As readers of my regular monthly updates will know, “Fantasy” is a big enough chunk of our ongoing gameplay that I often break it down, so that we can see exactly how much time has been spent in Middle Earth, Terrinoth, or whichever other place we’ve been this time.
More often than not, though, a dominant category is “generic” – a term which conceals as much as it communicates. I decided then to have a dig into what exactly I meant by this.
Sometimes, generic is used where I just hadn’t gotten round to finding out where things were. Mistfall, for example, takes place in a land called Valskyrr. Having spent a mighty 2 hours on that particular game this year (before getting rid of it), lumping this in with generic is probably not a big deal. I don’t know where Near and Far is set – I’m pretty sure it’s the same place as Above and Below but, having sold the game, I’m in no rush to track it down.
In other places it’s laziness. Lots of games start under generic, then get moved later. I moved The Dwarves from Generic to Girdelgard once it felt big enough as a category to care about. Not having played D&D this year, I haven’t moved it from Generic to “Forgotten Realms” – but will probably do so next year, once Dragonfire gets this category moving. Gloom of Kilforth is long overdue a push from Generic to… you’ve guessed it – Kilforth!
Sometimes laziness gets blurred with trying to keep things tidy. Obviously, Arcadia Quest takes place in Arcadia. The sensible thing to do would be to categorise it appropriately, but have Arcadia counted under “other” in the final analysis – that’s a change I can make now.
Some settings, of course, truly are generic: Braggart or Dungeon Time are so light on detail, that it would be impossible to really guess anything much about where they belong. Dungeon Time can probably go into a Low/Historical sub-group, but I really don’t think that there’s a sensible alternative for Braggart.
Munchkin, if I had to push, I’d probably go for “meta-Fantasy” as this is a setting that’s both very self-aware, and more concerned with mocking tropes than building an immersive experience.
Gloomhaven is a city. Does the land it is set in have a name? probably! Now that Gloomhaven is actually getting played, this is something to check.
B-Sieged is very much its own setting, and couldn’t really be confused with most other Fantasy games we play. That said, I’m not convinced that the even the city has a name, let alone the country.
Lastly, some of the biggest games within Fantasy are in places that are hard to pin down. Massive Darkness in particular does a good sweep of narrative fluff, without ever giving you the slightest clue that you could use to name the world in which the game is set. Battle for Greyport is set in the same world as the Red Dragon Inn games, and Slugfest games have pulled together a remarkable amount of lore on the place, but it still doesn’t have a name.
An Ongoing Mistake
Dominiongives us lots of information about the setting, but in a rather evasive fashion – is this a Low Fantasy setting (Europe + Magic) or is it its own land, tantalisingly stripped of any key identifying features? I started a BGG thread asking that very question, and got a lot of interesting and undecided speculation before Donald X Vaccharino himself stepped in.
It turns out that Dominion doesn’t have a Fantasy setting at all – it’s simply Europe, mostly Late-Medieval / Early-Early Modern period, although with some outliers (Roman stuff in Empires, Age of Exploration in Seaside). Anything magical/fantastical and the like is simply folklore and popular superstition.
Well, that told me. Dominion is removed, not only from “Generic” but from Fantasy as a whole. The true genre here, is “historical”
If you don’t have something useful to say…
I putting this piece together, I posted a number of threads on BGG for various games, asking if anyone knew the names of the worlds / anything concrete about the setting.
Some of the responses were… less than helpful, shall we say.
For “Where is Dominion set?” I got
“my Dominion set is in a wooden box in my living room”
For “I know the city is called Gloomhaven, but does the wider world have a name?” I got
I guess I shouldn’t really have been surprised by the Dominion query – every internet forum eventually turns into another Dominion storage solution discussion…
Doing a little bit of tweaking like this makes things look better: Generic is now only 14% of sessions, 20% of time. “Other” sits at 4%, ensuring that we haven’t just muddled things by sliding stuff from one category to another.
70-80% of that “generic” time is Massive Darkness. Insofar as it belongs anywhere, you could argue for this sharing a universe with Zombicide, due to the official cards which allows characters to cross-over between the games. However, I’ve got Zombicide classed under “Zombies” rather than Fantasy and, although the similarities are there, there are definite differences in tone between the games that make me dubious about dragging them together.
It’s quite possible that eventually, I’ll end up creating “Massive Darkness” or “Gloomhaven” as their own categories. For now though, I’m happy that I’ve got things a little bit less muddled.
First up – Shadows of Brimstone: Forbidden Fortress.
I was alerted to Shadows of Brimstone during Massive Darkness discussions. Another game that put fun ahead of precision rules-crafting, SoB was cited as a good way to do character progression and an engaging overall campaign.
I investigated the already-released Shadows of Brimstone games: 2 core sets and many expansions in a Weird West setting. I managed to get hold of one – eventually. Lots of fans online though pointed me towards the chance to late-pledge for the inter-compatible, standalone, Samurai-themed version, due in early 2018.
Even having just picked up the Western version, I was still tempted by the pseudo-Japanese option. Samurai, Monsters, options to play as a Kitsune (fox-person) or an umbrella-wielding Geisha. Have a monkey as an ally. What’s not to like?
Positive aside though, the Forbidden Fortress Kickstarter was a hard sell. For one thing, the KS options range from “very big” to “very, very, big” – and the ‘smaller’ option doesn’t include the Kistune, the Geisha or the Monkey!
