May 2022

Another month has been and gone. (there was supposed to be a longer intro here, but I hit “publish” without writing it, so let’s just cut to the chase…)

Undisputed Marvels

Marvel Champions got played no less than 20 times in May, making it 2022’s first game to smash 50 plays, and putting it well ahead of Marvel United, which had a rather more modest 5 sessions, and remains in second-place on 44. Both the Nova and Ironheart packs arrived this month, and the pre-con decks are both really strong, so I’ve run them up against a few different scenarios, and am really looking forward to a 4-player, 4 copies of “Go For Champions” game sometime soon. These packs also have a bit of a twist by including a new modular set in the back, rather than just some off-aspect cards. – Armadillo and ZZzax are both fairly obscure as Marvel Villains go, but they bring some nice variety, which is always appreciated.

The X-Men and their opponents, freshly varnished.

Whilst Marvel United didn’t get a huge amount of play, there was the entertaining if slightly unlikely moment where I ended up playing a game of it with my parents (who normally stick very firmly to Mah Jong or Scrabble), after Ned got bored and wandered off mid-game [the downtime in a 4-player session is a bit too much for this particular somewhat-distractible 5 year-old]. I also got the first batch of Marvel United X-Men figures painted, having finished up everything from the original Kickstarter.

…Recurring Horror…

It’s possible that Agnes should never have been allowed to leave this location, but with the timing slightly ambiguous, we opted not to take the “you can never do anything again” interpretation…

There were also 5 games for Arkham Horror, as we picked up a number of campaigns that had fallen a little bit by the wayside. In our 3-player Path to Carcosa game, we went to the King in Yellow’s cast after party in The Last King, before heading to the archives of Arkham’s Historical Society in Echoes of the Past. The first game was pretty challenging, as out party (Daisy, Rita, Sefina) struggles a bit for combat, relying on Sefina’s events, or Rita getting the Ornate Bow, which she had, but then lost to Corrosion, just as we found ourselves under attack from a brace of Roach Swarms at the highest-shroud location in the game (5). Fortunately, we managed to run away in time.

In our Return to The Circle Undone game, we took a slight detour for Parallel Agnes to try out Bad Blood (I’ve owned this scenario for a while, but this is my first campaign with Agnes since getting it), followed by Return to the Secret Name and Return to Wages of Sin. Trish and Agnes are another pair who struggle for consistent damage, so we’ve had a few sticky moments, but this felt like a pretty successful run of games, despite a fairly low amount of XP gathered.

…and not much in the Middle.

This card makes me laugh more than it possibly should.

Only a single game of Lord of the Rings LCG in May, as a friend and I took on the Massing at Osgiliath. On the plus side, it was a highly entertaining game, as it was the first time I’d seen him using the Bond of Friendship Simpsons-Hobbits deck that I had printed for him for Christmas. (I take no credit for the actual creation of the cards, which was done by everyone’s favourite LotR-playing bear, Beorn).

The lack of Rings LCG play was at least slightly alleviated by the welcome return of our Journeys in Middle Earth campaign – there was even a moment of rescue from the new table after my wife said “sure, let’s start the next scenario” only to be basically falling asleep 15 minutes later. On went the dining-table leaves, and the game was able to remain mostly-set-up and protected from the grabbing hands of an inquisitive 5 year-old until the following day.

In the Dungeons?

The High Wizard of Waterdeep who, apparently, we don’t really need to listen to…

May also saw a bit more D&D than I’ve managed in a little while, with 2 games for each of my campaigns. In the Underdark, the Abyss crew are in Gracklestugh, subduing mad giants and exploring mysterious tunnels. The group recently lost their Cleric, as the player has just had a baby, leaving the true Neutral Alchemist as the only restraining influence on the Warlock and the Bardbarian, both of whom could fairly be described as having a Chaotic-Chaotic alignment. They’re having a lot of fun, but are probably as likely to start a war as save The Underdark (and ultimately the entire material plane) from Demon Annihilaton.

Back in Waterdeep, things remain far more chilled, as the party happily potter around the city and focus on getting the Tavern ready to open. The main discovery this month was that the players will happily worm their way out of a direct request from the Blackstaff (official senior wizard of the city) as they have a prior appointment in Barovia, but will happily put that same engagement on hold indefinitely when they find out that a nearby tavern is trying to rip off their signature “cake tapas.” Stay tuned to future reports to find out whether they decide to go and fight Strahd, in hope of rescuing their Dhampir friend, or get involved in baking battle. It could easily go either way…

Challenges

May was a strong month for the various gaming challenges. In the hardcore challenge, Aeon’s End, Dragomino, Marvel Champions, and Zombicide all made it up to 10 multiplayer games each (Champions in particular had smashed past this number months ago if you include solo). Journeys in Middle Earth and Too Many Bones both made this to 5 plays – keeping steady on an average of 1 per month, and ahead of the curve in terms of reaching 10 by the end of the year. Up to 81/100, with just 4 games needing 4 or 5 sessions each to reach 10×10.

There wasn’t nearly as much movement on the New games challenge, but Nemesis shifted from 2 to 4 plays, as I realised that I’d been making at least 1 fundamental rules error, along with a significant tactical mistake – correcting these has made the game a lot more fun, and will hopefully lead to a fair bit more play. Yet to reach that moment of everything starting to ‘click’ is The Everrain, which I played once, and ended up very frustrated with a poor rulebook and some thoroughly obfuscating iconography. Hopefully in time this will start to make a bit more sense.

For my solo 10×10 Challenge, Cartographers became the 5th game to hit 10 plays, whilst Cloudspire and Dominion both progressed as well. This is still a bit behind the multiplayer challenge (74/100), and as I’ve mentioned a few times, I have a small set of solo games that I play a lot, but beyond these, it’s much more a case of playing many things a few times, rather than necessarily 10 game 10 times. Still, over half the year to go, so we’ll see how this unfolds.

Money

May was a pretty expensive month, as I wrapped up the Pledge Manager for Too Many Bones: Unbreakable, as well as having stuff to buy for the LCGs (Nova & Ironheart for Champions, Parallel Wendy for Arkham). The fact that Nemesis has been around since January meant that I started counting it for games that are still short of the £5/hour mark, which meant that the overall total moved further into the red, as the Nemesis shortfall is greater than the hours spent on the other games already in that category (Roll Player, Marvel United, Cloudspire, Sword & Sorcery).

Next?

Next up is June, which is always a big month for gaming, as it’s when UK Games Expo happens. I’m working the whole show again, so will be reporting back soon of everything that happens there.

In terms of new bits and pieces, aside from Expo, I’m not quite sure whether I’m expecting anything or not! There are definitely a few more Kickstarters predicting “early summer” or something equally nebulous, so I won’t rule them out, but July is probably more likely for any or all of Oathsworn, HEXplore It, or The Librarians.

March 22

March has been and gone, 22 is already ¼ done! (somewhat alarming when you consider that only 53% of my games have actually been played this year). It was another slog of a month, from a Real Life perspective, but I did at least get a fair number of games played.

Going Down With the Ship

The combination of “it’s nearly my birthday” and “we’re actually allowed people in the house, unlike the end of March for the last 2 years” gave us cause to round some people up for another game of Unfathomable. Aside from some serious twitching on my part as a couple of the more casual gamers got their drinks/snacks a bit too close to the game board, this was a great time.

the players – unlike the dog – may have gone a bit overboard…

Full 6-player, with a Cultist as well as 2 Deep One Hybrids, we managed to reach Boston with our supplies relatively intact, despite the turn where my wife (who wasn’t a traitor) accidentally guilt-tripped everyone into massively over-committing to a test in order to avoid her dog being … sent to a farm in the country. There was plenty of back-and-forth, and much suspicion, which was only fuelled even-more by two different players accidentally committing a card of the wrong colour to a skill check (apparently Red and Orange are too similar, and nobody was able to pick up on the subtle difference between a picture of a pair of hands, and a picture of a torso with flexing arms).

Unfathomable is never going to be a game that gets played lots – it really needs 4-6 players, and it’s LONG (our game was 3 hours 40, finishing at nearly midnight the night the clocks went forward, which is poor planning when you realise that 5/6 of us have children of 5 or under in our houses). That said, it’s generally a blast when we play, and even if the £/hour for me alone is still hovering fractionally above £5, the hours per player are brilliant.

Still Living

I added 1 ally to my solo-Aragorn deck for Flight to the Ford. It was NOT Arwen

It was a good month for the LCGs although, in a slightly unusual twist, Arkham Horror was the least-played of the 3, just 2 sessions as we introduced some friends to The Gathering, and my wife and I started up our Return to the Circle Undone. Lord of the Rings was noticeably busier: I played 4 solo games, testing out the new Dark of Mirkwood pack, whilst our 2-player Saga campaign reached Rivendell with Flight to the Ford.

But it was Marvel Champions that dominated the month – no fewer than 15 games as I tried to get caught up on un-played combos before the Sinister Motives box lands. I was briefly within 1 Hero/Aspect combination of a 100% record (Vison Leadership being the only one missing), before War Machine and The Hood finally arrived – The Hood pack has an absolute ton of content for something so small: I’ve used a handful of the modular sets already, but have yet to try the scenario itself, or Standard II, (a difficulty-increase for the generic set which goes in every game). When the Sinister Motives campaign box arrives, some time in April, that’s going to be another enormous number of new possible combinations, as I go from 29 Heroes x 23 Villains to 31 Heroes x 28 Villains!

Challenges

2022’s Gaming Challenges are coming along well. For the Hardcore challenge, every game has been played at least 3 times in 3 months, so that’s some steady progress, and with everything averaging at least once per month, that should see everything wrapped up by October (if not before). Arkham LCG became the second game to hit 10 multiplayer sessions, whilst Zombicide and Dragomino both jumped up to 8. 62/100

Taking out the Multiplayer and Hardcore requirements, I’m very nearly there for a general “Play 10 Games 10 Times” – Roll Player, Arkham LCG, Carcassonne, and an upcoming project that I’ll just refer to as WW all hit 10 plays this month, LotR LCG and Massive Darkness 2 are on 9, Zombicide on 8: 96/100

Solo is definitely a bit further back than the “all” or “multiplayer” categories. Marvel Champions, Roll Player, and Carcassonne all hit 10 this month, and Marvel United leapt up to 7, having been mostly multi-player up until now, but other than that, things are generally a fair way behind – lots of games played once or twice, rather than a hardcore of 10ish.

