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…

A Year in Reviews

Having had our gaming habits somewhat disrupted by the unexpectedly early arrival of a baby, it felt like a good moment for a bit of a retrospective.

I’ve been doing game reviews now for a little over a year now. In that time, I’ve saved myself money on some games I wanted to get anyway, breathed life into games that had been standing idle and, above all, tried a lot of games that I would never have come close to playing without doing the reviews. Today I want to look at some of the highlights.

 

Bigger and Better: Zombicide: Black Plague

(see original review here)

Zombicide PaintedZombicide was one of the earlier games I got to review, and it was undoubtedly the game which made the biggest impact on last year – it was also my pick for “2016 Game of the Year” in the video. It’s a miniatures game, where a small band of heroes take on ever-growing armies of zombies, simple to learn, and not that difficult to master, I love how accessible this game is, and just how much fun it is. The game is scenario-based, so there’s a fair amount of variety, and the ongoing search for better weapons drives a lot of what happens. The zombies power up as your survivors do – specifically spawning in numbers determined by the most powerful survivor at that point in time, which means that you need to be careful of one person getting too far ahead of the group.

paintotaurWith a £70+ price-tag on the base game, coming from a publisher and designers I didn’t really know, this is something I would never have picked up having not played the franchise before. Having got it, it’s been such a hit that various birthdays and Christmas presents have gone on expansions. At the time of writing, it’s hovering on the brink of hitting 100 plays in under a year, which is pretty good going for a game that typically lasts more than 90 minutes, and regularly hits 2-3 hours or even more.

Cracking game, great fun, and it even inspired me to get back into miniature-painting to an extent that I hadn’t in a good while. Great stuff.

 

Gaming for the Future: Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

(see original review here)

all-investigatorsAfter Zombicide, Mansions of Madness was the second most-played new game last year, but I’m including it on this list for a couple of other reasons. I’ve already waxed lyrical about this game here, and here (amongst other places), but there’s something specific I wanted to draw out today. This game completely changed my mind on the use of apps in Board Games. I use randomisers for set-up in Legendary and Dominion, but otherwise, I’ve always been pretty luke-warm on the concept. Things like X-COM, with a stress-inducing real-time element aren’t really my cup of tea, and I could never see the benefit: Boggle works fine with an egg-timer, with needing to digitise everything.

mansions-madness-board-game-puzzleMansions changed all of that – it gave us access to a great game that we’d always steered away from due to the 1-versus-many aspect, and it allows masses of replayability in a way that just wouldn’t be possible with physical components. The puzzles are probably the biggest aspect of this, but the whole experience is very well done – I never feel like it isn’t worth having the bits out, or that I could just be playing on the app, but the app streamlines the play so much. Eldritch Horror is another game we picked up last year, very similar in a lot of ways, but it does have a lot of bookkeeping to do (and I often miss bits), so having the app to keep track of these things just makes life so much easier. Lastly, the element of the unknown that it provides is great – the fact that you can roll a check without knowing how well you have to do to succeed gives you all the openness and surprise of an RPG, without someone actually having to take on the role of GM.

Mansions has really whet my appetite for more of these all-vs-app games. I strongly considered getting Descent, and only decided against it on the basis of time, but if the rumoured app for Imperial Assault finally appears, then I’ll be taking a very interested look at it (hopefully they’ll publish a second edition of the box, and someone will be needed to write a review…)

 

Disturbing the Dust: Elder Sign

(see original review here)

ElderElder Sign is a game we’d owned for ages, but hadn’t been played that much. In fact, in 2015, it didn’t get played at all, and I wouldn’t be overly surprised if the same was true of 2014. It was one of a small handful of Cthulhu-mythos games that had been bought in, but had never really taken off.

Elder sign was already on my radar as part of last year’s “unplayed” project, but it definitely helped when I saw an expansion sitting on the up-for-review list – the Alaskan-themed “Omens of Ice” box.

Omens-of-Ice-Original-Box-Card-GameI didn’t put in for it straight away, but made a point of playing a few games first, to make sure I actually had some recent context for reviewing the expansion. Then I got the expansion to review, and played it some more. And more.

