Kickback: Aeon’s End

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

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

 

First of all, a bit of background.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Putting Together the Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers

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

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

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

Quality?

There is a difference in component quality between the editions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final thoughts

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

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Kicks of Future Past

A few weeks back, I did a retrospective look at the “value” of all the Kickstarter projects that I’ve been involved in during the past year. It turned into a bit of a monster, leaving no space for me to muse on what comes next. The plan was to look next at the Kickstarters I was thinking about backing – sadly, by the time I had the article written, all of those campaigns had ended. Instead then, this is another reflection: what drew me to those campaigns, and what ultimately put me off.

 

Forbidden Fortress

First up – Shadows of Brimstone: Forbidden Fortress.

Forbidden Fortress I was alerted to Shadows of Brimstone during Massive Darkness discussions. Another game that put fun ahead of precision rules-crafting, SoB was cited as a good way to do character progression and an engaging overall campaign.

I investigated the already-released Shadows of Brimstone games: 2 core sets and many expansions in a Weird West setting. I managed to get hold of one – eventually. Lots of fans online though pointed me towards the chance to late-pledge for the inter-compatible, standalone, Samurai-themed version, due in early 2018.

Even having just picked up the Western version, I was still tempted by the pseudo-Japanese option. Samurai, Monsters, options to play as a Kitsune (fox-person) or an umbrella-wielding Geisha. Have a monkey as an ally. What’s not to like?

Positive aside though, the Forbidden Fortress Kickstarter was a hard sell. For one thing, the KS options range from “very big” to “very, very, big” – and the ‘smaller’ option doesn’t include the Kistune, the Geisha or the Monkey!

MonkeyThe Kickstarter promises great value: based on the publisher’s estimates, $125 gets you $375 worth of stuff, or $350 gets you $835 worth (plus exclusives, of which there are more at the higher level, obviously).

Big savings! ($200ish and $480ish) IF you buy everything later. But it begs the question – do you need anywhere near as much stuff as the pledge includes?? Savings against a fictional total are irrelevant. If the game only needs a single core and one expansion, then over-spending on hundreds of extra figures is a bad deal, not a good one.

On top of that, even if all of the stuff does add to the gameplay experience, and you need all of it, $350 is a hell of a lot of money. It would make Shadows of Brimstone instantly one of the most expensive games I own, behind only a very select list of titles that have been played for hundreds and hundreds of hours over many years. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a game, to justify a bigger spend than Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness, all in one fell swoop.

Cost aside, the Wild West Shadows of Brimstone Kickstarter has been a nightmare: long delays and poor communication seem to be taken as standard, and lots of stuff hasn’t delivered, years after the base game hit retail. Frustration I’ll get over eventually, but if the game arrives 3 years late, then we’re back into the Apocrypha scenario, where I might not want to play any more games of that ilk.

BrimstoneTown
After each scenario you have a travel event, then visit this town, with 7 different places to visit, and a range of events and items available at each one.

Having spent much of October assembling miniatures, I managed 3 sessions of Shadows in November. The between-scenario character levelling stuff really shone, but the scenarios themselves were… fine. We had some bad luck, made some rules mistakes. Some issues seem to have been generally acknowledged as lacklustre, and should be fixed by the new iteration. It seemed to really need Class Sheets printed off to keep track of things, and I hadn’t. Overall, whilst I’m still positive about the game, it didn’t grab me in the way it needed to if I was going to spend that kind of money.

Ultimately, this was always going to be a stretch: a really expensive project, from a company with a poor track-record for KS-delivery. The game needed to be something truly exceptional, and at the end of the day, it just wasn’t quite gripping enough. Technically I could still change my mind (it’s currently still open for backers), but I don’t expect that I will.

 

Bones?

Too-Many-Bones The other big Kickstarter I was looking at was Too Many Bones. This is a game that’s been frustrating me on and off for much of 2017.

My thoughts on Too Many Bones got so extensive that they spawned their own spin-off article [in a marvellous Freudian typo, I originally described those thoughts as “expensive”]. For those who don’t have the time to read the other piece, Too Many Bones is made by a company called Chip Theory Games, who make very expensive games in very small print runs, and only sell directly. There was a one-off opportunity to get this from GQ back in June, but I was slightly blindsided by it and missed my chance.

Stanza2October saw a Kickstarter for a stand-alone expansion, promising a “more cost-effective entry point.” And a guitar-wielding playable character!

Sadly, this “more cost-effective” still wasn’t cheap – £53 + shipping to try the game. That’s a lot of money for a taster. To get a ‘proper’ play experience (which the forums tell me is at least 1 more playable character than the number of players) I’d need to pay extra for add-ons, at which point I’d have been better just shelling out for the full-sized game in the first place.

Ultimately, whilst it is (apparently) a very good game, the large amount of expense, and the possibility of ending up with something that feels half-baked, and needs further investment to be enjoyably playable was too much of a deterrent. They unlocked a fair number of odds and ends during the campaign, but not enough in the directions of actually enhancing game-play options. $100 for something that might only have been a taster was too much, and this one ended up as a “no” as well.

 

In for a Pound, Dollar

I did something for the first time recently – backed a Kickstarter project for $1. A fair number of projects seem to have this option. Pay $1 for email updates and access to the Pledge Manager – an option to upgrade and get the bits you want at a later point.

The reasons for $1 pledging are simple: minimal cost, and extra time (either to save up or simply to decide whether you want it). Having stumbled on the project at the 11th hour, it gave me a chance to stay part of something I wasn’t ready to pledge for fully.

The main downside of the $1 pledge is that you’re not helping to get the game funded or unlock stretch goals. However, this particular project was for a second printing + an expansion: already well funded, and no stretch goals left.

FolkloreThe game in question was Folklore: The Affliction., yet another title promising an RPG in Board-Game form, probably sitting somewhere between Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven. The game looks very good: fantastic art, a dark, engaging theme. The Victorian-era Gothic Horror tropes seem well done, with just the faintest hint of a steam-punk twist (although the mock-Transylvanian accent on the KS video voice-over was pretty painful). The mixture between wide-angle campaign and zoomed-in miniatures combat was also appealing.

There were a couple of obstacles to backing. Firstly, the games mentioned above: Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven are both really interesting-looking games that I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of. Even allowing for a 9-month wait, do I have time to play this?

The second issue was a web of complex pledge levels. The base game is obviously the starting point, but where to go with add-ons? The big box expansion adding playable characters seems like a must, but there are also lots of mini expansions that add cards to decks, and will enhance replayability. Given the narrative focus of the game, the books that allow you to create your own adventures seem very useful too.

GhostsThis 2nd printing of the game comes with Cardboard standees to keep the costs down. However, as a painter I want the miniatures (now a separate box). Lastly there are the amazing clear miniatures to represent ghost-characters (unlike many games, character death in Folklore is only a limited obstacle to ongoing participation in the campaign).

For now, I’ll mull this over, happy in the knowledge that I’ve bought myself more time to think, and quite willing to give up the single dollar I shelled out if I decide not to follow-through.

 

Expanding Gloom

Kikforth EncountersGloom of Kilforth is a fun review game that I picked up just before the summer, and which had an October Kickstarter for a second printing / some expansions. I wasn’t that fussed about extra encounters, but the prospect of new Hero Classes and Races (unlocked via stretch-goals) was much more intriguing.

I had intended to let this one pass by, but on the last day of the campaign we had a really enjoyable session with some variant rules that made the game shine, and I jumped on. It was only £21, which felt very affordable.

Pirates!

GreyportPiratesBy contrast, I did decide to pass on the new expansion for Battle for Greyport. The appeal was pretty clear: Steampunk Pirates. Because Steampunk Pirates. Another one I picked up as a review, Greyport is a fun little game (it’s since hit 10 sessions), but at the end of the day, it doesn’t get massive amounts of play, and in all honesty, there’s plenty of content in the original box that we haven’t gotten into yet. The incentive to back the Kickstarter on this was also fairly limited, as it looks like the box will be available at retail next year, by which time I’ll have a far better sense of whether the game is going to get played in the long-term, and might be able to pick it up with some store credit anyway.

