legacy games in recent times, and the designers have done a good job of offering reassurance that 70% of content will be usable outside of Legacy mode. There are other reasons I’d need a fair amount of convincing to get involved in this – right now my AE collection fits into the War Eternal box (slightly smaller than the original AE box), and whilst the custom inset I’m building will make things a bit easier to sort, there’s no way a whole extra game is going in there. At this point, I feel like there’s enough variety in the cards I have that I shouldn’t get bored, at least for a few years.

 

Final thoughts

I was lucky not to have paid for the original Aeon’s End, and that probably left me able to focus on the great gameplay, rather than getting hung up on some shonky components. There are too many wheels within wheels to really say conclusively whether what I’ve ended up with and what I’ve shelled out count as “good” value, at least in the short term, but I certainly don’t have any regrets.

Keeping it Real

Pandemic-Legacy-1-BoxBlack Friday weekend 2017, I bought a copy of Pandemic Legacy Season 1 from Amazon UK for £39.99.

For a game with an RRP of £65 and which normally retails somewhere in the £50s, that’s a good deal – but not really something out of the realms of what you’d expect for Black Friday.

 

Pandemic-Legacy-1-StickersIt was a technically a Christmas present from my wife, so didn’t get opened until the very end of December.

The game was fun, as we’d expected, but the component quality was a bit poor.

For one thing, the sticker sheets were really badly punched – either you’d peel a stick, and the corner would tear as it tried to bring the sticker next to it along for the ride, or else the backing would come away with the sticker, leaving a hole in the sheet, and a sticker that was really hard to peel.

Pandemic-Legacy-1-Cubes
Left – some cubes from Pandemic Rising Tide, Right – sharp-edged cubes from my copy of Legacy

The Legacy deck, which drives the changes over the course of the campaign, was back-to-front, and with the cards in reverse order.

The disease cubes, which are plastic in this day and age (my copy of Pandemic is old enough to have wooden cubes) had sharp corners, often with bits of excess plastic hanging off.

Pandemic-Legacy-1-TokensAs we opened the Legacy boxes, there were various new tokens – I won’t spoil what they all do, but it was noticeable that most of them were printed in quite a wonky fashion (certainly not centred, in some cases bits of the design actually stuck off the end of the token and on to the punchboard), and they generally weren’t perforated well, meaning they were hard to pop out, and often left trails of ripped paper.

I wondered whether it was to do with the fact that this was a Legacy game – components being done on the cheap because they weren’t going to get used that much (and because by the time you got to those components, you were going to be too invested in the campaign to return the game). I was certainly going to flag it up as a negative in any reviews/articles I did.

 

The Interview

Then, as I was browsing Board Game Geek, I happened to stumble across this thread – “Asmodee Execs on Counterfeiting: 70% of some games counterfeit.”

I’ll talk a bit more about the article below (or you can just click the link and read it), but the main gist reading the article, and the BGG commentary was this –

  • More and more fakes are coming out of China.
  • Some of them are remarkably convincing.
  • Fakes are mostly an issue on the most popular/high volume titles
  • Small unknown retailers are a common place to find dodgy copies, but so are third party sellers through Amazon or other reputable sites.

You don’t need to be a genius to figure out my next thought: was my copy a fake?

Fake-Real-Cubes
Not my photo – but looks remarkably familiar

I went on to the Pandemic Legacy Forums, described the situation, and was pointed to this thread. A whole host of people who had bought from Amazon 3rd party sellers at the end of last year, and found themselves with bootleg copies. Specifically, I found a post from a guy who had photographed his fake copy alongside the matching components from the real replacement he received. Mine looked exactly like the ones on the left – it was a fake.

Fake-Real-MarkersI was shocked. More shocked, I think, than I realised at first. In a long time spent gaming, this just wasn’t something I’d ever encountered before.

The first thing I did was to contact Amazon. I spoke to someone in Customer Service, who advised me to return the game, and that they would issue a refund. On one level, that was fine, but it was a slightly disappointment insofar as knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to but a replacement copy for the same price. The Amazon rep assured me that if the investigation team agreed it was a fake, they would provide me with a replacement at the same price, with Amazon taking the hit on the difference.

When to return?