Fast-forward to 2017, and Elder Sign is our most-played game of the year so far. Part of that is due to some skewed circumstance, along with catching up on expansions for Christmas, but this is definitely a game that Reviewing breathed fresh life into – Dominion also benefited last summer with the excellent Empires expansion, but this felt like the clearest example of a game brought back from extinction.

 

And now for something completely different: AYA

(see original review here)

AYA-Box-Board-GameWriting Board Game reviews can be a great opportunity to pick up games or expansions that I would be buying anyway. It also offers a chance to try something completely different.

There a few games which fit the “different” header better than AYA: a cooperative domino standing game where you work together, against the clock, to construct landscapes of dominoes in matching patterns, then attempt to knock them over with a single flick, leaving a unique pattern of animal and landscape photographs.

AYA-SetUp-Board-GameAYA is a fun little game – certainly not of the things we play most regularly, but interesting enough for a change. Without a doubt though, this is not a game I would have found and bought in a shop: it’s simply way too far off of my radar, too far removed from the sorts of things I normally play. When it comes to spending money, one of the main reasons I get so many expansions for board games, is that I feel like I have a better idea what I’m getting, a sense that I’ll be enhancing something I already know I enjoy, rather than taking a chance on something new. I still try to target games which I think might go down well at home for reviewing – it’s hard to write a review on a game no-one will play! – but overall, reviewing offers a great opportunity to push the boundaries slightly, to experiment with the new.

 

The People’s Favourite: Star Wars Carcassonne

(see original review here)

Star-Wars-Carcassonne-Game-Board-GameI feel like it wouldn’t be fair to finish this article without pausing for a moment to mention Star Wars Carcassonne, or Starcassonne as I like to call it. This takes the well-known tile-laying game, and mashes it together with the Star Wars franchise – it’s an interesting twist on the original game, with dice-based combat and planetary invasion making for a slightly more direct, if also more luck-based experience than the original Carcassonne.

The Star Wars theme is pretty thin- really this is “space” Carcassonne to a far greater extent than it is Star Wars in any meaningful sense, but that doesn’t seem to hurt its popularity – this was by far the most read of all the articles I did for them last year, and it continues to attract attention into 2017.

 

Looking forward

There have definitely been a few reviews in the last month or so that have run into baby-related reviews, and when time is at a premium, you don’t want to be unable to play your favourite game because you’ve promised to review something strange, new and not-all-that-appealing. That said, I’m optimistic that Review work will still have a place in a parenthood world, and I look forward to telling you all about them in due course.

February

 

February was always going to be a pretty important month for gaming in 2017. For one thing, this is often the time that New Year enthusiasm starts to peter out, and we get to see which games are going to have real staying power for the coming months. More importantly for us in 2017, February was going to be our last month of (relatively) undisturbed gaming, as my wife was expecting a baby in the middle of March. That made February a key time for getting games played, trying out anything that would be prevented by my being sleep-deprived, and generally making sure I didn’t have too many outstanding reviews left to do.

ned36
Not strictly a board game, but I like this picture, so I’m putting it in anyway…

It turns out that my son had different ideas. He decided that he didn’t want to wait for March 12th, and turned up on February 4th instead. That was something of surprise, to say the least. It also meant that February took place mostly in hospital, in the company of a tiny baby. Sadly, he’s been really quite ill, so had to stay in for a long while. Obviously, next to a child’s health, gaming is an incredibly trivial thing, That said, I’ve had plenty of time at home, trying to keep my mind busy, and my wife has barely been further from her bed than the hospital café in a month: in times like these, board-gaming is actually a really important distraction to stay sane.

