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!

New Year, Same Games – January 2021

We’re already 1 month into 2021, although Lockdown may have made it feel more like 6 months (and me taking the best part of a week to get this article out probably didn’t help…)

For the most part, the gaming landscape here remained fairly unaltered – Marvel Champions and Carcassonne got played the most times. Arkham Horror and D&D had the most time spent playing them. There were still a few points worthy of mention though, so let’s take a look.

Highlights

wonderfully unnecessary slider-sleeve to cope with the triple hero forms

For Marvel Champions, my current project is a solo Wasp expert campaign through the 5 Rise of Red Skull scenarios, with all modular sets taken from the Once and Future Kang pack. I wasn’t a huge fan of her preconstructed Aggression deck (the cost/resource curve is a bit weird), but once I switched her to Justice, she did a lot better. My latest pivot has been to rebuild her for protection ahead of taking on Taskmaster, as I want to be able to drag this one out and rescue as many of the objective allies as possible, and I was struggling to keep up with the sheer amount of damage he churns out.

For Arkham, we’ve started a remote 4-player campaign through the Circle Undone with a couple of friends. We’re only 3 scenarios in (2 plus the prologue), but it’s already been quite the Rollercoaster: our attempt to math out the prologue and give ourselves a chance of rescuing the allies later in the campaign ended fairly quickly and badly, then we stormed through The Witching Hour, with double-digits of XP, before being once again caught very flat-footed in At Death’s Doorstep: a sudden string of surging Doom in act 1 saw us fail to find the mini boss or any of the objectives allies, and although we made it out comfortably enough, the whole thing felt strangely short and slightly underwhelming.

We kept up our 3-player Innsmouth Conspiracy game, making it through Horror in High Gear safely: I won’t talk any more about the scenario yet, as it’s still pretty new and a lot of folk haven’t had the chance to play it.

Both my Dungeons & Dragons games have started back up for the new year. We’ve had another change of line-up in Waterdeep, but the players are making decent progress, as well as doing their best to become the cities leading purveyors of Cake Tapas. Meanwhile in Out of the Abyss, the party learned the perils of getting a Shield Guardian to break-dance in a small tunnel – on the plus side, it allowed me to railroad them into a fetch quest for a magic item that they’ll probably need later.

Carcassonne continues to be a mostly solo game for me – I wracked up 10 sessions in January, and finally managed to score an 8-point city with 3 colours. Right now, the only objectives left outstanding are to score 4 cloisters in a single game, and to use up all the tiles. 1 down, 2 to go.

Challenge 21

(No, not the campaign to stop under-age sales of alcohol) Once again this year, I’ve decided to set myself a few gaming challenges for the next 12 months. Some will look fairly familiar, whilst others are venturing into some unexplored territory.

10×10 Multiplayer Hardcore

First up, is the 10×10, a fairly well-established feature by now, both of this blog and of gamers generally: play 10 games, 10+ times each. As I’m doing the “hardcore” version of the challenge, I had to pick my 10 before I started playing them (rather than just waiting until you’ve played a game 10 times, then decide retrospectively that this was one of the ones that counted). For the last few years, there has tended to be a fairly consistent pattern to these – some games get completed in next to no time, most chug along steadily, and 1 or 2 are still sat on 8 games by late autumn, whilst a couple that weren’t on the list are well into double-digits.

After a bit of deliberation, these were my final 10 for 2021:

  • Aeon’s End
  • Arkham LCG
  • Cthulhu: Death May Die
  • Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle
  • Journeys in Middle Earth
  • Legendary: Marvel
  • LotR LCG
  • Marvel Champions
  • Shadows of Brimstone
  • Xenocide

Just like every year, some of these will be much easier than others – Arkham and Champions will, in all likelihood, be done by about Easter, without too much thought. Other games like Shadows of Brimstone will require a bit more of a concerted undertaking.

One additional feature of this year’s challenge, is that I’m not including solo games for this. I’m honestly not sure how big an impact this will have – I definitely play several of those games solo, but I’ve never previously sat down and calculated the single/multiplayer split. For a game like Champions, it should only be the difference between completing in January or April, but I’ll be intrigued to see how quickly I get to 10 multiplayer games of something like Lord of the Rings.

10×10 Solo

2 of those didn’t take long at all…

Having taken the solo games out of the Hardcore challenge, I didn’t want them to disappear completely, so decided to do a separate 10×10 challenge that looked only at solo plays. I’m not doing this in hardcore mode, as I didn’t want to lock myself into something that I end up not enjoying – whilst I’ve not really kept a close watch on solo gaming specifically, I do know that it can definitely vary quite a bit in terms of how enjoyable it feels: sometimes it can be really good fun to squeeze in a quick solo session of something during a random spare hour (or less) that might not otherwise be enough time to set something bigger up, but equally, it can easily turn into a chore if not managed properly.

Looking back at the sheet, I think that there were somewhere between 20 and 25 games that I played solo last year, and of those 11 were games that I played 10+ times. However, that’s 10+ games at all player-counts, and I’m certain that for several of those, I only actually managed 1 or 2 sessions solo. It’s quite possible then, that this challenge will turn out to have been a huge mistake, and that I won’t get anywhere near the target. We shall just have to see.

5×5 New

ok, so this one wasn’t really worth a chart just yet…

The last challenge is – in every sense of the word – a new one. I’ve set myself the challenge for 2021 to get some decent play of some new games. I mentioned in the 2020 round-up what a fallow year 2020 was for new titles (as opposed to expansions), with only a few things acquired, and most of those not really played in much depth.

For 2021, I’m setting myself the target of playing 5 new games 5 times. In the interests of transparency, I’ll say that I’m including Flash Point: Fire Rescue in the category of “new” – technically it arrived at the very end of December last year, but never made it out of the box.

