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.

February

 

February was always going to be a pretty important month for gaming in 2017. For one thing, this is often the time that New Year enthusiasm starts to peter out, and we get to see which games are going to have real staying power for the coming months. More importantly for us in 2017, February was going to be our last month of (relatively) undisturbed gaming, as my wife was expecting a baby in the middle of March. That made February a key time for getting games played, trying out anything that would be prevented by my being sleep-deprived, and generally making sure I didn’t have too many outstanding reviews left to do.

ned36
Not strictly a board game, but I like this picture, so I’m putting it in anyway…

It turns out that my son had different ideas. He decided that he didn’t want to wait for March 12th, and turned up on February 4th instead. That was something of surprise, to say the least. It also meant that February took place mostly in hospital, in the company of a tiny baby. Sadly, he’s been really quite ill, so had to stay in for a long while. Obviously, next to a child’s health, gaming is an incredibly trivial thing, That said, I’ve had plenty of time at home, trying to keep my mind busy, and my wife has barely been further from her bed than the hospital café in a month: in times like these, board-gaming is actually a really important distraction to stay sane.

 

With that in mind, February really hasn’t been a bad month gaming wise: by the time you factor in the month being 3 days shorter, overall numbers have barely dropped. That said, a whole new set of criteria have entered my decision-making process, including “Can I play this solo?” (already a slight consideration before), “Can I play this whilst hideously sleep-deprived?” “Can I play this on a tiny foldable hospital table?” “Can I safely take this somewhere without losing all the tiny pieces?” and “Can I play this without using my arms?” (Anything with a hand of hidden cards is out, but something like Carcassonne, where all information is public, works well).

sherlock-consulting-board-game-boxSan Juan, Race for the Galaxy, Dobble, and Star Wars Carcassonne, all scored highly in several of these categories, and made it to the table repeatedly. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, and its Lovecraftian sibling Mythos Tales also get a good mark on the “play with no hands” chart, and we had a few enjoyable, if drastically unsuccessful sessions of these. Other games like Coup and Braggart got briefer revivals, but proved to be fairly lacklustre with only 2 players. Still, along with single run-outs for a handful of other games, I’m now well past the half-way mark in playing all the games I own this year.

 

6 of 6

Where February did prove a challenge, was getting games back to the table for the repeat play-throughs needed to get higher counts. I spent most of the month watching the 10 of 10 challenge languishing on 5 of 5, with Legendary and Arkham Horror failing to get that 6th game- this was particularly frustrating for Arkham, as this was the game that I’d spent the most money on this year, but there really are too many different piles of cards and little tokens to risk taking this one to the hospital. In the end, I made it to our Monthly Dice Masters meet-up on the 26th, to finally hit 6 of 6.

Elder Sign, a game which definitely pushes the limits of what’s practical for transportation, did make a couple of fiddly trips and was the first to pass the 10 plays barrier for the year. Zombicide will doubtless join it soon after we get home, and there are a host of other games which have been kicking their heels all month: Legendary – recently enhanced with the Deadpool expansion – the new Mummy’s Mask set for Pathfinder, and Mansions of Madness all still seem likely to hit the big numbers as the year goes on.

As I think about finishing this year’s 10 of 10 challenge (some months from now), I have been back to BGG and checked again – neither Peekaboo, nor Steal Your Nose has a Board Game Geek entry (to be honest, my son’s not very good at those games either, but they seemed more appropriate than Eldritch Horror.) At least we’re a few months away from grab-and-chew.

 

Something New

The unexpected baby made his impact felt on the reviews I do for Game Quest, just as much as it did on playing for domestic purposes. I managed to get a couple finished off in the early weeks of me being alone at home and mum & baby stuck in hospital, but others needed to wait a while longer: I don’t want to spoil the stories of Mansions or Pathfinder (as noted above, these were not practical for transporting to hospital) and that fat, dense rulebook is still sat there in the corner, just daring me to risk my sanity by taking on Star Trek Frontiers.

Amongst this brain fog of exhaustion there was something unusual though. It’s very early in the year to be touting a game as a potential “Game of the Year,” but I think that this might be it.

aeons-end-card-game-boxAeon’s End was a big Kickstarter last year that’s attracted a lot of hype. It’s a cooperative Science-Fantasy Deck-builder that can probably best be described as a cross between Dominion and Legendary, although it certainly has plenty of unique features of its own.

As always, go to Games Quest and read the full review there to get the big picture, but a few key highlights:

Legendary style, the players are working together to take down a big baddy, who will have his own stats and unique abilities, plus a deck from which he throws out some randomised pain at the players every turn.

Rather than a Legendary style HQ though, players are building their decks from a Dominion-style market: at the start of the game you select 9 cards (3 gems, 2 relics, 4 spells), and they’re all available to buy from the word go – until they run out.

The biggest twist in Aeon’s End is that you don’t shuffle your deck: once your deck runs out, you just flip over your discard pile to form a new deck – given the amount of time you spend shuffling in a standard deck-builder, this is a really big twist. The only shuffling that goes on is in the turn-order deck, which randomises when in the course of each round you get to act, and when the Nemesis (boss bad-guy) does.

It’s also worth noting that in Aeon’s End you play as a specific character, each with their own unique ability, and a different starting configuration of breaches – the portal used for casting spells.

I’ve not had a chance to do any more than scratch the surface of Aeon’s End yet – I got the higher-level Kickstarter edition of the game, which gives me extra gems, spells and artefacts for the market, extra Breach Mages to play as, and extra Nameless monsters to face down. From this first look though, it seems great, with loads to recommend it in terms of art, back-story, and above all game-play. The fact that it’s cooperative means that there’s a chance of getting to the level of depth in experimenting with market combinations and strategies that I could never manage with Dominion (due to a lack of opponents who wanted to play that much Dominion).

 

The Future

I have no idea what March will hold. I’m fairly optimistic that having our little boy at home won’t completely stop us from gaming (although right now, I’d prepared to give it up if that was going to get him better and home from hospital). Hopefully in a few weeks, I’ll be some way towards figuring out what “normal life” looks like now, and will be back to posting here a bit more frequently.

