This is Hardcore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, the final list looks like this:

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

 

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

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

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Just 17

A final look back at just the stuff which happened last year

 

Despite everything else that went on, 2017 was a good year for gaming. Over 750 sessions totalling almost 700 hours (should have played that final NYE game of Zombie Dice to tip me over the mark…).

That’s actually more hours than last year, although fewer games (and A LOT less TV to free up the time) In terms of what we had to play, there was a big stack of new games, plenty of new bits for existing games, and it was all done for only a 2-figure sum (net).

 

A – Z

A-Z Arkham Horror, new just before the end of last year, really came into its own in 2017, with the first full cycle released in its entirety, and the beginning of the next following after. It was easily the most-played game by number of sessions, clocking up over 60 outings.

In terms of time spent on a game, Zombicide retained its crown: although not quite as emphatic as last year, it hit the 100-hour mark, with Arkham in second barely clearing 50. A worthy winner overall.

Wide

2017 was a broader year than 2016, and a MUCH broader year than 2015. The top 10 games accounted for only 57% of overall gaming time, down from 66% last year, and 88% the year before (in fact, in 2015, the top 4 alone made up 79% of time). Whilst there was less of an intense focus on the top games, it did mean that for every position after 7th, I had more hours on the nth game than its counterparts from either of the previous years.

CanvasAt the final reckoning, I had an H-Index of 14 (that’s 14 games played 14 times) – Arkham LCG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Zombicide, Legendary, Aeon’s End, Elder Sign, Massive Darkness, Dominion, Pathfinder, Dice Masters, Eldritch Horror, Dungeon Time, Beyond Baker Street and Legend of the Five Rings. A further 9 managed at least 10 plays: Runewars, Mansions of Madness, Battle for Greyport, Runebound, Star Wars Destiny, The Dwarves, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Pandemic Iberia, and Apocrypha.

Of those games, Destiny has now moved on, and Dice Masters has gone into hibernation, with the death locally of organised play, to the point where I have no intention of buying into new sets, (a decision which in turn more-or-less removes any point to attending the Open events which crop up once a year). This is basically in storage until Ned is old enough to join in. Most of the remaining 21 I’d be confident of getting a fair amount of play next year.

 

My all-time H-Index is up at 19 – Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary, Zombicide, Arkham LCG, Game of Thrones LCG, Dominion, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness, Mapominoes, Aeon’s End, Beyond Baker Street, Machi Koro, Massive Darkness, Zombie Dice, Yggdrasil, Eldritch Horror, Dobble. Again, “all-time” is reduced to “Christmas 2014 onwards” as that’s when I started keeping records. Probably if I stretched it back a few years more it would go 2 or 3 higher, but I’m fairly happy with this as a reference point.

 

Show me the Money

Shortfallers
I didn’t actually spend anything on Apocrypha in 2017, but it was the year it arrived, and hasn’t balanced out its 2015 purchase-price

I actually spent around £100 more on games this year than last: However, the fact that I more than doubled the amount I made in games sold smoothed over this bump fairly comfortably. I could probably have forced the final balance even lower than the £96.35 it ended up at, by using GQ store credit for more Legend of the Five Rings packs, but as this is a game I’ll be playing exclusively at the FLGS (and haven’t yet had to pay anything to play there), I felt somewhat obliged to at least be buying the packs from them.

Although 2017 was good overall from a financial perspective, there were a few individual offenders. Gloomhaven, Shadows of Brimstone, and Apocrypha were all one-off big-hitters that are still some way short of the hours needed to justify the expense. Pandemic Legacy Season 1 ended up as a Christmas present, leaving me only 6 days to try to make up the deficit: I don’t think it was a bad attempt, but inevitably it took a little longer (less than a week in to January, I’m nearly there).  Legend of the Five Rings hit me hard in the wallet with a content-dump early on, and whilst it was played intensively enough to break even, I‘m hoping that this will start to look like better value during the upcoming lull in the release schedule.

OldShortsThere are also still 3 games from previous years that show a deficit: Commands and Colours, Race for the Galaxy and Dixit: Dixit is incredibly close to catching up, and Race is not too far behind. Commands and Colours still has a way to go, and will probably need to wait until Ned is old enough to play to truly catch up.

Looking only at games with an individual historic shortfall, the grand total is £50 or so better than it was at the start of the year, but it’s a long way back up from September, where I was close to breaking even. The numbers are a bit funny right now, with Shadows of Brimstone and Gloomhaven double-counting, all-time, and all-time by player count – on the flip side, this does mean that each game improves the overall numbers by £15-30 for a single 2-player game!

