Just 17

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

 

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

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

 

A – Z

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

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

Wide

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

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

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

 

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

 

Show me the Money

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

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

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

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

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

 

Most Improved

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

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

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

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

Notable Achievers for Most Months Played:

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

 

Best Newcomer

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

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

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

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

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

Theme

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

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

 

Looking forward

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

PallidMask
The scariest monsters don’t always have tentacles…

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

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

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

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

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

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

GloomNed
baby not actually included with Gloomhaven…

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

Themes and Mechanics

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

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

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

World Enough and Time

What gets played

In 2015, I played a grand total of 58 games, 30 of which I actually owned, the rest belonging to friends, or being the odd session at a local gaming meet-up (none of them played more than 3 times). 28 of my own games were un-played.

In 2016, I played 90 different games, 73 of which I owned (at least at some point during the year). Only 2 of my own games were un-played by the time the year reached its end.

Legacy2
Season 2 – probably best played after Season 1

In 2017, so far, I’ve played 90 games. By this time, things seem to be getting very tight, with 81 being games I’d owned, at least at some point. Currently 9 games I own are un-played. (although 1 of those is stuck in a chronological queue, and another only arrived this morning).

What arrives

In 2015, I owned 58 games. I think only 2 of those were new acquisitions (Machi Koro enjoyed medium-term, moderate popularity, and Marvel Legendary was a smash hit which continues to enjoy success).

In 2016, I acquired 31 new games. I think six of them I bought/traded for – Arkham LCG, Zombie Dice, Legendary Firefly, Eldritch Horror, Super Dungeon Explore, Side Quest (A couple of hits, a miss or two, and the rest somewhere in middle). The vast majority of games were free, review copies (although I then spent a fair whack on expansions).

2017 Buys In 2017, I have so far acquired 31 new games. 4 Bought (Rune Age, Runebound, Shadows of Brimstone, Legend of the 5 Rings), 2 traded for Review games (Descent, Robinson Crusoe), 3 Kickstarters (Massive Darkness, Apocrypha, Gloomhaven), and the remaining 22 all reviews (depending on perspective, you could probably move L5R more from ‘bought’ to ‘review’ as GQ sent me 1 core set, and I bought another myself). I’m expecting one more game from Santa.

What goes away

I don’t think that I sold any games in 2015. In 2016, I sold 18. This year, I have sold 25, plus some excess bits of a few others.

 

Consequences

All of this leads to a number of different things.

SplitShelfie
I now have to turn through 180 degrees to take a Shelfie

For one thing, by my count, I now own about 69 games. That’s slightly less than at the peak of last year, but very little of what remains are games that don’t see at least some interest in being played. If I round it to a very conservative pool of 65 “play-worthy” games, that’s a long way up on 2015, where it was more like 40. [40 is a slightly arbitrary number based on 1) “games I owned and played” + 2) “games I owned, didn’t play, still own, and have played in the meantime.”]

On average, I’d guess that a lot of the games that get played now are also longer than in 2015. That’s quite hard to confirm/quantify, as I didn’t keep time-based data that far back, but there are definitely indicators. I can say for certainty that 75% of 2015 sessions were on 3 games with half-hour play-times, and the next 10% of sessions were on games that have a 45-minute play-time.

Compare that to this year where around 11% of sessions have been on games with 2+ hour play-times, and another 22% on games with 1 hour or 1-and-a-half hour times, then it starts to look fairly clear.

 

So: More games. Longer games. More of the games I have are games I want to play. That all sounds good, right? Plenty to keep me occupied.

Well, sort of.

Nederoo
I was sure I had a more recent picture of him in this thing…

As I may have mentioned once or twice, we also had a baby earlier this year. Ned likes to play. His favourite game is “insert whatever I can reach into my mouth,” but he’s also happy to play a bit of “Bash this thing I’m holding on the high-chair” or “Kick and flail wildly.” He finds Peepo hilarious, but I’m not sure how well he understands the rules.