Despite a big arrival, there wasn’t that much in terms of “new” games this month: depending on whether I count Marvel United X-Men as its own thing or part of the existing MU, I could argue a case for having completed the 5×5, but Nemesis remains on only 2 plays.

X-United

this is about 10 figures short of a fully-painted 1st KS pledge.

3 months so far this year, and 3 big Kickstarter deliveries. Marvel United X-Men is the sequel to last year’s hugely successful Marvel United. Technically, the original Marvel United has yet to hit the magic £5/hour, based on my gaming-time alone, but it’s a game that I’d played 80-odd times in 12 months, and when I factor in either the games played by others, or the hours I’ve spent painting it, it looks pretty good.

MU:X is an even bigger project than the first, and it looks like it ups both the difficulty and the complexity. Early impressions suggest that there have been a few quality-control failures (it looks like the factory tried to take some shortcuts on the plastic box inserts, and the results are pretty messy) – fortunately, the actual miniatures seem to have arrived unscathed, but there’s noticeable damage to a few of the cardboard components – it’s not TOO terrible, but having paid 3 figures for something that’s arrived looking like it’s been kicked round the warehouse, I’m more inclined to quibble than normal. So far the word from CMON seems to be that they WON’T fix inserts as they consider them disposable, so it’ll be interesting to see what sort of response I get to my “damaged components” ticket.

Money

I made good progress in March on a few of the various games that aren’t quite pulling their weight, but there are still 9 games overall which work out at more than £5/hour, based on how much I personally have played them. 3 of those are still very new, and Unfathomable is a mere 73p short, so not too horrendous there, but Cloudspire and Sword & Sorcery remain the big standouts in terms of “games where the play doesn’t really justify the spend.”

Roland. Printed by #Gamezenter and imported by #Ludoquist. Now I just need to find a way to get Wendy

Within March itself, I shelled out for 3 new things – one of the parallel investigator packs for Arkham Horror LCG, and I backed 2 Kickstarters. The first was the reprint of Unsettled. This is a puzzly-looking co-op sci-fi survival game that looks really interesting, but also seem to have a fairly high complexity level, and could struggle to hit the table by virtue of being too heavy, so I’ve just gone for the entry-level pledge for now, and will need to do some proper research before the Pledge Manager before deciding whether to add any of the expansion planets (more replay value, but also means it costs more).

Last on the list was Library Labyrinth. I previewed this a few weeks back, so won’t say too much more, but I’ll be looking forward to getting hold of my copy in due course.

Next?

I want to predict too much about the future: when getting out of bed is a struggle, prolific blogging is little more than a pipe-dream. That said, there should be at least one new article up this month. I think that there will probably be a lull in the big new arrivals, with the various big Kickstarters that are outstanding probably not due until the end of spring.

January 2022

New month, new glasses, one or two new games, and all-round a bright enough start, despite still being ill for a few days.

There were some big new arrivals, plenty of time for old games, and a bit of exploring some titles that have been around for a while. I also cleared out some titles that had reached their time to move on.

Living Cards

The Bree-Heroes

I only managed one game of Lord of the Rings in January, as we continued our Saga campaign, and managed to get across the Barrow Downs without being killed by Barrow-Wights, or interred in Barrows forever. I’m now a bit torn on where to go next – we’ve reached Bree, which feels like the obvious point to try out a Bree-land deck, but I’m waiting for The Glittering Caves (pack 4 of the cycle) to release before ordering The Gap of Rohan, which contains the Bree cards. Given the penalties in campaign mode for switching heroes midway through, we’ll probably just carry on with Aragorn and the Hobbits sometime in February.

We played a lot more Arkham Horror: 6 games was enough to finish off the Edge of the Earth campaign and – remarkably came out of it with the best ending. With 50xp each and remarkably little trauma, I suggested to my wife that maybe we could take the same characters into a new campaign on Hard! – she wasn’t convinced by this, but agreed that we could maybe try standard (as opposed to easy all the time).

Marvel Champions made it to 6 sessions as well – mostly this was me taking some of the heroes from the Mad Titan’s Shadow cycle back to face villains from that same box, but George and I have also started playing through MTS in campaign mode for the first time, her as Scarlet Witch, and me as Vision. Again, more to come in February.

Play the Red Skull Game!

This was the constant refrain of January 2022. It could have been a lot worse. Long-time readers will remember the month where I got subjected to 30+ games of Little Bus Lotto, so having to field repeated clamouring for a game I actually enjoy playing is a definite improvement.

For anyone who doesn’t speak 4-year-old, the new favourite is Marvel United – I’ve been playing it with Ned a bit for the past few months, but it seems to have really captured his imagination lately, and he wants to play it most days (in reality that’s rarely practical, as he’ll bring it up when we’re about to go to school, or bed, but we still got in 10 games of it together).

It’s not quite the same as playing with another adult. He’s definitely a fan of moving for no good reason, and will use his attacks/heroic actions based on what he likes the look of rather than any coherent strategy, so there’s a bit of careful balance in how much to let him do what he likes (and then have him be sad when we lose) vs suggesting better plays. The fact that he still can’t really read means that there’s always a certain amount of having to reinforce the rules, but overall, it has me feeling fairly positive that playing board games together is a thing that we’ll be able to do over the coming years.

Monza – roll the dice, then spend a die to move your car onto the next space ahead (Directly or diagonally), first one round the track wins.

We’ve also been revisiting a few other games that we got him last year – Monza is recommended for 5+ and at 4, he really wasn’t ready to play, just wanting to push the cars round and round the track, but we’ve managed a few proper sessions of this recently as well. I even got him to play Animal Upon Animal once, before his inexplicable aversion to having things stacked too high kicked in.

Out with the old…

I moved along a few games in January – Grimslingers, Carcosa and Vadoran Gardens were all relatively small purchases that were “fine,” but not really compelling enough to justify a continued place at the table (or on the shelves, if we’re being honest). The big news amongst departing games was the decision to get rid of Dragonfire. At 55 sessions/46 hours all-time, it was still in my top-20 at the start of the year, but only got played once last year, and there was little enthusiasm to play it again. It’s always been a fairly grindy game, with a punishing level of difficulty that just wasn’t a great fit for us, but the point we’d reached – most of the way through the Moonshae Storms campaign box – we’d just run into a complete brick wall and, even though we’re notionally a bit overpowered for where the adventure is, we were getting nowhere. Add in the fact that further content seems to have dried up for the game, and that party had reached the end of the line. We could technically have reset and gone again with new characters, but ultimately there are more fun things out there, at least for us. It’s not a hugely-sought-after game that commands huge prices on the secondary market, but as the original game had been a free review copy, I recouped most of what I’d spent on the 4 expansions, which is good enough for me.

…and in with the new

All of those disappeared just in time for the 3 new arrivals – Nemesis Lockdown, Aeon’s End: Legacy of Gravehold, and The One Ring RPG. TOR remains un-opened, but I managed to play the others.

 Legacy of Gravehold (as the name hints at) is a Legacy game, and boy did the opening scenario hurl us in at the deep end! I’m not sure I’ve ever done so much writing on a set of game cards in my life, and it’s going to take a long time to recover from the mental trauma it caused (if the reset pack doesn’t contain replacements for all these cards, I am going to lose it completely…) 2 games of the campaign done so far, more to follow in Feb.

I’ve played Nemesis: Lockdown twice – both times 2-handed solo, as it’s a game with a fair bit of weight to it, and I want to get confident that I’m doing things right before trying to introduce it to my wife. Both games have ended in death, nowhere near completing objectives, so still some way to go in mastering this, but I’m at least starting to feel like I understand the overall structure, even though I have to look things up every few minutes.

Most-played?

when your army is as wide as the table, it does tend to limit imaginative deployment options…

Until very nearly the end of January, my most-played games by hours had a most surprising leader: 2 games of Warhammer Age of Sigmar was already double what I played last year (and, indeed, ever, up to now), and this was top of the pile until the last Saturday of the month rolled around, and it found itself unseated by Arkham Horror.

By sessions, the picture was more familiar: Marvel United, Arkham Horror and Marvel Champions were the top 3, which matches the top 3 from last year, albeit in a slightly different order.

Challenges

As last year, I’ve got a couple of challenges going: a Hardcore Multiplayer 10×10, and a see-what-happens Solo 10×10. I did a fair bit of going back-and-forth on which games to include in the hardcore challenge, and managed to convince myself that I’d included at least one game that I hadn’t actually put on the list, but the final picture ended up looking like this:

  • Aeon’s End
  • Arkham LCG
  • Cthulhu: Death May Die
  • Dragomino
  • Journeys in Middle Earth
  • LotR LCG
  • Marvel Champions
  • Marvel United
  • Too Many Bones
  • Zombicide

For the most part, these are well-established games, with the newest being Marvel United and Dragomino, but as these are games that can be played with Ned, I’m not too worried about them falling out of favour. For the others, most have either had new content recently, or will be getting new content at some point in the year, which is always a good driver to keep them on the table. Probably the biggest risk in that regard is Zombicide (I’ve gone for Medieval this year), as Undead or Alive is supposedly arriving some point in the spring, but I think it’s likely to end up delayed enough that we’ll be a good stretch of the way towards 10 by then.

All 10 games in the multiplayer challenge got played – some of them only once, but Marvel United racking up the 10 in a single month, to leave me on 34 all-told.

Likewise, 10 different games got played solo in January – none reached double figures though, Marvel Champions on 5 was the most-played, edging just ahead of Roll Player and Cartographers on 4 apiece.

A bit like last year, I will be tracking new games played, but I’m not setting myself a challenge – there should be a significant number of new titles coming up (particularly via Kickstarter), but timing is always a bit unpredictable with these, and I don’t want to find myself trying to cram in games last-minute if one only arrives in mid-December!

February

February is the shortest month, involves Ned’s birthday, and also has various school holidays and trips away, so I’m anticipating things being quite disrupted. Hopefully I should get Massive Darkness 2 at some point, as well as the new Shadows of Mirkwood quests being released by FFG for Lord of the Rings, so still plenty to keep me busy.

2021 A Year of New Starts

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.

Headlines

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.

