An Invasion of Kicks

In April 2018 CMON unleashed another Zombicide Kickstarter. This time it was Zombicide in space or, to give it its proper name, “Zombicide Invader.”

InvaderI mentioned back in March that I wasn’t massively interested in this – although Zombicide is my most-played game, I do have quite a lot of Zombicide stuff already, and I wasn’t a big fan of the monster sculpts.

Still, I kept an eye out and when the campaign actually arrived, the rules changes caught my attention:

  • 2 Survivor types (Soldiers and Civilians) with bonuses and restrictions beyond their skill tree.
  • Changed Targeting Priority – Tanks (Fatties) are now hit first
  • Concentrate Fire (a solution to the problem of being able to do an infinite number of 1-damage hits to a 2-damage enemy without any actual impact).
  • No test to Open Doors (no more wasted turns failing to open the things),
  • Zombie splits no longer add extra zombies (no more 1-zombie-turns-into-3)
  • Running out of figures spawns/activates Abominations rather than the zombie type you ran out of
  • New ways of using equipment.

PledgesThe campaign started off looking like they’d gone back to the model used for Black Plague – 2 tiers, 1 with the expansion (and a few high-tier-only stretch goals) and a basic one. I kept watching, intrigued but not wowed, and the campaign ticked along in a slightly strange position – $1.6 million after 13 days, which is obviously still a hell of a lot of money, but it’s also less than Green Horde managed in 3 days.

Most people predicted a big add-on around the middle of the campaign, to get more money out of existing backers, and drum up more interest. I’m not sure anyone expected quite what they got.

 

Turning to the Dark Side

Sure enough, the big announcement came, for a new product: Zombicide: Dark Side. However, this wasn’t a big-box expansion, it was a whole new base game! The confusing thing about it was that, even though it was a base game, you could only buy it as an add-on – so you had to get Invader to be allowed to buy Dark Side.

DarksideI really liked the look of Dark Side, I preferred the style of monster, and it had a few extra rules that sounded interesting (enemies hide in pits). If there had been a Dark Side-only pledge tier, I would probably have gone for that.

One thing I always keep in mind when I look at buying/backing games, is the possibility of getting a review copy. Given how much Medieval Zombicide we have, would I be ok with the core box-only version of Dark Side?

Well, it didn’t seem like that would be an option either, as Dark Side was going to be a “limited print-run.” This was new terminology for a CMON campaign, but seemed to be defined as ‘only making enough to fulfil KS + retailer pre-orders.’ So probably available at a mark-up from the same webstores selling KS exclusive content for previous campaigns, but unlikely to be floating around in the general world of shops.

 

Looking out for Number 1

I backed the campaign for a dollar. This allowed some time for the dust to settle, so that I could take stock of exactly what you got for what. I think this is where it landed.

Civilian Pledge – Zombicide Invader (6 survivors, 3 zombie types, 1 Abomination, 10 missions, 2 guns/robots) + 37 extra Survivors, 1 duplicate abomination, 16 extra/alt-pose monsters, 5 unique abominations, 8 each of 3 new enemy types, and 2 robots/guns. $100

Soldier Pledge – all of the above + Black Ops large expansion (6 more survivors, 1 new abomination, 2 guns), 4 extra survivors, 2 unique abominations and the mini-monster spawned by one of those abominations $150

Dark Side – Dark Side box (6 survivors, 3 zombie types, 1 Abomination, 10 missions, 2 guns/robots), 1 duplicate abomination, 6 figures of a unique enemy type, 16 duplicate/alt-pose figures of existing zombies, 3 KS-exclusive “companions” and 10 crossover missions for Dark Side and Invader. $90 added to either of the above pledges.

 

A Mad Dash

Zombicide Black Plague contained 6 survivors and 6 player dashboards. Wolfsburg, the big-box expansion came with 4 new survivors and 4 dashboards to play extra survivors, as well as a whole new enemy type. There was a small-box expansion that contained 5 new survivors and 2 more dashboards for a total of 12 (the ‘official’ maximum number of survivors the game can be played with.

As a stand-alone box, Green Horde has 6 survivors and 6 dashboards again. However, they figured that people already had access to enough dashboards by now, so focused expansions on new survivors, an enemy type, tiles, quests, equipment etc.

For the space-age, it seems that Dashboards are back in fashion.

Invader comes with 6 dashboards (as you’d expect)

Black Ops also comes with 6 dashboards. It also comes with 6 new survivors. It doesn’t come with a new enemy type (just an abomination and a robot). This was annoying, but somewhat understandable, as this was the only way (aside from buying 2 copies of invader) to get more dashboards and the game is (notionally) playable with up to 12 characters.

Then they announced Dark Side. It’s a standalone game, so it has 6 more dashboards, and 6 more survivors.

Dash
18 Dashboards!!

Now, if you buy the whole lot, you end up with 18 dashboards! There is no possible way to use more than 12, unless you are running 2 games at once. (Personally, I’ve never gone about 8 Survivors in a game and think that even 10 would give horrendous amounts of downtime). That’s a massive amount of redundancy.

Obviously, CMON knew pre-campaign that they had Invader available. Some people have speculated that this was meant to be next year’s KS, and was only dropped now because the campaign wasn’t performing as well as anticipated, but that’s pure speculation. To my mind, they knew that the extra dashboards were coming, and it would have been really easy to cut some of the excess survivor/dashboard content in Black Ops, give us an extra zombie type.

What you actually get

With all that said, if you get all 3 big boxes, for $240 you’ve got nearly 60 survivors, 40 missions, 10 unique enemy types, 10 abominations. That’s still a lot of mileage in terms of re-play value.

$240 is around £180 right now, 36 hours of play. 40 missions at 1.5 hours is 60 hours – So even if you beat every scenario first time, and never go back to try it with a different enemy/survivor line-up, that’s still £120 to the good in terms of value. Zombicide is one of the few games I can be pretty confident about getting the required table-time to turn that theoretical content into actual hours: less than 6 months after getting Green Horde, it was already at #9 in my all-time most played stakes, comfortably the game that has had the most hours in 2018 (Black Plague is currently down in 4th, I’d expect it to end the year in about 3rd).

Part of me wanted to just get this. It would probably end up being fun, and it would probably end up being good value.

Part of me was feeling the squeeze (on wallet and on gaming time) and was tempted to skip it altogether.

If Dark Side hadn’t happened, I think I’d have been happy just waiting for retail, and trying to bag a review copy of Invader. Knowing that won’t happen (and that it’s probably now or never for Invader) left me more tempted to get stuff.

 

Zombicide: Busy Neighbours

NeighboursAs an added complication a friend, who lives just a few hundred yards away, has also backed this. Most of our Zombicide play is just me and my wife, but 4 player games with him and his wife are the next biggest category. As I own all the Medieval stuff, it seemed sensible to let him shell out for space-age.

The trouble is, my son is 17 months old, meaning my wife and I can no longer both go out in the evening without weeks of planning. His daughter is 5 months old, meaning they’re just starting to try to get a proper evening/bedtime routine for her, and options for the 4 of us to play a game of an evening have pretty-much dried up in recent times. By 2019, when Invader etc are due to arrive, it seems fairly likely that bed-times will be pretty-much locked in, and our evening game sessions will be a thing of the past. Afternoons are a theoretical possibility, but only if my lad learns to stop grabbing by the time he’s tall enough to reach more than an inch or two in from the edge of the table.

DreadOne possibility, was to try to piggy-back on his KS, maybe get a Dark Side as an add-on. Of course, at that point, I knew I’d start wanting to the exclusive aliens, and then it doesn’t take long before the saving in money vs all the extras I’m not getting starts to look like bad economic sense, and it’s better to just get the whole thing myself. Obviously, we could try to split the pledge, but that felt like it would just get messy (who wants Deckard, Starbuck, Leeloo and Judge Dread, and who gets 4 random made-up folk?)

 

Additional

KabukiBy the standards of previous campaigns, Invader didn’t go too overboard on add-ons. There was a boxed add-on for the various new enemy types, and all the usual plastic replacements for cardboard stuff. The most interesting (if strictly superfluous stuff) were the add-on survivor sets including a gang of orphans (meh), a plague doctor and his associates (mmm…) and a Kabuki Troupe (ooo!) The Kabuki troupe are completely superfluous, given the 40+ survivors I’d end up with, but they also seem much too cool to skip (if they release a Samurai version of Zombicide, I’m getting it, no matter how much it duplicates what I already have)

 

Decision?

