One Man and His Dog – “Ashcan” Pete

Welcome, to the first in my Investigators Revisited Series, where I’ll be taking a look at the investigators of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files Games. You can read more about the series at the link above, but I’m going to go ahead and dive in to our first investigator.

 

Ashcans Pete Washburne, better known as “Ashcan,” is a drifter. A loner, a hobo, a man who keeps moving, with only one constant companion – Duke his dog.

The earliest versions of Ashcan focused on his ability to make use of things that others had thrown away, the scrapper/scrounger who is always able to find something you need. Later versions have increasingly leant towards Duke as the centre-piece of what Pete likes to do.

 

Pete is generally represented with his health being equal or slightly higher than his sanity (he has bad dreams, so there’s only so much more the mind can take), but broadly he remains a balanced character, not too heavily tipped one way or the other. His actual skills vary quite a bit from game to game, although there’s a definite recurring theme with his Influence being low, whilst his body is fairly tough.

Game-by-Game

Arkham Horror the Card Game

LCG-Pete-and-Duke The Living Card Game is probably where Duke shines the brightest, leading to various comments about whether Pete takes up Duke’s ally slot, or whether Pete is Duke’s signature weakness.

Duke allows Pete to fight at an impressive base skill of 4 (set the dog on them) and to investigate, also starting at 4 skill, with an optional free move thrown in for good measure. (Sniffing out clues).

The fact that Pete can discard a card to ready Duke, and therefore use him twice in a round (potentially more if you draw the Elder Sign) makes for a really strong combination overall, able to do both of the games core actions (fight monsters, find clues) strongly. Without Duke, Pete’s Combat and Intelligence scores are both fairly low, at 2, but that does leave space for a Willpower of 4, which makes him pretty resilient to treacheries.

Your-House
If you’ve played Night of the Zealot, you know why Pete has to be the first investigator, and what you have to choose…

Overall, I’d say that the Card Game is definitely the place where Ashcan/Duke are the most powerful, and offer the biggest incentive to play. I’ve taken them all through one campaign in the past, and have been enjoying running them through a second as I prepared this article.

LCG-Nightmares The back of Pete’s investigator card talks about his nightmares, and how they drive him to seek out the people he has seen, to save them from the horrors that he has witnessed. This is fairly consistent with other stories, but it only gets limited development in the LCG, mostly in the title of his signature weakness.

 

Mansions of Madness (2nd edition)

Mansions2-Pete-and-Duke In Mansions of Madness, Pete is reduced to “starts with Duke.” In this case, Duke being a unique “item” (allies aren’t really a thing in Mansions). Duke’s power definitely isn’t a flashy one, and I’d largely overlooked it in the past, but actually it has the power to be fairly useful, giving you an extra trade action at the start of your turn, a trade that can be conducted with someone in an adjacent space. In a recent game, where I’d made a point of playing Pete in preparation for this article, Duke was actually the difference between Pete winning and losing the scenario, as he went insane whilst fighting the end boss, and now had a sudden need for evidence, currently in the possession of the person in the next space.

Pete-Miniature Stat-wise, Mansions Ashcan is a fairly solid all-rounder, with 4s in Strength, Agility, Observation and Will. His Lore isn’t great (not much time for studying whilst you’re riding the rails) and, as you might expect for someone who is essentially a tramp, his influence is very low.

Pete certainly isn’t a mega-popular character when we play Mansions – he generally only gets picked when someone says “ooh, I’ll be the one with the dog” but he’s a very solid option when he does get onto the team.

 

Eldritch Horror

Eldritch-PeteAshcan’s stats in Eldritch Horror are much what you might expect: a very low 1 for influence, and steady 3s for everything else. His Health and Sanity are fairly balanced, with a 7/5 split in favour of health.

This version of Pete has 2 abilities, one of which focuses on acquiring discarded Item or Trinket assets with a value less than his observation skill – this can be very nice if he successfully improves that stat, but quickly loses its power if the skill becomes impaired.

