Kickback: Aeon’s End

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

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

 

First of all, a bit of background.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Putting Together the Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers

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

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

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

Quality?

There is a difference in component quality between the editions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final thoughts

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

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This is Hardcore

Having managed 10 plays of 10 games by mid-autumn in 2016, and by the summer of 2017 (final tally, 23 games played 10+ times), I decided to step up the challenge slightly for 2018.

For those doing the ‘official’ 10×10 challenge on Boardgame Geek, there are 2 basic ways to play it – normal, which is what I’ve done for the last couple of years (although I don’t actually log plays on BGG), and hardcore.

Whereas with the normal challenge, you play games, then write down what you played, hardcore requires you to name 10 games in advance, then play them ten times – if you are organised, and only finalise your list part-way into the year, then only plays after the list is confirmed can count.

I thought that this was quite an interesting way to think about the future, and decided to do it.

ArkhamStorageArkham LCG and Zombicide were the first and probably the easiest to put on the list – if I don’t play these 10 times, something seismic will have changed. I decided to keep “Zombicide” as a single, cover-all term – it’s definitely possible that I’ll manage 10 plays of Black Plague and 10 of Green Horde, but chances are, I’ll end up mixing a lot of the stuff together.

LegaciesWe’d just finished February in our Pandemic Legacy Season 1 campaign when New Year rolled around, so barring a premature death (don’t even know if that’s a thing that can happen), that’s got at least another 10 games left in it, and to follow, we have Pandemic Legacy Season 2. I was slightly concerned that it might be seen as a con to count these as 2 separate entries, so ultimately decided to just list them once – Assuming I managed ten sessions of each, it should be fairly safe to have this ticking 1 box, whichever way you measure it.

AE-WE-KSLord of the Rings LCG has been steadily dwindling over the past few years, but I’m still pretty confident that it will get to the table 10 times. Aeon’s End hasn’t had quite as much table-time as I thought it might since we got the expansions, but it should still manage 10 without too much difficulty.

MassiveLegendary is always a perennial favourite, and Massive Darkness has only just finished the core box play-through, leaving much left to explore, including the new Ratlings I got for Christmas.

Elder Sign has been one of the steadiest games of 2017, and with a new expansion due in early 2018 , this should be another fairly easy 10.

How to round out the list was a bit of a puzzle – Eldritch Horror was a plausible candidate but committing to play a 2 ½ hour game 10+ times seemed risky. Dice Masters, L5R and Runewars are all too dependant on getting out of the house and finding opponents.

Streets-of-Arkham-Box
We’re still playing through the scenarios from the last expansion

In the end I went for Mansions of Madness as my 10th – there are still a couple of scenarios we’ve never beaten, plus 1 we haven’t tried yet, and 2 which are DLC and I haven’t shelled out the necessary fiver.

The last entry on the list was a late(ish) addition when I decided to only count Pandemic Legacy once. Gloomhaven will probably be slow and steady rather than a sudden rush of plays, but I think we’ll comfortably have plenty more than 10 by the time the year is out.

So, the final list looks like this:

  1. Arkham Horror LCG
  2. Zombicide
  3. Pandemic Legacy
  4. LotR LCG
  5. Legendary
  6. Aeon’s End
  7. Elder Sign
  8. Massive Darkness
  9. Mansions of Madness
  10. Gloomhaven

 

Although I’m only getting round to posting this now, I had finalised the list by the time New Year rolled around, meaning I’ve already clocked up 8 counting plays towards 100 needed.

I’ll continue doing my monthly updates in 2018, but will give a special mention to how these 10 are faring.

Just 17

A final look back at just the stuff which happened last year

 

Despite everything else that went on, 2017 was a good year for gaming. Over 750 sessions totalling almost 700 hours (should have played that final NYE game of Zombie Dice to tip me over the mark…).

That’s actually more hours than last year, although fewer games (and A LOT less TV to free up the time) In terms of what we had to play, there was a big stack of new games, plenty of new bits for existing games, and it was all done for only a 2-figure sum (net).

