Wednesday, January 27, 2016

BGG's Top Fifty, Staying Power, and Old Games

Like a lot of people, I spend time watching the top games on Boardgamegeek, because it's always interesting to watch what games people consider to be The Best of All Time, even if I often disagree with the ratings.

In fact, people often speak of the "Cult of the New" to describe games on the list, because new games will often rocket to the top of the list before gradually settling on down the list. It's exacerbated because people don't often go through and review their ratings and adjust them. And then "older" games hit the table less-frequently, and so even people who are fastidious about updating their ratings don't update older games in comparison to newer games.

This last weekend, I discovered that Tigris & Euphrates was available on my Kindle Fire. This game initially hit at about the same time as Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. It was part of the first wave of Euro-style games to hit with hobbyists here in North America. I remember playing it a few years before I started tracking games on BGG.

And it's a really good game. But it's a fairly dry abstract and it's a real brain-burner. These are both things that tend to hurt a game's numbers in the ratings game.

BUT it was re-released with a new edition in 2015, which makes it visible again and (often) boosts its ratings ... right?

So I did some searching and I found this thread, which (thankfully) includes T&E in its ratings. It doesn't go through 2015, but it does go through September of 2014.  So I was shocked to discover that its re-release hadn't improved its ratings. Or, honestly, made much of a difference to them at all.

In September of 2014, it was 31 on the list. As of this writing, it's 38. It's the third-oldest game in the Top 50, in fact. Crokinole and El Grande are the only two Top Fifty games that are older that are in the Top 50.

Only four games from 2015 are in the Top Fifty. Seven games from 2014.  The year with the most games? 2012 has eleven games.  I wonder - if I went back four years and did a similar analysis, would 2008 have a similar spike? Or was 2012 just an amazing year for games?

There is one (standalone) expansion on the list, Dominion Intrigue. It's rated higher than its base game.  War of the Ring is on there twice in two different editions. Two other games have their second editions listed, too. Game of Thrones and Descent: Journeys in the Dark. But the first editions for these games is not on the list.

Keep in mind - according to hobby gamers who visit BoardGameGeek (and rate games), these are the fifty best games of all time. And the average game was released midway through 2007. If you remove Crokinole from the listings, the average game was released in early 2010.

I'm not going to say these aren't good games, because they're not. Many of these are absolutely fantastic games. But where are the classics?  I'm not talking "Mass-market hits," here. I'm talking games which have very much stood the test of time. Go is #78 on the list. Chess is #344. Backgammon is #955.  That's insane.

Do I think the Cult of the New is a problem? Yes, but not to the same degree as many other folks seem to feel it is. And not for the same reasons.

I think that this list is an excellent guide for good hobby games, but using this as a list of the Best Games of All Time will leave the reader disappointed.

If I were running a game store, I'd keep track of the top ten or twenty or so, because these are the games which have had diverse appeal over the last few years - and their very presence on the list can lead to further sales for new gamers.

Not everyone will agree with all of these ratings. Me, for example. Of the 21 games I've rated that are on the list, my average rating is just over 7.2. At least one game on the list is one I rated a 4.

To find games that you might like, you're better off checking them by category. Pick a category, scroll down to "linked items" and where it says "sort," chose "rank," and it'll re-organize the list of games based on other peoples' ratings. And even that is no guarantee, because you may like a game that most people dislike (and vice versa).

Something to think on, I guess.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Late Kickstarter Update

I think it's about time for my quarterly Kickstarter Update.  I'm going to talk more about the later projects than about the ones that are only a little late or are on time.

Here's where I stand in terms of the gaming Kickstarters that I've backed that may or may not be late:

Unfulfilled and Late/Delayed
Powerchords - Still late. This is my longest outstanding project, having funded on October 1, 2010. We had three December updates after two November updates after ... a July update.  The author has been giving refunds to backers who asked for them, and he's been a generally pleasant person all around, so I'm willing to wait it out at this point.

Far West - Still late. For many Kickstarter-aware backers, this has become the poster child for late projects. I am the villain who went to his local Attorney General to get his refund. You may have read about me in an update or some comments. I received a partial refund (I'm now a digital-only backer, so I'll eventually get that PDF).  We were told to expect Chapter Nine "by Christmas," which hasn't happened. We were told to expect the finished product by the end of January.  I'm not holding my breath. The author has continued to be confrontational in tone when dealing with backers, and I don't think we'll ever see this.

The +5 Food of Eating Cookbook - I think I've mentioned this before. I've written it off, really. We have the PDF, but the print version is not coming. The author has dropped off the face of the earth. Which is always sad.

