August has been and gone, and it’s time to look back on another month’s gaming.
It endued up being a pretty mega month (although it didn’t necessarily feel like it at the time), with more gaming sessions logged than any other month this year, against ultra-low spending (I shelled out a grand total of a fiver on a Legendary Organised Play event).
Broadly speaking, August was a month for the classics: Zombicide, Arkham LCG, Legendary and LotR all got more than 5 plays, with a solid majority of gaming going on games that have now been played 5 times or more this year. Elder Sign also kept up its record as the only game to have been played every single month this year (although Zombicide only missed February, being far too big for a hospital table).
Massive Darkness was the big new arrival, which jumped straight in to the upper echelons (it’s currently the 17th most-played game of the year by sessions, 10th most-played by time) and I’ll be talking plenty more about it in the near future. The only other ‘new’ game to see play was a review – Near and Far arrived in July, but only hit the table in August (I liked it, but my wife hated it), and Codenames Duet which came too near to the end of the month to actually get played.
Thematically, it was a month dominated by Fantasy and Zombies, with Lovecraft and Comics coming in a little way behind. In light of that, it’s not a huge surprise to see that Surviving the Monsters (roughly 1/3) and Completing the Quest (about ¼ ) were the mechanical mainstays.
Whilst getting in big numbers of sessions for the classics was the main theme, I did spend a couple of days at Insomnia with the good people of Games Quest, and was able to cross off a few titles that I’d never been sufficiently interested in to buy, but felt like I ought to have a better awareness of as a gamer: Exploding Kittens has very little going on mechanically, and relies almost entirely on the group dynamics of people playing it (everyone present was quite happy to mess with everyone else, so it gave us an entertaining half-hour or so), and if you take away the anime art (presumably the main reason most people play it), Tanto Cuore is basically just Dominion with poor iconography. There were one or two interesting mechanical twists, but not enough to change my mind on this as a game I really don’t need to own.
As I mentioned earlier in the year, I didn’t go into 2017 with an “un-played project” in anything like as systematic a way as last year, but now that we’re 2/3 of the way through the year, I’m starting to look at this in more detail. There are 8 games which are currently un-played, with 5 of them being big group/party games. There’s often a brief flurry of activity for games like this around Christmas, so historically this wouldn’t have been a big worry, but it’s hard to know how things will play out with a baby around. Of the remainder, Memoir ’44 is a game that I expect to have a few fallow years until Ned is big enough to play, but I’m intending to keep hold of, Scrabble is always worth owning a copy of, and only Firefly looks particularly dubious as a game to keep around – I like Firefly as a thematic homage to the world Captain Reynolds and his crew occupy, but the game itself has a very large footprint, a somewhat fiddly setup, and is overall just a bit too slow to make it to the table often: realistically, it’s only still around because of sentiment.
With so much time going into what are now our Core Games, and Massive Darkness due its own write-up soon, there’s not too much else to say about August – in terms of reflecting on a year two-thirds gone, it feels like we’ve managed pretty well given just how difficult it is to get through a 2-hour game without stopping to be screamed at. With 2017 66% done, I’ve managed 65% of last year’s game sessions, but 75% of the gaming hours. I’ve also spent 75% of last year’s total, which is mildly concerning, but I’m not too bothered as I’ve sold 164% of what I shifted last year, which puts me in a much healthier position overall. I’m still narrowly clinging on to a net gain (more gained from sales than spent on stuff), but the Pledge Manager for Green Horde just opened, which will probably knock that on the head.
Moving into the home stretch of the year, the goals are pretty much the same as ever: keep playing, keep spending low. I’m still waiting on the majority of this year’s Kickstarters, even the ones that were aiming to deliver by August, so 2017 should still have some new twists in store, even if I don’t manage to land any of the particularly exciting autumn releases for review purposes.
Having had our gaming habits somewhat disrupted by the unexpectedly early arrival of a baby, it felt like a good moment for a bit of a retrospective.
I’ve been doing game reviews now for a little over a year now. In that time, I’ve saved myself money on some games I wanted to get anyway, breathed life into games that had been standing idle and, above all, tried a lot of games that I would never have come close to playing without doing the reviews. Today I want to look at some of the highlights.
Zombicide was one of the earlier games I got to review, and it was undoubtedly the game which made the biggest impact on last year – it was also my pick for “2016 Game of the Year” in the video. It’s a miniatures game, where a small band of heroes take on ever-growing armies of zombies, simple to learn, and not that difficult to master, I love how accessible this game is, and just how much fun it is. The game is scenario-based, so there’s a fair amount of variety, and the ongoing search for better weapons drives a lot of what happens. The zombies power up as your survivors do – specifically spawning in numbers determined by the most powerful survivor at that point in time, which means that you need to be careful of one person getting too far ahead of the group.
With a £70+ price-tag on the base game, coming from a publisher and designers I didn’t really know, this is something I would never have picked up having not played the franchise before. Having got it, it’s been such a hit that various birthdays and Christmas presents have gone on expansions. At the time of writing, it’s hovering on the brink of hitting 100 plays in under a year, which is pretty good going for a game that typically lasts more than 90 minutes, and regularly hits 2-3 hours or even more.
Cracking game, great fun, and it even inspired me to get back into miniature-painting to an extent that I hadn’t in a good while. Great stuff.