Ned’s feelings on other people playing games are mixed. Sometimes he’s quite happy playing on the floor with his toys, or in the baby abandonment console jumperoo. Sometimes he’s asleep, or out. Sometimes I’m out gaming at the FLGS and he’s at home.

NederooChristmas
update 23/12 – that’s better. He’s even looking at the camera for this one…

Sometimes though, he wants feeding, or entertaining. Sometimes, he just needs cuddling because he woke up alone in his cot, and had an existential crisis that he might be the only human being left alive. Either that, or he’d just done a massive poo. Sometimes he’s ill, and nobody gets any sleep for days at a time.

Either way, there’s a whole new set of things we have to do with the waking hours (and the “sleeping” hours), and ultimately that means less time for gaming.

A couple of months back (it was “last week” when I started writing this article, which tells its own story…) we started a game on a Saturday. At 9.15 on Sunday evening we finished it. The game probably only took 2 hours all-told, but finding 2 hours uninterrupted is not something that can be guaranteed these days.

 

Reviewer It’s certainly not in my plan to stop doing review work (reviews being my principal source of new games). It’s interesting to keep on top of the newest releases, and this is a remarkably cost-effective way of doing so. Sometimes it’s a money-saver for games I would have got anyway, but more often it’s trying something that I otherwise wouldn’t. That said, the hour or two of writing time, and – more to the point, the hour or two of photographing and formatting is a bigger chunk of life than it used to be. I need to think carefully about what I ask for, take slightly fewer ‘risks’ with unknown games than before (and accept that no more how rich the narrative or beautiful the art, my wife won’t enjoy a worker-placement game).

 

Thinking Big

The other thing about having ever-more constricted time – whether that because there are fewer hours to game in, or simply because there are more games competing for that time – is that it makes taking on a new gaming project something that needs more consideration.

Big5 2017 Zombicide, Arkham Horror LCG, Eldritch Horror, Massive Darkness, Legendary – 2017’s 5 most-played games by time. 3 of them were new last year, 1 new this year.

In order to play those, other things have got pushed aside, but even then, the space is compressed.

If I spent £100 on a big game a couple of years ago, it wouldn’t have been too tricky to find time to get it to the table – 76% of this year’s play-time was on games that I’ve acquired in the past 2 years. If I look at Shadows of Brimstone, my most recent purchase, the 6 hours of table-time it’s clocked up so far, would have been enough for a top-ten place in 2015’s “most played games” – for 2017, it’s hovering just outside the top 25. Nowadays, a game doesn’t just need to be good, it needs to be good enough that I’d want (at least sometimes) to play it rather than a stack of other top titles. That has a couple of implications – for one thing, it’s harder to get a new game up to the required number of hours, and if it does, it likely comes at the expense of another game.

Now, obviously, one approach would be to stop spending money on new games altogether. Just play the things I have, and the things I get given. My Old vs New spreadsheet tells me that money spent on expanding old games tends to be far more efficient in £/hour than money spent on new games.

I’m not going to do that. I’m far too much of a magpie to just let shiny things pass me by. I also don’t think that 4 or 5 new games purchased a year is particularly excessive. That said, it definitely has to give me pause, when I think about doing something really stupid, like spending $350 on a Kickstarter…

 

Overspend

One of the metrics I’ve been looking at more recently, is “overspend” – essentially looking at what % of spending a game accounts for, and what % of game-time. Where the spend % exceeds the game-time %, that’s an “overspend.” As with most things I do with game-stats, I’ve broken it down into the current year and “all-records” (i.e. since Christmas 2014).

AllZombicide
Actually, the big spend is the Green Horde Kickstarter

Overspend is not without its issues as a metric: a lot of games don’t get anything spent on them at all – anything that’s a review and I haven’t bought expansions for, or anything bought more than 3 years ago. If 30% of gaming is on games with no spend, then that’s 30% of overspend to be spread amongst the games that do cost something. As such, my first calculations came out as a bit of a mess: Zombicide (2016 and 2017’s most-played game by hours) ended up 7% in the red! Any metric which makes Zombicide look like poor value clearly needs tweaking.