Luckily,” I drafted, just after the campaign ended, “the way CMON run their pledge managers, I can postpone the decision” perhaps CMON are getting wise to people’s tricks, because the email for the pledge manager arrived very quickly for this, with deadline of the first of July. Remarkably soon all things considered.

I ended up backing Folklore fairly heavily, which tipped this year’s overall costs some way into the red, but decided to sell-up on L5R and Runewars (Although Runewars needed painting first). Then I found out about an opportunity to late-pledge of 7th Continent and CMON’s new game Death May Die. Both of these were pencilled in for July, after I needed to make my decision. There was also no news on Massive Darkness 2 or anything like it.

In the end, I decided not to get the game, although it was a real wrench of a decision. Knowing that Darkside basically won’t have a retail release and not getting it now means not getting it, really gets you right in the FOMOs.

Obviously, my ultimate assessment of a campaign where I spend $1, and don’t get a game, is going to be very different to my take on a massive campaign where I go more-or-less all-in. Overall though, I think I’d have to say that I’m disappointed in this one. They clearly had a lot of cool ideas, but the overall execution felt a bit of a mess – the stretch goals weren’t coherent, they missed a lot of obvious notes for the homages, and several of the ones they did hit disappeared under a (presumed) flurry of legal activity. $3 million is still a huge project, and (presumably) counts as a massive success for CMON, but it’s also a big drop compared to previous Zombicides.

I’m sure that Zombicide Inavder will still be a fun game, and I hope I get to play it at some point (with any luck I’ll get to review the Invader base-game). I hope I won’t regret not backing it (that’s a lot of negatives in that sentence). In the end though, CMON didn’t do enough to convince me that this warranted £100+ of my money

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Half-Time

Football Game2018 is absolutely flying by. Our newly-crawling baby has been replaced by a rampaging toddler, a whole host of new games and new expansions have come, pushing some of the old stuff out of the way, and England, Germany, Argentina, Portugal, Spain and Brazil have been knocked out of the World Cup! (that list is going to date VERY quickly)

 

As we sit down for a moment to munch our half-time oranges, this felt like a good moment to stop and do a bit of a retrospective on the year so far.

Ark-Zom
Our literal A-Z of gaming…

The very top of the gaming charts look very familiar – Arkham Horror and Zombicide are miles ahead of the other games, with Arkham leading by Sessions, Zombicide by Hours (although Green Horde has largely taken over from Black Plague whilst it’s new and shiny). Pandemic Legacy dominated January, but has fallen quiet, and sits in third place.

Elder Sign, Lord of the Rings, Legendary, all games that we’ve been playing for years, are all also in double-figures.

DragonfireBoxThat said, there are also a fair number of less-predictable names: Dragonfire and Gloomhaven came in late last year, and have had strong showings this year. Other titles like Hogwarts Battle and The City of Kings are brand new for 2018. Right now, I think The City of Kings would be my pick for best newcomer, but still a lot to play for.

 

Money-wise, spending is a fair way down vs last year: I’ve spent about half what I did in the first 6 months of 2017, and I’ve sold about half what I had by this point: overall things look pretty good, but knowing the upcoming stuff I’ve got my eye on for the rest of the year, I’ll need to be careful and/or find some more bits and pieces to shift.

 

Kicks

InvaderI’ve backed 2-ish Kickstarters this year. Folklore: the Affliction was a $1 back from last year where I eventually decided to dive in fairly heavily: expecting this sometime in the autumn. I also got The City of Kings as a birthday present, and have Kickstarted the expansions/minis, although after much deliberating, I decided against the wooden resources/plastic overlays/quick set-up tray. Lastly came Zombicide Invader, where I went for the $1 option, then ultimately decided against it – I’ll do my best to bag a review copy of the core game next year, but there’s only so much I can really justify spending on Zombicide.

In terms of Kickstarter arrivals, it has mostly been the story of the Green Horde, with Wave 1 (Core Box) and Wave 2 (everything else) neatly bracketing the first half-year as they arrived in late Jan and early Jun respectively.

A last-minute sneak-in was The Ninth World, which arrived with very little fanfare around June. June being a bit of a bumper month already meant that this has barely hit the table.

 

On the way out

Runewars Miniatures was the game that really died a death this year – organised play locally dried up, the store championship was cancelled, and I think most people moved on to Shadespire. I’m finishing painting up some figures and planning on selling the whole lot shortly. As the base game was a review, I’m optimistic about getting somewhere near break-even on this, if not better.

L5R-2Legend of the Five Rings is great fun, and a real brain-burner. That said, it’s still very much a FLGS-only thing for me, and I’ve only managed 7 sessions this year. The Phoenix clan pack never actually made it to us, but we’ve recently hit another of their meta-juggling 6 packs in 6 weeks periods, and I just can’t justify £80 or so on a game I’ve only played 7 times in 6 months. This one has been sold. (I should really head to the Post Office).

Another great game which doesn’t get played is Rising Sun – Samurai + Monsters, it’s an epic 3+ hour dudes-on-a-map game for 3-5 would be Shoguns who like making a breaking alliances and stabbing each other in the back. Fantastic game which looks absolutely beautiful, definitely not my wife’s cup of tea. It’s the sort of thing I’ll be happy to play if opportunities present themselves, but I can’t really justify the real estate of having my own copy – again, this is going, assuming I can find a buyer.

 

Breaking it Down

6 Month ThemeAs has been the case for the last little while, Fantasy, Zombies and Lovecraft have been the big themes for 2018’s games so far, each accounting for about a quarter – Zombies are slightly behind, a factor which is more pronounced when looking at the by-sessions stat.

The rest of the break-down is rather more mixed, Fantasy is still predominantly “generic” which lumps together both the truly generic, like Dungeon Alliance and games with their own unique if ill-defined setting like Massive Darkness or Gloomhaven. Ageless Realms is the placeholder term I’m using for The City of Kings, and that’s been a notable feature, along with The Lost Realms (D&D), Gravehold and Middle Earth.

Mechanically, the dominant categories are both familiar and somewhat overlapping: Solve the Mystery, Save the World, Complete the Quest and just plain old “Survive” – those 4 categories account for 75%+ of what we’ve done so far.

 

Second half?

I’m not quite sure what else is still to come this year. I’ve got my eye on CMON’s upcoming Death May Die – we still don’t have a lot of detail yet, but the early hints sound good. Eric Lang’s name on the box means I’m hopeful that this will be more than just a stack of minis, but we’ll have to see. In the meantime, there’s this, which is stupid. And a tiny bit awesome, but mostly just stupid.

Arydia: The Paths we Dare to Tread is another interesting one. I can’t remember how this first came on to my radar, but it’s raised a fair few interest flags: open-world exploration, “green legacy.” IIRC, it’s come from the guy who designed the highly-popular Xia, so I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open.

7th Continent isn’t a new game, but it might be becoming available again, at least briefly, and I’ll try to grab a copy if I can (of course this comes with an inevitable “how much should I get” discussion of its own).

In terms of non-kickstarter games, there’s not as much forthcoming that I’m aware of: Heroes of Terrinoth is the Warhammer ACG re-skinned for the Runebound universe, and should be out fairly soon, and there will (obviously) be the normal run of expansions for the various LCGs I follow.

 

Aims?

I still need to finish of my Hardcore 10×10 challenge for the year: there are only 4 games left which need to hit the target: 1 more session of Gloomhaven, 2 of Aeon’s End, 3 of Massive Darkness and 5 Mansions of Madness. Hopefully it shouldn’t take much longer. The ‘normal’ 10×10 should get swept up by that fairly quickly, if it isn’t done even sooner.

I still want to get a lot more play out of Shadows of Brimstone. I’ve started adding expansions to flesh the game out a bit, and have made new fine-tune the character sheets as well – in one recent session, my wife spent 80% of the game rolling 2 dice instead of 3 for every single attack, simply because we’d missed a bonus from the previous game.