Beyond Flash Point, I expect that this challenge will mostly be down to the various Kickstarters I’m waiting on – provided enough of them actually arrive in the first half of the year (which shouldn’t be too much to ask when you consider that 2 of them were due in 2019!) The only 2021 new release that I’m definitely intending to buy is X-Men: Mutant Insurrection – with a Feb/March release date, that’s another that should easily clock up 5 games this year.

Brushing off the Dust

A couple of games from last year’s un-played pile made it to the table early in January. I’m not sure that Flash Point really deserves the “un-played” tag having been around less than a fortnight, but either way, this got played a fair bit – 5 times total between solo and 2-player games. Overall, this seems fun, if very light. After watching the house literally burn down and crush me in game 1, I feel like I got the hang of this one fairly quickly, and the difficulty of the ‘Family’ version is pretty easy. Next task is to start working in some of the other components from the second half of the rulebook, in the hope that these will give the game a bit more challenge/complexity.

Mapominoes is a strange creation – in many respects it’s more of a geography teaching aid than a game per se – the gameplay decisions often feel quite on-rails. In fact, the most interesting aspect mechanically, is that if players approach the game really aggressively (trying to block each other etc), you can end up with a situation where it’s impossible to finish the game (although this is a lot more common with higher player counts and/or when mixing sets). We had a couple of games, and I think that in both case victory probably went to the person who got the best starting hand. Still, in a few more years, it’ll be useful for teaching Ned Geography.

I honestly don’t know why Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective didn’t get played last year. We got it out in early January this year, and finished off the original box, which is one that I got way back in 2016 – this version is no longer published, although a revamped version exists. Now that this box is finished, I’ll sell it (as soon as I get round to it, honest), but we have another half-finished box sat on the shelf for future plays.

New Year’s Savings

January was a pretty cheap month – for a while, it looked like it might end up being a zero spend month, but that possibility vanished at the 11th Hour (well, the 28th day) when the Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch packs for Marvel Champions appeared on the pre-order sheet. Given how quickly everything Champions has been selling out, and the length of the reprint cycles, I jumped in with a couple of pre-orders. (This turned out to be a very good decision, as Asmodee UK then put out a press-release, saying that they’d just realised Scarlet Witch wasn’t meant to come out until March, and that any stock that they hadn’t already sent out to retailers would be held until the official date).

“Hug Bear” included at all pledge levels…

Although there weren’t any big costs in January, there’s a couple of large outlays on the horizon, including a pair of three Pledge Managers. Massive Darkness 2 has been making waves over the past few weeks, after it opened up containing some remarkably hefty VAT charges. CMON’s official stance is that due to a change in the law, they now have to be very explicit in demonstrating that VAT has been charged, hence the additional cost to customers. The underlying suspicion raised by many is that this means they weren’t paying (or at least weren’t paying enough) VAT previously, hence the new charges. Either way, it means the MD2 (and any other CMON project) is likely to be more expensive from hereon in. I still need to decide exactly what I’m going to get for Massive Darkness – my wife is still keen to get the game, but I’m almost certainly backing off slightly in terms of the expansions I go for.

obviously, not officially the Mandalorian – mostly for legal reasons I’d imagine.

Pledge Manager #2 is for Nova Aetas: Renaissance. This is a fun-looking Fantasy meets Renaissance Italy game where you get to play as the Mandalorian! (sort of…) I suspect that I’ll end up just going with the base pledge, simply because of how many other things there are competing for my time, and not knowing how much interest it will generate from my wife, although there’s definitely a whole pile of stuff that I could end up adding if the mood took me. “More big boss monsters” isn’t that appealing, but there are plenty of added mechanics and gameplay in the bigger-box expansions, and they do seem to be fairly heavily discounted vs the notional future retail price, so that’s something to keep in mind.

The 3rd, and somewhat unexpected Pledge Manager to open up (I was expecting it a couple of months later) was for Freedom Five. This is a co-op dice game in the Sentinels of the Multiverse… Multiverse? I played a game on TTS during the campaign, and backed at the $5 level (they’ve clearly got wise to the $1 trick and decided to squeeze us all a bit harder). It’s something of a re-skin of Defenders of the Realm, by Richard Launius, with Adam and Brady Sadler also involved in the design, all names which caught my eye. Sadly, the various levels of pledges and add-ons seem needlessly complex, with not only multiple different levels of add-ons included or not, but the divide between minis and standees. Standees are appealing from a cost perspective, but I’m struggling to figure out whether there’s an amount of gameplay between the extremely minimalist “retail version” and the “gameplay all-in.” (the more middling option definitely exists in miniatures form, but obviously costs more than its (possibly hypothetical) standees equivalent.

In terms of long-term shortfalls, it’s the same old story: Tainted Grail, Call to Adventure, and Death May Die. Death May Die has been played a couple of times, and is nearly at break-even, but the others are still lagging. Next month I’ll need to start counting Flash Point and Vadoran Gardens, my 2 December purchases, but as noted above, I don’t anticipate Flash Point staying in the red for long. Kickstarters aside, the main games that I’m anticipating upcoming spending on are the Marvel Champions and Arkham, both of which have been played plenty, so shouldn’t suddenly be falling back into the red.

Next?

For February, I’m looking to re-start my Call of Cthulhu RPG campaign, and start delving a bit deeper into some of the titles that didn’t get much table time in January. It’s also my son’s birthday, so we’ll see whether we can give him another nudge from Orchard to Haba games with a couple of new titles.

The Long and the Short of it

Pour yourselves a strong caffeinated beverage, it’s time for one of my stats and number-crunching muses…

As I’ve mentioned many times before, at Christmas 2014, I started keeping track of the games I play – what game, who I played it with, how many times (if we played it multiple times in a day) and win or lose for co-op games. By this point, I’ve filled multiple notebooks with the information.

Not long after that, I decided that I needed to track not only how many times I played each game, but how much time I spent: mostly because it just felt a bit odd to say “I’ve played Middle Earth Quest and Dobble 2 times each this year” and somehow pretend that that amounted to the same thing.