For a ‘normal’ game, it would have been as simple as putting this in the post the next day. For Pandemic Legacy though, there were significant campaign implications.

Part of me wanted to rush through to the end of the campaign. Obviously, I wouldn’t normally ‘finish’ a legacy game then return it, but knowing I’d been sold a fake, I was much less concerned about this than I would otherwise be.

That said, I didn’t know how much the “investigation team” would know about the game – if it came back with all the boxes and windows open, would they refuse to refund/replace, even though it was a fake?

As I mentioned above, I was hoping for a full refund straight away, but with the possibility of a replacement copy coming later (assuming the Amazon investigation confirmed it was a fake). Should I meticulously record every detail of the campaign so far? Or should I write this campaign off, and start a new one if I ever found myself in possession of a proper copy in the future.

In the end, I decided to play a few more sessions, but not to go all the way into November/ December.

Return to Sender

Pass My ParcelI dropped the box off at a local newsagent who take parcels for Amazon’s designated courier. It took 2 days for them to collect the parcel, followed by another 6 where the parcel was simply “in network for return” before it finally reached Amazon.

The following day I got my refund.

By this time, I was fairly well-reconciled to the idea of getting my money back. I’m glad to have sampled Legacy, but ultimately this was never going to have the legs of its standalone cousins and, having essentially got a dozen games of it for free, I was quite happy to call it a day at that point.

 

Questioning the Nature of Reality

I want to return though, to the broader question of counterfeit games.

I play a lot of board games, including a lot of new games. The same week I opened Pandemic Legacy, I also started playing Rising Tide.

Pandemic-Legacy-1-Cubes
When you know what you’re looking for, the difference is obvious…

Side-by-side, the differences in component quality are obvious, Legacy was clearly a fake. However, it simply never occurred to me that someone would fake something that complex, with that many moving parts. I saw it as shoddy, but not as fake.

The consensus (so far as there is one) online seems to be that these are probably “3rd shift prints” – i.e. the factory who made the real games, is already set up with all the images/moulds etc, and makes another batch. However for this batch, they use cheaper quality materials, they aren’t bothered with any extra time-consuming activities (like spinning to round and smooth the corners), and they’re using moulds etc that are knackered after having made however-many-thousand real copies first. I can’t prove any of that, but it seems the most likely explanation for how something with this many different bits could be faked.

Now, obviously there are people out there who are more observant than me, or more suspicious, but how many people will have received something like this who aren’t Board Game experts, and will simply assume that this is the standard of things.

 

studio-logo-asmodeeThe interview on Board Game Geek was with Christian Petersen and Steve Horvath, who are the CEO and CMO of Asmodee North America, the company who now own Fantasy Flight, Z-Man, Days of Wonder, as well as the Catan series formerly owned by Mayfair Games. They also own Esdevium who were historically the main UK distributor for Board Games (since the start of 2018, they now trade as Asmodee UK).

They describe the problem as possibly “Existential” for hobby gaming, estimating a loss of $5-10 million per year, and saying that up to 70% of online sales for some games last year may be fakes.

Some of the issues are obvious – it’s illegal to make fake games, and it means that money isn’t going to the designers and publishers who most of us are relying on to create the next batch or great games we all want to play.

Some hadn’t struck me, but are pretty obvious once mentioned – health and safety, quality control. If Ned starts sucking a component from an authentic game, there’s a whole load of legislation which has been followed to make sure it’s not covered in lead-based paint etc, etc. chances are that the knock-off copies are rather less concerned with this.

 

Fraudulent Chickens? Or Over-priced Eggs?

One point that the Asmodee execs made in their interview was that the cheap counterfeit games make life difficult for people selling the authentic ones. Unsurprisingly, you can sell Chinese knock-offs for a lot less than it costs to make a living selling the real things.

Closed-DownFor Asmodee, it’s pretty clear that the bad guys are the ones selling the bootleg games, and the victims are the people trying to sell at ‘normal’ prices. After all £55 for a big modern board-game rammed full of nice components seems pretty reasonable until someone else offers you one for £30, right?