I decided instead to create sub-sheets, looking at time spent playing only games that have had money spent on them. When I exclude games with no spend, I’m left with a zero-sum set of over-spend values, and numbers which look like they make a lot more sense.

GloomNedFor 2017 only, Gloomhaven and Shadows of Brimstone are the big losers, just behind Legend of the 5 Rings. Runewars and (perhaps surprisingly) Lord of the Rings LCG are also 2-3% in the red. Best value were Eldritch Horror (which combined low-cost and high hours), Zombicide (lots of money, but even more hours), and Descent (about as cheap as you can get without being free).

DiceMastersSkulking
skulking in shame

Moving to “all-time” the numbers have slightly more guesswork involved, but I think the overall shape is about right – Dice Masters is the stand-out culprit, at a shocking 6% overspend, the Gloomhaven at 2.61% and everything else under 2. At the other end, Eldritch and Pathfinder look reasonably healthy, but Zombicide is the runaway winner, 6.25% more play time than spend.

Pathfinder Remembering
Remembering the Glory Days

This was a slightly unusual set of numbers to crunch, and there were 1 or 2 surprises – with Pathfinder so out-of-favour at the moment, it’s odd to think of it as 2nd-best value overall during the last 3 years, but when I look at how it dominated our dining table in 2015, it makes sense. With this being a zero-sum calculation, games that look bad now can only improve at the expense of others, and it will be interesting to see how this ebbs and flows, particularly in terms of games that have now moved on, and will gradually account for a smaller-and-smaller share of both the time and the spend.

 

Closing Thoughts

Again, this is a reflection piece that hasn’t necessarily gone anywhere. We live in a golden age of board-gaming, and sometimes that means being spoiled for choice: in the absence of common-sense and restraint, an excess of spread-sheets and blog articles looks like a decent way of keeping the game collection in check. I’m sure that my game collection and gaming habits will continue to evolve, as free time ebbs and flows, and Ned eventually reaches an age where he can join in. Hopefully all of this will lead to enough interesting things to keep saying about games to keep this blog ticking over.

 

October Arrivals

It’s feast or famine around here.

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

 

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

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

Kicking Arrivals

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Old

Encounter
Drawing encounter cards is generally regarded as a bad thing

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

 

Unplayed

Scrabble
Not the best letters I’ve ever had

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

 

The Break-down

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

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

 

Next?

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

Carrying on: September

September was another fairly solid month – 17 different games played 52 different times.

Carcosa Box Massive Darkness got the most sessions, as it continued to surge up the charts (it’s already 2017’s 4th most-played game by hours), but there was also a fair bit of table time for Arkham LCG, which got a new deluxe box, Dominion, which continues to tick over quietly, and Runebound which got a shot in the arm from a new expansion that made it playable solo or fully cooperative.

Runewars and Descent both made it back to the table after a few months of sitting on the sidelines, and a few odds and ends rounded things off the month.

Elder Sign snuck on to the table on the final evening of the month, retaining its boast of being the only game to be played every month this year. The Dwarves also enjoyed a late flurry, bringing them up to 10 plays for the year. All told, I now have 17 games played 10 times or more this year, and an H-Index of 13, which all feels fairly healthy.

Fate-of-the-Elder-gods-Board-Game-box Nothing made it off of the un-played list, which still sits at 8 games for the year (it was 9, including Fate of the Elder gods, a review title which came early in the month, but only made it out of the box on 1st October). We’re going on holiday with my parents in a week or so, so I expect that we’ll take Scrabble and/or Articulate with us and see whether we can get them crossed off.

