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.

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Pecunia populi vox dei

(based on very rusty GCSE Latin, “The Money of the People is the Voice of God”)

Monopoly is a rubbish game. It often makes me sad that a lot of people think that’s what Board Gaming is.

Rising SunLots of other games aren’t rubbish, but they’re not for me. Rising Sun, a recent CMON Kickstarter, is a Diplomacy-style game of shifting alliances and careful negotiation for 3-5. Not playable with 2 (or 1), not cooperative, it was never going to be something for us.

That’s a shame – the Samurai + fantastical elements theme really caught my attention, and I monitored this one for a while, in the hope that they would announce some kind of variant / option that would bring it into scope. But they didn’t and I moved on.

l5r(I will rely instead on a brief obsession with Legend of the Five Rings this summer autumn, poring over gorgeous artwork and lamenting the fact that I will never be able to afford to visit rural Japan, before that too gets abandoned like every other competitive LCG because I can’t get to down to the FLGS reliably enough to play regularly…) [/tangent]

 

Increasingly though, it seems like my approach to the campaign – watching hopefully, then resigning and moving on – is an unusual thing to do. More-and-more, the approach is to request, demand, or simply berate until a designer changes their mind to suit your tastes – or until you run out of energy and give up.

That process – which at best could be considered constructive feedback and collaboration, and at worst descends into entitled sulking and name-calling, is what I want to look at today. How does the creative process for a game on Kickstarter differ from any other game?

 

Finished?

The thing about making a game through Kickstarter (or any other form of crowd-funding), is that you’re not just presenting people with a finished product, you’re asking them to invest in a concept.

Now for a good Kickstarter, that concept will be very well thought-out, extensively play-tested and soforth: having good gameplay videos, or a review copy in the hands of a well-known games-blogger are both major elements in ensuring the success of a Kickstarter. Still, the fact remains that you haven’t actually made it yet, and that gives people the impression that things are still up for grabs.

NotAStoreIt’s also worth saying that (officially) people on Kickstarter aren’t just buying a game, they are investing in your idea – and that will give a lot of them the sense that they now have a right to tell you how to make your game.

Going back through the Rising Sun threads [On Board Game Geek – I lack the sanity to wade through 34k+ KS comments], I was actually surprised at how few there were clamouring for a co-op version, but there were still plenty of threads demanding 2-player options, less “racist” language and iconography (some in the game itself, but mostly in the marketing) more properly-dressed female figures, more mostly-undressed female figures and so on.

Obviously, looking at it from the outside, with a little bit of cold detachment, you can see how ridiculous it is for one person to cancel their $100 pledge as a protest at the way a $4.5 million project is being run – my personal favourite thread was this one.

I think there’s certainly a lot more chatter these days about any not-yet-released game, and how the fans think the designers should make it better, than there used to be. Still, it feels like Kickstarting a game gives people a sense that they have more of a right to tell you how to make your game to suit them.

Add-onsDone right, the interaction between designer and backer can be a good channel for market research, and have some sensible benefits. For example the Aeon’s End: War Eternal campaign offered an add-on pack with dice to use as life-counters, and it seems to have largely been down to Kickstarter comments that these will now be spin-down dice (adjacent numbers next to each other). However, when you start to believe that $100 gives you the right to tell a company that their entire business model is wrong, it may be time to stop and think for a moment.

 

Investment or Pre-order?

Notionally, Kickstarter is still about investing in an idea – Creators pitch that idea to backers, and offer them bonuses for investing now and making that project happen, rather than waiting for retail.

GreenHordeForumsIn reality, the scope of what a project is, is a lot broader than that. At one end of the scale, Cool Mini Or Not are one of the biggest Kickstarter producers, and a lot of people have commented on the fact that a CMON Kickstarter can feel a lot more like a simple pre-order than like a proper project to back an otherwise infeasible project. You expect delays, but it would be a major shock if a CMON Kickstarter failed to deliver altogether.

If I pre-order a game from the FLGS, I don’t expect to be able to influence how that game comes packaged, or how it plays and, if that’s the case, I shouldn’t have any more expectation that I can do so when pre-ordering online.