There was a surprising amount of dissent in the forums, people who wanted to paint Asmodee as the villains. The main source of this discontent seems to be something called the MAP – Minimum Advertised Price.
Essentially, you aren’t allowed to sell an Asmodee game online below a certain threshold. (I think it’s typically RRP -20%) the stated intention of this policy is to stop online retailers from undercutting the bricks-and-mortar LGS to the point where they cease to be viable. However, it’s generated a lot of anger from people who historically bought the vast majority of their games online during sales, and rarely paid anything above RRP -30%. These people argue that game piracy is the symptom, and that the cause is Asmodee forcing prices up. Essentially, they say the guy asking £55 is ripping you off. Beyond that, there were people saying that Asmodee are in fact responsible for the rise of piracy by creating a window in which the counterfeiters can operate – before, when everyone could discount to shift surplus stock, or simply as a loss-leader, counterfeiting wasn’t economically worthwhile, but now –the argument goes – they know that the legit product will never fall beneath a certain threshold, and that gives them space to operate in.

So who’s right? Is that even a question that’s possible to answer?

Board Games certainly cost a lot more than they used to. I think that’s fairly clear.

LegaciesThis can happen in a number of ways – for one thing, many new titles cost more than old ones: Pandemic Legacy Season 1 – RRP £64.99, Pandemic Legacy Season 2 – RRP £81.99. At the same time, the same game over time will gradually increase in cost. I don’t have access to the RRP of a brand new copy of Ticket to Ride over the past decade, but I’d be fairly confident that it wasn’t the £40 ish it is now when it first came out.

Selling bigger and bigger games, with more and more components to gamers with bigger appetites is one way of explain inflation. Raw materials increasing in costs is another.

Most games are made in China, and given how many more of them there are than 10 or 20 years ago, it seems fairly likely that Chinese factories can charge more to the companies wanting their services, simply because of demand.

For UK customers, the long-term decline of the Pound against the Dollar (or the Euro) is another big factor – Sterling and Dollar prices tend to be a lot closer number-wise than they used to be.

 

Keeping it personal

I can’t comment with any authority on why other people do the things they do, but I guess I can take a look at myself.

NedSpoon
Eventually, everything ends up in Ned’s mouth…

I don’t approve of counterfeit games. I don’t want them in this hobby. I’m not going to be letting Ned anywhere near most of my games for a while, because he’d chew the components, and that’s going to be bad for him and the game.

However, as a father, I want to know that if there ever is an accident, the thing he gets his grubby mitts on is compliant with all that safety legislation, and isn’t made from sharp-edged lead.

As a gamer, I want gamers who design cool games to make enough money doing so that they keep bringing out more new games.

That said, I’m not a fan of spending more money than I have to. If I’d thought about it, I could have remembered that Z-Man are now part of Asmodee, and worked out that they couldn’t be selling Pandemic Legacy for £40. Instead, I saw a deal and I took it.

I want value from my games. But that needs to be tempered with realism. It’s quite rare that I get new games from anywhere besides Games Quest or the FLGS, but when I do, I need to be extra-careful.

For anyone who buys games from Amazon more frequently, I’d recommend keeping an eye out. If you spot an offer, especially from a 3rd-party seller that seems too good to be true, stop to consider the possibility that maybe it is. I’ve seen plenty of comments along the line of “I don’t care about the reduced quality if it’s so much cheaper” – I’d just ask you to think about the wider cost.

I would love for games to be cheaper than they are, and I don’t doubt that Asmodee is making healthy profits. However, my desire to shave a bit off of those profits in my favour is less than my desire to make sure we keep fake games out of this hobby.

If you find a fake, please report it. It is, after all, a criminal offence, and you could potentially be getting something dangerous.

 

This is Hardcore

Having managed 10 plays of 10 games by mid-autumn in 2016, and by the summer of 2017 (final tally, 23 games played 10+ times), I decided to step up the challenge slightly for 2018.

For those doing the ‘official’ 10×10 challenge on Boardgame Geek, there are 2 basic ways to play it – normal, which is what I’ve done for the last couple of years (although I don’t actually log plays on BGG), and hardcore.

Whereas with the normal challenge, you play games, then write down what you played, hardcore requires you to name 10 games in advance, then play them ten times – if you are organised, and only finalise your list part-way into the year, then only plays after the list is confirmed can count.

