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.

 

Advertisements

Back to Basics: May 2018

I went into May expecting a slightly less game-intensive month as we caught up on a few other odds and ends. In the end, it turned out to be one of the most game-heavy months of the year so far, with lots of things getting played, including lots of my 10×10 challenge titles, and a few old classics.

 

10 of 10

H-Index for 2018 is up to 9, although I actually have 11 games on 8 or more, as well as a few 6s and 7s, so hitting that 10 of 10 threshold feels very near.

10of10-2018-MayFor the Hardcore project, things came on in leaps and bounds in May. First up I wrapped up Marvel Legendary, with a couple of Thanos/Infinity Gem-themed games ahead of our trip to see Infinity War.

Lord of the Rings had been lagging behind, but got a bit of a revival this month as we started off a 2-player mini-campaign. We’ve had several good, fleshed-out games, where things actually seemed reasonably balanced (Easy Mode). I’ve now hit 10 sessions for the year, but am still looking to take it further. Gloomhaven is up to 9/10 plays, and I’m starting to feel like we’re really getting into the narrative of this one.

TrollMassive Darkness, returning to our table as it’s now largely painted, and Aeon’s End, also got a couple of sessions each, to keep things ticking along.

Mansions of Madness is definitely the ‘Hardcore’ title that’s lagging the farthest behind, and was only played once in May. I’ve been waiting on an expansion for this for a while, but there have been various stock-issues delaying things, so I should really just get it played some more with the existing content.  Overall a highly respectable 16 sessions logged (and 22 on the already-complete games), leaves me on 87/100 overall.

 

New

Dungeon Alliance
The early buzz around this one was good, but I’m struggling to muster much enthusiasm (no doubt partly due to lacklustre art)

There was very little that was brand new for May. Dungeon Alliance finally made it off of the “to-play” pile, but only once, and everything else was a return, whether it be from April (The City of Kings, Firefly Adventures), from many years ago (Scrabble, Boggle), or somewhere in between (Zombicide, Legendary). Most of the new/upcoming review content is expansions rather than standalone games, so nothing much to report there.

The only real exception to this was I Am the 4th Wall, a Kickstarter (p)review game. This was one I ended up doing for a friend as a bit of a rush job, and had to return shortly after I started playing it.

I-am-4th-Wall-Card-Game-BoxIt was my first time reviewing a prototype, and it was an interesting experience, trying to work out what was poor templating/editing, and what was just an inevitable feature of an early draft.

The game itself is a Lovecraftian horror set in ‘50s suburban America – The Scientist and the Professor meet the Roller-Skating Waitress and the Bubble-gum-Chewing Photographer. It’s quite quirky, easy to pick up, and does a few clever things, although I found the randomness a bit excessive. Having already had to return it to its owner, it’s hard to say whether it would have had any long-term staying power in our collection, but it was certainly a fun little diversion.

 

What got Played?

City of KingsMay definitely felt like a Greatest Hits month, with Lovecraft, Zombies and Fantasy dominating the landscape, and accounting for over 70% of games simple survival. Saving the World, Solving the Mystery, and just plain “Winning” also featured

Within Fantasy, the City of Kings setting (I’m currently going for “Ageless Realms” which is technically only a sub-area, but the creator isn’t sharing the official name yet) was our main location by time, but sessions were dominated by a resurgent Middle Earth.

 

Numbers

May saw my first clear-out since January, moving on a few unwanted review games, and a couple of older titles that just don’t get much play anymore. It was enough to see me briefly in profit for the year, before I bit the bullet and finally pledged for Folklore (the day before the pledge manager closed).

My shortfall stats took a dip at the start of the month – The City of Kings has now been owned long enough to count towards the “Current Year” totals, and a new Lord of the Rings pack arrived, pushing that temporarily into the red. Fortunately, these were both wiped out by the end of the month, and with a bit more progress on Shadows of Brimstone (if I factored painting time in, it would already be looking very healthy) meant that things were improved on where the month started, albeit not by as much as April’s jump.

Kickstarter wise, Aeon’s End and Zombicide Green Horde joined Massive Darkness as the second and third games to be showing positive value in all columns (more cost-effective than waiting for retail and gameplay value greater than spend).

