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.

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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.

Dunwich Revisited

DunwichLegacyWith the arrival a few weeks ago of Lost in Time and Space, the Dunwich Legacy Cycle – the first full adventure cycle for Arkham Horror the Card Game – is complete. Today I want to take a bit of a reflective look at the campaign, what we’ve seen, and what we can expect for the future.

It’s worth saying now that this article will include a fair number of spoilers for the Dunwich Legacy Campaign so, if you haven’t played it yet, you might want to avoid reading this until later.

I’ve been doing a lot of reviews for Games Quest on the Arkham LCG line, and it would be remiss of me not to mention them as a place for some pack-by-pack breakdowns – you can find them at the following links:

Professors To recap, this is an 8-scenario adventure, which starts with the disappearance of Professors Rice and Morgan, the 2 men who assisted Professor Armitage in destroying the Dunwich Horror in Lovecraft’s story of the same name. Players will have visited a Nightclub and a University in search of the men, broken into a Museum to search for a copy of the Necronimicon, caught a train to Dunwich that was almost sucked through a rift in reality, tried to prevent grisly human sacrifice in Dunwich, and scoured the countryside for giant invisible monsters. In the final denouement, they will have scaled Sentinel Hill (despite mysterious forces opposing them), and stepped through a portal into the beyond, hopefully saving the world in time to return home.

Familiar Encounters

BeyondTheVeil
THIS card kept reappearing…

Aside from a new wave of encounter cards in each pack, the Dunwich Legacy campaign made extensive use of cards introduced in the Dunwich Deluxe, as well as some encounter cards from the Core Set. Overall, it tended to be the more abstract cards that got recycled – obscuring shrouds on locations, Doom spread by mysterious rites, and strange hexes and curses to discard you assets and your decks.

This all created a very noticeable contrast with a game like Lord of the Rings where you could expect to see a particular pack of enemies showing up again and again throughout the course of the campaign – I was particularly surprised by how little we saw of the Mobsters from scenario 1b (The House Always Win) who show up at most once more all campaign (and possibly not at all, depending on the notes in your campaign log).

The Consequences of Your Actions

MidnightCultists Fantasy Flight have made the point repeatedly that Arkham Horror is supposed to be played in Campaign Mode as the default option, with Standalone being the variant- we’d already seen a little bit of how this could work in practice from the Core Box’s Night of the Zealot campaign, as players can chose to burn down a location in the first scenario, thereby removing it from the second, and having the undefeated cultists from the second scenario reappearing in the third. Dunwich however, offered the chance to see this fully developed.

Overall, I was pleased with just how much use they made of this – the fact that you can only rescue 1 professor in the first two scenarios ensures that whatever approach you take, you will have some negative consequences to deal with: even once you’ve read all set-ups and outcomes for the whole campaign, there is no “perfect” path to take.

Necronomicons
Sadly, the campaign always specifies which Necronomicon gets stolen…

The interactions with the Necronomicon were also particularly intriguing – what will you do when faced with the chance to gain such a powerful card (the static intellect boost is handy for lots of investigators, and the resource acceleration is incredibly powerful), at the cost of a nasty token added to the campaign bag? I also liked the fact that even once you had decided to take it, it could still be lost in later scenarios, giving you the chance of acquiring the bad token, and the forces of evil getting the book. All of this interacted nicely, and gave a good sense of legacy, like your decisions really mattered.

Dunwich Legacy felt like it did a good job of ensuring that narrative continuity didn’t lead to a game that was unplayable – here the best example was probably in Undimensioned and Unseen, where the number of invisible abominations to be dealt with was actually increased if you were more successful in the previous scenario. Some people have raised thematic concerns about this, but I think it seemed reasonable if you assume that the more sacrifices the monsters have feasted upon, the less need they have to go rampaging around the countryside seeking food – they probably just stayed in for an after-dinner nap. Whatever the logic, it offered a welcome chance to right the ship for those parties that were doing particularly badly.

Drinks I also loved the fact that the designers were more than willing to mess with players’ expectations – the best example here was in Essex County Express where players could help themselves to some free resources, provided they remembered that they “had stolen a passenger’s luggage.” After the nasty side-effects of having a drink in the speakeasy, this was an option shunned by lots of players- only to discover that there was no nasty side-effect at all!

