My big news for September is that I’ve actually been playing real-life games with real-life people once again! We went away for a week with the in-laws, and my brother-in-law brought Ticket to Ride: Europe along. It’s something he’d mentioned back at Christmas time, but with all the lockdowns and whatnot, we hadn’t really pursued the idea. Being a gateway game, it was perfect for the whole family to get together (although with six adults and a five-player game, it did mean that there was someone left over to act as the baby monitor…) I have played it a few times back in my heyday of gaming, but had since sold off because I had so many games that were going unplayed. Well, it looks like my wife is a bit of a convert, and so we might be investing at some point! I still have the app on my tablet though, so can always get some games in with the pass-and-play function there. But it was tremendous to be gaming once more, I have to say!
Ticket to Ride is one of those games that is so delightfully easy to pick up, and the strategy comes in actually playing the game, and not hidden within a plethora of rules, that I find it really a lot of fun. Sure, you can end up with turn after turn of not being able to do anything, but I suppose that’s the luck of the draw. I also don’t find it all that super-competitive to play so that I end up getting stressed by those types of empty turns. It was quite refreshing to play, after having spent a lot of time with Warhammer 40k!
It also got me thinking about my relationship with board games nowadays, and this is something that was reinforced when I read this blog at the weekend. I strongly suggest you read this, as it is a very insightful look into the state of board games these days, and I echo a lot of the sentiments quite a great deal. Kickstarter games seem to have taken over the board game market these days, leading to a saturation that leaves me a bit confused about the lay of the land today. Due to the way Kickstarter works, games are only available for a short space of time and then gone, with very few making it to the shelves of the local store. There’s no “catalogue” to speak of, just a continual raft of new games, selling this cult of the new and the shiny.
It makes me a bit sad, because I feel like we’ve left those days of board games like A Touch of Evil or Runebound, and nowadays everything needs to come with a bucket load of miniatures to have that sort of mass-appeal. I think that the Hellboy board game is a case in point for me here. True, it was put out by Mantic, who do make miniatures games, and was designed by the chap who led the redesign on Necromunda, so there is a provenance there. But I’ve got some pretty huge boxes of stuff under my bed, which I really need to take a look at. But isn’t that just symptomatic of these types of big games, which have a lot of set-up and a lot of effort for a game, whereas you could be playing something like Ticket to Ride inside of a couple of minutes? I do still enjoy the kinds of games that can take you a whole afternoon, don’t get me wrong – I mean, I’m a 40k player, after all! – but so often with Kickstarter games, it seems to be the case that the rules are complex and dense, making for a long game because you’re trying to work out how to play it. Games like Runebound can go long because you’re playing for a long time, not because you’re constantly referring back to the rulebook!
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the Hellboy game though, as it’s one of my favourite fictional universes, and one that I want to delve into more. The game seems a perfect vehicle for that, as we have a lot of elements from both the Hellboy and BPRD graphic novel storylines to discover. I think having a massive box of miniatures has put me off a little bit, though, as it has turned into something a little bit intimidating to work through. I can still remember my wonder when opening that honking big box of stuff, and seeing all of the various gribblies, and getting pretty excited for what this game was going to be, but then playing it seemed to fall a little flat as I just didn’t get the sense of exploration or whatever. I guess I need to give it more of a chance, but time is not something that I have a lot of these days!
For all that Kickstarter games have that allure, I have found myself selling them off because I don’t have the storage or the inclination to climb that mountain of miniatures that they come with! I’m not trying to bash these of course, and if you’re a Kickstarter fan, there’s no problem with that. For me, I find them pretty exhausting, and sometimes, they’re not even that good when it comes down to the actual gameplay. Shadows of Brimstone was a big case in point for me on that score, and I definitely had my fingers burnt with that one.
My regular gaming buddy Tony has long been a huge KS devotee, and together with his boyfriend Lee they’ve invested thousands into these types of big, miniatures-heavy, multiple-expansions-at-once sorts of games – to the point where they actually have too many games to ever really play and enjoy. Most of them have either never been played, or they might have been cracked open once to give it a go and that will be it. The half-dozen expansions that were part of the stretch goals are either still in the shrinkwrap or else have been looked at, and then returned to their boxes.
It’s quite sad, really, and I am also guilty of this, with the expansions for the Hellboy game that I’ve picked up still lying unwrapped under the bed. I definitely need to look at that one again, as I remember it being pretty good, but it seems so symptomatic of this whole situation – I’ve played that game three times, back when it was delivered in April 2019, but that has been it. Meanwhile, I’ve been playing Arkham Horror and Lord of the Rings quite a lot! Once that shiny and new has worn off, how great are these games in comparison with the old favourites?
I’m not about to launch into a sort of “back in the day” rant, but part of me does harken back to the time where you’d buy a game, then maybe 8-12 months later there’d be an expansion, then over the course of the next year you might get a couple more. With the Kickstarter model becoming seemingly more prevalent, you pretty much buy a game with at least half a dozen expansions in there as well. It seems a bit skewed and, in the case of me with the Hellboy box, it seems confusing when you have a whole bunch of stuff, only a small portion of which is actually meant to form the core game. But I do realise that is perhaps more of an issue with some companies, whereas others will provide a retail-level of game for you right off the bat, all nicely separated into their respective expansion boxes. I think the Hellboy box that I have is the equivalent of core set, two big expansions and about 4 smaller boxes.
The board gaming landscape has definitely changed, and I’m not so sure I want to keep up with it anymore. Like I said, though, if it works for you, then that’s great. I’m not really sure the new way is for me, anymore. I’ll pick up the Arkham Horror LCG for as long as that runs, but I don’t think there has really been anything that has grabbed my attention for a few years now in the mainstream (non-KS) market. Which I find weird, because I used to be such a fan of Fantasy Flight, but they appear to have really run themselves into the ground. Remember when the In-Flight Report would be an event at GenCon? When we’d have genuine excitement over what is going to come next from the company? Doesn’t really seem like there’s much going on now, outside of a couple of card games. Though I would guess that’s more on how Asmodee are choosing to run things.
There is also the other factor to consider, how my own circumstances have changed. I suppose I’ve moved from being a board gamer to being a wargamer, and have kept the small handful of games that I know I enjoy, but by and large I’m not all that open to buying a £40 game on a whim when that £40 could be spent on a new unit for one of my armies! I’ve become so much more invested in tabletop wargaming that I seem to prefer to spend my time marshalling the plastic crack, rather than playing board games. But the will is still there, of course, in the way that I enjoy stuff like Blackstone Fortress, how I’m looking at the new Kill Team and so on. I think I still want to play board games, and I will most likely still be writing about them here on the blog, though this has now primarily become a Warhammer 40k platform with the occasional card game thrown in!
I haven’t played games with Tony for years, and of course the pandemic hasn’t helped there, but we’ve been talking about recapturing the good old days, and I’m hopeful that soon, when things settle down a bit more with the kids and we can reliably have the evenings back, that we can maybe look at getting some games to the table. Perhaps play a few rounds of Magic as well, properly capturing the old game days (though with fewer 3am finishes…)
So, what was the point of this ramble? Well, I guess it’s just something that has been running round a lot in my head for a while now, and after reading Tavendale’s blog it got me thinking more and more about it. I’m not sure I have anything particularly enlightening to say, but it’s nice to get these things down on paper every so often, maybe spark some debate, or whatever!