Zombicide, as the name might suggest, is a game that contains a lot of Zombies. Pretty-much every monster you’ll face in Zombicide Black Plague will be a zombie form of something or other.
Perhaps the biggest exception to this rule is the Deadeye Walkers, a band of skeletons who will shoot down your survivors with deadly accuracy. The Deadeye Walkers box was originally released alongside Black Plague a few years ago and has been hard to get hold of for a while. With a reprint due in the next few months as part of the Green HordeWave 2 Kickstarter, I thought this would be a good time to put up a full review of them.
There are 3 sculpts in the Deadeye walker box – an archer firing.
An archer with his bow pointed diagonally down (just about to draw?)
And another with his bow slung on his back and his knife drawn.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the first 2 sculpts and slightly less keen on the last one, simply because it doesn’t stand out as clearly as being an archer. That said, all of the miniatures are nicely done, and they make an interesting change from the Zombie mass, with no flesh, exposed bones everywhere, and a slightly better quality of clothing and equipment.
As with all of my Zombicide figures, I painted these up, and was quite pleased with the overall result. Aside from the bows, there isn’t much that makes them stand out from the crowd, but they look nice, and don’t feel too jarring.
Whilst their aesthetic impact isn’t earth-shattering, Gameplay wise, the Deadeye walkers are something completely different. They move a single space per activation, and only require 1 damage to kill, much like a standard walker, but unlike any other zombie, these can attack at range!
When a Deadeye walker activates with line-of-sight to a Survivor at range 1-3 instead of moving, they simply fire their bows. As is generally the way zombies, unlike survivors, don’t need to roll to hit you, and unless you have armour, those hits are going straight onto your party.
Deadeyes challenge a lot of the accepted thinking in Zombicide – whereas backing off, letting zombies come to you, and trying to pick things off at range are all good ideas for most of the standard Zs, to take down a Deadeye you probably want to get up close and personal – quickly!
Deadeyes lose a lot of their bite indoors, but can pose serious difficulties in those scenarios where the gaps between buildings span multiple tiles. Deadeyes also add a new element of fear to the Extra Activation for Walkers cards – whereas one clear space to a group of walkers should see you safe, a group of Deadeyes four zones away could pick off a survivor or 2 with the right card!
Deadeyes are at their deadliest in combination with the Wulfz of Wolfsburg, simply because the 2 Zombie types encourage such diametrically opposed styles of play. Wulfz are a nightmare in buildings, where they can be well out-of-sight, but still close enough to eat you, but fairly manageable out on a long street where you can shoot once or twice, whilst staying out of the way. Once you have Wulfz and Deadeyes together, you’ll struggle to find a safe place to shoot at the wulfz where the Deadeyes won’t get you back.
As an enemies-only box, Deadeyes are very easy to introduce to Green Horde, but the Hedgerow-heavy environment of the early scenarios takes away a lot of their threat. Where they will thrive is spawning at the top of a waterhole, guaranteeing that your survivors won’t be able to approach and kill them inside a single turn.
After Wolfsburg, I think the Deadeyes are the expansion which add the most game-play wise to Black Plague. At the moment they can be a bit hard to track down, but they’re being re-printed as part of to the Green Horde campaign, which should significantly increase the number in circulation. Well worth it if you enjoy Zombicide, especially if you want to up the challenge.
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.
I’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.
We 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.
There 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.
Dragonfirewas 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.
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.
Marvel 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 Legendaryis 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.
Taking 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
Arkham 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.
We’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.
Lord 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.
Legendary 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.
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:
Arkham Horror LCG
Mansions of Madness
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.
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
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.
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.
At 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
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.
There 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!
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.
Honourable 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:
Elder Sign 11/12
LotR LCG 9/12
Aeon’s End 8/11
Dungeon Time 8/10
Mansions of Madness 8/12
Massive Darkness 5/5
Codenames Duet 4/4
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 andDragonfire 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.
Massive Darknessis 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…).
L5R 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.
Aeon’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.