I thought that this was quite an interesting way to think about the future, and decided to do it.

ArkhamStorageArkham LCG and Zombicide were the first and probably the easiest to put on the list – if I don’t play these 10 times, something seismic will have changed. I decided to keep “Zombicide” as a single, cover-all term – it’s definitely possible that I’ll manage 10 plays of Black Plague and 10 of Green Horde, but chances are, I’ll end up mixing a lot of the stuff together.

LegaciesWe’d just finished February in our Pandemic Legacy Season 1 campaign when New Year rolled around, so barring a premature death (don’t even know if that’s a thing that can happen), that’s got at least another 10 games left in it, and to follow, we have Pandemic Legacy Season 2. I was slightly concerned that it might be seen as a con to count these as 2 separate entries, so ultimately decided to just list them once – Assuming I managed ten sessions of each, it should be fairly safe to have this ticking 1 box, whichever way you measure it.

AE-WE-KSLord of the Rings LCG has been steadily dwindling over the past few years, but I’m still pretty confident that it will get to the table 10 times. Aeon’s End hasn’t had quite as much table-time as I thought it might since we got the expansions, but it should still manage 10 without too much difficulty.

MassiveLegendary is always a perennial favourite, and Massive Darkness has only just finished the core box play-through, leaving much left to explore, including the new Ratlings I got for Christmas.

Elder Sign has been one of the steadiest games of 2017, and with a new expansion due in early 2018 , this should be another fairly easy 10.

How to round out the list was a bit of a puzzle – Eldritch Horror was a plausible candidate but committing to play a 2 ½ hour game 10+ times seemed risky. Dice Masters, L5R and Runewars are all too dependant on getting out of the house and finding opponents.

Streets-of-Arkham-Box
We’re still playing through the scenarios from the last expansion

In the end I went for Mansions of Madness as my 10th – there are still a couple of scenarios we’ve never beaten, plus 1 we haven’t tried yet, and 2 which are DLC and I haven’t shelled out the necessary fiver.

The last entry on the list was a late(ish) addition when I decided to only count Pandemic Legacy once. Gloomhaven will probably be slow and steady rather than a sudden rush of plays, but I think we’ll comfortably have plenty more than 10 by the time the year is out.

So, the final list looks like this:

  1. Arkham Horror LCG
  2. Zombicide
  3. Pandemic Legacy
  4. LotR LCG
  5. Legendary
  6. Aeon’s End
  7. Elder Sign
  8. Massive Darkness
  9. Mansions of Madness
  10. Gloomhaven

 

Although I’m only getting round to posting this now, I had finalised the list by the time New Year rolled around, meaning I’ve already clocked up 8 counting plays towards 100 needed.

I’ll continue doing my monthly updates in 2018, but will give a special mention to how these 10 are faring.

Just 17

A final look back at just the stuff which happened last year

 

Despite everything else that went on, 2017 was a good year for gaming. Over 750 sessions totalling almost 700 hours (should have played that final NYE game of Zombie Dice to tip me over the mark…).

That’s actually more hours than last year, although fewer games (and A LOT less TV to free up the time) In terms of what we had to play, there was a big stack of new games, plenty of new bits for existing games, and it was all done for only a 2-figure sum (net).

 

A – Z

A-Z Arkham Horror, new just before the end of last year, really came into its own in 2017, with the first full cycle released in its entirety, and the beginning of the next following after. It was easily the most-played game by number of sessions, clocking up over 60 outings.

In terms of time spent on a game, Zombicide retained its crown: although not quite as emphatic as last year, it hit the 100-hour mark, with Arkham in second barely clearing 50. A worthy winner overall.

Wide

2017 was a broader year than 2016, and a MUCH broader year than 2015. The top 10 games accounted for only 57% of overall gaming time, down from 66% last year, and 88% the year before (in fact, in 2015, the top 4 alone made up 79% of time). Whilst there was less of an intense focus on the top games, it did mean that for every position after 7th, I had more hours on the nth game than its counterparts from either of the previous years.