Right now, as best as I can calculate, I own 80 games, and have played 59 of them this year, which leaves 21 unplayed. Some of those are titles I’ve tried to sell, but not yet found anyone interested at the right price. Others are titles I enjoy and just haven’t found the time for yet. With a few more games expected inbound (not necessarily vast numbers), it’s probably time to prune the collection once again.

 

I’ll keep updating, posting bits and pieces when I can. Keep checking back and, if anything exciting happens, you’ll see it here first…

Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend

DSC07433Don’t be fooled by the rocks that she’s got, Jenny is most definitely not from the block. She is, however, the second investigator I’ve played in all 5 Arkham Horror Files games and, therefore, our second Investigator Revisited.

Guinevere Barnes, more commonly known as Jenny is a wealthy socialite, and the daughter of a professor of Arthurian studies.

All JennysHer official description is “The Dilettante” – and you will often see people arguing that this is nothing more than a typo for Debutante, but FFG have doubled-down on what they’ve written – a dabbler, a trifler, someone who cultivates an interest, but without any real commitment. In Jenny’s case, she is an amateur Archaeologist, using her considerable trust fund to finance various digs, and getting involved herself. It is during one of these digs that she finds the Green Man Medallion, an artefact which she then delivers to her sister Izzie.

Izzie is Jenny’s doorway into the Mythos. Her happy life of bouncing between archaeological digs and cocktail parties on yachts on the French Riviera is shattered by the news that her sister has disappeared. Returning to New England, she hunts for clues, and discovers that there are more things in heaven and on earth than were dreamt of in her philosophy.

Jenny MiniJenny is rich, and this is a theme that is played up to heavily, across various games, with high influence scores, and means of resource generation. Stat-wise, she varies from title to title rather more.

Her low-cut dress and enormous hat have definitely lead some players I’ve known to be a bit dismissive of Jenny, but she actually feels like one of the series’ more developed characters, and has powerful abilities in many of the titles.

 

Arkham Horror

Arkham Jenny The Original Arkham Horror gave Jenny a very simple ability – a $1 income every round. Not being a particularly experienced Arkham player, I’ve not managed to leverage this to great effect, and generally found her stacking up piles and piles of cash with nothing obvious to spend it on (I’ve only played her in 2-investigators games, possibly with a higher player-count she can be the designated shopper for the party, and let others go travelling to other worlds…)

That aside, Jenny’s stats are nothing to write home about – she only has 1 focus, which limits her flexibility, and whilst her sanity is solid, it comes at the expense of only 4 stamina, which makes her vulnerable if she gets into a fight.

Not necessarily a bad character, but certainly looking for something better.

 

Elder Sign

Elder JennyIn Elder Sign, Jenny has 6 sanity and 4 health, and can discard a common item, clue or spell to gain the Red & Yellow dice. The fact that she isn’t a 3 for either stat helps her to stay alive, but it’s her ability that makes her stand out.

We hadn’t really used Jenny all that much before I started writing this article, but it’s really powerful if you can get on a roll. Unless your investigators are really in a hole, it’s generally not that hard to find an adventure that offers at least one out of common item/spell/clue as its reward, and once you can do that, you’ll be semi-reliably rolling 8 dice instead 6 on most of your turns. Jenny’s ability stacks well with Blessed, and she is generally a character who can generate huge momentum.

People have queried how exactly this represents a “trust fund” (which is the title of the ability), saying that it feels more like having a master magician on the team, one who can continuously pull dice out of hats. In all honesty, Elder Sign is probably the game where the theme has the least depth in the mechanics, but whatever you say about her, it’s hard to deny Jenny’s power, and it’s power that comes from having “all the stuff.”

 

Eldritch Horror

Tokyo
No, not that one…

In Eldritch Horror, Jenny is one of the very high influence investigators, in a similar vein to Charlie Kane or Preston Fairmont. Charlie is the King of Tokyo, sitting there and smooth-talking the Japanese military into dealing with all your monster problems, whilst giving his spare actions to your other investigators.

Eldritch w AssetsJenny plays very differently: her shopping skills are clearly more honed, and she is better equipped to actually do some fighting, but she starts in the Caribbean, which is a long way from Tokyo.

Mission It’s also worth noting that her personal mission sends her traipsing all over the world, as she looks for Izzie at 3 randomly determined locations: there’s much less of an obvious role for her to fill.

Jenny Bio I’m also not a great fan of the slant on Jenny’s backstory that we get in Eldritch Horror, which seems to be pushing her far more into the vapid socialite stereotype, something which is really brought her home by her abysmal 1 Lore. I’m definitely more of a fan of the approach taken in more recent material (LCG, Investigators book, Novella), which depicts her pursuing legitimate academic interests, albeit with the casual ease that comes only to the truly wealthy.

 

 

Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition)

Mansions JennyAlthough Mansions uses the Trust Fund name for Jenny’s power, the ability here is actually a bit more nuanced: not only can she gain clues if she has none, but she gets to heal horror as part of the same action – this can be really powerful in some of the long investigation-heavy scenarios where simply the slow attrition of time will gradually send people insane.

Again she is highly influential, and reasonably agile. Although her brute strength is nothing to write home about, the fact that none of her stats is below a 3 makes her a good all-rounder, and 4 agility is pretty good for attacking with firearms. She can also spend her clues a little more freely than other investigators, as she has an in-built way to recover them, although it’s probably too expensive action-wise to trigger too often.

 

Living Card Game

It’s the nature of the Living Card game format that the characters get more developed than elsewhere in the Files: there are simply that many more aspects to an LCG character than an Elder Sign/Mansions one.

Mercenary
Being able to take any 5 level-zero cards from other spheres gives Jenny a lot of flexibility.

In the LCG, Jenny is a Rogue, which dictates a lot of the cards she can include in her deck, and she has a very even stat-line, with 3s across the board. Jenny generates twice the resources of any other investigator, allowing her to tool up, or to fuel the various mercenary talents seen in the game.

Her Jenny LCG InvestigatorElder Sign effect gives you +1 skill for each resource she has, an ability which isn’t capped. Up until now this has generally just been a “you didn’t pull a nasty negative token” ability, as well as powering up Rogue’s “Succeed by 2” tricks, like many investigators. However, with an increasing number of effects that can guarantee pulling the Elder Sign for a specific test (Seal of the Elder Sign, Codex of Ages), you can use that boost strategically for some really big bomb effects, either passing impossible tests, or getting major boosts out of “succeed by X” cards.

StreetwiseStreetwise isn’t the most efficient of the permanent talents, but it may well be the most powerful, and Jenny is uniquely positioned to take advantage of it with her extra income. Jenny can access all Rogue cards, but like the other investigators from the Dunwich box, she can also take 5 level zero cards from any other class, giving her access to Dr Milan Christopher for a respectable 4 intellect, and an unparalleled amount of cash.

45s
Interestingly, the flavour text is taken from Hour of the Huntress, not released until a full year later!

Jenny’s signature asset is a pair of guns, her “Twin .45s” – these occupy both hand-slots, but in return they offer an amount of ammo equal to the number of resources spent on her – combo this with Contraband, and there are few in the game who can match this firepower.

Searching for IzzieHer signature weakness is “Searching for Izzie” a card which will drag her away from the party, chasing down any rumours of her sister. Failure to do this can give her a mental trauma if “Searching for Izzie” is still around at the end of the scenario, so she really does need to pursue that lead, but it can prove a major let-off in any scenario where locations get discarded before game end.

ReplacementsThe Hour of the Huntress novella made Jenny the first investigator in the game to get “replacement” cards – a new weakness and signature asset. The asset, Green Man Medallion, is a particularly interesting one as it allows her to convert resources into XP. The rate of 6:1 is fairly punishing, and it only counts against the next card you upgrade after the scenario, making it hard to save up for later. However, given how many high-XP cards there are for rogues, it’s a very attractive option for when you do find yourself sat on a huge stack of cash. I know that a lot of people were hoping for a Lonnie ally as the new asset, but what we have is probably more interesting, certainly in terms of how it pushes the boundaries of the game, even if it is a little less fun!

Along with the new asset, Jenny also gets an additional weakness, an enemy which prevents her from gaining resources from card effects (this includes her innate ability). This beast is a nasty one, with 4 fight, and 3 health, meaning you’ll inevitably have to attack it (at least) twice, and it’s going to start a fair distance away so, much like Looking for Izzie, you’ll have to take time away from the investigation to deal with it.

