April Games

Only a few days later than planned, here’s a short update on a fairly quiet month…

 

10 of 10

MountainsApril had always seemed like it would be the month where I got to 10 of 10 – a fairly long way ahead of last year. I was on 8 of 8 at the end of March, and most of those 8 were already at 10 plays. Playing Legendary once more, managing to get in another couple of games of Eldritch Horror (new expansion for my birthday), and making it along to Destiny night for the first time in ages all had me right on the cusp.

Dice Masters was still hovering precariously on the brink, leaving me with 99 out of the 100 games played, in the end, we didn’t have enough people turn out for Rainbow Draft (Just me & the organiser), but we got a few games in, and that was the tenth one done.

 

Despite getting 100 games ticked off for the 10 of 10, April was a struggle overall. Having settled in at home, my son decided that sleep was an optional extra he largely wouldn’t bother with, only being coaxed into brief naps on me or on his mother: mildly frustrating during the day, and horrendous at night where my wife was regularly getting by on only an hour or two a night. Strangely enough, when dawn rolled around she had other priorities besides gaming.

Star-Trek-Frontiers-Board-Game-Box
Not for us in the end, but managed to swap it for a copy of Descent, which is pretty good going.

In that light, it made a lot of sense that April was a fairly quiet time on the “Unplayed” front – I finally managed to get Star Trek Frontiers played, reviewed, and traded away (much too dense a game), and also crossed off Dominion and Mapominoes, which still left 17 games left to play.

 

As I’ve said plenty of times before, 10 of 10 is just a guideline for trying to ensure a rounded approach to board-gaming, and “unplayed” is just an attempt not to waste money (or shelf space) – I’ll continue to monitor the collection, and what gets played over the coming weeks.

 

Themes

Sherlock-Jack-the-Ripper-Board-Game-Box
Jack the Ripper, not for the weak-stomached

Thematically, April was fairly heavily dominated by Fantasy, with 38% of time, and 48% of all gaming sessions occupied by this – within Fantasy, Gravehold (the setting for Aeon’s End) and Middle Earth each clocked up just under a quarter of the time, with the biggest individual setting being “generic” Fantasy (Dominion, Dungeon Time etc). Zombies were the next biggest area, followed by a healthy slice of all things Sherlock Holmes, and a sprinkling of Sci-Fi.

Mechanically things were a bit less clear – Completing Quests, Surviving Monsters, Solving Mysteries and generally saving the world were the big categories, racking up over 85% of time with their somewhat overlapping games. “Build the Best Place” was the only noticeable stand-out, at just over 10% of sessions, 7% or so of time.

 

Still brewing…

QuestionThere were a few noticeable shifts in April, games which found new games, new avenues of play, or whole areas opened up like Pandora’s Box. Most of them, however, I’m going to leave for another time – games that have only just arrived, or which warrant articles of their own. In this new, baby-filled world, I don’t want to promise anything, but I’m hoping that those articles are going to be ready sometime in May (or June, or later…)

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…

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.

A new year: 5 of 5

2017 Gaming got off to a good start in January: 25 different games played, and already a few racking up repeat plays. I thought I’d offer a quick run-down of a few of the different things I’ve been tracking.

5 of 5

Not surprisingly, I’m still some way from getting anything up to 10 plays for the year, but I have passed a few mini milestones.

deadeyes
It’s good that this still gets lots of play. Maybe one day I’ll even finish the painting…

“Play 1 Once” I managed on New Year’s Day (Elder Sign being the first game out of the box this year), and “2 Twice” a few days later as both Star Wars Destiny and Zombicide made repeat appearances.

“3 of Three” took a bit longer to pin down – Legendary and Zombicide got there relatively quickly, but they had to wait for a third to join them (Eldritch Horror felt like it had earned a place on the list after a normal game with two of us, as well as an epic 5-hour, 8-player session but, as Gimli would say of the big game- “that still only counts as one.” Instead, it was beaten to the punch by Elder Sign.

“4 of Four” was where things started to get a bit skewed – some games were already past the mark, with 5 or more plays, but getting a 4th game past 2 or 3 proved a bit of a sticking point, especially when a game like Eldritch or Mansions needs several hours at a time to be played. In the end it was Destiny that got me there as I manged to make it to another meet-up.