Up until 2019, I’d always tracked how much time I spent on any given game by estimating the average session length, then multiplying it by the number of sessions. I think I originally took length-estimates from Board Game Geek and the side of the game box, but there was also an element of gut-feel to it. This method is quick, easy, and very spreadsheet-friendly. Unfortunately, it’s not always that accurate, which was why (in 2019) I started making a particular note of outliers, and manually adding or subtracting time where appropriate. This probably gave me a more accurate picture of things, but it was still far from perfect, and was a lot more faff.

I began 2020 then, by buying the BG Stats app, which let me log games on my phone – the major advantage of this, is that you just press “start” at the start “stop” at the end, and it times the game for you. Assuming, of course, that you remember. I’ve had a decent number of missed starts which I’ve then had to guess retrospectively, and at least one “14-hour” D&D Session, where I went to bed without pressing stop! (I went back and changed it). At this point the notion of a session length becomes slightly redundant, and I stopped paying particularly close attention to it.

Looking Back

As a Christmas activity (it was a slow day) I decided to look back at my notional “session lengths” and compare them to the actual average time spent on the various games I had played in 2020 – unsurprisingly, when you start measuring in exact numbers of minutes, rather than quarters of hours, none of them were 100% accurate, but overall, the picture wasn’t too bad. Out of 75 games played, 2 had an average session length that was over 30 minutes longer than anticipated (Tainted Grail and Massive Darkness), whilst 2 were more than 30 minutes shorter (D&D and Carcassonne).

None of these are hugely shocking – Tainted Grail is a “play until you feel like stopping” game, and with it only really being played in Ned-at-nursery afternoons, a few big sessions made sense.

Massive Darkness is a bit of a tricky one to pin down: some games will run extremely short (there are timed scenarios where if you don’t make enough progress in the first ten minutes, you’ve essentially lost), but completed games, especially on a non-against-the-clock scenario will invariably run very long indeed – the figure here probably reflects 2020 having a slightly more favourable than usual ratio of long, drawn-out victories to nasty, brutish and short defeats moreso than it does anything else.

For the overestimated games, this was more about a shift in the type of game we were having. For D&D the onset of lockdown brought an end to “going out to professionally run 3-hour sessions” and meant that over three quarters of the year was instead “Zoom, after kids’ bedtimes until we’re all too tired and need to go to bed ourselves” length sessions.

For Carcassonne, it was even simpler: playing Carcassonne the traditional way still takes about 45 as estimated, but last year I played 50-or-so games of the new solo variant, and these rarely made it to 10 minutes.

Reconsidering?

For some games, this has been a really useful exercise – Aeon’s End very confidently states “1 hour” on the box, and I’ve never really questioned that too closely. However, if you take out set-up/tear-down time, our games come out pretty consistently around the 40 minute mark. Likewise Death May Die is much more a 45-50 minute game than the 1-hour estimate, which is not a million miles away, but definitely starts to mount up when the game has been played 30+ times in the year.

The main reason that this matters is when I’m considering whether a game I own is justifying the money spent on it. If I’m telling myself that it’s ok to spend £20 on an expansion because I’ve already played 5 hours of that game this year, then I need to know if actually I’ve only spent 3. Likewise, if I’m thinking I can’t justify shelling out because this has only been played for 2 hours, then it’s good know if really it was 4 or so!

It’s Quicker if you do it yourself…

One thing that this activity did show me was the big disparity in session-lengths: some games play for a very consistent length of time, but others can vary wildly, which has always been part of the problem in keeping track of things.

Sometimes these are just weird aberrations. Shadows of Brimstone is an all-evening dungeon crawl – most of the time – but there’s also a High Noon Showdown scenario which is just one player-character vs one bandit – I played it on one occasion last year, and it clocked in at a mighty six minutes!

But beyond the weird outliers, there are also some games where there are very distinct patterns, and I thought that these warranted looking at a bit more closely. Most striking for me were the games where player-count has a big impact, and as this felt like it was true for the 3 co-op LCGs, I decided that I had enough data to break it down and look a bit harder into the numbers. The results were quite striking.

For each of the 3 LCGs, in 2020, there was a significant increase in average session-time as the player-count increased. Solo games tended to be very short, with Arkham being just over half-an-hour, Marvel just under, and Lord of the Rings less than 25. By the time I got 2 4-player by contrast, I was looking at 2.5 hours for Marvel, and over 3 hours average for a 4-player game of Arkham.

Overall, Lord of the Rings had the lowest average times for each player count, with a much flatter curve, and an average of only 80ish minutes at 4-player. However, it also had a much higher proportion of games played at 3 and 4-player, giving it a fairly middling average, somewhere up around 45 minutes. Looking back, I’d historically classed Lord of the Rings as a “30-minute” game, but had worried about the outliers – 3 solo games set-up and scooped in 20 minutes, or a 4-hour multiplayer epic.

I think that Lord of the Rings far more than any of the other three suffers from the sudden-death syndrome (although Solo Champions runs into this a little bit), where even with a consistent number of players, it can be possible to lose in a few turns, but victories can take hours to grind out.

Marvel Champions had a fairly steady progression: half an hour, an hour, just over 1.5 hours, just over 2.5 hours. However, 72 solo sessions, versus only 5 with more than 2 players, the overall average skewed fairy short at 40ish minutes (the shortest of the 3). Again, this was a game that I had been treating as a 30-minute game under the old system, so it suggests that I was probably under-counting slightly, definitely the better way round to be doing it, as I was under-valuing the game, and it still looked like money-well spent.

Arkham Horror is fairly consistently the longest of the three (technically Marvel beats it by a hair at 2-player), and it has the lowest ratio of solo games, with 2/3 of our Arkham being 2-player. As such, it averages out at noticeably over an hour per game. Historically I had been treating Arkham as a 45-minute game, which I revised to 1-hour in 2019, so again, good to see that this had been under-estimated in terms of value, rather than over.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have any plans for huge upheavals in how I track my time spent gaming over the coming year – thanks largely to the app, I’m confident that my records of time spent on games is as accurate as it ever needs to be. I have used the 2020 data to give myself updated average session-times, which are useful for projecting forward (i.e. “if I need to play this for 5 more hours to justify the money I spent on it, roughly how many actual games is that?”). For the moment, I’m just leaving the 2020 figures and not revising them constantly, but I may do a periodic update if I get bored.