 

Most Improved

ArkhamStorage
Custom storage is generally a pretty good sign of a game that’s made its mark

As I mentioned during the numbers run-down, Arkham Horror was a really big hit last year. I already knew that it was a game that had a lot of potential from when it released in 2016, and I’m pleased to say that it has delivered. The character development, deck-building, scenario design and campaign progression have all hit the right notes. I’m a little way behind on the game at moment, but that’s a price worth paying for getting a lot of the new content from GQ – I look forward to seeing what 2018 has in store.

Eld-GamesHonourable mentions go to Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign – Eldritch arrived in a maths trade November 2016. We’ve gone a long-way in on expansions, and been rewarded with our 3rd most-played game of the year by time. Elder Sign has undergone a strong renaissance since going un-played in 2015, whilst, and the only game to keep up a serious challenge for the accolade of “played in every single month” before falling at the penultimate hurdle. In the end, Zombicide and Elder Sign were the games played in the most months (11/12 each), with Arkham just behind on 10.

A few games which I acquired part-way through the year were played in every month I had them – for the most recent acquisitions, that’s nothing much to shout about, but the longest streaks chalked up in this way were 5 months out of 5 for Massive Darkness, and 4/4 for Codenames Duet.

Notable Achievers for Most Months Played:

Zombicide                        11/12
Elder Sign                         11/12
Arkham                             10/12
LotR LCG                            9/12
Eldritch                              9/12
Legendary                         8/12
Aeon’s End                         8/11
Dungeon Time                   8/10
Mansions of Madness      8/12
Massive Darkness             5/5
Codenames Duet               4/4

 

Best Newcomer

In terms of games that were actually new in 2017, there was plenty to choose from: Aeon’s End, Massive Darkness, and Legend of the Five Rings were the big-hitters from among the 2017 releases, although there were plenty of other fun new arrivals – Runewars gave me some more to paint as well as getting me out of the house to game, Dungeon Time, Battle for Greyport, Codenames Duet, and Gloom of Kilforth all showed a decent amount of staying power, whilst Gloomhaven and Dragonfire were interesting late arrivals, albeit games that were with us too briefly to compete for the top accolades. I decided that “Newcomer” did need to be an actual 2017 release, which knocked out Runebound, Descent, Shadows of Brimstone and a few others.

MassFigsMassive Darkness is lots of fun, and has loads of nice miniatures to paint (I’m working through them slowly): I think it’s a testament to the amount of fun in this game that, even with the deluge of figures that comes with a Kickstarter, I ended up asking Santa for more (I opted for the Ratlings as they seemed to offer the most variety game-play wise, although that Hellephant is still calling to me…).

NewScorpionsL5R is a very different beast, one which scratches that competitive itch now that Dice Masters and Destiny have gone. Sadly I lack some combination of the natural ability, concentration and free time for practice and play-testing to get really good at the game, but I’m still enjoying it whilst it lasts. It’s nice to feel a growing sense of comprehension, of what’s going on, and how to control the situation, and I think I’ve definitely improved a lot, even whilst I continue to make lots of stupid mistakes.

MagesAeon’s End isn’t quite as much of a brain-burner as L5R, but it’s a bit more cerebral than Massive Darkness, as well as feeling like a more refined, balanced game. Set-up can be somewhat time-consuming, but it’s still a good one to play, with stats to match. There’s a “Legacy” version coming in 2018, which I can’t make my mind up about – brilliant addition or shameless cash-in. I’ll follow the campaign with a moderate amount of interest and see.

Overall, it’s hard to pick a winner between Massive Darkness, Aeon’s End and Legend of the Five Rings, as they’re all such different games, and were all so strong in the latter half of 2017: 16% of sessions, and 22% of hours since the beginning of August.

Theme

RuneboundOverall, the year was dominated by Fantasy, around 40% both in terms of hours and sessions. Within Fantasy, a good quarter of the action took place in Terrinoth, with notable chunks in Middle Earth and Gravehold (Aeon’s End). I finally tired of the biggest group always being “generic” and you can read about the changes I made here.

In terms of what we did this past year, we were mostly completing quests, solving mysteries, or saving the world, although there was a fair amount of just surviving.

 

Looking forward

17Hangovers I’m not entirely sure what 2018 has in store – there’s likely to be a lot of Pandemic in various shapes and forms, with Legacy 1, Legacy 2 and Rising Tide which were all sitting unopened on Christmas Day 2017, but have clocked up double-figures of play by the first weekend in January. Zombicide Green Horde looks set to be the 2018 new arrival that has the biggest impact, with the base game due fairly early in the year, and a stack of expansion/KSE content coming in the summer. 2018 will also be arrival time for Legends Untold, expansions for Apocrypha, the fabled 9th World, and the expansion to Gloom of Kilforth. Aside from the new arrivals, there are also games where we’ve barely scratched the surface – Gloomhaven in particular has a lot left to unpack, and I’m still trying to make my mind up about Dragonfire.