By the time it came to “5 of Five” things were starting to look fairly familiar, with the usual suspects making up the list: Legendary, Elder Sign and Zombicide, got there first, with Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror lagging just behind.

By the end of the month, it looked like this:

1 of 1 01/01/2017 Elder Sign
2 of 2 04/01/2017 Zombicide, Destiny
3 of 3 13/01/2017 Legendary, Zombicide, Elder Sign
4 of 4 Zombicide, Elder Sign, Legendary, Destiny
5 of 5 Legendary, Elder Sign, Zombicide, Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror

 

Some of those games have made it up to 6 or 7, and there will be more to come from them in the coming months, no doubt.

2017 actually got off to a much slower start than last year, although with hindsight January 2016 does look like a bit of a freak occurrence – in the whole of 2016 there were only 17 instances of a single game getting played 10+ times in a month, and 5 of those came in January, with Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary and Game of Thrones LCG all making it into double figures at the first attempt. It was the most prolific month of the year overall, with 90 total games played, and there’s really no disgrace in failing to repeat those numbers – 71 games for January 2017 feels more than respectable.

 

Un-played

As I mentioned when doing the 2016 wrap-up, I won’t be keeping a running “un-played” list in quite the same way as last year, if only because it would only have 2 games on it if I did (just for completeness sake, both have been crossed off). That said, I still want to keep track of the games I haven’t played yet this year, even if that will be “most of them” for the first little while.

The Hobbit and Trivial Pursuit found their way to the Charity Shop, 23 games actually got played, and I sold a handful of small games that were “fine” but unlikely to ever have people clamouring to play them. Not a massive financial windfall, but it frees up a little space, and hopefully the games have gone to somewhere they’ll be better appreciated.

The whole area of removing the un-played, by sale or by play, is the one place where I have out-done January 2016, and if I sustain this rate, I’ll have played everything I own by the end of March!

 

Money for Nothing

2017 has also started well for keeping above the red line in terms of the cost of my gaming. I’d already started scaling back my Memoir ’44 collection in the autumn, and I sold another couple of bits in January – thanks to them being out-of-stock, I got about double what I would have originally paid for these, meaning that gaming is a hobby I’ve actually made money from at this point. I don’t expect this to still be the case by the end of the year, but it’s certainly nice to be given a bit of a head-start in game-play over spending.

lovecraftjan
I can’t even find the Dunwich box, so instead, here’s the Elder Sign expansion I got my wife for Christmas…

Mid-January saw a wave of new Arkham Files content – Beyond the Threshold was the first “proper” expansion for Mansions 2nd ed., (the others were technically “tile and figure” packs) and there were multiple releases for the LCG, with both the Dunwich Legacy deluxe box, and the Curse of the Rougarou stand-alone scenario appearing. I managed to resist getting Dreamlands for Eldritch Horror, and picked it up as a review copy, along with Beyond the Threshold, so it was only the LCG where I actually shelled out a significant amount of money.

the-dwarves-board-game-4th-defenceI also picked up the Combined Might expansion for The Dwarvesthis is a fun little co-op based on a set of German Fantasy Novels, with a number of clever and innovative mechanics that really make it stand out. That said, there are a few pinch-points in the base game – 90% of the Quest cards which drive the flow of the game are the same every time you play, and the expansion was well worth the tenner it cost to more than double the number of possibilities in this area.

In the immediate aftermath of buying the new stuff, all the games I had spent money on were looking like bad value for the year – fortunately this was generally in pretty low numbers, and aside from the LCG, everything was clawed back to within a fairly small margin of difference by the end of the month. I know from experience that LCGs can get expensive quickly and whilst I’m not too worried about having shelled out on the first 2 expansions at once, I will be keeping a careful eye on this one, just to make sure it continues to justify its place.

 

Themes

destiny-villains
Thanks to a spot of trading, I can finally put together a viable villains deck

Zombies maintained their strong positions from last year, with Zombicide remaining the most-played game, and spanning some fairly hefty sessions to boot. Overall though, it was Lovecraft that dominated January, thanks to that flood of content: It ultimately accounted for well over a third of sessions, and nearly half of all gaming time in the month. Comics and Fantasy were still notable elements, but definitely a smaller portion of the time spent gaming than in previous years.

