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.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

The Game is Dying!

The near-constant cry of the Lord of the Rings LCG player, the notion of game death has become an in-joke for fans of Arkham Horror, and a rallying cry for the followers of many, many modern board games, but what’s it all about? Does it make any sense? And do us normal folks need to be worried about it?

Monopolies
The internet assures me all of these are real…

At risk of this becoming one of those articles when I talk about the good old days when games were made of lead, and we couldn’t play them anyway because we were too busy dying of consumption down a coal mine, I want to start with a bit of a look back at the past.

 

Nobody buying a board game made by Hasbro or Waddingtons in the 1980s or 90s ever worried about the game “dying” – once you had your copy of Mousetrap, or Cluedo, it would make literally no impact on your life if the publisher’s factory burned down tomorrow, and nobody ever made that game or a related one again (for Monopoly, this may just be wishful thinking). A Board Game came in a box, everything you needed to play was in that box, and that was that.

 

Incomplete I

Nowadays, it seems that things are different. The idea that when you buy a board game that’s it, is no longer a certainty, in fact it can be the exception rather than the norm. Often a modern game is a starting point, a proof of concept, something that comes with an expectation of further content.

At the most extreme level comes the Core Box for an LCG – most of the time, this isn’t even enough to build a ‘legal’ deck, and will come with special starter rules.

Even when a game can be played “properly” out of the box, lots of games look for more. Deck-builders will always have far more richness when there is a greater card pool to build with, and any game that is scenario-based will always want more scenarios to play. Ultimately though, I think that there’s a point where the value drops away- and by implication the danger of the game “dying” diminishes. Let’s look at a couple of examples

ArkhamDeluxesWhen the Core Set of Arkham LCG was released, I bought it, and thought it was a pretty good product as a starting point. If expansions had never materialised though, I don’t know how much life this game would really have had in it – even leaving aside issues of expectation and communication, the core-box-only product was just a bit too limited.

We’ve now finished the first cycle, and the deluxe which starts the next cycle has just arrived (in today’s post. Hooray!).

I enjoy this game, and hope it continues past the second cycle, but I think that 15 investigators, 2 large campaigns, a mini campaign and a couple of standalone scenarios, along with the volume of player cards that we’ll have by the time Path to Carcosa is complete, would still be enough to keep playing the game for a fair few years if the flow of new product did suddenly stop.

LotRBoxes
Ok, when you stack it like this, it looks silly…

For Lord of the Rings LCG, 100+ Heroes and probably a similar number of scenarios in, a new expansion is much less likely to even register – it might only be 1 or 2 player cards that get used, and if the quest isn’t particularly compelling, it may well not get played again once I’ve successfully beaten it. I’m already thinking that I’ll stop buying after the end of the current cycle / final Saga box which should be out by the autumn, but I wonder whether it would be good for the game, not just for me, if they called it a day – like the Kings of Nuemnor before its waning, knowing when to lay down their lives in good health, rather than prolonging their decline.

 

Incomplete II

LegendaryCore
I played Core-only recently. It was an interesting change, but I still prefer all my extra Heroes

Of course, a game doesn’t need to come in a “Living” or collectible format to feel like it needs something more.

For example, Marvel Legendary can very easily be played using only that original box, but a lot of people find the lack of variety and the comparatively low level of difficulty something of a turn-off. In order to get that fully rounded, challenging, game experience that lots of people are looking for, it probably needs an expansion or two.

EldritchPlus
If you ask a lot of people, they’ll tell you that THIS is what the base game looks like.

To take another example, go onto Board Game Geek, and look at any one of the many, many threads about “Which expansion should I buy for Eldritch Horror?” – 99% of the time, you’ll see the same answer. “Get Forsaken Lore first: it rounds out all the core decks and introduces a few odds and ends that should have been in the core game.” Essentially, the consensus seems to be that Eldritch Horror is a game that appears in 2 boxes (Eldritch Horror and Forsaken Lore), then there are the expansions.

 

Impetus?

Risingtide
Heard about this a couple of days ago. Looks interesting. These days we mostly play Pandemic Iberia.

I’ve owned Pandemic for several years. I don’t remember how many exactly, but it was before I moved into my current house, so at least 4 ½. When we first got it, we played it a lot. Then it got put to one side for a while – it wasn’t until the hype surrounding Pandemic Legacy really kicked off that I was reminded of this game that had been sat gathering dust.

Sometimes a new release of content is the impetus a game needs to get back to the table – whether it reminds you of something you already have, or whether it refreshes something that was getting stale.

Firefly
Would I play this more if we owned expansions? I don’t think so, but it’s hard to be sure.

That said, there are dangers – I know that there are games where I’ve been tempted by expansions, but have ultimately held off, simply because I know that the base game has never really been played enough to justify spending more money on it.