But, however much it might look, or feel like that, a Kickstarter project is still (officially) not just a pre-order, even when it’s a $4 million project with a projected delivery time-frame of only 3 months (looking at you Gloomhaven). In that context, people are always going to ask for additional things they want.

Behind the Scenes?

Most big Kickstarter projects these days will have a fairly complex marketing strategy, designed to ensure a strong start, retain interest over the course of the campaign, and hopefully generate a last-minute surge. This will lead to a broad sprinkling of updates and stretch goals, with information being held back and released at strategic moments.

One issue with this limited flow of information, is that it makes it very difficult to say with certainty what was prepared before the campaign began, and what was only added late in the day, as a response to ongoing feedback – was stretch goal #10 really a response to what people were clamouring for? Or just a happy opportunity for the creator to add a bit of spin, when announcing something that they had had planned all along.

HedgesZombicide: Green Horde had a mammoth campaign, which finished recently in dramatic fashion, breaking the $5 million barrier with 2 minutes left!! Unlike previous editions of Zombicide, Green Horde features hedges and barricades – some hedges printed on the terrain boards, and a handful more represented by cardboard tokens that can be added as a scenario requires. The offer of a hedge-and-barrier pack to make these 3D was clearly planned all along. When people then clamoured for the opportunity to buy more hedges (without extra barriers), so that they could replace all the hedges, (not just the token ones) with 3D models, I’m prepared to believe that CMON genuinely did re-think their plans, and offer more of the same components in a slightly different arrangement.

Massive By contrast, from very early on, there were lots of people who wanted a crossover pack to use their Green Horde figures in Massive Darkness – sure enough it was unveiled in the final week of the campaign, prompting a little surge in pledges. That doesn’t mean for a moment that I think CMON didn’t have it planned all along, just a lot of experience in how to manage people’s interest in a KS campaign.

The point where I start to suspect that they may actually be making things up as they go along is when they announce new figures and don’t have sculpts ready for them – the 3D renders of the Ultimate Survivors in the Green Horde campaign hint at that for me, and ”Reptisaurians” (Lizard-men) from Massive Darkness came as concept art only – now they really look like something put together at the last moment. 

 

“Your chance to get involved!”

flavour textOne area where it does seem easier to prove that the community are influencing the final product is when campaigns contain backer competitions: to take another recent example, the Aeon’s End: War Eternal campaign featured Board Game Geek competitions to name one card, and to write the flavour text for another. Now, obviously these are fairly minor (and crucially non-mechanical) tweaks to the game, but they do serve to foster a greater sense of involvement among backers.

Inviting comment is a double-edged sword though: for one thing, a lot of people were fairly disappointed with the outcome of some of these contests, especially as the creators seemed to simply pick their favourite from amongst the various suggestions, rather than allowing a public vote, or even basing their decision on the number of Likes and positive comments. At this point the cynic starts to wonder: was that a real member of the public who posted the winning suggestion? Or a fake account from the creators to ensure that they didn’t have to change anything as a result of their own competition (just to clarify, I don’t think that’s what happened here).

Backlash

Garak_(Star_Trek) Ultimately, the more Creators try to engage backers in the project, the more they open themselves up to criticism when they don’t change their game to suit the whims of the public. For every clever little fix the backers suggest, they can expect a whole handful of crackpot suggestions to re-design the game to do something completely different, to replace the components with Obsidian, or translate it into Klingon (not the same game – if they were replacing the components with Obsidian, then you would translate into Cardassian. Obviously.)

I think it’s also worth remembering that in all of these types of forums, it tends to be a vocal minority who do most of the commenting – this can lead to situations, where a dozen or so people clamour for something, and generate the impression of an irresistible tide of feeling, when 95% of people are happy with things as they are, and are just keeping quiet about it. Green Horde had over 100,000 comments by the time the campaign was over, but it wouldn’t surprise me for a moment to learn that at least half of those comments came from a dozen or so people. This is certainly my sense of what happened with Aeon’s End: the graphic design on the first edition was fine, but the people who liked it didn’t feel the need to post endless threads on BGG and the like demanding it be kept the same (why would you?) in this context, those who pressed for change would have sounded like an overwhelming majority.