Mechanically, Surviving the Monsters was a full third of what we did (up to 45% when measuring by time). Mystery Solving was a consistent 22% whether measured by time or by session. World-saving, Quest Completion and Villainous Plot-stopping were the other significant activities. “Kill the other side” was also a more significant chunk than has previously the case, thanks to Destiny – 13% by session

Closing Thoughts

Obviously, I don’t expect these trends to continue all year, particularly not the crossing off of ‘unplayed’ games – After all, it’s much easier to play a game on the list when all the games are on the list. Some games will always be more of a struggle to get to the table than others and as the year goes on it becomes more-and-more likely that those are what will be left on the list. I don’t know right now whether it’s possible to make a profit out of gaming for the entire year, but I certainly intend to keep new spending a lot lower than previous years. Lastly, spread-sheets or otherwise, I’ll be continuing to stay mindful of what actually gets played, and looking at what needs to happen to those games which don’t.

What are you playing at?

A question of theme and mechanic

 

At various points throughout 2016, and again in the end-of-year review, I talked about which games I played, and how much.

As a final musing on this topic before I lay 2016 to rest, I’ve been thinking about something a little different – less focus on the specific name of the game, and a more general consideration of the theme or the overall aim.

Theme

topfantasyTheme was the easiest one to do: 37% of what I played was Fantasy, 16% Comics-based, 14% Zombies, 9% Lovecraft, 6% abstract (I won’t bore you with all of the tiny details).

As Fantasy was so large, I decided to break it down further: 30% Pathfinder/Golarion, and 30% Middle Earth. 16% was Game of Thrones/Westeros, another 16% “generic” and a few odds and ends to round things out.

lovecraftsGiven how much I’ve talked about Lovecraft on here over the past 6 months, I was surprised at how low this was – although, that “9%” still accounts for 68 sessions of gaming.

The other numbers were no great shock: Fantasy would have been one I expected to see high on the list, and Zombicide is our most-played game of 2016. Comics isn’t a common theme – it only really applies to Dice Masters and Legendary, but those are the 4th and 5th most-played games, so together they still count for a fair chunk.

allzombies
Something of a theme for 2016 in our house.

Of course, it’s never quite that simple. Play-counts and play-times are 2 very different things, and given the way my spreadsheets seem to breed tabs exponentially, it was inevitable that I’d end up looking at those too. Using the same play-session lengths I’ve been using to measure cost:value on games, I ran the numbers again.

Fantasy dropped somewhat, to 30%, and Zombies took a big jump up to 24% (Zombicide is a fairly long game). Comics went down slightly from 16% to 12%, and Lovecraft sneaked up into 3rd place with 13%. Sci-Fi also overtook Abstract for 5th place (lots of short abstract games), but neither accounted for more than 5% of the total.

 

Mechanic

“Theme” was fairly easy to deal with as a category – it’s not that difficult (mostly) to decide whether a game is about Pirates or Zombies, whether it takes place in a Fantasy Setting, a Sci-Fi world, or a Comic-Book.

Mechanic was trickier. For the most part, I don’t own multiple games with identical mechanics or, if I do, they get classified as the same game – as I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve struggled slightly with consistency in this area, but overall, it seems reasonable to say that Ticket to Ride Europe and Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries are basically the same – the most “similar” games I have are ones that only narrowly miss out on being lumped together- like Pandemic and Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu, or Carcassonne and Carcassonne Star Wars.

In an attempt not to have 90 different mechanics for 93 different games played this year, I attempted to lump things together in some fairly generic groups. After a lot of struggle, I managed to narrow it down to a number somewhere in the teens – roughly ten major categories and a few minor ones.

My biggest realisation was that there would be games which spanned 2 categories (I tried never to go beyond 2) as they were essentially a mixture of the 2, and it wouldn’t serve any purpose to create a new category.

Dominion-Storage-Card-Game
(Deck)-Build the best place?

The major categories include things like Build the best place – a broad description that covers games like 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, Carcassonne (either version), but can also include games like Blood Rage or Age of Conan where build up your empire engine is vital for winning the military conflicts.