Gaming for the Future: Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
After Zombicide, Mansions of Madness was the second most-played new game last year, but I’m including it on this list for a couple of other reasons. I’ve already waxed lyrical about this game here, and here (amongst other places), but there’s something specific I wanted to draw out today. This game completely changed my mind on the use of apps in Board Games. I use randomisers for set-up in Legendary and Dominion, but otherwise, I’ve always been pretty luke-warm on the concept. Things like X-COM, with a stress-inducing real-time element aren’t really my cup of tea, and I could never see the benefit: Boggle works fine with an egg-timer, with needing to digitise everything.
Mansions changed all of that – it gave us access to a great game that we’d always steered away from due to the 1-versus-many aspect, and it allows masses of replayability in a way that just wouldn’t be possible with physical components. The puzzles are probably the biggest aspect of this, but the whole experience is very well done – I never feel like it isn’t worth having the bits out, or that I could just be playing on the app, but the app streamlines the play so much. Eldritch Horror is another game we picked up last year, very similar in a lot of ways, but it does have a lot of bookkeeping to do (and I often miss bits), so having the app to keep track of these things just makes life so much easier. Lastly, the element of the unknown that it provides is great – the fact that you can roll a check without knowing how well you have to do to succeed gives you all the openness and surprise of an RPG, without someone actually having to take on the role of GM.
Mansions has really whet my appetite for more of these all-vs-app games. I strongly considered getting Descent, and only decided against it on the basis of time, but if the rumoured app for Imperial Assault finally appears, then I’ll be taking a very interested look at it (hopefully they’ll publish a second edition of the box, and someone will be needed to write a review…)
Elder Sign is a game we’d owned for ages, but hadn’t been played that much. In fact, in 2015, it didn’t get played at all, and I wouldn’t be overly surprised if the same was true of 2014. It was one of a small handful of Cthulhu-mythos games that had been bought in, but had never really taken off.
Elder sign was already on my radar as part of last year’s “unplayed” project, but it definitely helped when I saw an expansion sitting on the up-for-review list – the Alaskan-themed “Omens of Ice” box.
I didn’t put in for it straight away, but made a point of playing a few games first, to make sure I actually had some recent context for reviewing the expansion. Then I got the expansion to review, and played it some more. And more.
Fast-forward to 2017, and Elder Sign is our most-played game of the year so far. Part of that is due to some skewed circumstance, along with catching up on expansions for Christmas, but this is definitely a game that Reviewing breathed fresh life into – Dominion also benefited last summer with the excellent Empires expansion, but this felt like the clearest example of a game brought back from extinction.
Writing Board Game reviews can be a great opportunity to pick up games or expansions that I would be buying anyway. It also offers a chance to try something completely different.
There a few games which fit the “different” header better than AYA: a cooperative domino standing game where you work together, against the clock, to construct landscapes of dominoes in matching patterns, then attempt to knock them over with a single flick, leaving a unique pattern of animal and landscape photographs.
AYA is a fun little game – certainly not of the things we play most regularly, but interesting enough for a change. Without a doubt though, this is not a game I would have found and bought in a shop: it’s simply way too far off of my radar, too far removed from the sorts of things I normally play. When it comes to spending money, one of the main reasons I get so many expansions for board games, is that I feel like I have a better idea what I’m getting, a sense that I’ll be enhancing something I already know I enjoy, rather than taking a chance on something new. I still try to target games which I think might go down well at home for reviewing – it’s hard to write a review on a game no-one will play! – but overall, reviewing offers a great opportunity to push the boundaries slightly, to experiment with the new.
I feel like it wouldn’t be fair to finish this article without pausing for a moment to mention Star Wars Carcassonne, or Starcassonne as I like to call it. This takes the well-known tile-laying game, and mashes it together with the Star Wars franchise – it’s an interesting twist on the original game, with dice-based combat and planetary invasion making for a slightly more direct, if also more luck-based experience than the original Carcassonne.
The Star Wars theme is pretty thin- really this is “space” Carcassonne to a far greater extent than it is Star Wars in any meaningful sense, but that doesn’t seem to hurt its popularity – this was by far the most read of all the articles I did for them last year, and it continues to attract attention into 2017.
There have definitely been a few reviews in the last month or so that have run into baby-related reviews, and when time is at a premium, you don’t want to be unable to play your favourite game because you’ve promised to review something strange, new and not-all-that-appealing. That said, I’m optimistic that Review work will still have a place in a parenthood world, and I look forward to telling you all about them in due course.
I’ve been doing reviews Games for other people for about 7 months now, and overall it’s been a blast. I’ve picked up some games that I would never have seen otherwise, breathed fresh life into games that had been gathering dust for a while, and generally broadened my gaming horizons.
In terms of things that have actually reached me, I’ve had 19 games or expansions so far (I’m optimistic of more, some of them possibly in the post as we speak, but supplier re-stocks and delivery timeframes are not predictable, so I don’t want to count any chickens…)
Doing a few quick sums last week, I was quite surprised to discover just how much these games would have cost if I’d bought them at retail – I don’t want to go into exact figures, but it’s probably more than my net spend on gaming over the whole year.