 

With that in mind, February really hasn’t been a bad month gaming wise: by the time you factor in the month being 3 days shorter, overall numbers have barely dropped. That said, a whole new set of criteria have entered my decision-making process, including “Can I play this solo?” (already a slight consideration before), “Can I play this whilst hideously sleep-deprived?” “Can I play this on a tiny foldable hospital table?” “Can I safely take this somewhere without losing all the tiny pieces?” and “Can I play this without using my arms?” (Anything with a hand of hidden cards is out, but something like Carcassonne, where all information is public, works well).

sherlock-consulting-board-game-boxSan Juan, Race for the Galaxy, Dobble, and Star Wars Carcassonne, all scored highly in several of these categories, and made it to the table repeatedly. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, and its Lovecraftian sibling Mythos Tales also get a good mark on the “play with no hands” chart, and we had a few enjoyable, if drastically unsuccessful sessions of these. Other games like Coup and Braggart got briefer revivals, but proved to be fairly lacklustre with only 2 players. Still, along with single run-outs for a handful of other games, I’m now well past the half-way mark in playing all the games I own this year.

 

6 of 6

Where February did prove a challenge, was getting games back to the table for the repeat play-throughs needed to get higher counts. I spent most of the month watching the 10 of 10 challenge languishing on 5 of 5, with Legendary and Arkham Horror failing to get that 6th game- this was particularly frustrating for Arkham, as this was the game that I’d spent the most money on this year, but there really are too many different piles of cards and little tokens to risk taking this one to the hospital. In the end, I made it to our Monthly Dice Masters meet-up on the 26th, to finally hit 6 of 6.

Elder Sign, a game which definitely pushes the limits of what’s practical for transportation, did make a couple of fiddly trips and was the first to pass the 10 plays barrier for the year. Zombicide will doubtless join it soon after we get home, and there are a host of other games which have been kicking their heels all month: Legendary – recently enhanced with the Deadpool expansion – the new Mummy’s Mask set for Pathfinder, and Mansions of Madness all still seem likely to hit the big numbers as the year goes on.

As I think about finishing this year’s 10 of 10 challenge (some months from now), I have been back to BGG and checked again – neither Peekaboo, nor Steal Your Nose has a Board Game Geek entry (to be honest, my son’s not very good at those games either, but they seemed more appropriate than Eldritch Horror.) At least we’re a few months away from grab-and-chew.

 

Something New

The unexpected baby made his impact felt on the reviews I do for Game Quest, just as much as it did on playing for domestic purposes. I managed to get a couple finished off in the early weeks of me being alone at home and mum & baby stuck in hospital, but others needed to wait a while longer: I don’t want to spoil the stories of Mansions or Pathfinder (as noted above, these were not practical for transporting to hospital) and that fat, dense rulebook is still sat there in the corner, just daring me to risk my sanity by taking on Star Trek Frontiers.

Amongst this brain fog of exhaustion there was something unusual though. It’s very early in the year to be touting a game as a potential “Game of the Year,” but I think that this might be it.

aeons-end-card-game-boxAeon’s End was a big Kickstarter last year that’s attracted a lot of hype. It’s a cooperative Science-Fantasy Deck-builder that can probably best be described as a cross between Dominion and Legendary, although it certainly has plenty of unique features of its own.

As always, go to Games Quest and read the full review there to get the big picture, but a few key highlights:

Legendary style, the players are working together to take down a big baddy, who will have his own stats and unique abilities, plus a deck from which he throws out some randomised pain at the players every turn.

Rather than a Legendary style HQ though, players are building their decks from a Dominion-style market: at the start of the game you select 9 cards (3 gems, 2 relics, 4 spells), and they’re all available to buy from the word go – until they run out.

The biggest twist in Aeon’s End is that you don’t shuffle your deck: once your deck runs out, you just flip over your discard pile to form a new deck – given the amount of time you spend shuffling in a standard deck-builder, this is a really big twist. The only shuffling that goes on is in the turn-order deck, which randomises when in the course of each round you get to act, and when the Nemesis (boss bad-guy) does.

It’s also worth noting that in Aeon’s End you play as a specific character, each with their own unique ability, and a different starting configuration of breaches – the portal used for casting spells.

I’ve not had a chance to do any more than scratch the surface of Aeon’s End yet – I got the higher-level Kickstarter edition of the game, which gives me extra gems, spells and artefacts for the market, extra Breach Mages to play as, and extra Nameless monsters to face down. From this first look though, it seems great, with loads to recommend it in terms of art, back-story, and above all game-play. The fact that it’s cooperative means that there’s a chance of getting to the level of depth in experimenting with market combinations and strategies that I could never manage with Dominion (due to a lack of opponents who wanted to play that much Dominion).

