A Year in Reviews

Having had our gaming habits somewhat disrupted by the unexpectedly early arrival of a baby, it felt like a good moment for a bit of a retrospective.

I’ve been doing game reviews now for a little over a year now. In that time, I’ve saved myself money on some games I wanted to get anyway, breathed life into games that had been standing idle and, above all, tried a lot of games that I would never have come close to playing without doing the reviews. Today I want to look at some of the highlights.

 

Bigger and Better: Zombicide: Black Plague

(see original review here)

Zombicide PaintedZombicide was one of the earlier games I got to review, and it was undoubtedly the game which made the biggest impact on last year – it was also my pick for “2016 Game of the Year” in the video. It’s a miniatures game, where a small band of heroes take on ever-growing armies of zombies, simple to learn, and not that difficult to master, I love how accessible this game is, and just how much fun it is. The game is scenario-based, so there’s a fair amount of variety, and the ongoing search for better weapons drives a lot of what happens. The zombies power up as your survivors do – specifically spawning in numbers determined by the most powerful survivor at that point in time, which means that you need to be careful of one person getting too far ahead of the group.

paintotaurWith a £70+ price-tag on the base game, coming from a publisher and designers I didn’t really know, this is something I would never have picked up having not played the franchise before. Having got it, it’s been such a hit that various birthdays and Christmas presents have gone on expansions. At the time of writing, it’s hovering on the brink of hitting 100 plays in under a year, which is pretty good going for a game that typically lasts more than 90 minutes, and regularly hits 2-3 hours or even more.

Cracking game, great fun, and it even inspired me to get back into miniature-painting to an extent that I hadn’t in a good while. Great stuff.

 

Gaming for the Future: Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

(see original review here)

all-investigatorsAfter Zombicide, Mansions of Madness was the second most-played new game last year, but I’m including it on this list for a couple of other reasons. I’ve already waxed lyrical about this game here, and here (amongst other places), but there’s something specific I wanted to draw out today. This game completely changed my mind on the use of apps in Board Games. I use randomisers for set-up in Legendary and Dominion, but otherwise, I’ve always been pretty luke-warm on the concept. Things like X-COM, with a stress-inducing real-time element aren’t really my cup of tea, and I could never see the benefit: Boggle works fine with an egg-timer, with needing to digitise everything.

mansions-madness-board-game-puzzleMansions changed all of that – it gave us access to a great game that we’d always steered away from due to the 1-versus-many aspect, and it allows masses of replayability in a way that just wouldn’t be possible with physical components. The puzzles are probably the biggest aspect of this, but the whole experience is very well done – I never feel like it isn’t worth having the bits out, or that I could just be playing on the app, but the app streamlines the play so much. Eldritch Horror is another game we picked up last year, very similar in a lot of ways, but it does have a lot of bookkeeping to do (and I often miss bits), so having the app to keep track of these things just makes life so much easier. Lastly, the element of the unknown that it provides is great – the fact that you can roll a check without knowing how well you have to do to succeed gives you all the openness and surprise of an RPG, without someone actually having to take on the role of GM.

Mansions has really whet my appetite for more of these all-vs-app games. I strongly considered getting Descent, and only decided against it on the basis of time, but if the rumoured app for Imperial Assault finally appears, then I’ll be taking a very interested look at it (hopefully they’ll publish a second edition of the box, and someone will be needed to write a review…)

 

Disturbing the Dust: Elder Sign

(see original review here)

ElderElder Sign is a game we’d owned for ages, but hadn’t been played that much. In fact, in 2015, it didn’t get played at all, and I wouldn’t be overly surprised if the same was true of 2014. It was one of a small handful of Cthulhu-mythos games that had been bought in, but had never really taken off.

Elder sign was already on my radar as part of last year’s “unplayed” project, but it definitely helped when I saw an expansion sitting on the up-for-review list – the Alaskan-themed “Omens of Ice” box.

Omens-of-Ice-Original-Box-Card-GameI didn’t put in for it straight away, but made a point of playing a few games first, to make sure I actually had some recent context for reviewing the expansion. Then I got the expansion to review, and played it some more. And more.

Fast-forward to 2017, and Elder Sign is our most-played game of the year so far. Part of that is due to some skewed circumstance, along with catching up on expansions for Christmas, but this is definitely a game that Reviewing breathed fresh life into – Dominion also benefited last summer with the excellent Empires expansion, but this felt like the clearest example of a game brought back from extinction.

 

And now for something completely different: AYA

(see original review here)

AYA-Box-Board-GameWriting Board Game reviews can be a great opportunity to pick up games or expansions that I would be buying anyway. It also offers a chance to try something completely different.

There a few games which fit the “different” header better than AYA: a cooperative domino standing game where you work together, against the clock, to construct landscapes of dominoes in matching patterns, then attempt to knock them over with a single flick, leaving a unique pattern of animal and landscape photographs.

AYA-SetUp-Board-GameAYA is a fun little game – certainly not of the things we play most regularly, but interesting enough for a change. Without a doubt though, this is not a game I would have found and bought in a shop: it’s simply way too far off of my radar, too far removed from the sorts of things I normally play. When it comes to spending money, one of the main reasons I get so many expansions for board games, is that I feel like I have a better idea what I’m getting, a sense that I’ll be enhancing something I already know I enjoy, rather than taking a chance on something new. I still try to target games which I think might go down well at home for reviewing – it’s hard to write a review on a game no-one will play! – but overall, reviewing offers a great opportunity to push the boundaries slightly, to experiment with the new.