A new year: 5 of 5

2017 Gaming got off to a good start in January: 25 different games played, and already a few racking up repeat plays. I thought I’d offer a quick run-down of a few of the different things I’ve been tracking.

5 of 5

Not surprisingly, I’m still some way from getting anything up to 10 plays for the year, but I have passed a few mini milestones.

deadeyes
It’s good that this still gets lots of play. Maybe one day I’ll even finish the painting…

“Play 1 Once” I managed on New Year’s Day (Elder Sign being the first game out of the box this year), and “2 Twice” a few days later as both Star Wars Destiny and Zombicide made repeat appearances.

“3 of Three” took a bit longer to pin down – Legendary and Zombicide got there relatively quickly, but they had to wait for a third to join them (Eldritch Horror felt like it had earned a place on the list after a normal game with two of us, as well as an epic 5-hour, 8-player session but, as Gimli would say of the big game- “that still only counts as one.” Instead, it was beaten to the punch by Elder Sign.

“4 of Four” was where things started to get a bit skewed – some games were already past the mark, with 5 or more plays, but getting a 4th game past 2 or 3 proved a bit of a sticking point, especially when a game like Eldritch or Mansions needs several hours at a time to be played. In the end it was Destiny that got me there as I manged to make it to another meet-up.

By the time it came to “5 of Five” things were starting to look fairly familiar, with the usual suspects making up the list: Legendary, Elder Sign and Zombicide, got there first, with Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror lagging just behind.

By the end of the month, it looked like this:

1 of 1 01/01/2017 Elder Sign
2 of 2 04/01/2017 Zombicide, Destiny
3 of 3 13/01/2017 Legendary, Zombicide, Elder Sign
4 of 4 Zombicide, Elder Sign, Legendary, Destiny
5 of 5 Legendary, Elder Sign, Zombicide, Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror

 

Some of those games have made it up to 6 or 7, and there will be more to come from them in the coming months, no doubt.

2017 actually got off to a much slower start than last year, although with hindsight January 2016 does look like a bit of a freak occurrence – in the whole of 2016 there were only 17 instances of a single game getting played 10+ times in a month, and 5 of those came in January, with Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary and Game of Thrones LCG all making it into double figures at the first attempt. It was the most prolific month of the year overall, with 90 total games played, and there’s really no disgrace in failing to repeat those numbers – 71 games for January 2017 feels more than respectable.

 

Un-played

As I mentioned when doing the 2016 wrap-up, I won’t be keeping a running “un-played” list in quite the same way as last year, if only because it would only have 2 games on it if I did (just for completeness sake, both have been crossed off). That said, I still want to keep track of the games I haven’t played yet this year, even if that will be “most of them” for the first little while.

The Hobbit and Trivial Pursuit found their way to the Charity Shop, 23 games actually got played, and I sold a handful of small games that were “fine” but unlikely to ever have people clamouring to play them. Not a massive financial windfall, but it frees up a little space, and hopefully the games have gone to somewhere they’ll be better appreciated.

The whole area of removing the un-played, by sale or by play, is the one place where I have out-done January 2016, and if I sustain this rate, I’ll have played everything I own by the end of March!

 

Money for Nothing

2017 has also started well for keeping above the red line in terms of the cost of my gaming. I’d already started scaling back my Memoir ’44 collection in the autumn, and I sold another couple of bits in January – thanks to them being out-of-stock, I got about double what I would have originally paid for these, meaning that gaming is a hobby I’ve actually made money from at this point. I don’t expect this to still be the case by the end of the year, but it’s certainly nice to be given a bit of a head-start in game-play over spending.

lovecraftjan
I can’t even find the Dunwich box, so instead, here’s the Elder Sign expansion I got my wife for Christmas…

Mid-January saw a wave of new Arkham Files content – Beyond the Threshold was the first “proper” expansion for Mansions 2nd ed., (the others were technically “tile and figure” packs) and there were multiple releases for the LCG, with both the Dunwich Legacy deluxe box, and the Curse of the Rougarou stand-alone scenario appearing. I managed to resist getting Dreamlands for Eldritch Horror, and picked it up as a review copy, along with Beyond the Threshold, so it was only the LCG where I actually shelled out a significant amount of money.

the-dwarves-board-game-4th-defenceI also picked up the Combined Might expansion for The Dwarvesthis is a fun little co-op based on a set of German Fantasy Novels, with a number of clever and innovative mechanics that really make it stand out. That said, there are a few pinch-points in the base game – 90% of the Quest cards which drive the flow of the game are the same every time you play, and the expansion was well worth the tenner it cost to more than double the number of possibilities in this area.

In the immediate aftermath of buying the new stuff, all the games I had spent money on were looking like bad value for the year – fortunately this was generally in pretty low numbers, and aside from the LCG, everything was clawed back to within a fairly small margin of difference by the end of the month. I know from experience that LCGs can get expensive quickly and whilst I’m not too worried about having shelled out on the first 2 expansions at once, I will be keeping a careful eye on this one, just to make sure it continues to justify its place.

 

Themes

destiny-villains
Thanks to a spot of trading, I can finally put together a viable villains deck

Zombies maintained their strong positions from last year, with Zombicide remaining the most-played game, and spanning some fairly hefty sessions to boot. Overall though, it was Lovecraft that dominated January, thanks to that flood of content: It ultimately accounted for well over a third of sessions, and nearly half of all gaming time in the month. Comics and Fantasy were still notable elements, but definitely a smaller portion of the time spent gaming than in previous years.

Mechanically, Surviving the Monsters was a full third of what we did (up to 45% when measuring by time). Mystery Solving was a consistent 22% whether measured by time or by session. World-saving, Quest Completion and Villainous Plot-stopping were the other significant activities. “Kill the other side” was also a more significant chunk than has previously the case, thanks to Destiny – 13% by session

Closing Thoughts

Obviously, I don’t expect these trends to continue all year, particularly not the crossing off of ‘unplayed’ games – After all, it’s much easier to play a game on the list when all the games are on the list. Some games will always be more of a struggle to get to the table than others and as the year goes on it becomes more-and-more likely that those are what will be left on the list. I don’t know right now whether it’s possible to make a profit out of gaming for the entire year, but I certainly intend to keep new spending a lot lower than previous years. Lastly, spread-sheets or otherwise, I’ll be continuing to stay mindful of what actually gets played, and looking at what needs to happen to those games which don’t.