 

 

Closing thoughts

Overall, I think a lack of time will be what keeps me from backing (m)any of these projects – Kickstarters tend to come and go within a window which means that, if I’m not already anticipating it, by the time I’ve made my decision, it’s too late. Add to that the sheer epic scale of many new projects and it’s a case of finding both money to back the game and time to play it.

I’m not too worried by all of this, even if I don’t end up backing anything else for a while: as I mentioned in the recent Kickstarter review, I’ve got plenty of KS projects on the go, and even more in the way of other gaming to keep me occupied.

Games for the Masses

I’ve been getting pretty irritated lately.

More so than usual, I think.

I can blame this on work, weather, tiredness, illness etc, but the aspect that’s relevant for this blog is about game prices and game components.

A Bone to Pick

Too-Many-BonesThe fact that you’re reading this probably means that, unless you know me personally and are reading out of sympathy, you probably follow the world of board gaming closely enough to have at least heard of a game called Too Many Bones.

Too Many Bones is a Cooperative Dice-building RPG.

There’s a lot going on in that description, so I’ll pause and let it sink in.

Cooperative, that’s fairly self-explanatory.

RPG – in this context, I think can be taken as a narrative adventure, broadly fantasy in theme (although in quite an unusual and interesting setting).

Dice Building is probably the oddest bit. I’m not expecting the hardware to actually build dice – rather, you start off with a few starter dice, and you gradually acquire more, and better dice.

There are (apparently) various pathways within the game that you can choose to follow, and there’s a lot of scope for character development: more general dice, focusing on specialist dice that can produce combos. Ultimately, success or failure in a given scenario seems to boil down to defeating monsters in combat (often the way of these things), but it seemed like there was plenty going on from a narrative standpoint, and enough unique features to make it worth a look.

Guess what we haven’t got in store for you…

All of the things I’ve said about the game seemed to me like good reasons to buy it.

The reasons in the “against” column are simple. It’s really expensive (and big) and you can’t buy it from a retailer.

ukge That’s right. Retailers, be they online or the good old FLGS don’t sell this game, you can only buy it direct from the manufacturer.

Maybe that’s not a big deal for most people – for me, it means that I can’t use store credit to buy it, which is a big deal, but I appreciate that not everyone has a big supply of store credit that can’t very obviously be turned into cash.

Let’s think about how the whole not-available-in-shops thing works out for normal folk.

The logic that Chip Theory Games (the people behind Too Many Bones) seem to use for only doing direct sales is that they make things cheaper by cutting out the middle man.

Now obviously that’s not an argument that’s completely without merit – distributors aren’t running a charity. Nor are retailers. Each stage you add will involve someone else taking their cut.

However, despite what the good people of the internet would have you believe, I still want to suggest that this isn’t a cut-and-dry situation, a 100% win.

Big Ship, Little Ship, Cardboard Box

ContainerFor one thing, Chip Theory, like most board games companies in the world, seems to be based in North America. Shipping a game (Especially a big, heavy one) across the Atlantic is a big deal, and it costs a lot of money.

Shipping 100 copies of a game across the Atlantic is also expensive. But I’m willing to bet that shipping 100 copies of a game, along with all the other stuff you’re already shipping anyway, doesn’t cost 100 times what it does to ship a single copy.

Small? Or Far Away?

Another reason I hear fairly often for why Chip Theory games tend to be so expensive is the small print runs that they do. Now, again, there are various reasons that this might be the case, but how’s this as a suggestion: they need to do small print-runs, because their games sell in small volumes.

One reason that their games sell in small volumes could be that their games aren’t available in shops. Nobody’s going to stumble across a copy at the FLGS, or buy it in a bookshop whilst doing some panicked Christmas shopping.

LegendaryFoils
Promos from the recent Legendary OP. Legendary and a selection of expansions available to purchase on the next shelf…

Perhaps more significantly than just boxes on shelves, given that we’re talking about a fairly hefty purchase, as a direct-from-manufacturer only product, no FLGS has any incentive to run demos of Too Many Bones, or promote it, organise a meet-up for regular games etc. The owner of my FLGS is a great guy, and one who really cares about the hobby – but he’s also got a business to run: when he does organised play, or demonstrations of a game, chances are it’s going to be a game that he’s hoping some people will then buy from him. With the CTG approach, that kind of opportunity just doesn’t exist.

As you might guess from someone who blogs on the subject, I take my gaming seriously. The sort of money that TMB would set me back is an amount I might well spend on something I was actually able to try out. (there is a digital version you can play, but after watching some fairly epic tutorial videos, I decided that it wasn’t for me)/

Ultimately, I know that I’m not going to convince a company to change their entire business model by writing a grumpy blog post, or sticking something in a web-forum that they’re probably not reading, but the situation still frustrated me.

 

Open to all?

As I was stewing on this, I had a lot of ideas going around, and the thought I eventually arrived at went somewhere along these lines:

VIPsSuppose I’d invented a new game mechanic that I thought was good

Suppose I’d then spent the time play-testing it to the point where it was a solid, balanced game. Then I’d figured out how to get it manufacturer, boxed etc.

What would I want?

I’m fairly sure that I’d want as many people as possible to play it.

Like most people who work in the games industry, I like games. If I think a game is good, I want other people to play it too: getting that great game as widely available as possible seems like the ultimate end.

That doesn’t feel like what CTG are doing.

 

Made of?

The last piece of the puzzle in why Too Many Bones is so expensive, is the components. Everything seems to be made at a very high spec, and high production quality costs money. Obviously. I’m not expecting them to just give people stuff, or upgrade the components for free.

TMB-ChipsHowever a lot of the high-cost components seemed really unnecessary. For example, the baddies you fight in TMB are represented by glossy poker chips.

When you break everything right down, an enemy is a couple of numbers and a couple of keywords. It’s the sort of thing that most other games would represent with a card, or else a miniature.

Miniatures are expensive too – enough of my gaming time and budget has gone to Cool Mini Or Not for that to be painfully clear, but to my mind, a miniature adds a lot more – it’s far more visible and representative than a card and if, like me, you like to paint your game miniatures, that’s a whole new avenue of enjoyable activity opened up.

A poker chip feels like the worst of all possible worlds – all the cost, weight and bulk of a miniature, but with far less flavour. Thick card tokens could do the exact same job for half the price, and a standard playing card would even give more room for nice art assets (now there’s another discussion on art costs, but let’s ignore that for now).

For me, the point where it drifted from annoyance to farce, was when I spotted one of the stretch goals on their new campaign – a shinier box.

BoxUpgrade
Ok, it does do “sturdy” as well, but the emphasis is on “shiny”

I had to re-read it a couple of times, just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it. Not a bigger box that can holds expansions too, or a sturdier box that won’t break, or even a better box insert that can hold sleeved/expanded content more easily. Shinier.

When I posted about this on a BGG forum, I was baffled to see that not only was this not a new development, but some people actually seemed to like it. I really couldn’t begin to fathom why you would want a box to be prettier, rather than having cosmetic (or even gameplay) improvements made to the actual game you’ll be playing!?!

Somewhere else?

I don’t know enough about game design and copyright law to know how likely it is that we’ll get a mechanically similar game to Too Many Bones, but made by a different company who can bring an affordable product to market through normal distribution channels. I really hope that we get one, but sadly I suspect that we won’t. I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath.

 

The Alternative

aeons-end-card-game-boxI want to talk now about another game, one I’ve actually played this time. It’s also one that I’ve mentioned on here more than once in the past.

Aeon’s End was a review game that I picked up at the start of the year. It’s a marketplace deck-builder (think Dominion), but a Co-op where the players are working together to take down a Nemesis who wants to destroy the last refuge of humanity. Great mechanics, cool post-apocalyptic fantasy theme.