Aside from all the financial minutiae, it’s good to know how long a game is likely to take for more mundane reasons like “I’ve got this much time, what game can I play?” as I continue to work from home in the face of the ongoing Pandemic, knowing what games fit into a 30-minute lunchbreak is a particularly important factor (not to mention evening games with a wife who gets grumpy if a game drags on past the point at which she was hoping to be asleep!)

That’s all from me for today, but I’d be interested to know how closely other people track the time they spend gaming: are there others out there counting the seconds and the minutes? Or do you mostly go with a ‘gut-feel’ approach? Or simply not care?

Over at Last – a Look Back at 2020

So, that was 2020.

It’s hardly a great leap to note that – for pretty much everyone – 2020 was a strange year. Personally, I haven’t been into the office since March, had about 2-3 months where my son didn’t go to Nursery, and for at least half the year, we haven’t been able to have guests in the house. As I write this, the UK is back into general lockdown, so the chances of things going back to normal any time soon aren’t looking great!

Whilst it pales in significance compared to the big picture issues of death, unemployment or potential socio-economic collapse, I’m going to focus today on the impact of 2020 on my gaming, because, ultimately, this is still a gaming blog.

Lots of games on Zoom this year. Costumes are optional…

I haven’t played a face-to-face game of D&D since March – I played in some online games via discord, but found the audio-only format really difficult (they were large group games, often with people I didn’t know, and it was just too much like work keeping track of who was doing/saying what to actually be enjoyable). The 2 D&D games I’m running have continued, mostly via Zoom or Facebook rooms, but the impact was still felt.

D&D in 2020 involved lots of hastily-photographed maps – complete with annoying glare patches…

There was a rather prep-heavy period when the players all wanted to meet weekly as they couldn’t do any of their other evening activities, or the players we lost along the way, as the pressures of lockdown/discomfort with the virtual format made them decide that it just wasn’t worth the effort anymore. I’ve also mostly abandoned the map and minis for theatre of the mind when it comes to combat, which does take some of the tactical edge of things, but I think the solid character-based roleplaying has made up for that.

Since the reviewing work came to an end at the end of 2018, 2019 had seen me lean pretty heavily on working game shows in exchange for store credit, and 2020 was looking set to be a good year in that respect, having managed to get time off of work for both Insomnias, UK Games Expo, and a return to Essen Spiele. Sadly, Covid-19 had things to say on the matter here as well, and all of them were cancelled (I did ‘attend’ the virtual UKGE, but from a retail stand perspective, it didn’t really work that well).

Looking a bit closer to home, I think my parents set foot in my house exactly twice after the beginning of February, which is why I didn’t play any Scrabble, or Mah Jong this year! Likewise, it was a bad year for party games – with no Dixit or Articulate getting played. In all honesty, since we (and loads of other people we know) had children, the big group gathering has been pretty rare and most party games are more-or-less resigned to just gathering dust, only kept around because of the low re-sale value.

A few more of the unplayed pile

By the time the curtain fell on 2020, I had 9 games sitting unplayed, which is the most in a single year since 2018. Of those, a couple have already hit the table in the first couple of weeks of 2021, but I definitely want to keep a closer eye on that potential pile of shame this year.

Before things get too negative, let’s look at what did get played.

Let’s make no mistake, 2020 wasn’t actually a bad year in terms of how much gaming I got done. In fact, being largely unable to do anything else, I clocked up a whopping 827 game sessions, totalling around 750 hours (that’s comfortably the most sessions of any year so far, slightly fewer hours than 2019)

There were 3 big games for 2020, both in terms of hours and sessions: Arkham Horror LCG, Marvel Champions, and Dungeons and Dragons. D&D is still my most-played game by hours, although in a strange parallel, it’s also the game that’s seen the biggest drop in hours (down from over 200 hours in 2019 to about 115 in 2020). I’ve mentioned above the reasons for why I’ve stopped playing (as opposed to running games), but I hope to get back to spending some other time on the front side of the DM-screen next year.

Arkham Horror held pretty steady as a game – 4 years in a row now, it has been in second place by hours (it was 8th in 2016 which isn’t bad when you consider that it only came out that November!) and this is the second year it’s had the second-most plays (it was most-played in 2017 and 2018) this year’s roughly 98 hours was a new high, probably due in part to more high-player-count/remote games, which typically take longer. I also feel like Arkham scenarios generally are getting longer: the further we get into the game’s life, the more the designers are experimenting with the format, and this has inevitably meant longer and more complex scenarios.

Marvel Champions was the real star of 2020, definitely my game of the year. Only 3rd most-played by hours, but easily the most sessions and well over a hundred games by the end of the year. I’ve been really pleased with how this one has developed, despite a difficult year in terms of production and delivery: we now have 14 heroes, 12 Villains, and many modular sets, making for a vast number of combinations, even with only a single year’s content. I’ve been hearing a surprising amount of griping and grumbling from people online about rules minutiae, and delays to the release schedule, but to my mind, much of this stuff is 1) explained by Covid and 2) not nearly as big a deal as people make out. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where they can take the game now that the foundations have been established, but for a first year of an LCG, I think they’ve done really well.

Rising to the Challenge

Beyond the “Big 3” there, I did set myself a few gaming challenges again for 2020, and managed to complete them all successfully – a Hardcore 10×10 challenge, needing to play a specific, pre-chosen 10 games 10 times, as well as a more open “play any 12 games 12 times.” By final count, I had 10 games played 20+ times, 23 played 10+ times, and a very respectable 40 games played 5 or more times. All-in-all, I played 75 different games over the course of the year, 63 of those at least twice: it’s some way down from being the most different games played in a year (2016-2019 each had 90+ different titles played), but it still feels like a good, broad range, as well as allowing games to be played enough times to get a proper feel for them, rather than just ticking things off of the list for the sake of it.