Cthulhu Redux

Back in the summer, I wrote an article about how I hoped that 2016 would the year where we finally saw some good Cthulhu Mythos games hitting the table with regularity. A few months on, that prophecy has been fulfilled, and I thought this would be a good moment to take a look back at what the year has brought.

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

pandemic-cthulhu-board-game-boxThe announcement of this game was probably what re-ignited my interest in this area, as it had been a while since I read any Lovecraft or played any Cthulhu-themed games (I think I played 1 game of Munchkin Cthulhu last year, but I’m not convinced that counts). I managed to play a sneak preview of this game at UKGE, and was really impressed. I then managed to get my hands on a copy of my own in late August, and it didn’t disappoint.

As I’ve said several times in various places, this game is both Pandemic and not Pandemic at the same time. There are many aspects which are remarkably familiar, at the same time as the game brings in elements that are unique. The sanity dice leaves you spending most of the game fearing that you may lose your mind and, if enough Old Ones awake, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it before you eventually go mad and the world is destroyed.

Being a Z-Man game, the characters in Reign of Cthulhu are not the familiar faces from the FFG set of Cthulhu games, they are merely generic figures. That said, they still offer varied gameplay styles, and for a standalone game that seems unlikely to warrant an expansion, it still feels like it’s got plenty to offer. Not the most involved from a thematic/narrative standpoint, still a good game.

 

Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

mansions-madness-board-game-boxMansions was the surprise appearance of the summer. It was announced about a week before its release, and it’s one that I was lucky enough to pick up a review copy of: with a retail price somewhere in excess of £80, this isn’t one I would ever have been buying, but I think it does a remarkably good job of justifying the price tag. The miniatures are a bit naff out of the box: excess casting and clunky bases, but they scrub up well, with both monsters and investigators looking the part after a quick paint job. The tiles are already a very high standard, and the various card decks are all good.

mansions-madness-board-game-puzzleApps in board-gaming were one of the first things I ever wrote about on this blog, and I was pretty lukewarm on the idea at the time. Mansions changed my mind: the app is really well done – it takes care of a lot of the bookkeeping, but I never felt like I was playing a computer game instead of a board game. The limit of only 4 scenarios to begin with was somewhat restrictive, but having not paid for the base game, we were happy enough paying for the first tile/miniature pack, and will doubtless invest in at least the first digital scenario or two, due to appear for around $5 sometime very soon.

One of the biggest things that Mansions did, was to get us mentally invested in the setting, and interested in the investigators, which definitely enhances the experience of the other games.

Elder Sign

insanityElder Sign is a game I’ve had for several years. I didn’t play it all in 2015, but I dusted it off back in the spring, and even picked up an expansion to review. It’s a game that requires you make a bit more effort with the flavour – it’s too easy to skip over the flavour-text and focus straight in on the dice you need to roll: in the past, I think I’d been trying to push this one on people with no real interest in the Mythos, and it had fallen a bit flat.

Now feeling a bit more like I know the characters, from other games, or from some of the tie-in fiction, it’s easier to get a bit more invested, and I feel like I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve played. I’ve still only played it solo and with my wife, but we’ve played it quite a bit and enjoyed doing so.

Eldritch Horror

Eldritch Horror is another Fantasy Flight Game, a very highly-rated globe-spanning board game. It’s fairly long (although probably no longer than a lot of games of Mansions), and has a lot going on – I picked up a copy in a Maths Trade.

eldritchEldritch was released a few years, and landed during a time period when my first attempts at finding a good Cthulhu game for us had petered out: as a result, I just never really looked at it that closely. Most reviews I did read seemed sharply divided between it being “the streamlined wonder-game that Arkham Horror should have been” or “a vile exercise in dumbing down that is an insult to the Arkham name.” (ok, neither of those are actually quotes, but they capture the feeling of an awful lot of BGG threads…)

Having played this a few times, I’m not sure I’d agree with either of those assessments. It’s a fun game, with a lot going on, but once again, I think the length is such that it wouldn’t wash with people who hadn’t already been hooked on the Mythos via Mansions.

I liked Eldritch, and am in discussions with Santa about how best to approach the backlog of expansions (I have neither the time nor the money to get all of them). That said, it’s still not a perfect game. Having come into this off the back off a lot of Mansions, I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff there is to keep track of: in both of our early plats, we missed various rules and triggers, and in the second game, that may have even made the difference between victory and defeat. Aside from the sheer length, I think a major factor stopping this game going from “fun to play now and then” to “played all the time” is that excess bookkeeping, and having too many things to keep track of.

I also want to mention quickly the scaling issues this game has – we’ve only played it with 2 players so far, and the first couple of times, we took a character each, spending most of the game charging about frantically, and failing to get to places on time: having gone at it again with 4 characters (2 each) it felt much more balanced, and I think that’s how we’ll play it in the future.

Arkham Horror LCG

magali-tokensArkham Horror the Card Game is the most recent offering in Fantasy Flight’s “Arkham Horror Files Series” and the second ever cooperative Living Card Game, it was released in early/mid-November. Coming from several people involved in the Lord of the Rings LCG, it very clearly builds on those foundations, but has various unique features of its own, both showing where lessons have been learnt over the past 5 years, and showing a conscious effort to make the game feel like a part of the Arkham Family (aside from the recurring characters and settings, the Chaos bag in particular feels like a direct homage to the earlier titles in the series).