In my review for Games Quest, I said that I thought that Aeon’s End might be the best game of 2017, which was a fairly bold claim for February. It’s still the most-played 2017 release by sessions, although Massive Darkness is currently edging it out by hours and Legend of the 5 Rings is catching up fast. Wherever is ends up in my 2017 top 3, Aeon’s End certainly holds up as a really enjoyable game to play.

AE-Slightly-off
Nothing unplayable, just a few bits that are slightly ‘off’

That said, the component quality in Aeon’s End wasn’t amazing. The dials for tracking the life of your home and the boss enemy were a bit loose, and the cardboard breaches that you place spells on to cast them were pretty flimsy. The characters and monsters are represented by cardboard mats, several of which were a bit bent (I think this was as much about how they were stored as the material the mats were made from), and the overall card-stock wasn’t amazing.

Obviously, none of that’s ideal – but none of it stopped me from playing the game or having a lot of fun.

AE-WE-KS A couple of months after I got the game, they kickstarted a new stand-alone expansion. Market games like this always benefit from more cards, so I was on-board.

They also decided to do a complete re-design graphically. I wasn’t thrilled by this (I preferred the old stuff), but my OCD and need for everything to match exceeds my artistic preferences, so I shelled out the extra $10 to get all the cards from the first edition replaced with new ones to match the style of the reprint (a 1-time offer, only for the Kickstarter).

There were a fair few comments raised during the campaign about component quality – the cardboard breaches became sturdy tokens, upgraded via various stretch-goals to become thicker, and have round (and rounder) corners. The rest of the card-stock was subject to some nonspecific hopeful noises about an upgrade.

Breaches
The new breaches (top) are a lot sturdier, and less prone to slipping/spinning

When the new set arrived, it was generally pretty good. The breaches were definitely a lot better, the dials were a bit tighter (although still not Fantasy Flight standard), the cards were fine, although I wasn’t that bothered by the old ones.

All-in-all though, even with the upgraded components for a fully expanded game, Aeon’s End War Eternal comes in at about £45, less than half of Too Many Bones (the costs of both go up with expansions). It’s perhaps not fair to compare Dice and Card games directly, but I think the overall point stands.

 

The Reckoning?

Taking everything together, we have 2 games:

1 game where the important thing was getting the mechanic out there so that people could play, where the components were secondary to the gameplay and, whilst it was nice to get more solid stuff later, it was never a deal-breaker.

1 game where the pretty-shiny-ness was raised to central importance, and the resulting product was priced out of the market.

On average, people have rated Aeon’s End 8.1 – a highly respectable score for a game that sits in a fairly well-established area of gaming, albeit with some good unique twists. Based on about 1900 ratings, that’s enough to get it to 277th place in the overall BGG rankings.

Too Many Bones is a far more innovative game, one which really stands out from the crowd mechanically, and it has an average rating of 8.7 on BGG – however, with only just over 1100 people rating it, barely enough to get it into the top 400.

Rankings

A lot of people think that the rankings don’t mean anything, and they might be right, but there’s a small part of me that’s glad that the game which focused on play experience and accessibility is over 100 places better off.

 

Closing Thoughts

This has turned into a fairly long ramble. I’m not sure that I’ve actually managed to make a point.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is, Board Games are getting bigger, and more expensive, and that’s allowed designers to do some amazing stuff, giving us gaming experiences that are light years ahead of what we had 20 years ago. It’s also led to lots of bloated, overproduced games that gives us material for our money, but not the gameplay to match.

The reason I spend so much of my time on board-games: playing them, keeping spreadsheets about them, writing about them, keeping spreadsheets about them, is because I really like board games. That’s why I think that anything that leads to more people playing more board games is good. It’s fine to have collector’s editions and the like for those who want to splash out on something memorable, but it shouldn’t be the only option.

Kicks Revalued

With any Kickstarter project, there’s a fair amount of waiting.

Maybe communication is good on the project, maybe it’s bad. Maybe they deliver quickly, or maybe they take a long time. Whichever way, there’s probably a fair amount of time where you’re thinking about the project, but aren’t in a position to actually be playing the game.

It’s at times like this, sat with my spreadsheets, that I start to question the value of the project, something which, I think,  is a fair bit more complex than with a game bought off a shelf (or website).

Spent

GreenHorde
This is the big one…

“Money spent” is relatively simple to track: ideally an old Credit Card statement, otherwise the pledge information on Kickstarter + a historic exchange rate calculator. On top of that, I tend to add on a bit more in the way of “interest” based on how long it takes from when they take my money to when I get my stuff, and I have a notional figure for what I’ve spent.

By that reckoning, the 8 Kickstarter projects that have been “live” (any stage from campaign launch to delivery) at some point this year add up to over £700. That’s a moderately terrifying figure, although it is alleviated somewhat by the knowledge that they were paid for over two and a half years.

Retail

If a Kickstarted game makes it to retail, then I can compare directly what I paid for the game, versus what people buying it now will have to fork out. Was Kickstarting this project a money-saver? Or a money-sink?

For Massive Darkness, the first game to arrive, this was an equation that seemed to work out really well. As this finally sees a retail release, my total pledge including shipping and interest is only £14 more than the RRP of the base game: even assuming a 10% pre-order discount, I’m looking at having made a £30 saving, compared to base game + the first 2 expansions, and there’s another expansion, a set of tiles/scenarios, and the extra dice all yet to come.

Apocrypholder
I don’t remember why I ordered the binder. The sheets are useful, but they tend to get stored in the game box

Apocrypha looks less impressive – You can see my Kickstarter review for the details, but basically it looks like I’ll be very slightly up by the time all is said and done, but not much.

Aeon’s End I spent around £70 on. The starting pledge was $65, which covered the base and a selection of stretch goals (included for me, probably collected later as a retail expansion), and I paid a further $15 for an expansion. Availability is still very limited, but it looks like the base game will be £45ish, £15-18 per expansion, so this seems to come out about even.

For other games, retail prices are trickier: Gloomhaven is currently only listed for silly money, due to the game being out-of-print, and prices will clearly drop once the second wave hits retail. Zombicide will presumably have an RRP around £90, but be available a fair bit cheaper from the online retailers. For 9th World and Legends Untold, it wouldn’t surprise me if even the companies involved aren’t sure yet. The latest thing I jumped on, a mini-expansion for Gloom of Kilforth, cost me £21 – I don’t know whether this will even get a retail release, and I certainly don’t expect it be cheaper if it does. For now, all the games with no RRP go on the spreadsheet with a value of “minus whatever I paid for it.” That leaves me with a figure of just over £400 of ‘lost value,’ but that will inevitably level out a lot over time, and probably end up in the black overall.

 

Exclusivity

Although I’ve looked at the Financial Value of the retail pledge, there’s also the question of exclusives.

Lightbringer Aside from a few bits with retail packaging, the Massive Darkness pledge also came with a “Lightbringer” box – duplicates of monsters from the base game and, crucially, 18 Wandering monsters, 3 hero miniatures, and 1 class sheet, which will not be available separately. It’s hard to put a value on these, especially as I don’t want to sell mine, but I reckon you could easily get (at least) £50 for it. Right now though, I haven’t added anything to the spreadsheet for these. I also spent $8 on some exclusive cards to use Zombicide figures in Black Plague, and vice-versa, and these are currently going for around £20 on Ebay.

For Aeon’s End, I spent $10 to get the cards and mats for the original game replaced with upgraded card-stock, and layout to match the new game. As this won’t be offered at retail, it’s hard to measure that $10 price – on the one hand it offers nothing new mechanically, but it does make the two elements of the game feel like they belong together. Having not paid for the original game (it was a review), I was pretty happy with about 2 games’ worth of cards for not much more than the cost of 1 game.

