My game plays in 2017 really dialed in on my personal preferences. Lots of the new Arkham Horror LCG and the Northern Crown role-playing campaign. Cat Tower is the weird outlier, because it’s easy to play 3 games of that in one sitting, especially when observing International Tabletop Day at the local barcade.
This week in Northern Crown, the Sophian contingent resumed their assault on the Stag Lord’s fortifications. Somehow, despite the party’s best efforts, Ethan Allen survived the frontal assault, so that’s an issue. Ivy and the pukwudgies arrived in time to turn the tide, helping keep the Stag Lord and his minions confused and in disarray while watch towers burned.
Now, once all the level-up goodies are dealt with, there remains the question of precisely what is hidden under the Stag Lord’s stronghold.
I am sucker for games with strong narratives and early American folk lore, so when word about the Legends of Sleepy Hollow game started to circulate, it caught my attention. Being a cooperative game with a defined narrative arc, a shoe-in theme and an art style that clicked with me, I thought this was the perfect game for me. Even when the Kickstarter launched and I started scrolling through more details, I kept thinking, “Yeah, I’ll like this game.”
Probably my first glimmering this might not be for me was an admittedly emotional reaction to seeing the game would retail for $100 after the Kickstarter. I wouldn’t say cost was a concern, per se, but I’ve come to associate that price point with games that have a high “toy value,” where you’re buying a bunch of figures to paint as much as a game in and of itself. I’m sure there are plenty of games that don’t fit that perception, but it’s one I’ve found myself with after hearing about so many different miniature-based games made possible by crowdfunding. So that was my first personal warning sign.
Then I started thinking about the figures themselves. Again, this is a emotional reaction, but it basically went, “I’ve never owned a game that’s mainly a box of minis before. Do I want to?”
Fortunately for me, the publisher released a print and play version of the first scenario in the campaign. Originally, I skimmed it and thought, “Yeah, that seems fine.” As time progressed and I thought more about what I understood of the gameplay, it seemed increasingly like a wise idea to make use of it.
So with less than 24 hours in the fundraising campaign, I got everything printed, cut and taped together and my friend Carlo came over to test things out. As it transpires, the basic game itself feels a lot like Zombicide and Ghostbusters, with a map that keeps filling up with monsters the heroes have to manage while achieving an objective. There’s more to Legends, as characters have upgrade options between scenarios, but the core gameplay seems to be essentially Zombicide with a heavy narrative arc linking the scenarios, as the heroes search for Ichabod Crane in the days after the “incident.”
So given that, I decided this isn’t a game I want to own. I would play Legends for sure, but I don’t want to be the one who has it sitting on their shelf, thinking about how infrequently I get to play it — that’s what Eldritch Horror is for these days — or hassling a friend to paint the figures. That was a lot of manual cutting and taping to arrive at the decision, but it was probably worth it compared to arriving there after the box has been dropped on my doorstep.
 I hung on to watching Fox’s Sleepy Hollow series for way longer than it deserved. The first season is still delightful, though.
In celebration of Cabbage Night, we played an eight person game of Last Night on Earth — at which point is really a crossover with Invasion from Outer Space, as the game breaks into two parallel games of four players each, with both groups of heroes trying to send a pair of items over to the other board to win the scenario.
Unsurprisingly, it was chaotic. The four monster players took their turn together, as did the heroes. The Martians invading the carnival — including me — got some static for taking longer than everyone else, but dammit, Martians are complicated critters, especially when there’s a pen of angry zard beasts who need their walkies.
In this age of previews, spoilers and advance information, I really enjoy the moments of delight when I discover something for the first time on my own, and immediately start making connections.
Case in point, my Arkham Horror: The Card Game group recently took up the “Night of the Zealot” campaign, in which I’m playing as Yorick the gravedigger. Just hours before our side trip to Louisiana yesterday, the Echoes of the Past pack appeared in the local game store. I try to stay ignorant of what’s in these expansions, so I got to be surprised and delighted by Cherished Keepsake, which is a nifty little 0-cost asset that can absorb 2 points of horror. Since Yorick plays cards out of his discard pile, 0-cost things like the Keepsake and Leather Coat are helpful ways to shake off horror and damage.
Yorick still ended last night’s “Curse of the Rougarou” with 4 damage and 4 sanity on him, but he’d’ve gone down well before then without having Mr. Pawterson around to console him. And it was a discovery I got to make all on my own, right off the bat with a fresh pack of cards.
 First Beary Manitou in Northern Crown and now Mr. Pawterson. Named bears are becoming a motif in my tabletop pursuits.