Comments
Strangely, I couldn’t find the comment I was looking for amongst 105 thousand others!!

I think that listening to backers has the potential to be a great resource for Game Designers and Creators. However, mob rule is only going to get you an incoherent or perennially delayed game, and there must come a point where they know their own mind, and know when to stick with their decisions.

Like most backers, whilst I recognise that KS projects are not there to suit my every whim, I generally wish that communication was more frequent, and clearer. Even there though, Creators have better things to do than report on design and development events in minute detail, and sometimes a silence is just a silence.

 

That’s about all I wanted to touch on today, and it brings me to the end of this little mini-series on Kickstarter. I’m sure it’s an area I’ll touch on again, probably around the autumn, by which time (hopefully) I’ll actually have my hands on some of the various games I’ve backed.

Value for Kicks

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

 

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

 

Apocrypha

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numenera

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

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

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

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

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

 

Massive Darkness

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

massive-darkness-preview1

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

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

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

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

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

 

Legends Untold

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Future

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

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

Gloomhaven

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

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

Aeon’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Horde

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

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

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

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

March: 8 of 8

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

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

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

8 of 8

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

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

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

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

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

Aeon’s Beginning

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

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

Turn of the Century: Zombicide

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

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

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

 

Gathering Dust

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

 

What, How and How Much?

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

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

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

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

 

Looking forward

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

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

A 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.

Zombicide Black Plague: Zombie Bosses Expansion Review

What’s that coming over the hill?

bossboxPreviously here on Fistful of Meeples, I’ve reviewed some additional assistance for the Survivors in Black Plague, through the extra Vault Weapons available via NPC box 1. Now it’s time to even things up by offering reinforcements for the forces of darkness through the Zombie Bosses box. This expansion comes with 3 new unique Abominations, and the cards and tokens needed to use them in a game of Zombicide: Black Plague.

Abominations: The Basics

Abominations are the largest and the toughest of the Zombies in the base game – whereas Walkers and Runners can be killed with any weapon, and Fatties need something that does 2 Damage, Abominations are damage 3 monsters: In the base game, there are no 3-damage weapons, meaning you have 2 possibilities.

  • Get Sampson, wielding a hammer (or some other 2-damage weapon) up to the Red Level where he can choose the “Melee: +1 Damage” skill.
  • Discard a “Dragon Bile” Equipment card and a “Torch” equipment card in the Abomination’s space, to start Dragon Fire.

The first retail expansion for Zombicide: Wulfsburg brought new options. The Vampire Crossbow, a weapon that any Survivor above Blue level can wield is a 3-damage weapon, and kills Abominations straight out. There are also various weapons (Chaos Longbow, Flaming Great-Sword, Dragon-Fire Blade) which make it easier to start a Dragon Fire, and the Earthquake Hammer, a 2-damage Weapon which goes up to 3 damage on a roll of 6.

In return for these extra ways to kill Abominations, Wulfsburg gave you the Wolfbomination. Like a normal abomination, but 3 times as fast.

Now, “Wave 2” has hit. Between the Kickstarter content (much of it available via eBay etc if you weren’t a backer), and the gradual release of retail expansions, there are now any number of ways to get to 3 damage, via character abilities, and new weapons.

That’s where the Zombie Bosses come in: with all these ways to kill their champions, the Zombies need more bosses, and more powerful ones at that. Let’s see what this box has to offer.

 

Unboxing

bosscontentsWhen you open the box, the first thing you see is the 3 Miniatures for the new bosses. Miniatures is a word I use loosely. The Ablobination is only about the height of a normal Abomination (although it does have a very long arm), but the Abominatroll and the Abominatour are both massive, towering over even the Wolfbomination.