What happens to games when there isn’t that relentless pressure to buy more content, that constant string of reminders from the hype machine? Well, to be honest – nothing too terrible. Either you don’t play it, and it sits there, or you do play it, in which case the expansion probably wasn’t crucial. Expansions are good for the game company, because they can sell you more things, but it will vary a lot as to whether they are good for you, the players.

Stale Meta?

Tsarina
Of course, you can also fix a stale meta by removing cards.

In highly competitive games, like the Game of Thrones LCG, you’ll often hear a lot of references to a “meta” – essentially, the general environment of what everyone else is playing. As time passes, people will work out certain tactics and synergies that are highly effective, then more cards will come out that open up a new strategy, and things shift.

In this kind of environment, it seems to be excepted that the last thing you want is a “stale meta” – where everyone knows all the cards, all the combinations have been tried, and there are certain top decks, against which any other strategy is more of less pointless.

Chess
Apparently I still own a chess set! Those don’t look much like Bishops to me, but they certainly aren’t Elephants.

As I say, this is primarily an issue for highly competitive games that have an established history of an evolving card-pool (it need not be cards: insert “dice,” “units,” etc as you prefer). In these environments, the expectations are that the top players will be the ones who can most quickly crack a new release.

Other games, like Chess are still head-to-head and competitive, but haven’t had a new unit since an Englishman asked “what’s an elephant?” and someone decided to replace it with a Bishop – expectation is everything.

 

Availability?

DescentA few months back, I picked up a copy of Descent 2nd edition. I was inspired by the positive experiences we’d had with Mansions of Madness, and wanted to see whether Fantasy Flight’s app-driven games were as good when applied to a Fantasy Dungeon Crawler as a Lovecraftian mystery.

Descent is a good game, after a few plays, you can see why it is so highly ranked on BGG. There are definitely some issues – for me the biggest problem was the level of disconnect between the printed rules (which assume “1 vs many” play) and the app-driven experience – and I need to re-read some of the finer points of the rules, but overall, I enjoy it.

Descent has gone a bit quiet recently, with Massive Darkness getting the “new and shiny” vote for our table-top dungeon-crawling needs. I’m still expecting to give it some serious table-time later in the year though, and at some point, I’d imagine I’ll get an expansion or 2. An expansion will give me more variety of monsters, more heroes and classes to choose from and, if I go for the Shadows of Nerekhall box (my current plan), a whole new campaign enabled in the app.

Nerekhall
fans figure that more people are buying Nerekhall than other big-box expansions, as it adds an additional campaign, and by extension they argue, FFG should make campaigns for the other boxes to encourage sales of them too…

At the moment, most of the big box expansions like Nerekhall seem to be fairly readily available and although a lot of the little Lieutenant packs can be hard to come by, the boxes that add major gameplay changes tend to cycle back in to print relatively often.

That said, it’s been nearly a year since a physical new release for Descent – does that mean FFG are done with it? This is a question which gets asked a lot, and generates a fair amount of heat as people disagree about what can or cannot be known.

Personally, I don’t get the sense that Descent is done with, but if I did, would that change things?

From one perspective, I might be rushing out to get Nerekhall, just in case it disappeared, rather than simply waiting? – once again it’s that sense of what makes a “complete” or incomplete game. On the other hand, I might decide that D2E (as I understand the kids are calling it these days) was fine as a self-contained product that only got fairly limited play, and concentrate my efforts elsewhere (especially if there was a 3rd Edition coming that had full co-op from the word go…)

 

Organised Play?

I do most of my gaming at home, either with my wife, occasionally solo, or with a few friends.

RuneSpears
That’s a lot more Spearmen than I own

Some games though, just don’t hit the table at home. There are generally 1 or 2 on the go at a time, and currently it’s Runewars Miniatures – 2-player competitive games that my wife just isn’t interested in (in the past Game of Thrones LCG, Star Wars Destiny, and various table-top wargames have all fallen into this category).

For these games, I need to venture out to the FLGS, or some other type of club, and that’s when the question of whether a game is alive or not becomes a big issue.

I’ve been enjoying the Runewars games I’ve played recently, and having Fantasy Flight put out regular Organised Play kits helps push a monthly event on a Saturday where I know other people will turn up to play, and I’ll actually get some use out of those figures I’ve been spending my money on.

If Runewars “dies” – i.e. FFG stop supporting it, or putting out new content, I could potentially end up with a lot of boxes of skeletons, and not a lot to do with them, particularly if the other players move on to something newer and shinier. Right now, Runewars is getting a lot of love and attention from FFG, so I’d hope that I’m safe for a year or so, but past experience has definitely taught me the dangers of investing heavily in something that might be unplayable by the time I get it assembled and painted. The boxes and boxes of Dice Masters which sit forlornly in the corner waiting for my son to be old enough to play dice games are a harsh reminder of that.