Synnibarr - Raven c.s. McCracken continues his show.  I have one PDF. Out of three coming. And three hardcover books which are due.  And he doesn't update on Kickstarter. He updates on Facebook. Sometimes in the Synnibarr community and sometimes in his personal FB page. Original due date: December 2013.  I think we probably have a longer wait coming for this.

Alas, Vegas - A number of people are angry or upset about this one and its delays.  I'm not one of them. James Wallis may release late, but his books are nearly always worth the wait.

Tales From the Floating Vagabond - This was an easy sell for me. TFFV was one of the best comedy games ever released. I'm starting to doubt I'll see a finished print copy, which is a shame. But - again - I'm not angry or upset about this one.  It'll arrive when it's done. Or not.  

Fae Nightmares - I've had the PDF since September of 2014, but the PDF is not currently available on DTRPG. It's still in my library, but I can't point it out to folks. I know that one of the project creators has had some health problems, and that's probably delaying the release of the print edition.

TimeWatch - Will be here when it gets here. It's a GUMSHOE game, and I do love the system (and I've enjoyed it when I've been able to play), it's not an easy sell for some groups for long-term play. I'll mostly be stealing ideas from it for other things. Because that is what I do with most games these days.

Mobile Frame Zero: Alpha Bandit - I received "final notice" to make sure my shipping address was up-to-date, so this will probably be in my hands soon.

13th Age in Glorantha - They keep giving us playtest PDFs that contain a class or a race or other bits and pieces. No idea when the final finished PDF (or print) will be out, though.

Demon Hunters - I've got my PDF. We had an update the other day. The POD version is going to be available to us soon. I may have my code before this post goes live. Original due date: July 2015.

Esteren - Occultism - They've had to find a new printer, which caused delays. But they're continuing to progress and fight through it.

Grimtooth's Ultimate Traps Collection - I got my PDF in June. We've seen images of the production edition as recently as two weeks ago.  I'd say this is on track to be less than a year later than its July 2015 estimated date.

Short Order Heroes: Theme Packs - I still think that Short Order Heroes was one of the best projects I have ever backed. I've gotten a ton of use out of it. This is ... well, it's a matter of waiting for the artist (who is working away). I have no fear that it'll get here, though. And it's only four months late at this point.

Mare Nostrum - Empires - Original estimated date: November 2015. Again: Not concerned. This grew in scope as the project ran, but I have no fear of this failing, either.

Interestingly, there are only three other gaming projects I've backed that aren't late, yet.

Blue Rose, which takes the old d20 setting/supplement and revises to to use Green Ronin's AGE system and which isn't late yet. Mana Surge, which is a game I saw when it was still a prototype and which I'm looking forward to. Shinobigami, which is being done by the same team who did Tenra Bansho Zero and Ryuutama, so I have no fear that it will be equally as amazing.

Received Since Last Update
I'm ... I'm not sure when I last did a Kickstarter update, so here's what I've received since August of last year:

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls - It was two years late, but it's here. And it's what I'd expected (and what I backed expecting), so I have no complaints on that front.

Two Rooms and a Boom - I don't play many party games, but I'm still glad I backed this one. It's not amazing. It's not groundbreaking or earthshattering or anything, but it's fun. And, with games, that's what matters.

Ryuutama - I haven't read this one thoroughly enough, yet. But I like what I've seen so far. More detail to eventually follow.

Fantaji - I haven't even looked at this, yet. It's ... it's on my "to be read" shelf, and a lot of what I see in it is right in that sweet spot for what I'm looking for in a system, but I'm focused on other things right now.

Feng Shui - This is a time-travel John Woo-style beat 'em up game. It was awesome in its earlier edition, and it's still awesome.\

Riders: A Game About Cheating Doomsday - I really like this one. A lot. It's phenomenal. It's like In Nomine with a ton more flavor.  I should spend a weekend and type up my thoughts on this one, because it's that good.

Epic - the latest card game from the Star Realms team. I haven't even looked at the rulebook, yet. Oops.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mechanical vs Non-Mechanical, Keeping Myself Focused

I realized the other day that I'm really starting to appreciate role-playing games where non-mechanical statements have (or can have) mechanical effects.

Of course, once they have mechanical effects, they're not really non-mechanical statements, are they?

A few examples of this:

In 13th Age, there are two forms of non-mechanical statement available to you. Every character has One Unique Thing, and your character has Backgrounds. The One Unique Thing is something that is distinctive to your character on a global scale. "I'm the only ... " is a good way to start these. In play, these don't necessarily have a strong mechanical effect, but they are a huge part of worldbuilding for the GM. And then the Backgrounds. These take the place of skills, but instead of cherry-picking from a list of "This is what I can do," you _create_ a list of "This is what I have done." As I've mentioned before, this can also be used for worldbuilding if you have a particularly awesome background. But it also fixes the problem you run into occasionally where skills are too narrow and you don't know what will fit your character concept well. It's much easier to spend three points on "Front-line Medic" than it is to split points between skills that keep you cool under fire and allow you to tape people up.