Ashcan-MissionAnother aspect of Pete’s character that is often referred to in backstory, but isn’t always that prominent in gameplay, is his habit of riding the rails, never staying long in one place. Eldritch specifically gives him additional movement power along railway lines, making him one of the game’s more mobile characters, so long as he takes that train. This is further reinforced by his Personal Mission, introduced by the recent Masks of Nyarlathotep expansion, which forces him to resolve encounters in a set of locations scattered randomly around the world – doing this brings rewards, but leaving the voices unanswered will only fuel his nightmares.

Eldritch-DukeEldritch Horror’s take on Duke isn’t the most thematic, but it is highly useful, allowing a re-roll once per round. Given that most investigators spend many actions over the course of a game taking Focus tokens to allow them to do just that, a repeatable re-roll is always well-worth having. As if that weren’t enough, Duke also allows Pete to recover sanity more quickly, making that horror limit of 5 remarkably solid. Sadly, as an ally, Duke is vulnerable to a lot of Mythos cards, and there’s a strong chance that Pete will eventually find himself with no dog for company.

 

Elder Sign

Elder-Sign-Pete-and-Duke

Elder Sign is probably the game that gives us least information about the Investigators, at least from a narrative standpoint. Here, Pete’s ability to scavenge for things is to the fore, with the ability to gain clues or different types of items from scenario rewards. He is also still very much “the one with the dog” – Duke’s ability in Elder Sign is somewhat sad: you can discard him to avoid the penalty for failing an adventure. Hopefully this is the noble hound sacrificing himself to save his master, rather than Pete using his dog as a meat-shield.

Elder Sign Ashcan has 6 health and 4 Sanity: again, fairly balanced with a slight lean towards the physical.

 

Arkham Horror

Arkham-Horror-PeteAlthough Arkham Horror is the original Arkham Files game, it’s also the one I’ve played least, so I don’t necessarily feel all-that-qualified to offer opinions on it. In this first iteration of Ashcan, his ‘scrapper’ nature was to the fore, allowing him to draw cards from the bottom of the deck instead of the top. Given that cards leaving an investigator’s possession go the bottom of their respective decks, rather than into a discard pile, this allows him to draw items with a good level of foreknowledge, as well as being able to recycle a powerful card.

Arkham-Horror-DukeDuke is also present in Arkham Horror, where he gives Pete +1 Maximum Sanity or, he can be discarded to immediately restore Pete’s sanity to full (although “full” will now be the printed total, as you no longer have the boos).

Character stats in Arkham work a bit differently to the later games, being in a constant state of flux, with an investigator’s Focus being the factor which influences how much they can be altered. Pete has a very high sneak value, with his other stats being fairly rounded, but a very low focus of 1, making it difficult for him to react to changing circumstances.

 

From Games to Fiction

GhoulsAshcan Pete has yet to receive his own novella, but we do still have some information about him from FFG’s tie-in fiction. He first appeared in Ghouls of the Miskatonic, a work that is now (I believe) officially pre-canonical, but definitely still worth a read (and available fairly cheaply on Kindle).

Even in a few short pages, I felt like these old novels did a better job of conveying Pete’s character than many of the various game implementations. In Ghouls, he wakes up, dry mouth tasting of whisky and vomit, noting that “A drunken stupor was preferable to the horrific nightmares that had plagued him over the last few weeks.” This take on Pete places the source of his nightmares very firmly in the Great War – although it’s very strongly implied that he may have observed the misuse of Eldritch magic there, alongside the solely human carnage. Either way, it was “horrific, mind-wrenching stuff that had left him unable to sleep or hold down a job when he got back to the States.”