2021’s top 9 (Hours/Sessions averaged)

Overall Winners

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.

Most Improved

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.

Prime Candidates

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:

  • Dominion
  • Carcassonne
  • Lord of the Rings LCG
  • Marvel Legendary
  • Boggle
  • Dobble
  • Shadows Over Camelot (Card)
  • Yggdrasil
  • Bananagrams
  • Pandemic
  • 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.

Money

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.

Challenges

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.

the 10×10 Hardcore 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.

10×10 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.

me: I’m definitely done with Legendary, let me just go to BGG and screenshot just how many expansions there are. Ooh, Messiah Complex you say…

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.

Looking Forward

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.

Less-Than-Well – October 2021

Another month gone. Another month of less-than-stellar health. A week off work, and plenty more time feeling run-down
It wasn’t just me. We had multiple games cancelled or cut short because of various members being ill. I’d say that 3 of the 4 sets of people we game with most frequently were unable to make it to a game for some health-related reason or other at some point this month, and at home we spent a lot of the time low on energy and just needing an early night. (The poor-health continued into November, including Ned missing some school, which is part of why this post is up so late…)
At the end of the day, that meant a few notable features of this October – a mere 77 minutes of Dungeons & Dragons is the least time I’ve spent on the game at any point in the past 2-and-a-half years. We just about managed to finish the Battle for Blingdenstone in my Out of the Abyss game, but the proprietors of Troll Skull Manor from the formerly-Waterdeep-Dragon-Heist game remain lost in the mists of the Feywild.

Something Spooky?

Arkham-Nights-Playmats

Halloween might not be until the end of the month, but October had a good amount of time for all things scary. Arkham LCG was back in force: Stella and Jim continued to bungle through the jungle, doing surprisingly well in Return to Boundary Beyond, then staggering through Heart of the Elders. We also picked up our Dreamlands campaign, with an epic Search for Kadath coming crashing down the round before we were all about to resign safely, as Tony’s quarry appeared during upkeep. We (9-weakness-Lily and Tarot-Mandy) even managed to escape from the Labyrinths of Lunacy, clutching a couple of new playmats, although 1 of the other 2 groups failed to make it out alive. We’re still trying to find a time that everyone can do for our much-delayed Carcosa campaign, so hopefully that will finally happen in November – maybe we’ll even see the Edge of the Earth campaign expansion.
LCG aside, we had our first games of Mansions of Madness and Eldritch Horror in ages, before rounding out the month with Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu.

Zombies

Deathmaster

We tend to go back and forth between Medieval Zombicide and the space-age edition that I’ve dubbed Xenocide, and the last few months have definitely been the time of Black Plague.

Another 3 games this month, as our band (no pun intended) of dead musicians makes their way through the original 10 quests – highlight of the month was definitely The Deathmaster (who definitely isn’t Lemmy from Motorhead, honest, Mr lawyer) finally getting his hands on an Axe of Carnage.

Middle Earth

We also kicked on with our Journeys in Middle Earth campaign more-or-less bringing peace to the rival Elf and Dwarf factions in the Blue Mountains.  Sadly, we still don’t have the healing flower that we came here for, and there’s still a murderous Warg after us.

All-the-ALEP

For Lord of the Rings the Card Game, the new ALEP cards have arrived, meaning that I have some deck-building to do and some new quests to play, but I try not to actually use these cards myself until I’ve posted everyone else’s out, something which I only managed on October 30th – still plenty of time for older stuff though, as we triumphed in an epic confrontation with the Dreadnaught, despite an experimental White Council deck of mine that didn’t really work, and I had a few solo games in preparation for an upcoming podcast episode, which I’ll talk more about later.

Roll(/Flip) and Write

Roll-and-Write

My collection has never really had much in the way of roll-and-write games before this year, but I’ve discovered a couple, and have been really enjoying them. First up is Cartographers, a game where you make maps, drawing a random selection of different types of terrain cards across 4 seasons, and trying to arrange them on a grid in order to get the most points, based on randomised scoring objectives dealt out at the start of the game. I got this as a birthday present back in March and, even though it’s a short game, that I’ve only played solo so far, I’m somewhere in the mid-teens in terms of number of games played, and really enjoying it.
Railroad Ink is a more recent acquisition, one I picked up at UKGE, after trying it out on Board Game Arena, and October saw me hit 10 sessions. In this one you’re rolling dice each turn, trying to construct road & rail networks across the map, avoiding lines that disappear into thin air, and meeting various objectives from a randomised set.
These 2 games present an interesting contrast in variety and expandability. Right now, unless you backed a Kickstarter a year or so ago, Cartographers is pretty-much a stand-alone, all-there-is type affair, and I’m definitely keen to add more. The mutually-compatible standalone “Cartographers Heroes” recently reached KS Backers, and I’m hoping that it gets to retail soon (in time for Christmas would be nice…) the fact that the score-cards come in 4 categories, with only 4 cards available for each category means that I feel like I could do with a bit more variety here already, even if some of the other mechanics of the expansion look a bit whackier than I’m convinced is necessary.
Railroad Ink is at the other end of the extreme, with what feels like a near-infinite level of variety out there, which just feels like too much. As best as I can tell, there are 4 different base sets, each of which contain a couple of mini expansions, and then there are another half-dozen modular expansions that you can pick-and-mix. I think that the basic idea of Railroad Ink is really solid, and I’ve enjoyed the ten games that I’ve played, but only the last couple were with the first included expansion (Desert) and I’m not convinced that it really added that much. Here at least, it feels like less is more.

Numbers

Gruffalo-Yggdrasil

The fact that Cloudspire has now been around long enough to count as a shortfall means that my costs spreadsheet is a big wall of red right now. That said, all the games bar one (Call to Adventure) got a decent amount of table-time. Yggdrasil Chronicles (seen on the right next to an unrelated Gruffalo toy) will also start counting from November, but it was a smaller/second-hand purchase, which is already a lot closer to breaking even, so hopefully I can start righting the ship towards a point where most things are hitting that £5/hour mark.
In terms of Kickstarters (ones that I actually have in my possession), there are still just the 3 that haven’t reached the £5/hour mark. Marvel United still needs many hours if going by gameplay alone, but is well covered when I factor in my painting time, so I’m not too worried about this. Intrepid continues to make good progress, and I finally got some serious table time for Sword & Sorcery this month: having pushed past the tutorial and into the second quest, it turns out that the game is a fair bit more interesting once you’re doing more than just an on-rails walk through 2 rooms to learn the basic mechanics. It’s still quite fiddly, but I also dipped into the stretch-goals box, finding a few nice extras – chunkier replacements for things that are otherwise quite flimsy/2D for the most part, as I don’t think it’s time to start mixing in additional game-play content. The £/hour rate is still pretty poor right now, but I’m definitely starting to enjoy things more, and am a lot more confident than previously that this will get there eventually.

Challenges

10x10-New-Oct

It was a good month for the various gaming challenges I’m attempting this year. The new games challenge only started the year as a 5×5, but I expanded it after completing that very quickly. This month saw me reach 10×10, with an unexpected surge from Dragomino during the few days Ned & I spent at my parents’ house, plus 10th sessions for Heroes of Tenefyr, Snug as a Bug in a Rug, and Railroad Ink. There’s still a slight asterisk on this one, because of some of the children’s games that appear on here, where attempts to play can be very short and end rather abruptly (mostly Rhino Hero)
The 10×10 Hardcore challenge still has a little way to go – Lord of the Rings LCG and Journeys in Middle Earth both reached 10+ multiplayer games, whilst Hogwarts Battle, Marvel Legendary and Shadows of Brimstone all got at least one session. If I hadn’t added the “multiplayer only” restriction, then this would be complete already: as it is, 95/100 – 5 to go.
For solo games, the picture is a bit different – a lot of games played, but still a trend towards a more varied set of games, played fewer times. As all 10 of my Railroad Ink games have been solo, that was the 7th game to make it to 10, and Lord of the Rings LCG and Dominion are only just behind on 9 and 8 sessions respectively. The last slot is still up for grabs though – Keyforge is still down on 6, and there are now no fewer than 5 different games just behind it on 5 sessions. I’m honestly not sure whether I’ll hit 10×10 here, and I’m not too bothered if I don’t – the solo challenge was mostly just about being more consciously aware of which games are getting played solo, and I don’t want it to become a chore to have to play things just to finish a challenge.

Next?

It’s November already? Seriously? I expect that it will probably be more of the same. Maybe those Champions and Arkham releases will show up and, as already mentioned, I have a stack of new LotR stuff to play, thanks to the good people of ALEP. Yggdrasil Chronicles more-or-less-survived a run-in with my wife’s cup of tea, but didn’t get as much play as I would have liked, so I need to get this re-assembled and back into play.

A quick aside: as part of their ongoing efforts to make life just that bit more awkward, WordPress seem to have removed the feature that lets me change the colour of text (unless I want the entire paragraph in that colour) along with the thing that let me add captions to images. There is a way to do this manually by digging through code, but it’s very time-consuming, so before I bother going down that road, I’d be interested to know whether people actually feel like they get any benefit from those features?

A Surprising Amount to Say – September 2021

September has been and gone – One notable milestone that I hadn’t hit since 2018 was clocking up a 100th unique game in the year – it’s a big total, and something to reflect on when the year is done. Right now, there’s a lot to say about September, so let’s dive straight in!

Getting Organised – in the wild!

I was very lucky (And some other folks were very kind) to come away with both playmats. There were also nice alt-art cards, but those have been filed away, and it felt like too much work to dig them out again

A major highlight for September was doing some gaming that wasn’t in somebody’s house. With the gradual lifting of restrictions, we’re finally at a point where our Friendly semi-Local Games Shop could put on events using the organised play kits from 2020, and we managed to make it along for some Lord of the Rings and some Arkham.

For Lord of the Rings, it was Escape From Khazad-Dum, one of the 2v2 quests, where you build an encounter set from a selection of available modules and hope that it takes the opposing team longer to beat than it takes you to beat the deck that they’ve put together.

The kit comes with some very nice threat dials, card boxes and full-art heroes for everyone taking part, as well as 1 copy per 4 players of the absolutely beautiful Balrog playmat, which has been going for silly money on eBay and the like. Sadly, what it doesn’t come with, is the 2 copies of the quest that you’d need for 4 of you to actually play in 2v2 mode! (This was doubly annoying, as I already have a copy of the quest at home, and could have brought an extra copy with me if I’d thought about it).