 

The Future

I have no idea what March will hold. I’m fairly optimistic that having our little boy at home won’t completely stop us from gaming (although right now, I’d prepared to give it up if that was going to get him better and home from hospital). Hopefully in a few weeks, I’ll be some way towards figuring out what “normal life” looks like now, and will be back to posting here a bit more frequently.

2016: The End

2016 is done, and overall, it was a pretty successful year for gaming. I played 793 games – 90 different games, for a total of around 554 hours of gaming in the year as a whole.

As regular readers will know, I also set myself a few challenges in the gaming department, and this seemed like the obvious moment to look back at how that went:

Un-Played

hobbitIn 2015, I counted 26 games that I owned and had not played – I set myself the challenge of either playing or getting rid of all them. In the end, I played 15 of them, and sold 11 – contrary to what Maths might lead to expect, that left 1 still un-played (I sold one game after playing it). The Hobbit Card Game.

The game that I had left un-played, The Hobbit, has been listed for sale or trade so many times that I’ve lost count. It isn’t even a bad game per se, it’s just fairly underwhelming, and the theme to mechanic link is fairly tenuous (it’s essentially just Hearts, pretending to be thematic.) Unless something changes soon, this might be bound for the charity shop.

coupAside from the previous year’s “un-played” games, I was also keeping an eye on the games which had been played last year, but not since – again, I had a good amount of success with this – several were moved on: sold or traded, but most were played and again, at year end it’s a very small pile that haven’t been played: just Coup (and a game I won in a competition, which only arrived in December).

Coup is a fun enough game fairly short and light, so I couldn’t really put my finger on why it didn’t make it to the table. It’s not at its best with 2, which is probably a factor. I’ll hang on to this for now, and see how it fares over the next little while.

trivialTrivial Pursuit was the last game to make it off the un-played list: it isn’t a game that we’re ever likely to break out at home just the two of us, but it’s stayed around because it’s a sufficiently non-threatening, familiar brand that you can wheel it out with people who aren’t really in to games. That said, this year’s game was seriously painful. We have a version that allegedly divides questions by difficulty, but the levels felt arbitrary, if not just wrong. At 9 years old, some of the questions are also getting really dated. For the most part, it was just a game of trying to land on the right space. Articulate and Balderdash (both owned, both of which I’d somehow forgotten I owned, both got played over Christmas, so doesn’t really matter) both feel like better options, and I’m seriously tempted to move it on.

 

There are still a few games in my collection that may have outlived their usefulness; games that got played once to take them off of the “un-played” list, and will probably sit idle until next time I’m doing a similar check – realistically, there’s always room to be more brutal with the pruning. If I’m going to continue with the game reviewing (I have no particular plan not to), I’ll have new games coming in, so I’ll need to keep making space – also with a few personal changes on the horizon, it’s definitely worth being mindful of which games I have and which are still relevant.

Perfect 10s

unknowns
A year ago, I’d never heard of most of these, and didn’t own any

My other challenge, one I picked up from Board Game Geek, was “10 of 10” – to play 10 different games 10 times.

As I was doing this challenge for the first time, and as I could see that I hadn’t done it the year before, I went for the “easy” version of the challenge, where I could just play the games, rather than having to decide in advance which 10 I was aiming for – it’s a good job I did this: 5 of the games which got played 10+ times I hadn’t heard of back in January (Zombicide being the most obvious example): others were names I heard that hadn’t been released (like Pandemic Cthulhu), or simply games I’ve rediscovered this year after long fallow periods (Elder Sign was a big winner in this respect).

The other reason it’s a good job I didn’t write my list of ten before I started is the age-old question of availability. This time last year, I was convinced that Apocrypha would be one of the most-played games of 2016, and that Numenera had a good shout of getting played 10 times. As it stands, neither of them has yet been released.