The Kickstarter promises great value: based on the publisher’s estimates, $125 gets you $375 worth of stuff, or $350 gets you $835 worth (plus exclusives, of which there are more at the higher level, obviously).
Big savings! ($200ish and $480ish) IF you buy everything later. But it begs the question – do you need anywhere near as much stuff as the pledge includes?? Savings against a fictional total are irrelevant. If the game only needs a single core and one expansion, then over-spending on hundreds of extra figures is a bad deal, not a good one.
On top of that, even if all of the stuff does add to the gameplay experience, and you need all of it, $350 is a hell of a lot of money. It would make Shadows of Brimstone instantly one of the most expensive games I own, behind only a very select list of titles that have been played for hundreds and hundreds of hours over many years. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a game, to justify a bigger spend than Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness, all in one fell swoop.
Cost aside, the Wild West Shadows of Brimstone Kickstarter has been a nightmare: long delays and poor communication seem to be taken as standard, and lots of stuff hasn’t delivered, years after the base game hit retail. Frustration I’ll get over eventually, but if the game arrives 3 years late, then we’re back into the Apocrypha scenario, where I might not want to play any more games of that ilk.
Having spent much of October assembling miniatures, I managed 3 sessions of Shadows in November. The between-scenario character levelling stuff really shone, but the scenarios themselves were… fine. We had some bad luck, made some rules mistakes. Some issues seem to have been generally acknowledged as lacklustre, and should be fixed by the new iteration. It seemed to really need Class Sheets printed off to keep track of things, and I hadn’t. Overall, whilst I’m still positive about the game, it didn’t grab me in the way it needed to if I was going to spend that kind of money.
Ultimately, this was always going to be a stretch: a really expensive project, from a company with a poor track-record for KS-delivery. The game needed to be something truly exceptional, and at the end of the day, it just wasn’t quite gripping enough. Technically I could still change my mind (it’s currently still open for backers), but I don’t expect that I will.
The other big Kickstarter I was looking at was Too Many Bones. This is a game that’s been frustrating me on and off for much of 2017.
My thoughts on Too Many Bones got so extensive that they spawned their own spin-off article [in a marvellous Freudian typo, I originally described those thoughts as “expensive”]. For those who don’t have the time to read the other piece, Too Many Bones is made by a company called Chip Theory Games, who make very expensive games in very small print runs, and only sell directly. There was a one-off opportunity to get this from GQ back in June, but I was slightly blindsided by it and missed my chance.
October saw a Kickstarter for a stand-alone expansion, promising a “more cost-effective entry point.” And a guitar-wielding playable character!
Sadly, this “more cost-effective” still wasn’t cheap – £53 + shipping to try the game. That’s a lot of money for a taster. To get a ‘proper’ play experience (which the forums tell me is at least 1 more playable character than the number of players) I’d need to pay extra for add-ons, at which point I’d have been better just shelling out for the full-sized game in the first place.
Ultimately, whilst it is (apparently) a very good game, the large amount of expense, and the possibility of ending up with something that feels half-baked, and needs further investment to be enjoyably playable was too much of a deterrent. They unlocked a fair number of odds and ends during the campaign, but not enough in the directions of actually enhancing game-play options. $100 for something that might only have been a taster was too much, and this one ended up as a “no” as well.
In for a Pound, Dollar
I did something for the first time recently – backed a Kickstarter project for $1. A fair number of projects seem to have this option. Pay $1 for email updates and access to the Pledge Manager – an option to upgrade and get the bits you want at a later point.
The reasons for $1 pledging are simple: minimal cost, and extra time (either to save up or simply to decide whether you want it). Having stumbled on the project at the 11th hour, it gave me a chance to stay part of something I wasn’t ready to pledge for fully.
The main downside of the $1 pledge is that you’re not helping to get the game funded or unlock stretch goals. However, this particular project was for a second printing + an expansion: already well funded, and no stretch goals left.
The game in question was Folklore: The Affliction., yet another title promising an RPG in Board-Game form, probably sitting somewhere between Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven. The game looks very good: fantastic art, a dark, engaging theme. The Victorian-era Gothic Horror tropes seem well done, with just the faintest hint of a steam-punk twist (although the mock-Transylvanian accent on the KS video voice-over was pretty painful). The mixture between wide-angle campaign and zoomed-in miniatures combat was also appealing.
There were a couple of obstacles to backing. Firstly, the games mentioned above: Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven are both really interesting-looking games that I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of. Even allowing for a 9-month wait, do I have time to play this?
The second issue was a web of complex pledge levels. The base game is obviously the starting point, but where to go with add-ons? The big box expansion adding playable characters seems like a must, but there are also lots of mini expansions that add cards to decks, and will enhance replayability. Given the narrative focus of the game, the books that allow you to create your own adventures seem very useful too.
This 2nd printing of the game comes with Cardboard standees to keep the costs down. However, as a painter I want the miniatures (now a separate box). Lastly there are the amazing clear miniatures to represent ghost-characters (unlike many games, character death in Folklore is only a limited obstacle to ongoing participation in the campaign).
For now, I’ll mull this over, happy in the knowledge that I’ve bought myself more time to think, and quite willing to give up the single dollar I shelled out if I decide not to follow-through.