 

A – Z

A-Z Arkham Horror, new just before the end of last year, really came into its own in 2017, with the first full cycle released in its entirety, and the beginning of the next following after. It was easily the most-played game by number of sessions, clocking up over 60 outings.

In terms of time spent on a game, Zombicide retained its crown: although not quite as emphatic as last year, it hit the 100-hour mark, with Arkham in second barely clearing 50. A worthy winner overall.

Wide

2017 was a broader year than 2016, and a MUCH broader year than 2015. The top 10 games accounted for only 57% of overall gaming time, down from 66% last year, and 88% the year before (in fact, in 2015, the top 4 alone made up 79% of time). Whilst there was less of an intense focus on the top games, it did mean that for every position after 7th, I had more hours on the nth game than its counterparts from either of the previous years.

CanvasAt the final reckoning, I had an H-Index of 14 (that’s 14 games played 14 times) – Arkham LCG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Zombicide, Legendary, Aeon’s End, Elder Sign, Massive Darkness, Dominion, Pathfinder, Dice Masters, Eldritch Horror, Dungeon Time, Beyond Baker Street and Legend of the Five Rings. A further 9 managed at least 10 plays: Runewars, Mansions of Madness, Battle for Greyport, Runebound, Star Wars Destiny, The Dwarves, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Pandemic Iberia, and Apocrypha.

Of those games, Destiny has now moved on, and Dice Masters has gone into hibernation, with the death locally of organised play, to the point where I have no intention of buying into new sets, (a decision which in turn more-or-less removes any point to attending the Open events which crop up once a year). This is basically in storage until Ned is old enough to join in. Most of the remaining 21 I’d be confident of getting a fair amount of play next year.

 

My all-time H-Index is up at 19 – Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, Arkham LCG, Game of Thrones LCG, Dominion, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness, Mapominoes, Aeon’s End, Beyond Baker Street, Machi Koro, Massive Darkness, Zombie Dice, Yggdrasil, Eldritch Horror, Dobble. Again, “all-time” is reduced to “Christmas 2014 onwards” as that’s when I started keeping records. Probably if I stretched it back a few years more it would go 2 or 3 higher, but I’m fairly happy with this as a reference point.

 

Show me the Money

Shortfallers
I didn’t actually spend anything on Apocrypha in 2017, but it was the year it arrived, and hasn’t balanced out its 2015 purchase-price

I actually spent around £100 more on games this year than last: However, the fact that I more than doubled the amount I made in games sold smoothed over this bump fairly comfortably. I could probably have forced the final balance even lower than the £96.35 it ended up at, by using GQ store credit for more Legend of the Five Rings packs, but as this is a game I’ll be playing exclusively at the FLGS (and haven’t yet had to pay anything to play there), I felt somewhat obliged to at least be buying the packs from them.

Although 2017 was good overall from a financial perspective, there were a few individual offenders. Gloomhaven, Shadows of Brimstone, and Apocrypha were all one-off big-hitters that are still some way short of the hours needed to justify the expense. Pandemic Legacy Season 1 ended up as a Christmas present, leaving me only 6 days to try to make up the deficit: I don’t think it was a bad attempt, but inevitably it took a little longer (less than a week in to January, I’m nearly there).  Legend of the Five Rings hit me hard in the wallet with a content-dump early on, and whilst it was played intensively enough to break even, I‘m hoping that this will start to look like better value during the upcoming lull in the release schedule.

OldShortsThere are also still 3 games from previous years that show a deficit: Commands and Colours, Race for the Galaxy and Dixit: Dixit is incredibly close to catching up, and Race is not too far behind. Commands and Colours still has a way to go, and will probably need to wait until Ned is old enough to play to truly catch up.

Looking only at games with an individual historic shortfall, the grand total is £50 or so better than it was at the start of the year, but it’s a long way back up from September, where I was close to breaking even. The numbers are a bit funny right now, with Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven double-counting, all-time, and all-time by player count – on the flip side, this does mean that each game improves the overall numbers by £15-30 for a single 2-player game!