Despite all this, the overall picture for Kickstarter is worse than at the end of April, simply due to the amount spent on new projects (Folklore, The City of Kings). I still need to make up my mind about Zombicide Invader, which could well be another huge chunk gone.

Despite all that, if I look just at games where delivery has begun, I’m only sitting at £4.49 per hour and for games which have arrived completely (i.e. not waiting for expansions to drop), it’s a mere £3.99 per hour. Both of these are well inside the £5/h maximum, and I’m definitely happy with the state of things. I think I’m going to use these measures more in the future, as they probably give a better long-term picture than the “overall” £6.40 per hour which includes games not due until 2019…

 

Next?

June is of course the month of the UK Games Expo, which may even get a write-up of its own (and should certainly bring some new games, or at least bits for them). It’s likely that June will be when I wrap up the non -hardcore 10×10 challenge, although 6 games of Mansions of Madness in a month is likely to be pushing it. Whatever fun & games I come up with, I’ll be back in a month to report.

No Fools Here: April’s Games

April was a pretty good month for gaming all-told.

I spent part of the Easter weekend away at a show, leading to some new games getting played, made another impulse purchase, and got some much-needed run-outs for a few titles that had been gathering dust.

GreenExtrasZombicide remains one of the biggest occupiers of my dining table. We got a bit further through the Green Horde core box in April, although we also died quite a lot – Although the extra damage from Orcs is nasty, it’s been the double-activations that come from running out of Runners that keep doing for us. Those extra 4 runners that come with the second wave suddenly look like they’ll make a much bigger difference than anticipated. We also had a few Black Plague games with friends, after a slight lull in recent months whilst the attention was focused on Green Horde.

The City of Kings was March’s unexpected buy, and early impressions from April were really good – there were definitely some things that took a while to get my head around (1st play-through, I think I got at least half of the rules wrong), but the overall feel is great, and it feels thematically similar to a lot of old favourites, whilst definitely offering something completely new.

EscapeDarkEscape the Dark Castle was a game I hadn’t planned on buying, but picked up on a bit of a whim, following a nail-biting session with the designer of the game. It’s been played a few times since I got back home with it, and it’s definitely fun, although the length/weight are making me start to doubt whether it was really worth the £49 price tag for base game + expansion. Fortunately, it was done with store credit rather than actual money, so not too big a worry.

 

10 of 10

10of10-2018-AprAs I mentioned back in March, 4 of the 10 on the Hardcore list are now all wrapped-up, meaning that I’m only looking at 6 specific title for any further progress on this. (14 sessions altogether for Zombicide, Arkham and Elder Sign, none of them impacting the 10×10 total).

Ned-Haven-May18The big mover for April was Gloomhaven, which got dusted off after too long sitting idle. It turned out that we needed to refresh our memories on a remarkable number of rules, but I really enjoyed our plays of this, getting 4 games in in 2 days (on each occasion we cleared the scenario at the second attempt), and coming back out for another session a week later. I also had single games of Mansions of Madness, Massive Darkness and Marvel Legacy. Currently sitting at 71/100 for the overall challenge, things are definitely moving in the right direction.

DragonfireBoxFor the non-hardcore version of the challenge, Dragonfire was the 6th game of the year to reach 10 plays. Currently I’m at an H-Index of 7 – Arkham LCG, Zombicide, Pandemic Legacy, Hogwarts Battle, Elder Sign, Dragonfire and Marvel Legendary. With 7 more games on 5 or 6 plays, I’m hoping it won’t be too long before this number goes up again. (Of course, if I’d stuck with my original plan of counting Seasons 1 and 2 of Pandemic Legacy as 2 separate games, and Zombicide Black Plague and Zombicide Green Horde as 2 separate games, then I’d be nearly there…)

 

In Review

RisingSunThere were a few review titles that made it to the table in April for the first time. Definite mention needed for Rising Sun – this game looks absolutely fantastic, and I was very tempted to back it on Kickstarter for the miniatures alone, although I eventually decided not to, as I knew it would be a hard game to get played. It’s a 3-player minimum 2-3 hour epic, which involves making and breaking alliances, and battles aplenty. We’re not especially big on (what I now learn are called) “Dudes on a Map” games in our house, and I doubt that I’ll be getting my wife to play this any time soon, but I think this is a really good game, with loads going on, and many layers of subtleties to the gameplay – definitely one which rewards repeat plays. My currently dilemma is “Keep and Paint” or “Sell it now, rather than letting it gather dust.”