I had intended to let this one pass by, but on the last day of the campaign we had a really enjoyable session with some variant rules that made the game shine, and I jumped on. It was only £21, which felt very affordable.
By contrast, I did decide to pass on the new expansion for Battle for Greyport. The appeal was pretty clear: Steampunk Pirates. Because Steampunk Pirates. Another one I picked up as a review, Greyport is a fun little game (it’s since hit 10 sessions), but at the end of the day, it doesn’t get massive amounts of play, and in all honesty, there’s plenty of content in the original box that we haven’t gotten into yet. The incentive to back the Kickstarter on this was also fairly limited, as it looks like the box will be available at retail next year, by which time I’ll have a far better sense of whether the game is going to get played in the long-term, and might be able to pick it up with some store credit anyway.
Overall, I think a lack of time will be what keeps me from backing (m)any of these projects – Kickstarters tend to come and go within a window which means that, if I’m not already anticipating it, by the time I’ve made my decision, it’s too late. Add to that the sheer epic scale of many new projects and it’s a case of finding both money to back the game and time to play it.
I’m not too worried by all of this, even if I don’t end up backing anything else for a while: as I mentioned in the recent Kickstarter review, I’ve got plenty of KS projects on the go, and even more in the way of other gaming to keep me occupied.
With any Kickstarter project, there’s a fair amount of waiting.
Maybe communication is good on the project, maybe it’s bad. Maybe they deliver quickly, or maybe they take a long time. Whichever way, there’s probably a fair amount of time where you’re thinking about the project, but aren’t in a position to actually be playing the game.
It’s at times like this, sat with my spreadsheets, that I start to question the value of the project, something which, I think, is a fair bit more complex than with a game bought off a shelf (or website).
“Money spent” is relatively simple to track: ideally an old Credit Card statement, otherwise the pledge information on Kickstarter + a historic exchange rate calculator. On top of that, I tend to add on a bit more in the way of “interest” based on how long it takes from when they take my money to when I get my stuff, and I have a notional figure for what I’ve spent.
By that reckoning, the 8 Kickstarter projects that have been “live” (any stage from campaign launch to delivery) at some point this year add up to over £700. That’s a moderately terrifying figure, although it is alleviated somewhat by the knowledge that they were paid for over two and a half years.
If a Kickstarted game makes it to retail, then I can compare directly what I paid for the game, versus what people buying it now will have to fork out. Was Kickstarting this project a money-saver? Or a money-sink?
For Massive Darkness, the first game to arrive, this was an equation that seemed to work out really well. As this finally sees a retail release, my total pledge including shipping and interest is only £14 more than the RRP of the base game: even assuming a 10% pre-order discount, I’m looking at having made a £30 saving, compared to base game + the first 2 expansions, and there’s another expansion, a set of tiles/scenarios, and the extra dice all yet to come.
Aeon’s End I spent around £70 on. The starting pledge was $65, which covered the base and a selection of stretch goals (included for me, probably collected later as a retail expansion), and I paid a further $15 for an expansion. Availability is still very limited, but it looks like the base game will be £45ish, £15-18 per expansion, so this seems to come out about even.
For other games, retail prices are trickier: Gloomhaven is currently only listed for silly money, due to the game being out-of-print, and prices will clearly drop once the second wave hits retail. Zombicide will presumably have an RRP around £90, but be available a fair bit cheaper from the online retailers. For 9th World and Legends Untold, it wouldn’t surprise me if even the companies involved aren’t sure yet. The latest thing I jumped on, a mini-expansion for Gloom of Kilforth, cost me £21 – I don’t know whether this will even get a retail release, and I certainly don’t expect it be cheaper if it does. For now, all the games with no RRP go on the spreadsheet with a value of “minus whatever I paid for it.” That leaves me with a figure of just over £400 of ‘lost value,’ but that will inevitably level out a lot over time, and probably end up in the black overall.
Although I’ve looked at the Financial Value of the retail pledge, there’s also the question of exclusives.
Aside from a few bits with retail packaging, the Massive Darkness pledge also came with a “Lightbringer” box – duplicates of monsters from the base game and, crucially, 18 Wandering monsters, 3 hero miniatures, and 1 class sheet, which will not be available separately. It’s hard to put a value on these, especially as I don’t want to sell mine, but I reckon you could easily get (at least) £50 for it. Right now though, I haven’t added anything to the spreadsheet for these. I also spent $8 on some exclusive cards to use Zombicide figures in Black Plague, and vice-versa, and these are currently going for around £20 on Ebay.
For Aeon’s End, I spent $10 to get the cards and mats for the original game replaced with upgraded card-stock, and layout to match the new game. As this won’t be offered at retail, it’s hard to measure that $10 price – on the one hand it offers nothing new mechanically, but it does make the two elements of the game feel like they belong together. Having not paid for the original game (it was a review), I was pretty happy with about 2 games’ worth of cards for not much more than the cost of 1 game.
Apocrypha came with 3 or 4 promo cards. You might be able to get a fiver or so for them online. For the games yet to arrive, I know that Green Horde will have a similar pile of goodies to Massive Darkness, and Gloom of Kilforth has some bonus new Classes and Races. I don’t think Gloomhaven came with anything exclusive, and can’t remember what I’m expecting for the others.
