Board Games and Friendship: #51in15 Update

Last week a friend invited me and a couple of others out to his dad’s house in Hampshire, to dog-sit and enjoy a short summer vacation. The break was a huge success for a number of reasons: I got on with the dog, even though I am cynophobic; the weather was mostly lovely, even though I live in Britain; and we played loads of games, which wasn’t particularly unlikely, but was wonderful nonetheless.

Although we didn’t quite get round to roleplaying (again!), we did play nine different card or board games. Four of them I’d played before (two in the last couple of months), but the others were brand new. Many of those I tried for the first time have become favourites I am desperate to try again.

Whilst the holiday was a delightful time in the company of friends, more importantly it had quantitative value in a catalogue of arbitrary achievements. I’m referring to #51in15, the tabletop gaming challenge I blogged about back in April. I figured it was worth an update, to measure the progress I’ve made so far, and shine a spotlight upon the more interesting entries.

First, here’s a list of the games I’ve played since 11th April:

  1. Tsuro
  2. Zombie Dice
  3. Coup
  4. Small World Underground
  5. Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow
  6. Dungeons and Dragons (5th Edition)
  7. Hillfolk
  8. Star Wars: Armada
  9. Fate Core
  10. Dead of Winter
  11. The Vicar is Coming for Tea
  12. Sellswords
  13. Love Letter
  14. Galaxy Trucker
  15. Master Plan
  16. Ca$h ‘n’ Guns
  17. Black Crusade
  18. Psi*Run
  19. Dungeon World
  20. Crabz
  21. Guess the Mess
  22. Takenoko
  23. Dominion
  24. Hanabi
  25. Pixel Tactics
  26. Tiny Epic Kingdoms
  27. Space Alert
  28. Descent: Journeys in the Dark
  29. Lords of Vegas
  30. Ghost Stories
  31. Warhammer Fantasy (6th Edition)
  32. Carcassone

…a not-inconsiderable number, I’m pleased to say! Mostly this has come in fits and starts: 20 to 22 were all at the UK Games Expo, 24 to 30 from last week’s Hampshire trip. That’s not so surprising, but what I hadn’t expected is how few RPGs made it onto the list. 7 out of 32 really isn’t all that many, especially as 4 of them are from ongoing campaigns. I need to run or play more one-offs.

To accompany my meaningless list, here are some meaningless awards! (That’s code for “games I want to talk more about”.)

Best Recent Discovery is Pixel Tactics by Level 99 Games. I don’t usually go in for 2-player games, because gaming is primarily a social activity for me, but something as layered and rewarding as this is more important than friendship. It’s a strategy game in which positioning is critical, as every card has a completely different effect depending on if you play it your front, side, rear areas, or choose it as your “commander” card. It’s amazing how much information each card can contain, and the multitude of choices you are presented with each turn. Even though I’ve won both of the two games I’ve played, I feel like I know nothing about how to play this game well. That’s intimidating, but also a powerful incentive to go back and try it again,

New Favourite Game is Space Alert by Czech Games. We sat down to play it one night on holiday and carried on into the early hours of the morning, laughing as much as I can remember ever doing with a game. Gameplay can be basically summarised as ten minutes of hurried panic, programming actions for each character to take in response to emerging threats… followed by the phase in which you work out whether you programmed your orders correctly, discovering to your horror and amusement the extent of your failure. I loved it to bits and will definitely play again; but I can’t call it my “Best Recent Discovery” because I have tried to play it before, and never had enough time to get through more than the first training mission. That this game takes so long to teach is its biggest flaw, and I’ll have to be careful to make sure I’m playing again with the same people as last time, or be prepared to go through basic training again. Not to be confused with Space Cadets, which is also great, also funny, also in space, and also takes too long to teach.

The Game I’m Falling Out Of Love With is Descent: Journeys in the Dark by Fantasy Flight Games. Last week one of us brought along the new co-operative adventure and we played a game of it (really two, but we lost the first one so early that we starting again). It was… not good. Halfway through the dungeon we found ourselves just rolling dice over and over again, hoping to get the right result to move forward, with no strategy or choice factoring into our action whatsoever. Then we drew the wrong threat card and we all died. I dunno, I’ve had good Descent games, and I think there’s a case for it being a better version of D&D than D&D is – combat actually has strategy, and whilst you don’t roleplay, there’s often not that much roleplaying in D&D either. But getting a game together takes too much time, effort and money for something that is only *sometimes* fun. I think me and Descent need to take a break.

Blatant Fanboy Nostalgia Indulgence Award goes to Warhammer: the Game of Fantasy Battles by Games Workshop. For the first time in years, I got to play a Warhammer battle! This came out of a conversation with another friend in which we were both moaning about all the storage space our Warhammer takes up, and how wasteful it was when we never even played anympre. The bold and outlandish idea to actually PLAY A GAME can be credited to him. We agreed to use the version of the game we both knew, sixth edition (for context, the game’s about to release its ninth…), and headed over to Dark Sphere for a regression to our teenage years. I had a brilliant time, but man, I’d forgotten the crushing number of rules this game has… after the game, I was still remembering all the rules I’d forgotten or not applied properly (animosity, fear, weaponry choices, lapping round), and feeling guilty about the prospect that I might have accidentally cheated my way to victory. I’ll be playing again though, hopefully having brushed up on the rules more thoroughly beforehand, and with reference guides to prompt me in play. Maybe I’ll even pick up ninth edition if this becomes a common enough experience.

I also really really like Galaxy Trucker and Ca$h ‘n’ Guns. Nothing interesting to say about them, but they’re both really good games.

As a final note, here’s the plan for my #51in15 going forward:

  • Start going to the London Indie RPG Meet again. They’re good eggs, and they’re a brilliant way to introduce myself to lots of new RPGs in one-off form, which is something I want to do. Though funnily enough, looking at the above list, it seems like the only game I’ve played with them in the last couple of months is Dead of Winter, a board game.
  • Play more miniatures games. Or really, PLAY X-WING. Given the amount of money I spent on this game, promising myself that I was going to try and get involved competitively, it’s pretty demoralising that I haven’t had a single game since starting this list. Especially when I live a mile away from Dark Sphere, which must surely have one of the most active X-Wing communities in the world.
  • Re-play some of the board games I’ve really enjoyed – the ones I’ve mentioned above, and also Dead of Winter, Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Lords of Vegas. This won’t expand my #51in15 list, but it will be fun, which is almost as important.

I’ll try to revisit this in another few months. Hopefully I’ll have hit 51 by then!

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