Final H-Index for 2020 was 13

I’ve set myself a few slightly different challenges for 2021 (variations on a theme, don’t expect too much excitement), and I’ll try to give them their own article in the next week or so, or possibly get tag them onto the January round-up.

The Big Picture

Taking a step back, the overall thematic picture is a variation on a familiar theme – Cthulhu-Mythos games and Fantasy-themed games were both down a bit compared to last year, each accounting for just over a quarter of gaming time all-told. Comics were the big increase area, up to 17% of all gaming thanks to the explosion of Marvel Champions, and overall the top 3 categories account for about as much as last year (70%). Historical (mostly Carcassonne and Dominion) was down to 4th place as, whilst I’ve played a lot of Carcassonne this year, the vast majority of that was sub-10-minute solo games. Sci-Fi and Zombies swapped places, on just below 6% and 4% respectively: in general, Zombicide looks like the biggest faller this year, only just making it into the 10 most-played games, but it surges back up to a more familiar 4th-ish if you lump together the space-age “Xenocide” stuff with the Medieval.

Expanding Horizons

Blue is expanded, Yellow is RPG, Brown is Old. New games are Green!

The sheet where I track the status of my various games (old, new, added to etc) saw an overwhelming swathe of blue at the top this year – “expanded.” Out of the 20 most-played games, 13 were expanded (mostly just by me buying expansions), and 2 were RPGs (for both of which I bought new content). The only “non-expanded” games were Carcassonne (which owed its popularity entirely to a new solo ruleset printed by the publisher), Zombicide Medieval, Eldritch Horror, Gloomhaven (for which I actually paid a fiver for an App to streamline things) and Dominion. All-told that’s 16 expanded games, accounting for 53% of all gaming.

By contrast, 2020 was a really barren year in terms of brand-new games. All-told, I played a mere 9 new games this year, which includes 2 new RPGs, and 3 games played remotely on Table-Top Simulator (after a bit of deliberation, I decided that a game still counts if played in real-time and with human opponents, even if the components are virtual.) For comparison, the previous few years had each seen me try out somewhere between 25 and 50 new titles.

Of the new games I did play, 4 were titles that I’ve actually acquired – Carcosa, Call to Adventure (Stormlight Archive), Vadoran Gardens, and The Dwarves: The Duel. I also acquired Mysterium, which was new to own, but we had played before. None of these games have particularly set the world alight, with Mysterium, my #25 most-played game of the year having commanded the most table-time. Carcosa is interesting, but a little bit fiddly (and made slightly redundant by the Carcassonne solo rule-set). I need to dig into this one a bit more in 2021, and see whether the solo challenges make it worth keeping hold of.

 Mysterium is definitely a solid game, and we have managed to play it both 2-player and over Zoom, but I think it really shines for in-person 4+ players. Vadoran Gardens only arrived a few days before Christmas – my first impressions are really positive, but it might be a bit puzzle-y for my wife’s tastes: I’ll definitely give it another try or 2, but this could well be another for the ever-growing pile of “once we can go to other people’s house and play games again” games.

Call to Adventure was slightly disappointing as a title (it’s currently the only game I own which is “poor value” by player-count) with an interesting theme, but not quite enough mechanical crunch to it – it’s the sort of game where you can make perfect decisions and still run – repeatedly – into a brick wall if the runes land the wrong way. On top of that, although this version of the game was billed as having a redesigned/improved solo/co-op mode, there are significant elements which just don’t feel like they work at all in a single-player game. Lastly, the box and components all feel slightly over-sized: Cards that are too big for the amount of information that they hold, and a box that could fit the game in 3 times over. That may seem like a fairly ridiculous gripe, but that excess shelf-space its occupying just starts to grate when there are already multiple mechanical things that aren’t quite singing for me.

New Activities

On the subject of “new” there are a couple of other projects that could probably stand another plug. The Card Game Cooperative, a podcast about Lord of the Rings LCG, Arkham Horror LCG, and Marvel Champions LCG is nearing its first birthday, and it already feels like we’ve come a good way from that first session huddled around a tiny table that we repeatedly kept kicking (glad I’m not the sound-editor). You can check out our back-catalogue via our website. We got given 2 cards by FFG to officially announced, and even got the chance to interview LotR/Marvel Champions lead designer Caleb Grace, so all-in-all a pretty exciting first year. In relation to all this extra LCG-activity, FFG actually let me write an article for their website, which is worth a read if you haven’t already.

A seemingly lesser, although sometimes just as time-consuming, endeavour, is my foray into reviewing books. With the rise of Aconyte, the fiction-publishing arm of Asmodee, it has been a year for Arkham Horror novels, Marvel Novels (!?!) and L5R Novels (no additional “Lord of the Rings novels yet, unsurprisingly) – a part of me definitely hopes that Aconyte slow down their new title rate, otherwise I’m going to have to start being a little more selective with the titles I request as I struggle to keep up with everything. Check out the reviews so far on the Story-Board page.

2021?

I honestly don’t know how 2021 is going to play out. Nearly 2 weeks in, the global picture is hardly looking any better, given the 3rd lockdown we’re facing in the UK, and the riots in the US last week. Game-wise I’m optimistic that Arkham and Marvel Champions are going to continue releasing regular content: Marvel has been hit by a lot of delays, but there’s plenty to keep me going and, if anything, Arkham has been releasing faster than I can process (we still haven’t played Return to the Forgotten Age).