Apocrypha came with 3 or 4 promo cards. You might be able to get a fiver or so for them online. For the games yet to arrive, I know that Green Horde will have a similar pile of goodies to Massive Darkness, and Gloom of Kilforth has some bonus new Classes and Races. I don’t think Gloomhaven came with anything exclusive, and can’t remember what I’m expecting for the others.

 

Play

In an ideal world, one day a Kickstarted game will actually arrive at your house, and get played. I’ve talked before about how I measure game-value, and that doesn’t change for KS (1 hour of play = £5 value). On that basis, all-but-one of the KS games are currently still in the red, but that’s hardly surprising, given that 6 out of the 7 hadn’t arrived at the beginning of October!

To get into specifics, “value” is currently over £450 in the red – it works out at just over 90 hours of play needed to balance things out!

Now, Zombicide Black Plague managed that by itself last year, so if Green Horde is a similar success, it could knock that down fairly quickly, but it won’t be doing it until 2018.

1Man Much Loot Massive Darkness is already in the black, having clocked up the 25-or-so hours of table-time it needed in less than 2 months.  Overall, the game is currently contributing a respectable £75.98 to the “value of Kickstarter” column, and that figure is only going to grow as the game gets played more and more. I could easily imagine myself getting another 5-10 plays without touching the expansion content, and then we’ve got a Massive set of options for variety, in terms of more heroes, mobs and wandering monsters, a whole extra set of tiles and quests, and all the Zombicide crossover content – it was the first game played in November, and isn’t going anywhere.

MassiveGloom
“Massive” is a relative term…

It’s well documented just how much there is in Gloomhaven: both in terms of physical content and the hours of table-time that are in there. I doubled-down on this purchase by paying for the removable stickers to “de-legacy” the legacy aspect of the game. I personally won’t be getting into a second or subsequent play-through any time soon (if ever), but hopefully it’ll leave me with a near-mint game to move on if I decide that it isn’t justifying its place on the shelf.

For Apocrypha, 20 hours to break even feels like a lot: I lost a lot of enthusiasm for it in the 17 months between when it was due and when it actually arrived. I clocked up 10 hours pretty quickly, mostly because my editor wanted a review by Essen, but some of those sessions were a real grind, and this is back on the shelf, where I can see it staying until the expansions land.

9thI think 9th World must exist behind some kind of perception filter- it’s like my brain is singularly unable to remember that it exists without repeated prompting. This is a game which was backed by virtue of piggy-backing on the goodwill generated by the Apocrypha campaign (a resource which has long-since been depleted).

Lastly is Legends Untold, a proper old-school Kickstarter project from a new designer/company. I played a turn or so of the prototype at UKGE 2016, and followed it from there. I ended up backing this at a higher level than I wanted to (they raised so much money that they doubled the range of stuff they were offering), and have watched the game change significantly over the course of the campaign to where it’s scarcely recognisable. Right now, I don’t have a clear enough sense of what it will be like to get excited, although I’m still optimistic that it will be good. The latest KS update has got this pushed back to January (hopefully!) so it’s going to be semi-ignored for a while.

Old or New?

AeonsThere is some complexity around the fact that 2 of the games I’ve Kick-started this year (Aeon’s End: War Eternal, and Zombicide: Green Horde) are stand-alone expansions. If I lump them in with the existing game, then I’m already covered time-wise, but that’s clearly misleading (as none of the game-play logged pre-arrival was using any of the KS content).

When Green Horde does land, my first step will be to play through the Core Box once, using core box content only (this will require less discipline than with Massive Darkness, as it’s shipping several months ahead of the add-ons). What I’m not quite sure of is how clear the distinction between Black Plague and Green Horde will remain after that, or how I’ll want to go about logging it.

Aeon’s End is currently my 5th most-played game of the year, still 1 of only 6 to make it past 25 sessions. It had been a bit quiet over the summer, but the arrival in early October of better-quality components, mixed with a range of extra cards and options, has given it a fresh lease of life. Again, the question is how to measure plays of old and new? After some reflection, I decided that, in all likelihood, future plays will either be all new stuff, or a mixture, so I’ll just base it on any plays of Aeon’s End after the new stuff landed. Right now, that’s still in the red by some distance (£40-odd), but I’m confident of it catching up in due course. Where a Kickstarter is for a pure expansion (not playable stand-alone) – like Gloom of Kilforth, it’s much more straightforward to just mix it in and measure plays in the same way as AE.

 

Numbers?

Taking pledge vs retail cost (with the caveat of not having retail prices for over half the games), and Cost vs Value (where half the games haven’t arrived), I arrived at a grand, grand, overall total figure, which is devastatingly large. At least it’s still a 3-figure sum!

Now, OBVIOUSLY that figure isn’t final. I know with absolute certainty that a big chunk of that will disappear simply with components reaching retail, and obviously I intend to play these games too. Still, it does give me pause.

 

Regrets?

Of course, one thing that you can never really calculate is the value of making a decision so far ahead of release.

2015
I backed Apocrypha way back in 2015…

If Apocrypha were released tomorrow and I hadn’t backed it, I doubt very much that I’d buy it. I’d probably put my name down for a review copy, but I couldn’t imagine sinking my hand £60 deep into my pocket, let alone £100 for the expansions (which seem to be where the value is). 9th World likewise.

Massive Darkness was a big success, and I’m glad I backed it – I remember thinking many times last year that I wished I could go back in time and back Black Plague: obviously I couldn’t, but I could back Green Horde, and I did.

I’m glad I backed Legends Untold, because it’s the sort of project that I feel Kickstarter should really be for – small, independent, first-time publisher: It’s good to feel like I’ve been part of something that couldn’t have been produced without Kickstarter. As noted above, I’ve kind of lost sight of where we are gameplay wise, so will be interested to see what eventually lands.

 

All of it?

Hellephant
Hellephant!

Even within games that I would buy, there’s the question of whether I’d buy all the stuff I got through the KS campaign – as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve (very deliberately) only used the base-set stuff for Massive Darkness so far, and whilst I fully intend to get the rest of the stuff I have onto the table at some point, I think it’s probable that I’d have done things differently if I were picking the game up at retail – definitely a Hellephant before Lord Tusk or the Cocatrix, probably some Ratlings or Lizardmen before the Troglodytes. As a CMON Kickstarter, this has enough value in it that I’m not too bothered about little quibbles like this, although it would definitely be nice to be able to pick-and-choose more freely. I’d imagine that Green Horde will feel much the same.

Aeon’s End, I expect I would have planned to get it all, although possibly not all at once, and once there’s delay, there’s always the potential to have my mind changed. Gloomhaven I didn’t pledge for any expansions (aside from buying the stickers from a third-party so that I don’t damage the game in playing it). Legends Untold I would definitely have gone for 1 box rather than 2 if I had been confident of the second one being available later, but see notes above on “proper” Kickstarters.

Apocrypha is in a strange place – part of me thinks that the core box experience isn’t gripping enough to want to shell out for the expansions, part of me thinks that it’s only with the expansions that the game will really come to life. 9th World I can’t remember how it breaks down with add-ons (I’m sure it’ll change again before delivery).

 

Closing Thoughts

This article is a bit of a snap-shot, and it’s a snapshot taken at a very unflattering point in time for Kickstarter – money gone out on 8 projects, game in hand for more than a month on only 1. Still it’s a useful reminder for myself, especially as other Kickstarters appear in the future.

I was going to talk here about future projects I’m looking at, but this has got very long already, so I’ll section that off to be its own article another time.

I’m certainly not swearing off Kickstarter in the way that some people have. That said, I was never that deeply ensnared in the first place – over the time it’s taken me to get this printed, I’ve passed on 2 or 3 moderately-interesting-looking Kickstarters – an expansion for a fairly enjoyable game we play occasionally, a highly rated game that’s always priced itself out of my range in the past, and an opportunity for a mega-saving on a game that I’m not sure I really need – I expect I’ll end up talking more about them elsewhere, but for the most part, it won’t be as a backer.