 

Nothing (much) New

CodenamesDuetThere wasn’t all that much in September that was new. Codenames Duet was the only completely new game to get played (I also received Fate of the Elder gods, but haven’t managed to break it out yet). Apocrypha remains frustratingly absent, with constant rumours that it might be arriving, but never any sign of the actual game. and there’s still no sign of Aeon’s End either. I had planned to pick up a few exciting new bits and pieces with some of my GQ store Credit, but everything I tried to opt for was out of stock/print. Whether it’s because I break down and spend actual money to buy elsewhere, or simply because delayed stuff finally arrives, I’m hoping that October will be a bit more exciting in terms of what’s new.

 

What got played?

QuickGames Thematically, September was dominated by Fantasy: 55% of sessions, and a whopping 67% of time. Lovecraft and Zombies also notched up a reasonable number of hours, whilst “Abstract” was big on sessions, but low on overall time (Bananagrams, Boggle and Dobble all being fairly short games).

Within Fantasy the big groups were Terrinoth (Descent, Runebound, Runewars) and Generic (mostly Dominion and Massive Darkness). Middle Earth counted for a fair amount of the sessions (4 out of 28), but got squished on time (only 2 hours of 34).

Activity wise, things remained fairly heavy on Completing the Quest together, but there was a fair amount of diversity around, with notable contributions for Making Words, Solving Mysteries, Building the Best Place.

Moving on

So that was September. Steady, but not especially exciting. It’s odd now I come to write about it, just how flat everything feels – I definitely had some enjoyable gaming sessions this month, both with new add-ons (most notably for Arkham), and old favourites (we even had a few hours of Yggdrasil, which remains resolutely un-expanded). Perhaps I’m just tired.

I’m hoping to have a mini-flurry of content for you over the next few weeks. For now, I just want to share a mini plug for a game I reviewed a while back, Gloom of Kilforth. There’s a second printing / mini-expansion Kickstarter Campaign running right now, and as the designer was the first person in many months to email Fistful of Meeples directly, I thought I’d give him a mention.

The Game is Dying!

The near-constant cry of the Lord of the Rings LCG player, the notion of game death has become an in-joke for fans of Arkham Horror, and a rallying cry for the followers of many, many modern board games, but what’s it all about? Does it make any sense? And do us normal folks need to be worried about it?

Monopolies
The internet assures me all of these are real…

At risk of this becoming one of those articles when I talk about the good old days when games were made of lead, and we couldn’t play them anyway because we were too busy dying of consumption down a coal mine, I want to start with a bit of a look back at the past.

 

Nobody buying a board game made by Hasbro or Waddingtons in the 1980s or 90s ever worried about the game “dying” – once you had your copy of Mousetrap, or Cluedo, it would make literally no impact on your life if the publisher’s factory burned down tomorrow, and nobody ever made that game or a related one again (for Monopoly, this may just be wishful thinking). A Board Game came in a box, everything you needed to play was in that box, and that was that.

 

Incomplete I

Nowadays, it seems that things are different. The idea that when you buy a board game that’s it, is no longer a certainty, in fact it can be the exception rather than the norm. Often a modern game is a starting point, a proof of concept, something that comes with an expectation of further content.

At the most extreme level comes the Core Box for an LCG – most of the time, this isn’t even enough to build a ‘legal’ deck, and will come with special starter rules.

Even when a game can be played “properly” out of the box, lots of games look for more. Deck-builders will always have far more richness when there is a greater card pool to build with, and any game that is scenario-based will always want more scenarios to play. Ultimately though, I think that there’s a point where the value drops away- and by implication the danger of the game “dying” diminishes. Let’s look at a couple of examples

ArkhamDeluxesWhen the Core Set of Arkham LCG was released, I bought it, and thought it was a pretty good product as a starting point. If expansions had never materialised though, I don’t know how much life this game would really have had in it – even leaving aside issues of expectation and communication, the core-box-only product was just a bit too limited.

We’ve now finished the first cycle, and the deluxe which starts the next cycle has just arrived (in today’s post. Hooray!).

I enjoy this game, and hope it continues past the second cycle, but I think that 15 investigators, 2 large campaigns, a mini campaign and a couple of standalone scenarios, along with the volume of player cards that we’ll have by the time Path to Carcosa is complete, would still be enough to keep playing the game for a fair few years if the flow of new product did suddenly stop.

