In a lot of ways, 2021 felt like 2020 all over again, stuck in a loop of Covid outbreaks, lockdowns and restrictions. Although (all-told) the regulations weren’t actually as tight as the year before, if anything, the impact on our gaming was greater, in terms of the number of games cancelled or delayed due to people being ill or isolating. There was also a definite sense that having had brief tastes of being able to meet up again in person, people were a lot more reluctant to deal with the awkward implementation of some of the online alternatives that we’d previously attempted.
Despite all that, there was definitely some daylight in 2021, and the year as a whole saw a lot of gaming, and a lot of new games.
I played 115 different games in 2021, a total of 980 times, or roughly 728 hours. That’s over 100 games more than 2020, more than 200 up on 2019. For the second year in a row, one game hit triple digits – 154 sessions of Marvel Champions, making it the first (and, so far, the only) game to break 100 twice (Pathfinder, LotR LCG and Dice Masters all managed it in 2015). Overall number of hours is actually down a bit compared with the previous 2 years (757, 744), but still up noticeably compared with 2018 and before.
The most-played games of 2021 presented a very familiar picture compared with last year: Marvel Champions played the most times, with the biggest total of hours accumulated being for Arkham Horror LCG, followed by Champions and D&D: these 3 were also the winners on aggregate, with sessions and hours taken together.
The second highest number of sessions clocked up was Marvel United’s 68, putting it just ahead of the more familiar titles: Carcassonne, Arkham, D&D and Aeon’s End.
7th by sessions, and 4th by time, Lord of the Rings LCG reminds the steadiest of the games, having been played 30+ times every year stretching all the way back to its release in 2011. Whilst this year was one of the lower numbers of sessions, 30+ games for 11 years and counting is still quite something, and as I seem to have found myself the UK’s “ALEP orders guy” I can’t see next year bucking the trend.
In With the New
I played no fewer than 39 new games in 2021, for a total of 296 sessions. A handful of these were demos at UKGE, or things tried at a board-game café, but the majority were additions to my gaming collection, 27 to be precise.
The most-played of the newcomers, by quite some distance, was Marvel United: 68 sessions of this new Kickstarter offering, which arrived in March, followed by Cartographers (20) and Quacks of Quedlinburg (16). All-told, there were 11 new arrivals to hit double-figures.
One game to get a surprising new lease of life this year was Too Many Bones. It’s a game that I’d written about various times in the past, and had acquired the standalone-expansion Undertow, playing it a moderate number of times, but never really to excess. In a somewhat convoluted fashion, already detailed elsewhere, I acquired the original base game this year, and everything suddenly seemed to click. Whether it was simply down to having done the hard part of learning the overall structure, the virtues of having a later printing with the accompanying clearer rulebook, or simply the fact that the core box is a better product, I’m not 100% sure, but this became a surprise smash hit.
2020s 24th-most-played game (just over 7 hours), was suddenly jostling Lord of the Rings for 4th-most table-time, ending up on somewhere just over 22 hours. Inevitably, I’ve found myself picking up a few expansions for this, and have sunk a fair chunk of money into the most recent Gamefound campaign, which should mean another pile of content mid/late-2022. Having established itself this year, I can see it being around for a while.
I’ve now been tracking plays of the various games I own and encounter for 7 years. Over that time period, there’s a surprisingly stable core of 13 games that have been played in each of those years (bear in mind that 7 years is long enough to stretch back pre any of the Arkham games, pre-Zombicide, pre-D&D). A lot of them are staples of modern board gaming that need no introduction, but I felt like I ought to at least list them here:
- Lord of the Rings LCG
- Marvel Legendary
- Shadows Over Camelot (Card)
- Flags of the World
- Ticket to Ride
- Dice Masters
Now, there’s a definite range here in terms of what exactly “played every year” looks like: Lord of the Rings has been played at least 30 times in each of those 7 years, 460 times total, and there are 3 others in triple-digits. At the other end of the scale, Ticket to Ride has only actually been played 11 times total in the past 7 years (I’m sure it would be a lot more in the 7 years prior to that), and Shadows Over Camelot and Flags of the World are both stuck in the teens (I’m currently teaching Ned a simplified version of Flags of the World, so expect that one to start soaring.)
As a point of comparison, there are only 8 other games that I’ve owned through that time: 4 have been played in 6/7 years, 4 in 5/7.
One area where 2021 didn’t cover itself in glory was the financial front. I spent more than I really ought to have, and didn’t pick up as much in sales as I’d hoped.
In terms of distribution of cost, there’s always the ongoing outlay for the 3 LCGs – LotR no longer has official content coming out from FFG* (mostly. There’s a fair amount of repackaging going on, most of which won’t be of use to me, but there’s also a new Core Set coming [finally a 3rd copy of some of those core-set 1-ofs after a decade], and a couple of new quests, but all that’s for 2022), but ALEP released a deluxe, 2 APs and a stand-alone, all of which I picked up. I managed to largely balance the scales here by selling some old full-art promos and an OP playmat – the full-art cards were nice, but when someone’s willing to pay £150 for 3 cards, it’s hard to argue with that.