I’ll keep following projects. Keep backing them occasionally. Keep complaining when they don’t arrive in a timely fashion, and keep blogging when there’s finally a game to blog about.

Kickback: Apocrypha

As part of my ongoing series of Kickstarter retrospectives, I want to talk today about Apocrypha.

Runelords If the decision to back Massive Darkness sprang from 2016’s love-affair with Zombicide Black Plague, then Apocrypha owes its success to our game of choice in 2015 – Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. I’d picked up PACG in April/May of 2014, and we were instantly hooked – a fun fantasy setting with loads of depth to it, transformed into a simple card game.

Apocrypha was a sort of long-lost sibling to the PACG – the theme was Modern Horror/ Urban Fantasy rather than High Fantasy, which didn’t massively interest me, but I’d liked enough of what I’d seen of the designers’ work up to that point to still be interested. Where Pathfinder has a very linear structure, Apocrypha promised powers matched with flaws, and a far more open approach overall to playing the game. Structurally, dice-rolls seemed to work very differently and all-in-all, it seemed like it had plenty to offer.

Apocrypha KS.pngIn May 2015, I shelled out $99 for the game plus all its expansions, and $17 for a folder (I forget what the point of the folder was), add in shipping and all-told, it was just under £100.

The game was due in April/May 2016, but there was plenty of Pathfinder to keep us occupied in the mean-time.

Wrath of the Righteous (3rd PACG set) released as the Apocrypha Kickstarter finished. Sadly, it was by far the least enjoyable of the APs, culminating in the soul-destroying Adventure 6, which saw us put the box away and never play a Wrath scenario again.

The Long Wait

2016 came, and with it no sign of Apocrypha – the April 2016 update came with a note saying

“Since the campaign ended, we said over and over that the increased size of the game would mean that April 2016 was not going to happen.”

– This was news to me, but I’m not always the most observant, so I checked.

looking back, I found a few comments on likely delivery dates:

September 2015

“we’re not sure whether we will quite get this out in April like we hoped, but we are definitely on the right track for a sometime-in-Q2 release” (KS update 22)

December 2015

“Because the game got real big during the campaign, we’re probably gonna miss April, but assuming all our art and graphics stay on the same schedule, we’re on track for a spring release to Kickstarter backers, and a summer retail release.” (KS Update 25).

That didn’t feel as definitive as they were making out that they had been, but a few months delay wasn’t going to be the end of the world – the doomsayers were predicting we wouldn’t have this game in hand until Christmas 2016, but the creators reassured us

“We very much hope to beat that expectation by a lot.”

It dragged on through the autumn: “production beginning in September” turned into “Files sent to the printer at Christmas.” When more understandable delays came up (proofs and tests bouncing back and forth between designers and printers), they were a lot harder to swallow than they would have been a year or so earlier.

Flesh By this time, we’d been told that the game had been split into 3 – a base box, followed by 2 expansions. Release was predicted as core box for backers in August, going to retail around the same time. Both expansions coming to backers in the Autumn, with the first one getting a retail release around November, and the other early in 2018.

I started writing the first draft of this article on 18th August, one day after the game’s street date in North America. Not only were there a stack of copies at GenCon, but any American FLGS that wanted it, could have copies aplenty, long before it made it to backers in Blighty.

The September update told us that EU fulfilment was about to begin, and should be all wrapped up within 2 weeks. My copy eventually arrived on 4/10/2017 – from what I can glean from forum activity, I was one of the lucky ones, with many people still waiting 3 or 4 weeks later.

A Backer’s Regrets

Overall, this campaign has left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s been fairly clear throughout that the designers have been working on lots of other projects: At times this has been blamed on distributors wanting multiple product ranges, each of multiple products. At other times we got a thinly veiled admission that they have real contracts with other publishers so have a legal obligation to actually deliver work by the time they promised, whereas KS backers can be more-or-less ignored. There were some vague claims that certain things (like art) just couldn’t be done any quicker, but in the context of everything else going on, that never really rang true.

Pathfinder Hours
How much of my gaming (by hours) is Pathfinder

My gaming habits have changed a lot in the past couple of years: I played 265 games of Pathfinder in 2015, 81 in 2016, and 22 (so far) this year: A Pathfinder-like game is just less exciting than it would have been in April 2016.

Admittedly that’s about me, not the game, but I think the length of the delay makes it much more likely that I’d be looking for something else. If this had arrived (somewhere close to) on-time, I’d have been more excited by it. I’d also like to think that if they’d originally pitched a game with a 24-month instead of a 12-month delivery estimate, then I might have thought differently about backing.

 

Development

For all my irritation, I wouldn’t want to suggest that the designers haven’t put a lot of time and effort into this game. Clearly they have done a lot.

AppThat said, I wasn’t convinced by the big changes, most notably when the designers decided to get clever with “set in the present day.”

Apocrypha now has an app, and every day you can sign in and find a unique twist added to playing the game today. This felt particularly bad, as it brought a real game-play disadvantage for non-US backers, who didn’t have their game whilst the US retail customers did.

 

Reputation

I think that a lot of people who backed Apocrypha did so because of Pathfinder: either because they liked the game, or simply because they’d heard of the designers – these were people with industry experience, who knew how to put together a card game on this scale.

As a Kickstarter backer, I know that there are risks – that’s why I pay attention to who is manufacturing the game when I decide to back. Clearly, in this case, I was wrong to assume that Pathfinder ACG was any kind of guarantee where this game was concerned: that these people with great game ideas actually knew what they were doing from an industry/production perspective. We assumed that they would actually be able to deliver the game they’d presented in the campaign and do it (somewhere near to) on time.

 

When it actually arrives

Most of the stuff written above was drafted before I had the game in hand. I thought I was just tired and didn’t care about this game anymore. When I sat down to write this, I suddenly realised just how annoyed I was by everything that had happened over the two and a bit years of this Kickstarter, culminating in the August release for the USA and a half-hearted drift into Europe a month or two later.

What I needed was for this game to arrive and blow me away with the experience it provided.

 

4/10/2017 Apocrypha finally arrived.

First impressions weren’t great.

Apocrypha Tutorial The first set of cards were fairly warped, and the rulebook was dense and keyword-heavy. The “Tutorial Video” was in fact just watching other people play the game for a few rounds. After a few minutes they say “we’re off, but why don’t you guys play out the rest of the game yourself” – which might make sense if it came before half a dozen shuffles and dice-rolls.

Still, plenty of good games have lousy rulebooks and poor (or absent) tutorials, so I kept going.

Apocrypha-Card-Game-Contents The box organiser has a lot of space (it should comfortably hold both expansions) and some nice dividers. I built a couple of suggested decks, and took another run at the intro scenario. I rolled badly, which is always a risk in a dice game, but my options felt really constrained- there just weren’t many ways to mitigate bad luck.

Surprisingly, given where I’d started, the theme seemed to be the best thing about the game – the story book did a good job of luring me in to the narrative, and teased the possibility of more cool stuff to come.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and this has made a remarkably fast charge up to ten plays. However, that’s primarily because my editor from Games Quest remembered me mentioning that I’d backed this, and asking me to do a rush-job review of it, ahead of Essen. I promised to avoid the “it would have been fine 2 years ago” comments and I tried to make sure I reviewed the game, not the Kickstarter campaign – if anything, I probably went to the other extreme, not wanting to let my review be coloured by personal irritation, although it was still hardly a glowing review – you can see the results over at the GQ Blog if you’re interested.

 

Speaking with the greater freedom that comes from writing on my own blog, and not a semi-professional job for someone else, I want to talk a bit more about some of the issues I had with the game

Do what now?

Apocrypha-Card-Game-StructuresThe Byzantine structuring of rules and set-up meant that there were lots of occasions where we simply didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing – or worse, thought we knew what we were supposed to be doing, but it was stupid, random, and un-fun (the worst of these turned out to be a missed rule, which wasn’t featured on any of the 4 cards on table that were supposed to be telling us how to play the game, and was only buried in the story-book).