At year-end, the most-played games looked like this:

  1. Zombicide: Black Plague (90)
  2. Pathfinder ACG (81)
  3. Lord of the Rings LCG (81)
  4. Dice Masters (61)
  5. Marvel Legendary (55)
  6. Game of Thrones LCG (44)
  7. Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition (21)
  8. Arkham Horror LCG (20)
  9. Elder Sign (16)
  10. = Legendary Encounters Firefly, Zombie Dice (14)

Others to pass the milestone were Beyond Baker Street and Dominion, (13), Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, Bananagrams (12), and Pandemic, Mapominoes, and Curse of the Black Dice (10).

Of those 18 games, 2 have already been and gone: Curse of the Black Dice was one of the first review games I got, and I sold it shortly after – the 10 plays reflect the fact that it was short, solo-able, and a first burst of enthusiasm for all things new, but ultimately it didn’t have enough to keep our interest.

Valar
All games must die

Game of Thrones LCG by contrast, was a bit different. I played the first edition, but sold up because there weren’t really any other people playing locally. I bought into 2nd Edition when it came out, and played for nearly a year, including a few months where I was getting a lot of games in, and actually doing quite well: the peak of my success was a Store Championships in January, where I was one mis-play away from making the top-4 cut (and the shiny play-mat that would have come with it…) As the year wore on though, I was finding it harder and harder to make it along regularly to the shop to play. I still think that this is a great game, but it’s also one with a very high skill-cap. If you turn up at a tournament, even a small, local one, with a deck you’ve not play-tested, and not having played at all in several weeks, then the games you have are likely to be so one-sided that it’s not going to be worth playing.

In the end, I decided to sell up: an LCG is an ongoing financial commitment and, particularly with the competitive ones, you can’t hope to keep playing if everyone else is buying all the new packs, and you’re not. With the Arkham Horror LCG about to release, I knew I couldn’t justify keeping up with 3 LCGs, so this was the one which had to give way – I didn’t get back all that I’d spent on the cards, but certainly a fair chunk of it, so it felt like good value for the amount I’d played.

A few honourable mentions for games that came close: Machi Koro, B-Sieged, and Yggdrasil are all games which have a lot going for them, but in a hectic year, they never made it past 8. Star Wars Destiny was a late arrival, great mechanics, rubbish randomised distribution- I’m still trying to make up my mind on what I’m going to do with this game long-term, but it was a fun inclusion for December, when it was played 8 times.

Ultimately, as I’ve mentioned before, the 10 of 10 challenge was never about numbers for numbers sake – it was about broadening the range of games that I properly got to grips with. In 2015 3 games accounted for 76% of all the games I played – 595 sessions out of a total 788. The next 4 accounted for a further 11.5% (91 sessions), and no other game made it into double figures, or as high as 1% of all the year’s gaming.

By contrast the top 3 games in 2016 accounted for only 31% – just over a third, instead of more than three quarters, or 252 plays out of 793: to get to 76 % you need to take in the whole of the top 20 most-played games – it actually feels like I have a proper collection of games that I play, rather than just 3 games and a lot of pointless boxes.

The Future

Looking forward into 2017, I have no real idea what the future holds game-wise. I expect it to be a very different year game-wise (for reasons that people who know me in real life are probably aware of) and I strongly suspect that I won’t be looking at numbers in the 700s when it comes to next year’s re-cap.

I’m not going to do an “un-played” challenge – it would only consist of 1 or 2 games, so there hardly seems much point, but I will be continuing to keep an eye on what does and doesn’t get played, to work out which games are the dead-weight, and need to be moved on.

I am going to set myself the 10 of 10 challenge again. With (hopefully) 3 or 4 games arriving from Kickstarter in 2017, and (again, hopefully) several as-yet-unknown games arriving to review, I’m not going to upgrade to the hardcore version, and will stick with counting as I go along – as I say the aim is to know a good handful of games well, not to grind out plays of things I’ve lost interest in.

I hope that those who have been reading will stay with me in 2017 – aside from the challenge updates, I’ll do my best to keep producing other articles – looking at themes, reviewing things that are new to me, and showcasing any game-miniature painting I get chance to do. I wish you all a happy new year, and may bad dice be the worst problem you have to deal with!