AcidicIchorProbably the biggest disappointment with the ongoing aspect of the game came from the Strange Solution – there had been much speculation about what the pay-off would be, and when it came it was quite underwhelming – just some options for upgraded player-cards. In reality, the option to access powerful effects in Seeker – powerful healing and an explosive fight ability – shouldn’t be underestimated, and the cost of having to upgrade from a specific card AND having to perform a test on that card in a scenario is a really interesting one, it just feels disappointing that we didn’t get something more entertaining that was tied to scenario events more specifically.

Where we go

FacultyOffices Aside from doing a great job of the campaign aspect of things, Dunwich Legacy also continued to do interesting things with our sense of space: in the course of the 8 scenarios we visited a nightclub, a university that had different buildings open or closed depending on what time you got there, a museum that could only be broken into in the middle of the night, and a train where you could only move from carriage to carriage in a straight line.

GatheringLocations The designers have made heavy use during this campaign of location sets with identical unrevealed sides and assorted different revealed sides. Whilst this quite quickly stops feeling particularly “new,” I still think it’s a great way of doing things – when I play The Gathering now, I know exactly what locations are going to be where, and what effects will trigger and when (In case you’re wondering why I’m still playing The Gathering, it’s where I go to watch Daisy die as my latest attempt at a solo deck fails miserably). Having these other locations, where you don’t know until you first enter them what you’ll find, and where you can’t plan out of every detail of the game ensures that these scenarios are still playable once you’ve done them a few times.

It’s also worth reiterating how well Arkham does “place” generally – if I compare it to the Lord of the Rings LCG, a game I’ve enjoyed playing for many years, the difference is night and day. In Arkham my investigator is always somewhere, your investigators is always somewhere – if those aren’t the same place, then we can’t help each other, and the monster at my location is going to attack me, even if you make a better target. It’s little touches like this which make the game so much more engaging than if decisions about movement become abstracted.

Who we fight

AvianThrallThe core box for Arkham LCG established the basic nature of enemies – a fight value, a number of hit points, an evade value, its attack values, and possibly some ability text. Dunwich Legacy hasn’t strayed too far from that, but it has certainly stretched our expectations of what a monster can do. Things like the Conglomeration of Spheres or the Avian Thrall care about what weapon you use to fight them with, and make you think twice about relying too heavily on that Machete (and let’s face it, which Guardian doesn’t love the Machete?)

Whippoorwill The designers also did a great job of capturing the feeling of the Whipporwhills, the flocks of sinister birds which are so often looming harbingers in Lovecraft’s tales- they won’t attack you, and you’ll have to waste actions taking them out, but if you try to ignore them they will follow you around, nagging away at you, and undermining your ability to carry out normal activities.

Of course, the biggest change to “normal” combat we encountered was in Undimensioned and Unseen, with the Brood of Yog-Sothoth, who could only be attacked using the in-scenario card Esoteric Formula

Brood I’m still in 2 minds about the Esoteric Formula – obviously it makes sense that something as large as a Brood of Yog-Sothoth should take more than just knife-work to bring down, and I liked the idea that clues could be used to aid you in the fight.

My problem with this scenario was the fact that everyone had to use Willpower to fight it – generally speaking in this game, different investigators have different strengths: most of the time, there are ways around things – fight with strength, use spells to fight with willpower, evade using agility, or simply focus on clue-gathering, whilst your teammates take care of combat. The fact that this scenario didn’t have an alternative win condition, and didn’t have a way for investigators to substitute a different skill made it feel a bit annoying.

Yog-Sothoth The last scenario, of course, was Lost in Time and Space, and if you were particularly unlucky, you might have found yourself facing Yog-Sothoth itself. Whilst this was more-or-less inevitable, given how the scenarios up-to-now had gone, I was glad that this didn’t just turn into a boss fight: even in the slightly pulpier world of Arkham Horror files, a chef with a Machete and an ex-con with a tommy gun are not supposed to be able to just knock over an ancient one. If anything, I was surprised at how plausible it might to fight him, with careful use of boosts, weapons etc, but I was glad to see that he could not be evaded, and was going to do a massive 5 Horror each time he attacked. Ultimately, it’s entirely fitting for an Arkham Campaign that the way you “win” is by finding your way back home and sealing the gate long before you ever catch sight of Yog-Sothoth.

 

What’s on the Cards for us?

ShrivellingsAs well as having dramatically expanded the range of what was available for the players to confront, the Dunwich Legacy campaign has also given us a load more player cards, particularly cards at the higher experience levels. I wrote an article for Mythos Busters back in the autumn of last year, lamenting how few opportunities there were to really level up into the powerful options, and how a secondary class might as well be a primary one, given how few cards were out of scope.