The reviews I write certainly do take up time, both with the drafting, and (probably more so) with the formatting, images and SEO work, so if I sat down and calculated an hourly rate, I could imagine it getting disheartening. Given that it’s not generally arduous or unenjoyable work though, I’m happy to leave that figure as it is.
Of course, one of the practicalities of doing game reviews is the need to play a game, often quite a lot, and in a fairly concentrated fashion. There have been a few games amongst the things we’ve picked up that weren’t much fun, or just weren’t really right for us. Overall though, I think I’ve been getting better at identifying what’s going to suit our group, and a quick count suggests only about 10 hours or so spent playing games that were really ropey (or on additional sessions of other games that I would probably have given up on sooner if I didn’t have a review to write).
At a conservative estimate, I’d say that up to now, I’ve managed to get a good 170 hours’ worth of enjoyable gaming, based on the things I’ve been sent for free.
Of course, it’s never quite that simple. For one thing (as I may have mentioned before), I’m a bit of an expansion junkie. Whilst that’s good when I pick up a free expansion for Dominion or Elder Sign that inspires me to start devoting more play-time to a game I already own, it also means that I’ve inevitably ended up spending my own money expanding the games that I’ve acquired.
The biggest money pit in this respect was Zombicide Black Plague – in fact, a quick totting up this morning tells me that I’ve probably spent as much money on adding to this game as if I’d backed the KickStarter in the first place.
Overall, I don’t think that the “free stuff” to “money spent as a result of acquiring free stuff” ratio is bad, given how much I’ve enjoyed games like Zombicide – although there probably was an initial rush of excitement, or some self-justification (I can buy this expansion with the money I saved on getting the game for free…) I’ve calmed down pretty quickly, and am generally being a lot more targeted with what I buy extra bits for.
This year has provided a definite refresher for what had become a fairly static games collection: some old things are getting moved along as I’m now playing newer and (generally) more enjoyable things. By the time the dust settles at year end, I don’t think I’ll be far off of breaking even on the “money spent on expanding review games” vs “money made from selling games” which is not at all a bad place to be for my main hobby.
As much as I know the internet isn’t the place to be posting details of every penny I spend, I do like to number-crunch. By my rough reckoning, the number of hours spent playing Zombicide this year, means that even if you count in the money spent on a birthday’s worth of expansions, the game overall still works out at less than £1.50 per hour (a figure which gets much better if you look at that rate on a “per-player” basis). Across the review games as a whole, if I knock out the time spent in laborious review play-throughs, I reckon I’m looking at less than £1 per hour.
In terms of individual games, there are only 4 (so far) where I’ve actually spent extra money. Zombicide I’ve already discussed, but here are a few quick thoughts on the other 3…
After Zombicide, B-Sieged is the main game I’ve added to: I bought a set of cards to use the B-Sieged characters in Zombicide (which I’ve counted as Zombicide spending), and also bought the big-box expansion for B-Sieged itself. The characters from this expansion are great, and have been helpful in the B-Sieged base game, as well as in Zombicide, but we’ve yet to get the expansion monsters to the table in a game of B-Sieged itself. B-Sieged is one of those games that’s good, but not quite great, and keeps getting pushed out. Right now, it’s sitting at about £4.29 spent per hour of play – given that all of those games have been 2+ players, £2.15 per person per hour is still not too shabby, although I will still be disappointed if this doesn’t get a few more run-outs by the end of the year.
Mansions of Madness
Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition would probably still be good value if I’d paid the £85 it seems to cost online. Right now, all I’ve spent is a tenner on some bits and pieces to re-base the miniatures in a less ugly manner (big chunky black plastic bases really let down the aesthetic of an otherwise beautifully-presented game, and a spot of clear plastic does wonders for the overall effect). There’s a good chance I’ll get my wife an expansion for her birthday/Christmas (she is particular fan), but again, that looks like money well-spent.
One area where things get complicated is when games get traded. Krosmaster Quest was the only game I’ve had for review that actually felt like an inherently bad game, rather than just “not for us,” but I took consolation from being able to trade it for Super Dungeon Explore: Forgotten King, another game that would have set me back somewhere the wrong side of £70 if I were buying it normally. I really enjoyed the first few sessions we had of this, and picked up a couple of expansions which I saw in a sale. Along with the tenner spent on posting Krosmaster, that makes Super Dungeon the other big cost Games Quest game for the year. The run-time is probably a bit longer than B-Sieged, so it’s only sitting at £4.50 per hour, again perfectly respectable when compared with going to any kind of live event. That said, one of the expansions hasn’t made it out of the box, getting brushed aside by some other new arrivals, so I want to make sure this hits the table before year end.
One important lesson that this year has brought home, is the difference between the theoretical value of a game, and the practical value of a game. I’ve sold 3 of the games I received, and each time I’ve done at a much lower price than it would cost me to buy the thing new. This is perfectly understandable: why would anyone pay close to RRP for a game that comes from a private individual, isn’t brand-new-in-shrink, and therefore doesn’t come with the guarantees / piece of mind you get from a retailer?
£55 for Age of Conan plus expansion is a hefty saving for the guy I’m selling to, more than worth his while, as the game is in mint condition. For me, it doesn’t measure up to the RRP (whatever the RRP was, it’s hard to tell, given the differing editions of the game), but it’s still £55 I didn’t have before, that I can use to offset the cost of some of those Zombicide expansions.