Having played at least 400 games of Pathfinder in the last few years, done game demonstration as a side-job, play-tested a major card-game, and reviewed a lot of other games, I’d like to think that I’ve got as good a chance as most people of being able to pick up Apocrypha and get the hang of it fairly quickly. I’d give Apocrypha about 2/10 for being intuitive and accessible.

 

Losing Theme

Pathfinder Check On top of that, the theme and the mechanics feel pretty disconnected. It’s fairly obvious in Pathfinder what’s going on: My fighter rolls a D10 for his strength. As he’s fighting a Goblin, he plays a short sword to add a D6, and adds his Melee skill for +3. He rolls a 4 and a 2 which equals 9 with the bonus. He exceeds the Goblin’s “Combat 8” and the Goblin is defeated.

Apocrypha CheckCompare that to “My policeman rolls 3 dice to use his body skill against this werewolf. He discards a set of lockpicks to add another dice, and a cup of coffee to add a further dice. Finally, because he has “Sense” he adds a 6th and final dice. He then rolls the 6 dice and gets 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 6. The best total from these dice is 13, which is less than the Werewolf’s difficulty of 14. As the cop doesn’t have any “Body” gifts in hand, he discards a memory stick…

Now admittedly, that might be a bit contrived, picking a very straightforward example from one game and a convoluted one from another, but I definitely got a sense of not being particularly invested in the story, just of rolling dice, and hoping cards went away.

Saints and Gators I noticed fair few people on BGG forums drawing comparisons between Apocrypha and the Arkham LCG. I think it’s a logical parallel to draw, and I think Arkham is a clear winner. Arkham is my most-played game of 2017 (by sessions, Zombicide is ahead by hours), and it does a brilliant job of blending theme and mechanic, of making your story decisions have a meaningful impact on the effects that you see and the events that unfold.

Maybe the real reason that this game would have seemed so much better in the spring of 2016 wasn’t about being annoyed with the delay at all – maybe it was simply because we hadn’t yet been spoiled by the wonderful Arkham LCG.

 

Time for the Numbers

I spent about £95 on Apocrypha, and with over 2.5 years taken to deliver, my imaginary “interest” charge takes me over £100 for the investment.

Apocrypha Value
I’ll probably come out ahead once the expansions land

The base game has an RRP of £74.99, but seems to be available at £59.99. In the short term, that leaves me down by about £40, although that should improve with boxes 2 and 3. The expansions I have only seen a $$ RRP for, but assuming that $40 turns into about £35, and the same 20% discounts are to be had online, that’s about £28 each – that’s an end point about £20 up on buying them at retail.

£100 needs 20 hours of table-time to count as “value” on my scale, and with an average game-time of an hour, this has notched up 10 hours in getting my review to press. I can’t say that I feel any particular compulsion to finish off out current campaign though, and this will probably sit idle for a little while.

So, right now, £40 down vs RRP, £50 down on game-time. That looks like £90 worth of poorly-spent money. That will certainly improve when the expansions appear, but even £50 down isn’t great, so this will need to get more table-time to justify its place.

Mummys-Mask-Card-Game-Box
In a lot of ways, I think this box is better than Rise of the Runelords or Skull & Shackles – it’s just that other games have got better-er in the meantime

The general level of buzz being created by Pathfinder ACG is well down on where it was 2 years ago. Nearly 10,000 people rated Rise of the Runelords, the first Adventure Path for the game, compared to fewer than 200 for Mummy’s Mask.

I’d seriously hope that, even with the hefty shipping I’d need, I could still sell this on for (more than) £50 all in, so it’s not yet a dead loss, but I don’t think this game will be flying off the shelves, and from a financial perspective, I’m certainly not smiling like I was with Massive Darkness.

Final Reflections

I don’t want to say that Apocrypha is a bad game. I think it’s definitely a game with a lot of issues, and it’s far from being the best I own, but it’s not without its merits.

Realistically, as a Kickstarter backer, you can’t really judge a new game without putting it in the context of the overall campaign. I think that the only solution to that is time. For now, I’ll put this on the shelf and enjoy some other games, and re-visiting this in a few weeks/months, either when the mood takes me, or when the expansions arrive.

Overall, the experience of the Apocrypha campaign is one I’d rather not have had. The game itself I’m still on the fence about: it’s definitely not as clever as it thinks it is, but it might be fine once my frustration at the process has dwindled.

Kickback: Massive Darkness

 

MassiveAs I’ve mentioned a fair few times on here now, I’ve had a number of big Kickstarter projects that I’ve been waiting on – some of them for a very long time now.

August was when the first of them finally arrived, and having had a bit of time to play it and reflect on it, I wanted to spend a bit of time talking about it today. This has ended up being a fairly big one, so my plan is to gradually extract sections and replace with links to more in-depth discussions as I get the time. If you’re subscribed to the blog you won’t miss anything, but anyone coming to this article late might find it a bit shorter than when it was first published!

Massive DarkNed
The two largest and most expensive things ordered in 2016 and received in 2017…

I backed Massive Darkness in April 2016 – it was the last of the big KS projects that I backed without the knowledge that there would be a baby in the house by the time things arrived. Whether I would still have backed if the KS had come along a couple of months later is a question I’ll never really be able to answer.

2017 was the year of Zombicide: Black Plague in our house – Massive Darkness came from the same designers and publishers and promised the same dice-chucking, monster-killing action, but with more complex combat, and skills that stayed with you from one game to the next.

The campaign was launched to a lot of noise, and smashed its funding targets in a matter of minutes, but there were concerns. The gameplay video on Kickstarter was a bit bland, and the “campaign mode” looked like it had a lot of holes in it. A hasty fix was offered, more and more stretch-goals were unlocked, and in the end, like a lot of people, I backed it.

Massive Darkness offered a “basic” pledge (still over $100), plus any number of add-ons: I only added an extra set of the custom dice, and the $8 “crossover kit” which made Zombicide Survivors and Zombies playable in Massive Darkness, and Massive Darkness Heroes playable in Zombicide – if worst came to worst, I could call this a really expensive expansion for Zombicide!

Hellephant
Hellephant. Because Hellephant

Everything else I passed on. Some things – like a box of 4 extra Roaming Monsters (for context, the base game has 6, and KS backers were already getting an extra 20) for $40, or a duplicate set of board tiles were easy to pass up, others – were rather more tempting (mostly the Hellephant), but I wasn’t prepared to spend more until I’d had the chance to actually play the game.

Once the campaign was over, things went relatively quiet –the pledge manager opened in the autumn, and there were updates every month or two – inevitably the project got delayed, but this seemed normal by now, and barely registered – in July there was a sudden flurry of activity as CMON provided the details of the container ships bringing the games from China, and one kind gamer on BGG started posting regular updates of where in the world everything was. Finally, on the first Saturday in August, the game arrived.

Crunching the Numbers

Massive Darkness was bought with birthday money, so in a sense, the numbers don’t matter – it was cash I had at the time, and that was how I chose to spend it. That said, I love to number-crunch, and where would the fun be if I stopped now?

MassiveBoxesI paid CMON a grand total of $168 for the whole package, including the add-ons and shipping. By the time I run that through various historic exchange-rates, and add on some notional interest for having paid a year or more in advance, that looks like somewhere around £130 all-told.

The game was originally due around April 2017, but arrived in August, 4 months late. In the world of Kickstarter, and the shadow of a game currently 15 months late and counting, that really doesn’t look like much.

Using my standard “£5 per hour,” I’d need to play about 25-26 hours of Massive Darkness for it to count as ‘value for money’ – with a session averaging 1.5 hours that’s 17 sessions to break even. I’ve managed 15 so far, and am barely half-way through the base game content, essentially having not touched the expansions or KS exclusives.