Since then, things have improved massively, and probably at the time they needed to, when we actually have the XP to spend: XP is a bit harder to come by in Dunwich Legacy than it was in Night of the Zealot, but you’ll still chalk up a fair amount over the course of the campaign, and there’s plenty of choice on what to do.

ExceptionalThe introduction of permanent cards like Charisma, or the skill-boosting talents allow you to really focus the direction of your deck, but even without them, there are plenty of choices to make between powerful bomb effects like a Pocket Watch or Lightning Gun, and basic efficiency upgrades like simply taking the better version of a card.

I’ve never been the world’s greatest deck-builder, and the more the card pool expands, the more I’m sure I’ll find myself floundering with the best route to take. That said, the fact that we’ve reached the end of a full cycle and my wife is still choosing her own deck upgrades (in 6 years she has never built her own LotR deck) is another great testament to how well this game has been put together.

Carcosa

That’s about all I wanted to say on the Dunwich Legacy. A good mysterious cultists and forces which should not be tampered with story to get us started, with a few 1920s mobsters thrown in for good measure. From the little we know about the next cycle, Path to Carcosa, it looks like we could have a very different feel, something more psychological, where the danger is in your own mind, just as much as in the cultist’s knife.

July’s Games

I quite enjoyed July from a games perspective.

NedOfTheRings
Ned still struggling with the idea of being allowed 2 copies of the same non-unique character in play at once…

July wasn’t really a month for ticking off many boxes or reaching new gaming milestones (although I did get my all-time H-Index up to 18) but I’d say it was fun nonetheless.

Money

A big-ish clearout saw me back in to positive figures for the year money-wise, as I got rid of a selection of games that hadn’t been played much in years, along with Star Wars Destiny, and some Dice Masters cards Rare enough to have a cash value. As I said back when I reviewed Destiny for Games Quest, I really like the mechanics and concepts in the game, but the price-point is just too high, and with the ongoing arrival of new sets (FFG are already starting to release spoilers for the 3rd wave, when I only got to about half of the cards in the 1st set), it basically becomes pay-to-win: I decided to get out ahead whilst I still could.

For Dice Masters, I’m basically restricted to a monthly event at the FLGS, and have missed the last 2 of those. I’ve decided to hold on to the bulk of my collection for when my son is old enough to play, but that’s probably 5+ years away and I wanted to get the balance sheet to a place where I didn’t have columns of red glaring back at me every time I looked at it in the meantime.

Keeping Track

July was also a good month for spreadsheets – I’ve been moving gradually away from just counting sessions of games to trying to count hours (a tricky task when you’re trying to use a formula rather than timing every session with a stop-watch [which would be an even trickier task when a single game can be interrupted multiple times by a single baby]), and a long spell of dead time in front the computer meant that I managed to get a new sheet sorted to monitor this for me – no huge surprises with what it threw up, but some pleasing graphs and charts nonetheless.

Play

LateJuneReviewsIn terms of what got played, July saw fresh life being breathed into old favourites as I made it to Lord of the Rings night at the FLGS for the first time in a while, completed the Dunwich Legacy cycle for Arkham, and we continued our slow trek across the sands of Egypt Osirian in Pathfinder Mummy’s Mask. In more recent acquisitions, Aeon’s End got dusted off after a couple of months hiatus, Mansions of Madness saw some play now that the Investigators have all returned from the painting table, and we managed a few more hours of Runebound, which were enjoyable enough, but definitely whet our appetites for the upcoming fully-cooperative expansions.

RobinsonHowever, it wasn’t just the old – I finally managed to get my teeth into a small pile of review games that had been sitting around for a while, with several run-outs for Arcadia Quest, Battle for Greyport, and Gloom of Kilforth. All of these were deemed worthy enough to keep around for a while (the PvP combat may eventually see Arcadia Quest moved on, but as killing-each-other games go, it’s a really good fun one). Battle for Greyport is remarkably enjoyable once you’ve managed to get your head around it, and Gloom of Kilforth is probably the best-looking game I own, even if the rulebook is awful. Speaking of awful rulebooks, I also picked up Robinson Crusoe in trade, which was a game I’d had on my radar for a fair while, simply on account of it being so highly ranked and supporting solo/co-op play. I’ve not had it long enough to form a considered opinion yet (played once, thought I was doing ok, then winter came and I died), but I’m certainly not regretting the trade.

Even Newer?