Fate doesn't have a specific list of character traits, either. You have "aspects," which describe your character and give you a benefit when they apply (and you spend a point).  So, for example, if my character has "Front-line Medic" as an Aspect, and has the "Heal" skill, I can spend a Fate Point to get a bonus on my skill roll or to negate a penalty for taping someone up while under fire.  And - before someone takes me to task - I know there's not a Heal skill in the default skill list. By the way, you can get the Fate Core System rulebook as a "Pay What You Want" PDF on DTRPG. And "$0" is an option. If you "buy" it for $0 and later want to pay, you can go back and buy it again.

And then there is Burning Wheel. It has beliefs and instincts. Beliefs are what drives your character. They can be goals, but some of the best beliefs are simpler than that. I've spoken in the past about using your character to tell your GM (and the other players) what type of game you are interested in playing. That is what the Beliefs are in a nutshell. If your character's belief is "Cats are the devil's eyes through which he sees into this world," then you've told the GM quite a bit about your character. And you've set up quite a bit of potentially very interesting play.  Instincts, however, are much closer to what I'm talking about here.  Instincts are frequently If/Then statements. "If startled, I grab my dagger." But they can also be "Always" statements about your character, "I always sleep with a dagger under my pillow." "Never pay full price for equipment in a big city."  You can even pair them with Beliefs, "Merchants in cities always overcharge," for example. It's part of why I find The Burning Wheel so appealing. To be honest, I like the Beliefs & Instincts better than I like most of the rest of the system (and I do like most of the rest of the system).

Currently, I'm playing in two games and running a third.  I'm playing in a 13th Age game, and in a Dungeons and Dragons (4th Edition) game. I'm running Legends of the Five Rings (4th Edition) game. And - in the process - I'm actually learning a lot about me as a player.  For example, I'm not an ideal player in a lot of ways.  I'm easily distracted and lack focus (which has to be frustrating for my GMs). And I'm learning to counter that. For example, in the 13th Age game, I multiclassed my character to include a class with a lot of fiddly bits that are only usable on other players' turns, which forces me to pay attention.  My D&D character is similarly active on other players' turns.  And I think that my ability to change gears at the drop of a hat is a strength as a GM, because players are the least predictable thing in any gaming situation and I need to be able to react.

Also worth noting: Two of the three products above have current Kickstarters running.

Next week, I'm going to check in on my delayed Kickstarter projects.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

New Year's Eve

I hope your New Year's Celebration (and, in fact, all of your various holiday celebrations) went well for you.

We went (as is typical) to our usual New Year's Eve gathering.

I played Star Wars Timeline, which I won.  The game, by the way, doesn't have a scheduled North American release due to licensing issues, so third-party sellers are going to be your best bet if you want a copy here in the US.

We followed that with Codenames. The more I play this game, the more I enjoy it. There is a surprising amount of subtlety in this one, and I'm apparently much better as a Team Captain than I am as a guesser.

That was followed by Ca$h 'n Guns (second edition), which I played twice. I never do well at this game, but it's a game I really enjoy. I don't do well because people (for reasons unknown) seem to enjoy pointing guns at me. I just do not understand this.

By this point, my brain was starting to melt, because I'd been up since earlier than usual at work. So we broke out Jungle Speed Safari. It's a very different game from regular Jungle Speed, and we played it a couple of times.  This is the game we were playing when the ball dropped.  Well, in our time zone.

One of the people we were playing with went to log his game on BoardGameGeek. "Wow," he said, "There are a lot of Jungle Speeds on here! Why is that?"  I should write about that, sometime. Because there are a lot of versions of this game, and they're all different.

We wrapped the evening with a seven-player game of Ultimate Warriorz. I do really enjoy this game. It's right on that line of being too simple rules-wise, and there are characters who will (almost) never win unless their player makes a significant mistake. But it's oddly entertaining.

By this point, my wife was coming down with a headache, so we bailed early and were home by three or so.  I captured some photos of a few of the folks I was gaming with, and I shared them here.

I received at least one Christmas gift that will be relevant to those of you reading this: I got a photographic light box. This means I'll have more (and hopefully better) photos to share with you. Which I think I say every year.

Again: I hope your holiday celebrations all went well, and I sincerely hope that 2016 is better for every one of you than 2015 was. Even if 2015 was the best year you have lived to date.