 

Most Improved

ArkhamStorage
Custom storage is generally a pretty good sign of a game that’s made its mark

As I mentioned during the numbers run-down, Arkham Horror was a really big hit last year. I already knew that it was a game that had a lot of potential from when it released in 2016, and I’m pleased to say that it has delivered. The character development, deck-building, scenario design and campaign progression have all hit the right notes. I’m a little way behind on the game at moment, but that’s a price worth paying for getting a lot of the new content from GQ – I look forward to seeing what 2018 has in store.

Eld-GamesHonourable mentions go to Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign – Eldritch arrived in a maths trade November 2016. We’ve gone a long-way in on expansions, and been rewarded with our 3rd most-played game of the year by time. Elder Sign has undergone a strong renaissance since going un-played in 2015, whilst, and the only game to keep up a serious challenge for the accolade of “played in every single month” before falling at the penultimate hurdle. In the end, Zombicide and Elder Sign were the games played in the most months (11/12 each), with Arkham just behind on 10.

A few games which I acquired part-way through the year were played in every month I had them – for the most recent acquisitions, that’s nothing much to shout about, but the longest streaks chalked up in this way were 5 months out of 5 for Massive Darkness, and 4/4 for Codenames Duet.

Notable Achievers for Most Months Played:

Zombicide                        11/12
Elder Sign                         11/12
Arkham                             10/12
LotR LCG                            9/12
Eldritch                              9/12
Legendary                         8/12
Aeon’s End                         8/11
Dungeon Time                   8/10
Mansions of Madness      8/12
Massive Darkness             5/5
Codenames Duet               4/4

 

Best Newcomer

In terms of games that were actually new in 2017, there was plenty to choose from: Aeon’s End, Massive Darkness, and Legend of the Five Rings were the big-hitters from among the 2017 releases, although there were plenty of other fun new arrivals – Runewars gave me some more to paint as well as getting me out of the house to game, Dungeon Time, Battle for Greyport, Codenames Duet, and Gloom of Kilforth all showed a decent amount of staying power, whilst Gloomhaven and Dragonfire were interesting late arrivals, albeit games that were with us too briefly to compete for the top accolades. I decided that “Newcomer” did need to be an actual 2017 release, which knocked out Runebound, Descent, Shadows of Brimstone and a few others.

MassFigsMassive Darkness is lots of fun, and has loads of nice miniatures to paint (I’m working through them slowly): I think it’s a testament to the amount of fun in this game that, even with the deluge of figures that comes with a Kickstarter, I ended up asking Santa for more (I opted for the Ratlings as they seemed to offer the most variety game-play wise, although that Hellephant is still calling to me…).

NewScorpionsL5R is a very different beast, one which scratches that competitive itch now that Dice Masters and Destiny have gone. Sadly I lack some combination of the natural ability, concentration and free time for practice and play-testing to get really good at the game, but I’m still enjoying it whilst it lasts. It’s nice to feel a growing sense of comprehension, of what’s going on, and how to control the situation, and I think I’ve definitely improved a lot, even whilst I continue to make lots of stupid mistakes.

MagesAeon’s End isn’t quite as much of a brain-burner as L5R, but it’s a bit more cerebral than Massive Darkness, as well as feeling like a more refined, balanced game. Set-up can be somewhat time-consuming, but it’s still a good one to play, with stats to match. There’s a “Legacy” version coming in 2018, which I can’t make my mind up about – brilliant addition or shameless cash-in. I’ll follow the campaign with a moderate amount of interest and see.

Overall, it’s hard to pick a winner between Massive Darkness, Aeon’s End and Legend of the Five Rings, as they’re all such different games, and were all so strong in the latter half of 2017: 16% of sessions, and 22% of hours since the beginning of August.

Theme

RuneboundOverall, the year was dominated by Fantasy, around 40% both in terms of hours and sessions. Within Fantasy, a good quarter of the action took place in Terrinoth, with notable chunks in Middle Earth and Gravehold (Aeon’s End). I finally tired of the biggest group always being “generic” and you can read about the changes I made here.