The announcement of this came with near-perfect timing, as I finally succumbed to the inevitable and parted with my Call of Cthulhu LCG collection – a good game, but a competitive LCG that I could never find opponents for. Arkham seemed set to not only fill the gap, but to offer a better fit than its predecessor had, both in terms of thematic coherence and in terms of the co-op gameplay.

timeandspaceBeing a Living Card Game, there will be a lot of content available for this going forward: FFG have already released some playmats one of which has an especially stunning piece of art that I like. I’m not going to say too much more about it here, as I’ve already done a review of the Core Set, along with some articles for Mythos Busters on how we can enjoy losing Lovecraftian Games, and started to look at issues of character class and deck-building. Overall, I plan to do a few odds and ends on this over the coming months, so stay tuned.

Books

It’s also worth mentioning the tie-in novels that exist for Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror range – the physical copies can be slightly hard to track down, but the Kindle Format is readily available from Arkham, and I’ve been really enjoying them: not all of the characters are game-play regulars, but several are, with others making cameo appearances here and there.

novels

So far I’ve read the Dark Waters trilogy and whilst it’s not about to win any literary prizes, I’ve found them really enjoyable – capturing the sense of Arkham as a place, the challenges and dangers driving our investigators, and an awareness of the pulp origins of many Mythos tales. Reading about Amanda Sharpe’s dream of lost R’yleh has already inspired me to play her in a game of Elder Sign, and seeing how he handled himself in a fight, was the inspiration for giving Silas Marsh a run-out, an inspired decision for the game of Eldritch Horror where we faced Cthulhu out at see. I plan to continue wading through these over the coming months and hope they continue to be enjoyable.

investigatorsbookFantasy Flight have also announced The Investigators of Arkham Horror, a book filing in background details on all the 52 Investigators who appear across this suite of games. It’s going to be a large, 264 page+ colour hardback, so it will cost a pretty penny and, sadly, the delivery cost to the UK will more than double that $60 starting figure.

I’m really hoping that our FLGS will be able to pick these up, ideally the deluxe edition that comes with a Play Mat for the LCG and a chance to get hold of Marie Lambeau plus her signature Asset and Weakness for the LCG, not arriving in normal retail releases until sometime next year. Either way, it looks like it’ll be a good addition to the shelf.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, it has clearly been a golden year for all things Lovecraft in the world of gaming. Arkham Nights, FFG’s annual Cthulhu gaming weekend, sold out for the first time ever, and the whole IP really feels like it’s riding the crest of a wave with upcoming expansions announced for all of their games which I’ve mentioned above. I’ve already talked on here about some of the issues which Mythos gaming sometimes provokes, but overall, I’ve really enjoyed most of the games from this Mythos that we’ve played this year, and I look forward to many more in the future.

The Baggage of the Mythos

Some Musings on the place of Lovecraft in Lovecraftian games in the 21st century.

A little under a week  ago, I stumbled across some of the rumblings generated by a recent article published by Cynthia Hornbeck. Hers was not a name I’d heard before, but both Hornbeck’s own blog and the Board Game Geek news article which brought it to my attention, describe her as a former employee of Asmodee North America, (the umbrella organisation who are now behind other big names you might have heard of such as the publisher of a lot of my most-played games, “Fantasy Flight” and the UK distributor, Esdevium).

conan Hornbeck’s article took aim at the recently released Conan board game, which she cites as being an abysmal example of sexist, racist stereotypes. She also argues that acquiescing to something like this in board games helps reinforce misogynistic, racist norms in society at large.

I haven’t seen the new Conan board game itself, so I’m not going to get in to the details of the claims she makes about the game (for those who are interested, amongst all the shouting, the comments section below this article has a few people taking issue with some of the factual claims Hornbeck makes about the game.)

I did review an older Conan game a few months back, and as I read back through my review, I think I would stand by the main thrust of my argument – roughly: there’s some dodgy stuff in here, but the game is so abstract that most of the time you don’t really notice.

Reading it with Hornbeck’s article fresh in my memory, I can see how people might want me to make more of this aspect, but I think that I’d assumed anyone considering a Conan board game would be sufficiently into the Conan theme that they’d be aware of/ have already made their decision on this type of thing.

Despite that long-ish intro, I didn’t come here today to talk about Conan. If you’re interested in the topic, I’d recommend having a look at Hornbeck’s original article, which is certainly thought-provoking, even if it feels hyperbolic in places, and some of her conclusions seem stretched. There’s also the article on Kotaku which brought the original blog piece to a slightly wider audience, and gives the company behind the game a chance to respond.

What I wanted to pick up on though was a single line near the start of Hornbeck’s article, which struck a bit closer to home.

Conan is closely based on the books of Robert E. Howard, who was coincidentally a close friend of another highly influential author racist, H. P. Lovecraft.”

As I’ve mentioned more than a few times lately, the second half of this year has seen a heavy Cthulhu-Mythos theme to it in our house. Whilst some of Hornbeck’s conclusions seem a little strong to me, and her comment on Lovecraft felt a bit lazy, I did come away from the article feeling challenged by one of her exhortations towards the end.

“As a gamer, start refusing to purchase or even play a game that objectifies women, excludes women, excludes non-White people, makes non-White people the enemy, etc.”

Am I playing games like that? I don’t think so. But then, I am a white, middle-class man. It would hardly be unprecedented for one of us not to notice this sort of thing. I decided then, to take a look back through the games and see how it felt they were doing at creating a world which captures the mobsters and monsters feel of an Eldritch 1920s without having to import a 100 year-old worldview.

Lovecraft

h_p_lovecraft_alone Starting with Lovecraft himself, I think we can say without argument that H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) said, wrote, and (presumably) thought a lot of things that would be considered ignorant, rude and at times, even downright racist in today’s world.

Beyond that, it gets a little more complicated – and people who have done far more research than I, have already spilled many gallons of ink on whether Lovecraft was simply a product of his time, or whether he should be regarded as a bigot, even within his own historical context – overall, it seems to me to lean towards the latter, but there are advocates of both sides.

Personally, when I read Lovecraft, I can wince when a leading character has a cat called “N*gger Man” or at some of the derisive offhand descriptions of Blacks, Asians or other characters, but by-and-large, that doesn’t stop me reading his work – some of it is very good, other bits feel tortured and overblown, and I’d certainly say I’m more drawn to the ideas he had and the world he created than to his particular craft as a writer. Lovecraft’s crimes against women are largely by omission rather than commission – i.e. it’s not so much what they say or do, so much as the fact that they often don’t appear at all.