He returns in the third novel of the same trilogy, Dweller in the Deep, when Finn Edwards, one of the main characters is hitching a ride on a transcontinental train and “an angry-looking black mongrel” and “a sprightly fella” jump into their slow-moving wagon. In this instance, Pete is depicted as a man “affecting hobo mannerisms” but not nearly as drunk as he makes out. He is clearly headed to Arkham, but his motivations are unclear, simply a “you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Ashcan-Book-Page Moving to the more recent/official era, Ashcan also got his own short story in the Investigators of Arkham Horror book released in early 2017. Unlike many of the stories, it focused not so much on the investigator himself, as an unknown character who happened to meet with him. Pete starts sharing his life story and, with no mention of the War, describes how he came from the Arkham area originally, but was driven to travel the world by his nightmares, finding that if he could help people, the dreams would fall silent for a while.

 

Closing Thoughts

yesthisisdogOverall, I think Ashcan feels like a fairly consistently represented character across the different game-lines. He’s generally solid, rather than flashy, and the only game in which I’d say he really stands out is Arkham Horror the card game. For anyone who is wanting to try him in the LCG, you could do a lot worse than start with “Hello, Yes this is Dog” a deck I found on Arkham DB and have been having good fun with recently.

I think the biggest disappointment with Ashcan is that, even having played him 21 times across the various titles (he’s in my top 10 for most-played investigators), I don’t really feel like I know him that well, he struggles to become more than “Man with Dog.” Hopefully, this is an area which will be a bit better with next month’s* investigator, Jenny Barnes

(* Time limits are not binding, nor, necessarily, probable).

 

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Arkham Horror: Investigators Revisited

Investigators-Book-PhotoWith the arrival early in 2018 of Omens of the Pharaoh for Elder Sign, and Masks of Nyarlathotep for Eldritch Horror, there’s a definite sense of the end of an era for Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Files games.

There are 55 investigators all-told, all of them now playable in Eldritch Horror, and all-but-one in Elder Sign. Arkham Horror, the original board game has a more modest 48, there are 32 in Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition), and a mere 21 for Arkham Horror the card game (25 including promos).

Now that we’re reaching the point where most investigators are available in at least 3 games, I thought it would be good to take a look at the folk, see what we know about them, how they’ve been characterised across the various different games, and how that works out mechanically.

If we include officially announced upcoming releases and promos there are currently (I’ll try to keep this up-to-date, won’t manage it though…):

  • 9 Investigators appearing in all 5 games
  • 33 investigators available in 4 out of 5
  • 12 Investigators available in 3 of the titles
  • And poor old Daniella Reyes in just 1.

 

My aim is to start with the folk who are in all 5 games. I’ll begin with “Ashcan” Pete, Jenny Barnes, and Carolyn Fern, as they are the only 3 I actually own all 5 versions of, but if I can get 1 of these articles out every month or two, hopefully that will give me enough time to pick up some of the missing ones.

I’ll try to keep this post updated with the ones I’ve written so far, for the moment, there’s just the one

Investigators Revisited

“Ashcan” Pete

Marchin Already

It’s the end of the first quarter already, 2018 seems to be flying by. There was a lot going on in March, but gaming still loomed large, with a lot of sessions notched up.

Getting Meta

Aside from gaming itself, I also managed a bit of a dig through my published/to-publish/half-written article pile. Probably the only constant with this blog, is that anything I’ve already done happened longer ago than I think it did, and anything I’m going to do will take longer than I expect it to. I largely blame Ned for this, possibly because “blogging time” quickly turns into “entertaining/feeding/cleaning the baby time,” and mostly because he woke me up at 3.40 this morning (not actually this morning, but the morning I first drafted this), and I desire revenge.

Hopefully this dig-through will mean a few things that had previously stalled half-way to completion getting a revival. More probably, it will just mean a short-lived burst of enthusiasm before things get back to normal.

10 of 10

DragonwartsMy H-Index for 2018 is currently 6, with 5 games already having made it to 10 sessions, and several others not far behind. I’d imagine that this will be tied up by the beginning of summer. There are still some old favourites around the top of the charts, but Hogwarts Battle was brand-new (in the UK) in January, and Dragonfire has only really come into its own this year, so it’s pleasing to see that things haven’t just stagnated.