4-player Escape from Khazad-Dum

In the end, we just played a 4-player game, which had a bit of an odd rhythm – I’m not convinced that it’s really designed for that high a player-count, and the staging area was very bogged down with locations, up until the point we managed to get a pair of Northern Trackers out, and suddenly surged through the remainder of the quest, practically falling over each other in the race to see how got to thump the Balrog. Still good to be out in the wild, and playing games in a place that sells paintbrushes, card sleeves and doughnuts.

A week later, it was Arkham Horror time, as we took on The Blob That Ate Everything. Where the week before had been mostly about the novelty (as we played entirely with people who we’ve also been gaming with at home), this time we were playing a proper epic multiplayer game, all contributing to a global clue and health pool.

Shortly before the Blob ate EVERYTHING

Sadly, it was not our most successful confrontation with the Blob – for the first hour or so of the evening, it felt like our table was the only one actually doing any damage to The Blob, and that led to some risky decisions, which combined with some really bad luck (an ill-timed weakness and a worse-timed Tentacle) to see my Tommy, our chief fighter, KO-ed and the rest of the team also having to sacrifice themselves in the final round in an attempt to finish off the Blob. By this time, another couple of tables had managed to get into gear (the investigators at the 4th table were all long-dead), and the last big push fell agonisingly short of finishing the creature off.

Even pre-Pandemic, evenings out gaming have been pretty rare, thanks to the small child in the house, but thanks to some visiting grandparents, it was nice to get out and game with other people again.

The Rest of the Life

Aside from those two mammoth Friday nights, September generally was another strong month for the LCGs – Marvel Champions was my most-played game again, with 12 sessions, as I got to grips with the Nebula hero and took another run at some of the Mad Titan’s Shadow villains, although Thanos himself remains undefeated.

Jack will just be sleeping things off in the corner…

Arkham Horror saw the first release in the new format, as the 5 investigators and the many, many player-cards from the Edge of the Earth arrived – I can see it taking quite some time to digest all of these, but we’re doing our best: we started the waking side of our 4-player Dreamlands campaign, using entirely Edge of the Earth investigators [I’m playing Jack, George is playing Lily, and our friends are playing Norman and Bob], and I also started a new Dunwich Legacy campaign where Simon is playing Lily (although I’m playing Winnie, who isn’t new, and only went to the Clover Club to cheat at Blackjack…) the 2-player Return to TFA campaign that George and I have been going through has got a bit side-tracked: on the plus side, Stella & Jim stopped the War of the Outer gods from destroying the world, but we should probably hurry up and actually find our way back to Mexico sometime soon. In Lord of the Rings, I had a few solo runs at some of the Children of Eorl quests for ALEP: I’ve been really enjoying the Last Alliance of Beornings and Rohirrim using the contract from the same box, but haven’t properly explored the new traps/Restricted attachments tech from the box.

Taking Flight

September was – unusually, also the month of GenCon. Normally an early August event, this was a rescheduled and much diminished affair, but it did bring us the annual In-Flight Report, with a few interesting bits of news. With the Arkham Horror revised Core Set only a few weeks away, FFG finally came out with the announcement that we’d all been waiting for for far too long – a New Lord of the Rings core box! Right now the details are a bit sketchy (we don’t know exact card counts or anything like that), but it’s been stated that this will support 4 players right out of the gate, as well as introducing some Boons and Burdens for the kind of campaign-lite experience that was included in the Saga boxes. Where I’ve currently skipped the Arkham reprint, this one is looking a lot more tempting, both in terms of some new content, and for (hopefully) 3-or-more copies of some of those core set staples that FFG inexplicably only ever gave us single copies of.

Whilst the Core Box reprint is great news for the game as a whole, on a personal level, I’m actually more excited about the new scenario pack that was announced. Now, this isn’t strictly, new content, as these two scenarios have been out in the wild for a few years. However, as they were only available as part of a really expensive box that you had to buy direct from FFG (FFG’s international postage rates are truly terrifying), and for a long time was bundled with a load of stuff for the now… dead(?) digital version of the game. None of that was going to get me putting my hand in my wallet, but a straight up “2 scenarios in a blister, available at your FLGS” is a much more enticing prospect, and I’m definitely going to be looking out for that.

For Arkham Horror, there was a new epic-multiplayer scenario announced, “Machinations Through Time.” Early mutterings I’ve heard suggest that is a bit of a step back towards something like Labyrinths of Lunacy – leaning heavily on the big group, multi-table interaction, and requiring fixed numbers of teams, rather than the “as many as you like” option of Blob and War of the Outer gods. That certainly wouldn’t have been my preferred direction (as noted above, getting to play these in their epic form is a rare event), but I should imagine that I’ll be grabbing this anyway (Arkham is still my most-played game this year [by hours]) and hopefully it will still be ok in standalone mode.

The Marvel Champions news was less ground-breaking: Vision officially announced (just a few months after Michael Boggs name-dropped him on an episode of The Card Game Cooperative) and the next deluxe- Sinister Motives.

Whilst there had been no official word on this before now, the box name had leaked via an Asmodee future-stock-order-list-thing that found its way onto various social media sites, and the only real speculation was between those of us hoping for Mister Sinister and those expecting the Sinister Six. It turned out that the Spider-Fans were right, and Miles and Gwen will be joining the game, probably early next year.

After years of feeling like most of my disposable income went to Fantasy Flight, there wasn’t actually that much more in the In-Flight Report for games that I play (although the announcement of official merch and fan-sites for L5R keeps alive my mostly baseless hopes of an L5R co-op LCG) – I have been starting to doubt my decision to not get Descent, as a lot of the early reviews seem really good, but the size of the not-so-miniature not-really-previewed in the update has me relieved for the general state of my storage. As someone who has never played Outer Rim, the “mic drop” moment at the end was strangely underwhelming.

Defeat was… Inevitable

yes, you’re seeing that right – Thanos played 6 cards in a row!

Marvel United kept on going strong – I had a first attempt at the campaign mode, doing (I thought) pretty well against Thanos’ various henchmen, as I defeated Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight and Black Dwarf with only 2 Infinity Stones captured, before getting utterly crushed by the Mad Titan himself. Partially this was down to a mistake on my part, caused by a lack of familiarity with the mechanics, but the point where he played 6 cards in a row was just brutal: Iron Man down, we rallied briefly with Hulk’s arrival, before Captain Marvel was KOed as well, and the game was lost. Painting-wise, the Black Order (plus the other figures from the Marvel Champions Infinity cycle) were the only new figures to get done this month, but again, I was fairly pleased with how they all came out. Next up, something a little more Sinister…

The Month in Review

ok, so the picture is a bit of a spoiler for what’s coming next…

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed a slight uptick in the number of reviews that I’ve managed to publish recently, with the somewhat unlikely Dance Card and small-box labyrinth puzzle The Abandons both being added in September. This all came about as a result of a chat with a friend at UK Games Expo who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years thanks to all the cancelled conventions, and the discovery that the distributer he’s now heading up were looking for people to review some of the lower-profile games on their list. Hopefully there will be more of these coming, but in the meantime, I’d encourage folks to check out the links above, and if you do like the sound of what you see, there’s a handy link through to the distributer if you want to bag a copy. There should be another one of these out in the next week or so, which I’ve been particularly enjoying, so keep your eyes peeled.

Geek of the Month

obviously, it would take some kind of diabolical genius to figure out that these 2 were the same person. Or that they had anything to do with this site…

Thanks to an admin mess-up/poor attention to detail on my part, I have 2 separate accounts on Board Game Geek, and RPG Geek (I was a fair way into multiple games on RPGG when I realised that I could have just used the same one…) but for September, on RPGG I got the unexpected chance to be the ‘Geek of the Week’ – this is basically just a rotating community spotlight, where each month someone gets a chance to talk a little about their experiences and future plans in the hobby, as well as asking a few questions.

I think that RPGG is a smaller site than BGG in terms of users, but I do find it interesting the difference in experiences that my 2 accounts have had. I’ve been on BGG years longer than RPGG, but it’s RPGG where I got given a Citizenship Award (it’s just a Star that you put on your profile) and now the nod for Geek of the Week. It’s probably worth a little reflection on my part to consider how much of this is just about it being a smaller pool of people, and how much is about the different ways I use/interact with the site. Board Game Geek is a site I use a lot – I post rules queries, I look for information on upcoming games, I use it to make decisions on whether to buy particular games, and get into discussions (and sometimes arguments) with strangers about general aspects of the industry, or specifics of individual campaigns. Things can get heated at times, and if a discussion ends with someone having a bad taste in their mouth, there’s a high chance that you won’t be interacting with that person again any time soon to replace the bad impression with a good one.

RPG Geek has a very different vibe: at least in terms of the bits I see of it – it doesn’t seem to have nearly as much activity on threads for individual systems or games, and 95% of what I post there is participation in ongoing play-by-forum games. It’s a far more sustained interaction with a much smaller group of people. There are definitely times when people have annoyed me on there – generally in terms of their play/DM-style, but either things keep going long enough that you all just learn to live with each other, or when that game inevitably folds, you make a mental note to avoid future games run by that person, simply because you know that the clash of styles is going to ensure that you aren’t enjoying yourself, and are probably making things less fun for others.

Now, none of this means that I’m suddenly about to completely change how I use either site – they serve different functions, and to an extent it’s just inevitable. Still, interesting food for thought.

Numbers

Yggdrasil Chronicles certainly catches the eye

I spent money on a few games in September – the Nebula pack for Marvel Champions, the final big box expansion for Journeys in Middle Earth (arriving October), and picked up a second-hand copy of Yggdrasil Chronicles, a reinvention of a much older game that has been a perennial feature on our table for as long as I’ve been keeping count (i.e. it definitely got played in December 2014), 34 games in 7 years. The new version has a lot of table presence, but has only been played once so far, so I’ll save further thoughts for later.