In terms of Kickstarters, 2021 should be a much bigger year than 2020. I’m currently expecting The Everrain, Sword & Sorcery, Oathsworn, Marvel United, Massive Darkness 2, Intrepid, and Nemesis Lockdown. Theoretically those should be joined by Trudvang Legends, Shadows of Brimstone Adventures, Freedom Five, and Nova Aetas, but realistically I’m expecting those 3 to slip into 2022. I’m currently sitting on a $1 pledge for ISS Vanguard which could start to ship this year, but I’m tempted to hang on until after Wave 1 has reached the public, so that I can see how the reviews are and just get stuff in Wave 2 if it seems good.

Most of those Kickstarters are money already spent (although there are a few Pledge Managers yet to resolve) and beyond that, it’s really hard to know what’s coming: between the ongoing Covid-delays, and the continuing uncertainty around just how much long-term impact Brexit will have on import/export costs and practicality, it seems likely that some, if not all, games are going to be harder to come by, and more expensive to acquire.

I’m hoping that this time around I’ll be able to make it to Essen, as well as a few shows closer to home, and as well as catching up with a lot of folks who I haven’t seen face-to-face in way too long, that will hopefully bring a bit of store credit with it. If not, then 2021 could be a lean year, as I probably ought to ease back on spending compared to 2020.

In terms of games that I actively follow, there will inevitably be more expansions for Marvel Legendary, and I’ve already got my eye on Into the Cosmos (a 2020 release in the United States, but not reaching the shores of Albion the same year). It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see more content for Journeys in Middle Earth or Aeon’s End, although I’m slightly unsure whether I’d necessarily get them if there were, simply based on the number of hours in the day.

In terms of new games, I’m hoping to get FFG’s first X-Men game, Mutant Insurrection when it comes out, which looks to be a new twist on Elder Sign (hopefully with a significant improvement on the 1st edition rulebook that my copy of Elder Sign has!) I’d love to get my hands on the new Descent, but the enormity of the price tag is daunting, to say the least.

I’m not going to set make any specific resolutions regarding the amount of content I manage to put on here. I definitely want to do more, but I’ve found repeatedly that the combination of a child and a full-time job doesn’t make that easy. Incredibly, Ned will be starting school in September (assuming the schools are open), so I’ll have to wait and see what impact that has on things. I want to finish the first season of Chance Encounters, and revive the Investigators Revisited series, but somehow it just hasn’t been happening up until now.

As always, at the very least, I’ll be back at the end of each month to let you know what I’ve been upto in the previous 30-ish days (generally in less than 2500 words, unlike today, and I hope to see you all then.

In the Bleak Midwinter – December 2020

December has been and gone: it was mostly cold and wet, but thanks to Covid, I still spent much of it outside. All-in-all, this was a month which proved that my ability to predict the future is pretty lousy! Aside from the cancellation of Christmas* (well, the family visiting/being inside part), the month also saw my computer dying on me (now more-or-less-fixed), defied a few predictions, and brought 2020 to its gruelling end.

All the new things

Having confidently said that there was nothing new on the horizon, I ended up getting my hands on multiple new titles this month. Flash Point Fire Rescue and Vadoran Gardens are both games that have been on my radar for a while and which were being sold cheaply second-hand on Facebook. Vaodran Gardens got played a few times, and seems like a fun little puzzle, although I’m not sure it’s really my wife’s cup of tea. Flash Point has yet to hit the table, so no thoughts to share there yet.

I also picked up a second-hand copy of Zombicide Invader – as I think I’ve mentioned in the past, this was a Kickstarter that I was sorely tempted by, and would almost certainly have backed if I’d had a bit more time to consider my options (the pledge manager closed on a very tight turnaround). Part of my indecision was caused by not being a big fan of the art-style (the “Xenos”, not even referred to as zombies in the game) are a bit funny-looking, and I significantly prefer the look of Zombicide: Darkside, which was playable as a standalone, but (within the KS) was only purchasable as an addon. Over the couple of years that I’ve had to rue my decision, I’ve picked up a copy of Dark Side (minus all the KS extras), and even managed to get hold of some of the KS extras from a friend, in exchange for painting his Invader base game. However, the more I look into it, the more obvious it becomes that CMON’s support for what I tend to dub ‘Xenocide’ as a whole starts and ends with Invader, and any cross-compatability with Dark Side is just a happy coincidence. (For example, compare the 15 scenarios on Zombicide.com for Invader vs just the 1 for Dark Side!) This one also got wrapped and stuck under the tree, so didn’t actually get played, but I’m optimistic for 2021.

I also ended up spending money on some expansions for The Dwarves, a game which I’ve toyed with the idea of giving my wife the expansions for for some time – once again, this was a second-hand Facebook sale, although it came with the slight complication that I ended up re-buying the base-game, as the seller didn’t really want the hassle of separating everything! (the plan is to sell the excess base game as soon as I get round to it, to recoup a good chunk of my expenditure.)

Grail Games?

Finding the story excessively Grimdark at times, my wife has requested that we only play Tainted Grail during hours of daylight – not an unreasonable request, but a decidedly restrictive one when you have a toddler. We managed two games this month, finishing off chapter 3, and then completing 4a (although we are now perilously close to running out of resources). The combat/diplomacy resolutions are still a little punishing, but we’re starting to get the characters fairly powered-up, and getting more of a sense of how to lean in to the characters’ strengths.

Just the stretch goals, and therefore not nearly as huge as some of the folks who went all-in on the extras have been posting…

December was when the stretch-goal box arrived, containing the centuries-later-epilogue campaign and the centuries-earlier-prequel campaign. I had hoped that this would enable me to run my own solo campaign in parallel, so that I could get this to the table more reliably, but now that I actually have the components in hand, it’s looking a lot more complex logistically, in terms of how many cards are shared across campaigns. Still trying to make up my mind on the best way forward here.

Money

Money-wise, December was fairly expensive, because of all the new acquisitions mentioned above. From a shortfalls perspective though, the new games aren’t counting yet, and the only backwards step was for The Dwarves – I managed to get some plays of all my current shortfallers, with Tainted Grail, Death May Die, and Call to Adventure all getting played. A couple of New Year’s Eve zoom-sessions of Mysterium mean that this one has now been played enough to justify the purchase price. Overall, things are looking relatively similar to where they were 12 months ago.

