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.

Waning Staples

Warning: The following article is mostly composed of numbers and musings.

2016

Last year I played a total of 788 games. Of those, 265 were of the Pathfinder ACG, 175 were the Lord of the Rings LCG, and 155 were of Dice Masters – in other words, those 3 games made up roughly ¾ of my total gaming for the year.

So far, 2016 is looking very different – 389 games played between January and June is not too far removed from last year (369), but the distribution is very different.

The most played games still feature some familiar faces. Although our most-played game of the year is a new entry – Zombicide: Black Plague with 60 sessions, Pathfinder is only just behind with 59 plays, then LotR LCG on 41 and Dice Masters with 34.

Even allowing for this new arrival, there’s a much broader spread of what’s being played: whereas the top 3 games last year accounted for 75% of what I played, the top 4 games this year make up fractionally under half (49.9%). Even these figures may be a bit generous – almost half of those games of LotR came on a single evening as I tried without success to beat a particularly irritating quest. Dice Masters is more-or-less in freefall, as our local community vanishes and I struggle to find opponents.

 

Rising Stars

Just behind the leading pack, you can find a growing number of games in the teens and twenties of play-throughs: the Game of Thrones ACG and Marvel Legendary have both passed 25, having been discovered (or released) part-way through last year, they have kept a steady turnover, without really threatening the top 4 (Legendary is probably held back by its labour-intensive set-up, and Game of Thrones play is always capped by the need to build a functional deck and arrive at the FLGS at the same time as other players). Zombie Dice is a new entrant in the mid-teens, where it’s comfortably holding its own.

There was previously a line here about another game which appeared to have broken into this group, but it was disqualified when it transpired that I had typed a number in the wrong row of my spreadsheet…

 

Cthulhu End
I can’t see this one staying at a single play-through, once it’s actually released…

The real change this year though, is in the single digits. Last year, I played a total of 58 games, but only 12 of them 5 times or more, and 30 of them (i.e. more than half) only once. This year, I’ve played 44 games so far, but already 17 of those have been played 5 times or more, and only 10 of them have been played just the once (for now). The selection of games being played is broadening.

 

Intent

Obviously, some of the changes in game-play have a fair amount of intentional behaviour behind them – regulars will know that I’m trying to play ten games ten times in 2016, which is something I didn’t do last year (I wasn’t trying, it just happened that 7 games got played ten times or more, and the others didn’t), so this definitely encourages me to look more often at games I like but haven’t played that much. There’s also the issue of trying to empty my “un-played” pile, which is causing the dust to be brushed off a fair number of old games – I’m trying to avoid this turning in to a token “play it once” activity, both in terms of playing games more than once (at least the shorter ones) and in terms of seriously considering whether I want to play that game again.

Reviewer
This guy again? he gets all the fun post

Reviews also deserve a mention at this point, as you can’t really review a game without playing it a fair few times, but only 1 of the 9 games I’ve reviewed so far has really taken the house by storm (Zombicide), so that’s another whole set of games that are getting played “a few” times, but not loads and loads.

 

Fallen Favourites

Despite all of that though, I still think that there are issues with what have historically (at least for 2015 and the second half of 2014) been our “main” games.

Lord of the Rings LCG  has been a family favourite for 5 years now, but as I’ve commented at length elsewhere, it feels like it’s reached a point where they have over-complicated the game, and increased the difficulty to the point where sitting down to play is just painful. Our local meet-up for the game has also missed a few sessions (I don’t quite know what happened for June, I think we all just forgot…) which doesn’t help, and the sense that you need to custom-build a deck for every quest you tackle makes a game at short-notice a real challenge. [Do I keep the 4-player decks built in the hope that friends will come over and want to play? Or build for 2 and push to do that mid-week instead of one of the newer games? Sadly the days are gone when you could have a set of decks ready that did both]. I had this come up on Saturday, when a friend suggested a game, and I had to indicate that I had nothing ready that would give us a viable game.

Pathfinder is still a solid game – As noted above, it’s still very near the top of the “most-played” list for the year, [there’s an ongoing tussle with Zombicide] and we’re still picking up the Class Deck expansions as they come out (looking forward to lots of Goblins in the near future).