 

 

The Hour of her story

HuntressAs I already mentioned earlier, Jenny was the first investigator to be given one of the new wave of Novellas, Hour of the Huntress. We’ve already looked at the player cards, but I wanted to take a few moments considering how her character is developed here.

HarvestFestivalJenny is shown as a self-confident woman, someone happy mixing it up with mobsters, or generally going by herself, even into some of Arkham’s more dubious location. Her intellect and general level of lore seems to be fairly good.

Hour of the Huntress actually takes place some while after Jenny’s story from the Investigators of Arkham Horror book, which is comprised from a selection of journal entries and letters to Izzie. The dig seemed to attract a lot of superstition from locals, to the point where grumbling turned into a riot, the site virtually destroyed. Jenny was fortunate enough to escape with her life, her health and the medallion, of which she made a copy and sent it to a gift as her sister.

Hour of the Huntress [slight spoilers follow] picks this theme up and runs with it, making the medallion the reason that Izzie was initially abducted by a cult – they wanted a way to lure Jenny to Arkham, so that they could steal it from her. I won’t gave away the whole ending, but you can rely on nefarious cultists, a few terrifying monsters, and a young woman who emerges with a keen sense that there are forces out there which need to be confronted.

 

Final Thoughts

Chainsaw

I like Jenny. Out of all the investigators of Arkham Horror, she feels like one of the most developed and despite a spot of superficial silliness, she is actually a character who rings true in most of the situations that she finds herself.

The big hat and the short dress mean that she’ll never be short of her detractors, and there’s definitely an extent to which her outfit earns her a place on the art for various cards, but make no mistake. Jenny is perhaps the most powerful investigator we have for Elder Sign, and a significant force to be reckoned with in most of the Arkham Horror Files games.

June: it never rains, but it pours(?)

 

 

As I mentioned last month, May didn’t really see a lot in the way of new games. June was rather different.

JuneNewGamesNew Games: Black Orchestra, Kingdomino, Legacy of Dragonholt, SMOG: Rise of Moloch, T.I.M.E Stories, and something called Backpacks and Blisters (it was a Mystery game).

Expansions: Forgotten Age Deluxe, Labyrinths of Lunacy (last year’s Gen Con quest) and Threads of Fate Mythos pack, all for Arkham LCG. Frontier Town for Shadows of Brimstone, Sanctum of Twilight for Mansions of Madness, and Wilds of Rhovanion for LotR LCG.

Kickstarter: Zombicide Green Horde Wave II & The 9th World.

All-in-all, that’s 7 new games, and extra bits for 5 existing games. Just a few things to get through then…

 

Expo

ExpoBefore all that though, there was Expo. UK Games Expo is the first weekend in June, and is now the 3rd largest Gaming Convention in the world! This was the 4th straight year I’ve made it along, and it’s turning into a definite highlight.

That said, this year was a bit of a grind. I was working for Games Quest again, and various issues with the lorry company meant a really long Thursday, and a bit of a slog to get everything sorted: we were busy throughout the show, and I didn’t get to see nearly as much as I have in other years – on reflection, the guys who worked part of the show, and took a day to look around might have had the right idea.

Still, it was good to catch up with people, even if the evening gaming was limited by how late we got back to the hotel, and how knackered everyone was.

 

10 of 10

I went into June fairly confident of hitting 10 of 10: I already had 8 games played 10 times, and was at 9, 9, 8, and 7 on a few others. The Hardcore challenge was probably going to take a bit longer, but I was optimistic of taking a further dent out of it.

All of which goes to show what I know.

I finished June still at 8 games played 10 times / 10 games played 9 times: we had 27 sessions of games that had already hit 10 plays (mostly Arkham, Zombicide and Lord of the Rings), and most of the rest of our time was spread between games that had barely been played before this month.

Twilight BoxThe Mansions of Madness expansion I’ve been waiting on for ages finally arrived about 1 week in to the month, but it didn’t make as much of a difference as I’d expect – it started the month a long way behind the other “hardcore” games on a mere 4 sessions, and this only bumped it to 5. We managed to successfully complete the parade scenario at our first attempt, although it definitely felt like there were a number of different ways it could have played out, and we haven’t even looked at the second. Maybe it’s the weather – glorious sunshine just doesn’t feel that Lovecraftian!

10of10-2018-JunA single session of Massive Darkness was the only other Hardcore progress, as we moved towards the end of the Crystal and Lava campaign. Next step will be to replay some of the older quests with new monster/hero set-ups. In what may have been a slightly foolish move on my part, I’ve been concentrating on painting the core box – i.e. the stuff we’ve already played once, so any mixing and matching is going to lead to a slightly strange painted/unpainted contrast between the different elements.

I’ve still got a little way to go on this, and progress is now dwarfed by sessions on the already-completed games, which don’t count towards the total. 89 down, 11 to go.

 

Zombies!

Zombicide Green Horde will be getting its own full Kickstarter retrospective. For now, I’ll just say that this arrived, and it was truly impressive in scope: 2 big-box expansions, a “horde box” (all the KS exclusives) that was actually a bit bigger than the ‘big box’ expansions, as well as 2 small-box expansions, and a few add-on odds-and-ends.

GH-KS
Everything inside the red box arrived in June

In all honesty, it was pretty overwhelming. We only finished playing through the core-box the day before all this arrived, so things were fairly open in terms of where to go next: some bits I intended to mix with Black Plague before Green Horde, so these went straight to the painting table, as I didn’t want to break the immersion.

Right now we’ve got an (unpainted) Stranger Things party playing through the Green Horde scenarios, with some Tainted Zombies and a Gorgomination thrown in, and I’m gearing up for a Superhero assault on Black Plague, augmented with Ratz (together with their king), Fatty Bursters and maybe even some Spectral Walkers thrown in.

 

 

Shadows Growing Longer

The more observant among you might remember Shadows of Brimstone as a game I’ve mentioned a few times for being a long-standing “shortfall” game. It might seem a bit foolish in that context to be adding to it.

However, June was the point where this game hit break-even after a few fun sessions (we very nearly died in the second, but lived to tell the tale).

Shadows-FrontierI think that there are a couple of things which have been holding Shadows back – keeping it as a “good” but never-quite-as-good-as-I-hoped game. One is the bookkeeping: there is A LOT of information/abilities to keep track of, and the aesthetically-pleasing character sheets I’d downloaded made too much of that information too hard to find – treating it more like an RPG (which is probably a fair comparison in terms of character development/customisation) and writing a more plain-text tracking sheet made the game run a lot smoother.

The Second issue is lack of enemy variety: all 4 basic enemies in the core box need to be approached in fairly similar ways. I grabbed the Frontier Town box because it added some enemies who could make ranged attacks, as this will alter the overall feel of combat (it also comes with a more developed town phase, different types of towns, and 5 new scenarios). I’m also looking to add at least one more enemy, so that I can start to create a bit of a thematic distinction between the various different locations, but I’m also being mindful that I need to avoid getting too carried away.

 

The New (ish)

KingdominoOne of the new (to me) games I picked up at Expo was Kingdomino which, as the name might suggest, is a game where you use domino-like tiles to build up your Kingdom. You draft tiles each round, and are looking to score the most points by clustering squares of the same terrain together and – crucially – including bits of terrain with crowns in.

At the end of the game (about 10-15 minutes), you score each area: C x S, where S is the number of adjacent squares of a terrain type, and C is the number of Crowns in that area. You can also (optionally) award bonus points for having a perfect 5×5 grid, or for having your starting tile dead-centre in your completed kingdom.

The game is about a year or so old, and it won a special Critics Prize in the Spiele des Jahres. It’s already reached the top 200 on Board Game Geek, which feels like a real achievement, given how strongly the rankings tend to favour longer/heavier games.

I really enjoyed our early games of this – it felt a bit like a Carcassonne-lite, offering some of the same experience, but in a much shorter time-frame. Sadly, my wife wasn’t such a big fan: spatial awareness isn’t her strongest suit, and she lost the first few games we played. Need to try this with a bigger group (i.e. 3 or 4, it doesn’t go massive).