RPGs

We only managed the one session of D&D, with a few others having to be cancelled last-minute due to end-of-year stresses, exhaustion and general busyness. Our Abyss game hasn’t really hit its stride since the soft-reset, whilst the Waterdeep game has seen a few cancelled sessions, and a couple of players on temporary hiatus due to dog-sitting responsibilities, so I want to try and get them re-started with a bit of momentum in the New Year. On the up-side, we got in 2 sessions of Call of Cthulhu, finishing off Dead Man Stomp, from the beginners box. I got given “The Wicked City” for Christmas, a sourcebook for running Eldritch RPGs in Weimar Germany, so we’re going to be starting there with some new characters for 2021.

Everything Else

Aside from that, December was fairly unremarkable: most play was for the well-established games, Champions got the most sessions once again, but we also had multiple games of Arkham LCG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Carcassonne and Aeon’s End. In Arkham, we got to try out War of the Outer gods the newest Massive Multiplayer scenario, thanks to the folks at the Warrin’ Around the World (previously Blobbin’ Around the World) Discord Server, and their funky werbsite which tracks although the relevant info you need to run the game across loads of different sites.

We’re also doing a run-through of the Innsmouth campaign, where I’m finally trying out one of the Alternate/Parallel/Dark versions of a core set investigator that FFG are making available from their website as print-and-plays. So far Skids seems to be handling himself pretty well against the Deep Ones, although my token-draws when triggering his ability have been really poor.

Xenocide got more play than it has in a while, partly because I’ve finally finished painting my friend’s copy, so no longer feel bad about using the add-ons that I’m getting as payment, and partly in anticipation of the new Invader box mentioned above.

Probably the end of the world…

As is generally the way, we gave a couple of “Ned is in Nursery and neither of us are at work” afternoons over to playing Eldritch Horror – we came out with a 50% win-ratio, which is good for this game.

Next?

That’s about it for December’s round-up. I’ll do a more general lookback at 2020/look forward at 2021 in the next couple of weeks.

October – the Best-Laid plans

Not all Do(o)m and Gloom

In a lot of respects, October was a month of “might-have-been”s – a full day’s Arkham cancelled (because tightened Covid restrictions meaning we couldn’t send Ned to his grandparents for the weekend), a few days of annual leave earmarked for gaming, blogging and painting instead swallowed up by renovating the bathroom and taxiing the family around. Various plans not-quite coming to fruition.

It wasn’t all Doom-and-Gloom though (although there was a spot of Dominion and Gloomhaven!) let’s look at what we did manage…

Madness

Sister Mary, whatever are you doing that cave with a half-naked man?

For Arkham, we managed to squeeze in a couple of 3-player games of the new Innsmouth Conspiracy box, back at the start of the month, when we were still allowed people in the house. (the remainder of the campaign will inevitably relocate to Zoom). Meanwhile George and I continued with our Investigator Starter Deck pre-build campaigns through the Dream-Eaters. Winnie and Harvey got badly trounced on the Dark Side of the Moon, but Nathaniel and Jacqueline fared rather better through A Thousand Shapes of Horror and the Point of No Return. I like what FFG have tried to do with the Investigator starter decks, but we’ve definitely run into frustrations playing them, due to not having access to particular cards – definitely a topic worth visiting in more detail at a later date.

The big event for Arkham was Madness on the Airwaves, a re-run through Midnight Masks, using a bunch of custom cultists I’d created, based on the hosts of the Card Game Cooperative, Drawn to the Flame and Mythos Busters. In case a jokes-based set of custom enemies wasn’t a bad enough idea to begin with, we decided to play the game 5-player! Just to really ensure that everything spiralled.

It was an interesting experience overall – Midnight Masks has a really small encounter deck to begin with, and by the time you factor in a couple of cards that attach to locations and remain in play, we were cycling the deck every 2-3 rounds. We’d all brought stand-alone decks, and even when you factor in the extra weaknesses, we felt very powerful compared to the scenario itself. It took us a long time to gather the necessary clues, but once a Cultist landed, it was easy to squash them, generally in an action or two.

I’ve already changed one of the enemies, based on this experience (he had a joke ability that reasonably amusing, but made it way too easy to break the scenario with a single card), but want to try it again, in a 2-player game with proper campaign progression before I decide on whether I want to make any more changes, then maybe try to get a nicer set printed in the new year.

Other Lives

It’s really unlikely that this will ever happen, but it needs to at least be attempted!

Marvel Champions was actually my most-played game for another month running, but this was mostly just solo games as I attempted to test and refine a few new decks (with limited success). We also got to try out a 2-player game against the new Kang villain pack (for Lord of the Rings fans, this is Marvel’s take on Foundations of Stone) it was enjoyable, although I missed a step in set-up, and the end was interrupted by an unexpected Ned, so we need to try this again – once that’s done, I want to do another full run-through of the Red Skull campaign box, probably looking at taking a Ms Marvel/Captain Marvel team-up against that in November.

We also managed a Halloween meet-up for ¾ of the Card Game Cooperative, taking on some Pumpkin Bombs (wielded by Green Goblin – we were going to go for Crossbones, but Will doesn’t own Rise of Red Skull yet…) I think that my Ms Marvel Justice deck acquitted itself fairly well, but Aggression Thor and Protection She-Hulk both struggled with lack of cards and took a surprising amount of damage (you know it’s a bad state of affairs when you have 9 health between 3 Heroes, and 6 of that belongs to Ms Marvel) – the lack of thwart from the other 2 heroes meant we all had to spend too much time in hero mode, and ultimately the damage that gobby and friends were putting out was just too much. Clearly we should have listened to our own survey and not taken the lowest powered heroes against the highest powered villain!