My first impressions on the miniatures were fairly mixed: on the one hand, they are clearly good quality figures, the detail is good, the construction looks solid (it’s disappointing, but completely understandable that the Abominatroll needs a support pin), and there was slightly less in the way of excess casting/misalignment than on most of the other packs I’ve bought.

troll-blobThat said, neither the Abominatroll, nor the Ablobination particularly caught my imagination figure-wise. Abominations are supposed to be the results of crazed experiments on the part of evil Necromancers to create bigger and nastier foes, and that was something you could see easily in the standard Abomination and the Wolfbomination. Here by contrast, we’re lacking a frame of reference for what a ‘normal’ troll looks like before you abominate it, and the Ablobination is just plain weird.

minotaurNone of that particularly bothered me, because I think the third miniature in the box is just brilliant.

Whilst we don’t have a non-abomination version of a Minotaur, I think it’s an easy enough concept to imagine, that it’s easy to see what a great job they’ve done with the Abominatour. Where the Ablobination is just sort of sitting there, and the Abominatroll is lunging so wildly he needs propping up, the Abominatour is a perfect combination of a solid pose that still oozes dynamic energy. A definite winner for me.

 

Gameplay

Obviously, in a miniatures game like this, the sculpts are important, but as nice as the components may look, we wouldn’t still be getting bits for it the gameplay wasn’t fun, and the Zombie Bosses need to earn their keep in this regard too.

Abominatour

blackbook
We’re in!

As with the miniatures, so with the gameplay: the Abominatour was the one I was most excited to play. Unlike every other Zombie in the game, which needs to carefully navigate a path around buildings and through doors, the Abominatour works out where the noisiest square is, and he just goes there – destroying any walls which stand in his way (and meaning that any other zombie can now follow in his wake). The expansion comes with little cardboard tokens to mark the destruction he has wrought.

In practice, having an Abominatour on hand certainly changes the gameplay, sometimes dramatically. The fact that he can open up (and spawn) locked buildings, or smash through walls into places that would otherwise be inaccessible without specific objectives can really turn things on their heads. The most extreme example feels like it would be Welcome to Wulfsburg – where an Abominatour who spawns at the top of the map could change things very quickly (and make for a really short quest). We’ve also managed to break in to the central complex in The Black Book Without finding the required objective by using the Minotaur.

 

Troll and Blob

XuxaThe other two bosses definitely felt more like they were just more-powerful versions of the abomination: the troll gets extra activations if he can see you which makes him in to essentially a Wolfbomination will a little bit more strategy involved, whilst the Ablobination can only be destroyed with Dragon-Fire, taking you back to the core-box only days without 3-damage weapons.

The dragon-fire only restriction is particularly relevant if you’re bringing in lots of powerful survivors – In a game with Xuxa, an Abomination is just another big zombie (once she has Quicksilver Sword and +1 to dice roll combat, it’s pretty hard for her to miss), and pegging things back to a point where you need dragon fire felt like a good counterbalance.

 

Overall Thoughts

I’m definitely glad I bought this box. I’m not generally one of these people who find games “too easy” and if you chuck in all 12 spawn cards for the monsters in this box, you could quickly find yourself in trouble (we did that once. We died horribly). Used in moderation though, they have great potential to add variety to the game, and they do allow you to use some of the extra content which benefits survivors, without losing all the tension from the game.

A few months ago, I backed Cool Mini Or Not’s latest big Kickstarter project, Massive Darkness, including a Zombicide Crossover kit which includes card to use various monsters, including these 3 in the new game. I’m sure they’ll have plenty to keep them busy over the intervening 9 or so months, but it’s nice to know that there are fresh victims out there waiting to be eaten…

Painting

I’m slowly painting all my Zombicide figures. A lot of the Walkers and almost all of the Wolves are still awaiting the technicolour treatment, but something as spectacular as these guys went straight to the front of the queue.

bosseswipThat said, they were a challenge. For one thing, I’d never painted anything as big as the Abominataur or the Abominatroll (not with any level of detail, I seem to recall there was an Airfix Lancaster bomber 20 years ago…) beyond that, the colour scheme isn’t immediately obvious. There are images of all 3 of these in the rulesheet, but it’s hard to tell where to draw the line between “natural” colours and the thoroughly outlandish.