Firefly-Adventures-BoxLike many Geeks, I am a die-hard Firefly fan, but have always struggled to find a Firefly game that really hit the spot – Firefly the Board Game is too long, and not especially interactive, whilst Firefly Legendary is painfully ugly, and feels a bit clunky. Would Firefly Adventures: Browncoats and Brigands finally be the game we were looking for? As someone who typically picks up a new game or two to review every month, I like to think that I’m fairly good at grasping how new games work, but the first time I got this out to run-through, I couldn’t even figure out what I was supposed to be doing – the rulebook is some way beyond incoherent, and the scenario set-up/objectives tended to be unclear and contradictory: Further investigation needed, but optimism fading fast. Beyond that, I still have the latest Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective box sitting un-played, and Dungeon Alliance is still only at the components-punched-and-bagged stage.

 

What got played?

Not all that surprisingly, Fantasy was the maintstay of April – well over a third of sessions, and 32% of time. Zombies (25% time, 20% sessions) and Lovecraft (16% time, 13% sessions) were the other big chunks, with nothing else making it into double figures. As tends to be the way, that reflected mechanically, with Completing the Quest and plain-old Survival” our key concerns.

 

Money

The overall Kickstarter landscape is definitely moving in the right direction: There was table-time for Green Horde and Gloomhaven, along with some early pre-order prices for Green Horde, which suggest (as expected) that backing this will be another win money-wise. Kickstarter is never likely to match the standards of games I have in hand, simply because there’s always such a lag between spending the money and being able to play the games, but the current £/Hour rate has dropped below £7, which seems reasonable all things considered. Admittedly, that figure will rise again very quickly if I back any of the number of other project looming into view (see below)

ShadowsPainted
Also been having fun painting these – if I factored in painting time, it’d definitely be classed as good value

For shortfalls more generally, Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven both managed a good few hours of play, bringing the deficits as low as they have been all year. As something brand new, I haven’t started counting The City of Kings yet, but it’s making good progress and will hopefully be nothing worse than a short blip on the Shortfall track.

I spent less than £10 on games in April, which is always nice, but didn’t sell anything either – I’m working up to a moderate-sized cull at some point in the near future, which includes a few ex-review games that are big enough and in good-enough condition to hopefully raise more than a few pennies.

 

Kicks

There were quite a few Kickstarter projects that caught my eye in April.

I had a bit to say here about the Zombicide: Invader Kickstarter, but so much ended up happening (and there are bound to be further twists in the last 48 hours) that I’ve decided to leave this for my next Kickstarter round-up: for now I’ll just say that this is a campaign that’s definitely caught my eye, and which had more than its share of surprises.

City of KingsA campaign that I’ve been more convinced by from day 1, was The City of Kings. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, being simultaneously a re-print of the existing game, offering new expansions / upgrades for the retail edition (which is what I have), and a brand-new game set in the same universe.

Even though I’ve only just started to scratch the surface of this game, I’m really keen to get the mechanical add-ons, and for only £10, having miniatures to paint for the heroes is very tempting. Beyond that, it gets complicated with fancy offerings like plastic “anti-knock” trays (there’s a lot of info in this game to try to recover if you do accidentally clobber the character sheet mid-session) and box organisers (again, lots of bits, although they don’t take up that much space unless you upgrade to wooden resources), all of which push the price for an already sizeable game sky-high. Lastly, the gorgeous art/lore book would add nothing to game-play, but kept looking at me in a beguiling fashion. In a departure from my usual behaviour, I backed this for £1 on day one: it allowed me to get involved with the comments and, with no financial stretch-goals on offer during the campaign, there was no urgency to make a decision before the pledge manager.

The pledge manager for Folklore will be closing soon, so I need to make a final decision and take the plunge. I think that enough other things have caught my interest that I’ve ruled out an all-in pledge for minis and the like (although the ghosts are so pretty…), but I’m still tempted by the base game and possibly the main expansion.