This past week in Northern Crown, the Sophian colonial militia — aka the heroes, plus some interlopers to the nascent colony that no one important would mind losing to the crossfire, like Ethan Allen — decided it was time to cement their claim to the territory of Vermont by removing the other apparent power: the Stag Lord, in his own home, no less.
Foxglove led Ethan and the other expendables on a frontal approach, while the remainder of the group, including our pudwudgie ally, scaled the rear of the stockade.
We all knew there was a good reason the rear approach looked so unguarded. Turns out it was a burial ground teeming with restless dead.
 Families and loved ones excluded.
Planning for Carnage has been under way since early this past summer. With less than a month to go before the convention kicks off, things are starting to feel truly real. This year feels different to me, for several different reasons.
To start, it’s Carnage’s 20th anniversary. The convention was first held in 1998 in a small hotel ballroom in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Since then, it’s grown to the point of taking over entire resorts. I’ve been attending the convention since 2005, so I have quite a few under my belt, but there are still plenty of people attending this year who can proudly say they have been to every single Carnage.
Last year, the convention offered an online registration option for the first time, letting people skip printing out and mailing in a paper form. This year, Carnage took the next step forward, using an online, real-time registration system custom built for game conventions called Tabletop.Events. Having a dynamic system that facilitates customer self-service — people can see what games are open while lounging in their PJs, instead of having to pad down to the convention information desk! — has been huge for both the attendees and the organizers. Adding games to the schedule after the initial launch no longer means they’re on an addendum sheet that not everyone may catch.
In fact, the automation of registration has given me the mental bandwidth to work on something I’ve wanted to do for a while: work on more graphical elements for social media, like the one above. They may not go viral, per se, but I’ve seen the metrics on the few that have published so far and their visibility has been significantly better than text-only posts, or links to the Carnage website.
Plus, getting continuous seat time in Photoshop has been a help for me finally getting more comfortable in that space and learning what the tools really do as I’m following along with tutorials to achieve this effect or the other. Graphics for social media are a low stakes area for Carnage, so there’s room to play and get creative to see what sticks.
Lastly, but by no means least, for the first time ever Carnage will host live comedy games of Dungeons & Dragons featuring not one, but two groups. Friday night, Improvised Weapons is an actual play podcast featuring improv comedians from the Burlington area that I’ve been enjoying for a while now, and this will be their first live show with an audience.
Saturday night, Victory Condition Gaming hosts the next installment on their ongoing live stream game run by Joe from Gemhammer & Sons with a cast of characters from the regional convention circuit. And yes, you read that right, it’s a live stream game, available through Victory Condition’s YouTube channel. Victory Condition is also kindly providing live stream coverage of the Improvised Weapons shows and other games at Carnage this year.
Now, because you’ve made it to the end of the article, here’s a sneak preview for something launching on social media tomorrow:
One of my bucket list role-playing games has been Northern Crown ever since the setting was first published in the mid-aughts. In a fantasy-infused version of North American in 1650, the Republic of Sophia has sent an expedition in support of a lonely trading post on the western shore of a long lake named after the French explorer de Champlain, charged with exploring and claiming the lands there for the republic. And so the heroes arrived at Ira and Jerusha Allen’s trading post, just in time to fend off marauding bandits who have come to raid the storehouse.
The layout that our GM, Tom, came up with to represent the trading post was pretty damn impressive — especially because he had it hidden under the surface of his game table. We started thinking we were just going to be using a Lego canal ship, then Tom broke out the Heroscape terrain for the interlude where we freed the sasquatch from cruel portagers, and then he said, “We need to move all this,” and started pulling up the table surface to reveal the diorama pictured above.
 I’m told it’s loosely the plot of Pathfinder‘s Kingmaker adventure path, reconfigured for the lands and peoples of Northern Crown, using an equally loose implementation of Pathfinder rules, with elements from Dungeon Crawl Classics and FATE.
Making last year’s Top Plays of 2015 post a tradition, it’s time to count down my most played board games of 2015! You can see everything I played, tabletop-wise, over on BoardGameGeek. And stay until the end, because at the end of the list, I set myself some hobby-related goals for 2017.
While most of my tabletop time in 2016 was been spent on board and card games, I did manage to up my role-playing a little bit. There was the stop-and-start campaign of Skull & Shackles, sadly more stopped than started, and a biweekly playthrough of The Dracula Dossier for Night’s Black Agents. I continue to hope that next year will be the year that I get more regular role-playing opportunities, and I have some thoughts on how to achieve that.
That said, on with the countdown, from least plays of 2016 to the most.
5. Betrayal at House on the Hill
That perennial favorite of mine, the haunted house-building, cheesy horror movie tribute game Betrayal got a richly deserved expansion this year, called Widow’s Walk. The prospect of experiencing new haunts helped me get in six plays of the game in 2016, though maybe half of those came after the expansion’s release. Probably my most memorable session of the game remains playing through “The Manor of Your Demise” and teasing out just how deep down the rabbit hole one can go.