Mythos

necronomicon2 It’s important to remember that the Cthulhu Mythos is not simply the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft himself was heavily influenced by writers who came before him, such as Edgar Allen Poe, and also borrowed things directly from earlier works such as Carcosa and Hastur, taken from Ambrose Bierce, via Robert W. Chambers The King in Yellow.

Within Lovecraft’s lifetime, his works interacted with those of others: Robert E. Howard (yes, the Conan guy)’s The Children of the Night, features a character reading The Necronomicon, and there were other writers who interacted with the world he had created. However, it was only really later, and largely through the work of August Derleth that the Mythos expanded, becoming something which numerous later writers could contribute to, and which has seen the setting expand beyond Lovecraft’s original works. In recent times, writers like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore (who would be unlikely to make anyone’s list of bigoted or narrow-minded authors) are among those who have cited Lovecraft and his Mythos as an influence on their writing.

michaelmcglen For me, the appeal of the Cthulhu Mythos setting is a little hard to describe, but I think that there are definitely some key elements to it: I’ve already used the phrase Mobsters and Monsters, and I think there’s something about that 1920s aesthetic which has to be there – jazz and prohibition, the horrors of wars past, and the optimistic decadence which looks to a brighter tomorrow. It’s also, as has been well explained over at Mythos Busters amongst other places, the idea of battling cosmic forces too powerful to comprehend: the aim is survival, and a fully triumphant victory is simply never on the cards. Lastly, I think that there’s an element of forbidden knowledge – the idea of things that Man Was Not Meant To Know, that your mind is in as much danger as your body when you look in to these things.

The fact that most Cthulhu games do offer some hope of victory, however hollow, says to me that we are dealing with the wider Mythos, the version imagined by Derleth rather than simply Lovecraft’s starting point. I think that this Mythos has been developed broadly enough that it’s possible to have a game that feels “faithful” to the setting without being dependent upon outdated ideologies.

From Theory to Game

All of that is well and good, but establishing that something is possible and establishing that it has actually happened are different things, and I wanted to move on next to look at the actual execution of these ideas in the game.

Arkham Horror Files

I’m mostly going to concentrate on Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files range – this is the umbrella term that covers Mansions of Madness, Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, Arkham Horror the Card Game, and various others.

Play the Man

There are 52 different investigators who appear across this range of games – I’ve collated a list of these as best I can, and by my reckoning there are 23 female investigators and 29 male: it’s not a completely even split, but it certainly doesn’t feel like this is just token representation.

femaleinvestigators
The female Investigators from Mansions 2nd Edition (Core Box + Recurring Nightmares)

In terms of the roles that these investigators play, there is a fair amount of breadth for both genders: yes, the Secretary and the Dilettante are female, but so are the Spy, the Scientist and the Martial Artist. The PI, the Fed, the Soldier and the Gangster are all male, and there is a noticeable tendency for those in the more influential position to be male – the Senator, the Professor and the like, but this is still supposed to be the 1920s and it’s probably more of a stretch to imagine a woman being given that kind of senior academic appointment back then than it is to suggest that there might be ghouls and monsters hiding in the shadows.

Not every investigator appears in every game – in fact there is nobody yet who appears in all of them – but for any of the games, picking up the Core Box (this is Fantasy Flight, all the games have expansions…) will give you a broad spread of options across the genders.

All White?

Race is a slightly different question: at a rough guess, only 5 of the 52 investigators are non-Caucasian: Akachi Onyele, Lily Chen, Minh Thi Phan, Rita Young, and Jim Culver. They are respectively a Shaman, a Martial Artist, a Secretary, an Athlete and a Jazz Musician, which suggests a certain amount of tropery in linking race and occupation.

Rita Young is a source of particular controversy: a character whose backstory involves persecution in the Deep South, particularly at the hands of the KKK, pictorial depictions of her have covered a fairly wide range of skin tones, with her pre-painted miniature looking decidedly white.

rita
L-R: My attempt at painting her miniature, the character card from Mansions 2nd Edition, and the Pre-painted miniature as sold by FFG

Personally I went for a skin tone that seemed more in keeping with the bio when I painted the miniature and, whilst it came out slightly darker than I’d intended, it makes more sense to me.

On top of these characters, you can add a few others like Finn Edwards, Marie Lambeau, and “Skids” O’Toole who are still decidedly white, but not Anglo-Saxon, which seems to have been where Lovecraft drew the line.

I think it’s possible to go too far with trying to make characters in a game “representative” – to the point where the designers are more concerned with making sure they’ve got enough of type X or Y, and not enough with an interesting concept / backstory – in that respect, I don’t really mind that I haven’t found an exact 50:50 male/female, and 50:50 white/non-white split. Could they have created more non-white characters? – absolutely! Do I think it would be good if, were they to expand the roster of characters, more of them came from non-white backgrounds? – Yes! Do I think the games as they are feel like they lack options in character choice? Not massively.

Who We Are and What We Do?

ranzakIf I’m picking a character to play in a game, whether it’s Arkham, Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings (gender in Tolkien is a whole other article, and this one’s already getting long…), or any other, I’m generally a lot less interested in their gender or the colour of their skin than I am in their ability, what they’ll actually be like to play – I’ll confess that in Pathfinder, I’m drawn to the more obscure races (Goblin, Tengu etc) but there’s no real parallel for games set in New England (although if Fantasy Flight want to let me play as a Mi-Go who has decided to side with the humans, I’ll definitely take them up on the offer).