In terms of Shortfalls (games that I’ve owned for more than a month or 2, which are averaging worse than £5/hour), Grimslingers and Sword & Sorcery have now both been around long enough to start counting, and with only 3 hours clocked up in 4 months, Sword & Sorcery is a big red blot on the sheet. Grimslingers is much closer to break-even, and should be in the black by the end of October. Journeys in Middle Earth also dipped into the red for 2021, as it hasn’t been played as much as in previous years, but with shipping delays, stock availability issues, and imminent price rises expected across the board, waiting for something that I know I’ll be getting eventually seemed like a mistake.

October is likely to look even worse, with Cloudspire also around long enough to start counting, so the shortfallers need some serious table-time.

Challenges

For the 10×10 Hardcore Challenge, I’m up to 87/100, just 3 more sessions ticked off in September. As mentioned at the start of the year, this is the first time that I’ve limited it to multiplayer-only, which is currently excluding 6 sessions of solo play, and would otherwise have seen 1 more game completed and 2 just a single session short. Hogwarts Battle, Marvel Legendary and Shadows of Brimstone needing a bit more play as we head into the final quarter of the year.

My solo 10×10 is up to 90 sessions, thanks to 3 games apiece for Lord of the Rings LCG and Railroad Ink, plus 1 each for Dominion, Keyforge, and Aeon’s End – Aeon’s End having reached 10. 9 of the 10 games seem pretty-much locked in at this point, with Keyforge on 6 sessions the only real question mark as to whether it will actually get to 10 solo plays, or something else will beat it.

For brand-new games, I’m up to 8×8, thanks to a big surge of Heroes of Tenefyr, a fun Dungeon-Crawling card-game that should be getting its own review sometime very soon. I’m currently only 6 sessions shy of hitting 10×10 here, and should comfortably get this done by the end of the year.

Next?

Given the state of global shipping, I’m not expecting many big arrivals for October, with most outstanding Kickstarters having been pushed to December or beyond. That said, the Journeys in Middle Earth box should be arriving soon, and I’ve recent put in a terrifyingly large MB Print order for the next wave of ALEP products (it’s for 30+ other people, not just me), so Cloudy with a Chance of Hobbits is the October forecast. Aside from that, there’s always a chance of something arriving for Marvel Champions (War Machine or The Hood next, I think) and I’m not 100% sure when the Edge of the Earth campaign for Arkham Horror is due. I also want to get to grips with Yggdrasil Chronicles properly, so there will be plenty to keep me busy.

The Intrepid Miss Walker – Undimensioned and Unseen

Chance EncountersSeason 1: Episode 6

Undimensioned and Unseen

I felt like my head had barely touched the pillow when the sun through the window and the unsettling calls of the Whippoorwills woke me once again. Emerging into the stark sunlight of Dunwich Village, I was quickly regaled by disturbing tales of invisible beasts roaming the countryside. A month ago I would have thought this too preposterous to credit, but now I knew better. I checked that I had my cached supplies, Dr Christopher’s notes – which would no doubt be of particular use when trying to dissect an invisible creature!, and Armitage’s new Latin version of the Necronomicon, which might offer us some valuable insight into how we could defeat these creatures.

Rather than an invisible monster, the first thing I discovered that morning was a knife-wielding maniac. As she pushed the hair back from her face, I thought I saw a crazed look in her eyes, and that suspicion was not eased by the enormous machete she wielded. She told me that a “Brother Xavier” had directed her this way, and that she was “doing the Lord’s work” in hunting these monsters. I was about to object when I realised that my own story would sound no less ridiculous to the uninitiated. I gave her my name, she introduced herself as “Zoey” and suggested that we work together – I agreed that her plan made sense, taking fresh inspiration to search my bag for something else that might aid us. Unfortunately, I merely found my eyes drawn, irresistibly to my own copy of the Necronomicon and felt an involuntary shiver, before I set out into the countryside.

Given the huge size of the beasts, their tracks were not hard to follow, although I lost my way once as I found myself distracted by the Necronomicon which remained clutched in my hand. I tried to put it aside, and felt my mind straining, but could not quite muster the strength.

Zoey meanwhile had been flapping her arms so furiously that the Whippoorwills had descended to settle on the ground around her. Catching them unawares, she sprang forward with her Machete, but somehow the blow failed to land. A great shaking of the ground announced the arrival of one of the beasts right here in the heart of Dunwich Village. Fortunately, Zoe appeared to have finally dispatched the Whipporwhills, and as she muttered a strange incantation, a green mist descended on the area, momentarily revealing the beast, and binding it, allowing me to point out a shortcut into the woods. I found myself frozen in fear, and it was all I could do to note down a final piece of evidence and flee into 10 Acre wood after her. As I ran, I steeled my mind, and was finally able to release the Necronomicon.

Further Whipporwhills had joined us in the 10-Acre wood, but this time Zoe was better prepared, and dispatched them almost immediately, striding onwards towards the Whatley ruins. I was still trying to search the meadow for clues, and felt my movement slowed by the fear which continued to linger, although the techniques learned from the Pathfinder manual helped to balance this out. As I caught up with Zoey at the ruins, I grabbed a vial of the Strange Solution from my purse, ready in case anything unpleasant was lurking there.

I was right to be afraid – no sooner had we reached that silent and sordid place than a strange, winged beast leapt out at me. Fortunately, I had been studying the area carefully, and had a plan to deal with it. I dispatched the beast, paused briefly to examine some evidence on the ground, then headed back into 10-Acre meadow. I finally felt free of the fear that had been gripping me, and was able to flick through the Latin translation of the Necronomicon, mentally noting a few things that would stand us in good stead. Zoey seemed similarly unsettled by the silence in the ruins and followed me back to the Meadow, whilst attaching a cross around her neck.

As we reached the Meadow, Armitage caught up with us and, wasting no time on introductions, we returned post-haste to the Whatley ruins. There we found a strange formula, and whilst it was no language that I could decipher, Armitage translated it quickly, and seemingly without difficult. Crudely transliterated, he handed us each a sheet of paper, and advised that this formula, if recited correctly, could be used to bind, or even destroy the creatures that roamed, hidden from our site. Now the hunted became the hunters, as we set out to put Armitage’s theory to the test.

Examining the tracks no-doubt left by the creatures, it was clear that there were far more of the beasts roaming the area than I had previously assumed, perhaps as many as 4! Suddenly a great shaking of the earth made me realise that the creatures were upon me, and it took all the composure I had left to calm myself in spite of the fear: carefully observing where the grass bent and flattened, and moving myself to a comparatively safe place. Once there I began to chant from the formula Armitage had written out, and heard a great screech of pain as the beast reared back in anger and surprise. Zoey seemed to sense the creature’s weakness and, leaping forward, fell upon the beast, sending the first one toppling to its doom.

Before I could call to her to stop, Zoey was off again, charging down towards Cold Spring Glen. I found myself once more set-upon by one of the beasts, and it was all I could do to stay out of its grasp. The invisible nightmares seemed now to have been joined by a winged beast of some kind, but that was too far away for me to think about at that moment.

A little way away, I could hear Zoey, almost screaming out the incantation at one of the beasts, and by her triumphant shout, I could tell that the spell was doing its work, although whether the creature was defeated or simply wounded I could not tell from here.

The next few minutes were a blur, and looking back, I struggle to remember clearly what happened. I think that, as I headed down to join Zoe in Cold Spring Glen, one of the invisible monsters must have passed me in the opposite direction, spinning me around, and disorienting me for a moment. The only thing I know with any real certainty is that suddenly there was a winged monstrosity flapping at me, and the sounds of the remaining invisible creatures could be heard nearby, perhaps as many as 3 of them.

The creature seemed to rear back as Zoey struck it with what appeared to be a can of gasoline, although where she had come by such a thing, I had no idea.

“You’re doing The Lord’s work, Daisy” she told me, with a wistful smile, as she began backing away, the winged horror raining its strikes down upon her as she retreated.

I have never been particularly religious, and the unspeakable nightmares that I had seen these past few days made it hard for me to believe in any benevolent higher power.

“Are you sure about that?” I called after her “what if this is all there is? Just us and these monsters?”

She flashed me a smile as she disappeared up the slope towards the sounds of the thrashing creatures

“Well, in that case … I guess I’ll see you in hell.”

Still somewhat dazed by my most recent encounters, it took me a moment to comprehend the finality of her answer. By the time I understood, it was too late, and I barely managed more than a few steps in that direction before there was an almighty BOOM, as the petroleum can and, no doubt, everything else in its vicinity were consumed by an instant inferno. The shockwave knocked me from my feet, and it was a few moments before I could stand. By the time I did, all was quiet – it seemed that Zoey had accomplished her task, but I did not need to crest the rise to know at what cost…

Resolution 2

  • No Brood Escape Into the Wild
  • 4 Victory Points

Zoey Decklist

There are monsters loose in the countryside! Who’s going to be hunting them? Probably knife-wielding chef/zealot Zoey Samaras.

Again, this felt like a fairly easy pick. Thematically, Zoey seems like the person you’d most expect to find charging around the countryside hunting down monstrosities. Mechanically, she’s got the fighty tools of Guardian and a good enough willpower to be able to deal with Broods.

I’m not a huge fan of this scenario. The random movement of the Broods always feels very fiddly, and it’s very random when they actually appear (due to the treachery). On top of all that, it becomes very difficult to keep track of all the different location effects and which ones have been triggered already this scenario.

I wasn’t very happy with my draft deck, so did a non-logged dry run of this scenario. Somehow, we managed to stagger our way to bagging all the broods, but it felt like all Zoey was contributing was her willpower and killing non-Brood enemies that showed up. The tweaked version was a little bit lighter on Willpower boosts, but brought in Mists of R’yleh and Sixth Sense to grab clues, and exhaust Broods (so you can use the powder of Ibn-Ghazi)

Zoey’s accessory slot always feels heavily contested to me. Normally I tend to think that it’s an easy decision to just play the Amulet, as that automatic damage is so useful (kill a Whippoorwill for a single action) but the utility is much-reduced in this scenario where the main enemies are immune to the damage it deals, so I did consider other options, most notably Holy Rosary for that Willpower boost. Of course, you can go Relic-Hunter, but I was keen to keep this at just the 19xp, and to find the space, I would have had to have either cut out things like Stand Together, or go up a weakness. I did this playthrough quite a long time ago now and if Physical Training (4) had been out, then that would probably have been enough to make me go to 29

Of course, the highlight of this scenario – and indeed of the campaign so far was realising that the stars were going to align for Zoey to pull off the I’ll See You in Hell! – she had to tank an opportunity attack from the Avian Thrall, but 3 Broods in 1 location was just too good to resist. Getting up to 4 broods in play at once was a fairly scary place to be, even with 2 high-willpower investigators, but thankfully Zoe’s kamikaze move was enough to see them through to victory.