Codenames is the second newest game to make this list. It’s a party-sized game, where two teams try to figure out what the hell the spymaster means by “Blue 2” and other clues meant to help them pick out specific words from a grid of options. It’s also one of those games where you can rack up a lot of plays in one or two sittings as teams shuffle around, or someone tries to reclaim their dignity after a poor turn as the spymaster. Of my seven plays of Codenames, I struggled as the spymaster every time I was in the hot seat.
3. Arkham Horror: The Card Game
The most recently published entrant on the list, the Arkham LCG was my only — and thus most — anticipated game to play in 2016 since news first slipped out in April. The blend of cooperative play and the Cthulhu mythos really appealed to me. I’m reasonably certain I’m on record in at least a couple Decked! episodes or comments noting I played Arkham‘s predecessor primarily for the theme, rather than the thrill of competitive play.
I don’t know yet if Arkham has staying power for me, but experiencing the design of the Curse of the Rougarou standalone expansion did far more to convince me I would enjoy playing this game than the introductory scenarios in the core set did. It seems very likely I’ll get in more sessions in 2017 than the eight I managed in 2016.
2. Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game
It will surprise no regular reader of Held Action that I have played quite a few games of the Call of Cthulhu living card game, going so far as to make videos of them for the internet’s delight. The Cthulhu LCG is my all-time most played game on BoardGameGeek, with 189 matches logged. In 2016, however, Call of Cthulhu slipped to second place for plays of 2016. I “only” got in 10 matches, and that was probably thanks in large part to at least one “you people need to buy all the extra packs I ordered” draft event at Black Moon Games in Lebanon.
Since Fantasy Flight stopped publishing new cards — and yes, the game is still enjoyable without a constant stream of new material — that put a major damper on the local play group making the time to get together. I’d love to play more — and still have yet to make substantial use of anything from The Mark of Madness — but I anticipate this game being in direct competition with the Arkham LCG for time and attention. The local play rosters for the two games are almost identical and we are all working stiffs with a limited amount of time on our hands. So it goes.
1. Sentinels of the Multiverse
And as the Call of Cthulhu LCG slips from first, so does Sentinels of the Multiverse rise to take the crown. This is the title that people at area game nights have come to expect to see me toting. I introduced my friend Margot to the game this year, and she took to quite readily, so the list of people who are almost always up for a game of Sentinels is slowly growing.
While I got in 11 plays of the ink and cardboard version of Sentinels this year, I logged far, far more time playing the digital version. I took advantage of free time over the holidays this year to knock out the achievements a solo player can attain, including all the story challenge achievements for unlocking variant character cards. All that remains is the achievement to play with Handelabra or Greater Than Games, or someone who’s played with them.
Sentinels has been the game that occupied most of my attention in 2016. Handelabra Games launched a phone-friendly version of the game, giving me something to do during downtime out and about — I knocked out a quick game waiting for Rogue One to begin last week, for instance. The weekly one-shot challenges became the feature of Decked! episodes. Greater Than Games raised funds for the game’s final expansion and host of bonus content, which also helped reinvigorate my interest in the game.
Tabletop Goals for 2017
I’d like to start a new part of this end of year post tradition: setting some play goals for the year to come. In no particular order, I would like to:
- Get in more plays of the games I own and enjoy. Eldritch Horror has yet another big box expansion on the way and I have barely scratched the surfaces of the Strange Remnants, Under the Pyramids and Signs of Carcosa expansions. Likewise, there is so much more of Widow’s Walk to play.
- Play more role-playing games. Dracula Dossier is my regular game at the moment and as one that’s played on the weekend, there are often things that get in the way of everyone making it. I’d like to find or start a regular game on a week night that isn’t already crammed on everyone’s calendar. By some twist of synchronicity, everyone in Chittenden County thinks Tuesday is the optimal night to play games, which means there’s a plethora of choice, but not a lot of crossover as people commit to one place and set of players.
- Find and create my next big game-related project. I’ve produced a podcast. I’ve made YouTube play videos through Decked! I like to produce game-adjacent content, it seems, and I would like to find a new endeavor or area of interest to focus on, like I have with Cthulhu commentary and Sentinels one-shots in the past. I don’t know what shape that might take yet, but I’ve been giving it thought and hope to come up with a fun project for 2017.
 Almost as much as playing the ghost in Mysterium.
 In fact, Steam’s telling me I spent almost 70 hours on the game in the last two weeks, though I’m not sure if that’s total time the game application was open, or time where I was moving the mouse and clicking things.