Ultimately, I think that early May will be when I need to finally commit on these games. For now though, there’s plenty to keep me occupied.

 

Final Thoughts

All-in-all, April was pretty good – The City of Kings was a highlight in the “new” column, but it was also good to see Gloomhaven finally making its mark and old favourites continuing to tick along. Mansions of Madness will hopefully be getting a new expansion soon, so that ought to see some table-time in May. Beyond that, check back in a month!

February made me shiver

It’s March as I sit writing this, our first snow day of the year, but February was still pretty nippy.

February was a bit of a more balanced month than January. There was still some Pandemic Legacy being played, but we weren’t far into the month before deciding we needed a bit of a break from it. So far, the lull has dragged on slightly longer than intended, and this should probably be pulled out again soon.

 

10 of 10

10of10-2018-FebI reached 10 plays for Arkham Horror LCG and Zombicide, which meant 3 of 10 games ticked off for the 10×10 Hardcore challenge, I also got my first play of Elder Sign for 2018 in, meaning that all but 1 of the games has now at least started the march towards 10.

For the hardcore challenge, I’m still only at an H-index of 3, although this rises to 4 if you include all games.

With 3 games no longer counting, I expect 10×10 progress to slow down for the next little while. That said, there are still plenty of manageable-length games on the list with plenty of ground to cover. Right now, Gloomhaven feels like the most challenging of the 10 to get finished, although Massive Darkness is definitely experiencing a lull in early 2018.

 

Unplayed

I still have yet to play the vast majority of my games this year – a few more got crossed off in February, but not huge numbers. With a few newish games coming in (reviews, mostly), I think it might be time for another cull of the current library.

Looking at the games which didn’t get played last year, there’s a definite emphasis on big group/party games, which makes sense as those types of gathering just aren’t that common any more – something I blame on the fact that most people we know seem to have children these days. The fact that the friends we most regularly game with had a baby at the end of January means that I anticipate far fewer games with more than 2 players this year.

 

Keeping it Green

GreenHordeIn terms of last month’s new stuff, Zombicide was a blast, as ever. The new Zombie Orcs are tougher than their human counterparts, but the inclusion of upgraded weaponry (including a trebuchet) helps to balance things out. Probably the biggest difference is with map-styles, as the Green Horde tiles have lots of hedgerow areas – big on space, low on line-of-sight: it definitely feels harder than Black Plague at the moment, but I may change my mind as we adjust to the new style. Still plenty more mileage in this.

One-Deck-Dungeon-Card-Game-BoxOne Deck Dungeon can be played solo or 2-player, although I’ve actually been playing a fair amount of 2-handed solo for the best (worst?) of both worlds. As a dice game, there’s definitely a fair amount of luck involved, but I do like how puzzle-y it is, and it’s an interesting mental challenge to figure out how best to allocate the dice, as well as what to do with the rewards. For March I need to get some real 2-player games in before I submit my review.

The original Arkham Horror is the game that’s taking a bit more effort to get played – it really is a monster of a game, and notorious for being a nightmare if you launch in without having properly got the rules down. I had hoped to dedicate some free time on Tuesdays to this, but after someone reversed into my car, the week before I was due to part-exchange it for a new one, the month basically turned into one long string of calls and emails to garages and insurance companies.

 

Alohomora!

Hogwarts-Battle-Card-Game-BoxFebruary saw the first break-through game of the year. I’d expected/hoped that this title would be claimed by Dragonfire, but instead, it was the comings and goings at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that staked-out our dining table.  Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, to give it its full name, is a film tie-in with way too many needless “TM” symbols plastered all over it. If you can get past that though, there’s actually an interesting little co-op deck-builder in here.

The game is clearly designed to be accessible to non-gamers and, as such, it sets you up with a pair of opening games that are so simple that they initially struck me as virtually pointless. The game comes with a suggestion that experienced deck-builder-players jump straight to game 3, and this is definitely a move I’d endorse. The one caveat would be for children – although the box says age 11+, we played this with my friend’s children, and whilst the 9 year-old seemed to take it in her stride, I think the 6 year-old found it a bit overwhelming.