Tup
If this guy doesn’t get Pathfinder back to the table, nothing will…

That said, there are still factors weighing against the game. First of all, it’s worth noting that Pathfinder is in something of a fallow period in terms of the material they’re releasing: after a hectic first 2 ½ years of the game, they have opted for a long hiatus between the 3rd and 4th Adventure Paths, to let people catch up with existing content – as a result, there’s definitely a lack of urgency as we re-play earlier paths, no pressure to be finished in time to play the next thing out.

That said, I think my enthusiasm for this game took more of a blow from the final stages of the 3rd AP, Wrath of the Righteous: there was certainly intent on the part of the designers to make it “big” and “challenging” but it also felt badly scaled (the “Army” henchman are ridiculous against survivors groups of 6), and the excitement of having everything constantly turned all the way up to 11 quickly wore off – we still haven’t finished that path with our second character group, and I’m honestly not sure whether we’ll ever bother. Definitely a place where – for us – difficulty went a step too far.

Dice Masters I like. Given the chance, I’d still be playing this every week, but our local group has basically disappeared, with two people selling up, and others just not able to make it down very often. As a 2-player head-to-head, this one is never going to get much time at home, and working at UK Expo meant that playing in Nationals Wasn’t an option. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get some games of this in over the next month or two, but I largely let the Civil War set pass me by, and I’m not going to be spending money on the upcoming Green Arrow/Flash set unless something major changes.

The Future

Overall, I think the spread of this year’s gaming has been healthier than last: playing a broader range of games seems like a sensible way to go. As an added bonus, the fact that I’m doing review work means that I’m able to balance a lot of my costs in acquiring new stuff, either by getting the games I want as review copies, or at the very least selling or trading them to offset my costs. The only thing I’m really lacking is having as much time to play games as I do to write about them.

5 of 5 and 2/26

Game PieWhen I crunched the numbers at the end of last year, I discovered that I hadn’t played 26 of the games in my collection at any point in 2015. Accordingly, I decided to set myself a challenge for 2016: play as many as possible, and for those which go a second year just sat in the box, accept that the time has come to move them on.

Around the same time as I was setting this challenge to go for a broad spread of games, I also saw a challenge posted on Board Game Geek to play at least 10 games at least 10 times over the year. To an extent, these challenges seem to be pulling in opposite directions, but I thought I’d give them a go anyway. I intend to post periodic updates over the year.

10 of 10

The ten of ten challenge was an interesting one. My game-plays tend to be heavily focused, so I knew that getting 10 play-throughs of some games in would be child’s play. That said, last year, there were only 7 that got played ten times, and going down to the game at number 10 in the “most played” I run into a game that was only played 5 times, so I’d need to double the count.

Rather than simply monitor how many games have made it to ten play-throughs, I decided to go for a sliding scale: play one once, then two twice, and so on.

For this challenge, January has been a case of so far, so normal. I’ve comfortably made it to five games played five times: equally, if you’d asked me a couple of months ago, which would be the top five most-played games, these would have been my predictions: Pathfinder ACG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Marvel Legendary, and Game of Thrones LCG.

5 of 5

Pathfinder has been a major feature of our table for about 18 months, but it took a hit just before Christmas, as we ran into the brutal final adventure of Wrath of the Righteous which crushed our spirits somewhat. Thankfully, we’ve now returned to the original AP, with some new characters and cards from the Class Decks, and are having fun again.

Lord of the Rings LCG has been around for several years now, and doesn’t generally get as much play-time as it used to. However, January saw me locked in a battle to the death with the stupidly difficult Battle of Carn Dum quest – I eventually beat it, but it took me 20 attempts!!

We’ve managed to build up a good little Dice Masters community locally: we have a monthly tournament on the first Sunday, plus periodic mid-week games, so again, getting plenty of games of this in wasn’t too difficult.

Legendary is another firm favourite in our house: the fiddly nature of the set-up means it doesn’t get quite as much play as it might, but it still comfortably made it to five, and I have no doubt that it will be on the list on ten once we get there.