 

Final Thoughts

When all is said and done, I think it’s fair to say that there is a lot more concern and hype about games “dying” than there really needs to be. Provided a game isn’t played in a legacy format (actually damaging/changing elements as you go along), the chances are that you’ll be able to keep playing with the content you already have for a long while after the manufacturers have stopped churning out extras.

If organised play is important for you, then you do need to keep an eye on what’s happening, simply to avoid running out of opponents – still, this is generally going to be a bigger deal in the world of more competitive gaming, which already has a slightly different level of financial engagement than just buying something to play at home.

What on earth is an H-Index?

One of the more unusual gaming discoveries I made in the first part of July was of another games blogger out there who was even more number-obsessed than I was.

Via a post on Board Game Geek, I found my way to an article which went into great detail about something called an H-Index. Since then I’ve found various other links which suggest that this is actually quite a common thing for game-stat-geeks to look at.

Without even realising it, I’d been making reference to something resembling an H-Index for a while, when doing my monthly updates on the 10 of 10 challenge.

If you want to read the full explanation, you can do so over on the original blog, but broadly speaking, an H-index looks at N games played N times – so if you’ve played 3 games 3 times (or more), your H-Index is 3. It’s a measuring system that works in squares, so if you had 100 games played 3 times, or 3 games played 100 times, you’d still only have an H-Index of 3, until a 4th game reached 4 plays.

As I said, I’d used what was essentially an H-Index in tracking the 10 of 10 challenge through its early stages, because there was generally more of interest to say about 6 of 6 (for example) than “still 3 games at 10, no others have got there yet” but I was a bit uncertain last year what to track after I reached 10 of 10 – did I go for 11 of 11? Or did I just keep track of 10s?

I like the H-Index model, and will use it going forward – I’m currently at 11 for 2017, as even though 13 games have been played 10 or more times, several are still sat on 10 or 11.

Looking back over the years I’ve kept records, I was able to put together lists for 2015, 2016, 2017 (so far) and “all time”(since Christmas 2014) – this was what I got.

Big4
The “Big 4” – all appearing on each individual year, and the all-time lists.

2015 –    H7

Pathfinder ACG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Marvel Legendary, Game of Thrones LCG (2nd Ed), Machi Koro, Mapominoes

 

2016 –    H13

Zombicide: Black Plague, Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Marvel Legendary, Game of Thrones LCG (2nd Ed), Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror LCG, Elder Sign, Zombie Dice, Legendary Encounters Firefly, Beyond Baker Street, Dominion

 

2017 –    H11

Lord of the Rings LCG, Arkham Horror LCG, Pathfinder ACG, Zombicide: Black Plague, Elder Sign, Dice Masters, Aeon’s End, Dominion, Marvel Legendary, Eldritch Horror, Dungeon Time

 

All-Time – H17

Pathfinder ACG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Marvel Legendary, Zombicide: Black Plague, Game of Thrones LCG (2nd Ed), Arkham Horror LCG, Elder Sign, Dominion, Mansions of Madness, Mapominoes, Machi Koro, Beyond Baker Street, Zombie Dice, Aeon’s End, Star Wars Destiny, Yggdrasil

 

All-time: How we got there

The guy who wrote the blog article has also tracked the intervals between moving up a level on the H-index – this was a bit more awkward to extract the numbers for, but eventually I got to something that looked a bit like this…

Maps
The first game played after I started keeping records…

1              Mapomines        25/12/14

2              Mapominoes, Yggdrasil                 27/12/14

3              Pathfinder, Yggdrasil, Mapominoes         28/12/14

4              Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Pit           8/3/15

5              Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Mapominoes, Coup        12/5/15

6              Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Mapominoes, Dominion, Machi Koro      26/6/15

7              Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, AGoT, Machi Koro, Mapominoes      18/10/15

8              Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, AGoT, Mapominoes, Machi Koro, Curse of the Black Dice                15/3/17

9              Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, AGoT, Zombicide, Mapominoes, Machi Koro, Curse of the Black Dice                       25/3/16

10           Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, AGoT, Zombicide, Mapominoes, Machi Koro, Dobble, Curse of the Black Dice                    28/5/16

11           Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, AGoT, Zombicide, Mapominoes, Machi Koro, Dobble, Bananagrams, Dominion               15/7/16

12           Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, AGoT, Machi Koro, Mapominoes, Dominion, Boggle, Bananagrams, Yggdrasil 21/9/16

13           Pathinfder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, AGoT, Machi Koro, Mapominoes, Mansions of Madness, Dominion, Yggdrasil, Boggle, Bananagrams      8/10/16

14           Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, AGoT, Mapominoes, Machi Koro, Mansions, Arkham LCG, Dominion, Elder Sign, Yggdrasil, Zombie Dice             2/12/16