LotRBoxes
Ok, when you stack it like this, it looks silly…

For Lord of the Rings LCG, 100+ Heroes and probably a similar number of scenarios in, a new expansion is much less likely to even register – it might only be 1 or 2 player cards that get used, and if the quest isn’t particularly compelling, it may well not get played again once I’ve successfully beaten it. I’m already thinking that I’ll stop buying after the end of the current cycle / final Saga box which should be out by the autumn, but I wonder whether it would be good for the game, not just for me, if they called it a day – like the Kings of Nuemnor before its waning, knowing when to lay down their lives in good health, rather than prolonging their decline.

 

Incomplete II

LegendaryCore
I played Core-only recently. It was an interesting change, but I still prefer all my extra Heroes

Of course, a game doesn’t need to come in a “Living” or collectible format to feel like it needs something more.

For example, Marvel Legendary can very easily be played using only that original box, but a lot of people find the lack of variety and the comparatively low level of difficulty something of a turn-off. In order to get that fully rounded, challenging, game experience that lots of people are looking for, it probably needs an expansion or two.

EldritchPlus
If you ask a lot of people, they’ll tell you that THIS is what the base game looks like.

To take another example, go onto Board Game Geek, and look at any one of the many, many threads about “Which expansion should I buy for Eldritch Horror?” – 99% of the time, you’ll see the same answer. “Get Forsaken Lore first: it rounds out all the core decks and introduces a few odds and ends that should have been in the core game.” Essentially, the consensus seems to be that Eldritch Horror is a game that appears in 2 boxes (Eldritch Horror and Forsaken Lore), then there are the expansions.

 

Impetus?

Risingtide
Heard about this a couple of days ago. Looks interesting. These days we mostly play Pandemic Iberia.

I’ve owned Pandemic for several years. I don’t remember how many exactly, but it was before I moved into my current house, so at least 4 ½. When we first got it, we played it a lot. Then it got put to one side for a while – it wasn’t until the hype surrounding Pandemic Legacy really kicked off that I was reminded of this game that had been sat gathering dust.

Sometimes a new release of content is the impetus a game needs to get back to the table – whether it reminds you of something you already have, or whether it refreshes something that was getting stale.

Firefly
Would I play this more if we owned expansions? I don’t think so, but it’s hard to be sure.

That said, there are dangers – I know that there are games where I’ve been tempted by expansions, but have ultimately held off, simply because I know that the base game has never really been played enough to justify spending more money on it.

What happens to games when there isn’t that relentless pressure to buy more content, that constant string of reminders from the hype machine? Well, to be honest – nothing too terrible. Either you don’t play it, and it sits there, or you do play it, in which case the expansion probably wasn’t crucial. Expansions are good for the game company, because they can sell you more things, but it will vary a lot as to whether they are good for you, the players.

Stale Meta?

Tsarina
Of course, you can also fix a stale meta by removing cards.

In highly competitive games, like the Game of Thrones LCG, you’ll often hear a lot of references to a “meta” – essentially, the general environment of what everyone else is playing. As time passes, people will work out certain tactics and synergies that are highly effective, then more cards will come out that open up a new strategy, and things shift.

In this kind of environment, it seems to be excepted that the last thing you want is a “stale meta” – where everyone knows all the cards, all the combinations have been tried, and there are certain top decks, against which any other strategy is more of less pointless.

Chess
Apparently I still own a chess set! Those don’t look much like Bishops to me, but they certainly aren’t Elephants.

As I say, this is primarily an issue for highly competitive games that have an established history of an evolving card-pool (it need not be cards: insert “dice,” “units,” etc as you prefer). In these environments, the expectations are that the top players will be the ones who can most quickly crack a new release.

Other games, like Chess are still head-to-head and competitive, but haven’t had a new unit since an Englishman asked “what’s an elephant?” and someone decided to replace it with a Bishop – expectation is everything.