Trading is a much better way forward, if you can find someone who wants to deal. The Krosmaster / Super Dungeon trade allowed me to get a £75 game for only the cost of postage when there was no real chance that I could have sold for £75 and bought something else using cash – it also allowed the other guy the same thing.
The Power of Maths
For some of the games that I’ve been struggling to shift I’m planning on heading back into the murky world of Maths trades. For anyone not familiar with them, rather than need to find a straight swap for a game you’re interested in, a Maths Trade uses some fairly clever bit of software to find a big loop of traders – so A gives their game to B, B gives to C, C gives to D and D gives to A – (that’s a fairly simple version, it could easily involve 20+ people). Everyone gets rid of the game they no longer want, and in exchange receives a game they do want, without needing to find someone interested in a 1-for-1 swap.
Taking part in a Maths trade is a fair amount of work. First of all, you have to list all the games you’re looking to shift. Then, once everyone has listed, you have to trawl through the listings, and identify all the things you’d be interested in – this can be particularly painful as some people will mass-dump their entire collection (in last month’s UK maths trade, it looked like a German guy had listed German-language editions of about 200 games!). Once you’ve made you decision, there’s a form to fill in, listing what games you’d be prepared to part with in exchange for what, and what your order of preference would be for them. I’ve already listed a load of things for this month’s trade, but am slightly despairing of when I’m going to have a chance to file my wants, as there’s no weekend between listings ending, and wants needing to be submitted.
Once everyone has done their lists, the computer does its thing, and for each game you either get a “no trade” message, or a notification of where to send it.
I’m not quite sure what I’m going to be looking for going into these trades – there are a lot of listings for cash, but it’s hard to know where to pitch the value. Realism is important – I really want to try Descent, and can’t justify that initial outlay, but even if someone does list a copy, I need to seriously question whether anything I’m offering will be in the same range.
I also don’t want to get into the position of trading just for the sake of it – there’s no benefit in trading one game I never play for another I never play.
It’s been a few years since I did a maths trade. I’ve definitely had some good successes, like the time I traded Puerto Rico for Pandemic, but have also had experience of things not shifting. It can be fairly labour intensive, which is probably why I’ve not got involved for a while, but as my game collection grows through reviewing, it increasingly looks like the most practical way of moving things along profitably.
My slightly paranoid/OCD nature, coupled with the fact that only communicate with my boss and my editor by email hasn’t always made this year the easiest – I’ve wasted a fair amount of time panicking that games have been lost in the post and I’m going to be billed for them, when in fact they’re just out-of-stock / really busy in the warehouse, and haven’t been sent. Overall though, it’s been great. The sheer amount of games that I’ve got has been phenomenal, whether you measure it in RRP, hours of gaming, or just the amount of shelf and floor space being occupied. Long may it continue!
Abominations are the largest and the toughest of the Zombies in the base game – whereas Walkers and Runners can be killed with any weapon, and Fatties need something that does 2 Damage, Abominations are damage 3 monsters: In the base game, there are no 3-damage weapons, meaning you have 2 possibilities.
Get Sampson, wielding a hammer (or some other 2-damage weapon) up to the Red Level where he can choose the “Melee: +1 Damage” skill.
Discard a “Dragon Bile” Equipment card and a “Torch” equipment card in the Abomination’s space, to start Dragon Fire.
The first retail expansion for Zombicide: Wulfsburg brought new options. The Vampire Crossbow, a weapon that any Survivor above Blue level can wield is a 3-damage weapon, and kills Abominations straight out. There are also various weapons (Chaos Longbow, Flaming Great-Sword, Dragon-Fire Blade) which make it easier to start a Dragon Fire, and the Earthquake Hammer, a 2-damage Weapon which goes up to 3 damage on a roll of 6.
In return for these extra ways to kill Abominations, Wulfsburg gave you the Wolfbomination. Like a normal abomination, but 3 times as fast.
Now, “Wave 2” has hit. Between the Kickstarter content (much of it available via eBay etc if you weren’t a backer), and the gradual release of retail expansions, there are now any number of ways to get to 3 damage, via character abilities, and new weapons.
That’s where the Zombie Bosses come in: with all these ways to kill their champions, the Zombies need more bosses, and more powerful ones at that. Let’s see what this box has to offer.
When you open the box, the first thing you see is the 3 Miniatures for the new bosses. Miniatures is a word I use loosely. The Ablobination is only about the height of a normal Abomination (although it does have a very long arm), but the Abominatroll and the Abominatour are both massive, towering over even the Wolfbomination.
My first impressions on the miniatures were fairly mixed: on the one hand, they are clearly good quality figures, the detail is good, the construction looks solid (it’s disappointing, but completely understandable that the Abominatroll needs a support pin), and there was slightly less in the way of excess casting/misalignment than on most of the other packs I’ve bought.
That said, neither the Abominatroll, nor the Ablobination particularly caught my imagination figure-wise. Abominations are supposed to be the results of crazed experiments on the part of evil Necromancers to create bigger and nastier foes, and that was something you could see easily in the standard Abomination and the Wolfbomination. Here by contrast, we’re lacking a frame of reference for what a ‘normal’ troll looks like before you abominate it, and the Ablobination is just plain weird.