I did spot one rules mistake here, long after I’d played the scenario – apparently it’s been confirmed that if you move using Pathfinder whilst Frozen in Fear, it doesn’t cost you an action. As I was making the game harder rather than easier for myself, I wasn’t about to go back and re-play, especially after such a perfect resolution.

The New Way Forward for Arkham Horror The Card Game

In case you missed it, the last few weeks have seen some pretty big news for Arkham Horror the Card Game.

With the most recent cycle, The Innsmouth Conspiracy, reaching a conclusion with the release of Into the Maelstrom last month (or in April in the UK), there was only a single announced product that had yet to make its way into the hands of the general public, Return to The Circle Undone, which we were all expecting sometime in the next couple of weeks. Fans of the game had been primed to expect a slight delay, to make up for the impact that Covid had on design/testing last year, but everyone was expecting confirmation of the new cycle to land sometime soon.

I’m not sure that anyone was expecting what we got.

Before I go into the announcement, here’s a quick bit of background for context.

As it has always been – a brief history of LCGs

In a lot of ways, the LCG – Living Card Game – is Fantasy Flight’s flagship model for games. Designed as a corrective to CCGs (collectible card games), they offer regular instalments of content, with a fixed distribution: when you buy a product, you know exactly which cards are going to be inside.

Arkham Horror was a long way from being the first LCG, but since its initial release in 2016, it has followed a pattern that’s very familiar for this game type.

Firstly, there was a core box, which is needed to play anything that follows. In theory, a single core box is enough to play the game, but you only get a single copy of a lot of key player cards, so if you’re planning on committing to the game (or just want to play with 3-4 players without buying all the expansions), a second core is highly recommended, if not quite a “must-have.”

From thereon, the game releases in cycles. The exact shape of a cycle has always varied by game, but it tends to be focused around a set of 6 “monthly” packs of 60 cards (Mythos packs in Arkham, previously Adventure, Chapter, Dynasty, Data, etc in other LCGs). Competitive LCGs have often had models where each cycle was just the 6x monthly packs (possibly supplemented by bigger boxes that tended to stand apart). But for Arkham, like Lord of the Rings before it, each cycle has been kicked off by a larger “deluxe expansion,” and the 6 smaller, monthly packs typically require the preceding deluxe to be playable.

We’ve been told at various points in the past that new cards are all tested together, effectively created as a single design, which is then broken down into 6 or 7 products at a later stage (this has been known to create unusual kinks in the meta of tournament/competitive games, where a card is extremely powerful in the first part of a cycle before another card releases a month or 2 later which balances it out).

There have been attempts to break away from this model. When Fantasy Flight launched Legend of the Five Rings as an LCG, they gave us the core box, then immediately followed it with 6 Dynasty Packs in 6 weeks, as part of an attempt to front-load the card-pool and get people deck-building from the outset. It was … a mixed success, at best. The arrival of the second 6 in 6 was definitely the trigger for me to stop buying the game, and I think it proved problematic for others too, as it didn’t last much longer before they reverted to a more traditional monthly model. Lots of people have suggested alternatives for various LCGs, but it had never looked incredibly likely to happen.

Until now.

The Edge of the Earth

So, as mentioned above, at the beginning of June, we got our announcement of the new campaign. However, the big twist was that, instead of a deluxe (And presumably 6 monthly packs to follow), this would be 2 big boxes, and that would be it!

Box 1 is 5 new investigators and a load of player cards, and Box 2 is an entire campaign of secnario/encounter cards – so (roughly) the same content as you previously had in 7 different purchases now in 2.

There was also information on what the new campaign was going to be (Antarctica), and who the new investigators would be (Lily, Norman, Daniela, Bob and Monterey Jack), but that got a little buried under the distribution format bombshell.

Overall, the reaction to the change seems to be very strongly positive, but I just wanted to take a few minutes today to think a little bit more about the pros and cons of the new model.

A Man Walks into a Board Game Shop…

This is already quite out-of-date – we’ve had 1.5 more cycles than are shown here, plus this display doesn’t seem to include the Core Game or any Return To boxes…

Occasionally, people still go into shops. I know that seems like a long-forgotten concept after nearly 18 months of Covid, but I believe it’s still true. Nearly 5 years into the life of the game, any shop that wants to carry a full range of Arkham products needs to devote a large chunk of space to it. The Core box, 6 deluxe expansions. 36 Mythos packs. 4 “Return to…” boxes (soon to be 5) 8(ish) stand-alone or event scenarios, that’s already well over 50 different products, and an expectation of another 8-10 per year on a game that’s showing no signs of stopping.

In reality, very few shops are in a position to devote that much space to a single game (unless it’s Magic the Gathering), and instead, what tends to happen, is that shops will stock a random hodgepodge of different Arkham products. I believe that MJ has confirmed in the past that sales figures always dwindle as you go through a cycle, but the interaction between how many copies actually get printed/ordered/sold is a level of arcane knowledge that I don’t have access to.

With FFG continuing to print/release very conservative numbers of copies of each pack, it has increasingly been the case that, unless you have a clear plan for where you’re getting your Arkham Mythos pack in place ahead of time, there’s a very real chance that you miss out upon release, and it can take months, sometimes years for the replacements to all line up. I know plenty of people who own the start of a cycle but haven’t played the campaign, because they can’t source the end (or sometimes the middle!) and they don’t want to get stuck mid-way through. In this respect, Arkham is even worse off than its ancestor, Lord of the Rings, as LotR only had a fairly loose overarching story, and generally you could play pack 5 without having played pack 4 relatively easily. Arkham’s “campaign by default” approach makes that more-or-less impossible if you want to experience the game “as intended”.

Notionally, then, from a buying-and-selling perspective, the new model is better all-round: fewer products for shops to stock, leading to a greater likelihood of them having everything available. No more players stuck with half a cycle that they can’t play.

From a financial perspective, obviously the equations change. I put in a pre-order for the 2 boxes for £89.99 shipped, compared with £23.99 + 6x£11.99 plus however many lots of shipping. If you wanted to wait and managed to grab a whole cycle at once, the new model probably saves you about £5 per cycle (there’s generally a small discount to be had when buying bulk) but if you bought everything as it came out and don’t have a bricks-and-mortar shop to go to, the shipping is probably pushing it up £20 or so more expensive over the course of the cycle.

The big difference however, is when the money gets spent. The bottom line says that £90 is less than £95+, but £95 at once feels like a lot more than never more than £25-30 in a month (and most months more like £15) – from the perspective of my own spreadsheets, I’m glad that this announcement/pre-order came at a point in the year where we’d already clocked up nearly 50 hours of Arkham LCG!

Talking Arkham 1: What happens next?

In the age of box-sets and bingeing, I’ve been really enjoying the Marvel Disney+ series this year. Wandavision in particular, was a very unusual programme that became a whole lot more interesting because of the rampant speculation. Every week the internet was absolutely teeming with theories, most of which turned out to be wrong, but there was a definite sense of being part of an event as well as simply watching something.

What do you think? can we trust them?

Whilst Arkham isn’t generally as crazy as the most extreme bits of Wandavision, it still has a very strong narrative element, and the speculation on how things are going to play out is still a significant part of the online chatter that keeps the community ticking over. There is genuine uncertainty within the community: what exactly is the mystery behind X? is NPC Y going to betray us? Is Mephisto really behind it all?

When the Edge of the Earth campaign box releases, there will be some people (probably those without small children) who will complete the campaign that weekend. Others might take a few weeks, whereas others still will take months over it. I’d imagine that people will be far less likely to go online to create “I wonder what will happen next…” posts when they know full well that the answers are in a box on their table. When those posts do happen, they are far more likely to be met with “ah yeah, that’s a good one, you’ll have to wait and see” (or just someone ruining the fun by straight-up answering) rather than people weighing in with their own competing guesswork.

Talking Arkham 2: Are we all on the same page?

Beyond that shared, gradual discovery aspect, the pack-by-pack release model has generally meant that when I go to an Arkham discord server/Facebook group etc, there’s generally a core mass of players who are all within a scenario or two of each other in the current campaign, meaning that beyond the narrative speculation, you’ll generally find people puzzling over the best ways to use the same new cards, struggling with the same new challenges, or just generally wanting to talk about the current thing.

By contrast, I own all the “Return to…” boxes and, whilst I’ve seen periodic discussions of changes that people did/didn’t like, I’ve never felt like I saw any real sense of progression as the public collectively moved through the campaign, it’s just a case that “a while” after a “Return to…” box comes out, someone will say “so, what about that campaign, eh?” and a few people will weigh in with thoughts – the ones who have actually played the whole thing, as few as they may be.

In one sense, this is a very small issue – none of it changes the actual gameplay. That said, I do still think that I’ll miss this element, and I hope that lack of incentive to keep pace with the general conversation doesn’t lead to a dwindling of impetus to keep people playing the game.

Talking Arkham 3: Keeping the Conversation Going

other Podcasts are available

Tied to this idea of the conversation, is the question of “Content Creators,” the folk who spend their free time Blogging, Podcasting, making YouTube videos, or whatever else it is the kids do these days. Whilst I’m not trying to suggest that Arkham is up there with a tournament game like Magic the Gathering, I can’t think of another cooperative game which has so many and such prolific fans creating things for the game.

Again, this certainly isn’t something that’s necessary to play the game, but knowing that there’s going to be a review of this month’s scenario on Mythos Busters in a few months’ time is going to make a fair few people make sure that they’re keeping up to date. Knowing that Frank will be doing a “First Look” at the new player cards on the next episode of Drawn to the Flame is enough reason for plenty of people to ensure that they have their pack on release day, and crack it open as they listen live – is that still going to be part of the wider ritual of the game when it’s an annual wade in to 265 cards followed by 11 months of silence? (Fortunately, at the Card Game Cooperative, we’re too slow to remain that topical, so we’ll hopefully survive the shake-up unscathed!)

What about the box?