Complete the Quest Together is a cover-all term for a range of Co-ops. It includes all table-top RPGs, meaning it scores very highly on the time-weighted version of things, but also includes Pathfinder, LotR LCG, and lighter things like Shadows Over Camelot or Avalon.

Find the Traitor exists almost exclusively as a sub-group of the ‘complete the quest’ group, but was still just-about numerous enough to be significant.

Get the most stuff is another broad category, and covers treasure-acquisition games like Karuba and HMS Delores, loot-focused Dungeon Crawls, Pit, even Zombie Dice (get the most brains!)

versusKill the other side is a pretty straightforward description – it covers historical wargames, along with most head-to-head duelling type games: Dice Masters and Game of Thrones make it a much bigger part of the year than I expected, and Star Wars Destiny is the newest addition to the genre.

Make Words covers Scrabble, Bananagrams and Boggle – it does more-or-less what it says on the tin.

Save the World is one where things can start to get slightly complex – I’ve used it to cover most things in the Pandemic family, along with world-spanning co-ops like Thunderbirds and Eldritch Horror. It also ended up taking in one or two which didn’t quite fit elsewhere, where the emphasis more on saving even if scale was decidedly less-than-global.

Solve the Mystery covers lots of Lovecraftian games (most of which ended up being in multiple categories), any of the choose-your-own-adventure styles games (Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Mythos Tales), and even some more abstract lines like Beyond Baker Street.

CivilWarStop the Villainous Plot was a category created solely for Marvel Legendary – I was happy enough to put Firefly Legendary in the “complete the quest together” section, as the players have game-by-game objectives to complete. In the Marvel version though, the players’ job is simply to take down the Mastermind before he can finish you. “Kill the other side” didn’t feel quite right, nor did Survive the Monsters (players must do more than just survive), or Save the World (this is probably the closest). At the moment, it sits at about 7%, just because Legendary gets played a lot, but it may ultimately get absorbed into another category.

Survive the Monsters is Zombicide, a lot of Lovecraft, and a few other odds and ends – obviously most of these will have specific win conditions on top, but holding off the monsters felt like a key element.

Tell Stories is a simple enough idea – it covers a lot of party/social games like Dixit, Braggart or Balderdash.

The last category big enough to not simply get absorbed into “other” is “Win.” Obviously, one level, this is the objective of almost every game, but it felt particularly fitting for a game like Munchkin, or for Fluxx, where the objective is constantly shifting. I used it to categorise Discworld Ankh-Morpork, where players all have different win conditions (area control, money, mayhem, and just running the clock down), and Ticket to Ride, just because I couldn’t think where else to put it.

The biggest categories were Complete the Quest Together (25%) and Survive the Monsters (22%). Kill the Other Side accounted for 16% of games this year, with “Solve the Mystery” and Get the Most stuff” finishing off the top 5 – although if “Stop the Villainous plot” does get merged into “Save the world” that will claim 4th. Build the Best Place and Make Words are the only others accounting for more than 2% of the total.

Again, I also ran the numbers when adjusted for time. The length of Zombicide sent “Survive the Mosnters” soaring to 38% and top-spot, ahead of the slightly smaller 20% for Complete the Quest. Get the Most Stuff suffered the most from this way of looking at things (lots of short games of Zombie Dice), with only Kill the Other Side and Solve the Mystery keeping their hold on a double-figures score (although, again, Stop the Villainous Plot + Save the World would be up on 12%, 4th overall).

 

Although it was more complicated to assemble (foolishly, I created the spreadsheet a few weeks ago using hard-numbers, then had to wade back through and replace everything with hyperlinks, so that I didn’t have to type on 6 different sheets every time I played a game), I think I actually found this half of the exercise more useful/interesting. I’ve mentioned a few times that I think of us as a big co-op gaming household, so seeing “kill the other side” as the third biggest mechanic and 16% of our overall play was quite a surprise: as things stand, I’d expect that figure to be much lower next year, with Game of Thrones having gone, but that could change if Dice Masters proves more stable than this year (the mid-December tournament was cancelled when only 2 of us showed up), or if Destiny gets a solid foothold(the mechanics are so good, but the distribution model is so bad…)

I actually ran a final tally, dividing games into “good” (cooperative, being nice to each other), “bad” (fighting, trying to beat others) and “neutral” (storytelling, or things that came under “other”) roughly 2/3 of our games by session and ¾ by time fall into the “good” camp, which suggests that co-op is still the way to go for long games.