None of that particularly bothered me, because I think the third miniature in the box is just brilliant.
Whilst we don’t have a non-abomination version of a Minotaur, I think it’s an easy enough concept to imagine, that it’s easy to see what a great job they’ve done with the Abominatour. Where the Ablobination is just sort of sitting there, and the Abominatroll is lunging so wildly he needs propping up, the Abominatour is a perfect combination of a solid pose that still oozes dynamic energy. A definite winner for me.
Obviously, in a miniatures game like this, the sculpts are important, but as nice as the components may look, we wouldn’t still be getting bits for it the gameplay wasn’t fun, and the Zombie Bosses need to earn their keep in this regard too.
As with the miniatures, so with the gameplay: the Abominatour was the one I was most excited to play. Unlike every other Zombie in the game, which needs to carefully navigate a path around buildings and through doors, the Abominatour works out where the noisiest square is, and he just goes there – destroying any walls which stand in his way (and meaning that any other zombie can now follow in his wake). The expansion comes with little cardboard tokens to mark the destruction he has wrought.
In practice, having an Abominatour on hand certainly changes the gameplay, sometimes dramatically. The fact that he can open up (and spawn) locked buildings, or smash through walls into places that would otherwise be inaccessible without specific objectives can really turn things on their heads. The most extreme example feels like it would be Welcome to Wulfsburg – where an Abominatour who spawns at the top of the map could change things very quickly (and make for a really short quest). We’ve also managed to break in to the central complex in The Black Book Without finding the required objective by using the Minotaur.
Troll and Blob
The other two bosses definitely felt more like they were just more-powerful versions of the abomination: the troll gets extra activations if he can see you which makes him in to essentially a Wolfbomination will a little bit more strategy involved, whilst the Ablobination can only be destroyed with Dragon-Fire, taking you back to the core-box only days without 3-damage weapons.
The dragon-fire only restriction is particularly relevant if you’re bringing in lots of powerful survivors – In a game with Xuxa, an Abomination is just another big zombie (once she has Quicksilver Sword and +1 to dice roll combat, it’s pretty hard for her to miss), and pegging things back to a point where you need dragon fire felt like a good counterbalance.
I’m definitely glad I bought this box. I’m not generally one of these people who find games “too easy” and if you chuck in all 12 spawn cards for the monsters in this box, you could quickly find yourself in trouble (we did that once. We died horribly). Used in moderation though, they have great potential to add variety to the game, and they do allow you to use some of the extra content which benefits survivors, without losing all the tension from the game.
A few months ago, I backed Cool Mini Or Not’s latest big Kickstarter project, Massive Darkness, including a Zombicide Crossover kit which includes card to use various monsters, including these 3 in the new game. I’m sure they’ll have plenty to keep them busy over the intervening 9 or so months, but it’s nice to know that there are fresh victims out there waiting to be eaten…
I’m slowly painting all my Zombicide figures. A lot of the Walkers and almost all of the Wolves are still awaiting the technicolour treatment, but something as spectacular as these guys went straight to the front of the queue.
That said, they were a challenge. For one thing, I’d never painted anything as big as the Abominataur or the Abominatroll (not with any level of detail, I seem to recall there was an Airfix Lancaster bomber 20 years ago…) beyond that, the colour scheme isn’t immediately obvious. There are images of all 3 of these in the rulesheet, but it’s hard to tell where to draw the line between “natural” colours and the thoroughly outlandish.
In the end I decided to keep the flesh on the Blob and the Minotaur fairly ‘natural’ – these are sufficiently weirdly shaped that there’s no need to make them lime green or shocking pink to convey their otherness. For the troll a selection of greyish green (based German Fieldgray, highlighted with “Grey Green”) seemed more fitting. I used a brighter metallic colour than normal to pick out the armour on the Minotaur, just because there’s so much otherwise uninterrupted flesh, and used a thin wash of red over all the bits that look like boils/swellings, as well as a few green tints, just to add an unhealthy look.
Overall, I’m fairly pleased with how these turned out. As always, the flagstone effect on the bases really seems to set the miniatures off. I’m under no illusion that these are a particularly high standard, and they’re certainly not about to win any painting awards (I lack the patience/skill for the many-layered highlighting and blending) but they look great for our games, and overall these Zombie bosses are a fun addition to an already brilliant game.
The first of the retail expansions* (not technically at retail yet) to hit my gaming table were the NPCs – with an obvious nod to the Non-Player Characters of Fantasy RPGs, these are Notorious Plagued Characters – a slightly more glamorous brand of zombie, with some new twists to offer the game. Let’s dive in, and see what we get in the box.
NPC Box 1 contains 20 Zombie figures (4 each of 5 different sculpts), 3 Vault Weapons, and the spawn cards needed to get those Zombies in to play. (There are also lots of duplicate cards in other languages, which are probably of limited use.)
Slightly unusually, I’m going to start with the Vault Cards. I loved Zombicide: Black Plague when I got it, and we played it to death (25 games in the first month), but the one place where it really felt limited was with the Vault Weapons. There were 2 in the game, and many scenarios place “2 random vault weapons” in the vaults – it just meant that there was no variety, and that as soon as you picked up the first one, you knew exactly what the other one was. If you found the Crossbow, you knew to send the Wizard to the other vault to get the spell.
