January

A new year, a new round of gaming.

January kicked off at full speed, with a pile of 70 un-played games to work through, a Hardcore 10×10 challenge to do, and the best part of 2 full seasons of Pandemic Legacy to get played by early Feb.

In total, January had 59 Sessions spread over 20 different titles, with Pandemic Legacy the runaway leader – 16 games played this year already.

 

10×10

10of10-2018-JanI’ve come up with a little graphic to monitor the progress of the 10×10 challenge, via this little grid. With 11 sessions in the first week, this definitely got off to a good start, but obviously this is somewhat skewed as any sessions past the tenth of these games won’t count for anything.

At the moment I’m not yet (at least consciously) letting the 10×10 challenge influence what I play – hopefully this won’t need to change, but obviously I might change my tune if I get to October and still haven’t ticked things off.

Pandemic Legacy notched up all 10 sessions within a few weeks – the only one to make it to ten in January, although Arkham Horror also had a healthy chunk completed at the first attempt.

LotMatWe finally had our re-scheduled Fellowship event for Lord of the Rings (Asmodee didn’t get the kits out in time for December). We’ve got a fun group of people who play LotR locally, so it was a good time, and my wife was a big fan of the new playmat. That said, the quest itself was just stupid, and we all died fairly quickly.

At the final count, I’ve clocked up 31 sessions out of 100 needed for the 10×10 in January. Obviously, this speed won’t continue – I’m already at the point where new sessions of Pandemic Legacy aren’t counting, and it won’t be long before the same is true of Arkham or Zombicide, so I’m not expecting to complete the challenge by the beginning of April (January’s rate extrapolated) – still, a good start all-told.

Current H-Index

By Sessions

2018 – 4 – (Pandemic Legacy, Arkham LCG, Aeon’s End, Zombicide)

All-time – 19 (no change)

By Hours

2018 – 4 (Pandemic Legacy, Arkham LCG, Aeon’s End, Zombicide)

All-time – 19 (Pandemic Legacy added).

 

Others

Dragonfire-Card-Game-BoxThere were still plenty of games not on the 10×10 list which got played: a few reviews from last year that still needed wrapping up (Dragonfire, Pandemic Rising Tide), a bit of L5R, and a few scattered odds and ends.

Dragonfire was a game that I was really excited for last summer/autumn, then slightly disappointed with when it arrived, thanks to a rather fiddly rulebook, an unexpected legacy element, and generally crushing difficulty. January was the point where it felt like something clicked – we won our first game, and generally started to get a better sense of what was going on. I’m still undecided on taking the plunge into expansion land, but am looking forward to getting into the core box in more detail.

Shiny

One game I want to talk about for a few minutes, is Legendary Firefly – a game that got two sessions early in January 2018 – not bad going for a game that only managed 3 in total last year.

LegendariesMarvel Legendary is a mash-up with any random line-up of heroes against an equally arbitrary ensemble of villains as the Mastermind tries to carry out a Scheme that may-well bear no relation to anything they’ve ever attempted in the comics. With so many expansions out you can get some fairly unbalanced match-ups, but the overall experience is generally fun, and doesn’t require too much detailed knowledge of the source material.

Firefly Legendary is a very different beast. You’re always playing through “Episodes” each one based on an Episode of the TV show. You’ve generally got a couple of objectives to fulfil, which will directly tie in to what happened in that episode and, most notably, there’s a strong thematic tie-in to individual characters.

Take Shindig for example –the episode where Mal and Kaylee crash Inara’s posh ball, and Mal accidentally gets himself into a duel (with swords). The Shindig episode for the card game comes with 3 copies of an event that simply says “If Inara is a main character, each player gains a talent” (talents are good) “If Mal is a main character, each player gains a flaw.” (yep, you’ve guessed it, flaws are bad). We played this twice in as many nights: on the first night, Mal was a main character, but Inara wasn’t and this cycle of flaws destroyed us. Second time around we’d switched up the crew, and everything was suddenly a lot more straightforward.

Even leaving aside the absolutely awful art (it really is a joke – 2 different cards for one character will look less like either other that they do to a completely different character…) I’ve never been as big of a fan of Firefly Legendary, as I am of Marvel. Marvel generally feels like a game where you’re building your deck and getting to do stuff with it. Firefly feels much more driven by the episode deck (which is very structured and specific), and you generally feel quite powerless, like you’re either poking around in the dark, making blind guesses, or else have no decisions to make at all.