It might seem an absurd thing to be concerned about, but it’s also worth giving some thought to storage. Right now, I have 4 (imminently 5) “Return to…” boxes, which will hold a fully-sleeved campaign, along with 1 or 2 standalones that came out around the same time, and which all sit next to each other very neatly on my shelves. I also have 3 plain cardboard boxes which hold the most recent campaigns, until they get their Return To.

Struggling to tell what size these boxes are – Marvel Champions campaign box? Arkham Core set? all will be revealed, I guess…

Part of this, is because the original packaging for both deluxes and mythos packs is so awful: the flimsy card of a deluxe will bend and collapse if you stare at it too hard, and the plastic “clam-shells” of the mythos packs are ideally for retail display, poor for storing unsleeved cards, and literally useless for storing them sleeved.

By the sounds of things, Edge of the Earth and its successors will come already in a relatively sturdy, ‘proper’ box – so what does this mean for Return Tos? It could be that these were already on their way out (my understanding is that LotR’s Nightmare packs were cancelled due to low sales figures), but I’ve heard many enthuse about the storage benefits of a Return To box, and spoken with plenty of folks who probably wouldn’t have bothered with the extra cards, if it weren’t for the box. Have FFG left extra space inside the original for Return To cards? Will we still get what we’re used to later? Or will Return to The Innsmouth Conspiracy be the last of its kind?

Ditching those clam-shells is almost certainly good for the environment, but if the Return to boxes are a casualty of this shake-up, there are going to be some sad folk out there.

The Play’s the Thing

For a change that I’m actually relatively positive about, I know that I’ve posted a fair few “negatives” here. That’s mostly just my sleep-deprived inner miserable old git talking: not that I don’t think they’re all valid concerns, simply in how prominent I’ve let them become.

Ultimately though, the true determinant of whether the switch in model will be a success (at least in my eyes, although I’d hope of others too) is the question of “will the distribution change lead to better, worse, or unchanged quality of scenarios?” MJ has spoken recently on Drawn to the Flame about how Essex County Express, essentially came about because of the need to keep the campaign 8 scenarios long, and ended up being a really distinctive, memorable scenario, so there have definitely been positives to this “restriction” up until now. Even so, personally, I’m really intrigued to see what will MJ come up with now that she’s free of the “8 scenarios pretty-much in a fixed order” constraint? Again, in a recent interview (I think it was with Mythos Busters), she said that Edge of the Earth will potentially have a variable number of scenarios, depending on decisions you make, and I’m sure that this is just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended) for what we might see later.

Positives

  • Always able to get whole cycles
  • Fewer products for Retailers to stock
  • Lower overall cost
  • Environmentally friendly (less plastic packaging)
  • More creative freedom for developers

Negatives

  • Bigger up-front buy-in
  • Feast or Famine rather than steady trickle of releases
  • Community discussion likely to be more fragmented
  • Inconsistent storage / what happens to “Return To…”

I’ve played Arkham Horror LCG at least once a month for 48 [sic!] months in a row, and obviously that’s because I enjoy playing the game. I hope that this change will mean even more interesting new content for the game and more things to explore.

Overall, I think that FFG have done the most sensible thing here. From a business/logistics position it’s a no-brainer, and whilst I do have some concerns about the changes that will happen to community content and the general discussion around the game, I’m optimistic that the long-term benefits will be big enough to more than balance it all out.

5000 Games and the Taste of Freedom – May 2021

May has been and gone. We were allowed into other people’s houses again and, once that happened, the sun even decided to start shining for the  last few days of the month. Perhaps due to this new-found ability to socialise, there were fewer gaming sessions than the extremely high level that had become the new norm over the past 6 months or so, but it certainly wasn’t a drought. There was nothing brand new that got played, but we dusted off a few titles: some classics like Pandemic and Ticket to Ride getting their first sessions for the year, along with Flags of the World, and Firefly Legendary. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

5000!

Marvel United: Now in glorious technicolour…

On Saturday 15th May, I sat down with my wife for a quick game of Marvel United. Nothing particularly remarkable here, until I noticed later that day, that this was the 5000th game I’d played since Christmas 2014. For a bit of context, that’s 2684 days, so just under 2 games a day. I thought this might be a good moment to take a look back at some of the big headlines.

Those 5000 plays are spread across 253 games, so averaging just under 20 sessions per game, although the spread is actually a fair bit broader: 65 games played once, 72 played twice. At the other extreme, that’s 20 games played 50+ times and 8 played 100+. My H-Index for that whole period is 32.

The big 4 are Lord of the Rings LCG, Pathfinder ACG, Arkham LCG and Zombicide – Arkham is still going strong as a most-played game, and Zombicide and Lord of the Rings still get a decent amount of table-time, but Pathfinder has largely fallen by the wayside, just 3 sessions in the past 4 years.

any “most” list of my games will generally come down to this A-Z

Counting play by hours instead is a similar picture: Zombicide and Arkham LCG are joined by Dungeons and Dragons as the 3 games to have spent more than 300 hours on the table.

The most played game overall that’s no longer even in my possession is Game of Thrones LCG (2nd edition) which got played 60 times / roughly 45 hours before I sold up.

In terms of smaller milestones, Aeon’s End hit 100 sessions this month (20 for 2021), no other big totals to note.

Not-A-Living-Card-Game

As I mentioned last month, when it was first announced a couple of years ago, Keyforge was a game that greatly intrigued me. However, it was also an exclusively 2-player duelling card game, which was never going to go down well with my wife, and I’d never actually picked it up.

In my not-particularly-knowledgeable opinion, the Pickpocket is a noticeably better deck

May was when I finally got my teeth into some proper Keyforge Adventures play, going up against the Keyraken both solo and 2-player, using the pair of decks that came in my Dark Tidings core box. The AI on the Keyraken probably isn’t as sophisticated as a proper co-op/solo LCG, and the difference in power level between player decks can mean that some match-ups are a lot easier than others, but overall it’s definitely been an experience that I’ve enjoyed. There’s now a second Adventure available to play, Abyssal Conspiracy (as was the case with Keyraken a month ago, current status is “printed: unplayed”) and I’m also hoping for a few more decks soon to try them out with (2 decks for a fiver seemed hard to argue with, even if they are – apparently – not especially powerful). I’m going to be watching Keyforge fairly carefully to see whether Keyforge Adventures ultimately mutates into a fully-fledged, printed, product line, but for now I’m having plenty of fun with what I have.

Arkham – Endings

3-player Lair of Dagon – just BEFORE we were allowed people inside our houses.

May was a month of campaign endings in Arkham Horror LCG, both of our Innsmouth Conspiracy play-throughs reaching their climax, as Lair of Dagon arrived, and we were able to take Amanda and Parallel Skids for the 2-player game, and Silas, Mary and Trish for the 3-player through the final 2 scenarios. Our first impression of Lair of Dagon was that it was pretty horrible, but this turned out to be (at least in part) due to having the scenario reference card upside down and accidentally playing on Hard! For our second attempt we managed to correct this, which smoothed a lot of the edges off, but we still got screwed over fairly hard by a random interaction that made the game essentially unwinnable. Into the Maelstrom felt like the opposite extreme – when we first advanced into stage 2, the challenge before us felt impossible – to the extent that I was re-reading the rulebook, assuming that we must have made a mistake. Once we got into it though, we were able to make progress surprisingly quickly and made it out fairly comfortably.

In neither play-through did we get the big mid-scenario twist. I wasn’t too bothered about this (we’ve still never hit Turn Back Time, which is the locked/hidden scenario from a previous campaign), as the campaign seems very deliberately designed to ensure that the narrative is fragmented, and every play-through will probably see a slightly different set of Flashbacks gained.

it may only be a suggestion, but things can get really confusing in remote-play if you don’t follow the campaign guide

Overall, I think Innsmouth was a decent campaign. I do feel that, as the complexity of the stories continues to increase, each new Arkham campaign becomes a little harder to follow on the blind play-through, and better-suited to the we-no-longer-have-to-wait-for-pack-releases, we basically know what we’re doing now, later play-throughs.

We’ve got one game left of our 4-player The Circle Undone, which has been entirely online up-until-now, but should be face to face for the finale, now that we’ve all had vaccine jab 1. Our next big Arkham project will be just me and George again, a run-through of Return to The Forgotten Age, where we’ll see just how bad an idea Curse Jim with Stella is as a run-through.

Challenges

It was a very slow month for the multiplayer 10×10 Hardcore challenge – just a couple of sessions of Death May Die being counted, making it the 4th game to hit 10 plays. Overall, 66/100 with less than half the year gone isn’t too bad, but there are several games that are starting to lag behind: still only 1 session of Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle in 2021, and only 3 multiplayer sessions of Marvel Legendary or LotR LCG.

For the non-hardcore challenge, Death May Die saw the challenge completed: 100/100 in five months!

The New Games challenge continues to move along, having reached 6×6. There are also a couple of new arrivals still sat un-played, although they’d need to make it to 4+ sessions to dislodge any of the 10 games already listed. On the subject of un-played, I do have 17 games currently sitting on the 2021 Pile of Shame – 2 new, and 1 old ones. It’s still only the first half of the year, so nothing to get too worried about yet, but I’ll be keeping an eye on that.

Solo play continues to be fairly broad rather than high: 13 games played 3+times, but only 7 played 7 or more times, I’m trying to make a point of not just playing games for the sake of the challenge, and this is an area that I haven’t really paid much attention to in the past, so it’s as much about actually noticing what/how I play solo as “completing” a challenge.

Numbers

Money-wise it was a fairly pricey month with the Marvel United X-Men Kickstarter, and HEXplore It on Gamefound both inspiring me to get the Credit Card out. I made a bit of headway on my short-fallers with a few games of Call to Adventure, but Mutant Insurrection has now been around long enough to start counting, and is still a fiver short of break-even. Hopefully June will see a brief improvement before July comes and Marvel United starts counting!

Next?

coming soon to a table near me…

For the second year in a row, June will not mean UK Games Expo (this year it should at least be happening, it’ll just be happening in July). I’ve got a bit of time off work, but it’s all ended up syncing quite badly with days when my son is in Nursery, and we’re finally in a position to visit my parents for the first time in about a year, so who knows whether I’ll manage any actual extra gaming.

Sword & Sorcery arrived this month, but I didn’t make it through the hefty rulebook – getting this played in June will be a definite priority.