For that alone, just having 5 instead of 2 is a great addition. The new cards themselves are an interesting mix: a Longbow that works at range and in Melee, a 3-damage crossbow, and a shield that works against Abominations. All potentially very useful, although with noticeable drawbacks compared to the original weapons (the shield doesn’t kill things, the crossbow is no use at point-blank range, and the Longbow is only 1 damage). Overall though, these cards seem like a great addition to the game.
The Miniatures themselves are a bit of a mixed bag: there were 5 different sculpts: A dwarf(?) in armour, a dancing girl, a torturer/jailer, a nurse, and a Moor (to use the Dark Ages terminology). First up, I’ll say that my pack of NPCs had some of the worst casting problems of any Zombicide minis I’ve yet received. For most of them, I had to spend a lot of time trimming with a scalpel and file, then fill with plastic putty, undercoat, and THEN go through the whole filling and filing process again. As I was going to paint the figures anyway, this added a fair amount of work, but did at least mean that I could get them to a fairly decent state – if you weren’t going to paint your miniatures, then these are some of the first Zombicide figures I’ve had which were mis-cast badly enough to be noticeable/offputting whilst sat unpainted on the table.
Moving from production (it could well have just been a suspect batch) to the sculpts themselves, the NPCs certainly offer something a bit different from the standard walkers. There are two female walkers in the base game, both wearing fairly generic full-length dresses. The NPC box has a Nurse, who is carrying a good amount of kit for a zombie, and a Dancing Girl who (as you might expect) is wearing very little indeed.
Of the three male figures, the Jailer/Torturer character is the most interesting, with a slightly garish expression, it does a good job of suggesting that he may not have been entirely sane when he was alive.
The Moor and the Armoured figure round off the set – with the Lore of Zombicide: Black Plague being a little hazy, I can’t say with certainty whether the chap in armour is meant to be a dwarf, or just a bit short and stout.
Overall, these were a fun set to paint, and being character figures, a good chance to introduce a bit more colour into the Zombie populace.
The official way to use the NPCs is to add their spawn cards to the deck, and spawn them as their own separate kind of zombie. When spawning an NPC, you select a figure at random from the reserve and, instead of simply returning it once killed, your survivor can discard 5 different NPC zombies, to choose a Vault Weapon from the box.
Aside from the special rules on spawning and collecting, NPCs function like Walkers, and if you ever run out of NPCs, you simply use walkers instead (although your survivor can discard NPCs at any time, back to the supply).
Playing with NPCs as written definitely makes the game easier. For one thing, you can have 5 Vault Weapons amongst your party, rather than the maximum of 2 which you tend to get from scenarios. The addition of the extra spawn cards for what are, functionally, more walkers also reduces the frequency with which you run into the nastier beasts of the spawn deck.
Whether you regard this as a good or a bad change is, obviously, rather more subjective. With all the additional Zombies we now have access to – Wolfz, and Zombies bosses at least, Crowz and Deadeyes if you’re a Kickstarter backer [or reading this a few months in the future], I think that having something which can make the game easier is a good corrective, and brings some of the harder scenarios back to a sensible point where they are playable.
It has been commented many times on places like Board Game Geek, that Zombicide feels a lot like a sandbox game: you can add, or choose not to add, any number of different expansion elements, and if those aren’t to your liking, you can make up your own rules. The simplest thing to do with NPCs, would be to use them as standard walkers (with or without the additional spawn cards), to add more visual variety, but the scope is almost endless, and I’ve seen suggestions for arming the NPCs with the Vault Weapon you would get from killing them, triggering all manner of additional effects, and no doubt a few more possibilities that I’ve just forgotten.
Whilst the rules for NPCs (official ones) are fixed, the distribution of zombies is rather more variable. NPC Box 1 contains 4 figures in each of 5 different poses. Personally, I also splashed out on 3 extra poses from a Kickstarter Backer, via Ebay, and there is another box out there, NPC 2, which adds a further 20 zombies in 5 more poses, and another 3 Vault cards.
I think the way we had things set up at the start, did make it too easy to get vault cards – I’d only painted 2 figures in each of the 8 poses, so the odds of getting duplicates were greatly lowered, and our survivors rapidly acquired the full set needed to cash in for a vault weapon. Moving back to 4 figures in each pose, normalises things slightly. There are still people who think that anywhere above the 5 poses you get in a single box makes it too easy to get a set, but it depends slightly on how you do the randomising: a fear of chipping painted miniatures seems to rule out “chuck them in a bag and grab one at random” so again, the suggested different ways of selecting seem to be endless. Personally, I just assigned a number from 1-8 to the different sculpts, then rolled a D8 to see which one I needed (re-rolling if all the miniatures of that number were already in play).
The Kickstarter NPCs certainly aren’t necessary from a gameplay perspective, but I think they are the best sculpts – the guy holding his own head is entertaining, the Bishop/Cardinal is a really characterful sculpt, and the woman who looks suspiciously like Disney’s Snow White is just plain hilarious (I have plans for that sculpt, leading mobs of dwarves when Massive Darkness arrives next year).
At the moment, the only way to get your hands on NPC Box 1 (or 2) is to have been a Kickstarter backer, or to find someone else who was, and is selling. These will be on retail release at some point in the future, and as soon as they are, I think they are an essential purchase, probably the first one I’d get. The variety from extra vault cards alone adds so much replay-ability to the base game, and the option to ease the game’s difficulty allows you to really go to town with all those monster abominations.