CanvasAt the final reckoning, I had an H-Index of 14 (that’s 14 games played 14 times) – Arkham LCG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Zombicide, Legendary, Aeon’s End, Elder Sign, Massive Darkness, Dominion, Pathfinder, Dice Masters, Eldritch Horror, Dungeon Time, Beyond Baker Street and Legend of the Five Rings. A further 9 managed at least 10 plays: Runewars, Mansions of Madness, Battle for Greyport, Runebound, Star Wars Destiny, The Dwarves, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Pandemic Iberia, and Apocrypha.

Of those games, Destiny has now moved on, and Dice Masters has gone into hibernation, with the death locally of organised play, to the point where I have no intention of buying into new sets, (a decision which in turn more-or-less removes any point to attending the Open events which crop up once a year). This is basically in storage until Ned is old enough to join in. Most of the remaining 21 I’d be confident of getting a fair amount of play next year.

 

My all-time H-Index is up at 19 – Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, Arkham LCG, Game of Thrones LCG, Dominion, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness, Mapominoes, Aeon’s End, Beyond Baker Street, Machi Koro, Massive Darkness, Zombie Dice, Yggdrasil, Eldritch Horror, Dobble. Again, “all-time” is reduced to “Christmas 2014 onwards” as that’s when I started keeping records. Probably if I stretched it back a few years more it would go 2 or 3 higher, but I’m fairly happy with this as a reference point.

 

Show me the Money

Shortfallers
I didn’t actually spend anything on Apocrypha in 2017, but it was the year it arrived, and hasn’t balanced out its 2015 purchase-price

I actually spent around £100 more on games this year than last: However, the fact that I more than doubled the amount I made in games sold smoothed over this bump fairly comfortably. I could probably have forced the final balance even lower than the £96.35 it ended up at, by using GQ store credit for more Legend of the Five Rings packs, but as this is a game I’ll be playing exclusively at the FLGS (and haven’t yet had to pay anything to play there), I felt somewhat obliged to at least be buying the packs from them.

Although 2017 was good overall from a financial perspective, there were a few individual offenders. Gloomhaven, Shadows of Brimstone, and Apocrypha were all one-off big-hitters that are still some way short of the hours needed to justify the expense. Pandemic Legacy Season 1 ended up as a Christmas present, leaving me only 6 days to try to make up the deficit: I don’t think it was a bad attempt, but inevitably it took a little longer (less than a week in to January, I’m nearly there).  Legend of the Five Rings hit me hard in the wallet with a content-dump early on, and whilst it was played intensively enough to break even, I‘m hoping that this will start to look like better value during the upcoming lull in the release schedule.

OldShortsThere are also still 3 games from previous years that show a deficit: Commands and Colours, Race for the Galaxy and Dixit: Dixit is incredibly close to catching up, and Race is not too far behind. Commands and Colours still has a way to go, and will probably need to wait until Ned is old enough to play to truly catch up.

Looking only at games with an individual historic shortfall, the grand total is £50 or so better than it was at the start of the year, but it’s a long way back up from September, where I was close to breaking even. The numbers are a bit funny right now, with Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven double-counting, all-time, and all-time by player count – on the flip side, this does mean that each game improves the overall numbers by £15-30 for a single 2-player game!

 

Most Improved

ArkhamStorage
Custom storage is generally a pretty good sign of a game that’s made its mark

As I mentioned during the numbers run-down, Arkham Horror was a really big hit last year. I already knew that it was a game that had a lot of potential from when it released in 2016, and I’m pleased to say that it has delivered. The character development, deck-building, scenario design and campaign progression have all hit the right notes. I’m a little way behind on the game at moment, but that’s a price worth paying for getting a lot of the new content from GQ – I look forward to seeing what 2018 has in store.

Eld-GamesHonourable mentions go to Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign – Eldritch arrived in a maths trade November 2016. We’ve gone a long-way in on expansions, and been rewarded with our 3rd most-played game of the year by time. Elder Sign has undergone a strong renaissance since going un-played in 2015, whilst, and the only game to keep up a serious challenge for the accolade of “played in every single month” before falling at the penultimate hurdle. In the end, Zombicide and Elder Sign were the games played in the most months (11/12 each), with Arkham just behind on 10.

A few games which I acquired part-way through the year were played in every month I had them – for the most recent acquisitions, that’s nothing much to shout about, but the longest streaks chalked up in this way were 5 months out of 5 for Massive Darkness, and 4/4 for Codenames Duet.