It’s kind of cool that Grazzle, my current Pathfinder character is Lizardfolk, but I’d quickly have got bored with that if it weren’t for his phenomenal healing ability. I am neither a waitress nor (as far as I’m aware) the reincarnation of a powerful sorceress, but that doesn’t stop me from having fun playing as Agnes in the Arkham LCG.

minh_thi_phanIt’s worth noting that the descriptions and occupations are about the characters’ backstories: whilst they will influence their strengths and weaknesses, they don’t limit them in an absolute sense. Yes, in the LCG Daisy Walker sucks at hand-to-hand combat, but she can still toast ghouls with a copy of shrivelling or two. In Mansions, my wife mostly plays as Min Thi Phan – a bookish woman she can identify with – but with agility and observation 4, she can gun down cultists with the best of them.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that this is still a game and part of why we play games is because sometimes the Hail Mary pass comes off: Agatha Crane probably wouldn’t have been our choice to face down the Priest of Dagon, but somehow she rolled the 3 successes on 3 dice needed to slide across the floor through his legs, and whack him in the groin with the pickaxe: that moment, where the little old lady KO-ed the boss monster still stands out months later as one of the best moments playing this game, in a way that it simply wouldn’t have if Michael McGlen the Gangster had rolled 2 successes on 5 dice to cave the monster’s head in with a crowbar.

 

Other Games

In terms of what I’m familiar with, there aren’t that many other Cthulhu Mythos games out there which go that heavy on characterisation – Mythos Tales is a very flavourful experience in Arkham, but there’s never really a moment where we’re concerned with who “you” the player are.

pandemic-cthulhu-board-game-hunterPandemic: Reign of Cthulhu has “roles” – more a character class than any kind of backstory. She may not look like me, but the Hunter is generally my first pick for her un-paralled ability to take down Shoggoths. The Reporter (also female) is another key figure, able to get round the board better than pretty much any other character. As I say, it’s not the most thematic / role-play-y of Cthulhu games, but there are multiple female characters, and they include the most powerful / hands-on.

Obviously, there are dozens, if not hundreds more Cthulhu games out there. However, I don’t know the RPG well enough to comment on it, and things like Munchkin Cthulhu or Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion are light enough that I don’t feel any real need to go too deeply into their characters.

Conclusion

Overall, whether you read Lovecraft’s work or not (I do, periodically, but I think a lot of the other stuff, including some of FFG’s tie-in fiction, is as good if not better), I think it’s perfectly possible to play Cthulhu games without affirming any of Lovecraft’s more dubious views. In a way that may not be true for Conan, there is enough scope in this world for game designers and game players alike to create varied characters: characters who give everyone an opportunity to play as a character they can relate to, if that’s what they want.

As noted above, I am white and male: it’s possible that I’m not the best person to be making these judgements – that’s why I’d really like to hear other people’s thoughts: are Lovecraft’s views an issue for you when considering a Mythos Board game? Do you agree that the world these games inhabit is a bigger, more creatively open space, an acceptable place for us to game in? Or are there aspects you struggle with? Perhaps you disagree with Lovecraft’s views but are happy that a game is just a game, and aren’t even bothered about how far they carry over to your table-top experience.

I’d be interested to know people’s thoughts in the comments.

14 of 10, 3 of 6, and 1 of a hundred!

An update from October on the 2016 Gaming Challenges

3 of 6

3 more games disappeared from the unplayed list in October, 2 of them waving goodbye for good.

Lord of the Rings

pic479124_mdLord of the Rings was possibly the first cooperative Board game, certainly an early example of the genre, from back in the year 2000. For its historic value, it is a fairly important landmark, but the game itself felt very dated: the gameplay doesn’t really offer anything that exciting, and I was never a big fan of the visuals: identical plastic Hobbits in different gaudy colours of plastic, and lots of John Howe illustrations that look lovely in landscape paintings but just feels a bit flat as game art (there was also a miniature plastic Barad-Dur, the same height as the Hobbits, iirc.) I shipped this out in what ended up being a fairly traumatic and somewhat unproductive Maths trade. I can only hope it found a better home elsewhere.

Mystery of the Abbey

mystery
Also a stock image – should have photographed it before sending it away…

The other game to go was Mystery of the Abbey. A sort of Cluedo crossed with Guess Who, and a light Medieval Monks theme over the top. It was an entertaining enough thing to play, but there were various elements which just weren’t that clear, including the timing of rounds, and the way that information was passed between players. Ultimately, it never seemed that likely to make it back to the table.

This one at least was in good nick, and hopefully worth a bit, although the murky nature of the Maths trade makes it slightly hard to determine what went in exchange for what. I believe it was for a copy of Eldritch Horror, which has already been played (we lost horribly) and will be hitting the table again, as soon as we get a few spare hours.

Alhambra

alhambrabigThe only game from the unplayed list to actually hit the table was Alhambra. Alhambra is a game I like, but it’s always struggled for table time (more on why exactly coming soon in another article).

I enjoyed the game we played, and wouldn’t mind playing again soon, but don’t know how practical this will actually be (it depends who else we have around for gaming), so I think this one remains on thin ice for its long-term survival.

 

Right now, I’m down to 3 games that haven’t been played this year or last, and 6 that got played in 2015, but have been quiet since. Of the 3 that are nearing a 2-year drought, one is Trivial Pursuit, which can generally be brought to the table at Christmas if I really want to, which leaves 2 others needing a serious look at (1 has been offered up for sale and in the aforementioned Maths trade, but didn’t go).

 

Perfect 10s

For the happier of the gaming challenges – the “playing lots” one, it’s possible to look at things with a slightly more positive spin. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, Dominion, and Elder Sign became the 12th 13th and 14th games to reach ten plays.

dominion-comparisonAs I mentioned back in August, Dominion is a game I’m quite a fan of, although it’s slightly less of a favourite for my wife, which has led in the past to it being played in short blitzes until she got fed up with it, and it disappeared back onto the shelf for another year. Both the fact that it’s made it to ten, and the fact that it did so by being played in 3 different months were pleasing on this score.

pandemic-cthulhu-board-game-showdownReign of Cthulhu is a really interesting game: somehow Pandemic and yet not Pandemic at the same time. I can’t think of 2 other games so similar where I see value in keeping and continuing to play both (that said, with the wave of novelty that has carried Reign of Cthulhu to 10, Classic Pandemic has found itself becalmed on 9 plays, unsure whether it will make it to 10 by New Year).

