Top Plays of 2017

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.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game 36
Northern Crown: New World Adventures (Pathfinder) 15
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu 9
Sentinels of the Multiverse 8
Betrayal at House on the Hill 5
Eldritch Horror 5
Codenames 4
Night’s Black Agents 4
Cat Tower 3
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate 2

Top Plays of 2016

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.

4. Codenames

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.[1]

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.[2] 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 RemnantsUnder 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.

[1] Almost as much as playing the ghost in Mysterium.

[2] 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.

We Have to Betray Deeper

If you care about spoilers for Betrayal at House on the Hill scenarios and its expansion, Widow’s Walk, gloss over the photo below and really the whole post.

Components of a successfully completed Betrayal at House on the Hill scenario and a smartphone timer reading 29:12.

Photo courtesy Chris Griffin.

In this particular scenario, “The Manor of Your Demise,” the haunt consists of resetting the house and playing a sub-game in which the explorers search for the original triggering omen, the Box, with a 30 minute time limit. If they trigger a haunt within the sub-game before finding the Box, they start a new game with a 15 minute time limit. And so on, and so on.

We lucked out and finished the scenario after 48 seconds, thanks to Box being on top of the omen deck. It was pure, unadulterated luck, as two separate people shuffled the omen deck, but it was a pretty cool coincidence — especially since one of the players had announced he had a hard out to go make a pizza.

One thing I’m curious about is the number of timers that may be at play if multiple sub-games are initiated during the course of the scenario. The text in the Survivor’s Guide refers to starting “a timer” (emphasis mine) and never refers to stopping a timer, which say to me that the 30 minute timer keeps running even when the 15 minute game begins, and both the 30 and 15 minute timers keep running if a 7.5 minute game is initiated, and so on, and so on.

If that’s the case — and one of my fellow players argued that multiple timers didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’m sticking with the distinction between a timer and the timer — then does the victory condition of finding the Box omen end the haunt the explorers are currently experiencing, or the entire series of nested haunts? The wording refers to “this new game,” which again suggests to me that for every new sub-game begun, it has be to resolved before the explorers get kicked out to try to resolve the prior sub-game.

But I may be overthinking things.

Professor Longfellow and the Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride made a beeline for Professor Longfellow while everyone else was trapped in the basement with no way out, thanks to the Collapsed Room, Coal Chute, Mystic Slide and Mystic Elevator. She rushed him through the rites of matrimony in record time.

Green Mountain Gamers’ Game ‘n Grill 2014

The 2011 Game 'n Grill, going down at the Upper Valley Grange in Norwich, Vermont.

Summer Game ‘n Grill 2014.

Yesterday, Green Mountain Gamers hosted their summer game day, complete with grill for flame-based food preparation. I got to play:

  1. Coconuts: a dexterity game of monkeys catapulting suspiciously squishy “coconuts” into baskets, which get built into pyramids. Lots of stealing baskets and angling to take coconuts out of commission.
  2. Sentinels of the Multiverse: on my fourth and fifth plays, I’m really starting to get this game. Enough that I led the second game, and spent some of today thinking it would be a great solo game for when I can’t find anyone else free to flop cards.
  3. Betrayal at House on the Hill: always a treat, especially with two scenarios I’ve never played before, one of which was traitor-less. I still feel like the winner was a traitor, though.
  4. Mansions of Madness: the previous time I thought I played this game might have been a dream. This time, we played The Yellow Sign scenario, which occasionally intersected with the fustercluck of investigators and cultists that clogged up the main hallway of said disturbed domicile for most of the game. The investigators won, though, so that was a change from my conception of this as a one-versus-many heavily tilted toward the one — which is, admittedly, in keeping with the Lovecraft themes.
  5. Bluff / Liar’s Dice: this version had a board with a track that made the rules of betting make a great deal more sense. Still not a game I’d suggest.

It was an ungodly gorgeous day outside, but we had a lot of fun hanging out at the Vergennes’ Congregational Church. The venue is very nice, the organizers had everything together — especially the lead, Chuck — and the snacks were better than ever. Green Mountain Gamers put on these free events, running off donations, and they’re always a great time. Congratulations to them for making them happen all year round.