NewNewIn terms of new, new stuff, July was the arrival time for a whole heap of stuff for the world (or at least the UK) at large: Near and Far (the follow-up to last year’s Above and Below) an X-Men big box, which got me more excited about Legendary than I had been for a while, a new expansion for Eldritch Horror, and Lovecraft Letter (Love Letter becoming the latest game to get the inevitable Cthulhu treatment) all arrived on my doorstep. In light of that fairly epic haul, missing out on Sword and Sorcery really wasn’t too bad.

Runebound
This works well as PvE, but I’m looking forward to fully co-op

That new expansion to make Runebound fully Cooperative, and the long awaited Massive Darkness have both been sighted in the wild, but I’ve not managed to catch a glimpse myself (Runebound conspicuous by its absence on this side of the pond, Massive Darkness I now have a tracking number…) – in fact, none of my outstanding Kickstarters have landed yet (I have potentially have anywhere up to 6 due to drop between August and October), but the delay may well be for the best, as I try to clear some space (mental and physical) for them.

Numbers

Although July still fell short of the 60s and 70s of the early months of the year, there was a definite pick up from the low, low numbers of June, and I think 50 counts as a good number for the near future. Obviously there’s a bit of an issue with an ever-growing number of titles competing for a shrinking number of hours, but I’m hoping that we’re not too far away from getting the boy a proper bed-time, which should free up some evenings once again (you can laugh at me in a few months’ time when he still refuses to go to sleep.)

I also started looking at how this year’s gaming compares with that of previous years. The top 10 most-played games this year only account for 56% of my time, compared with 66% last year, and 88% the year before (in fact, in 2015 it was 70% of time just on the top 3).

Overall, 2017 is definitely the broadest year so far: looking at the number of games played, played 2+ times, 5+ times, 10+ times and 20+ times, I’m ahead of 2015 in every category, and although I’m still behind 2016, with 5 whole months to go, I expect to catch-up in a lot of those categories.

Looking at hours and percentages rather than sessions gives an interesting perspective, confirming that nothing is dominating like the last few years, although Zombicide is still going strong.

Playing what exactly?

KarubaNed
Someone seems a bit unhappy about losing at Karuba…

Thematically this was a very strong month for Fantasy, although Arkham Horror did a good job of holding up the Lovecraft banner, almost single-handedly for much of the month before the rest of the franchise piled in in the last week or so to make up the numbers. Mechanically, the good-old cooperative adventuring (survive the monsters, complete the quest, save the world) was the primary order of the day, with only very slight variations in theme.

July was also the month where I decided to stop and properly look at the categories I’d created for dividing up the aim of the games I play. Ever since I first started trying to do this, I’ve been aware of a certain unhelpful vagueness with solve the mystery/complete the quest/save the world/survive the monsters more-or-less bleeding into each other to the point where the distinctions aren’t that helpful.

Revisiting it, I decided to pull out the key element: most Mythos games are about solving a mystery: there probably are monsters to be fought, but that’s not why they’re there – Eldritch Horror was the only one I put under “save the world” in recognition of its epic scale, along with all the Pandemic titles, and other reality-as-we-know-it-is-at-stake sort of games.

“Survive the Monsters” became simply “Survive” which allows it to include Robinson Crusoe, but generally this category is for things where the peril has come to you, whether that’s a horde of Zombies, or an enemy army.

AvalonI also took all the table-top RPGs and a few similar-feel games out of “Complete the Quest” and put them into “Explore” in an attempt to reflect the open-world, lack of long-term objective nature of things. Complete the Quest remains a bit of a catch-all, but hopefully it’s a bit more coherent now, with the idea of a group having their own mission, something they set out to accomplish beyond simply surviving, but which might not (at least immediately) lead to the end of the world if they fail. This covers things like Pathfinder, but also things like Descent. It’s also where I’ve put all things Lord of the Rings, because it’s very rare that an LotR scenario will be a direct confrontation with Sauron to destroy the One Ring, generally, things are much more low-key and small-scale

In the final analysis, the only place I’ve left games in 2 categories are the ones with hidden traitor mechanics, where “find the traitor” still exists on my spreadsheet as a secondary mechanic (and the traitor’s victory condition is ignored). Ultimately, categorisation is still subjective, but it certainly feels a lot neater now.

 

Moving on

Whilst it’s pleasing to have things measured and labelled more neatly, the bottom line is that a fair amount of gaming happened in July, and most it was enjoyable and felt worthwhile. Aside from keeping an eye on what I’m spending, that always has to be the ultimate measure for gaming and, as things stand, I think I can be fairly content.

