The Game is Dying!

The near-constant cry of the Lord of the Rings LCG player, the notion of game death has become an in-joke for fans of Arkham Horror, and a rallying cry for the followers of many, many modern board games, but what’s it all about? Does it make any sense? And do us normal folks need to be worried about it?

Monopolies
The internet assures me all of these are real…

At risk of this becoming one of those articles when I talk about the good old days when games were made of lead, and we couldn’t play them anyway because we were too busy dying of consumption down a coal mine, I want to start with a bit of a look back at the past.

 

Nobody buying a board game made by Hasbro or Waddingtons in the 1980s or 90s ever worried about the game “dying” – once you had your copy of Mousetrap, or Cluedo, it would make literally no impact on your life if the publisher’s factory burned down tomorrow, and nobody ever made that game or a related one again (for Monopoly, this may just be wishful thinking). A Board Game came in a box, everything you needed to play was in that box, and that was that.

 

Incomplete I

Nowadays, it seems that things are different. The idea that when you buy a board game that’s it, is no longer a certainty, in fact it can be the exception rather than the norm. Often a modern game is a starting point, a proof of concept, something that comes with an expectation of further content.

At the most extreme level comes the Core Box for an LCG – most of the time, this isn’t even enough to build a ‘legal’ deck, and will come with special starter rules.

Even when a game can be played “properly” out of the box, lots of games look for more. Deck-builders will always have far more richness when there is a greater card pool to build with, and any game that is scenario-based will always want more scenarios to play. Ultimately though, I think that there’s a point where the value drops away- and by implication the danger of the game “dying” diminishes. Let’s look at a couple of examples

ArkhamDeluxesWhen the Core Set of Arkham LCG was released, I bought it, and thought it was a pretty good product as a starting point. If expansions had never materialised though, I don’t know how much life this game would really have had in it – even leaving aside issues of expectation and communication, the core-box-only product was just a bit too limited.

We’ve now finished the first cycle, and the deluxe which starts the next cycle has just arrived (in today’s post. Hooray!).

I enjoy this game, and hope it continues past the second cycle, but I think that 15 investigators, 2 large campaigns, a mini campaign and a couple of standalone scenarios, along with the volume of player cards that we’ll have by the time Path to Carcosa is complete, would still be enough to keep playing the game for a fair few years if the flow of new product did suddenly stop.

LotRBoxes
Ok, when you stack it like this, it looks silly…

For Lord of the Rings LCG, 100+ Heroes and probably a similar number of scenarios in, a new expansion is much less likely to even register – it might only be 1 or 2 player cards that get used, and if the quest isn’t particularly compelling, it may well not get played again once I’ve successfully beaten it. I’m already thinking that I’ll stop buying after the end of the current cycle / final Saga box which should be out by the autumn, but I wonder whether it would be good for the game, not just for me, if they called it a day – like the Kings of Nuemnor before its waning, knowing when to lay down their lives in good health, rather than prolonging their decline.

 

Incomplete II

LegendaryCore
I played Core-only recently. It was an interesting change, but I still prefer all my extra Heroes

Of course, a game doesn’t need to come in a “Living” or collectible format to feel like it needs something more.

For example, Marvel Legendary can very easily be played using only that original box, but a lot of people find the lack of variety and the comparatively low level of difficulty something of a turn-off. In order to get that fully rounded, challenging, game experience that lots of people are looking for, it probably needs an expansion or two.

EldritchPlus
If you ask a lot of people, they’ll tell you that THIS is what the base game looks like.

To take another example, go onto Board Game Geek, and look at any one of the many, many threads about “Which expansion should I buy for Eldritch Horror?” – 99% of the time, you’ll see the same answer. “Get Forsaken Lore first: it rounds out all the core decks and introduces a few odds and ends that should have been in the core game.” Essentially, the consensus seems to be that Eldritch Horror is a game that appears in 2 boxes (Eldritch Horror and Forsaken Lore), then there are the expansions.

 

Impetus?

Risingtide
Heard about this a couple of days ago. Looks interesting. These days we mostly play Pandemic Iberia.

I’ve owned Pandemic for several years. I don’t remember how many exactly, but it was before I moved into my current house, so at least 4 ½. When we first got it, we played it a lot. Then it got put to one side for a while – it wasn’t until the hype surrounding Pandemic Legacy really kicked off that I was reminded of this game that had been sat gathering dust.

Sometimes a new release of content is the impetus a game needs to get back to the table – whether it reminds you of something you already have, or whether it refreshes something that was getting stale.

Firefly
Would I play this more if we owned expansions? I don’t think so, but it’s hard to be sure.

That said, there are dangers – I know that there are games where I’ve been tempted by expansions, but have ultimately held off, simply because I know that the base game has never really been played enough to justify spending more money on it.

What happens to games when there isn’t that relentless pressure to buy more content, that constant string of reminders from the hype machine? Well, to be honest – nothing too terrible. Either you don’t play it, and it sits there, or you do play it, in which case the expansion probably wasn’t crucial. Expansions are good for the game company, because they can sell you more things, but it will vary a lot as to whether they are good for you, the players.

Stale Meta?

Tsarina
Of course, you can also fix a stale meta by removing cards.

In highly competitive games, like the Game of Thrones LCG, you’ll often hear a lot of references to a “meta” – essentially, the general environment of what everyone else is playing. As time passes, people will work out certain tactics and synergies that are highly effective, then more cards will come out that open up a new strategy, and things shift.

In this kind of environment, it seems to be excepted that the last thing you want is a “stale meta” – where everyone knows all the cards, all the combinations have been tried, and there are certain top decks, against which any other strategy is more of less pointless.

Chess
Apparently I still own a chess set! Those don’t look much like Bishops to me, but they certainly aren’t Elephants.