ElderOmensElder Sign is a game that’s really grown on me this year. I played it a few times back in the spring, mostly because it was manageable solo, and needed to be taken off of the un-played list. I then played it some more when I picked up the latest expansion to review for Games Quest. It’s been a good time for all things Lovecraft in our house over recent months (Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, the aforementioned Pandemic Cthulhu, this, and most recently Eldritch Horror, all whilst I eagerly await the arrival of the Arkham Horror LCG), I think having a bit more invested into the thematic side has been key in this one reaching double-figures.

A New Century

This month also saw a notable landmark being passed by Marvel Legendary, for which I clocked up my 100th play since I first discovered it back in July 2015. Since then it’s hit the table at least once per month in every month bar one (April 2016) until it finally made it to 100 plays.

Boxes
ALL the Legendary (apart from Deadpool, who hasn’t arrived yet)

Legendary is a true monster of a game – we’ve picked up all the expansions (except the Fantastic Four, which is out of print, presumably until Marvel and Fox resolve whateverexactly the dispute they’ve been having over rights is) and it now needs 4 separate boxes to hold all the content, with another expansion expected for Reviewing any day now.

The fact that Legendary is both a deckbuilder and (mostly) a co-op game probably goes some way to explain why Dominion has had a quieter year or so than in the past (and why I won’t be getting the recently released Dominion 2nd Edition upgrade packs, there are few games that suffer more from the short-term perspective employed in my cost/value spreadsheet). The fact that it’s Marvel is a definite positive, as the last few years have been big for comic-reading (me) and MCU watching (my wife as well). The only other Marvel game I own is Dice Masters, which she is definitely not a fan of, so there aren’t really any thematic competitors. It’s probably the best semi-co-op I’ve played, and it has so many options for scaling in terms of player-count and difficulty that I can play it solo, with my wife, or as part of a group anywhere up to 5.

It’s still a long way behind the “Big 3” (Pathfinder ACG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters), which all have more than 200 recorded plays in the past 2 years, but it feels like a worthy addition to the 100 club. I don’t doubt that Zombicide will be joining it in time (currently on 83 plays since I acquired it in March), but after that it’s a long way down, especially as I recently sold my collection of the Game of Thrones LCG, dooming it to sit on 60 plays forever.

The Final Stretch

Obviously, the big challenge for the remainder of the year, is to get those last 3 games played, and then try to finish off the other 6 to prevent the formation of a new “unplayed” list. Overall, with the year 5/6ths done, 2016 has been a good time for gaming, and I think these challenges show that well.

Board Game Economics: Money, Trade and Value – part II

notfree
(Mostly) not free

Last time out, I talked about how I’d looked at some of the financial numbers behind the free games I’ve received to review this year and concluded, (not surprisingly) that the value was pretty good.

Presumably because I was looking for reasons to hate myself, I then attempted to spread the concept out more widely, across my whole games collection.

First of all, I looked at the 25 most-played games of 2016 so far and compared the hours of play this year with the money spent this year. Over half the games were either review copies or things I’d bought years ago, so the short-term value was fairly self-evident.

That said, there were a few games where I’d spent significant amounts of money this year – typically these are the games with an ongoing release format who’d managed to get me hooked, and I was buying the new content as it came out, sometimes because we really wanted something fresh to play, other times because I simply wanted to get the new-release-discount, and didn’t want to get too far behind.

Overall, the picture here was still good. Assigning a fairly arbitrary value of £5 per hour (more on that below), every game except 1 came out in the black. The game which looked to have “failed” to meet the value estimate was Dice Masters, which I’ll talk about more later.

 

History

notebooksThe second stage of the examination was a bit more complicated. I stayed with the most-played games of this year, but added an extra 3 so that I was covering the most-played for all the records I had.

I then tried to log all the plays of the games, and all the money I’d spent on them. This was a fairly flawed analysis on a number of levels – for one thing, I don’t remember what I spent on games 5 years ago, so I had to use current prices from online retailers, which are generally higher, due to several years’ worth of inflation and a weak pound.

I also only have records of which games I played going back to Christmas 2014. Before that, It’s an entirely hotchpotch selection: I know when I won (but not lost) Lord of the Rings LCG as far back as the autumn of 2011, and I have some erratic hand-written notes lying around for a fairly arbitrary selection of games that barely make it onto the list.

The resulting picture is unusual, and in some places downright misleading – some games look like great value, and others look terrible. To be precise, 9 are in the red for spending to hours of play value.

 

Games of Christmas Past

carcs When I looked a £/Hour, it was the low-play-count games that look really bad, things like Carcassonne and Dominion which were purchased, played a lot, expanded, played some more, then gradually fell out of favour. Neither “6 games of Carcassonne” nor “16 games of Dominion” comes anywhere close to showing how much time we’ve spent on these games historically. It also creates weird situations where some games, like Memoir ’44 currently don’t make the list, having only been played 2 times in the past 2 years, but as I noted in June’s gaming challenge update, this is a game that’s seen some serious wear and tear, which justified the big spend on expansions 5 years or so ago, and would look ridiculous now. On the plus side, I recently discovered that the BattleMap expansions I’d bought for this way back are now Out-Of-Print and very sought after – I managed to get £140 for 3 of them, which is definitely more than I paid originally.

 

How Long?

time It’s also worth commenting on game length. As I’ve decided to measure value in terms of a £:Hours ratio, I need to work out how long a game takes. This is problematic at best – very easy to say that Zombicide takes longer than Boggle (to use an extreme example), but exact numbers are trickier.

Taking an example where a small tweak makes a big difference. I’ve played Lord of the Rings 238 times in the last 22 months, wins and losses, and I’d opted for a fairly short play-time of half an hour, so that the ten-minute deaths and rage-quits would balance the hour+ grinds. However, the 243 sessions logged for the previous 3 years are definitely an incomplete figure as i.) they only include wins, and ii) they exclude entirely the first 4 months or so of the game’s life before the scoring system was changed. It’s possible that I could retrieve data for some of these sessions, but maybe I’d be better off increasing the game’s play-time from half an hour to 40 minutes, which instantly adds around £400 to the game’s “value”

 

How much?

ticket It’s also worth looking more closely about that “£5 per hour” figure. I think that I originally arrived at this based on a suggestion on Board Game Geek, equating games to Cinema Tickets. If we assume that all films are 2 hours long, and that a trip to the cinema costs £10, this gives a figure of £5 per hour.