It was a relatively quiet month for Lord of the Rings, but way back at the start of October, we took inspiration from the recent announcement for Voyage of the Dreadnought, and revisited the Grey Havens deluxe for a spot of sailing. George and I were joined by a friend who hadn’t played the game in a few years, but handled her dwarf swarm fairly well as we beat the first quest. Sadly the return of lockdown prevented a follow-up, and all being well, she’ll have a new baby by the time we get let out again…

Nobody Tosses a Dwarf

One of the surprise hits amongst the review games I picked up during my time working with Games Quest, was The Dwarves, based on the novels of Markus Heitz. Both games and books have an interesting story, presented for English speakers via some decidedly mediocre translation (in the novels I found it variously off-putting and annoying, but in the board game it’s just funny).

they aren’t exactly wrong… but it certainly isn’t what a native-speaker would write!

Earlier in October, a guy on Facebook was very kindly offering a selection of goodies for the game, awarded to those who could give the best reason and/or pun for why they should have it. I forget exactly what I said, but it was enough to land a copy of The Dwaves: The Duel, in-and-of-itself, it’s a fairly mediocre 2-player card game (albeit with the lovely mangled English), but it comes with a whole new set of objective cards to breathe some fresh life into the original game – our first game came down to a final throw of the dice before we lost, so we’ll need to try this one again soon.

Lots? Or None at All

definitely not a Bard…

Gloomhaven made it back to the table, with my Elementalist continuing to hang-around since I discovered I’d misread the rules months ago, and have to fulfil his retirement goal in 12 instalments rather than all-at-once. George’s Bard. Sorry. “Soothsinger” continues to rack up XP at a ridiculous rate, and after her last level-up, we’re up against some very hard-hitting enemies vs our power-level, so will need to bag a bit more XP to level things out again. We also managed another game of Mansions of Madness which, like Gloomhaven ended the month on 9 plays – that’s 98/100 down, and the hardcore challenge very nearly done!

On the flip side of challenges, I’m now 5/6th of the way through the year, and still have a far bigger pile of unplayed games than I’m comfortable with. For some, like Articulate and Dixit, I’m happy to just accept that 2020 is not the year for party games, but for others, there’s a definite element of wondering whether I should be crowbarring these into the gaming schedule or putting together a sales post.

Money

I made what felt like good progress on the money side of things – good chunks of table-time for several of the games with a “shortfall” versus that ever-elusive £5/hour target. Tainted Grail, Shadows of Brimstone, Death May Die, 7th Continent – all making progress in the right direction. However, I have now owned Call to Adventure for long enough to start counting it towards my totals, and at just under £35 for just under 1 ¾ hours’ play, this was enough to offset the gains made elsewhere. It’s a perfectly playable game, and should improve fairly rapidly on that £20/hour figure! Just as soon as a I get round to introducing it to my wife.

In terms of actual expenditure, it was another expensive month, there were a couple of pledge managers closing (I eventually decided to get Nemesis: Lockdown, but to skip the original game, on the basis that a friend is getting it, and hopefully by February we’ll be able to meet up again to play it, even if that does involve freezing our fingers off in his garage with all the doors open (or whatever Covid-compliant options are available then).

might be a while before we can do these in proper vs mode, but if the Mirkwood equivalents are anything to go by, they’ll make for decent generic quests anyway.

I also added several expansions to some of my most-played games: the Moria packs for Lord of the Rings LCG, plus ordering the latest releases for Arkham and Marvel. All of these are games that easily clock up the table-hours to justify the spend, so no real worries there.

Next?

As we head into the last 2 months of 2020, I’m not expecting anything particularly seismic to change the board-gaming landscape. National Lockdown basically just confirms the suspicions I had from Nottingham entering Tier 3 lockdown: hopefully not heading back into the office this side of Christmas, so continuing to make as much use as I can of the extra time saved from not doing an hour’s commute each day.

Right now, I don’t see there being any completely new games arriving before the end of the year, my last real hope was that the first wave of Sword and Sorcery might finally reach me in December, but latest update says January, so nothing doing there. There’s probably one more round of LCG releases, plus potentially Wave 2 of Tainted Grail this side of Christmas, but in terms of actually new games, I think it will be 2021 before there’s much to report.

Hopefully, November will be when I finish off the 10×10 Hardcore challenge, and take a chunk out of that pile of shame, which is feeling a bit big, still being in double figures this late in the year. Crucially, I’m hoping for a few weeks without any major home improvement projects, to finally give me the time to put out some proper game reviews!

Madness on the Airwaves

It’s almost time for Farkham Nights 2020, the Covid-safe, remote convention for fans of Arkham Horror the Card Game.

Together with the others at the Card Game Cooperative, I’ve put together some custom content for a classic Arkham LCG scenario. Enjoy!

Madness grips the streets of Arkham. A new cult has come to this Massachusetts city, intent on driving the populace mad with their Eldritch Broadcasts!

Madness on the Airwavesis a fan-made add-on by The Card Game Cooperative for fans of Arkham Horror the Card Game (and, in particular, for fans of Drawn to the Flame, Mythos Busters and The Card Game Cooperative Podcasts). It features a new Agenda 1b for the Midnight Masks Scenario, and a replacement deck of unique cultists for the Midnight Masks (and The Devourer Below if you’re playing in campaign mode). It should work with both the original version and the Return to…

I won’t spoil the surprise completely, but some of you may find that this guy looks a little familiar…

and he’s not the only sinister type around. Prepare for a whole deck of new cultists from your favourite Arkham Horror podcasts*

Here’s a link to a printable version of the whole thing – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1F-j01B7OGOsS-4AiQmibVpbFJd_HWdOH/view?usp=sharing

*Disclaimers. I don’t actually know who your favourite podcast is. Also, in case you hadn’t guessed, This expansion is in no way made or endorsed by Fantasy Flight Games. I don’t imagine they’ll object to you printing yourself a copy, but please don’t do anything stupid like trying to sell it!