In terms of what we did this past year, we were mostly completing quests, solving mysteries, or saving the world, although there was a fair amount of just surviving.

 

Looking forward

17Hangovers I’m not entirely sure what 2018 has in store – there’s likely to be a lot of Pandemic in various shapes and forms, with Legacy 1, Legacy 2 and Rising Tide which were all sitting unopened on Christmas Day 2017, but have clocked up double-figures of play by the first weekend in January. Zombicide Green Horde looks set to be the 2018 new arrival that has the biggest impact, with the base game due fairly early in the year, and a stack of expansion/KSE content coming in the summer. 2018 will also be arrival time for Legends Untold, expansions for Apocrypha, the fabled 9th World, and the expansion to Gloom of Kilforth. Aside from the new arrivals, there are also games where we’ve barely scratched the surface – Gloomhaven in particular has a lot left to unpack, and I’m still trying to make my mind up about Dragonfire.

Some games which made a significant impact in 2017 will probably be a fair bit quieter in 2018: there have been recent mutterings of Dice Masters drafts starting up again (including one over the Christmas break when we were away visiting family), but otherwise I could see this spending the year in complete hibernation. Pathfinder likewise feels a bit dated, and may well struggle to see much table-time.

Firefly
2 plays in 3 years, things aren’t looking good…

This year, I think the amount of money made from sales will drop significantly again. Although I did make a fair amount last year from selling on review games that I didn’t think were going to be long-term hits, a large chunk (probably the majority) still came from clearing out old games that weren’t getting played any more – the more time goes on, the leaner the game collection gets in terms of un-playable games. Common sense says I’ll need to rein in my spending a fair way in order to keep things looking healthy, but if I compare my collection to where I was 2 years ago, it’s a lot easier to see extensive possibilities for things I’d want to play without forking out too much on new stuff.

The only real certainty is that 2018 should be another year with plenty of gaming and a fair-amount of number-crunching. I hope you’ll keep coming back to read my assorted musings on everything that goes on.

 

Plenty of Crackers and Not too Many Turkeys – December Round-up

December has always been the red-headed step-child of the monthly recaps, being largely ignored in favour of the annual run down. I decided to do something about that, with this lightning recap, whilst I work up the annual run-down for the end of the week.

PallidMask
The scariest monsters don’t always have tentacles…

As feels only fitting around Christmas, December saw a good strong focus on old favourites, with all the top 6 games getting table-time: Legendary dominated the early days of the month with 9 games (7 in the first weekend), and there was also a return for Elder Sign as we ran up against Cthulhu himself – even managing to seal him away at the second attempt. Arkham LCG got its obligatory share of table-time, buoyed by the arrival of some new packs to kick off the Carcosa cycle and an OP event, there was plenty of Zombicide, a bit of LotR (although the OP event was cancelled) and Aeon’s End continued to tick along.

Mansions of Madness went very quiet over the summer but started to pick up over the autumn, and came back strongly this month as we attempted the scenarios from the latest expansion with varying levels of success. On New Year’s Eve, we finally managed a successful Escape from Innsmouth (well, my character got torn apart by monsters, but everyone else made it out…)

L5R was a bit quieter than in previous months, but still got played a few times, keeping just ahead of a punishing release schedule in the value stakes.

Pandemics DecemberDecember was a big month for all things Pandemic – there were odd sessions of Iberia and Cthulhu, but the big hitters were both new arrivals, with Santa bringing me Legacy Season 1, and Rising Tide arriving for review. Both really interesting titles which deserve to have more said on them later.

Although, in keeping with Christmas, December was mostly about the Greatest Hits, we still had a few more novel games getting played.

This War of Mine is a truly remarkable game: it’s fantastically well-crafted, but dark and depressing at the same time – in many ways this just does too good a job of capturing life as civilian trapped in a modern-day siege. It’s definitely a game designed to play over multiple sessions, and we decided that we needed a break before taking this any further. If you haven’t already, do look at the review I wrote for this.