Strangely, everyone else I was playing with commented on how they liked the episodic, more strongly narrative elements – whatever you think of it, it’s definitely shorter and a lot more accessible than Firefly the Board Game. Still, I can’t it making it back to the frequency of table-time it had when it was new.

 

Numbers

UnspeakableTaking a step backwards, the month as a whole was dominated by “Medical” on the thematic side (~30%), and “Save the World” (~40-50%) both dominating the month, thanks to Pandemic. Rather more predictably, Fantasy, Lovecraft and Zombies were the next biggest groups in that order, with mechanics rounded out with Questing, Mystery-solving and good old Survival.

Money-wise, I spent very little in January (just an single Mythos pack for Arkham), with most of the new arrivals being review games or using GQ Credit. That said, using my standard “value ratings,” the spreadsheet still look pretty unhealthy overall, with a few of last year’s big purchases still showing large totals in the red – Gloomhaven and Shadows of Brimstone could both really do with some more table time soon, to steady the ship.

Kicks?

GreenHordeI didn’t back anything on Kickstarter in January, just continued to plug away at last year’s releases – a reasonable helping of Aeon’s End, and a single session of Gloomhaven. Zombicide Green Horde arrived right at the end of the month, but I only managed the tutorial in January.

For February, Gloomhaven is (again) one that needs playing and it would be nice to cross off the last few games of Aeon’s End to bring things into the black. Green Horde will probably be the biggest category of KS play.

The pledge manager for Folklore: The Affliction opened at the very end of January, but won’t be closing for a few months, so I still have time before I make a decision.

 

Final Thoughts

Overall January felt a bit strange, simply because it was so heavily dominated by Pandemic Legacy. It’s a good game, and the second season truly does feel like something different. That said, once we’ve played a few more games so that I can finish the review, I think it might be time for a bit of a Pandemic detox.

Zombicide Green Horde arrived on the last day of the month, and will surely take up a big chunk of February.

I also have another review game, and the original Arkham Horror Board Game, both of which arrived too late in January to get played, along with Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle and One-Deck Dungeon which I only played a couple of solo games of, in order to figure out how they work. Plenty to keep us busy going forward.

 

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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.

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.

 

All the Zombies!

On 17/3/2016, I sat down to play the tutorial of a new game I’d received to review. It was called Zombicide: Black Plague

18 1/2 months and 127 Games (somewhere in excess of 200 hours) of gaming later, I’ve built up quite a collection and today it is, finally finished.

After putting the finishing touches to the last handful of NPCs, I assembled all of the Zombies together for a photocall.

AllTheZombies

That’s a grand total of:

  • 26 Heroes
  • 40 Walkers
  • 14 Runners
  • 14 Fatties
  • 52 NPCs
  • 21 Deadeyes
  • 3 Necromancers
  • 6 Abominations.

AllTheZombies2

(can anyone spot the one figure who was accidentally missed out of this picture? by the time I’d realised, I didn’t have the energy to reassemble them all again.)

Now I just have the entirety of Massive Darkness to keep my paintbrush busy whilst I wait for Zombiecide: Green Horde to arrive…

Summer Gamin’

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).

MassiveMassive 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.

 

Kittens 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.

 

Un-played

UnplayedAs 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.

Final Thoughts

Comments 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.

ApocryphaMoving 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.

A Year in Reviews

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.

 

Bigger and Better: Zombicide: Black Plague

(see original review here)

Zombicide PaintedZombicide 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.

paintotaurWith 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

(see original review here)

all-investigatorsAfter 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-madness-board-game-puzzleMansions 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…)

 

Disturbing the Dust: Elder Sign

(see original review here)

ElderElder 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.

Omens-of-Ice-Original-Box-Card-GameI 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.

 

And now for something completely different: AYA

(see original review here)

AYA-Box-Board-GameWriting 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-SetUp-Board-GameAYA 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.

 

The People’s Favourite: Star Wars Carcassonne

(see original review here)

Star-Wars-Carcassonne-Game-Board-GameI 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.

 

Looking forward

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.

Board Game Economics: Money, Trade and Value – part I

gamepile

Game Doesn’t Does Pay

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.

Expanding

zombexpansions 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.

catancontents
One of those which made way for something newer and better

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.

 

Numbers

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…

 

B-Sieged

bsieged 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

MansionsMansions 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.

 

Trade

superdungeonOne 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.

 

Liquid

fiver
I haven’t yet picked up any of these in exchange for a game…

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.

maths

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.

pandemic
So much more used than Puerto Rico ever was

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.

Reflections

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!