15           Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, AGoT, Mapominoes, Arkham LCG, Machi Koro, Elder Sign, Mansions, Dominion, Zombie Dice, Destiny, Bananagrans  29/1/17

16           Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, AGoT, Elder Sign, Mapominoes, Machi Koro, Arkham LCG, Mansions, Dominion, Zombie Dice, Yggdrasil, Dobble, Bananagrams              27/2/17

17           Pathfinder, LotR, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, AGoT, Arkham LCG, Elder Sign, Mansions, Mapominoes, Machi Koro, Zombie Dice, Dominion, Yggdrasil, Beyond Baker Street, Dobble, Bananagrams                19/3/17

18

H-AllAfter the first 3, this follows a fairly steady, mostly linear progression, albeit with a few bumps here and there – it seems fairly common for there to be a long period without an increase, then going up 2 levels in fairly short order.

21 games total have appeared on the all-time H-list, with some coming in at lower levels then ducking out again, whilst others have been firmly entrenched for the duration. This is the full list, with the games in Red being ones that have previously appeared but have dipped out.

Boggle
Ready to make a comeback?

AGoT, Arkham LCG, Bananagrams, Beyond Baker Street, Boggle, Coup, Curse of the Black Dice, Dice Masters, Dobble, Dominion, Elder Sign, Legendary, LotR, Machi Koro, Mansions of Madness, Mapominoes, Pathfinder, Pit, Star Wars Destiny, Yggdrasil, Zombicide, Zombie Dice

Of these, Curse of the Black Dice and Destiny have both gone, whilst Pit and Coup are languishing on 6 and 7 plays respectively. Boggle is probably the only one that could realistically hope to re-enter the H-index in the future (although the shaking at the start is a bit noisy if the baby’s napping…)

The plays of these 17 games account for 74% of all sessions logged

Fortunately, there are plenty of other games either already just short of 18 plays, or due to land in the future that I hope will keep this ticking along – I’ll keep revisiting it as I go…

 

2017

The 2017 list is slightly harder to organise chronologically with only monthly data: reaching H-5 in January tends to lump everything together somewhat!

El Game
For a while in January, I was only playing games that began with “El” – only 1 apiece though…

The 11 games currently on the list account for 53% of the year’s gaming, so just over half,

2017

1              Elder Sign            1/1/17

2              Zombicide, Destiny         4/1/17

3              Legendary, Zombicide Elder Sign               13/1/17

4              Legendary, Destiny, Elder Sign, Zombicide            21/1/17

5              Zombicide, Eldritch Horror, Destiny, Arkham, Elder Sign 29/1/17

6              Elder Sign, Zombicide, LotR LCG, Destiny, Dice Masters, Eldritch 26/2/17

7              Elder Sign, LotR, Zombicide, Dice Masters, Destiny, Legendary, Arkham 7/3/17

8              Elder Sign, LotR, Zombicide, Arkham, Legendary, Aeon’s End, Pathfinder, Dice Masters  26/3/17

9              Elder Sign, LotR LCG, Zombicide, Arkham, Dice Masters, Aeon’s End, Pathfinder, Eldritch, Legendary,                4/4/17

10           LotR LCG, Arkham, Elder Sign, Aeon’s End, Pathfinder, Zombicide, Dice Masters, Eldritch, Legendary, Destiny                30/4/17

11           LotR LCG, Arkham, Zombicide, Elder Sign, Pathfinder, Dice Masters, Aeon’s End, Legendary, Dominion, Eldritch, Dungeon Time                 25/6/17

 

H-17This follows a much more standard distribution curve, rising sharply at the start, where a game only needs playing once or twice, then levelling off over time. Interestingly, these games only account for 52% of all sessions logged so far this year, which suggest a fair few other games hovering just outside the top.

NextAeon’s End, Arkham, Destiny, Dice Masters, Dominion, Dungeon Time, Elder Sign, Eldritch, Legendary, LotR LCG, Pathfinder, Zombicide,

Only 12 different games so far have counted towards this index of 11, with Destiny being the exception that dropped off the edge – I’ve given up on the rather punishing Destiny release schedule (coupled with a very high price-point), but I’m optimistic that Mansions of Madness and/or Runewars will make it up to 12 for the year sometime soon.

 

 

Timed

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about time: about hours of gaming rather than sessions, as a more useful measure of how much a game gets played. Using the approximate session-lengths I’ve estimated for most of my games, it seems that 10 games have clocked up 10 hours so far in 2017: Zombicide, Eldritch Horror, Arkham LCG, Aeon’s End, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness, LotR LCG, Runewars Miniatures, Pathfinder, Legendary. – I don’t imagine it will take all that long to add another couple to this list, but much beyond 12 or 13 is likely to be difficult.