10of10-2018-MarShifting to the Hardcore challenge, the picture is still optimistic, although I’m further short of the mark. Arkham LCG, Pandemic Legacy and Zombicide were already done-and-dusted by the start of Feb as far as 10 of 10 is concerned, meaning a fairly large amount of play that’s not counting (15 sessions in Feb, 16 in March).

Focusing in on the remaining 7 titles, Legendary was the first big jumper. Legendary is often a game that gets played in bursts, as we’ll run up against a seemingly-impossible set-up, and try various different combinations until we can beat the scheme/mastermind – 5 sessions early in the month for this one, saw it jump from 2 to 7.

Omens-Pharaoh-Dice-Game-BoxNot surprisingly, the other game recovering from a slow start was Elder Sign, with the arrival of the Omens of the Pharaoh expansion. Our first run at this was almost comically brutal, as the ancient one awoke before we had found a single Elder Sign, or even made it out of Cairo, then failed, failed, and failed again to roll the skulls needed to take on the ancient (triple skull is a nasty thing to try aiming for). Overall, this felt like an expansion with plenty of flavour though, and a lot to offer. 9 sessions in March made it the 4th of the 10 to make it to 10 sessions.

Aeon’s End got another couple of sessions, ticking along slowly and steadily. Massive Darkness took more of the sudden-burst approach, with 3 sessions in one weekend: it was the first time we’d dived into a lot of the expansion content, but it was good fun. I’ve also been making good progress on painting the Core Box content, which should give future sessions a bit more colour.

Gloomhaven and Mansions of Madness are the ones struggling so far. At the moment, it feels like I should have gone for Eldritch Horror as one of my 10 (I ruled it out for being too long) or Dragonfire, but it’s still fairly early days. 63 out of 100 down – roughly 1/3 left to go.

 

Madness for the Ages

Arkham LCG CollectionSomething I forgot to mention in February’s round-up, was Arkham Horror LCG hitting 100 plays since its release in late 2016. It was last year’s most-played game by sessions, and looks set for a similar position this year, with Pandemic Legacy destined to fall by the wayside, and Zombicide just too long to match it session-for-session.

With the waning of Lord of the Rings, it’s great to have a co-op LCG that’s consistently hitting the table and whilst there may be an element of cynicism to how brutally Fantasy Flight are milking the cash cow, I’m just glad of the wealth of content we’re getting right now. The second full cycle is nearing its end, and we have a re-working of the Core Set campaign due shortly, a third deluxe expected not long after, and 2 more promo-investigators coming with tie-in novellas later in the year.

March was also the month when Elder Sign reached 50 sessions, it looks like all-things Lovecraft are here to stay.

 

New

New titles were also in plentiful supply, mostly in the form of review games.

Fog of Love has been making a lot of waves recently, but didn’t really click that well for us – too many of the mechanics felt like they were pulling in opposite directions from what the theme was asking.

StuffedStuffed Fables was a fun idea: playing as a group of “stuffies” (i.e. stuffed toys) trying to protect the child they belong to from some kind of Nightmare Lord. It’s immaculately produced, with gorgeous miniatures, and a glossy story book that also acts as the game-board, but in a lot of ways it didn’t quite click. The walls of text are too big for very young children, and I’m not convinced that there would be a real window of opportunity between old enough to sit through it, and young enough to not be turned off by the theme. Mechanically, the game-play underneath the narrative is very light, with little challenge, and the language of the book, heavily laden with Americanisms, and saccharine sidebars felt quite jarring.

Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time is a nice-looking but hyper-random co-op where you try to rescue treasures from a time-travelling super-villain. Maximum Apocalypse is a “Rogue-Like” survival game: pick your way across a map of randomly assembled tiles, whilst trying to avoid the zombies, aliens, or robots which come out to attack you. Most promising of the March crop, it really needs more play time.

New Ancients

ArkhamBoardOne game that most definitely isn’t new, but was a first-play for me, was Arkham Horror the Board Game. This was one that I’d historically passed by, based on the assumption that Eldritch Horror (not to mention the LCG and Mansions of Madness) replaced it, but was recently persuaded to pick it up and give it a try.