Notable Achievers for Most Months Played:

Zombicide                        11/12
Elder Sign                         11/12
Arkham                             10/12
LotR LCG                            9/12
Eldritch                              9/12
Legendary                         8/12
Aeon’s End                         8/11
Dungeon Time                   8/10
Mansions of Madness      8/12
Massive Darkness             5/5
Codenames Duet               4/4

 

Best Newcomer

In terms of games that were actually new in 2017, there was plenty to choose from: Aeon’s End, Massive Darkness, and Legend of the Five Rings were the big-hitters from among the 2017 releases, although there were plenty of other fun new arrivals – Runewars gave me some more to paint as well as getting me out of the house to game, Dungeon Time, Battle for Greyport, Codenames Duet, and Gloom of Kilforth all showed a decent amount of staying power, whilst Gloomhaven and Dragonfire were interesting late arrivals, albeit games that were with us too briefly to compete for the top accolades. I decided that “Newcomer” did need to be an actual 2017 release, which knocked out Runebound, Descent, Shadows of Brimstone and a few others.

MassFigsMassive Darkness is lots of fun, and has loads of nice miniatures to paint (I’m working through them slowly): I think it’s a testament to the amount of fun in this game that, even with the deluge of figures that comes with a Kickstarter, I ended up asking Santa for more (I opted for the Ratlings as they seemed to offer the most variety game-play wise, although that Hellephant is still calling to me…).

NewScorpionsL5R is a very different beast, one which scratches that competitive itch now that Dice Masters and Destiny have gone. Sadly I lack some combination of the natural ability, concentration and free time for practice and play-testing to get really good at the game, but I’m still enjoying it whilst it lasts. It’s nice to feel a growing sense of comprehension, of what’s going on, and how to control the situation, and I think I’ve definitely improved a lot, even whilst I continue to make lots of stupid mistakes.

MagesAeon’s End isn’t quite as much of a brain-burner as L5R, but it’s a bit more cerebral than Massive Darkness, as well as feeling like a more refined, balanced game. Set-up can be somewhat time-consuming, but it’s still a good one to play, with stats to match. There’s a “Legacy” version coming in 2018, which I can’t make my mind up about – brilliant addition or shameless cash-in. I’ll follow the campaign with a moderate amount of interest and see.

Overall, it’s hard to pick a winner between Massive Darkness, Aeon’s End and Legend of the Five Rings, as they’re all such different games, and were all so strong in the latter half of 2017: 16% of sessions, and 22% of hours since the beginning of August.

Theme

RuneboundOverall, the year was dominated by Fantasy, around 40% both in terms of hours and sessions. Within Fantasy, a good quarter of the action took place in Terrinoth, with notable chunks in Middle Earth and Gravehold (Aeon’s End). I finally tired of the biggest group always being “generic” and you can read about the changes I made here.

In terms of what we did this past year, we were mostly completing quests, solving mysteries, or saving the world, although there was a fair amount of just surviving.

 

Looking forward

17Hangovers I’m not entirely sure what 2018 has in store – there’s likely to be a lot of Pandemic in various shapes and forms, with Legacy 1, Legacy 2 and Rising Tide which were all sitting unopened on Christmas Day 2017, but have clocked up double-figures of play by the first weekend in January. Zombicide Green Horde looks set to be the 2018 new arrival that has the biggest impact, with the base game due fairly early in the year, and a stack of expansion/KSE content coming in the summer. 2018 will also be arrival time for Legends Untold, expansions for Apocrypha, the fabled 9th World, and the expansion to Gloom of Kilforth. Aside from the new arrivals, there are also games where we’ve barely scratched the surface – Gloomhaven in particular has a lot left to unpack, and I’m still trying to make my mind up about Dragonfire.

Some games which made a significant impact in 2017 will probably be a fair bit quieter in 2018: there have been recent mutterings of Dice Masters drafts starting up again (including one over the Christmas break when we were away visiting family), but otherwise I could see this spending the year in complete hibernation. Pathfinder likewise feels a bit dated, and may well struggle to see much table-time.