paintedIn the end I decided to keep the flesh on the Blob and the Minotaur fairly ‘natural’ – these are sufficiently weirdly shaped that there’s no need to make them lime green or shocking pink to convey their otherness. For the troll a selection of greyish green (based German Fieldgray, highlighted with “Grey Green”) seemed more fitting. I used a brighter metallic colour than normal to pick out the armour on the Minotaur, just because there’s so much otherwise uninterrupted flesh, and used a thin wash of red over all the bits that look like boils/swellings, as well as a few green tints, just to add an unhealthy look.

paintotaur

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with how these turned out. As always, the flagstone effect on the bases really seems to set the miniatures off. I’m under no illusion that these are a particularly high standard, and they’re certainly not about to win any painting awards (I lack the patience/skill for the many-layered highlighting and blending) but they look great for our games, and overall these Zombie bosses are a fun addition to an already brilliant game.

Zombicide Black Plague: NPC Box 1 Review

 

The Good, The Bad, and the Notorious

I’ve talked a few times here and there about Zombicide, including the series of slightly dark photos I posted the other week, but I’ve not yet done a proper review of any of the components. As mentioned before, the base game was reviewed on the GamesQuest site, and you can read that here. I decided it was time to change that, so from now on, I’m going to be posting my thoughts on the various new expansions that I pick up.

The first of the retail expansions* (not technically at retail yet) to hit my gaming table were the NPCs – with an obvious nod to the Non-Player Characters of Fantasy RPGs, these are Notorious Plagued Characters – a slightly more glamorous brand of zombie, with some new twists to offer the game. Let’s dive in, and see what we get in the box.

Unboxing

NPC Box 1 contains 20 Zombie figures (4 each of 5 different sculpts), 3 Vault Weapons, and the spawn cards needed to get those Zombies in to play. (There are also lots of duplicate cards in other languages, which are probably of limited use.)

Cards

VaultsSlightly unusually, I’m going to start with the Vault Cards. I loved Zombicide: Black Plague when I got it, and we played it to death (25 games in the first month), but the one place where it really felt limited was with the Vault Weapons. There were 2 in the game, and many scenarios place “2 random vault weapons” in the vaults – it just meant that there was no variety, and that as soon as you picked up the first one, you knew exactly what the other one was. If you found the Crossbow, you knew to send the Wizard to the other vault to get the spell.

Heavy Crossbow
Limitations aside, the ability to kill Abominations is always a bonus

For that alone, just having 5 instead of 2 is a great addition. The new cards themselves are an interesting mix: a Longbow that works at range and in Melee, a 3-damage crossbow, and a shield that works against Abominations. All potentially very useful, although with noticeable drawbacks compared to the original weapons (the shield doesn’t kill things, the crossbow is no use at point-blank range, and the Longbow is only 1 damage). Overall though, these cards seem like a great addition to the game.

Miniatures

The Miniatures themselves are a bit of a mixed bag: there were 5 different sculpts: A dwarf(?) in armour, a dancing girl, a torturer/jailer, a nurse, and a Moor (to use the Dark Ages terminology). First up, I’ll say that my pack of NPCs had some of the worst casting problems of any Zombicide minis I’ve yet received. For most of them, I had to spend a lot of time trimming with a scalpel and file, then fill with plastic putty, undercoat, and THEN go through the whole filling and filing process again. As I was going to paint the figures anyway, this added a fair amount of work, but did at least mean that I could get them to a fairly decent state – if you weren’t going to paint your miniatures, then these are some of the first Zombicide figures I’ve had which were mis-cast badly enough to be noticeable/offputting whilst sat unpainted on the table.

Female ZombiesMoving from production (it could well have just been a suspect batch) to the sculpts themselves, the NPCs certainly offer something a bit different from the standard walkers. There are two female walkers in the base game, both wearing fairly generic full-length dresses. The NPC box has a Nurse, who is carrying a good amount of kit for a zombie, and a Dancing Girl who (as you might expect) is wearing very little indeed.