In an ideal world, one day a Kickstarted game will actually arrive at your house, and get played. I’ve talked before about how I measure game-value, and that doesn’t change for KS (1 hour of play = £5 value). On that basis, all-but-one of the KS games are currently still in the red, but that’s hardly surprising, given that 6 out of the 7 hadn’t arrived at the beginning of October!
To get into specifics, “value” is currently over £450 in the red – it works out at just over 90 hours of play needed to balance things out!
Now, Zombicide Black Plague managed that by itself last year, so if Green Horde is a similar success, it could knock that down fairly quickly, but it won’t be doing it until 2018.
Massive Darkness is already in the black, having clocked up the 25-or-so hours of table-time it needed in less than 2 months. Overall, the game is currently contributing a respectable £75.98 to the “value of Kickstarter” column, and that figure is only going to grow as the game gets played more and more. I could easily imagine myself getting another 5-10 plays without touching the expansion content, and then we’ve got a Massive set of options for variety, in terms of more heroes, mobs and wandering monsters, a whole extra set of tiles and quests, and all the Zombicide crossover content – it was the first game played in November, and isn’t going anywhere.
It’s well documented just how much there is in Gloomhaven: both in terms of physical content and the hours of table-time that are in there. I doubled-down on this purchase by paying for the removable stickers to “de-legacy” the legacy aspect of the game. I personally won’t be getting into a second or subsequent play-through any time soon (if ever), but hopefully it’ll leave me with a near-mint game to move on if I decide that it isn’t justifying its place on the shelf.
For Apocrypha, 20 hours to break even feels like a lot: I lost a lot of enthusiasm for it in the 17 months between when it was due and when it actually arrived. I clocked up 10 hours pretty quickly, mostly because my editor wanted a review by Essen, but some of those sessions were a real grind, and this is back on the shelf, where I can see it staying until the expansions land.
I think 9th World must exist behind some kind of perception filter- it’s like my brain is singularly unable to remember that it exists without repeated prompting. This is a game which was backed by virtue of piggy-backing on the goodwill generated by the Apocrypha campaign (a resource which has long-since been depleted).
Lastly is Legends Untold, a proper old-school Kickstarter project from a new designer/company. I played a turn or so of the prototype at UKGE 2016, and followed it from there. I ended up backing this at a higher level than I wanted to (they raised so much money that they doubled the range of stuff they were offering), and have watched the game change significantly over the course of the campaign to where it’s scarcely recognisable. Right now, I don’t have a clear enough sense of what it will be like to get excited, although I’m still optimistic that it will be good. The latest KS update has got this pushed back to January (hopefully!) so it’s going to be semi-ignored for a while.
Old or New?
There is some complexity around the fact that 2 of the games I’ve Kick-started this year (Aeon’s End: War Eternal, and Zombicide: Green Horde) are stand-alone expansions. If I lump them in with the existing game, then I’m already covered time-wise, but that’s clearly misleading (as none of the game-play logged pre-arrival was using any of the KS content).
When Green Horde does land, my first step will be to play through the Core Box once, using core box content only (this will require less discipline than with Massive Darkness, as it’s shipping several months ahead of the add-ons). What I’m not quite sure of is how clear the distinction between Black Plague and Green Horde will remain after that, or how I’ll want to go about logging it.
Aeon’s End is currently my 5th most-played game of the year, still 1 of only 6 to make it past 25 sessions. It had been a bit quiet over the summer, but the arrival in early October of better-quality components, mixed with a range of extra cards and options, has given it a fresh lease of life. Again, the question is how to measure plays of old and new? After some reflection, I decided that, in all likelihood, future plays will either be all new stuff, or a mixture, so I’ll just base it on any plays of Aeon’s End after the new stuff landed. Right now, that’s still in the red by some distance (£40-odd), but I’m confident of it catching up in due course. Where a Kickstarter is for a pure expansion (not playable stand-alone) – like Gloom of Kilforth, it’s much more straightforward to just mix it in and measure plays in the same way as AE.
Taking pledge vs retail cost (with the caveat of not having retail prices for over half the games), and Cost vs Value (where half the games haven’t arrived), I arrived at a grand, grand, overall total figure, which is devastatingly large. At least it’s still a 3-figure sum!
Now, OBVIOUSLY that figure isn’t final. I know with absolute certainty that a big chunk of that will disappear simply with components reaching retail, and obviously I intend to play these games too. Still, it does give me pause.
Of course, one thing that you can never really calculate is the value of making a decision so far ahead of release.
If Apocrypha were released tomorrow and I hadn’t backed it, I doubt very much that I’d buy it. I’d probably put my name down for a review copy, but I couldn’t imagine sinking my hand £60 deep into my pocket, let alone £100 for the expansions (which seem to be where the value is). 9th World likewise.
Massive Darkness was a big success, and I’m glad I backed it – I remember thinking many times last year that I wished I could go back in time and back Black Plague: obviously I couldn’t, but I could back Green Horde, and I did.
I’m glad I backed Legends Untold, because it’s the sort of project that I feel Kickstarter should really be for – small, independent, first-time publisher: It’s good to feel like I’ve been part of something that couldn’t have been produced without Kickstarter. As noted above, I’ve kind of lost sight of where we are gameplay wise, so will be interested to see what eventually lands.
All of it?