The KS also looks like good value vs retail. Most UK shops aren’t showing prices for this yet, but based on a US retailer, I’d be looking at roughly £150 for the base game along with the 2 Hero-and-Monster boxes, 1 enemies box and Tile Set that were included as stretch goals – that puts me about £20 up even without accounting for the dice set, and literally dozens of KS-exclusive miniatures and cards. As I learned with Zombicide Black Plague, trying to pick up even a limited selection of KS exclusives after-market can get expensive, so these are significant, even if hard to quantify.

If I wanted to sell-up en masse, I’ve seen pledges going for £160-170 – even allowing for it being a big box to ship, I’m confident that I could cover my costs if I wanted to.

 

Well-Costed – Well-Made?

Dashboard The component quality in Massive Darkness is good – the dashboard isn’t as nice as Black Plague, but it’s ok: you have places for equipment in each hand, along with a body/armour slot, and trackers for health and XP. Skills are tracked on paper sheets which sit nicely next to the dashboard, and with only minimal trimming, can be sleeved, then re-used with a wipe-off marker. Handling equipment felt less smooth than in Black Plague: rather than a defined backpack area, players in Massive Darkness can carry as much extra stuff as they can find – charms which do not need to be equipped to a hand slot, or unwanted weapons that are waiting to be traded or transmuted – there is no marked area for them, you just arrange them near the dashboard in a vague pile, which was quite disappointing for us.

Pointy Hats
All very pointy

For me, the miniatures in Massive Darkness are a step down compared with Black Plague – the enemies are often quite hard to distinguish, and have a lot of excessively pointy hats. The over-jagged aesthetic continues to the Heroes, although the Wandering Monsters were generally fine, and the detail/plastic quality was good. I don’t want to over-state the case though: I’m down to my last 10 Zombicide: Black Plague figures to paint, and once Massive Darkness follows, I still think the look will be good.

Overprint
I already have my replacements – I literally only need these for this photograph.

The board tiles and dice were good quality and nice looking too. There were some issues with mis-printed card-symbols, but CMON have sent replacement cards to backers, and the retail game will be fixed before going on sale. Overall, I’m satisfied with the components.

 

The Play’s the Thing!

Whilst it’s comforting to know that I could cover my costs if I needed to, and reassuring that the components don’t look like they’ll break if I glare at them too hard, ultimately I buy board games to play, not as an investment. Whilst I don’t want to buy games at a bad price, I don’t care how good the price is if the game is rubbish.

Descent
Massive Darkness is not Descent. Some people seem to have a problem with that.

The early reports from the internet on Massive Darkness as a gameplay experience were mixed, with lots of people criticising the game for being big on miniatures, small on game balance.

Massive Darkness was only ever going to be a medium-to-light-weight dice-chucking dungeon crawler – people expecting lots of in-depth strategy probably needed to look elsewhere (Sword & Sorcery, Gloomhaven, Descent etc) rather than criticising Massive Darkness.

Personally, I think that Massive Darkness is plenty of fun. I won’t do a full “review” here, but I do want to give a brief overview and highlight a few stand-out features.

The rulebook for Massive Darkness is fairly hefty, but the rules can be broken down fairly simply: your hero does 3 actions, then any monsters you attacked will try to hit you back (unless they’re all dead). Once all heroes have had their turn, the enemies get a phase of their own, followed by a random event (which could be good or bad), and the start of the next round.

DoorsMD has some nice innovative features compared with Zombicide – opening a new room draws a Door Card – spawning both enemies and loot in linked ratios.

Another feature of the game is the Levels – you start on level 1 with rubbish weapons against fairly weak enemies and as you progress through the dungeon, each new tile brings stronger enemies and access to better gear – this prevents the Z:BP situation where if you stumble upon the powerful weapons in the first few turns, you never need to search again.

Enemies in Massive Darkness can also use weapons against you! – this makes for quite a nice thematic reward when you kill them (take their weapon), but can also make for some very swingy situations – one enemy gets a weapon with no stat synergy, whilst another doubles their defence.

ClassSheets Lastly, the straightforward character levelling of Zombicide (fixed skill, fixed skill, pick 1 of 2, pick 1 of 3) is replaced by a tech-tree of class skills. These come on a roughly A5 sheet of paper, and you can pick and choose particular strands to develop – rather than simply accruing XP, you spend it in a targeted way, paying to unlock individual skills, with more options available as the game-level increases.

Last, but not least is the Darkness. Each space on the game board is either dark or light, and characters get bonuses for being in “Shadow Mode” (i.e. in a dark space) this was a lot more complex when the campaign launched, but the final version is nice and simple, whilst still adding some strategy to map positioning.

 

Problems

All of these features are broadly positive – improvements or fun variations on the Zombicide model. That said, there are definitely issues – here are a few headlines

Loot

There is A LOT of loot: so much loot in fact, that I decided to give it an article all to itself.

When you start a game of Massive Darkness life can be very difficult, as you battle with starter equipment, but as soon as you’ve cleared the first room, and got yourself a bit more kitted out, things get better – so much better in fact that players lamented a lack of challenge as they blitzed their way through the dungeon with powerful gear.

Unpredictability

DiceBamsDiamondsIn a lot of ways, Massive Darkness can be very swingy – some people criticise some aspects as too easy, others point to things that are too hard. A lot of it is the luck of the draw. The dice can also be a major factor: they have an extremely high degree of variance, which can lead to some attacks which do nothing, whilst another wipes a character out in a single blow.

The more dice you get, the more powerful you feel, and the more you will roll Bams and Dimaonds – the symbols you need to trigger even more powerful effects.

Most skills costing 5 or 10 XP, and each time the party takes down a monster there’s some XP on offer for everyone. As a result, it’s quite possible that by the time you reach tile 3, you’ll have ticked off nearly all of your level 1-3 skills, especially if you take your time clearing every room. Combine that with some good armour and a few level 4 weapons thanks to transmuting, and a lot of people felt that this game quickly ended up being too easy –essentially, by the time you made it to level 3, you’d more-or-less won. Even then though, a bad roll can still 1-shot you, so it’s never completely a formality.

 

Scaling

Massive Darkness also has issues around scaling. Taking the above Loot example, in a small party, you’ll very soon have more equipment than you can use, and be able to regularly transmute into weapons that are a tile or 2 ahead of the game’s current level – usually meaning that you can deal with any monsters quite comfortably. We’ve already talked about how scaling affects loot, but it also has an impact on how you deal with enemies.

Guard OverviewSmall parties are also well-positioned in terms of enemies – “Mobs” (enemy groups) are generally made up of a boss and some minions, typically 1x or 2x as many as there are Heroes.

In a 2-player game, the odds of a single hero killing both minions and the boss in a single turn are pretty good – meaning that he doesn’t have to face a counter-attack. In a 4-player game, those extra minions will probably still be dealt with before the end of the round, but it’s quite likely that they’ll get a shot away at one or two heroes first.

Whilst going true solo might cause difficulties with a lack of options or adaptability (or anyone else to tank damage), it seems quite clear that a 2-player game is going to find a lot of things a lot easier than a 4-6 player game. Overall, I think that 4 is probably the sweet spot for this game.

Campaign Play

“Story Mode” is something that was added to Massive Darkness midway through the Kickstarter campaign. It’s attracted a lot of criticism on the BGG forums, and it’s something I’m going to want to talk about separately later, once I’ve had more of a chance to play. For now I want to say that I can see why people have issues, but I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as the forums might suggest.

 

Ready to Play

Overall, that probably sounds a lot worse than it is – for all its faults (and I think that there are plenty), Massive Darkness isn’t a bad game, and I wouldn’t want people to think that it was simply an over-complicated, unscalable luck-fest.

I think that when we play this with groups of friends, then “as is” will fit the bill – standalone scenarios for groups of around 4 are probably the optimum way to play this game anyway.

VariantsRight now, the forums on Board Game Geek are drowning in suggested variants: tougher mobs, less loot, and a million and one other things that range from the simple and sensible to the bizarre and arcane. Overall, it feels a bit premature – especially as a lot of the ideas came from people who hadn’t actually received the game yet.