Firefly
2 plays in 3 years, things aren’t looking good…

This year, I think the amount of money made from sales will drop significantly again. Although I did make a fair amount last year from selling on review games that I didn’t think were going to be long-term hits, a large chunk (probably the majority) still came from clearing out old games that weren’t getting played any more – the more time goes on, the leaner the game collection gets in terms of un-playable games. Common sense says I’ll need to rein in my spending a fair way in order to keep things looking healthy, but if I compare my collection to where I was 2 years ago, it’s a lot easier to see extensive possibilities for things I’d want to play without forking out too much on new stuff.

The only real certainty is that 2018 should be another year with plenty of gaming and a fair-amount of number-crunching. I hope you’ll keep coming back to read my assorted musings on everything that goes on.

 

Plenty of Crackers and Not too Many Turkeys – December Round-up

December has always been the red-headed step-child of the monthly recaps, being largely ignored in favour of the annual run down. I decided to do something about that, with this lightning recap, whilst I work up the annual run-down for the end of the week.

PallidMask
The scariest monsters don’t always have tentacles…

As feels only fitting around Christmas, December saw a good strong focus on old favourites, with all the top 6 games getting table-time: Legendary dominated the early days of the month with 9 games (7 in the first weekend), and there was also a return for Elder Sign as we ran up against Cthulhu himself – even managing to seal him away at the second attempt. Arkham LCG got its obligatory share of table-time, buoyed by the arrival of some new packs to kick off the Carcosa cycle and an OP event, there was plenty of Zombicide, a bit of LotR (although the OP event was cancelled) and Aeon’s End continued to tick along.

Mansions of Madness went very quiet over the summer but started to pick up over the autumn, and came back strongly this month as we attempted the scenarios from the latest expansion with varying levels of success. On New Year’s Eve, we finally managed a successful Escape from Innsmouth (well, my character got torn apart by monsters, but everyone else made it out…)

L5R was a bit quieter than in previous months, but still got played a few times, keeping just ahead of a punishing release schedule in the value stakes.

Pandemics DecemberDecember was a big month for all things Pandemic – there were odd sessions of Iberia and Cthulhu, but the big hitters were both new arrivals, with Santa bringing me Legacy Season 1, and Rising Tide arriving for review. Both really interesting titles which deserve to have more said on them later.

Although, in keeping with Christmas, December was mostly about the Greatest Hits, we still had a few more novel games getting played.

This War of Mine is a truly remarkable game: it’s fantastically well-crafted, but dark and depressing at the same time – in many ways this just does too good a job of capturing life as civilian trapped in a modern-day siege. It’s definitely a game designed to play over multiple sessions, and we decided that we needed a break before taking this any further. If you haven’t already, do look at the review I wrote for this.

GloomNed
baby not actually included with Gloomhaven…

Dragonfire and Gloomhaven were the new games I wanted to get to the table (I’d played them solo in November, but hadn’t managed to inflict them on family or friends), and I managed with a limited degree of success. Dragonfire is, apparently, slightly easier than its predecessor Shadowrun: Crossfire, but still feels brutally tough. We got completely smashed on our first multi-player attempt, and definitely still have some way to go to master this one. Gloomhaven was again, basically a dry-run, and most of the real exploring of this will come in 2018.

Themes and Mechanics

In terms of what got played, there was a typically high level of Lovecraft, Fantasy and Zombies on display. “Historical” was the surprise entry into the upper echelons, tying with Comics for time, and edging it out by sessions.

We had a good amount of mystery solving and good old-fashioned survival, but once again, it was Pandemic which provided the shift, as “Save the World” broke into the top categories.

That’s about all for the December re-cap. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with the overall 2017 run-down.

Some Generic Thoughts on Fantasy

As readers of my regular monthly updates will know, “Fantasy” is a big enough chunk of our ongoing gameplay that I often break it down, so that we can see exactly how much time has been spent in Middle Earth, Terrinoth, or whichever other place we’ve been this time.

More often than not, though, a dominant category is “generic” – a term which conceals as much as it communicates. I decided then to have a dig into what exactly I meant by this.

 

Sometimes, generic is used where I just hadn’t gotten round to finding out where things were. Mistfall, for example, takes place in a land called Valskyrr. Having spent a mighty 2 hours on that particular game this year (before getting rid of it), lumping this in with generic is probably not a big deal. I don’t know where Near and Far is set – I’m pretty sure it’s the same place as Above and Below but, having sold the game, I’m in no rush to track it down.