Some games which made a significant impact in 2017 will probably be a fair bit quieter in 2018: there have been recent mutterings of Dice Masters drafts starting up again (including one over the Christmas break when we were away visiting family), but otherwise I could see this spending the year in complete hibernation. Pathfinder likewise feels a bit dated, and may well struggle to see much table-time.

Firefly
2 plays in 3 years, things aren’t looking good…

This year, I think the amount of money made from sales will drop significantly again. Although I did make a fair amount last year from selling on review games that I didn’t think were going to be long-term hits, a large chunk (probably the majority) still came from clearing out old games that weren’t getting played any more – the more time goes on, the leaner the game collection gets in terms of un-playable games. Common sense says I’ll need to rein in my spending a fair way in order to keep things looking healthy, but if I compare my collection to where I was 2 years ago, it’s a lot easier to see extensive possibilities for things I’d want to play without forking out too much on new stuff.

The only real certainty is that 2018 should be another year with plenty of gaming and a fair-amount of number-crunching. I hope you’ll keep coming back to read my assorted musings on everything that goes on.

 

Some Generic Thoughts on Fantasy

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.

 

The DwarvesIn 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.

 

Generic FantasySome 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.

Greyport- Red Dragon
If you look closely there might be one or two clues that this is linked to Red Dragon Inn

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

DominionPolish
I’m sure everyone’s seen the standard Dominion art a thousand times, so I found this nice image of the Polish edition

Dominion gives 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

“Planet Bob.”

I guess I shouldn’t really have been surprised by the Dominion query – every internet forum eventually turns into another Dominion storage solution discussion…

 

Final Picture

Fantasy CategoriesDoing 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.

World Enough and Time

What gets played

In 2015, I played a grand total of 58 games, 30 of which I actually owned, the rest belonging to friends, or being the odd session at a local gaming meet-up (none of them played more than 3 times). 28 of my own games were un-played.

In 2016, I played 90 different games, 73 of which I owned (at least at some point during the year). Only 2 of my own games were un-played by the time the year reached its end.

Legacy2
Season 2 – probably best played after Season 1

In 2017, so far, I’ve played 90 games. By this time, things seem to be getting very tight, with 81 being games I’d owned, at least at some point. Currently 9 games I own are un-played. (although 1 of those is stuck in a chronological queue, and another only arrived this morning).

What arrives

In 2015, I owned 58 games. I think only 2 of those were new acquisitions (Machi Koro enjoyed medium-term, moderate popularity, and Marvel Legendary was a smash hit which continues to enjoy success).

In 2016, I acquired 31 new games. I think six of them I bought/traded for – Arkham LCG, Zombie Dice, Legendary Firefly, Eldritch Horror, Super Dungeon Explore, Side Quest (A couple of hits, a miss or two, and the rest somewhere in middle). The vast majority of games were free, review copies (although I then spent a fair whack on expansions).

2017 Buys In 2017, I have so far acquired 31 new games. 4 Bought (Rune Age, Runebound, Shadows of Brimstone, Legend of the 5 Rings), 2 traded for Review games (Descent, Robinson Crusoe), 3 Kickstarters (Massive Darkness, Apocrypha, Gloomhaven), and the remaining 22 all reviews (depending on perspective, you could probably move L5R more from ‘bought’ to ‘review’ as GQ sent me 1 core set, and I bought another myself). I’m expecting one more game from Santa.

What goes away

I don’t think that I sold any games in 2015. In 2016, I sold 18. This year, I have sold 25, plus some excess bits of a few others.

 

Consequences

All of this leads to a number of different things.

SplitShelfie
I now have to turn through 180 degrees to take a Shelfie

For one thing, by my count, I now own about 69 games. That’s slightly less than at the peak of last year, but very little of what remains are games that don’t see at least some interest in being played. If I round it to a very conservative pool of 65 “play-worthy” games, that’s a long way up on 2015, where it was more like 40. [40 is a slightly arbitrary number based on 1) “games I owned and played” + 2) “games I owned, didn’t play, still own, and have played in the meantime.”]

On average, I’d guess that a lot of the games that get played now are also longer than in 2015. That’s quite hard to confirm/quantify, as I didn’t keep time-based data that far back, but there are definitely indicators. I can say for certainty that 75% of 2015 sessions were on 3 games with half-hour play-times, and the next 10% of sessions were on games that have a 45-minute play-time.

Compare that to this year where around 11% of sessions have been on games with 2+ hour play-times, and another 22% on games with 1 hour or 1-and-a-half hour times, then it starts to look fairly clear.

 

So: More games. Longer games. More of the games I have are games I want to play. That all sounds good, right? Plenty to keep me occupied.

Well, sort of.

Nederoo
I was sure I had a more recent picture of him in this thing…

As I may have mentioned once or twice, we also had a baby earlier this year. Ned likes to play. His favourite game is “insert whatever I can reach into my mouth,” but he’s also happy to play a bit of “Bash this thing I’m holding on the high-chair” or “Kick and flail wildly.” He finds Peepo hilarious, but I’m not sure how well he understands the rules.