 

Going all the way back to Christmas 2014, I can get to 14 games played for 14+ hours – Pathfinder, Zombicide, LotR LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary, Mansions of Madness, Eldritch Horror, Arkham LCG, Game of Thrones LCG, Elder Sign, Machi Koro, Yggdrasil, Aeon’s End, Dominion – I can see myself getting up to 15 fairly shortly, but beyond that it’s likely to be a struggle (to pick one example sitting just outside the 14-hour mark, 2 hours of Mapominoes is quite a lot of games)

 

Hopefully some of you are still awake (you should have guessed this was coming when I published a mostly-pictures article earlier in the week), and will be back to join me next time. I’ll have the July re-cap at the beginning of August, but if you’re lucky I might manage another proper article before then too…

Value for Kicks

About this time last year, I wrote a couple of articles about Kickstarter (see them here and here). Kickstarter continues to fascinate me, both as a Funding platform, and for the social dynamics which go on there. With 4 projects that I have backed and am awaiting delivery of, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the topic before deciding whether to dip my hand in my pocket once more. In part, this is just doing some thinking out loud for my own benefit, but I hope it will be interesting to others too.

 

The projects I’m currently waiting on were backed in May 2015, Jan 2016, July 2016 and December 2016. They were supposed to be deliver in April 2016, October 2016, April 2017 and Jun 2017. It doesn’t take the most observant eye to spot that 2 of these are late, one of them by nearly a year, and it seems pretty clear that the other 2 will be delayed as well – let’s look at them individually.

 

Apocrypha

ApocryphaBoxApocrypha is the disturbed long-lost sibling of the Pathfinder ACG –same design team, and some foundational common. However, it has definitely evolved in its own unique direction, along with an urban fantasy / contemporary horror theme that sets it apart from earlier adventures in Golarion. It was funded by a monster Kickstarter, which wildly exceeded its funding goal, thereby unlocking a ton of stretch-goals, meaning it was never going to hit its projected April 2015 delivery date.

The most recent update is predicting August (2017) for them to start shipping the core box, with the retail release coming a few weeks later. The various expansion bits are currently projected to be with us by November, or at least “before the end of the year” with the retail releases stretching from “in time for Christmas” through to early 2018.

Overall, the Apocrypha Kickstarter hasn’t been a great experience. For a project that was supposed to take just under a year, it’s now looking like 27 months minimum, just to get the base game, nearer to 3 years for the expansions. I don’t think that there’s any real reason to expect the worst (some of the gloomiest forum trolls are predicting bankruptcy at any moment), but it’s definitely been a grating process – I actually voted for this on BGG as one of the most anticipated games of 2016. By the time it appeared on the 2017 nominations list, my enthusiasm had faded.

The communication over the course of the Kickstarter has been mixed – it certainly hasn’t been the wall of silence that seems to plague some projects, but I do feel like they weren’t really upfront with just how long things were going to take – last spring we were being assured that it wouldn’t be as late as (that) October…

All of the mutterings coming out of the play-test suggest that this will be a good game, and that it will be a game with enough difference to make it worthwhile for those who already own multiple Pathfinder sets. Hopefully it will be able to capture our imagination, and actually find a place in our gaming schedule.

As far as I can work out (difficulties around historic exchange rates), I spent somewhere just under £100 on this. I think it may even have been my 2015 birthday present! As the most recent campaign update was keen to point out, that’s noticeably less than the cost of buying it at retail is likely to be (probably a saving of around £35 based on the dollar prices and current exchange rates). Still, if the 1-hour game time is accurate, that’s 20 sessions it will need to clock up before it meets my “value for money” formula. I’ve assigned a slightly arbitrary 3-month grace period from when KS games actually arrive to when I start adding them to the ‘not value for money’ sheet, and I’ll be interested to see whether it can make it.

Numenera

9th worldBack at the end of 2015, when I was still expecting Apocrypha to arrive on time, I got an email about Lone Shark’s next project: The Ninth World – a skill-building game for Numenera. Perhaps with a bit of wilful self-delusion, I assumed that this meant they had finished the design stage of Apocrypha, and backed this one on a bit of a whim – the setting was novel, as was the mechanic, and I’m always interested in anything new and cooperative.

Of course, hindsight is 20:20 and looking back now, a lot of disgruntled Apocrypha backers point to Numenera as a major example of Lone Shark stretching themselves too thin / not getting one product finished before making a start on the next one.

For a lot of the time, Numenera has felt like the forgotten project – whereas Apocrypha has at least been handed off to the printers where (we assume) the blame for further delays lies with someone else, Numenera hasn’t got nearly this far. In November, a month after we were originally going to be getting the game, the design was “almost done,” by February, they were doing some playing around with layout that would make things a lot more streamlined going forward. There have also been art-issues apparently.