As I said at the start, this was the last article number crunching the games of 2016, and it will be a while before 2017 numbers are in any way meaningful (at one point on Sunday, 100% of all games played in 2017 began with “Eld”), but I’ll try to ensure plenty of other content over the coming weeks.

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!

 

Batman: not so Smelly after all

smellsIn a break from the recent tide of Arkham content, I wanted to drop in again on a topic that’s been a bit quiet on here for a while: Dice Masters.

It’s no secret that our local Dice Masters scene has been struggling for numbers: we managed a very successful Regional Championship at our FLGS back in November, but December’s tournament (open, constructed, but with prize-priority going to those using at least 4 dice from the recent Dr Strange set) was another flop with only me and one other turning up, not enough to run the event (in the end we had 1 game of Destiny then went home).

The Thursday between Christmas and New Year had been designated the Wizkids mega-day, and they were running events for Heroclix, Attack Wing, and various other games including, of course, Dice Masters.

After some long Facebook discussions, they’d settled on a 1-set-only constructed format – aside from AvX (banned for reasons of availability), you could bring dice from any set, so long as they were all from the same set. It was going to be touch and go again for numbers, but I like the team-building challenge that this sort of event creates, so I went along, armed with a team, plus a box from another set. In the end, there were only 2 of us: me plus the shop’s WizKids event organiser (he probably has an official title, but I don’t know it). One of our regulars was off with the flu, and his daughter is reliant on him for transport. Others were still busy with family etc. Still, I managed to give both my main and my back up teams a run-out, and wanted to share some thoughts on them.

Part I – Dawn of Justice

The set I had chosen for the event was Justice League – the third released overall, and the first DC (as opposed to Marvel) set. There are a good number of characters in the set with the Justice League affiliation, and they have a fair amount of synergy between them.

stargirlI’ve used variations on this build in the past – it can do quite well in limited formats (there’s a commons and starters only version which works quite well), but is just too slow for Regional-championship style events. For today though, I was optimistic.

I had also been wanting to take another look at this set since we did the DC Bombshells OP Kit a few months back – the OP Stargirl finally gave me a use for a set of dice that were otherwise doing nothing, and felt like it might add the missing ingredient this team needed.

In the end, I went with the following line-up:

  • Aquaman – Arthur Curry
  • Batarang – Tool of the Bat
  • Batman – World’s Greatest Detective
  • Firestorm – Atom Rearranger
  • Green Lantern – Willpower
  • Martian Manhunter – Green Martian
  • Stragirl – DC Bombshell
  • Wonder Woman – Champion of Themyscira

Basic Actions:  Assemble! and Teamwork

justice-leagueFirst two purchases for this build (dice permitting) are always Aquaman, who reduces the purchase cost of Justice League characters by one, and Wonder Woman, who reduces their field cost by one. All the characters in the team have the Justice League affiliation, and the Batarang is the only card without it.

Of the remaining characters, Stargirl spins herself and other affiliated characters up a level, Firestorm does a bit of targeted damage, ideal for clearing out sidekicks, or glass cannons like Quicksilver and Ant-Man (both of whom I ran into this time out). Manhunter has good numbers and overcrush, Batman gives you healing along with a bit of direct damage. Lastly, Green Lantern is the card half-elf Bard should have been: an attack boost for all your characters, but capped at 2, and on a 6-cost character, so a good closer, but not a turn-3 death sentence.

The basic action cards played very little part- I didn’t buy Teamwork, although it could have added a little to what I was doing – technically, of course, this is an OP card, and some might argue that it’s an AvX card, either way, I don’t think it would have made much difference if I’d removed it (also, I just really love this card- I once gave it a whole article to itself). Assemble! was mostly chosen as I thought it was too expensive for there to be much chance of it being using against me, but again, I think I would have got more use out of it than my opponent, if I had wanted to shell out the 5 needed.

kitty-constantine
Kitty never stuck around long enough to get Bataranged

As it turned out, for my control option, Constatine: Hellblazer would have been a better option than Batarang, as most of the damage I took came from Shadowcat, but overall, this team works well, so long as the game isn’t going to be over inside 5 turns. I won my first game, lost the second after a massive swing reduced him to 2, but left me with an open field, then won the last fairly comfortably by the time we’d both figured out what the other was trying to do and I was able to keep the field full until I could get the critical hit off.