Even within games that I would buy, there’s the question of whether I’d buy all the stuff I got through the KS campaign – as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve (very deliberately) only used the base-set stuff for Massive Darkness so far, and whilst I fully intend to get the rest of the stuff I have onto the table at some point, I think it’s probable that I’d have done things differently if I were picking the game up at retail – definitely a Hellephant before Lord Tusk or the Cocatrix, probably some Ratlings or Lizardmen before the Troglodytes. As a CMON Kickstarter, this has enough value in it that I’m not too bothered about little quibbles like this, although it would definitely be nice to be able to pick-and-choose more freely. I’d imagine that Green Horde will feel much the same.
Aeon’s End, I expect I would have planned to get it all, although possibly not all at once, and once there’s delay, there’s always the potential to have my mind changed. Gloomhaven I didn’t pledge for any expansions (aside from buying the stickers from a third-party so that I don’t damage the game in playing it). Legends Untold I would definitely have gone for 1 box rather than 2 if I had been confident of the second one being available later, but see notes above on “proper” Kickstarters.
Apocrypha is in a strange place – part of me thinks that the core box experience isn’t gripping enough to want to shell out for the expansions, part of me thinks that it’s only with the expansions that the game will really come to life. 9th World I can’t remember how it breaks down with add-ons (I’m sure it’ll change again before delivery).
This article is a bit of a snap-shot, and it’s a snapshot taken at a very unflattering point in time for Kickstarter – money gone out on 8 projects, game in hand for more than a month on only 1. Still it’s a useful reminder for myself, especially as other Kickstarters appear in the future.
I was going to talk here about future projects I’m looking at, but this has got very long already, so I’ll section that off to be its own article another time.
I’m certainly not swearing off Kickstarter in the way that some people have. That said, I was never that deeply ensnared in the first place – over the time it’s taken me to get this printed, I’ve passed on 2 or 3 moderately-interesting-looking Kickstarters – an expansion for a fairly enjoyable game we play occasionally, a highly rated game that’s always priced itself out of my range in the past, and an opportunity for a mega-saving on a game that I’m not sure I really need – I expect I’ll end up talking more about them elsewhere, but for the most part, it won’t be as a backer.
I’ll keep following projects. Keep backing them occasionally. Keep complaining when they don’t arrive in a timely fashion, and keep blogging when there’s finally a game to blog about.
As I mentioned last time, although there was plenty of enjoyable gaming in September, the overall feel was a bit flat. Nothing particularly new or exciting.
October was the other extreme – shed loads of new stuff arriving, some of it really exciting.
Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) finally got its retail release (there have been copies floating around from conventions for a while), and it was everything I’d hoped. The overall visuals were great, and the gameplay is really interesting. As you know, I play a lot of co-ops, and a lot of fairly light stuff, but this one’s a real brain-burner: focused head-to-head play, where lapses in concentration can cost you the game. The game has clearly been heavily influenced by Game of Thrones LCG (2nd Edition), and the Fate mechanic seems a brilliant way to avoid the overwhelming build-up forces that can often stifle that game. Sadly, FFG have announced that the first cycle of expansions, instead of being spread over 6 months (as is normal), is going to appear over 6 weeks in November – there was some argument about bulking out the card-pool, but it makes the game a much tougher proposition financially – 10 sessions of a 1.5 hour game that I can’t play at home in 2 months is far from a done deal.
October was also the month when the Kickstarter chickens started coming home to roost – 3 of them in fact, appearing across the weeks. Gloomhaven only arrived right at the very end of the month, and hasn’t even been unboxed (and what a box it is!), but the others found their day in the sun:
Apocrypha was the prodigal Kickstarter which finally arrived a staggering 17 months later than promised. I was fairly annoyed by the delays in getting it, and somewhat ambivalent about the game itself. It’s a dense, keyword-heavy ruleset that reads more like a logic puzzle: ideally designed for future –proofing (they’ve created a framework which feels sturdier than Pathfinder, and like it will easily support a lot of flexibility in the future). Sadly, the character progression is minimal and the rich theme often gets lost beneath fiddly mechanics. I expect that this one will probably sit on the shelf for a while, then get another run-out once the expansions arrive. I’ve done a fuller post-mortem of the process that you can read here.
Aeon’s End isn’t a new game- I first picked it up in February, but October was when the Kickstarter arrived for Aeon’s End: War Eternal, a stand-alone expansion that dropped a bucket-load of extra cards, along with reprints of all the first edition stuff (with better card-stock), and general component upgrades – we had half a dozen sessions of this in October, and looking forward to more soon.
I mentioned at the end of September that I’d stumbled across Shadows of Brimstone – a Weird West co-op Dungeon Crawler. Sadly it seemed to be more-or-less out-of-print, but I managed to track down a copy of one of the two base sets. Swamps of Death tends to get slightly less love than City of the Ancients, but I really wanted to play as the Preacher (because who doesn’t want to smite Eldritch Tentacles with Sermons? [Sermons. Definitely not spells. Honest]. Sadly, tracking it down was only the first step, but the models all needing to be clipped from sprues, assembled, and based, meaning that month was nearly over before I could even think about playing this: Shadows of Brimstone definitely wins the award for most time spent on a game this month without actually playing it.