The Games of 2012

What did I play in 2012? Well, according to my log over at Boardgamegeek/, in 2012 I played:

  • Role-Playing Games
    • 36 sessions of Carrion Crown
    • 11 sessions of Skull & Shackles
    • 1 session of Fiasco
    • 2 session of Call of Cthulhu
    • 1 session of Qalidar / True 20
    • GMed 1 session of GURPS Ghostbusters
  • Board Games
    • 9 rounds of Betrayal at House on the Hill
    • 6 rounds of Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game
    • 9 rounds of Dominion — with attendant expansions I will not list
    • 4 rounds of Android: Netrunner
    • 4 rounds of Give Me the Brain!
    • 3 rounds of Pandemic
    • 2 rounds of 7 Wonders
    • 2 rounds of Arkham Horror — with attendant expansions I will not list
    • 2 rounds of Carcassonne
    • 2 rounds of Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers
    • 1 round of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
    • 1 round of Castellan
    • 1 round of Chrononauts
    • 1 round of Chupacabra: Survive the Night
    • 1 round of Clue: Harry Potter Edition
    • 1 round of Cthulhu Fluxx
    • 1 round of Dungeon Petz
    • 1 round of Fealty
    • 1 round of Frag
    • 1 round of Guillotine
    • 1 round of IceDice
    • 1 round of Jungle Speed
    • 1 round of King of Tokyo
    • 1 round of Ligretto
    • 1 round of The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game
    • 1 round of Lords of Waterdeep
    • 1 round of Monty Python Fluxx
    • 1 round of Nefarious
    • 1 round of Small World Underground
    • 1 round of Smash Up
    • 1 round of Star Trek Deck Building Game: The Next Generation – The Next Phase
    • 1 round of Tales of the Arabian Nights
    • 1 round of Talisman
    • 1 round of Tobago

Betrayal at House on the Hill Warpgate Continues: Is the End in Sight?

This simple brown box contains so many delightful horrors.

A package arrived Wednesday evening via FedEx. The logo on the return label caught my eye: this was from Wizards of the Coast. The long-awaited replacement tiles for Betrayal at House on the Hill finally arrived!

Beneath a brief letter from Wizards of the Coast’s customer service department apologizing for the original problem and expressing thanks for their customers’ patience was the typical shrink-wrapped pack of tile sheets, very securely packed in layers of bubblewrap. Tearing off the wrap was, I have to admit, anti-climactic. I don’t know what I expected, to be honest. The whole point of the replacement tiles was they be exactly the same as the original batch, only without twisting and warping.

First printing on the left, second on the right. But you already could tell that.

So far, they seem good. The tiles came out of the package flat. As you can see by the picture comparing the first and second printings of a character tile, the cardstock is almost identical in weight. It’s simply that the one on the right is warped. So trait sliders will be loose as ever; perhaps now that character tiles can lay flat, though, those clips will be slightly less prone to moving unexpectedly.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the customer service. Wizards of the Coast was prompt in replying to customers, but the fix took months — which I can understand, as they had to arrange for a whole new print run of tiles — but it hardly satisfies a customer’s sense of entitlement to having a problem made right speedily.

I should clarify that Wizards of the Coast’s response is speedy when it comes to email or phone. Their snail mail response was miserable: a letter sent in early October wasn’t answered until December 28th. Granted, we live in a world increasingly dominated by electronic communication. However, I’ve gone by the rule of thumb that a written letter is more likely to prompt a response than an email that gets lost in the avalanche. That was not the case here.

Additionally, there is the fact to consider that this happened at all. Wizards of the Coast has a good reputation for quality physical components in their Dungeons & Dragons map tiles and the Castle Ravenloft board game. I wonder what went on in the process here that tripped them up: different development staff? Different printer? Different materials to cut down on costs?

For sure, I will strive to be more circumspect about snapping up a game from them in the future — doing double duty in resisting the acquisition imperative — even if it’s a reprint of something I know I love, like Betrayal at House on the Hill. Early adopters are mine canaries, in essence. I’ll let them take on finding out everything wrong with games.