 

The DwarvesIn other places it’s laziness. Lots of games start under generic, then get moved later. I moved The Dwarves from Generic to Girdelgard once it felt big enough as a category to care about. Not having played D&D this year, I haven’t moved it from Generic to “Forgotten Realms” – but will probably do so next year, once Dragonfire gets this category moving. Gloom of Kilforth is long overdue a push from Generic to… you’ve guessed it – Kilforth!

Sometimes laziness gets blurred with trying to keep things tidy. Obviously, Arcadia Quest takes place in Arcadia. The sensible thing to do would be to categorise it appropriately, but have Arcadia counted under “other” in the final analysis – that’s a change I can make now.

 

Generic FantasySome settings, of course, truly are generic: Braggart or Dungeon Time are so light on detail, that it would be impossible to really guess anything much about where they belong. Dungeon Time can probably go into a Low/Historical sub-group, but I really don’t think that there’s a sensible alternative for Braggart.

Munchkin, if I had to push, I’d probably go for “meta-Fantasy” as this is a setting that’s both very self-aware, and more concerned with mocking tropes than building an immersive experience.

Gloomhaven is a city. Does the land it is set in have a name? probably! Now that Gloomhaven is actually getting played, this is something to check.

B-Sieged is very much its own setting, and couldn’t really be confused with most other Fantasy games we play. That said, I’m not convinced that the even the city has a name, let alone the country.

Greyport- Red Dragon
If you look closely there might be one or two clues that this is linked to Red Dragon Inn

Lastly, some of the biggest games within Fantasy are in places that are hard to pin down. Massive Darkness in particular does a good sweep of narrative fluff, without ever giving you the slightest clue that you could use to name the world in which the game is set. Battle for Greyport is set in the same world as the Red Dragon Inn games, and Slugfest games have pulled together a remarkable amount of lore on the place, but it still doesn’t have a name.

An Ongoing Mistake

DominionPolish
I’m sure everyone’s seen the standard Dominion art a thousand times, so I found this nice image of the Polish edition

Dominion gives us lots of information about the setting, but in a rather evasive fashion – is this a Low Fantasy setting (Europe + Magic) or is it its own land, tantalisingly stripped of any key identifying features? I started a BGG thread asking that very question, and got a lot of interesting and undecided speculation before Donald X Vaccharino himself stepped in.

It turns out that Dominion doesn’t have a Fantasy setting at all – it’s simply Europe, mostly Late-Medieval / Early-Early Modern period, although with some outliers (Roman stuff in Empires, Age of Exploration in Seaside). Anything magical/fantastical and the like is simply folklore and popular superstition.

Well, that told me. Dominion is removed, not only from “Generic” but from Fantasy as a whole. The true genre here, is “historical

 

 

If you don’t have something useful to say…

I putting this piece together, I posted a number of threads on BGG for various games, asking if anyone knew the names of the worlds / anything concrete about the setting.

Some of the responses were… less than helpful, shall we say.

For “Where is Dominion set?” I got

“my Dominion set is in a wooden box in my living room”

For “I know the city is called Gloomhaven, but does the wider world have a name?” I got

“Planet Bob.”

I guess I shouldn’t really have been surprised by the Dominion query – every internet forum eventually turns into another Dominion storage solution discussion…

 

Final Picture

Fantasy CategoriesDoing a little bit of tweaking like this makes things look better: Generic is now only 14% of sessions, 20% of time. “Other” sits at 4%, ensuring that we haven’t just muddled things by sliding stuff from one category to another.

70-80% of that “generic” time is Massive Darkness. Insofar as it belongs anywhere, you could argue for this sharing a universe with Zombicide, due to the official cards which allows characters to cross-over between the games. However, I’ve got Zombicide classed under “Zombies” rather than Fantasy and, although the similarities are there, there are definite differences in tone between the games that make me dubious about dragging them together.

It’s quite possible that eventually, I’ll end up creating “Massive Darkness” or “Gloomhaven” as their own categories. For now though, I’m happy that I’ve got things a little bit less muddled.