Evidently, this is a simplification: Going to the cinema probably takes 3 hours rather than 2, but sitting watching adverts so that you can get a good seat, queuing, or just getting there in the first place seems like a poor thing to class as entertainment value. £10 for a ticket is slightly more than what it costs if you can manage to go off-peak with a Student card, but a bit less than a peak-time ticket, and by the time you average it all, and add in a bag of over-priced pick-and-mix, it’s probably a wash.

All of this, of course, assumes that “more time” = “better” in terms of the amount of entertainment you get. This is clearly an idea that has some truth to it: However much I might love Dobble, I’m not going to play it for 3 hours straight (that’s not strictly true, I sometimes play it for 8 hours at a time, but I get paid for that…) A short game may get played more often, but it’s still only entertaining you for a lowish number of hours of your life overall.

ascendancy Equally, we’ve all played games that ran too long – sometimes that’s a quirk of that particular session, other times it’s inexperience on the part of the players, and sometimes it’s just a design-flaw in the game. What I do know is that I recently got to try out Star Trek Ascendancy at the FLGS who were doing a big launch event with Demos. We played a 4-player game that lasted 5 hours, and I suspect most of us would have been tempted to pay £5 to have had it finish an hour earlier…

 

On your own?

Probably the biggest issue with the figures I’ve created is player-scaling. If I buy a board game, it’s cost me the same whether I play it solo, with 2, with 3 or with 4 (5-6 often requires an expansion…) Cinema Tickets by contrast are explicitly linked to the number of people attending. I might only pay £10 for a theoretical solo cinema trip (or more probably a trip with friends who don’t share my bank account), but mostly I go with my wife, and that’s then a £20 evening out. Should I be using £10 as the hourly figure instead? That would probably bring things much more in line with going to a gig, or the theatre and (of course) instantly prove that all Board Games are much better value than we previously thought.

elder-sign For games played in the last not-quite-two-years, I do have player-number information, and adjusting by player-number, the list of games that are “bad value” shrinks from 9 to 4, with the remainder looking far healthier: Carcassonne and Dominion remain victims of their old age and recent quiet,  Race for the Galaxy a little closer to looking like good value, and might even fall of the list entirely in a few months.

Of course, even scaling up for player-count does no favours for some games – for Dice Masters the problem is that it doesn’t really get played at home. If I play a handful of games down at the store, and the other guy is using his own cards and dice, paid for out of his own pocket, then it hardly seems fair to count his play-time towards my budget. Realistically, I’d only be able to add a handful of games by scaling for player-counts.

 

No Dice

booster Throughout this exercise, Dice Masters has been the big blot on the landscape: it’s the only game showing a (small) value “shortfall” based on the figures for this year alone, and the historic numbers are even worse.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the only game which comes out looking bad whichever way I measure it is also the only Collectible (i.e. randomised purchase) game that I play. I really enjoy Dice Masters, both as a game to play, and as a collecting exercise (there’s something very therapeutic about sorting dice) but this spreadsheet raises some fairly serious questions.

Collectible games, done well, offer a fairly low barrier to entry, but they also offer a dangerously open-ended upper ceiling to spending. There’s something dangerous in the human brain (mine at least) which sees sets and wants them to be complete (I’ve told my wife that I don’t mind whether our first child is a boy or a girl, but that the second has to be whatever the first one isn’t). I fairly quickly gave up on attempting to get a full set of the Super Rare or Chase Rare cards, but I know I’ve spent money on cards and dice as a collector that I’m unlikely to ever actually use as a player.

foilarrow With most of the casual sessions having dried up, most opportunities to play are in tournaments, which generally have an entry cost – always less that the “value” of the games the tournament will add, but still, something which slows down that process of catching-up: I did a Rainbow draft last weekend, in which I added £15 of “value” but paid £12 to participate. Of course, being a draft event, I came away with new cards and dice, and am hoping that if I can sell the Foil Ultra-Rare Green Arrow which I drafted, that that will actually wipe out the 2016 deficit.

Beyond that, the model for this game is designed around constant consumption – new sets come out all the time, and they bring in mechanics that can leave old teams behind if you’re not keeping up with the new releases. Draft formats are, arguably, the most enjoyable way to play the game, as well as the way that puts the most emphasis on player skill, but there is cost involved.

finest As I mentioned last time out, theoretical value and what I can actually liquidate things for tends to be a very different matter. If I’d known how quickly the player-base would evaporate, I wouldn’t have bought the World’s Finest set at Easter (this is the main set that really feels like a failure cash / play-value wise) – but selling it now might well not recoup the sorts of figures I’d be looking for to make things value for money.

The hourly rate for Dice Masters still doesn’t look too bad. The sheer number of plays spreads that shortfall gets spread pretty thin, and it works out at under £7 an hour. Still, I’ll have to be very careful moving forward.

 

Final Thoughts

Overall, the picture that this exercise has given me seems fairly accurate (if kind of obvious): Free games are great value. Free games that you then go mad and buy stuff for can still be good value if you play them a lot, but it’s easy to get carried away.

Games that require an ongoing, regular investment will easily rack-up the costs over time: if you play them a lot, they can still offer good value, but it’s easy to get lured into a false sense of value. Lastly, your old games will look like a poor deal, if you make calculations based on what things you bought 5 years ago would cost you now, but not on how much you played them.

Summarised like that, a lot of this looks blindingly obvious, but for me, this exercise has been helpful: I’m expecting some fairly major financial changes on the horizon and as Board Games are (apparently) a luxury item, the gaming budget is likely to get fairly well decimated. I’ve already given up the Game of Thrones LCG in order to free up some room/cash, and this sort of stop-and-reflect has definitely given me some useful food for thought as I make plans for the future.