The last official stab at a date for this came in mid-March when we were told that they are looking at a street date of “no later than the 4th quarter of this year” and that the “plan is to fulfill to Kickstarter backers first” – all positive noises to have it at some point during 2017, but still pretty vague, and not all that reassuring given the delays we’ve faced so far.

Looking back at my Kickstarter account, I was quite surprised by just how much I’d spent on this – probably somewhere around £65. Given that I probably backed it more out of misplaced goodwill for the company than anything else, this feels a lot like a write-off for me: I periodically forget that I’ve even backed it, and the only time I start hunting for information updates will be in the wake of looking into Apocrypha. With a slightly shorter play-time than a lot of the other games on the list, this will need 16 sessions to hit the value marker – I can easily see myself selling it on at a fairly early juncture in the hope of recovering (some of) my losses.

 

Massive Darkness

My biggest complaint about Zombicide, was the lack of a proper campaign mode. As such, I was VERY interested in Massive Darkness– another game from Cool Mini Or Not and Guillotine Games, with a fair number of similarities to Zombicide, but designed for campaign play, with a more developed system for levelling up and gaining loot.

massive-darkness-preview1

I gave CMON kickstarters their own article last year, and there hasn’t been that much change in my general thoughts. They are massive projects, funding is when, not if (and “when” is usually after about 4 minutes). Expect lots of stretch goals, lots of complaints about stretch goals (some legitimate, others not), plenty of pushing of optional purchases, then significant delays before your pledge actually arrives. When it does arrive, you’ll generally have something that’s cost you a bit less than the retail content would at the FLGS, plus a decent-sized pile of KS-only stuff.

The distribution of stretch goals and optional purchases in the Massive Darkness campaign felt odd, and it was irritating to pass on exciting optional purchases, (like the box that contains a Hellephant!) whilst unlocking yet another not-very-interesting Wandering Monster.

Largely because of the cost of picking up extra content on the secondary market for Zombicide, I ultimately decided to back this one. I have wondered several times since whether that was a good decision or not. The overall art-style wasn’t as nice as Zombicide (lots and lots of very pointy hats), and the character skills/classes seem a lot less interesting than originally billed. The $8, Kickstarter Exclusive add-on to use Zombicide characters and minis in this (and vice-versa) was probably the clincher, although I resisted the urge to double-up on this particular item, as a thing to sell later. This was probably a poor decision financially (confident I could flog it for double cost in the future), not sure if it was good or bad morally (I don’t want to be the person who backs KS projects just to sell on at a profit, but weirdly, if somebody doesn’t do it, a lot of people miss out on the opportunity to buy these things.) Anyway, that’s a whole different rabbit-hole.

This was the biggest outlay I’ve made on any Kickstarter project so far – nearly £110. Again, it was primarily funded by birthday money, but that’s still a hefty chunk of table time required to be “good value” – 22 sessions.

One interesting title that Massive Darkness can claim is the last game I paid out for before knowing we were going to have a baby that wouldn’t arrive until after he had appeared. Obviously that doesn’t really impact the Kickstarter process, but it does influence whether or not it will get played much. Again, I hope that this will turn out to be a good game, and worth my while – if it isn’t then I might be able to sell it (either the whole thing, or just some of the stretch-goals) to balance the books.

 

Legends Untold

Legends Untold is one of many cooperative dungeon crawlers seen in recent years. It comes from a new design team, who came to prominence at last year’s UK Games Expo. I had the chance to sit down and play a few turns with one of the game’s designers during my lunch-break, and had been monitoring it since.

This one was launched on Kickstarter right at the end of last year, and I think it’s fair to say that it surpassed everyone’s expectations with the level of response. With a funding goal of £12,000 to make the project happen, this ultimately raised over ten times that amount.

LegendsThe designers have created a whole world in which this game takes place, and clearly have grand plans for the future: higher level adventures, options to explore the world in different ways, and different sets which interact in different ways – to be honest, by the end of the campaign, I’d lost track of what exactly is coming when.

This was a much more reasonably priced project to back than the earlier ones – £24 for the original game, double that if you want the extra set which ended up being created thanks to all the stretch-goals.

I would definitely have preferred if the project had stayed at its initial size, which would have made this a far lower-risk undertaking, but in the end I opted for both boxes on the basis that i) I’m a terrible completionist, and wasn’t clear on whether I’d be able to get the second box in the future if I didn’t back now, and ii) this kind of independent start-up is the sort of project that Kickstarter ought to be for (at least in my opinion). I wanted to be part of something like this, helping to ensure that the industry doesn’t fall completely under the sway of international mega-corporations.