I’m aware that things have been a bit dry and cerebral here for the last little while: lots of numbers and musings, without too much shiny. I wanted to redress the balance a bit today, and I couldn’t think of a better game to focus on in doing that than Zombicide, a big, bold dice-chucking miniatures game.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I picked up Zombicide: Black Plague in March, as a review copy (check out the review here on the Games Quest blog). Cool Mini Or Not were a company I hadn’t really been familiar with before, but the fast, fun gameplay of Zombicide had me hooked, and as time passed, I was inspired to dust off my paints and paintbrushes (largely unused since I gave up Table-top Wargaming a couple of years ago) and paint some of the figures.
In the game, you control a band of survivors, fighting of swarms of Zombies. The core game gives you 6 Survivors to start with:
There was also a bix-box expansion call Wulfsburg (can you guess what type of enemies got added there?) which added another 4 Survivors, to give you some fresh options:
Around the same time, I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of B-Sieged (thanks again Games Quest – check out the review here), and the Ebay was able to supply me with promo cards to play the 6 B-Sieged Heroes as Zombicide Survivors as well.
Having painted the Survivors, it seemed only fair to start adding some colour to the Zombies themselves, starting with the Necromancer (puny in and of himself, but summons extra zombies) and the Abomination (big nasty thing, very hard to kill with only Core Box survivors and equipment)
The Zombies themselves come in 3 basic types, Walkers (vanilla), Runners (move twice instead of once) and Fatties (need 2 damage to kill instead of 1).
As these are basically just the peasantry of the Dark Ages, I tried to stick with a fairly plain colour pallet – lots of browns and beiges. I allowed myself a bit more colour on the fatties, as getting to that size in this (admittedly fictionalised) time period, probably suggest that they were slightly better off.
I’ve already mentioned the Wulfsburg expansion, and it should come as no great surprise to know that this introduces Wolf zombies. I haven’t had chance to paint up the normal “Wolfz” yet, but did at least get to their leader, the Wolfbomination
One of the great things about Zombicide, is the way you can modify it so easily – there are bucket-loads of expansions out there, and they are all basically modular, meaning you can mix and match which ones you include. My next acquisition was the “NPC (Notorious Plagued Characters)” box – n gameplay terms, they are basically just special zombies which you can collect to trade in for additional rewards. Gameplay aside, it was a chance to get a bit more creative with the colour-schemes, as these are clearly drawn from other places besides the general peasant mass.
Something you can be entirely oblivious to when playing a game with unpainted miniatures, but which becomes rapidly evident when you start painting, is the extent of the casting flaws: lines around where the two halves of the mould join are pretty-much inevitable, and bigger gaps or mis-alignments can be found on a lot of the figures.
Trimming this away with a scalpel is pretty much inescapable, and for some figures, further filing and filling is needed too: Vallejo plastic putty is probably the best for this, although I’ll admit to having cut a few corners, and just used standard DIY filler, applied with a small metal tool, or a cocktail stick.
Paint-wise, I’ve used mostly Vallejo Colours, with a few Citadel or Humbrol odds and ends I had lying around. I do the main blocks of colour, then cover the thing over with a wash of Windsor and Newton Ink, which mutes the colours, and really brings out the contrast in the figure (or makes it obvious if you’ve missed a bit when trimming away the extra flashing). Then I add highlights over the top: typically a paler version of the colour itself on exposed areas. Finally, I spray with Army Painter anti-shine matt varnish, just to stop things from looking too garish.
It’s a lesson that I’ve learned the hard way, and very reluctantly over the years, that no matter how good a job you do on painting a figure, the base has at least as much impact on how it looks when out on the board, and in play.
The basing approach I’ve used for Black Plague is nicked more-or-less directly from the YouTube videos of the very talented Sorastro (then modified for me own forgetfulness/lack of ability) – a neutral grey colour to represent the mortar/dirt, and generally create the outline, then a selection of pale shades for the flagstones themselves, followed by a wash or two to dirty things up and bring down the contrast. Overall, it takes a fair amount of time – almost as much as the mini itself in some cases, but it’s definitely worth it for the final effect.
It’s been good fun getting back into painting again. As you can see, I’m far from being a professional-standard painter, but so long as you prep them properly, these miniatures allow you to get a nice visual effect without too much competence being required.
As a final sneak preview, I picked up these rather terrifying folk this week: the Zombie bosses:
I’ve never actually painted a miniature as big as the Abominatroll or Abominatour before, so these will be an interesting challenge, and I’ll post some results in a few weeks, along with a review of that box generally. In the meantime, I’m going to need someone able to deal with all these extra Abominations. Courtesy of Ebay, I think I might have the answer with this character, who definitely isn’t Xena: Warrior Princess (honest)
Warning: The following article is mostly composed of numbers and musings.
Last year I played a total of 788 games. Of those, 265 were of the Pathfinder ACG, 175 were the Lord of the Rings LCG, and 155 were of Dice Masters – in other words, those 3 games made up roughly ¾ of my total gaming for the year.
So far, 2016 is looking very different – 389 games played between January and June is not too far removed from last year (369), but the distribution is very different.