 

Part II – Keeping it in the Family

allies
It was failure to launch for the flying Sidekicks last time out.

As there were only 2 of us there, after the first match was over, I threw together a team from the other set I’d brought with me, World’s Finest. Keeping the Jingle Bells theme going, I opted for a “Batman Family” team. I mentioned Alfred on here a few weeks ago, as a card I was really impressed with at Regionals, and after he failed to get his day in the sun alongside Wong in the flying Sidekick team I’d built for the Dr Strange event, he was my first pick, followed by the remarkably powerful Bruce Wayne Uncommon.

In the end, the team looked like this:

  • Alfred Pennyworth – MI5
  • Batgirl – Stealth bat
  • Batman – Natural Leader
  • Bruce Wayne – Matches Malone
  • Catwoman – Former Burglar
  • Commissioner Gordon – Rallying the GCPD
  • Oracle – Hacker
  • Robin – Kid Detective

Basic Actions – Teamwork, Vigilante Justice

batman-familyThis build definitely had a few kinks in it that could have done with a bit of play-testing to iron out. For one thing, Alfred is a 2-cost, 4-dice blocker with zero total field cost, making him an ideal early purchase – however, he’s also the only Shield character in the team, meaning it has a slight tendency to ramp into a dead end.

unblockableCatwoman and Batgirl are both hard to block, along with being cheap, but I mostly just sat them out in the field along with Oracle who I didn’t really use in the first game, but proved to be a real game-changer in the second.

Once you have a string of Batman family characters fielded, Batman himself can be recruited for very little (I don’t think I ever paid more than 2), while Bruce Wayne – probably the card in this set that feels almost broken – is the ideal companion to get him into play, and damage your opponent at the same time.

I like the variety of options that this build has – you can get a lot of damage through from Barbara and Selina if your opponent sticks out a wall of sidekicks, or you can overwhelm them by building up weight of numbers, with some characters getting really big (Robin is a 6A, 4D minimum when Batman is out). In the second game, I used teamwork for a massive swing, and even managing to block half a dozen of the biggest hitters, 4x Alfred the Butler for 25 damage was an impressive sight to behold.

dick-grayson-brand-new-batFor something flung together in a few minutes, this build acquitted itself really well. There are other characters that tempt me from the Batman family – either the rather expensive rare Dick Grayson (6 cost but gets +2A, +2D and becomes (essentially) unblockable when a Bat-family dice is KO-ed), or one of the various versions of Nightwing, who all deal damage to target characters when they attack – I think the play here is to take the common Nightwing, and have him take out one of your own characters as he attacks, to ensure maximum Grayson carnage. Of course, the difficulty with those changes (aside from not owning the rare) is what to swap out – probably Commissioner Gordon and Catwoman would give way, along with Batgirl for the super-rare version would be the optimum version.

As an aside, it’s also worth mentioning the amount of double-duty you have people doing in this team – Bruce Wayne, Batman, Dick Grayson, Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl and Oracle – they may look like 7 characters, but they could easily be only 3 different people!

 

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed getting some games of Dice Masters in, and in particular getting in some games with dice that don’t hit the table all that often. As far as I’m aware Oracle is the only card across the 16 which gets a regular spot in top constructed teams, although my estimation of Alfred as a blocker continues to go up – he just doesn’t go away.

For 2017, I think the store will be pushing Dice Masters events fairly heavily again, and hopefully the local player-base will be back to a state of health. I know for a fact that neither of these teams would have been quick enough to survive in an open format, so I hope we continue to do various limited formats – I’d be keen to see an “any Marvel” or “any DC” event (they could even do “Any D&D” although I wouldn’t be taking part in that one).

As a final Christmas cherry on top of the afternoon’s gaming, I walked away with 2 very nice cards as a reward for my efforts (in turning up, more so than in winning). Neither of these are cards I use particularly often, but they’re certainly both playable, and it’s nice to have something unique to show for the day.

foils