Ned’s feelings on other people playing games are mixed. Sometimes he’s quite happy playing on the floor with his toys, or in the baby abandonment console jumperoo. Sometimes he’s asleep, or out. Sometimes I’m out gaming at the FLGS and he’s at home.

NederooChristmas
update 23/12 – that’s better. He’s even looking at the camera for this one…

Sometimes though, he wants feeding, or entertaining. Sometimes, he just needs cuddling because he woke up alone in his cot, and had an existential crisis that he might be the only human being left alive. Either that, or he’d just done a massive poo. Sometimes he’s ill, and nobody gets any sleep for days at a time.

Either way, there’s a whole new set of things we have to do with the waking hours (and the “sleeping” hours), and ultimately that means less time for gaming.

A couple of months back (it was “last week” when I started writing this article, which tells its own story…) we started a game on a Saturday. At 9.15 on Sunday evening we finished it. The game probably only took 2 hours all-told, but finding 2 hours uninterrupted is not something that can be guaranteed these days.

 

Reviewer It’s certainly not in my plan to stop doing review work (reviews being my principal source of new games). It’s interesting to keep on top of the newest releases, and this is a remarkably cost-effective way of doing so. Sometimes it’s a money-saver for games I would have got anyway, but more often it’s trying something that I otherwise wouldn’t. That said, the hour or two of writing time, and – more to the point, the hour or two of photographing and formatting is a bigger chunk of life than it used to be. I need to think carefully about what I ask for, take slightly fewer ‘risks’ with unknown games than before (and accept that no more how rich the narrative or beautiful the art, my wife won’t enjoy a worker-placement game).

 

Thinking Big

The other thing about having ever-more constricted time – whether that because there are fewer hours to game in, or simply because there are more games competing for that time – is that it makes taking on a new gaming project something that needs more consideration.

Big5 2017 Zombicide, Arkham Horror LCG, Eldritch Horror, Massive Darkness, Legendary – 2017’s 5 most-played games by time. 3 of them were new last year, 1 new this year.

In order to play those, other things have got pushed aside, but even then, the space is compressed.

If I spent £100 on a big game a couple of years ago, it wouldn’t have been too tricky to find time to get it to the table – 76% of this year’s play-time was on games that I’ve acquired in the past 2 years. If I look at Shadows of Brimstone, my most recent purchase, the 6 hours of table-time it’s clocked up so far, would have been enough for a top-ten place in 2015’s “most played games” – for 2017, it’s hovering just outside the top 25. Nowadays, a game doesn’t just need to be good, it needs to be good enough that I’d want (at least sometimes) to play it rather than a stack of other top titles. That has a couple of implications – for one thing, it’s harder to get a new game up to the required number of hours, and if it does, it likely comes at the expense of another game.

Now, obviously, one approach would be to stop spending money on new games altogether. Just play the things I have, and the things I get given. My Old vs New spreadsheet tells me that money spent on expanding old games tends to be far more efficient in £/hour than money spent on new games.

I’m not going to do that. I’m far too much of a magpie to just let shiny things pass me by. I also don’t think that 4 or 5 new games purchased a year is particularly excessive. That said, it definitely has to give me pause, when I think about doing something really stupid, like spending $350 on a Kickstarter…

 

Overspend

One of the metrics I’ve been looking at more recently, is “overspend” – essentially looking at what % of spending a game accounts for, and what % of game-time. Where the spend % exceeds the game-time %, that’s an “overspend.” As with most things I do with game-stats, I’ve broken it down into the current year and “all-records” (i.e. since Christmas 2014).

AllZombicide
Actually, the big spend is the Green Horde Kickstarter

Overspend is not without its issues as a metric: a lot of games don’t get anything spent on them at all – anything that’s a review and I haven’t bought expansions for, or anything bought more than 3 years ago. If 30% of gaming is on games with no spend, then that’s 30% of overspend to be spread amongst the games that do cost something. As such, my first calculations came out as a bit of a mess: Zombicide (2016 and 2017’s most-played game by hours) ended up 7% in the red! Any metric which makes Zombicide look like poor value clearly needs tweaking.

I decided instead to create sub-sheets, looking at time spent playing only games that have had money spent on them. When I exclude games with no spend, I’m left with a zero-sum set of over-spend values, and numbers which look like they make a lot more sense.

GloomNedFor 2017 only, Gloomhaven and Shadows of Brimstone are the big losers, just behind Legend of the 5 Rings. Runewars and (perhaps surprisingly) Lord of the Rings LCG are also 2-3% in the red. Best value were Eldritch Horror (which combined low-cost and high hours), Zombicide (lots of money, but even more hours), and Descent (about as cheap as you can get without being free).