 

Availability?

DescentA few months back, I picked up a copy of Descent 2nd edition. I was inspired by the positive experiences we’d had with Mansions of Madness, and wanted to see whether Fantasy Flight’s app-driven games were as good when applied to a Fantasy Dungeon Crawler as a Lovecraftian mystery.

Descent is a good game, after a few plays, you can see why it is so highly ranked on BGG. There are definitely some issues – for me the biggest problem was the level of disconnect between the printed rules (which assume “1 vs many” play) and the app-driven experience – and I need to re-read some of the finer points of the rules, but overall, I enjoy it.

Descent has gone a bit quiet recently, with Massive Darkness getting the “new and shiny” vote for our table-top dungeon-crawling needs. I’m still expecting to give it some serious table-time later in the year though, and at some point, I’d imagine I’ll get an expansion or 2. An expansion will give me more variety of monsters, more heroes and classes to choose from and, if I go for the Shadows of Nerekhall box (my current plan), a whole new campaign enabled in the app.

Nerekhall
fans figure that more people are buying Nerekhall than other big-box expansions, as it adds an additional campaign, and by extension they argue, FFG should make campaigns for the other boxes to encourage sales of them too…

At the moment, most of the big box expansions like Nerekhall seem to be fairly readily available and although a lot of the little Lieutenant packs can be hard to come by, the boxes that add major gameplay changes tend to cycle back in to print relatively often.

That said, it’s been nearly a year since a physical new release for Descent – does that mean FFG are done with it? This is a question which gets asked a lot, and generates a fair amount of heat as people disagree about what can or cannot be known.

Personally, I don’t get the sense that Descent is done with, but if I did, would that change things?

From one perspective, I might be rushing out to get Nerekhall, just in case it disappeared, rather than simply waiting? – once again it’s that sense of what makes a “complete” or incomplete game. On the other hand, I might decide that D2E (as I understand the kids are calling it these days) was fine as a self-contained product that only got fairly limited play, and concentrate my efforts elsewhere (especially if there was a 3rd Edition coming that had full co-op from the word go…)

 

Organised Play?

I do most of my gaming at home, either with my wife, occasionally solo, or with a few friends.

RuneSpears
That’s a lot more Spearmen than I own

Some games though, just don’t hit the table at home. There are generally 1 or 2 on the go at a time, and currently it’s Runewars Miniatures – 2-player competitive games that my wife just isn’t interested in (in the past Game of Thrones LCG, Star Wars Destiny, and various table-top wargames have all fallen into this category).

For these games, I need to venture out to the FLGS, or some other type of club, and that’s when the question of whether a game is alive or not becomes a big issue.

I’ve been enjoying the Runewars games I’ve played recently, and having Fantasy Flight put out regular Organised Play kits helps push a monthly event on a Saturday where I know other people will turn up to play, and I’ll actually get some use out of those figures I’ve been spending my money on.

If Runewars “dies” – i.e. FFG stop supporting it, or putting out new content, I could potentially end up with a lot of boxes of skeletons, and not a lot to do with them, particularly if the other players move on to something newer and shinier. Right now, Runewars is getting a lot of love and attention from FFG, so I’d hope that I’m safe for a year or so, but past experience has definitely taught me the dangers of investing heavily in something that might be unplayable by the time I get it assembled and painted. The boxes and boxes of Dice Masters which sit forlornly in the corner waiting for my son to be old enough to play dice games are a harsh reminder of that.

 

Final Thoughts

When all is said and done, I think it’s fair to say that there is a lot more concern and hype about games “dying” than there really needs to be. Provided a game isn’t played in a legacy format (actually damaging/changing elements as you go along), the chances are that you’ll be able to keep playing with the content you already have for a long while after the manufacturers have stopped churning out extras.

If organised play is important for you, then you do need to keep an eye on what’s happening, simply to avoid running out of opponents – still, this is generally going to be a bigger deal in the world of more competitive gaming, which already has a slightly different level of financial engagement than just buying something to play at home.