The most played games still feature some familiar faces. Although our most-played game of the year is a new entry – Zombicide: Black Plague with 60 sessions, Pathfinder is only just behind with 59 plays, then LotR LCG on 41 and Dice Masters with 34.
Even allowing for this new arrival, there’s a much broader spread of what’s being played: whereas the top 3 games last year accounted for 75% of what I played, the top 4 games this year make up fractionally under half (49.9%). Even these figures may be a bit generous – almost half of those games of LotR came on a single evening as I tried without success to beat a particularly irritating quest. Dice Masters is more-or-less in freefall, as our local community vanishes and I struggle to find opponents.
Just behind the leading pack, you can find a growing number of games in the teens and twenties of play-throughs: the Game of Thrones ACG and Marvel Legendary have both passed 25, having been discovered (or released) part-way through last year, they have kept a steady turnover, without really threatening the top 4 (Legendary is probably held back by its labour-intensive set-up, and Game of Thrones play is always capped by the need to build a functional deck and arrive at the FLGS at the same time as other players). Zombie Dice is a new entrant in the mid-teens, where it’s comfortably holding its own.
There was previously a line here about another game which appeared to have broken into this group, but it was disqualified when it transpired that I had typed a number in the wrong row of my spreadsheet…
The real change this year though, is in the single digits. Last year, I played a total of 58 games, but only 12 of them 5 times or more, and 30 of them (i.e. more than half) only once. This year, I’ve played 44 games so far, but already 17 of those have been played 5 times or more, and only 10 of them have been played just the once (for now). The selection of games being played is broadening.
Obviously, some of the changes in game-play have a fair amount of intentional behaviour behind them – regulars will know that I’m trying to play ten games ten times in 2016, which is something I didn’t do last year (I wasn’t trying, it just happened that 7 games got played ten times or more, and the others didn’t), so this definitely encourages me to look more often at games I like but haven’t played that much. There’s also the issue of trying to empty my “un-played” pile, which is causing the dust to be brushed off a fair number of old games – I’m trying to avoid this turning in to a token “play it once” activity, both in terms of playing games more than once (at least the shorter ones) and in terms of seriously considering whether I want to play that game again.
Reviews also deserve a mention at this point, as you can’t really review a game without playing it a fair few times, but only 1 of the 9 games I’ve reviewed so far has really taken the house by storm (Zombicide), so that’s another whole set of games that are getting played “a few” times, but not loads and loads.
Despite all of that though, I still think that there are issues with what have historically (at least for 2015 and the second half of 2014) been our “main” games.
Lord of the Rings LCG has been a family favourite for 5 years now, but as I’ve commented at length elsewhere, it feels like it’s reached a point where they have over-complicated the game, and increased the difficulty to the point where sitting down to play is just painful. Our local meet-up for the game has also missed a few sessions (I don’t quite know what happened for June, I think we all just forgot…) which doesn’t help, and the sense that you need to custom-build a deck for every quest you tackle makes a game at short-notice a real challenge. [Do I keep the 4-player decks built in the hope that friends will come over and want to play? Or build for 2 and push to do that mid-week instead of one of the newer games? Sadly the days are gone when you could have a set of decks ready that did both]. I had this come up on Saturday, when a friend suggested a game, and I had to indicate that I had nothing ready that would give us a viable game.
Pathfinder is still a solid game – As noted above, it’s still very near the top of the “most-played” list for the year, [there’s an ongoing tussle with Zombicide] and we’re still picking up the Class Deck expansions as they come out (looking forward to lots of Goblins in the near future).
That said, there are still factors weighing against the game. First of all, it’s worth noting that Pathfinder is in something of a fallow period in terms of the material they’re releasing: after a hectic first 2 ½ years of the game, they have opted for a long hiatus between the 3rd and 4th Adventure Paths, to let people catch up with existing content – as a result, there’s definitely a lack of urgency as we re-play earlier paths, no pressure to be finished in time to play the next thing out.
That said, I think my enthusiasm for this game took more of a blow from the final stages of the 3rd AP, Wrath of the Righteous: there was certainly intent on the part of the designers to make it “big” and “challenging” but it also felt badly scaled (the “Army” henchman are ridiculous against survivors groups of 6), and the excitement of having everything constantly turned all the way up to 11 quickly wore off – we still haven’t finished that path with our second character group, and I’m honestly not sure whether we’ll ever bother. Definitely a place where – for us – difficulty went a step too far.
Dice Masters I like. Given the chance, I’d still be playing this every week, but our local group has basically disappeared, with two people selling up, and others just not able to make it down very often. As a 2-player head-to-head, this one is never going to get much time at home, and working at UK Expo meant that playing in Nationals Wasn’t an option. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get some games of this in over the next month or two, but I largely let the Civil War set pass me by, and I’m not going to be spending money on the upcoming Green Arrow/Flash set unless something major changes.
Overall, I think the spread of this year’s gaming has been healthier than last: playing a broader range of games seems like a sensible way to go. As an added bonus, the fact that I’m doing review work means that I’m able to balance a lot of my costs in acquiring new stuff, either by getting the games I want as review copies, or at the very least selling or trading them to offset my costs. The only thing I’m really lacking is having as much time to play games as I do to write about them.