DiceMastersSkulking
skulking in shame

Moving to “all-time” the numbers have slightly more guesswork involved, but I think the overall shape is about right – Dice Masters is the stand-out culprit, at a shocking 6% overspend, the Gloomhaven at 2.61% and everything else under 2. At the other end, Eldritch and Pathfinder look reasonably healthy, but Zombicide is the runaway winner, 6.25% more play time than spend.

Pathfinder Remembering
Remembering the Glory Days

This was a slightly unusual set of numbers to crunch, and there were 1 or 2 surprises – with Pathfinder so out-of-favour at the moment, it’s odd to think of it as 2nd-best value overall during the last 3 years, but when I look at how it dominated our dining table in 2015, it makes sense. With this being a zero-sum calculation, games that look bad now can only improve at the expense of others, and it will be interesting to see how this ebbs and flows, particularly in terms of games that have now moved on, and will gradually account for a smaller-and-smaller share of both the time and the spend.

 

Closing Thoughts

Again, this is a reflection piece that hasn’t necessarily gone anywhere. We live in a golden age of board-gaming, and sometimes that means being spoiled for choice: in the absence of common-sense and restraint, an excess of spread-sheets and blog articles looks like a decent way of keeping the game collection in check. I’m sure that my game collection and gaming habits will continue to evolve, as free time ebbs and flows, and Ned eventually reaches an age where he can join in. Hopefully all of this will lead to enough interesting things to keep saying about games to keep this blog ticking over.

 

Kicks Revalued

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).

Spent

GreenHorde
This is the big one…

“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.

Retail

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.

Apocrypholder
I don’t remember why I ordered the binder. The sheets are useful, but they tend to get stored in the game box

Apocrypha looks less impressive – You can see my Kickstarter review for the details, but basically it looks like I’ll be very slightly up by the time all is said and done, but not much.

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.

 

Exclusivity

Although I’ve looked at the Financial Value of the retail pledge, there’s also the question of exclusives.

Lightbringer 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.

 

Play

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.

1Man Much Loot 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.

MassiveGloom
“Massive” is a relative term…

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.

9thI 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?

AeonsThere 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.

 

Numbers?

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.

 

Regrets?

Of course, one thing that you can never really calculate is the value of making a decision so far ahead of release.

2015
I backed Apocrypha way back in 2015…

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?

Hellephant
Hellephant!

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).

 

Closing Thoughts

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.

Massive Equipment

 

I recently published an article summarising my thoughts on CMON’s new Dungeon Crawler, Massive Darkness. It ended up being a LONG article, and there were still a fair few things I didn’t get the chance to go into properly, so I’ve decided to pull out a few chunks, and give them a more detailed look at in their own right. This is the first of those articles, and it’s concerned with the issue of Loot.

Starting Equipment At the start of a game of Massive Darkness, each hero gets a starter weapon (which won’t be very good), and some starter armour (similarly poor quality). Luckily, there are plenty of ways for you to find new pieces of gear for your heroes:

  • Every time you open the door to a new room, you will spawn some loot chests.
  • Every time a “Guardian” (any monster except a minion) spawns, it comes with a piece of equipment
  • At the end of every round, an event happens, and a few of these will spawn more loot chests.

Ongoing access to loot in the game is necessary. At any given point in time in Massive Darkness, the game will be at a particular “level” somewhere between 1 and 5. Barring other factors, you will start on tile 1, drawing level 1 loot, and fighting level 1 monsters. When you advance to tile 2, the game’s level will increase, so you’d better find some level 2 weapons to keep the fight on an even footing.

How much loot?

TreasureChestsThere is A LOT of loot: When you open a door, you reveal a door card which will determine the number of enemies and the amount of loot present – typically, each room-space will have 2 or 3 chests of loot (at the level of the current tile), or a single chest of the next level up. Most tiles probably have about 2 sets of 2 or 3 rooms – maybe 12 items per tile.

One of the issues that people have pointed out with loot, is that it doesn’t scale with the player-count. So, if you have the maximum of six heroes, you’re probably only getting 1 or 2 new things per tile, and it’ll probably take a fair bit of horse-trading just to get something vaguely suitable for your character. By contrast, a solo hero will get all of that gear to themselves, allowing them to pick exactly what they want to equip.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with lots of loot: it’s cool to have lots of stuff. Various people have drawn parallels with Diablo, the computer game which lets you smash your way through a multitude of monsters and rewards you with a cornucopia of goodies for doing so. The last thing I’d want to happen with Massive Darkness would be for it to somehow get turned into a Mage Knight-style grind, where getting a single weapon upgrade takes 45 minutes.

 

What do I need?

NoMagic Bow
That bow might look good, but it’s not going to help the Wizard trigger any abilities

It’s also worth pointing out that a new loot card, however powerful it might be, won’t necessarily be any good for your character.