 

Cthulhu Redux

Back in the summer, I wrote an article about how I hoped that 2016 would the year where we finally saw some good Cthulhu Mythos games hitting the table with regularity. A few months on, that prophecy has been fulfilled, and I thought this would be a good moment to take a look back at what the year has brought.

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

pandemic-cthulhu-board-game-boxThe announcement of this game was probably what re-ignited my interest in this area, as it had been a while since I read any Lovecraft or played any Cthulhu-themed games (I think I played 1 game of Munchkin Cthulhu last year, but I’m not convinced that counts). I managed to play a sneak preview of this game at UKGE, and was really impressed. I then managed to get my hands on a copy of my own in late August, and it didn’t disappoint.

As I’ve said several times in various places, this game is both Pandemic and not Pandemic at the same time. There are many aspects which are remarkably familiar, at the same time as the game brings in elements that are unique. The sanity dice leaves you spending most of the game fearing that you may lose your mind and, if enough Old Ones awake, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it before you eventually go mad and the world is destroyed.

Being a Z-Man game, the characters in Reign of Cthulhu are not the familiar faces from the FFG set of Cthulhu games, they are merely generic figures. That said, they still offer varied gameplay styles, and for a standalone game that seems unlikely to warrant an expansion, it still feels like it’s got plenty to offer. Not the most involved from a thematic/narrative standpoint, still a good game.

 

Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

mansions-madness-board-game-boxMansions was the surprise appearance of the summer. It was announced about a week before its release, and it’s one that I was lucky enough to pick up a review copy of: with a retail price somewhere in excess of £80, this isn’t one I would ever have been buying, but I think it does a remarkably good job of justifying the price tag. The miniatures are a bit naff out of the box: excess casting and clunky bases, but they scrub up well, with both monsters and investigators looking the part after a quick paint job. The tiles are already a very high standard, and the various card decks are all good.

mansions-madness-board-game-puzzleApps in board-gaming were one of the first things I ever wrote about on this blog, and I was pretty lukewarm on the idea at the time. Mansions changed my mind: the app is really well done – it takes care of a lot of the bookkeeping, but I never felt like I was playing a computer game instead of a board game. The limit of only 4 scenarios to begin with was somewhat restrictive, but having not paid for the base game, we were happy enough paying for the first tile/miniature pack, and will doubtless invest in at least the first digital scenario or two, due to appear for around $5 sometime very soon.

One of the biggest things that Mansions did, was to get us mentally invested in the setting, and interested in the investigators, which definitely enhances the experience of the other games.

Elder Sign

insanityElder Sign is a game I’ve had for several years. I didn’t play it all in 2015, but I dusted it off back in the spring, and even picked up an expansion to review. It’s a game that requires you make a bit more effort with the flavour – it’s too easy to skip over the flavour-text and focus straight in on the dice you need to roll: in the past, I think I’d been trying to push this one on people with no real interest in the Mythos, and it had fallen a bit flat.

Now feeling a bit more like I know the characters, from other games, or from some of the tie-in fiction, it’s easier to get a bit more invested, and I feel like I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve played. I’ve still only played it solo and with my wife, but we’ve played it quite a bit and enjoyed doing so.

Eldritch Horror

Eldritch Horror is another Fantasy Flight Game, a very highly-rated globe-spanning board game. It’s fairly long (although probably no longer than a lot of games of Mansions), and has a lot going on – I picked up a copy in a Maths Trade.

eldritchEldritch was released a few years, and landed during a time period when my first attempts at finding a good Cthulhu game for us had petered out: as a result, I just never really looked at it that closely. Most reviews I did read seemed sharply divided between it being “the streamlined wonder-game that Arkham Horror should have been” or “a vile exercise in dumbing down that is an insult to the Arkham name.” (ok, neither of those are actually quotes, but they capture the feeling of an awful lot of BGG threads…)

Having played this a few times, I’m not sure I’d agree with either of those assessments. It’s a fun game, with a lot going on, but once again, I think the length is such that it wouldn’t wash with people who hadn’t already been hooked on the Mythos via Mansions.