In the last month, the inevitable email has arrived, announcing delays to the project (the Kickstarter unlocked too many stretch goals, and it’s going to take much longer to produce everything). We’re now looking at September/October. ish. Very tiresome, but not particularly surprising: once again, we’ll see when this arrives as to whether it was worth it- at the very least, I reckon I’ll be able to play one box and (if I don’t like it that much) sell the other to claw back some money.

 

The Future

After the Massive Darkness campaign, and again after the Legends Untold project, I told myself that I was done with Kickstarter. I have plenty of games already in the house, or due sometime in the never-never, so that paying out more money for an untried game, appearing at an unspecified point in the future, looks like a bad deal. I expected to back Zombicide Black Plague Season 2 when it eventually appeared, but that was it.

Right now though, that resolve is being tested, with a couple of very interesting projects on the horizon.

Gloomhaven

I had hoped to pick up a review copy of Gloomhaven, but with all the supply issues the game has suffered (i.e. they could have printed 10x as many copies as they did and still sold out comfortably), there wasn’t one to be had.

GloomhavenFortunately for the many who missed out, there is a reprint coming, via Kickstarter, live right now. It funded in about five minutes, and hit the million dollar mark within a day. This would be another big beast of a project, not quite breaking the three-figure barrier, but getting pretty darn close. It’s not an impossible difficulty to overcome (I still haven’t spent most of my birthday money) and in a world where my gaming time wasn’t being eaten up by a baby, I’d probably back it without thinking twice. As it is, I’m torn between forking out for something I might not have the time to play, and missing another opportunity to get a game that’s been getting some fantastic buzz.

Aeon’s End

aeons-end-card-game-boxThe other project is one which launched a few weeks ago: the second wave of content for Aeon’s End. I’ve talked a bit about Aeon’s End on here, I’m really enjoying this Fantasy Co-op deck-builder, and as you know by now, I’m a bit of an expansion junkie so, at first glance, this looks like a no-brainer. That said, there are issues.

On the positive side, this Kickstarter offers new content for a game that is all about trying different combinations. It also comes with (slightly vague and non-committal) promises of improved component quality: thicker card, replacement tokens, a streamlined box, and maybe even an end to the strange glossy card-finish.

On the downside, this second wave of Aeon’s End – called War Eternal – features completely new graphic design, with everything being made bolder and brighter. As far as I can tell, this is mostly Tom Vassell’s doing – he complained in his review that he didn’t like the art of the original, and inevitably everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. Of course, all the people who didn’t have any issue with the art didn’t say anything – and therefore it gives the impression that everyone hates the art.

MisMatch
Does anyone else find this as jarring as I do?

Whatever my preferences for aesthetics, I’m much more bothered about things matching (or not). I still feel a shudder of pain every time I walk past the bookcase and see the newest volume of a series of novels towering over the earlier instalments because it wasn’t available in paperback yet (seriously, why do they print novels in hardback?!) As ridiculous as some might find it, it would pain me to play a game where half the cards where done in one style, and half in another. For a good contender to be my new favourite game, it seemed like I was out almost before I had got started.

Then came the update pack (it had already been announced, I just hadn’t got the message properly). If I back the expansion, and send them a photo of the stuff I already have then – for $10 – I could get replacements for all the cards (for a game that’s mostly cards, that’s 90% of the game for only $10).

AeonsNew
This doesn’t feel especially post-apocalyptic to me

Personally I much preferred the earlier art, and thought it was a much better fit for the gritty, post-apocalyptic theme of the game, whereas the new design feels stark and jarring, the colours a bit too garish. That said, the new style is tolerable, and providing all those cards for a fairly nominal fee is a really good deal (of course, it does require you to back the second wave of stuff to get it, but they are running a business, not a charity [and if you NEVER plan on getting the later wave of content, why would you care about the cards being different?]). Ultimately, it looks like this is the only real opportunity to get everything matching unless I want to a.) never expand beyond the first wave, or b.) re-buy the whole thing at full price later on.

Green Horde

GreenHordeZombicide: Black Plague was the biggest hit of 2016, and more content for it has seemed like an obvious win. Just a few days ago, Cool Mini Or Not announced the second wave: Zombicide: Green Horde. Details are still very light, aside from the fact that it’s going to have an Orcs and Goblins theme to it but, assuming it’s mutually compatible with Black Plague, this ticks a lot of interest boxes.

Zombicide has been a bit squeezed for table time in this baby-shaped world, and I already have stuff that I haven’t really used – NPC Box 2 and the Deadeye Walkers – struggling to make it to the Painting Table. However, as the likelihood of this arriving in under a year is slim-to-none, it seems safe to assume that the landscape will have changed by then, one way or the other.

Sadly, the Kickstarter won’t be live until the End of May – after Aeon’s End and Gloomhaven have both closed, so I’ll need to decide before I get to that point- all three seems like it will probably be too much.