Most characters – or at least their chosen class – will lean towards Melee, Magic or Ranged for combat, and will need to equip a matching weapon to benefit from many of their skills. You can give the battle Wizard a longbow, but none of his “Magic:…” skills will activate.

Magic Staff
Even with the reduced dice, the Staff might be a better option

I think that the need for a specific type of weapon goes some way towards ironing out the scaling issues – with 6 heroes, there’s a pretty good chance that at least one character will want whichever item has just been found, whereas a primarily Ranged/Magic party of 2 Heroes (the campaign my wife and I are playing) won’t want 90% of the melee weapons they pick up, meaning that the “excess” isn’t quite as big as it might seem.

WoundOrHeal
To wound or to heal?

It’s also worth pointing out that when you do have multiple weapons that suit you, it’s still not always an easy decision which to take: 1 sword has better attack dice, but another gives a defence boost. One deals wounds (i.e. unblockable damage) on special symbols, whilst another heals the wielder with the same symbols. Sometimes you’ll be able to make a decision and stick with it, based on the party composition (I’m the tank, I’ll take the defensive boosts, and not care about my low damage output because others are taking care of that), but sometimes you’ll need to switch between the healing weapon and the wounding weapon in the face of an enemy that’s turned up rolling 5 defence dice. Whilst you can keep hold of as much stuff as you like, your character only has 2 hand-slots, meaning a maximum of 2 weapons equipped at a time (often just the 1 in practice as many of the good weapons are 2-handed), and it takes a full action to swap out one weapon for another in your bag.

 

Not all weapons are created equal

BetterBow
There might be times when you’d want it, but it’s hard to say that the level 3 is objectively better

It’s also worth noting that even if you ignore the divisions into Melee/Ranged/Magic weapons, some are simply better than others: a Sword which offers 1 Yellow Dice is not as good as a sword which offers 1 Red (assuming they have no additional benefits, and both use a single hand-slot). The overall trend as you move up the levels will be towards increased power, but a strong Level 1 weapon can (at least situationally) be the equal or even the better of a weak Level 2 weapon. This helps retain a bit of interest in searching for loot, as there is no guarantee of getting something much better than you currently have equipped, and with this chance to ‘fail’ to upgrade, it’s important to have repeat opportunities, in order to avoid a negative experience.

 

Where it Goes – Transmutation

Transmute In low player-count games, even with 2 or 3 weapons you want to keep on hand for emergencies, there’s still going to be some stuff nobody wants, and with no backpack limit [cf Zombicide Black Plague where each survivor is limited to 2x Hand-slot, 1x Body-Slot and 5x Backpack space], you can keep hold of it all. More fun though, is to transmute it!

When you transmute you discard 3 items to draw a new item. The new item comes from the deck with a number 1 higher than the lowest level item you discarded. Assuming you can discard 3 of the same level (generally your current level), that means you can get an item that’s a level ahead of where you and the monsters currently are.

Transmuting is a fun idea, and I think it’s a strength of the game that it’s included. However, the execution is a bit wonky.

As I mentioned above, normally it takes one of your 3 actions this turn to re-organise your inventory (i.e. put away the sword and replace it with the longbow) or to trade equipment with another hero in your space. Transmuting however not only doesn’t cost an action, but it also gives you a free reorganising action!

It’s not the only time you’ll come across this in Massive Darkness, but the idea of adding a bonus to something that’s already really good just feels slightly out-of-whack to me. I think it’s understandable why Transmuting is at the top of a lot of House-Rulers’ hit lists.

Fixes

As I’ve talked about elsewhere, I think that people have been getting very carried away with trying to change too much too quickly in this game, and I certainly can’t claim to have any properly tested house rules. However, I do want to at least touch on the issues around loot

Fix 1: Too Much Loot

1Man Much Loot
Lots of loot for Owen!

There are a lot of suggestions out there around the various different things that people think should be done with loot. Some people suggest reducing the amount of loot spawned, based on player-counts, whilst others think you should draw the required number but then be forced to choose one/some, and discard the rest.

If you want to get really far into it, there are even some fairly involved schemes out there where the chests count as “points” towards getting things, but you need points equal to the current level to get an item – so 3 chests on tile 1 gets you 3 things. 3 Chests on tile 3 gets you 1 thing, and 3 chests on tile 5 leave you still needing to find something else in order to actually get a weapon.

AllPeopleLoot
Doesn’t look quite so impressive now he has to share

Personally I don’t see much appeal to most of these suggestions – I’d certainly be quiet happy to see CMON produce a more involved, more appropriately scaled set of door cards for a future iteration of the game, but beyond that, I don’t want to bring in a level of fiddly bookkeeping where I have to keep swapping things around.