I liked Eldritch, and am in discussions with Santa about how best to approach the backlog of expansions (I have neither the time nor the money to get all of them). That said, it’s still not a perfect game. Having come into this off the back off a lot of Mansions, I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff there is to keep track of: in both of our early plats, we missed various rules and triggers, and in the second game, that may have even made the difference between victory and defeat. Aside from the sheer length, I think a major factor stopping this game going from “fun to play now and then” to “played all the time” is that excess bookkeeping, and having too many things to keep track of.

I also want to mention quickly the scaling issues this game has – we’ve only played it with 2 players so far, and the first couple of times, we took a character each, spending most of the game charging about frantically, and failing to get to places on time: having gone at it again with 4 characters (2 each) it felt much more balanced, and I think that’s how we’ll play it in the future.

Arkham Horror LCG

magali-tokensArkham Horror the Card Game is the most recent offering in Fantasy Flight’s “Arkham Horror Files Series” and the second ever cooperative Living Card Game, it was released in early/mid-November. Coming from several people involved in the Lord of the Rings LCG, it very clearly builds on those foundations, but has various unique features of its own, both showing where lessons have been learnt over the past 5 years, and showing a conscious effort to make the game feel like a part of the Arkham Family (aside from the recurring characters and settings, the Chaos bag in particular feels like a direct homage to the earlier titles in the series).

The announcement of this came with near-perfect timing, as I finally succumbed to the inevitable and parted with my Call of Cthulhu LCG collection – a good game, but a competitive LCG that I could never find opponents for. Arkham seemed set to not only fill the gap, but to offer a better fit than its predecessor had, both in terms of thematic coherence and in terms of the co-op gameplay.

timeandspaceBeing a Living Card Game, there will be a lot of content available for this going forward: FFG have already released some playmats one of which has an especially stunning piece of art that I like. I’m not going to say too much more about it here, as I’ve already done a review of the Core Set, along with some articles for Mythos Busters on how we can enjoy losing Lovecraftian Games, and started to look at issues of character class and deck-building. Overall, I plan to do a few odds and ends on this over the coming months, so stay tuned.

Books

It’s also worth mentioning the tie-in novels that exist for Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror range – the physical copies can be slightly hard to track down, but the Kindle Format is readily available from Arkham, and I’ve been really enjoying them: not all of the characters are game-play regulars, but several are, with others making cameo appearances here and there.

novels

So far I’ve read the Dark Waters trilogy and whilst it’s not about to win any literary prizes, I’ve found them really enjoyable – capturing the sense of Arkham as a place, the challenges and dangers driving our investigators, and an awareness of the pulp origins of many Mythos tales. Reading about Amanda Sharpe’s dream of lost R’yleh has already inspired me to play her in a game of Elder Sign, and seeing how he handled himself in a fight, was the inspiration for giving Silas Marsh a run-out, an inspired decision for the game of Eldritch Horror where we faced Cthulhu out at see. I plan to continue wading through these over the coming months and hope they continue to be enjoyable.

investigatorsbookFantasy Flight have also announced The Investigators of Arkham Horror, a book filing in background details on all the 52 Investigators who appear across this suite of games. It’s going to be a large, 264 page+ colour hardback, so it will cost a pretty penny and, sadly, the delivery cost to the UK will more than double that $60 starting figure.

I’m really hoping that our FLGS will be able to pick these up, ideally the deluxe edition that comes with a Play Mat for the LCG and a chance to get hold of Marie Lambeau plus her signature Asset and Weakness for the LCG, not arriving in normal retail releases until sometime next year. Either way, it looks like it’ll be a good addition to the shelf.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, it has clearly been a golden year for all things Lovecraft in the world of gaming. Arkham Nights, FFG’s annual Cthulhu gaming weekend, sold out for the first time ever, and the whole IP really feels like it’s riding the crest of a wave with upcoming expansions announced for all of their games which I’ve mentioned above. I’ve already talked on here about some of the issues which Mythos gaming sometimes provokes, but overall, I’ve really enjoyed most of the games from this Mythos that we’ve played this year, and I look forward to many more in the future.