JailerOf the three male figures, the Jailer/Torturer character is the most interesting, with a slightly garish expression, it does a good job of suggesting that he may not have been entirely sane when he was alive.

The Moor and the Armoured figure round off the set – with the Lore of Zombicide: Black Plague being a little hazy, I can’t say with certainty whether the chap in armour is meant to be a dwarf, or just a bit short and stout.

Overall, these were a fun set to paint, and being character figures, a good chance to introduce a bit more colour into the Zombie populace.

Gameplay

The official way to use the NPCs is to add their spawn cards to the deck, and spawn them as their own separate kind of zombie. When spawning an NPC, you select a figure at random from the reserve and, instead of simply returning it once killed, your survivor can discard 5 different NPC zombies, to choose a Vault Weapon from the box.

Arm-MoorAside from the special rules on spawning and collecting, NPCs function like Walkers, and if you ever run out of NPCs, you simply use walkers instead (although your survivor can discard NPCs at any time, back to the supply).

Playing with NPCs as written definitely makes the game easier. For one thing, you can have 5 Vault Weapons amongst your party, rather than the maximum of 2 which you tend to get from scenarios. The addition of the extra spawn cards for what are, functionally, more walkers also reduces the frequency with which you run into the nastier beasts of the spawn deck.

Whether you regard this as a good or a bad change is, obviously, rather more subjective. With all the additional Zombies we now have access to – Wolfz, and Zombies bosses at least, Crowz and Deadeyes if you’re a Kickstarter backer [or reading this a few months in the future], I think that having something which can make the game easier is a good corrective, and brings some of the harder scenarios back to a sensible point where they are playable.

Variants

It has been commented many times on places like Board Game Geek, that Zombicide feels a lot like a sandbox game: you can add, or choose not to add, any number of different expansion elements, and if those aren’t to your liking, you can make up your own rules. The simplest thing to do with NPCs, would be to use them as standard walkers (with or without the additional spawn cards), to add more visual variety, but the scope is almost endless, and I’ve seen suggestions for arming the NPCs with the Vault Weapon you would get from killing them, triggering all manner of additional effects, and no doubt a few more possibilities that I’ve just forgotten.

Bishops
I thought all-purple might get dull, so I promoted one to Cardinal

Whilst the rules for NPCs (official ones) are fixed, the distribution of zombies is rather more variable. NPC Box 1 contains 4 figures in each of 5 different poses. Personally, I also splashed out on 3 extra poses from a Kickstarter Backer, via Ebay, and there is another box out there, NPC 2, which adds a further 20 zombies in 5 more poses, and another 3 Vault cards.

I think the way we had things set up at the start, did make it too easy to get vault cards – I’d only painted 2 figures in each of the 8 poses, so the odds of getting duplicates were greatly lowered, and our survivors rapidly acquired the full set needed to cash in for a vault weapon. Moving back to 4 figures in each pose, normalises things slightly. There are still people who think that anywhere above the 5 poses you get in a single box makes it too easy to get a set, but it depends slightly on how you do the randomising: a fear of chipping painted miniatures seems to rule out “chuck them in a bag and grab one at random” so again, the suggested different ways of selecting seem to be endless. Personally, I just assigned a number from 1-8 to the different sculpts, then rolled a D8 to see which one I needed (re-rolling if all the miniatures of that number were already in play).

Snow WhiteThe Kickstarter NPCs certainly aren’t necessary from a gameplay perspective, but I think they are the best sculpts – the guy holding his own head is entertaining, the Bishop/Cardinal is a really characterful sculpt, and the woman who looks suspiciously like Disney’s Snow White is just plain hilarious (I have plans for that sculpt, leading mobs of dwarves when Massive Darkness arrives next year).

Verdict

At the moment, the only way to get your hands on NPC Box 1 (or 2) is to have been a Kickstarter backer, or to find someone else who was, and is selling. These will be on retail release at some point in the future, and as soon as they are, I think they are an essential purchase, probably the first one I’d get. The variety from extra vault cards alone adds so much replay-ability to the base game, and the option to ease the game’s difficulty allows you to really go to town with all those monster abominations.