I had a solo game of this, and got resoundingly defeated, primarily due to my utter inability to deal with monsters (although failing to shut gates was a big deal). There are definitely some respects where it feels less refined than Eldritch (a skill reduced to zero in Arkham is an auto-fail, whereas in Eldritch you always get to roll one dice), and the flavour text for things like other world encounters felt a bit limited for a game that’s 2 hours minimum. Still, it had a lot to offer – the sliding skills and using “focus” to adjust them felt particularly fascinating, and I’ll be interested to see how this works once I’ve got a bit more experience with the game.

Ashcans
(almost) all things Ashcan

This session also gave “Ashcan” Pete and his trusty sidekick Duke the distinction of being the first investigator I’ve played in all 5 of the Arkham files series. There’s probably a future article brewing in there somewhere…

Unexpected

Given the number of games I already have, the number of review games I get, and the fact that I get store credit for working shows, it’s a pretty rare occurrence for me to go out and buy a new board game using real money.

When I do, it’s generally a carefully considered process, something done after many hours of research – typically either a Kickstarter or something that’s going to be otherwise unavailable at retail.

City of KingsMarch saw me shell out for my first new game of the year. This was particularly unexpected, as 3 days earlier, I couldn’t have told you anything about it besides “Fantasy Co-op.” The game in Question was City of Kings.

The chronology starts off in a familiar enough fashion. Asmodee put up the following week’s new release sheet, I have a scan through, and look up things that catch my interest on BGG. This game looked particularly interesting, and promised that ever-elusive “RPG in a Box.” I’m now definitely after this one.

Then the editor updates the review sheet – no sign of the game. I send a quick email and discover that there’s no stock available (along with a “I thought you might be after this one” comment). I had a bit more of a look online – definitely seems interesting.

Meanwhile, my wife keeps pointing out that it’s less than a week to my birthday, and I still haven’t come up with a suggestion of what I want. Ideas are starting to converge.

I start looking around elsewhere, but discover that the game is basically out of stock everywhere (even though it isn’t released until the following day). There are vague mentions online of a re-print kickstarter.

During my lunchbreak at work, I start watching a Rahdo Run-Through. It looks good.

One of the websites I was searching earlier in the day message me to say that they have a spare copy available (a cancelled order, presumably). I grab it before it goes.

CityofKicksTypically, no sooner have I bought it than the creator confirms a re-print kickstarter launching in April. A Kickstarter that will be filled with bells and whistles, and all the shiny extras that aren’t in the retail edition.

By the time the dust had settled, I was pretty happy with how things had panned out. The game arrived, on my birthday, and it looks every bit as good in the flesh (in the cardboard?) as it did online. The KS will have pledge tiers to bling up the retail edition to something like the deluxe, and delivery on the re-print is still far enough away that if it doesn’t play as well in reality as I’d hoped, I should be able to sell it on for enough to cover my costs.

 

Themes

Lovecraft and Fantasy were the dominating themes for March, with Comics in 3rd, and Zombies a surprising way down. Fantasy itself was still depressingly dominated by “Generic” (Massive Darkness, One-Deck Dungeon), although “Children’s” (in the form of Stuffed Fables) accounted for a good of the by-hours section. Lost Realms was probably the most significant recognisable setting, with Gravehold just behind.

Mechanically, it was still mostly solving the mystery and stopping the plot which occupied us, although plain and simple “Win” was also a notable feature.

 

Money

GloomhavenFloor
it would probably help if this weren’t so big that it needs to live on the floor in a room Ned’s not allowed in…

Financially, things look broadly familiar: Kickstarter as a whole is looking better (see the separate first-quarter KS review coming soon), but the same old suspects are standing out in bright red on the Shortfall tab – Gloomhaven is the big beast, and has been static for too long. Apocrypha will probably work off a chunk of the remaining deficit when the expansions arrive, and Shadows of Brimstone is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.