GloomNed
baby not actually included with Gloomhaven…

Dragonfire and Gloomhaven were the new games I wanted to get to the table (I’d played them solo in November, but hadn’t managed to inflict them on family or friends), and I managed with a limited degree of success. Dragonfire is, apparently, slightly easier than its predecessor Shadowrun: Crossfire, but still feels brutally tough. We got completely smashed on our first multi-player attempt, and definitely still have some way to go to master this one. Gloomhaven was again, basically a dry-run, and most of the real exploring of this will come in 2018.

Themes and Mechanics

In terms of what got played, there was a typically high level of Lovecraft, Fantasy and Zombies on display. “Historical” was the surprise entry into the upper echelons, tying with Comics for time, and edging it out by sessions.

We had a good amount of mystery solving and good old-fashioned survival, but once again, it was Pandemic which provided the shift, as “Save the World” broke into the top categories.

That’s about all for the December re-cap. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with the overall 2017 run-down.

Games for the Masses

I’ve been getting pretty irritated lately.

More so than usual, I think.

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

A Bone to Pick

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

Too Many Bones is a Cooperative Dice-building RPG.

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

Cooperative, that’s fairly self-explanatory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Ship, Little Ship, Cardboard Box

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

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

Small? Or Far Away?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Open to all?

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

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

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

What would I want?

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

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

That doesn’t feel like what CTG are doing.

 

Made of?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somewhere else?

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

 

The Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Reckoning?

Taking everything together, we have 2 games:

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

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

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

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

Rankings

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

 

Closing Thoughts

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

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

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

Kicks Revalued

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

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

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

Spent

GreenHorde
This is the big one…

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

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

Retail

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Exclusivity

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

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

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

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

 

Play

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

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

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

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

MassiveGloom
“Massive” is a relative term…

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

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

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

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

Old or New?

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

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

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

 

Numbers?

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

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

 

Regrets?

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

2015
I backed Apocrypha way back in 2015…

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

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

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

 

All of it?

Hellephant
Hellephant!

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

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

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

 

Closing Thoughts

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

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

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

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

October Arrivals

It’s feast or famine around here.

As I mentioned last time, although there was plenty of enjoyable gaming in September, the overall feel was a bit flat. Nothing particularly new or exciting.

 

October was the other extreme – shed loads of new stuff arriving, some of it really exciting.

Legend-Five-Rings-Card-Game-BoxLegend of the Five Rings (L5R) finally got its retail release (there have been copies floating around from conventions for a while), and it was everything I’d hoped. The overall visuals were great, and the gameplay is really interesting. As you know, I play a lot of co-ops, and a lot of fairly light stuff, but this one’s a real brain-burner: focused head-to-head play, where lapses in concentration can cost you the game. The game has clearly been heavily influenced by Game of Thrones LCG (2nd Edition), and the Fate mechanic seems a brilliant way to avoid the overwhelming build-up forces that can often stifle that game. Sadly, FFG have announced that the first cycle of expansions, instead of being spread over 6 months (as is normal), is going to appear over 6 weeks in November – there was some argument about bulking out the card-pool, but it makes the game a much tougher proposition financially – 10 sessions of a 1.5 hour game that I can’t play at home in 2 months is far from a done deal.

Kicking Arrivals

GloomNed
Kicking is compulsory when your feet don’t reach the floor…

October was also the month when the Kickstarter chickens started coming home to roost – 3 of them in fact, appearing across the weeks. Gloomhaven only arrived right at the very end of the month, and hasn’t even been unboxed (and what a box it is!), but the others found their day in the sun:

Apocrypha was the prodigal Kickstarter which finally arrived a staggering 17 months later than promised. I was fairly annoyed by the delays in getting it, and somewhat ambivalent about the game itself. It’s a dense, keyword-heavy ruleset that reads more like a logic puzzle: ideally designed for future –proofing (they’ve created a framework which feels sturdier than Pathfinder, and like it will easily support a lot of flexibility in the future). Sadly, the character progression is minimal and the rich theme often gets lost beneath fiddly mechanics. I expect that this one will probably sit on the shelf for a while, then get another run-out once the expansions arrive. I’ve done a fuller post-mortem of the process that you can read here.