I bought a handful of new games this year, and for the most part, these are sitting at £5/hour or better. The 2 exceptions are Cloudspire and Yggdrasil Chronicles. Yggdrasil Chronicles is an interesting remix of an old game, which got temporarily banished due to an avalanche of tea, whilst I was tracking down some card sleeves. This only needs a couple more hours, so should break even soon.
Cloudspire was something of an impulse purchase, ordered after a miserable couple of weeks of Covid isolation to cheer myself up. As you might expect from CTG, It’s a really chunky game with very (excessively?) high-level production/components, which makes for a high price, and I just haven’t managed to get it to the table enough: a steep learning curve, and the significant chance of getting stomped into the ground has left me wary of choosing an inopportune moment to introduce it to my wife, which has also hindered its table time.
Kicked whilst down…
Above all of this though, the big culprit, both in terms of money spent and games not reaching £5/hour, remains Kickstarter (expanded to include Gamefound in 2021). It’s a topic I’ve looked at before, plenty of times: big games, often with a now-or-never approach to expansions, that arrive long after the fact, meaning that the atmosphere may be less conducive to getting them played than when I backed them.
Right now, I have 3 Kickstarters that have arrived, but not seen enough play to hit the £5/hour that has been (somewhat arbitrarily) chosen as the threshold for ‘good value.’ Intrepid is only a couple of hours short, so should get caught up soon. Marvel United has a much bigger chunk of time to cover but, as I’ve noted a few times before, once I factor in the time I’ve spent painting, then it looks good, and by the end of January the by-player figures for gameplay alone should be fine too. Sword & Sorcery remains the one sticking out like a sore thumb: still a 3-figure shortfall, and still not introduced to my wife 8 months after getting it.
In terms of Kickstarters either backed or Pledge Manager-ed in 2021, there were a fair number: Massive Darkness 2, Zombicide Undead or Alive, Shadows of Brimstone Adventures, Aeon’s End Legacy of Gravehold, HEXplore it, Marvel United: X-Men, Nova Aetas Renaissance, Earthborne Rangers, Freedom Five, The Isofarian Guard, Too Many Bones: Unbreakable, City of the Great Machine. I also watched, but ultimately decided against Agemonia, Chronicles of Drunagor, Doomtown Weird West, and a few others whose names elude me right now.
Listing them all together, it looks like a lot, probably more than was entirely sensible. I also have another 5 that I’m still waiting on from previous years.
I need to dial things back in 2022, a resolution which has already come under assault with the announcement of the imminent Marvel Zombies: the inevitably convergence of one of my favourite themes and one of my favourite mechanical systems. It’s also starting with two big core boxes, and there are bound to be plenty of expansions as the campaign goes along, at least some of which I’ll no doubt end up getting, for the promise of must-have mechanics or characters. Whilst there’s little hope of the price of this one staying low, I’ll at least hope that I can keep the number of other projects that I go after down to manageable numbers.
I mixed things up a bit in 2021 when it came to gaming challenges. I’ve been doing a “Play 10 Games 10 Times” thing for quite a while, and had already split it into the hardcore (decide on the 10 games before you start playing) and standard (just see which are the first 10 games to get played 10 times) versions. For 2021 I took it a bit further, and split the hardcore challenge off so that it only counted multiplayer games, and created a separate see-how-many Solo challenge, as well as an “only games new to me” challenge.
I got there with all of them. Eventually. My 10 picked multiplayer games, 10 solo games, and 10 new games, each played 10 times each. Things definitely came down to the wire though: by Christmas Day, I was still 1 short on the Hardcore Challenge, and 1 short on the Solo Challenge.
Having never really focused on exactly what I tend to spend my solo gaming time on before, it was interesting to realise that whilst I have a couple of games that I play A LOT solo, the overall picture was more one of playing lots of games a handful of times than to have that kind of focus.
It was also interesting to see how games like Legendary have faded in popularity over the years. After getting 40+ plays every year from 2015-17, it has been seeing steadily less-and-less time with each passing year, and 2021 was a new low, with just 13 sessions (3 of which were solo).
I’m not planning on getting rid of it any time soon, and still enjoy most of the game of this that I have but it definitely feels like I’ve at least as much content as I have any idea what to do with, even as I buy fewer and fewer of the newly-released expansions. 2022 probably has a good chance of being the first year that the game doesn’t get added to.
All-in-all, I’m pretty happy with where my gaming collection is right now. Out of 93 games owned, 92 got played last year, and there’s a very small number that feel like complete white elephants. I’m not planning on acquiring nearly as many new games this year as last, although depending on the rate at which Kickstarters deliver, there could still be a lot of new stuff to get to grips with, and I definitely want to move on a few of the older/less interesting bits that I’m no longer that bothered about playing. I’ll still be doing a hardcore 10×10 challenge, which I’ll give its own post shortly, and I’ll be back every month with a general update on what’s been happening.