 

The People’s Favourite: Star Wars Carcassonne

(see original review here)

Star-Wars-Carcassonne-Game-Board-GameI feel like it wouldn’t be fair to finish this article without pausing for a moment to mention Star Wars Carcassonne, or Starcassonne as I like to call it. This takes the well-known tile-laying game, and mashes it together with the Star Wars franchise – it’s an interesting twist on the original game, with dice-based combat and planetary invasion making for a slightly more direct, if also more luck-based experience than the original Carcassonne.

The Star Wars theme is pretty thin- really this is “space” Carcassonne to a far greater extent than it is Star Wars in any meaningful sense, but that doesn’t seem to hurt its popularity – this was by far the most read of all the articles I did for them last year, and it continues to attract attention into 2017.

 

Looking forward

There have definitely been a few reviews in the last month or so that have run into baby-related reviews, and when time is at a premium, you don’t want to be unable to play your favourite game because you’ve promised to review something strange, new and not-all-that-appealing. That said, I’m optimistic that Review work will still have a place in a parenthood world, and I look forward to telling you all about them in due course.

1 of 13 but still only 9 of 9

Natalia July was an interesting month for games. I managed to get in a decent number of Game of Thrones sessions, and even managed a Dice-Masters tournament – it was a rainbow draft: I picked up the Natalia Romanova chase-rare in the first round, and won all my games, coming away with a full set of the OP cards, including an alternate art Villainous Pact, so a pretty successful evening all-round.

Looking at the gaming challenges in particular, there was a little progress, although with no new milestones actually being hit: I’m still not quite there yet on the 10 of 10, (and way off on the un-played) but making progress on both fronts.

 

9 of 9 (still)

It’s getting tight at the top of the chasing pack for the 10 of 10 challenge. Nobody has yet made that last fateful step, but it can only be a matter of time. Surely? There are 3 games on 7 (with some tenuous accounting, I could probably push one of these to 8, but I’m resisting the temptation), 3 on 6, and 5 on 5, (I was keeping track of the 4s as well, but there were several review games in this group that have now been moved on, so I’m simplifying).

 

Symmetry
I drew this table a week or two ago, when I started drafting this article. It had a pleasing symmetry, so I decided to include it, even though it’s now out-of-date…

Beyond-Baker-Street-Board-Game Some of those were new entries for July: games that came brand-new to my house, or found themselves dusted off after a longish hiatus. Beyond Baker Street (7) and AYA (4) were both review games that I picked up, and both things I wouldn’t have looked twice at in the shop – a strange domino-toppling activity, and a deduction game, which is basically just a re-theme of Hanabi. It might be far too expensive for the amount of components included, but it’s a fun, clever, well-presented game, and each time we sat down to play it, we’d find ourselves playing it multiple times in no time at all.

Dominion is not new at all. It’s been around for years, and over that time, the core cards have gotten well-worn.

Dominion-Storage-Card-Game I like Dominion. I own the base game, the first 5 retail expansions and a handful of promos, although there had been a bit of a lull in buying things. I thought long and hard about picking up Adventures last year, before eventually getting into Marvel Legendary instead (an expensive decision, but a popular one amongst most gaming friends). This year’s Empires expansion found its way to me as a demo copy, and breathed new life into the game, hitting the table half-a-dozen times in a week.

As much as I like Dominion, it’s not always the most popular game for me to wheel out: I probably have an 80% win record in 2-player games with my wife, and too long a winning streak can sap the fun for others. That was what eventually decided me against buying Adventures last year, and it was my big hesitation as it headed towards 10 plays this year – I could very easily see it getting binge-played to 10 in July, then disappearing back onto the shelf until next year. I’ve very deliberately put it back on the shelf whilst still in single digits for July, but I hope to see it re-appear later in the year to make it to ten – whether that happens remains for me to be seen.

So far only 1 game has made it onto the top ten this year in a single month (i.e. without being played in any other month) Curse of the Black Dice, an entertaining enough semi-co-op which I picked up for review, played ten times in March, then ended up selling on to make room for other things. It earned its place on the list fair and square, but somehow it feels slightly less worthy than those which surround it (incidentally, 7 other games have been played 10 or more times in a month, but all of those have recorded plays in at least 3 other months…)

 

1of 13

SettleDice
You only actually need the dice and the sheets – the cup keeps it all together, but also bends the paper

The only game to make it off of the Un-played list for July was Settlers of Catan: the dice game (regular Settlers remains un-played, awaiting full article-treatment).

As a dice game, this one is light, in both the physical and the mechanical senses, and transports easily, although it has the downside that I have long-since lost the rules. This one made it out of the box during a weekend at my parents’ house (they didn’t play it. My parents will basically only play Mah Jong with us – I think I’ve even scared them off at Trivial Pursuit and Articulate after previous Christmases…) and was a perfectly tolerable way to pass half an hour. That said, this was one of those games, where I was very conscious of the fact that I was playing it because I have a list of un-played games that I’m trying to work through. As I say, it was “fine,” but I don’t foresee any compulsion to play it again lots in the near future. I’m not expecting get rid of it any time soon – it scores enough points for being light, small, portable etc that keeping it is no hassle, and it’s unlikely that I’d make enough selling/trading that it would be worthwhile by the time I’d covered postage etc.

SomeUnplayed
A few of the un-played games

That leaves 12 games left that weren’t played last year, and haven’t been played this year yet. Given the way that the Academic Year tends to define our lives (I work at a University, my wife works at an FE College), I have a strong sense that August may be the last chance for a lot of them to make it to the table.

It’s also reaching the point in the year, where I need to start paying attention to the “new” un-played list (currently 12 games I own which were played last year, but haven’t left the box in 2016). On the one hand, I’m already in the position where I’ll have fewer un-played games in 2016 than 2015 (unless I suddenly get a load of new stuff then don’t play it), but If Firefly or Middle Earth Quest can’t get a game during the holidays, what hope have they when term resumes and work is really busy again?