 

What got Played

Overall, June was very Fantasy-heavy, 31% of time, and 40% of sessions. Lovecraft was an even 27% in both measures, and Zombies in third. Shadows of Brimstone made Weird West a notable 9% by time, whilst Abstract pushed itself up to 7% thanks to a few sessions of Scrabble (AKA my parents came to visit…) Within Fantasy, the resurgence of Lord of the Rings made Middle Earth a big category, although “generic” was still dominant.

Mechanically things were a bit clearer, with Completing the Quest and Solving the Mystery accounting for 2/3 of all we did.

 

News

Heroes-TerrinothI’ve commented, semi-seriously in the past about the likelihood of seeing a Terrinoth LCG, as FFG lose external licences like Warhammer and Netrunner and try to push more and more games in their in-house universe. 1 week into June 2018, they announced Heroes of Terrinoth, a “cooperative Adventure Card Game” set in the same universe as Descent, Runebound, Runewars and the like. A quick bit of searching confirmed that this was more-or-less a re-skin of the highly regarded (although never played by me) Warhammer Quest.

Runewars is yet to see any play this year, with most local opponents having moved on to Shadespire (I’ll probably sell it once I’ve finished painting it all up), and I also got rid of Rune Age, as it always felt a bit lacklustre. Having only managed a single game of Runebound having something new (and hopefully a bit shorter) in this setting definitely sounds appealing.

 

Numbers

The overall financial picture has been looking steadily better for a while – everything except Apocrypha is into the positive columns when measured by player-count, and the 2016-only section also looks fine. There are still a few historic titles which have shortfalls, but most of these feel under control and are heading in the right direction. Dixit and Shadows of Brimstone both disappeared from the shortfall sheet this month.

9th WorldApocrypha is getting a bit left behind, and I’m not expecting great movement there, at least until the expansions arrive, probably sometime in the autumn. It’s also still well within the realms of possibility that I’ll decide to sell this on and, whilst I’m sure I’ll end up taking a hit compared to what I paid, I should still be able to get at least the £35 I’d need to wipe it off of the shortfall tab…

The retail release of 9th World improved the overall cost-value of my Kickstarters (along with the fact that I eventually decided against adding the deluxe components for The City of Kings), but now that the game itself has arrived, it needs playing a fair amount to make good on the spend. Early mutterings aren’t great, but I’ve yet to try it myself. Overall, Kickstarter is looking pretty healthy – there are still shortfalls on plenty of games, but it’s mostly the undelivered ones, with all the things I’m actually playing moving in the right direction.

 

Final thoughts

What will July hold? I’m broadly optimistic of getting in as a very late backer on 7th Continent, and will be keeping a close eye on CMON’s Death May Die, due on Kickstarter on 10/7. I’m trying to have less of a reviewing backlog, so will be doing my best to blast through the rest of June’s new arrivals before picking up anything much else.

… And Back Again

 

A few thoughts on a journey in Middle Earth

A few weeks back, I talked about the expansions in my games collection, where those expansions make games better, where they make things worse, and when the time comes to stop buying expansions. Today I’m going to look at the game that dwarfs (or, indeed, “Hobbits”) all the others I own: Lord of the Rings the Card Game.

LotR Collection
ok, VERY large

My Lord of the Rings collection is quite large. I bought the Core set as soon as it was released, all the way back in 2011, and for a long time I bought everything that was made for the game. I abandoned the “Nightmare” range after a few cycles, but even since then, there has been a fair amount of new stuff in the “standard” line.

 

By my count I own 2 Core boxes, 7 cycles each of 6 Adventure Packs, 6 Deluxe Boxes, 8 Saga boxes, 9 special event quests and a smattering of nightmare packs. That’s nearly 100 Heroes, over 120 Quests, and more player cards than I could begin to count. I also have 2 deck boxes, 4 playmats, a whole stack of printed custom cards, and several hundred Gandalf Art-Sleeves.

 

An obsession?

I’m aware how excessive that looks when placed in a stack, but for a long time, it felt well-justified. I don’t have exact data, but I’m fairly certain that this was our most-played game every year from 2011 to 2014. For the years I have exact numbers, I can say that it was second most-played game in 2015 and 2016, 3rd in 2017.

Personally, I’ve definitely played the game well over 500 times in the 7 years I’ve owned it. My wife has probably been involved in at least 300 of those games, and I can count over 200 sessions played by various friends who have never owned an LotR card, and always borrowed mine.

TurinGurthang
I think these 2 cards were my main contribution – I’m still quite pleased with them

I listened (and still do) to various podcasts on the game, helped design/play-test a First Age expansion for the game, and even wrote my own blog devoted to LotR LCG for a few years.

 

That said, the play-time has definitely been in decline over recent years. 175 games played in 2015, 81 in 2016, only 53 in 2017. More and more of those games are solo, in concentrated bursts as I try to crack the puzzle of a particular quest, with the narrative being largely squeezed out by the complex game-state and the brutal difficulty.

QuickBereg
I’ve never won a game with either of these

This year, I only played the game 4 times in the first 4 months. There are 6 Quests I’ve never beaten – 4 of which I’m not sure I’ve even tried – and the challenge I used to set myself of beating every quest on all 4 player-counts has long-since faded into distant memory. There’s 1 hero who has never featured in a deck I’ve built, and another who I’ve only seen across the table on my way to victory.

 

 

The Problem?

Dol Guldur
The card-game equivalent of a punch in the groin

There are a lot of reasons that Lord of the Rings doesn’t get played as much as it used to. The 3 games which have had more sessions in a year are all much newer (Pathfinder ACG in 2015, Zombicide Black Plague in 2016 and 2017, Arkham LCG in 2017), and one of those – Arkham Horror the Card Game is, in many respects, a direct successor to this game. We also own and play a good number of longer games, which can easily fill up the table for a whole day at a time, meaning that shorter games like this get pushed out (it can be 2 days or longer when you have to confine gaming to points when the rampaging toddler is asleep…) Last, but by no means least, the steady churn of review titles definitely squeezes the space left for old favourites

 

Anuminas
Coordinating decks is even more complicated for epic multi-player…

Aside from simply having other things that I want to play, jumping into a game of LotR is a lot less straightforward than it used to be. The game has definitely got a lot harder over the past 3 or 4 years, and each individual quest tends to offer a more complex challenge, as the designers struggle to keep pace with power-decks designed around semi-broken combos and piloted by expert players. Having a selection of decks built that will –

 

  1. Work together at fluctuating player-counts
  2. Be compatible with what others bring to a pick-up game at the FLGS
  3. Function against multiple quests

– becomes an issue of exponentially increased complexity. The creation of more and more specialised quests and heroes mean that it’s no longer enough to just pick up “a deck” to run against “a quest.” I can build a solo deck, or even a pair of decks ready to take on a challenge, but trying to set up for a party of 4, where the extra players are far more casual is a lot less doable.

 

Undiscovered Countries?

Mountain-of-Fire
2/3rd of the quests in here remain untried

There’s a lot more I still want to do in terms of playing this game – Heroes I’ve never quite managed to get working, quests I’ve still not beaten. The brick wall that is The Tower of Cirith Ungol means that we’ve never even attempted The Black Gate, or Mount Doom. The fragmented release of the Haradrim cycle, combined with the gradual acceptance that LotR night at the FLGS is not compatible with a toddler, and the sour taste left by the stupid quest where you have no heroes, mean that there are big chunks of that cycle that I haven’t played either. Beyond filling in gaps, I still want to try broader sweeps: a full-on campaign play-through of the sagas, assorted unofficial campaigns for early cycles, or simply finding a functional party and trying to take them on the journey.

 

Tools for the Journey

The question I started asking myself though, was whether the LotR collection I have is sufficient for the things I still want to do with this game? Do I need more cards? Is new content at this stage still a fresh opportunity? Or just an unwanted challenge?

 

The Doom of Men

I’ve said a few times that I think it would be good if FFG called it a day. I discovered recently that I’m not allowed to say that on Facebook any more as the admins have banned posts about the game dying (personally I thought that sharing the link to the article announcing the immediate cancellation of the only other LCG nearly as old as LotR was fairly relevant)

It actually really winds me up when people turn off comments on Facebook posts (more-or-less-regardless of what the topic is), but at least on my own blog I can vent to my heart’s content. So, I think LotR needs to come to an end because…

…the existing card pool is bloated. The Core Set now is, with hindsight, a fairly terrible product, containing a lot of useless player-cards, and weird ratios which generate lots of redundancy if you buy multiple sets to get 2nd or 3rd copies of key cards. All of this together means that, despite the stated aim of the LCG model, it’s horrifically expensive to get a play-set of the key cards.