Game of Thrones LCG was initially supposed to be a summer release last year, but only reached non Gen-Con folk in October. It got played a lot in the first month, then faded as daily life got in the way, not making it out at all in November, and only twice in December. It’s been good to play this again in the New Year – we had our first tournament locally, and went on a mini-road trip to a nearby Store Championship an hour or so up the road.

On the whole, 5 of 5 feels like a good start. I did briefly wonder whether having got “half-way” already meant that the challenge was too easy to be worth bothering with, but on reflection, it feels like the jump to double the number of play-counts and double the number of games will get exponentially trickier.

ApocryhpaIn terms of upcoming releases for the remainder of the year, most things I’m actively looking forward to will fall under the umbrella of one of the five games above. That said, the Kickstarter for Apocrypha should be with us by the summer, and hopefully the Numenera card-game before year’s end, both of which I’d hope would have enough about them to make it to ten. That leaves at least 3 games which either need to rise from lower totals last year, or appear from an as-yet-unknown corner. I’ll keep you updated.

Unplayed

Of the 26 games on the unplayed list, 2 made it to the table in January. Lord of the Rings the Dice Game, and Shadows Over Camelot.

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the DiceLotR the dice game is a bit of a funny one. It’s a semi-cooperative game, that takes a lot of mechanics from Quarriors (so also a lot of similarities with Dice Masters). I commented a while ago on my Lord of the Rings blog about issues around the semi-coop nature, and it also suffers from the fact that the rulebook appears to have been written in the Black Speech, then run through Google translate.

We played this a couple of times: on each occasion, we went for the fully co-operative version. It’s certainly not a bad game, but overall the structure feels a little bit narrow: most of what happens is dictated by the dice, and the only real decision you have is whether to recruit a dice each turn, and what dice you can afford to be corrupted. The lack of an option to re-roll dice removes a lot of the decision-making compared with Dice Masters (the closest game that I’m familiar with), and if you are playing co-operatively, spending glory to avoid corruption is a bit of a no-brainer.

I’d still like to give this game another try with larger groups, and we’ll definitely keep hold of it, but I can’t see it breaking into our pile of very regular games.

Shadows Over Camelot

ShadowsShadows is a fairly light game from Days of Wonder, that plays well with large groups. Essentially, the players represent King Arthur and his Knights going on quests, and generally trying to stem the tide of evil – however, there may be traitors in the midst.

We got together for an evening to play through this with 6 of us, all of whom had played it several times before, albeit not for a year. Unfortunately, we forgot one of the key rules, which skewed the game, making it a lot easier (the games rules allow players to spend life points to take 2 actions instead of the standard 1 on their turn, but it must be a different action – we had repeated instances of people taking two the same, which allowed a much greater amount of quest-completion than would otherwise be the case.

The game seemed to go down well, and be fairly good fun for all concerned. Having drawn the “traitor” card, I had fairly little scope, as things were never sufficiently in the balance to give me an opportunity to influence things subtly. If we have another big get-together, this one way well return to the table, but where we have groups of four or fewer, there are other games I prefer.

Straight numbers suggest I’m already slightly behind the curve with this particular challenge: 2 per month would take me to 24 out of 26 games played by year-end. That said, some of the games unplayed from last year are a trickier proposition than others – Anything that can be played by 1 or 2 in less than an hour is likely to have its day in the sun. Anything requiring more time and/or people may have to fight to make it out of the cupboard.

Pandemic

As an aside, after all the discussion that has been stirred up by Pandemic Legacy in recent times, I decided to start keeping a particular eye on how often we play Pandemic – just to get a feel for where we are in comparison to the “limited” lifespan of the Legacy version. In January, this hit the table twice: once using standard rules (although with roles and special actions from the On The Brink expansion) and once using the Virulent Strain Epidemic cards.

Challenges

Overall, if I don’t manage to complete any of these challenges, there’s not a great deal that I’ve really lost out of it all. I certainly don’t want to force myself to play games I no longer have an interest in, just top justify not getting rid of them.

I’d be curious to know what sort of gaming challenges everyone else has set themselves for 2016. Is it about playing the things you already have more often, about a particular achievement in a specific game, trying as many new games as possible, or jsut having fun with what you’re already doing?