I intend to play all through the core scenarios using only base-game content (aside from extra dice), in standalone mode, and have a good run at campaign mode, before I make changes. Beyond that point, I might make 1 or 2 minor tweaks for when we’re playing at home, but not much. Overall though, I come back to the starting-point: Massive Darkness is meant to be a simple Dungeon Crawl – kill lots of monsters, get loads of stuff. However I end up playing it ought to retain that.

 

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to say how I would feel if I’d decided to wait until Massive Darkness hit retail – it’s still showing an average rating of 7.8 from nearly 1000 reviews, and as far as I can tell, there aren’t too many “I’m so excited I’ll give it a 10 before it arrives” ratings in there. I don’t think I’d have been scared off on that count. Obviously, we don’t yet have it available in the UK, so it’s hard to know exactly what it will cost, but I’d imagine it’ll be in a similar bracket to other large CMON games – not something to pick up on a whim, but plausible for Christmas etc.

As you can probably gather, I’m fairly happy with this Kickstarter project overall. It’s not the best game ever made, and this is far from being the “only” way to get it, or being a retail product that’s “incomplete,” but it’s given me some fun gaming at good value, with some added engagement from tracking the campaign thrown in.

Old and New: Where the money goes

 

A new month, a new question to ask myself, and a new spreadsheet (did I mention that I’m a geek?)

BigZ LittleZI’ve talked on here a fair amount about making sure that I’m getting value for money for my games (i.e. do the ££s shelled out reflect the hours of gaming being logged?) and about moving to measure things more in time (hours spent gaming) than simply sessions (of course I spent more on 5 sessions of Zombicide than on 5 sessions of Zombie Dice!)

 

The thing I decided to look at specifically this month was how the games I play broke down based on spending – were they old games that I kept playing in their existing form, games I was adding to on an ongoing basis, new things, Or something else entirely? Well, with a bit of time spent poking and prodding a spreadsheet into shape, I was able to find out.

 

The Old

The biggest category by far, was existing games that I was still adding to – as someone who follows a couple of LCGs, that probably isn’t a great shock, but it was interesting to see it quantified: 47% of 2017’s gaming time (so far) has been games that I owned prior to the start of the year, but which have had at least something spent on them.

NewNotNew
That’s a pretty big boost for games which haven’t had anything new bought for them…

The next biggest category was the old – games that have been around since at least last year, and haven’t had anything spent on them, 23% of overall play. This stat is potentially a little misleading, as it includes Legendary (4.26% of the year’s gaming) for which I’ve received 2 new expansions to review this year) and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (2.13% of 2017’s gaming) for which I also picked up a new box to review. That said, there are still a lot of games which have been played a handful of times, clocking up a few hours each, which make this category a big one.

BathNed
No babies were harmed during the making of this article, although one got slightly cleaner

Over 2/3rd then, of the year’s gaming was on titles already owned, which suggests a fair amount of continuity, but also a significant amount of change. Obviously it’s subjective, but I feel like this suggests a good mixture of trying new things, and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater (you should never do this, particularly once you have an actual baby to bath).

The New

One reason that the various “new” categories are lower is the simple fact that I’ve had them for less time. Obviously, some of the new games came quite early in the year, but others only arrived in August, with a lot of catching up to do.

Cheap
Even with that box damage on Robinson Crusoe, it’s a good haul for less than £12!

With that caveat in mind the not-quite-a-third of time spent on “New” games broke down into 10% on things I’d spent money on this year, 10% on free new things (i.e. review games), and 8% on Kickstarters.

RunewarsExpansionsOf the things I’d spent money on, a lot of this is just expanding review games (Runewars Miniatures is the chief culprit here), or postage costs for trading review games for something that caught my eye (this is how I picked up Descent and Robinson Crusoe for the unlikely-looking prices of £3.90 and £7.79 respectively). Only Runebound and Rune Age involved a straightforward, old-fashioned, “give a stranger some money and they give you a game” transaction, and those were done via Facebook and EBay rather than the FLGS.

NewHitsIt’s still relatively rare for a review game to be a big hit, be kept long-term, and not prompt further spending – so far, Gloom of Kilforth, Dungeon Time, Battle for Greyport, and Arcadia Quest are the winners here, although Arcadia Quest doesn’t get a LOT of play, and may end up moving on eventually, whilst Gloom of Kilforth will probably one day find itself in the “had money spent” category once the inevitable expansion gets Kick-started.

Kickstarter

I wanted to make Kickstarters their own category, simply because the time-lag between spending the money and receiving the game tends to be so big, that it skews other categories. Right now I’ve got 6 Kickstarters I’m waiting on, plus 1 received a few weeks ago – only 2 of those are even aiming to deliver in the same year they were funded. Hopefully though, lumping together the money spent on this year’s Kickstarters and the time spent playing last year’s (and 2015s, if they ever arrive…) will go some way towards providing a sense of how much value these are.

AeonsBox
The new version comes with the promise of a more sensible box where the boards don’t have to balance on top…

Of the games I’ve categorised as “Kickstarters,” one arguably belongs more in the “expanding reviews” category – War Eternal, the second wave of content for Aeon’s End. However, this didn’t feel quite right overall: the extra money I’ve spent on Aeon’s End is all on stuff I haven’t played (because it hasn’t arrived), which made a lot more sense under the kick-starter heading. Admittedly, all the time I’ve spent playing Aeon’s End is just using content I’d already received, but once the new stuff arrives, I can’t imagine keeping everything separate, so it will ultimately need logging together- having it all go under Kickstarter seemed the simplest, as well as the way to leave the overall numbers least skewed.

Looking Forward

MassiveRight now it’s interesting to try to think how this new categorisation will evolve over the rest of the year. I definitely expect the Kickstarter category to grow (it’s already grown a fair bit whilst I’ve been re-drafting this article): I’m really enjoying Massive Darkness, and whilst I’m a lot less enthused about Apocrypha than I was when I backed it, I still plan on playing it a fair bit, to try to get a sense of whether what I’ve been waiting for all this time has been worth it. Assuming War Eternal and Gloomhaven show up with a decent chunk of 2017 left they should be making their mark too.

As already mentioned, some new games simply weren’t around early in the year (at the start of April, I didn’t own Runewars, Runebound, Gloom of Kilforth, Descent or Massive Darkness, but they’ve clocked up over 55 hours of table time since), so it will be interesting to see whether they form a larger part of play-time as the year goes on.

Efficient Spending?

If I look only at games which have had money spent on them (i.e. ignoring altogether anything owned by someone else, or in the same state it was at the end of last year), then spending on old games is massively more efficient than on any other category- 43% of the money, 70% of the time. Spending on new things is more-or-less even – 16% of the money and 15% of the time. KS is a way down with 42% of the money and only 13% of the time [despite what my rounding might suggest, this is a zero-sum situation, so any improvement for KS will have to come at the expense of one of the others].

Kickstarter is a tricky beast to evaluate. Looking at the game that’s arrived, and the one that’s (probably) due next then, even totalling together all the money I actually spent on my pledge with and a notional amount of interest on top of it, I’ve still spent less that it would cost to pre-order the bits that are available at retail, (never mind any KS exclusives), but that won’t be the case for all projects, and it completely ignores the question of whether or not I would have bought anything beyond the base game if buying at retail (by and large the benefit seems to be fairly marginal on base games, but with expansions bundled together at a knock-down rate). As the next instalment in my intermittent Kickstarter series, I’m planning on taking a more in-depth look at Massive Darkness (probably in about a month or so), and other games will probably get similar treatment in due course, so I won’t say too much more right now on specific games.

Final Thoughts

There’s a danger with every new spreadsheet I concoct that it becomes something over formalised that takes the fun out of the gaming, but this has been an interesting exercise. I probably won’t write on this topic again at length, but may revisit it in future monthly round-ups.