Lots of the old cards create a skewed game in a way that forces unpleasant design decisions in the here-and-now (the general cycle seems to be “design encounter cards to be super-powerful because of strong player card X, then decide to errata that card anyway, but still leave you with the disgusting encounter card to deal with”).

Basic mechanics like travel and locations don’t make sense, and the existence of Arkham LCG shows that it can be done so much better.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the horrendous level of power-creep in the game: the average goblin in 2018 seems to have stats comparable will a troll in 2011, so any attempt introducing novel mechanics get smothered by crushing difficulty.

FallofN Right now, it feels like Lord of the Rings the Card Game has gone from Elros to Tar-Atanamir: the gift of long-life comes with the responsibility to know when to lay that life down. Instead, it looks increasingly like the game has become the cardboard version of the latter Numenorians, yearning for the Doom of Elves when it is not in their nature. To switch metaphor slightly, this game could take a final cycle to bring us the Heroes we are still missing, then come willingly to death, an image of the splendour of the kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. Instead it seems determined to linger on in darkness and in doubt as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. To dwell bound to its grief under the fading trees until all the world is changed and the long years of its life are utterly spent.

 

The Road Goes Ever On…

mainmenu-good

That said, I don’t expect to see the end of LotR, nor a version 2.0. Fantasy Flight announced a digital version of the game at the end of last year, and despite their continued (and rather irritating) attempts to convince us that the 2 are the same game, they have been fairly careful to stress that there is more physical content coming, even if some of it gets tied to digital products.

I’ve been drafting this article for quite a while, and I’ve changed my mind back-and-forth several times about what I think is likely to happen next. This article, previewing the upcoming cycle, which talks about the difficulty of continuing to come up with new scenario designs, about the symmetry of coming back to revisit the old core-box encounter sets and locations made me think we were at the end, but overall, the thrust seems to be towards more of the same.

adn01_preview3“The Game is Dying” has been the constant refrain for years, and it’s never been true yet. On balance, I suspect that it still isn’t: unlike Star Wars, we’ve not had play-tester leaks warning that there’s nothing new being printed, and unlike Netrunner, the licence, whilst external, isn’t owned by a direct competitor of Asmodee’s. It seems like the road goes ever on.

To Buy? Or not to buy?

Grimbeorn-the-Old Aside from the fact that I like things to be neat/complete, this cycle feels like the pay-off for a lot of earlier stuff: Having sat through the Beorning Beekeeper and the Beorning Guardian, how could I drop out as the game reaches an end, and the Beornings finally get good? (Grimbeorn looks awesome!) Aside from Grimbeorn, if this was the final cycle, then it would be now-or-never (surely “now”??) for Thranduil Hero, for Gwaihir Hero, or even Radagast Hero (If Denethor and Grima get hero cards, then Thranduil’s exclusion from the game is just baffling)

But if this isn’t the final cycle, how long do I keep putting new money into this game? Sure it’d be cool to have a viable Beorning deck, but how much of the upcoming cycle is that? and how much will be Dale characters, juggling attachments? (thematically, the Dale deck is as dull as… well, as merchants – are the mechanics cool enough to overcome this?)

Rhovanion In the end, I decided to keep going: after a quiet start to the year, Lord of the Rings has actually got a lot of play over the past few months, and looks likely to keep going. Add in the fact that I never told the FLGS to cancel my standing pre-order for all things LotR, and it seemed like the path of least resistance to simply take the new deluxe which was sat waiting for me.

Dale Heroes
Now there are 2 more un-played heroes.

Now, I just need to keep a careful eye, making sure that this gets played enough to keep up with new spending.

 

 

 

Appendix

(because hey, who doesn’t love an appendix?)

Lord of the Rings LCG

By sessions:

  • 2015 – 2nd (Pathfinder ACG)
  • 2016 – =2nd (Zombicide Black Plague [=PACG])
  • 2017 – 3rd (Zombicide Black Plague, Arkham LCG)
  • 2018 – 4th (Arkham LCG, Zombicide, Pandemic Legacy)

By hours:

  • 2015 – 2nd (Pathfinder ACG)
  • 2016 – =3rd (Zombicide, Marvel Legendary [=PACG])
  • 2017 – 8th (Zombicide, Arkham LCG, Eldritch Horror, Massive Darkness, MArvel Legendary, Aeon’s End, Mansions)
  • 2018 – 12th (Zombicide, Arkham LCG, Pandemic Legacy, Eldritch Horror, The City of Kings, L5R, Elder Sign, Massive Darkness, Shadows of Brimstone, Marvel Legendary, Gloomhaven)

Calling it a Day

Learning to Let Go

I own a lot of games, and a lot of those games have expansions, re-implementations, or otherwise compatible products. Today I want to think a bit about some of the big games collections I own, and when is the time to stop adding to them.

 

Too slow to stop

The undisputed waning giant of our gaming table is Pathfinder ACG. Playtime has plummeted from 265 games in 2015 to 81 in 2016, and a mere 22 for 2017. It hasn’t hit the table at all since last July.

Class Decks
It turns out that a box of barely-used Class Decks doesn’t make for an especially interesting photograph.

Back in the period where this was getting played all the time, we bought everything that was going. 3 (and a bit) complete adventure paths, all the class-decks they could throw at us, and even some promos off of the secondary market.

Several of the class decks though, never really got that much play –or else they did, but most of the cards were just duplicates of things we had. A lot of the newer class decks look much more varied and interesting, but having shelled out on the earlier, unused, stuff it’s hard to justify spending any more.

I like to support the FLGS where I can, but 1.) they’re often not as cheap as the online retailers, and 2.) they tend to struggle to get stock for things that aren’t brand-new, unless it’s something that’s shifting in massive volumes. The way around both of these issues is to pre-order (they offer a 10% pre-order discount), but when you have a standing pre-order for anything new in a particular product line, it’s easy to just drift into buying new stuff.

I recently sold one adventure path (Wrath of the Righteous). It was a massive faff, and it won’t have got me anywhere near my money back, but it freed up a bit of space and a bit of cash. With hindsight, I should definitely have stopped getting Pathfinder stuff earlier than I did.

 

 

The Stuff of Legends

Legendary CollectionAnother game which feels very big, and sometimes off-balance these days, is (to give it its proper name) “Legendary: A Marvel deck-building game“. With 2 base sets (normal and villains), 5 big-box expansions (Dark City, Secret Wars 1, Secret Wars 2, Civil War, X-Men) and a similar number of small-box expansions (Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, Paint the Town Red, Deadpool, Fear Itself) I have  A LOT of cards for this by now.

At its heart Legendary is still a great game – we play it reasonably often and have a lot of fun. However, the multiplication of keywords means you’re often left fumbling for a rules reference sheet, you will find Mastermind/Villain/Scheme synergies which don’t give the players a chance, and a lot of the special content ends up not getting used (I can’t remember the last time I used a Horror, a Pet-Sidekick, or an Ambition).

I was fortunate enough that I didn’t pay for either the (slightly disappointing) Deadpool, or the (excellent) X-Men boxes, and I started skipping new expansions a year or so ago: my Legendary collection is ‘missing’ the Noir, Spider-Man Homecoming, Champions and Fantastic 4 expansions. However much I enjoy the game, I’m not intending to pick those up any time soon and, unless the upcoming Hulk big-box appears to review, I can’t imagine even considering it for long.

 

Stretching things out

For a game like Legendary, whilst the set-up and keeping track of things can get quite Byzantine, the actual game experience remains broadly the same.

For other games, each new expansion stretches the basic experience.

Carcassonne Excluded
Carcassonne components I own but don’t use

Recently, I dusted off my copy of Carcassonne to play with a visiting relative. Like many people, Carcassonne was one of the first games we encountered when discovering modern board-gaming (alongside Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan). We liked it. We bought a version that had ‘The River’ included. Then we bought The River 2. And Inns and Cathedrals. And Builders and Traders. And Mayor and Abbey. AND the Princess and the Dragon. For a game listed on BGG as 30-45 minutes, you were now looking at a good hour for this sprawling mess of a game as you waded through the million tiles, and countless additional rules.

