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.

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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.

Kickback: Apocrypha

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Wait

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

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

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

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

September 2015

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

December 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Backer’s Regrets

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

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

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

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

 

Development

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

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

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

 

Reputation

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

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

 

When it actually arrives

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

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

 

4/10/2017 Apocrypha finally arrived.

First impressions weren’t great.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Do what now?

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

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

 

Losing Theme

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time for the Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Reflections

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

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

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

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.

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…

2016: The End

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

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

Un-Played

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Perfect 10s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valar
All games must die

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

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

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

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

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

The Future

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

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

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

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

 

Giving things a bit of a Kick-Start

Old GamesWhen I was a child, (yes, sorry, this is going to be another “I remember when games were like this…” post.) it felt like the only games out there were Monopoly, Cluedo, and Scrabble.  The idea of doing research on a game before you bought it was fairly alien, because the chances were you’d already played it somewhere before.

With the greater number of games out there now, research is essential. There are simply too many possibilities for you to buy all the games, and a lack of research could leave you with the wrong game. With the market become so heavily saturated, and many games being bigger and more expensive, companies are concerned with making sure that you know their game is coming: it’s now possible to know an awful lot about games that haven’t even been released yet! On the whole I like this: it gives you something to look forward to. On a more practical note, it can save you from going out and getting something kind-of-interesting for a birthday or similar, only to discover something fantastic a fortnight later and have no budget for it.

KSThe point at which it gets weird, is when you have the chance to actually BUY a game before it comes out. I’m not just talking about placing a pre-order a week or so ahead of time, but about the strange world of Kickstarter.

In simple terms, Kickstarter is a platform which lets companies pitch new games to the paying public. They come out with a project and a price, and people can pledge their money. If pledges reach the amount set out before the campaign started, then all the people who pledged will have their cards charged, the company get their money, and they go to work on the game.

For the company making the game, the advantages of Kickstarter are obvious: it reverses the way that cash-flow works (get money now, make product later) and they cut out the retailer, which has benefits from a financial perspective.

For the buyer, the advantages and disadvantages of Kickstarter are rather more complex: at its best, Kickstarter allows games to be made that would otherwise not be made, it allows the public mood to guide what should be produced, and there are often sweeteners to being involved in a Kickstarter – extra things you get which are not found in retail copies. On the other hand, you are paying your money months before you get your game. Delays are common, and due to the nature of shipping processes, KS backers don’t always get their games before (or even at the same time as) retail outlets, which is often a source of anger.

Some key terminology:

KS Exclusives – components of the game only available to those that back the Kickstarter, either included in the standard price, or available as an add-on at extra cost.

Back – committing to a Kickstarter project. The totals for the campaign will be based on the sum you’ve indicated, but your card will only be charged at the end, and only if the campaign has reached its target.

Target – the initial amount of money set as the success point of the Kickstarter campaign. If this is reached, the project happens, if not, it doesn’t.

Stretch Goals – when a Kickstarter campaign reaches its target, you know it’s going ahead, but the people running the campaign want folk to keep backing. Many campaigns will have additional things, either for the Kickstarter only, or for the game in general, which they will agree to do if they reach certain additional landmarks for funding. The scope of these will vary drastically from one campaign to another.

Shipping: Kickstart a game, and you’ll have to pay whatever it costs them to actually post it to you. There’s also a danger that you may have to worry about customs duties, which means those of us in Europe need to look out for an EU-Friendly campaign which ships from somewhere like Germany instead.

 

I wanted to take a more focused look at some of the Kickstarters that I’ve had first-hand experience of, and think about how they have played out.

Before there was Kickstarter

P500The first experience of this type I had was with something that wasn’t actually a Kickstarter, but part of the P500 system from GMT Games. GMT are something of a specialist retailer, who make lots of Wargames, generally at the heavy, tactical end of things (expects lots of wooden blocks and cardboard chits, not miniatures and fantasy art). You can read the details of how the system works on their website, but essentially, it allows the public to vote for which games get made, and often has a pretty short turnaround from charging your card to games in your hand.

Through the P500 system I supported both the re-print of the Commands and Colors Ancients system and the original print-run of the Commands and Colors Napoleonics base-game. On both occasions I got the game, exactly as I would have at retail, but know that without people backing the game at this early stage, there probably would not have been a retail edition. The wait from pledging to charging was sometimes long (a year in 1 instance), but after they took my money, I had my game within a couple of months.

As I mentioned in March’s gaming challenge update, the C&C system has fallen out of favour in our house in recent years, but I certainly don’t think that I lost out in any way – games bought 6 or 7 years ago are all fairly likely to have had their fortunes wax and wane, whether they came from Amazon, a High Street Shop, or a pre-order system. Having played one of these games before I ordered, it was pretty low-risk, and I was happy with the experience.

 

Avalon

AvalonThe first time I used Kickstarer proper, was for The Resistance: Avalon. I’d heard a lot of good things about The Resistance, and the added Arthurian theme seemed like a bonus, so I went for it. I backed this in September 2012. The campaign ended a few weeks later, and they charged my card instantly, as is the way with all Kickstarter projects. I had the game in my hands by about December.