 

Monsters of the Mansions: Part II – The Investigators

I’m aware that this blog has a habit of getting a bit number-crunch heavy at times, lots of theory, and not a lot of board game.

As part of an ongoing attempt to stem this tide of text, I try periodically to introduce some more visual content, looking at my efforts with the Paintbrush.

Today I’m going to return to Mansions of Madness- I did a painted low-down of the base game back in the autumn, and today I want to look at some of the expansions.

Mansions-Investigators-All

Suppressed Memories and Recurring Nightmares were 2 boxes that provided the tiles and figures of Mansions of Madness 1st edition for 2nd edition players – they disappointed some 2nd-edition fans with their lack of scenario/card content, but they way that they extend the range of Investigators and Monsters at your disposal made them a must-have for me.

Mansions-Investigators-Kate
Sadly, I can’t really get the pens in focus – that’s how detailed they are!

Between the 2 boxes, there were no fewer than 16 new Investigators made available. Some of them were really nice figures to paint, and I was really pleased with some of the details, like the creases on Kate Winthrop’s lab-coat, and the pens in her pocket.

Mansions-Investigators-Monterey-DexterThe Guys

Generally speaking, the male investigators in Mansions of Madness tend to be less interesting to paint – Darrell the Photographer, and Bob the Salesman particularly fade into the background, although figures like Dexter the Magician and Monterey the Archaeologist have a bit more of the unusual going for them.

Mansions-Investigators-Joe-MichaelThere are also a few rather more dynamic male investigators appearing in these boxes – Michael the Gangster and Joe the PI both come out all guns blazing – Joe feels a little bit over the top to me, but I like Michael’s scope, and he’s a fun investigator for scenarios that have a heavy focus on monster-bashing.

Mansions-Investigators-Vincent-Harvey

Relying more on mind than body, the next 2 male investigators are Vincent the Doctor, and Harvey the Professor – a lot more brown in the palette for these men (there’s no way I was going to paint Tweed pattern on something that size). I also liked Vincent’s Saw – definitely the approach to medicine you expect your Arkham Investigator to take.

Mansions-Investigators-AshcanOf course, no Arkham Investigators set would be complete without everyone’s favourite Arkham LCG Investigator, Duke, who comes to Mansions in the company of his faithful sidekick, Ashcan Pete.

Because Duke is so small, it’s quite difficult to get any meaningful detail onto his miniature (aside from the red scarf around his neck, but being the only dog in the set, he still stands out from the others quite well.

 

 

The Gals

Mansions-Investigators-JennyJenny Barnes is a character who takes quite a bit of flak from various members of our play-group, and you have to admit that her outfit looks better suited to society balls than creepy old houses. However, she’s a character with quite an interesting backstory, and very good utility in most of the different games, so I still wanted to do a good job on this one – the colour-scheme for her dress and hat vary across the different Arkham Files games, but on personal preference I went for the blue rather than the purple end of the spectrum.

Mansions-Investigators-GloriaGloria, the author was another fun one to paint- the shades of green weren’t that remarkable, but anyone who carries a typewriter like a handbag has done more than enough to catch my attention.

Sadly, this miniature arrived slightly damaged (leaning forward at quite a funny angle) and, although I’ve been able to correct it a bit with a hair-dryer and pot of cold water, there’s still a noticeable lean.

Mansions-Investigators-Amanda-Carolyn Amanda and Carolyn, the student and the Psychiatrist respectively, both have fairly blank outfits, but with a lot of utility in Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror, I still wanted the figures to look good – they certainly aren’t the stand-outs of the bunch (Amanda’s glasses are way too dark/thick-framed), but I think they’re passable.

Mansions-Investigators-Mary-MatteoSister Mary, like Father Matteo from the 2nd Edition core box, appears in clerical robes, and I decided to follow FFG’s illustrations with a brown colour-scheme, rather than black and white, which leaves them looking a bit less similar to one another.

 

Mansions-Investigators-MandyLast, but by no means least comes Mandy, the Researcher – this was a really difficult figure to paint, combining my two pet peeves from this range of figures – glasses and excessively detailed shoes. Overall though, I was quite pleased with the end result, particularly when viewed from a table-top gaming distance: the dark wash bringing out the detail lines in the jacket really well.

 

That’s about it for today – I want to aim more towards little and often with these pieces, but hopefully I’ll be back soon with some more Monsters