I’ve long since taken out all the Mayor and Abbey and Princess and Dragon content (don’t have the boxes, so can’t really sell them on). For the recent game we stripped out some of the extra rules (Inns, Cathedrals, Traders), whilst leaving in other bits (giant meeple, builder, extra tiles), and only used a partial set of River stuff. The overall experience was fun, and a good reminder of why Carcassonne was such a successful game in the first place.

Still, it’s interesting to think that (for us at least) whilst 1 or 2 expansions made the game better, too many made it noticeably worse.

If you played a lot of Carcassonne, I guess you could vary which expansions you used – keep it at no more than 2, but swap them around. For us, this is in 1 or 2 games a year territory these days (like most 1v1 games with my wife where I win too consistently for it to be fun any more often), and we’re not likely to do that much swapping things around.

 

Just Right

Despite the stories above, I don’t want to suggest that bloat and confusion are the inevitable consequence of prolonged expansion-buying.

Runebound Collection Runebound (3rd edition) is a fairly new game for us – got it in 2017, and played it 10 times, which is perfectly respectable for a 2-hour game. I have 2 expansions for it, the small-box Caught in a Web, and the larger Unbreakable Bonds. (Unbreakable Bonds is particularly good, as it adds a fully co-op mode). There are other expansions out there, but right now I’m feeling pretty happy with the set-up we have – around 8 Heroes, 5 quests (all of which can be played fully cooperatively), and options to mix up the skill decks. For this game, knowing where to stop seems key.

Interestingly, despite talking about it in relatively glowing terms, I realised as I was re-working this draft, that Runebound hasn’t actually been played yet this year. Clearly something needs to happen soon.

 

Stretching? Completion?

Eldritch Horror was a new acquisition late in 2016, traded for something else that no longer got played. We enjoyed it, and the inevitable tide of expansions followed. The first expansion is barely even an expansion – it’s more a fix for things that should have been in the original game: 6 mysteries per Ancient One rather than 4 (you use three per game), cards to pad out the encounter decks, and tokens to implement the Focus mechanic (taking an action to get a token you can use for a re-roll later).

Since then I’ve picked up 3 expansions from Games Quest to review, and a few others here and there – a birthday present, a bit of store credit from a mystery review, a Christmas present.

Eldritch SideboardsBy now, the game is pretty weighty. It easily fills 2 large boxes, with the character standees in a separate small box. We have enough Ancient Ones that you’re unlikely to remember running into any of them more than twice, and 22 of the 55 investigators we own have only taken part in a single game. There are also 3 side-boards which appear fairly rarely indeed.

Despite all that, the expansions feel like sensible purchases, if not necessarily ‘good value’ had I paid cash for them all – we’ll still regularly get through over half of a location encounter deck in a single game, and the Rumour cards have a big enough impact that you don’t want to see them coming up too often. It’s understandable that some investigators are more fun, and get played more often, than others (Diana and Lily have featured in 13 games each), and the wealth of content gives us good future-proofing.

New Investigators
The Mansions 2nd edition characters (back row) have been eclipsed by (L-R) Calvin, Sefina and Daniela

That said, I think this would be a good point for FFG to call it a day – already some of the small card-decks are near-impossible to shuffle, and finding specific cards is a real trial. We’ve not only exhausted all of FFG’s established investigator line-up, but Eldritch now has 3 characters who weren’t around for last year’s Investigators of Arkham Horror book, (Sefina Rousseau, Calvin Wright, Daniela Reyes) and Daniela currently appears in Eldritch only, and no other game. The fact that the most recent expansion contained Personal Missions for all the investigators released to date would make backwards compatibility really clunky for any future expansions.

Omens-Pharaoh-Dice-Game-BoxWhilst I think Eldritch feels like it has reached a natural end, I do need to note that Elder Sign also looks like it has essentially exhausted the investigator pool (the most recent expansion featured 6 of the 7 investigators who just joined Eldritch Horror, and Daniela is now the only one not available.)

Will FFG really discontinue 2 profitable games at once? They do seem to be getting a lot of mileage out of Terrinoth and Rokugan (and, of course Star Wars and Lord of the Rings remain popular), but the Arkham line still looks like it’s a big part of their business.

I don’t want to sound like the dog in the manger here, and I can see people wondering why I couldn’t just stop buying things, and be happy for FFG to keep producing them for others. I guess that there are a number of reasons: for one thing, if they make more expansions, the chances are there that there will still be some elements that are good, along with bad elements, or aspects that make the game feel bloated – knowing when to call time in that environment is tricky.

More than that, if the designers are continuing to work in a cluttered, cramped design space, it suggests that they aren’t occupied elsewhere, making something new and better – I’m not 100% where there’s a space right now for another Arkham game, but I’d love to see FFG turn their energies to something like Middle Earth Quest 2nd Edition – app-supported and fully co-op.

 

Descending into madness

Some games I haven’t started expanding, but I know my own past well enough to be aware that if I do, I need to go in with a plan to avoid overspending and bloating the collection.

NerekhallDescent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd Edition) is a good example of this – I think that a little more content would really make it shine. Too much would be a monster not worthy of the hours.

Ideally, I’d get Shadows of Nerekhall, but it’s been out of stock/print for a fair while. Instead then, I’ve ended up not getting anything else for the game and, to be honest, it hasn’t been played in months.

Part of me wonders whether our slightly underwhelming experience with this game (it’s “fine” but not much beyond that), is due to a lack of variety that an expansion would fix. Equally, it could just be the sheer range of alternative games that this needs to fight for table-time. Mansions of Madness does app-driven better, Massive Darkness is lighter and quicker. Gloomhaven is probably better for tactical dungeon-crawling, and Shadows of Brimstone does long-term character progression and customisation.

The recent announcement of a Terrinoth card game has revived my interest in Descent and Runebound, so maybe these will get played again soon, but there’s no guarantee.

 

Chicken or the Egg?

Firefly expanded
(Expansion to your dining table not included)

I’ve talked in the past (although not for a while) about Firefly – a game dripping with theme that somehow never quite feels compelling (and takes a really long time) – we don’t really own any expansions (just a small deck of cards) and I often wonder whether it should be moved on (it hasn’t be played since summer 2016) or expanded – the Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion in particular gets good reviews for increasing the player interaction (others expand the game-length, sorry, board, or add in new ships and crew). Is this not worth spending money on because it doesn’t get played? Or not getting played because it needs expansions?

Right now I’m reluctant to throw good money after bad, my wife is too fond of the Firefly theme to get rid of it, and nobody’s actually that keen to play it (it’s not great with only 2 players, and mustering the time with a bigger group is challenging.) that basically leads us to an impasse, which is probably the real reason it’s still sat there.

 

Having looked at games of various sizes, I haven’t yet talked about the one game that prompted me to start writing this article! However, as we’re already at 2000 words, I think it’s time to split off into a separate place.

I’ll be back shortly with a retrospective on the biggest game in my collection. Lord of the Rings the card game. For now though, just a few general thoughts:

 

Closing thoughts

I think it’s definitely going to be the case going forward that more and more games have more and more bits available, and that the scope to expand them is far greater that the time or money I have available.

I’m still a big fan of the concept of board game expansions – done well they can really enhance a game, and make for a much better gameplay experience, either in terms of fixing things for an individual session, or simply making sure that today’s game doesn’t feel like a re-hash of yesterday’s. The challenge is to work out when an expansion offers real value for money, and when it just becomes an unnecessary money-sink.

 

One Man and His Dog – “Ashcan” Pete

Welcome, to the first in my Investigators Revisited Series, where I’ll be taking a look at the investigators of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files Games. You can read more about the series at the link above, but I’m going to go ahead and dive in to our first investigator.

 

Ashcans Pete Washburne, better known as “Ashcan,” is a drifter. A loner, a hobo, a man who keeps moving, with only one constant companion – Duke his dog.

The earliest versions of Ashcan focused on his ability to make use of things that others had thrown away, the scrapper/scrounger who is always able to find something you need. Later versions have increasingly leant towards Duke as the centre-piece of what Pete likes to do.

 

Pete is generally represented with his health being equal or slightly higher than his sanity (he has bad dreams, so there’s only so much more the mind can take), but broadly he remains a balanced character, not too heavily tipped one way or the other. His actual skills vary quite a bit from game to game, although there’s a definite recurring theme with his Influence being low, whilst his body is fairly tough.