Despite a lot of newy newness, it was also a good month for established titles, with 5 of the year’s 6 most-played games getting more table-time. Arkham was the biggest winner – we’re still getting a lot of play out of the new Carcosa Deluxe box, and the 6 new investigators that came with it – I really enjoyed taking new character Sefina through the Dunwich legacy, taking dark amusement from my wife’s facial expression every time I played Drawn to the Flame or Delve Too Deep. The release of the final Saga box for Lord of the Rings prompted a brief flurry of play, as I managed to try out both the new heroes, even if the new quests themselves have yet to be defeated (the first one is stupidly hard, and we never got past that). There were also run-outs for some of the longer titles, including Eldritch Horror and Gloom of Kilforth – the latter in particular we had a bit of an epiphany with, combining a change of tactics and a few variant rules for a really enjoyable session. In fact, it was so good, I even jumped on a Kickstarter at the 11th hour for a mini expansion.
As I mentioned last month, we went on holiday with my parents in October, which meant Scrabble getting its first play of the year – not only 2 games on the nights we were there, but my father even suggested playing a game the night after I’d sneaked off early. I’m not expecting a massive renaissance for this game, but it was a good reminder of why I won’t be getting rid of it. There are 10 games left on the un-played list, 3 of them new, and the rest old ones from previous years. Whilst all of the pre-owned games got played last year, 5 of them were also un-played in 2015, which suggests that that even if they do make it off the list by year-end, they’re still on fairly thin ice.
All-in-all, the month ended with Fantasy accounting for about half of what was played: Urban Fantasy (i.e. Apocrypha) dominated that, accounting for about 1/3 of sessions and of time, but Middle Earth, Gravehold, and the good old ‘generic’ featured too. For the first time since April, none of the Terrinoth games made it out of the box, which I’ll be looking to remedy in November. After Fantasy, Lovecraft featured heavily as usual, followed by ‘Japan’ (a not-all-that-accurate categorisation for L5R), and Zombies – small on sessions, but relatively big on time.
Mechanically, we were saving the world about 1/3 of the time, with a bit of mystery-solving thrown in. “Win” was the biggest unusual appearance, with L5R having shifted the overall balance of the month a bit towards competitive.
November also looks full of promise gaming-wise. Shadows of Brimstone should finally make it to the table, I need to play (and review) This War of Mine, and Gloomhaven arrived 2 days ago. There’s (almost) always new content arriving for Arkham, and after a missed month, there are a few titles like Legendary that I’m keen to get back to the table. All-in-all, it doesn’t look like things will be quieting down any time soon.
September was another fairly solid month – 17 different games played 52 different times.
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.
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
There 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?
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.
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.
A new month, a new question to ask myself, and a new spreadsheet (did I mention that I’m a geek?)
I’ve talked on here a fair amount about making sure that I’m getting value for money for my games (i.e. do the ££s shelled out reflect the hours of gaming being logged?) and about moving to measure things more in time (hours spent gaming) than simply sessions (of course I spent more on 5 sessions of Zombicide than on 5 sessions of Zombie Dice!)
The thing I decided to look at specifically this month was how the games I play broke down based on spending – were they old games that I kept playing in their existing form, games I was adding to on an ongoing basis, new things, Or something else entirely? Well, with a bit of time spent poking and prodding a spreadsheet into shape, I was able to find out.
The biggest category by far, was existing games that I was still adding to – as someone who follows a couple of LCGs, that probably isn’t a great shock, but it was interesting to see it quantified: 47% of 2017’s gaming time (so far) has been games that I owned prior to the start of the year, but which have had at least something spent on them.
The next biggest category was the old – games that have been around since at least last year, and haven’t had anything spent on them, 23% of overall play. This stat is potentially a little misleading, as it includes Legendary (4.26% of the year’s gaming) for which I’ve received 2 new expansions to review this year) and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (2.13% of 2017’s gaming) for which I also picked up a new box to review. That said, there are still a lot of games which have been played a handful of times, clocking up a few hours each, which make this category a big one.
Over 2/3rd then, of the year’s gaming was on titles already owned, which suggests a fair amount of continuity, but also a significant amount of change. Obviously it’s subjective, but I feel like this suggests a good mixture of trying new things, and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater (you should never do this, particularly once you have an actual baby to bath).
One reason that the various “new” categories are lower is the simple fact that I’ve had them for less time. Obviously, some of the new games came quite early in the year, but others only arrived in August, with a lot of catching up to do.
With that caveat in mind the not-quite-a-third of time spent on “New” games broke down into 10% on things I’d spent money on this year, 10% on free new things (i.e. review games), and 8% on Kickstarters.
Of the things I’d spent money on, a lot of this is just expanding review games (Runewars Miniatures is the chief culprit here), or postage costs for trading review games for something that caught my eye (this is how I picked up Descent and Robinson Crusoe for the unlikely-looking prices of £3.90 and £7.79 respectively). Only Runebound and Rune Age involved a straightforward, old-fashioned, “give a stranger some money and they give you a game” transaction, and those were done via Facebook and EBay rather than the FLGS.
It’s still relatively rare for a review game to be a big hit, be kept long-term, and not prompt further spending – so far, Gloom of Kilforth, Dungeon Time, Battle for Greyport, and Arcadia Quest are the winners here, although Arcadia Quest doesn’t get a LOT of play, and may end up moving on eventually, whilst Gloom of Kilforth will probably one day find itself in the “had money spent” category once the inevitable expansion gets Kick-started.