Your character (Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville) has a health total, but you only get stunned rather than KO-ed, which again leans this in the non-gamer/family-friendly direction. The turn structure is very simple – you reveal a Dark Arts card, you trigger powers on the active Villain(s), then you play cards to generate attack (beat up villains), restore health, and gain influence (the game’s currency), which you can then use to recruit new “Hogwarts Cards.”

It’s very swingy – each game/Hogwarts Year adds new Villains, new Dark Arts cards, and new Hogwarts cards, to the point where the Hogwarts deck is massive and bloated, giving you no way to guess reliably which cards you’ll see. Up until game 5, the Villains also appear in an entirely arbitrary order, leading to slightly anticlimactic situations where you eventually overpower Tom Riddle and the Basilisk, but need to spend a few more rounds facing off against Crabb and Goyle before you can go home.

MonsterBoxOfMonstersAs clunky as it is, it does a great job on theme, which is probably why my wife and I ended up playing it 4 times on the day I introduced her to it. The fact that she was mid-way through another rewatch of the films probably helped.

I’m still not 100% sure on what the best thing to do with this long-term is: it’s clearly designed to play through as a progression, but I’m still making my mind up on where the sweet spot is for repeated plays. It will definitely be sticking around, and I might even pick up the expansion, which adds lots of wild animals, a deck-thinning mechanic, and even lets you play as Luna, (although I’ve heard bad things about the detention mechanic – Legendary players, think Wounds with no KO option).

 

Rolling in the Lost Realms

One thing I did manage to do in February, was get some games of Dice Masters in. This is a game that had been in hibernation for a good 6 months or more, but had attracted a bit of attention with the new draft packs. Essentially these are designed as a 1-per-person purchase which give you a set of cards to draft from, but also supply your basic actions for the game and, more importantly, give you 2 dice per card, ensuring that people can actually build teams with a meaningful degree of synergy.

D&Dice
Dragon, because Shiny Dragon. It was the 2 ladies underneath who actually did most of the work.

It was a D&D set that we were drafting, meaning that most of the characters/alignments and keywords were pretty unfamiliar for me, but I managed to put together a decent team, relying on some 2-cost swarm characters that boosted each other, and a character who gave all the “NPCs” (“Sidekicks” for those who’ve played the comic-book versions of the game) extra attack and defence. I also had a blocking character who was able to swap attack and defence when fielded, and a large fire-breathing dragon who only actually came out once all night. In both of the rounds we played, I managed to win my game, and win a friendly that we decided to play because the other pair had barely got going. It was a team that went fast and wide, and would definitely have got ground down if things dragged on too long.

I really like playing Dice Masters, even if I don’t get too many opportunities to play it, and it was nice to remember that I’m actually not too bad at it (although, in fairness, one of my opponents hadn’t played in over a year). I can’t imagine that I’ll get hundreds of opportunities to play this year, but it would be nice if another event or two came along.

 

The Big Picture

By time, February breaks down remarkably neatly, with Lovecraft, Zombies and Fantasy all occupying ¼ each. Of the remainder, Magic is the biggest theme with 12%. By sessions, Lovecraft and Fantasy are slightly larger, whilst Zombies join Magic on a mere 15%. Within Fantasy, it was a bit of a mish-mash, with no clear leading category.

 

Money

Money-wise, there are still some big short-fallers. Gloomhaven, Shadows of Brimstone, Apocrypha (in roughly that order) remain big negatives, although I’m pleased that (for the moment), there’s nothing in the red for 2018 itself, with Arkham play keeping well ahead of the influx of packs. The all-time totals are starting to drop again, although they remain high. There’s a Lord of the Rings pack due imminently that would briefly push me into the red, but it will probably be the last one I buy, so that’s not a long-term concern. I’m getting review copies of the new Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror expansions, which will help keep things in the black overall.

 

Looking forward

Masks
A challenge fit to drive anyone mad: correctly spelling and/or pronouncing Nyarlathotep!

March should have a lot of Arkham Files content to keep things busy, with as-yet-unplayed content for 4 of the 5 games either already here, or due in the very near future. There’s also a lot more Green Horde stuff to dig into, and a couple of slightly weird review-games that need sorting. Now that the whole business with the car seems sorted, hopefully I’ll be able to post a bit more actively than I have in recent weeks.

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.

 

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.