Game-by-Game

Arkham Horror the Card Game

LCG-Pete-and-Duke The Living Card Game is probably where Duke shines the brightest, leading to various comments about whether Pete takes up Duke’s ally slot, or whether Pete is Duke’s signature weakness.

Duke allows Pete to fight at an impressive base skill of 4 (set the dog on them) and to investigate, also starting at 4 skill, with an optional free move thrown in for good measure. (Sniffing out clues).

The fact that Pete can discard a card to ready Duke, and therefore use him twice in a round (potentially more if you draw the Elder Sign) makes for a really strong combination overall, able to do both of the games core actions (fight monsters, find clues) strongly. Without Duke, Pete’s Combat and Intelligence scores are both fairly low, at 2, but that does leave space for a Willpower of 4, which makes him pretty resilient to treacheries.

Your-House
If you’ve played Night of the Zealot, you know why Pete has to be the first investigator, and what you have to choose…

Overall, I’d say that the Card Game is definitely the place where Ashcan/Duke are the most powerful, and offer the biggest incentive to play. I’ve taken them all through one campaign in the past, and have been enjoying running them through a second as I prepared this article.

LCG-Nightmares The back of Pete’s investigator card talks about his nightmares, and how they drive him to seek out the people he has seen, to save them from the horrors that he has witnessed. This is fairly consistent with other stories, but it only gets limited development in the LCG, mostly in the title of his signature weakness.

 

Mansions of Madness (2nd edition)

Mansions2-Pete-and-Duke In Mansions of Madness, Pete is reduced to “starts with Duke.” In this case, Duke being a unique “item” (allies aren’t really a thing in Mansions). Duke’s power definitely isn’t a flashy one, and I’d largely overlooked it in the past, but actually it has the power to be fairly useful, giving you an extra trade action at the start of your turn, a trade that can be conducted with someone in an adjacent space. In a recent game, where I’d made a point of playing Pete in preparation for this article, Duke was actually the difference between Pete winning and losing the scenario, as he went insane whilst fighting the end boss, and now had a sudden need for evidence, currently in the possession of the person in the next space.

Pete-Miniature Stat-wise, Mansions Ashcan is a fairly solid all-rounder, with 4s in Strength, Agility, Observation and Will. His Lore isn’t great (not much time for studying whilst you’re riding the rails) and, as you might expect for someone who is essentially a tramp, his influence is very low.

Pete certainly isn’t a mega-popular character when we play Mansions – he generally only gets picked when someone says “ooh, I’ll be the one with the dog” but he’s a very solid option when he does get onto the team.

 

Eldritch Horror

Eldritch-PeteAshcan’s stats in Eldritch Horror are much what you might expect: a very low 1 for influence, and steady 3s for everything else. His Health and Sanity are fairly balanced, with a 7/5 split in favour of health.

This version of Pete has 2 abilities, one of which focuses on acquiring discarded Item or Trinket assets with a value less than his observation skill – this can be very nice if he successfully improves that stat, but quickly loses its power if the skill becomes impaired.

Ashcan-MissionAnother aspect of Pete’s character that is often referred to in backstory, but isn’t always that prominent in gameplay, is his habit of riding the rails, never staying long in one place. Eldritch specifically gives him additional movement power along railway lines, making him one of the game’s more mobile characters, so long as he takes that train. This is further reinforced by his Personal Mission, introduced by the recent Masks of Nyarlathotep expansion, which forces him to resolve encounters in a set of locations scattered randomly around the world – doing this brings rewards, but leaving the voices unanswered will only fuel his nightmares.

Eldritch-DukeEldritch Horror’s take on Duke isn’t the most thematic, but it is highly useful, allowing a re-roll once per round. Given that most investigators spend many actions over the course of a game taking Focus tokens to allow them to do just that, a repeatable re-roll is always well-worth having. As if that weren’t enough, Duke also allows Pete to recover sanity more quickly, making that horror limit of 5 remarkably solid. Sadly, as an ally, Duke is vulnerable to a lot of Mythos cards, and there’s a strong chance that Pete will eventually find himself with no dog for company.

 

Elder Sign

Elder-Sign-Pete-and-Duke

Elder Sign is probably the game that gives us least information about the Investigators, at least from a narrative standpoint. Here, Pete’s ability to scavenge for things is to the fore, with the ability to gain clues or different types of items from scenario rewards. He is also still very much “the one with the dog” – Duke’s ability in Elder Sign is somewhat sad: you can discard him to avoid the penalty for failing an adventure. Hopefully this is the noble hound sacrificing himself to save his master, rather than Pete using his dog as a meat-shield.

Elder Sign Ashcan has 6 health and 4 Sanity: again, fairly balanced with a slight lean towards the physical.

 

Arkham Horror

Arkham-Horror-PeteAlthough Arkham Horror is the original Arkham Files game, it’s also the one I’ve played least, so I don’t necessarily feel all-that-qualified to offer opinions on it. In this first iteration of Ashcan, his ‘scrapper’ nature was to the fore, allowing him to draw cards from the bottom of the deck instead of the top. Given that cards leaving an investigator’s possession go the bottom of their respective decks, rather than into a discard pile, this allows him to draw items with a good level of foreknowledge, as well as being able to recycle a powerful card.

Arkham-Horror-DukeDuke is also present in Arkham Horror, where he gives Pete +1 Maximum Sanity or, he can be discarded to immediately restore Pete’s sanity to full (although “full” will now be the printed total, as you no longer have the boos).

Character stats in Arkham work a bit differently to the later games, being in a constant state of flux, with an investigator’s Focus being the factor which influences how much they can be altered. Pete has a very high sneak value, with his other stats being fairly rounded, but a very low focus of 1, making it difficult for him to react to changing circumstances.

 

From Games to Fiction

GhoulsAshcan Pete has yet to receive his own novella, but we do still have some information about him from FFG’s tie-in fiction. He first appeared in Ghouls of the Miskatonic, a work that is now (I believe) officially pre-canonical, but definitely still worth a read (and available fairly cheaply on Kindle).

Even in a few short pages, I felt like these old novels did a better job of conveying Pete’s character than many of the various game implementations. In Ghouls, he wakes up, dry mouth tasting of whisky and vomit, noting that “A drunken stupor was preferable to the horrific nightmares that had plagued him over the last few weeks.” This take on Pete places the source of his nightmares very firmly in the Great War – although it’s very strongly implied that he may have observed the misuse of Eldritch magic there, alongside the solely human carnage. Either way, it was “horrific, mind-wrenching stuff that had left him unable to sleep or hold down a job when he got back to the States.”

He returns in the third novel of the same trilogy, Dweller in the Deep, when Finn Edwards, one of the main characters is hitching a ride on a transcontinental train and “an angry-looking black mongrel” and “a sprightly fella” jump into their slow-moving wagon. In this instance, Pete is depicted as a man “affecting hobo mannerisms” but not nearly as drunk as he makes out. He is clearly headed to Arkham, but his motivations are unclear, simply a “you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Ashcan-Book-Page Moving to the more recent/official era, Ashcan also got his own short story in the Investigators of Arkham Horror book released in early 2017. Unlike many of the stories, it focused not so much on the investigator himself, as an unknown character who happened to meet with him. Pete starts sharing his life story and, with no mention of the War, describes how he came from the Arkham area originally, but was driven to travel the world by his nightmares, finding that if he could help people, the dreams would fall silent for a while.

 

Closing Thoughts

yesthisisdogOverall, I think Ashcan feels like a fairly consistently represented character across the different game-lines. He’s generally solid, rather than flashy, and the only game in which I’d say he really stands out is Arkham Horror the card game. For anyone who is wanting to try him in the LCG, you could do a lot worse than start with “Hello, Yes this is Dog” a deck I found on Arkham DB and have been having good fun with recently.

I think the biggest disappointment with Ashcan is that, even having played him 21 times across the various titles (he’s in my top 10 for most-played investigators), I don’t really feel like I know him that well, he struggles to become more than “Man with Dog.” Hopefully, this is an area which will be a bit better with next month’s* investigator, Jenny Barnes

(* Time limits are not binding, nor, necessarily, probable).