I’m sure I’ll end up taking the plunge on at least one or two of these (it’s like someone deliberately timed it to have two of them be live on the week of my birthday), and inevitably, that will lead to another article in 6 months’ time, complaining about how they’ve all been delayed. You can all tell me then that I should have known better, and waited until retail…

March: 8 of 8

March was when we came home. Gone were the endless armies of midwives, the constant background noise from a dozen other babies, and the strange creaks and clunks of an ageing hospital.

Instead, we were back to just our little family at home – although our little family now included a tiny baby who doesn’t seem to think a lot of board games (or of sleeping, or being put down).

Once gain then, it was a very different month of gaming – there was still a fair amount of gaming happening, and a few more milestones reached, but with a definite shift.

8 of 8

7-Of-9
When I started drafting this article, I was on 7 of 9, which is somehow more satisfying…

Having reached 6 plays of 6 games in February, I was able to cross off the next level in March, with no fewer than 10 games making it up to 7 plays. By the end of the month, I’d gone even further, to 8 of 8.

Arkham Horror the card game was the first new game to cross the threshold this month. Arkham fits (just about) on the little folding table that goes in front of our sofa when our son is engaged in one of his mammoth feeds, so this was a relatively frequent appearance this month, being one of six games to tick past the “10 plays” marker. As an LCG, Arkham takes up more money than a lot of games, so it’s good to see it getting regular play.

Mummys-Mask-Card-Game-BoxPathfinder hadn’t really made it out of the box in 2017 prior to heading into hospital in February.

Once we were out though, I had the brand new Mummy’s Mask base set, set ready for reviewing (link will be added to the reviews section soon) – a return to form after a poor ending to the third set, this one leapt all the way up to ten plays in only a week or two. Lastly, the monthly Dice Masters meet-up rounded out the 8.

Aeon’s Beginning

aeons-end-card-game-boxI was also pleased that March saw Aeon’s End getting the table time it deserves, as I introduced it to my wife to generally positive feedback. After a victory in something roughly recreating the introductory scenario, we got thoroughly battered in most of our other games, but I still love the interactions, the decisions to be made, and the overall mechanics of the game.

There’s an expansion to this bubbling away on Kickstarter, and I must admit, I’m really torn: this type of marketplace game always thrives with more cards available, so getting this would seem like an obvious choice, but there are a few things about the project that I’m not thrilled by – I’ll talk more about that in a Kickstarter article I’ve got brewing elsewhere…

Turn of the Century: Zombicide

NecroAbom
Painting Zomnbicide has hit a bit of a backlog, so here’s a few older figures…

Due to its size (table space) and length (often 2-3 hours), Zombicide had fallen out of favour in February, and it only got 1 game in March. However, that single play was enough to take it not only to 10 sessions for the year, but 100 since we got it around this time last year. I’ve talked lots about Zombicide in the past, so I won’t wax lyrical any more today, but it’s still a fun choice when the baby allows.

Overall, I fell just short of having 9 plays of 9 games this month, but we’re definitely close, and I’m pretty confident that this year’s 10 of 10 will be done and dusted long before year end, probably by the summer – we already have over a dozen games played 6 times or more, and many of those will be looking to reach double figures soon.

 

Gathering Dust

Where March did see a big slow-down, was in games getting off of the unplayed list – with about 20 left to play, I’ll need to start giving this closer attention some time soon, as there’s only 1 or 2 I’d consider selling. Still, plenty of time left

 

What, How and How Much?

Investigators Book
I also picked up one of these recently – not a game, but a great tie-in product, and highly recommended to any Arkham Horror Files fan

In terms of theme and mechanic, March was something of a return to familiar ground. The thematic spread was fairly broad, with Lovecraft and Golarion being the biggest hitters, but there were significant appearances for Marvel, Tolkien, Zombies, Sherlock Holmes and a number of more generic settings

Cooperative was definitely the order of the day, with only a single game of Munchkin in the competitive column for most of the month, along with a scattering of Dice Masters and Zombie Dice as we reached the final days.

I sold a few more games in March, so gaming as a whole remains on a negative cost for the year. There are still some games which have dipped into the red in terms of value for money, with release schedules for Lord of the Rings and Arkham LCG getting ahead of us play-wise, and a rare re-stock for Mansions of Madness making me grab an expansion at a time when this rather lengthy game is struggling for table-time. As ever, I won’t be too worried, so long as I can drag things back on course long-term, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on those figures.

 

Looking forward

For the moment, it remains hard to guess how things will go over the coming months: predictability of nap times is a major factor in whether or not we can get games like Eldritch Horror back to the table any time soon, and feeds can take 20 minutes or 5 hours, which doesn’t exactly help with planning.

I hope that by the end of April, we will be back to something approaching a pattern, even if that’s a very different pattern to January and before. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get the chance to post a few proper articles, rather than just the monthly recaps…