In the 3 or so years we’ve owned Avalon, it’s only been played a handful of times. It was just never that big a hit with our group: the starting premise of having to send people on the first mission without ANY information to go on always felt a bit vague and woolly, and nobody seemed to know where it was going – I’ve definitely heard of other groups that found it good fun, and it’s probably the sort of thing that would thrive if it could get a couple of good games and build some momentum, but for us it just didn’t hit the spot.

This wasn’t particularly a Kickstarter issue – Kickstarter delivered what it promised, and did so fairly quickly. I got some bonuses – some add-on characters, as well as some Manga alt-art cards for the original Resistance, which have never been used (as we don’t own the original game) and should probably have been sold on Ebay before now. Probably, I should have played original Resistance before backing this, and maybe I was influenced by the time-sensitive nature of Kickstarter, but I don’t think it’s a major issue.

Apocrypha

ApocryphaBoxIt was a few years for me before I seriously looked at anything on Kickstarter again. When I did, it was for a truly epic project, the Apocrypha Adventure Card Game.

About 2 years ago, I started playing the Pathfinder ACG, and it got played to death in our house – over 300 times in 2015 (I don’t have info for 2014). When I heard last May that Mike Selinker and his crew were putting together a related game, I was very interested – the modern horror theme doesn’t do a lot for me (and the theme is a major bonus in Pathfinder), but it looked like it was taking a lot of the cool core mechanics, and giving them an interesting twist – the combination of character progression with non-linear play, the idea that a progressed character is not inherently better than a new one, and what looked like a real commitment to get into the narrative of the game in more depth all appealed.

It certainly wasn’t cheap: $99 dollars plus international shipping, but it looked like there was good value for money involved: it had attracted a lot of buzz online, and they were unlocking stretch goals left, right and centre: lots of additional chapters, and a few other bonus bits and pieces. It also feels like the Kickstarter momentum they got allowed them to do more than might have been the case if they’d gone straight to retail: it looks like there is going to be A LOT of really top-notch art, and for theme/flavour text, they’ve got some very well-renowned writers in, including big names like Patrick Rothfuss (much to the annoyance of my wife, who wants him to just get on and write the sequel to The Wise Man’s Fear).

Farm
This slightly sinister-looking chap came from one of the most recent project update emails.

I hope that this game will reach retail one day, so it’s worth looking at the Kickstarter Exclusives: for Apocrypha it was about a dozen cards – some which are dually linked to two different adventures, and some with a broader span. In a game of this size, that’s not a lot: the bonus for backing the kickstarter seems to be primarily in the form of getting the game early, in its entirety, and almost certainly at a lower price point that when it reaches retail. Let me say, I’m happy that the exclusives are not that much – it’s nice to have a little something for having put my faith in them early on, but I’d much rather that the game thrive, without an “us” and “them” sense of resentment, so that the designers continue to make more good stuff.

The biggest concern about Apocrypha, is what has happened with Pathfinder over the past six months. The 3rd Adventure path for Pathfinder came to an end just before Christmas, and it was brutal – and not a lot of fun. In 2016 so far, the game has been 37 times – still nothing to be sneezed at, but the frequency with which it makes it out of the box is dwindling.

It’s not quite clear when I can expect Apocrypha to arrive – given how many stretch goals they unlocked, the most recent release date I read was “between April and October.” The lack of clarity is a little frustrating, but we’ve been getting fairly regular updates, and I’m happy that the longer they take, the better the game will be. Hopefully Apocrypha will be interesting enough and different enough to get its day in the sun, and make it worth the money, but the year or more that will have passed between this being announced and received has certainly made a difference – if this were a new release at retail tomorrow, and we hadn’t been involved in the Kickstarter, I can’t say with any honesty that I’d definitely buy it.

Numenera

9th worldHaving backed Apocrypha, Lone Shark had me in their sights, and I got sucked in for their next project, The Ninth World: A Skill-Building Game for Numenera. Numenera was not somewhere I had previously heard of, but is best known to players of a table-top RPG of the same name, set a billion years into earth’s future. Characters follow a fairly simple yet novel pattern, where each starts off simply as “I am an adjective noun who verbs.”

The setting was interesting, and whilst I don’t always enjoy everything the guys at Lone Shark do with their games – the drift in recent times feels to be too much towards difficulty, and too much towards puzzle-y-ness – there’s no denying their ability to come up with innovative game mechanics, and tie them nicely to interesting themes. The skill-builder was a new concept, but it captured the “taking a character and developing then” aspect that we’d loved in pathfinder etc, and put it in a nice exploration-y context, and definitely made me keen to try it.

I followed the Kickstarter for a while with interest, and once it was confirmed that they would be including a solo / co-op mode, and that they had reached the stretch goal which opened up character customisation on a fairly broad scale, I backed. I’m not expecting this one until the autumn at the earliest, and will be interested to see what comes.

 

Next time

I don’t want to bore you all too much, so that’s all for next week. Next time I’m going to look in particular at one company whose games have caught my eyes recently, and offer a few thoughts on their successful, if somewhat controversial Kickstarter strategy, and where it leaves me as the customer.