As I’ve already mentioned, a lot of people are drawing the parallels between Massive Darkness and Diablo, and I think that having bucketloads of loot is a good thing. If I really wanted to cut down the piles and piles of cards we were dealing with, then I think I’d just impose a Zombicide-style Backpack limit: Characters may carry a maximum of 5 non-equipped cards at any time, rather than getting too much more complicated (Story mode already does this to an extent, but that’s another story…)

Fix 2: Transmuting

Tweaking Transmute does seem like one of the most obvious places in this game to add a house-rule. Any situation where an activity costs you an action by itself but can be done for free whilst doing something else that doesn’t cost an action is clearly a bit skewed.

3Not4
Sorry, we’ve decided you can’t use that equipment until you reach the next tile…

I think that something as straightforward as “Transmuting costs an action (after transmuting, you may reorganise your inventory for free)” would probably quell the worst abuses without making the game too complex, or requiring additional book-keeping. Equally, for those who want to be more hard-core, adding a limit once per turn, or a limit to the level to which things can be Transmuted (“players cannot transmute above the scenario’s current level” / “Heroes cannot equip items above the scenario’s current level” could be workable. However, with each additional step you’re introducing more complexity into the game, which is potentially a drawback, along with creating a greater workload in terms of play-testing.

 

Final Thoughts

As I say, lots of people have identified the tides of loot with which Massive Darkness is awash as a real point of failure for the game. I certainly don’t see it that way. This game is light and fun, and the gear you have fits that theme. It’s not supposed to be a grind like Mage Knight where you spend 3 hours trying to get enough together for a sword.

I’ve mentioned a few things that could be done, for personal preference, simply because I thought it might be interesting to do so, but I don’t think that any of them are “needed.” Aside from the Transmute adjustment, I highly doubt I’ll try (m)any of them out.

Concerning Houserules

Or

“If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it”

A few thoughts of changing games, and how not to do it.

Playtesters As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, a while back, I was involved in some playtesting for a fairly well-known card game. (I won’t say which one, but if you own the most recent set, you can probably find my name in the back of the rulebook…)

Whilst I never had to sign an NDA or anything like that, there was certainly an understanding that ideas that don’t make it past the play-test don’t get aired outside of the play-test (certainly not in a “I liked the previous version which did X” way), and I wouldn’t want to break the spirit of that. However, at the very start of playtesting, we were introduced to the lead designer’s “Golden Rule of Playtesting,” which is something that’s been coming back to me a lot over recent weeks and months, and which I think I probably can get away with sharing:

“Don’t tell us what you think will happen. Tell us what happened.

There was a bit more detail, but the basic gist was that an opinion is only really of use to a designer if it’s an informed opinion: “I think it would be cool to do X” is nowhere near as meaningful as “I did X, and it was cool.” “Why don’t you change it to this?” is a lot less effort than “I changed it to this, and Y happened” but it doesn’t really tell anybody anything beyond what concepts you find cool.

My playtesting involvement in that game has been limited for a while (various reasons, but the Baby definitely plays a role…), but the quote stuck with me.

 

Personal Testing

Playtest NotesThere are a couple of reasons why this has been on my mind so much in recent times – one is a playtesting project of my own. Over the past few months, I’ve been tinkering with a fairly major variant to a well-known game, trying to create something that captures the positives (at least from my perspective) of the game, yet allows it to be played in a way that would be better suited to our play-group [i.e. co-op], and doesn’t become horrifically complicated in the process.

Overall it’s been positive, there have been some dead-ends, but I’m pretty happy with what’s taking shape. The killer is the time – it’s taken months, largely because I’ve not wanted to inflict it on others until I’m fairly happy with how it works, and time for solo play-testing has been very limited recently. It can also be fairly gruelling, thankless work, doing the same play-through, or the same set-up again and again, but that’s the best way to play-test: if a one-in-a-million chance comes up first time, and makes for a brilliant (or horrific) experience, you probably need to play 3 or 4 times to really understand that this isn’t how it’s going to play out most of the time.

I’m hoping that soon I’ll be able to unleash this variant on family and friends, and then upon the world at large – having previously (and wrongly) predicted June and July for the big unveiling article here, I’m hesitant to give dates, but I’m REALLY hoping that this will be ready to go before the end of 2017.

Every time I’m tempted to just skip to the end, just throw it out there and see what happens, I come back to the Golden Rule. It doesn’t matter what I think will happen, it matters what will happen.

 

Free-For-All

MassiveThe other reason that the question of play-testing has been on my mind is the explosion of the “Variants” forum for Massive Darkness.

Massive Darkness is the new Dungeon Crawler from Cool Mini Or Not, and it’s a game which changed a fair amount between when the original campaign was launched and when the game actually reached its backers. People have been quick to identify what they feel are issues with the rules as written, and even quicker to post their own solutions.

Variants
It’s been barely a week since I took this photo, and already there are a load more.