Of course, City of Kings now has a big deficit to work off, but I won’t start looking too closely at that until around May.

 

Final thoughts

March was a pretty good month: lots of games played, and with a good mixture of boxes ticked and just having fun. For April, I have a few things to crack on with (Gloomhaven, City of Kings), plus some new stuff I’m looking forward to (Dungeon Alliance is out-of-stock, but I’ve managed to pick up Rising Sun and Firefly Adventures to keep me busy). I’ll try to keep things up-to-date with general content, and then I’ll be back again at the beginning of next month.

 

This is Hardcore

Having managed 10 plays of 10 games by mid-autumn in 2016, and by the summer of 2017 (final tally, 23 games played 10+ times), I decided to step up the challenge slightly for 2018.

For those doing the ‘official’ 10×10 challenge on Boardgame Geek, there are 2 basic ways to play it – normal, which is what I’ve done for the last couple of years (although I don’t actually log plays on BGG), and hardcore.

Whereas with the normal challenge, you play games, then write down what you played, hardcore requires you to name 10 games in advance, then play them ten times – if you are organised, and only finalise your list part-way into the year, then only plays after the list is confirmed can count.

I thought that this was quite an interesting way to think about the future, and decided to do it.

ArkhamStorageArkham LCG and Zombicide were the first and probably the easiest to put on the list – if I don’t play these 10 times, something seismic will have changed. I decided to keep “Zombicide” as a single, cover-all term – it’s definitely possible that I’ll manage 10 plays of Black Plague and 10 of Green Horde, but chances are, I’ll end up mixing a lot of the stuff together.

LegaciesWe’d just finished February in our Pandemic Legacy Season 1 campaign when New Year rolled around, so barring a premature death (don’t even know if that’s a thing that can happen), that’s got at least another 10 games left in it, and to follow, we have Pandemic Legacy Season 2. I was slightly concerned that it might be seen as a con to count these as 2 separate entries, so ultimately decided to just list them once – Assuming I managed ten sessions of each, it should be fairly safe to have this ticking 1 box, whichever way you measure it.

AE-WE-KSLord of the Rings LCG has been steadily dwindling over the past few years, but I’m still pretty confident that it will get to the table 10 times. Aeon’s End hasn’t had quite as much table-time as I thought it might since we got the expansions, but it should still manage 10 without too much difficulty.

MassiveLegendary is always a perennial favourite, and Massive Darkness has only just finished the core box play-through, leaving much left to explore, including the new Ratlings I got for Christmas.

Elder Sign has been one of the steadiest games of 2017, and with a new expansion due in early 2018 , this should be another fairly easy 10.

How to round out the list was a bit of a puzzle – Eldritch Horror was a plausible candidate but committing to play a 2 ½ hour game 10+ times seemed risky. Dice Masters, L5R and Runewars are all too dependant on getting out of the house and finding opponents.

Streets-of-Arkham-Box
We’re still playing through the scenarios from the last expansion

In the end I went for Mansions of Madness as my 10th – there are still a couple of scenarios we’ve never beaten, plus 1 we haven’t tried yet, and 2 which are DLC and I haven’t shelled out the necessary fiver.

The last entry on the list was a late(ish) addition when I decided to only count Pandemic Legacy once. Gloomhaven will probably be slow and steady rather than a sudden rush of plays, but I think we’ll comfortably have plenty more than 10 by the time the year is out.

So, the final list looks like this:

  1. Arkham Horror LCG
  2. Zombicide
  3. Pandemic Legacy
  4. LotR LCG
  5. Legendary
  6. Aeon’s End
  7. Elder Sign
  8. Massive Darkness
  9. Mansions of Madness
  10. Gloomhaven

 

Although I’m only getting round to posting this now, I had finalised the list by the time New Year rolled around, meaning I’ve already clocked up 8 counting plays towards 100 needed.

I’ll continue doing my monthly updates in 2018, but will give a special mention to how these 10 are faring.

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.

 

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.

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.