The Calm Before the Storm: February 2021

2 months down. 10 to go. Still no sign of other folk being allowed in the house for games (yes, they’ve said that restrictions might be over by June, but I’m definitely in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” camp).

Overall February was a tough month – I think everyone is feeling the strain. I’ve talked in the past about how my mental health isn’t always that great, and I think the cold, dark days of winter felt particularly oppressive this time around. Generally playing games is still something that helps me to cheer up, but that assumes I can find the energy and the motivation to actually set them up and get started to begin with.

The very end of the month was a bit brighter, in most senses of the word, and there was still a good chunk of gaming throughout.

Surprising new arrivals

I played a remarkable number of new games this month, but it doesn’t take the closest observer to spot definite theme to the newcomers. Rhino Hero, Animal Upon Animal, Snug as a Bug in a Rug, and Monza – all arriving in the house to mark Ned’s 4th Birthday. This is actually a slightly controversial set of plays to log, given that I’ve never bothered tracking plays of Where’s My Cupcake or Dotty Dinosaurs on BGStats (shockingly, Little Bus Lotto doesn’t even have a BGG page, but those other classics do!) maybe it’s snobbery on my part, but most of those Orchard Games don’t really feel like they count, whereas the Haba ones generally require something of the players, that can see them lose as a result of their own errors (mostly that’s “wobbly hands”) – Snug as a Bug in a Rug blurs this line a bit, there’s a certain level of mental challenge involved, and you can manage probability to an extent in the first half of the game, but a lot of it boils down to the random spin. If I continue to count all 4 of these, then that 5×5 New challenge will be over fairly quickly, so I might end up adapting it slightly.

Arkham Online

Arkham Horror continues to be a much-played game. It’s actually the most-played by time, even keeping ahead of D&D for the moment, although Champions beats it for most sessions because it’s that much easier to squeeze in a 20-minute solo game. That said, I’ve definitely noticed a new trend creeping into Arkham this year: we’ve got multiple remote campaigns going: a 4-player Circle Undone and a 3-player Innsmouth Conspiracy run-through, as well as having (more-or-less-) successfully introduced the game to a friend for a remote Night of the Zealot (suddenly those ‘useless’ duplicate cards from that second core-set proved their worth, as I was able to drop a box of stuff round to her house, then talk through the rest of it via Zoom).

 Whilst this has been fun, I feel like it’s been a significant encumbrance on our ongoing 2-player games at home. For one thing, a remote Arkham game tends to fill a whole evening, rather than leaving time for another game and, more to the point, the sheer amount of time spent building and dismantling decks often leaves me thinking that I don’t have the energy to set things back up, only to tear them down a few days later. It hasn’t completely killed off 2-player sessions: Skids and Amanda have dispatched the beast of Devil Reef, after a successful trip to the Clover Club, Skids only needs to spend 6 resources per game on Hospital Debts, instead of 9. Still, something to keep an eye on in future, and just look forward to when we’re (eventually) able to go back to meeting up indoors, when we can hopefully cram multiple games into an evening, which should make a difference.

You Didn’t See that Coming?

February saw the arrival of the Maximov twins to Marvel Champions. Scarlet Witch in particular was something of a surprise (Asmodee UK messed up the release date, and had to withdraw it from sale – fortunately not until after pre-orders had shipped. Everyone else should be getting theirs in about a day or so, depending on when I manage to publish this article).

Both of them are good fun. Scarlet Witch is appropriately chaotic, and also gives Justice a long-overdue boost in terms of player cards (not that Justice had really struggled for power, but it’s nice to have the variety and feel like there are a few more meaningful decisions to be made when deck-building). Quicksilver is a bit of a slow starter, and definitely takes a bit of time to warm up, but once he’s in full flow, feels really powerful – good enough even to make up for being packaged with Protection cards. (I’m starting to wonder if it’s deliberate that all the best heroes come with Protection pre-cons, in order to curb their power-level…)

Zombies. Thousands of ‘em!

I played a decent amount of Zombicide in February, both Green Horde and Dark Side – our first game of Dark Side was a little underwhelming as we blasted through a “hard” scenario in 30 minutes with very little jeopardy. This prompted me to go back to the rulebook and remove the spawn cards listed as the “easy” part of the deck which is something I’d never actually gotten round to doing during the previous 5 years of Zombicide (I’d just added tougher zombies, which means you can get hit harder, but does reduce the risk of running out of miniatures) – it definitely had the desired effect, as the next scenario filled a whole evening, with success only coming on the second attempt.

 There is currently a Kickstarter ongoing for the latest iteration of Zombicide, the Wild West-themed “Undead or Alive” – like most new iterations of Zombicide, there are a few subtle variants on the well-established theme: character classes, temporary spawn points and an end to doors seem to be the big ones here. I was disappointed that this didn’t come with a campaign mode from day 1, but they more than made up for it when they announced the Steam Punk add-on box – it’s not to some people’s taste, but I really like the aesthetic, and it’s got some fun homages amongst the KSE survivors. They’ve even added horse-mounted survivors, although I was a little bit underwhelmed that this wasn’t part of a big-box expansion bringing the open plains to the game. Right now I’m in for $1, and mostly hoping that they don’t add too many more optional buys, so that I can go all-in. Whatever happens, I can’t really imagine a situation where I don’t end up backing this, at least for the base+first big box. Zombicide is always good fun, and they know how to make each version play in a way that feels unique without pushing things too far and losing the simple charm that makes the game unique. If nothing else, the miniature quality is a cut above a lot of the figures I have for Shadows of Brimstone, so these will sub in nicely there.

Beginning of the End (of the beginning?)

February also saw a few games of Aeon’s End, which is another game that has an active Kickstarter for further content. Legacy of Gravehold is one that I’ve been feeling quite torn on: on the one hand, it concludes the story arc that we’ve been playing through over the past few years, and seems to offer a huge stack of new content. On the downside, it sees a return to Legacy, which is firmly entrenching itself as my least-favourite game-mechanic. On the plus side, it seems to be mostly stickers rather than actually tearing things up, but the reset pack looks like a seriously hefty lump of cardboard (and one which will be A LOT more expensive at retail, so is definitely a buy-now-or-never sort of proposition). I’m currently leaning towards getting the game, but mounting all the stickers on cardboard to use as tokens instead

Mono No Aware

cooperatvie!

In mid-February Fantasy Flight announced the conclusion of the Legend of the 5 Rings LCG. This wasn’t a huge surprise to anyone – FFG has always struggled to maintain competitive LCGs long-term, as the barrier to entry rises to the point where the game buckles under the weight of its own cardpool, and 2020 was likely to be a fatal blow to any game which relied heavily on Organised Play. Beyond that, it has provided more grist to the rumour mill which likes to speculate heavily on the demise of FFG.

Weirdly, this announcement impacted me slightly differently. Long-time readers will know of my love for the Lore and Art of L5R, but I sold my collection a few years ago, because I just could not find the time to get out and be part of a local play-group consistently enough to justify continuing to buy the packs.

However, at the same time as announcing “this is the end” FFG also unveiled the final expansion which finally brings in a full-on Shadowlands faction and gives the option for players to play cooperatively (or even solo?) against the Shadowlands. Suddenly those people selling off their collections on eBay look a lot more tempting.

I probably won’t end up getting back in to this – even a good deal on a collection at this point will be a significant outlay, and whilst I enjoyed the L5R I played, it was always a pretty long, fairly brain-burn-y game. I’m a little bit dubious as to how well it can be converted into a co-op/solo experience via a single expansion. As a friend has noted, FFG still appear to own the IP, so hopefully this is a testing point for an L5R co-op LCG to re-boot in a couple of years.

Money

February was a cheap month. A REALLY cheap month, in that I didn’t end up spending anything on games! Largely, this was because of Asmodee UK and their stock issues – Scarlet Witch being paid for in January, whilst A Light in the Fog for Arkham and X-Men Mutant Insurrection remain “on the boat” somewhere, despite having made it into the hands of gamers in other parts of the world. I also sold some things – one old game very cheaply, and a few Arkham promos for a very nice sum, so I’m in profit for the month -and, indeed, for the year. It won’t last, but it’s a nice place to be starting from.

In terms of games with an outstanding shortfall, there was pretty good progress across the board: a solid 2+ hour session for Tainted Grail, another couple of games of Flash Point and, perhaps most significantly of all, Cthulhu Death May Die into the black, as we started cracking through some of the Season 2 scenarios against Cthulhu – still a great fun game, looking forward to many more hours of it yet. Vadoran Gardens was the only game still in the red not to hit the table in February, so I’ll be looking to remedy that in March.

Challenges

multi-player hardcore 10×10

I made good progress on my various gaming challenges this month: for the Multiplayer 10×10 Hardcore challenge, I clocked up another 20 sessions across 8 of the 10 games, so still progressing at the same sort of speed as January. Arkham LCG is the only game to have already reached 10 sessions, but the challenge as a whole is chugging along well. Things were a fair bit slower for the solo challenge: 1 or 2 sessions for a few different games, but not many games getting into high player-counts, lots of different games played 1-3 times right now.

Stories

It won’t have escaped the attention of regular readers that there’s been a pretty high ratio of Book Review to everything else on here over the past few months, and I decided that, even though they up to now they’ve all been board-game tie-ins, it was getting a bit overwhelming. In an attempt to alleviate that, I’ve set up The Story Board as it’s own independent blog. If you fancy reading more of my book reviews, most of which will still be gaming-IP tie-ins (but may also get supplemented with whatever else I happen to be reading about) then head over, and if you don’t, you can relax at the thought of a mostly book-free time on here.

Next

March will be a much more expensive month. I’m expecting at least 1 Arkham pack, hoping for Mutant Insurrection, the end of the Zombicide Kickstarter, plus having to decide on the new Aeon’s End, and finalise the Pledge Managers for Nova Aetas and Massive Darkness (maybe even… only whisper it… Shadows of Brimstone Adventures). In terms of deliveries, there’s potential for some of the long-awaited Kickstarters to finally start arriving: Marvel United and Intrepid look the most likely on that count. It’s also my birthday at the very end of the month, so that might bring along some new goodies with any luck. I’ve already managed one review, so check out Journeys in Middle Earth, and I’ll do my best to send more content your way before the March run-down in April!