There are 95 separate threads in the actual “Variants” sub-forum, along with at least another dozen in the “rules” or “general” sections, which are just proposals of House Rules. The game has been out for less than 2 months, and I understand that a lot of US backers have only received it within the last few weeks.

The quality of these suggestions is highly variable – some are well-thought through, look like they’ve been play-tested a bit, and will ultimately produce something really quite solid.

Sadly, a worrying number essentially begin “Whilst I wait for my game to arrive, I’ve been reading the forums, decided that this game is broken, and taken it upon myself to fix it.” (paraphrased)

There’s been a fair bit of back-and-forth on this topic, some people calling out those who write house-rules without playing the game as arrogant fools, others lauding them for their dedication to making the game better.

Doors-Dice-EventsLike with most things, I think that there’s probably a mixture, but every time I go onto BGG and see another thread, it does make me despair slightly. Especially when half the responses are “I also think that aspect of the game is an issue, so rather than comment on your suggestion, I’ll repeat my own variant.” – a few threads have managed to generate some actual discussion / an indication that people have actually tried things to see how they work, and over time it should become easier to sort the wheat from the chaff (thumbs, activity, number of pages of discussion), but at the moment it can be soul-destroying stuff.

 

If it ain’t broke…

It’s also worth taking a step back and considering how far these house rules are even needed to begin with.

There’s a definite irony in the number of comments flying around the forums along the lines of “did they even playtest this?” “clearly they didn’t playtest this” “how did this get through playtesting?” and the like.

CMON Admittedly, CMON / Guillotine Games, best known for the Zombicide franchise, do seem to be better known for giving you loads of cool minis to play around with than for finely-balanced games. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a bold claim about what went on during the design phase of this game – CMON did do some playtesting – definitely more play-testing than the people who haven’t received their games yet, and probably more playtesting than the people who played the game twice then took to the internet to demand a re-write.

 

What are we doing?

It seems to me that there are a few different ways you can play a game (leaving out for a moment, those who decide to ditch it altogether). You can play it as designed, you can make some changes, or you can design a completely new game using the components of the original.

Obviously, that’s slightly simplistic – some changes will be so minor that they blur in with playing a game “as written”, and some will be so extensive, that they verge on becoming a new game, but I think the distinction is worth trying to hold onto.

DarkRitual
We’ll just be off then…

When we play Zombicide: Black Plague, we don’t use the Dark Ritual rule (because it’s stupid and broken), and we tend to leave out the “Invisibility” card because, again it gets stuck in a sort of logical paradox under certain situations – but basically, we’re still playing the same game. Having played it over 100 times in the past 18 months, and having used those ‘rules’ in almost all of our sessions, I feel pretty confident in asserting the value of our approach.

When I launch my big play-test project, it will essentially be a brand-new game, albeit one that’s looking to capture a lot of the flavour of its parent, and is played using exclusively components of the original (this will probably make more sense once it’s live – I’ll try to remember to come back and post a link).

 

Most of what people are looking to do with Massive Darkness: tweaking loot levels, smoothing transmute, or looking for a bit of scaling could probably all be lumped under the second category, and a lot of it is at the lower end. I still think people should play-test before declaring that they have Found The Answer, but it probably doesn’t need to take months. Others are taking things further, wanting to completely alter the way that group enemies operate, how action order and counter-attacks work. A few very dedicated folk are putting together brand new sets of Door and Event cards, along with a brand-new set of “Traps.” Some of these have got potential to be really interesting, and assuming the leg-work gets put in, could turn in to some really interesting and useful benefits for the community. Sadly, a lot of changes of this ilk seem to fall into the “I scribbled this on the back of an envelope and it looked good, so let’s do it” category.

GloomhavenAside from nagging people to playtest properly, I think I want to pose the question (probably hypothetically, as I doubt many of them are reading this) – when does Massive Darkness stop being Massive Darkness? A lot of the “fixes” people are proposing seem to be most focused on “fixing” the fact that Massive Darkness isn’t Gloomhaven. Now personally, I think that if you really want to play Gloomhaven, you’d probably be better off just waiting for the re-print of Gloomhaven, but if people would rather re-purpose a copy of Massive Darkness, that’s their call. If that’s what you’re going to do though, please be honest about it – you’re not “fixing” a game at this point, you’re essentially making a new game (or an existing but hard-to-find game…) That means being honest about the amount of work needed to play-test it before it’s ready to go, and ideally it also means a lot less complaining about how “broken” the game was to begin with whilst you’re doing it.

 

Quick Fix

The thing about house-ruling, is that it’s always tempting to just jump to the result. I know as I start writing articles that delve more deeply into specific aspects of Massive Darkness, there are various points where I’ll have ideas I want to share.

I’m writing this now, as much as a reminder to myself as an appeal to the MD Modders – it’s fine to share an idea for discussion, but it’s not a rule until somebody’s found out whether it actually works.