I wanted to make Kickstarters their own category, simply because the time-lag between spending the money and receiving the game tends to be so big, that it skews other categories. Right now I’ve got 6 Kickstarters I’m waiting on, plus 1 received a few weeks ago – only 2 of those are even aiming to deliver in the same year they were funded. Hopefully though, lumping together the money spent on this year’s Kickstarters and the time spent playing last year’s (and 2015s, if they ever arrive…) will go some way towards providing a sense of how much value these are.
Of the games I’ve categorised as “Kickstarters,” one arguably belongs more in the “expanding reviews” category – War Eternal, the second wave of content for Aeon’s End. However, this didn’t feel quite right overall: the extra money I’ve spent on Aeon’s End is all on stuff I haven’t played (because it hasn’t arrived), which made a lot more sense under the kick-starter heading. Admittedly, all the time I’ve spent playing Aeon’s End is just using content I’d already received, but once the new stuff arrives, I can’t imagine keeping everything separate, so it will ultimately need logging together- having it all go under Kickstarter seemed the simplest, as well as the way to leave the overall numbers least skewed.
Right now it’s interesting to try to think how this new categorisation will evolve over the rest of the year. I definitely expect the Kickstarter category to grow (it’s already grown a fair bit whilst I’ve been re-drafting this article): I’m really enjoying Massive Darkness, and whilst I’m a lot less enthused about Apocrypha than I was when I backed it, I still plan on playing it a fair bit, to try to get a sense of whether what I’ve been waiting for all this time has been worth it. Assuming War Eternal and Gloomhaven show up with a decent chunk of 2017 left they should be making their mark too.
As already mentioned, some new games simply weren’t around early in the year (at the start of April, I didn’t own Runewars, Runebound, Gloom of Kilforth, Descent or Massive Darkness, but they’ve clocked up over 55 hours of table time since), so it will be interesting to see whether they form a larger part of play-time as the year goes on.
If I look only at games which have had money spent on them (i.e. ignoring altogether anything owned by someone else, or in the same state it was at the end of last year), then spending on old games is massively more efficient than on any other category- 43% of the money, 70% of the time. Spending on new things is more-or-less even – 16% of the money and 15% of the time. KS is a way down with 42% of the money and only 13% of the time [despite what my rounding might suggest, this is a zero-sum situation, so any improvement for KS will have to come at the expense of one of the others].
Kickstarter is a tricky beast to evaluate. Looking at the game that’s arrived, and the one that’s (probably) due next then, even totalling together all the money I actually spent on my pledge with and a notional amount of interest on top of it, I’ve still spent less that it would cost to pre-order the bits that are available at retail, (never mind any KS exclusives), but that won’t be the case for all projects, and it completely ignores the question of whether or not I would have bought anything beyond the base game if buying at retail (by and large the benefit seems to be fairly marginal on base games, but with expansions bundled together at a knock-down rate). As the next instalment in my intermittent Kickstarter series, I’m planning on taking a more in-depth look at Massive Darkness (probably in about a month or so), and other games will probably get similar treatment in due course, so I won’t say too much more right now on specific games.
There’s a danger with every new spreadsheet I concoct that it becomes something over formalised that takes the fun out of the gaming, but this has been an interesting exercise. I probably won’t write on this topic again at length, but may revisit it in future monthly round-ups.
July wasn’t really a month for ticking off many boxes or reaching new gaming milestones (although I did get my all-time H-Index up to 18) but I’d say it was fun nonetheless.
A big-ish clearout saw me back in to positive figures for the year money-wise, as I got rid of a selection of games that hadn’t been played much in years, along with Star Wars Destiny, and some Dice Masters cards Rare enough to have a cash value. As I said back when I reviewed Destiny for Games Quest, I really like the mechanics and concepts in the game, but the price-point is just too high, and with the ongoing arrival of new sets (FFG are already starting to release spoilers for the 3rd wave, when I only got to about half of the cards in the 1st set), it basically becomes pay-to-win: I decided to get out ahead whilst I still could.
For Dice Masters, I’m basically restricted to a monthly event at the FLGS, and have missed the last 2 of those. I’ve decided to hold on to the bulk of my collection for when my son is old enough to play, but that’s probably 5+ years away and I wanted to get the balance sheet to a place where I didn’t have columns of red glaring back at me every time I looked at it in the meantime.
July was also a good month for spreadsheets – I’ve been moving gradually away from just counting sessions of games to trying to count hours (a tricky task when you’re trying to use a formula rather than timing every session with a stop-watch [which would be an even trickier task when a single game can be interrupted multiple times by a single baby]), and a long spell of dead time in front the computer meant that I managed to get a new sheet sorted to monitor this for me – no huge surprises with what it threw up, but some pleasing graphs and charts nonetheless.
In terms of what got played, July saw fresh life being breathed into old favourites as I made it to Lord of the Rings night at the FLGS for the first time in a while, completed the Dunwich Legacy cycle for Arkham, and we continued our slow trek across the sands of Egypt Osirian in Pathfinder Mummy’s Mask. In more recent acquisitions, Aeon’s End got dusted off after a couple of months hiatus, Mansions of Madness saw some play now that the Investigators have all returned from the painting table, and we managed a few more hours of Runebound, which were enjoyable enough, but definitely whet our appetites for the upcoming fully-cooperative expansions.