As I say, this is primarily an issue for highly competitive games that have an established history of an evolving card-pool (it need not be cards: insert “dice,” “units,” etc as you prefer). In these environments, the expectations are that the top players will be the ones who can most quickly crack a new release.

Other games, like Chess are still head-to-head and competitive, but haven’t had a new unit since an Englishman asked “what’s an elephant?” and someone decided to replace it with a Bishop – expectation is everything.

 

Availability?

DescentA few months back, I picked up a copy of Descent 2nd edition. I was inspired by the positive experiences we’d had with Mansions of Madness, and wanted to see whether Fantasy Flight’s app-driven games were as good when applied to a Fantasy Dungeon Crawler as a Lovecraftian mystery.

Descent is a good game, after a few plays, you can see why it is so highly ranked on BGG. There are definitely some issues – for me the biggest problem was the level of disconnect between the printed rules (which assume “1 vs many” play) and the app-driven experience – and I need to re-read some of the finer points of the rules, but overall, I enjoy it.

Descent has gone a bit quiet recently, with Massive Darkness getting the “new and shiny” vote for our table-top dungeon-crawling needs. I’m still expecting to give it some serious table-time later in the year though, and at some point, I’d imagine I’ll get an expansion or 2. An expansion will give me more variety of monsters, more heroes and classes to choose from and, if I go for the Shadows of Nerekhall box (my current plan), a whole new campaign enabled in the app.

Nerekhall
fans figure that more people are buying Nerekhall than other big-box expansions, as it adds an additional campaign, and by extension they argue, FFG should make campaigns for the other boxes to encourage sales of them too…

At the moment, most of the big box expansions like Nerekhall seem to be fairly readily available and although a lot of the little Lieutenant packs can be hard to come by, the boxes that add major gameplay changes tend to cycle back in to print relatively often.

That said, it’s been nearly a year since a physical new release for Descent – does that mean FFG are done with it? This is a question which gets asked a lot, and generates a fair amount of heat as people disagree about what can or cannot be known.

Personally, I don’t get the sense that Descent is done with, but if I did, would that change things?

From one perspective, I might be rushing out to get Nerekhall, just in case it disappeared, rather than simply waiting? – once again it’s that sense of what makes a “complete” or incomplete game. On the other hand, I might decide that D2E (as I understand the kids are calling it these days) was fine as a self-contained product that only got fairly limited play, and concentrate my efforts elsewhere (especially if there was a 3rd Edition coming that had full co-op from the word go…)

 

Organised Play?

I do most of my gaming at home, either with my wife, occasionally solo, or with a few friends.

RuneSpears
That’s a lot more Spearmen than I own

Some games though, just don’t hit the table at home. There are generally 1 or 2 on the go at a time, and currently it’s Runewars Miniatures – 2-player competitive games that my wife just isn’t interested in (in the past Game of Thrones LCG, Star Wars Destiny, and various table-top wargames have all fallen into this category).

For these games, I need to venture out to the FLGS, or some other type of club, and that’s when the question of whether a game is alive or not becomes a big issue.

I’ve been enjoying the Runewars games I’ve played recently, and having Fantasy Flight put out regular Organised Play kits helps push a monthly event on a Saturday where I know other people will turn up to play, and I’ll actually get some use out of those figures I’ve been spending my money on.

If Runewars “dies” – i.e. FFG stop supporting it, or putting out new content, I could potentially end up with a lot of boxes of skeletons, and not a lot to do with them, particularly if the other players move on to something newer and shinier. Right now, Runewars is getting a lot of love and attention from FFG, so I’d hope that I’m safe for a year or so, but past experience has definitely taught me the dangers of investing heavily in something that might be unplayable by the time I get it assembled and painted. The boxes and boxes of Dice Masters which sit forlornly in the corner waiting for my son to be old enough to play dice games are a harsh reminder of that.

 

Final Thoughts

When all is said and done, I think it’s fair to say that there is a lot more concern and hype about games “dying” than there really needs to be. Provided a game isn’t played in a legacy format (actually damaging/changing elements as you go along), the chances are that you’ll be able to keep playing with the content you already have for a long while after the manufacturers have stopped churning out extras.

If organised play is important for you, then you do need to keep an eye on what’s happening, simply to avoid running out of opponents – still, this is generally going to be a bigger deal in the world of more competitive gaming, which already has a slightly different level of financial engagement than just buying something to play at home.

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Old and New: Where the money goes

 

A new month, a new question to ask myself, and a new spreadsheet (did I mention that I’m a geek?)

BigZ LittleZI’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 Old

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.

NewNotNew
That’s a pretty big boost for games which haven’t had anything new bought for 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.

BathNed
No babies were harmed during the making of this article, although one got slightly cleaner

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).

The New

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.

Cheap
Even with that box damage on Robinson Crusoe, it’s a good haul for less than £12!

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.

RunewarsExpansionsOf 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.

NewHitsIt’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.

Kickstarter

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.

AeonsBox
The new version comes with the promise of a more sensible box where the boards don’t have to balance on top…

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.

Looking Forward

MassiveRight 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.

Efficient Spending?

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.

Final Thoughts

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’s Games

I quite enjoyed July from a games perspective.

NedOfTheRings
Ned still struggling with the idea of being allowed 2 copies of the same non-unique character in play at once…

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.

Money

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.

Keeping Track

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.

Play

LateJuneReviewsIn 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.

RobinsonHowever, 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.

Even Newer?

NewNewIn 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.

Runebound
This works well as PvE, but I’m looking forward to fully co-op

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.

Numbers

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?

KarubaNed
Someone seems a bit unhappy about losing at Karuba…

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.

AvalonI 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.

 

Moving on

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.