Summer Gamin’

August has been and gone, and it’s time to look back on another month’s gaming.

It endued up being a pretty mega month (although it didn’t necessarily feel like it at the time), with more gaming sessions logged than any other month this year, against ultra-low spending (I shelled out a grand total of a fiver on a Legendary Organised Play event).

 

Broadly speaking, August was a month for the classics: Zombicide, Arkham LCG, Legendary and LotR all got more than 5 plays, with a solid majority of gaming going on games that have now been played 5 times or more this year. Elder Sign also kept up its record as the only game to have been played every single month this year (although Zombicide only missed February, being far too big for a hospital table).

MassiveMassive Darkness was the big new arrival, which jumped straight in to the upper echelons (it’s currently the 17th most-played game of the year by sessions, 10th most-played by time) and I’ll be talking plenty more about it in the near future. The only other ‘new’ game to see play was a review – Near and Far arrived in July, but only hit the table in August (I liked it, but my wife hated it), and Codenames Duet which came too near to the end of the month to actually get played.

Thematically, it was a month dominated by Fantasy and Zombies, with Lovecraft and Comics coming in a little way behind. In light of that, it’s not a huge surprise to see that Surviving the Monsters (roughly 1/3) and Completing the Quest (about ¼ ) were the mechanical mainstays.

 

Kittens Whilst getting in big numbers of sessions for the classics was the main theme, I did spend a couple of days at Insomnia with the good people of Games Quest, and was able to cross off a few titles that I’d never been sufficiently interested in to buy, but felt like I ought to have a better awareness of as a gamer: Exploding Kittens has very little going on mechanically, and relies almost entirely on the group dynamics of people playing it (everyone present was quite happy to mess with everyone else, so it gave us an entertaining half-hour or so), and if you take away the anime art (presumably the main reason most people play it), Tanto Cuore is basically just Dominion with poor iconography. There were one or two interesting mechanical twists, but not enough to change my mind on this as a game I really don’t need to own.

 

Un-played

UnplayedAs I mentioned earlier in the year, I didn’t go into 2017 with an “un-played project” in anything like as systematic a way as last year, but now that we’re 2/3 of the way through the year, I’m starting to look at this in more detail. There are 8 games which are currently un-played, with 5 of them being big group/party games. There’s often a brief flurry of activity for games like this around Christmas, so historically this wouldn’t have been a big worry, but it’s hard to know how things will play out with a baby around. Of the remainder, Memoir ’44 is a game that I expect to have a few fallow years until Ned is big enough to play, but I’m intending to keep hold of, Scrabble is always worth owning a copy of, and only Firefly looks particularly dubious as a game to keep around – I like Firefly as a thematic homage to the world Captain Reynolds and his crew occupy, but the game itself has a very large footprint, a somewhat fiddly setup, and is overall just a bit too slow to make it to the table often: realistically, it’s only still around because of sentiment.

Final Thoughts

Comments With so much time going into what are now our Core Games, and Massive Darkness due its own write-up soon, there’s not too much else to say about August – in terms of reflecting on a year two-thirds gone, it feels like we’ve managed pretty well given just how difficult it is to get through a 2-hour game without stopping to be screamed at. With 2017 66% done, I’ve managed 65% of last year’s game sessions, but 75% of the gaming hours. I’ve also spent 75% of last year’s total, which is mildly concerning, but I’m not too bothered as I’ve sold 164% of what I shifted last year, which puts me in a much healthier position overall. I’m still narrowly clinging on to a net gain (more gained from sales than spent on stuff), but the Pledge Manager for Green Horde just opened, which will probably knock that on the head.

ApocryphaMoving into the home stretch of the year, the goals are pretty much the same as ever: keep playing, keep spending low. I’m still waiting on the majority of this year’s Kickstarters, even the ones that were aiming to deliver by August, so 2017 should still have some new twists in store, even if I don’t manage to land any of the particularly exciting autumn releases for review purposes.