However, it wasn’t just the old – I finally managed to get my teeth into a small pile of review games that had been sitting around for a while, with several run-outs for Arcadia Quest, Battle for Greyport, and Gloom of Kilforth. All of these were deemed worthy enough to keep around for a while (the PvP combat may eventually see Arcadia Quest moved on, but as killing-each-other games go, it’s a really good fun one). Battle for Greyport is remarkably enjoyable once you’ve managed to get your head around it, and Gloom of Kilforth is probably the best-looking game I own, even if the rulebook is awful. Speaking of awful rulebooks, I also picked up Robinson Crusoe in trade, which was a game I’d had on my radar for a fair while, simply on account of it being so highly ranked and supporting solo/co-op play. I’ve not had it long enough to form a considered opinion yet (played once, thought I was doing ok, then winter came and I died), but I’m certainly not regretting the trade.
In terms of new, new stuff, July was the arrival time for a whole heap of stuff for the world (or at least the UK) at large: Near and Far (the follow-up to last year’s Above and Below) an X-Men big box, which got me more excited about Legendary than I had been for a while, a new expansion for Eldritch Horror, and Lovecraft Letter (Love Letter becoming the latest game to get the inevitable Cthulhu treatment) all arrived on my doorstep. In light of that fairly epic haul, missing out on Sword and Sorcery really wasn’t too bad.
That new expansion to make Runebound fully Cooperative, and the long awaited Massive Darkness have both been sighted in the wild, but I’ve not managed to catch a glimpse myself (Runebound conspicuous by its absence on this side of the pond, Massive Darkness I now have a tracking number…) – in fact, none of my outstanding Kickstarters have landed yet (I have potentially have anywhere up to 6 due to drop between August and October), but the delay may well be for the best, as I try to clear some space (mental and physical) for them.
Although July still fell short of the 60s and 70s of the early months of the year, there was a definite pick up from the low, low numbers of June, and I think 50 counts as a good number for the near future. Obviously there’s a bit of an issue with an ever-growing number of titles competing for a shrinking number of hours, but I’m hoping that we’re not too far away from getting the boy a proper bed-time, which should free up some evenings once again (you can laugh at me in a few months’ time when he still refuses to go to sleep.)
I also started looking at how this year’s gaming compares with that of previous years. The top 10 most-played games this year only account for 56% of my time, compared with 66% last year, and 88% the year before (in fact, in 2015 it was 70% of time just on the top 3).
Overall, 2017 is definitely the broadest year so far: looking at the number of games played, played 2+ times, 5+ times, 10+ times and 20+ times, I’m ahead of 2015 in every category, and although I’m still behind 2016, with 5 whole months to go, I expect to catch-up in a lot of those categories.
Looking at hours and percentages rather than sessions gives an interesting perspective, confirming that nothing is dominating like the last few years, although Zombicide is still going strong.
Playing what exactly?
Thematically this was a very strong month for Fantasy, although Arkham Horror did a good job of holding up the Lovecraft banner, almost single-handedly for much of the month before the rest of the franchise piled in in the last week or so to make up the numbers. Mechanically, the good-old cooperative adventuring (survive the monsters, complete the quest, save the world) was the primary order of the day, with only very slight variations in theme.
July was also the month where I decided to stop and properly look at the categories I’d created for dividing up the aim of the games I play. Ever since I first started trying to do this, I’ve been aware of a certain unhelpful vagueness with solve the mystery/complete the quest/save the world/survive the monsters more-or-less bleeding into each other to the point where the distinctions aren’t that helpful.
Revisiting it, I decided to pull out the key element: most Mythos games are about solving a mystery: there probably are monsters to be fought, but that’s not why they’re there – Eldritch Horror was the only one I put under “save the world” in recognition of its epic scale, along with all the Pandemic titles, and other reality-as-we-know-it-is-at-stake sort of games.
“Survive the Monsters” became simply “Survive” which allows it to include Robinson Crusoe, but generally this category is for things where the peril has come to you, whether that’s a horde of Zombies, or an enemy army.
I also took all the table-top RPGs and a few similar-feel games out of “Complete the Quest” and put them into “Explore” in an attempt to reflect the open-world, lack of long-term objective nature of things. Complete the Quest remains a bit of a catch-all, but hopefully it’s a bit more coherent now, with the idea of a group having their own mission, something they set out to accomplish beyond simply surviving, but which might not (at least immediately) lead to the end of the world if they fail. This covers things like Pathfinder, but also things like Descent. It’s also where I’ve put all things Lord of the Rings, because it’s very rare that an LotR scenario will be a direct confrontation with Sauron to destroy the One Ring, generally, things are much more low-key and small-scale
In the final analysis, the only place I’ve left games in 2 categories are the ones with hidden traitor mechanics, where “find the traitor” still exists on my spreadsheet as a secondary mechanic (and the traitor’s victory condition is ignored). Ultimately, categorisation is still subjective, but it certainly feels a lot neater now.
Whilst it’s pleasing to have things measured and labelled more neatly, the bottom line is that a fair amount of gaming happened in July, and most it was enjoyable and felt worthwhile. Aside from keeping an eye on what I’m spending, that always has to be the ultimate measure for gaming and, as things stand, I think I can be fairly content.