Aeon’s End isn’t a new game- I first picked it up in February, but October was when the Kickstarter arrived for Aeon’s End: War Eternal, a stand-alone expansion that dropped a bucket-load of extra cards, along with reprints of all the first edition stuff (with better card-stock), and general component upgrades – we had half a dozen sessions of this in October, and looking forward to more soon.

 

BrimstoneHeroes I mentioned at the end of September that I’d stumbled across Shadows of Brimstone – a Weird West co-op Dungeon Crawler. Sadly it seemed to be more-or-less out-of-print, but I managed to track down a copy of one of the two base sets. Swamps of Death tends to get slightly less love than City of the Ancients, but I really wanted to play as the Preacher (because who doesn’t want to smite Eldritch Tentacles with Sermons? [Sermons. Definitely not spells. Honest]. Sadly, tracking it down was only the first step, but the models all needing to be clipped from sprues, assembled, and based, meaning that month was nearly over before I could even think about playing this: Shadows of Brimstone definitely wins the award for most time spent on a game this month without actually playing it.

 

Old

Encounter
Drawing encounter cards is generally regarded as a bad thing

Despite a lot of newy newness, it was also a good month for established titles, with 5 of the year’s 6 most-played games getting more table-time. Arkham was the biggest winner – we’re still getting a lot of play out of the new Carcosa Deluxe box, and the 6 new investigators that came with it – I really enjoyed taking new character Sefina through the Dunwich legacy, taking dark amusement from my wife’s facial expression every time I played Drawn to the Flame or Delve Too Deep. The release of the final Saga box for Lord of the Rings prompted a brief flurry of play, as I managed to try out both the new heroes, even if the new quests themselves have yet to be defeated (the first one is stupidly hard, and we never got past that). There were also run-outs for some of the longer titles, including Eldritch Horror and Gloom of Kilforth – the latter in particular we had a bit of an epiphany with, combining a change of tactics and a few variant rules for a really enjoyable session. In fact, it was so good, I even jumped on a Kickstarter at the 11th hour for a mini expansion.

 

Unplayed

Scrabble
Not the best letters I’ve ever had

As I mentioned last month, we went on holiday with my parents in October, which meant Scrabble getting its first play of the year – not only 2 games on the nights we were there, but my father even suggested playing a game the night after I’d sneaked off early. I’m not expecting a massive renaissance for this game, but it was a good reminder of why I won’t be getting rid of it. There are 10 games left on the un-played list, 3 of them new, and the rest old ones from previous years. Whilst all of the pre-owned games got played last year, 5 of them were also un-played in 2015, which suggests that that even if they do make it off the list by year-end, they’re still on fairly thin ice.

 

The Break-down

OctoTheme All-in-all, the month ended with Fantasy accounting for about half of what was played: Urban Fantasy (i.e. Apocrypha) dominated that, accounting for about 1/3 of sessions and of time, but Middle Earth, Gravehold, and the good old ‘generic’ featured too. For the first time since April, none of the Terrinoth games made it out of the box, which I’ll be looking to remedy in November. After Fantasy, Lovecraft featured heavily as usual, followed by ‘Japan’ (a not-all-that-accurate categorisation for L5R), and Zombies – small on sessions, but relatively big on time.

Mechanically, we were saving the world about 1/3 of the time, with a bit of mystery-solving thrown in. “Win” was the biggest unusual appearance, with L5R having shifted the overall balance of the month a bit towards competitive.

 

Next?

November also looks full of promise gaming-wise. Shadows of Brimstone should finally make it to the table, I need to play (and review) This War of Mine, and Gloomhaven arrived 2 days ago. There’s (almost) always new content arriving for Arkham, and after a missed month, there are a few titles like Legendary that I’m keen to get back to the table. All-in-all, it doesn’t look like things will be quieting down any time soon.