Mail Call!

I received two bits of game-related mail in the last couple-four weeks, one of them markedly more welcome than the other. The first, which arrived sometime ago, shortly after the start of the new year, was a letter from Wizards of the Coast. Dated December 27th, it came in response to the physical copy of the email in which I originally expressed my displeasure with the warping tiles found in the new printing of Betrayal at House on the Hill — and yes, that date stamp is correct; I sent that email-letter combo back on October 25th.

Sadly, the letter didn’t have much to say, beyond apologizing for the problem and that they hoped to get the replacement tiles sometime in the first quarter of 2011 — i.e., now. Elsewhere on the web, namely Boardgamegeek, one European player reports that the customer service representative with whom they spoke said the tiles were available for shipping. So if Europe’s getting them, that’s a good sign for the US.

The much cooler piece of mail was Christian’s new handwritten zine, One Square Equals Five Feet. It’s a neat, two-sided, one sheet zine with adventure seed material to plug into one’s fantasy campaign. What I really dig about this is it really is handwritten the whole way through. Christian says that’s in part because he needs the deliberate process involved in making a zine, as opposed to bashing out blog posts as so many of us do.

Once again, Christian’s example gives me ideas and wishes that I’d like to live up to. As that happens, I start to perceive what may be a part of what Christian describes: in writing blog posts, you don’t do as much as you might have.

What a Wearying Wonderful Winter Weirdness Whirlwind

Nicole and John (left and right) explore the irradiated splendor of Gamma World while Mariah (center) observes.

All the ramp-up and preparation came to a head on Saturday, as we hosted our first Winter Weirdness game day in a church undercroft in Barre. It was, by any metric, a smash hit. Forty-odd people came in out of the cold and snow to spend their day playing games and making new acquaintances — I love watching the activity stream over at Green Mountain Gamers and on Facebook as people who meet up at these game days connect there.

My day consisted of getting to Barre early enough to set the room up, stashing soda and supplies in the kitchen and greeting the first arrivals until there was critical mass to play something and realizing that the way into the church basement wasn’t as clearly marked as it might have been. In the rush, the big friendly meeples that usually adorn sidewalks and doors to signal the location of a game day didn’t make the trip down the interstate.

As the day got underway and more people rolled in, a couple people came to me wanting to play Gamma World, which was pretty cool. I’d had the opportunity to try out the adventure in the back of the book previously with a different group of people, so I had an idea of how it might go. However, I’d forgotten there’s a critter in the second encounter that can easily lay waste to the entire party. The first time, I fudged it to keep the adventure moving forward. This time, however, I played it straight, mostly because it was a game day and I don’t think anyone wanted to spend the rest of the day playing through even an abbreviated version; that first run through took five hours to get through four encounters with fudging, as I was very aware of how much time would be involved in playing all the way through to the end, even if I skipped portions of the scenario.

By then it was 2:00 in the afternoon, so a group of us trooped over to Ladder 1 Grill, which is maybe fifty feet from the back door of the church, where I had an awesome turkey and bacon melt sandwich. Unlike the last two venues for the Green Mountain Game Days, downtown Barre has ample opportunities for sit-down and take-out food; Montpelier has even more, fancier options if you’re willing to take the drive and lose time at the tables.

After lunch, I wound up in games of Betrayal at House on the Hill and Dominion. My rule of thumb has become play new stuff at game days and conventions or play old games with new people. Plus the copy of Betrayal at House on the Hill belonged to Joe and it needed breaking in. Really, it pined for its dice to be torn out of their packaging and rolled. So we obliged. Dominion I got to play with my friend Kaye, Rick from the Book Garden and two old time gamers who were encountering the game for the first time that day. That was a cool experience to watch them pick up the mechanics.

Later, I tried out Elasund: The First City with Sarah, Andrew and Rod. It’s very Eurogamey. That’s all I want to say on the topic.

Accusations fly hot and heavy in Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game.

Elsewhere, Carlo, Munk and Rachel played Battlestar Galactica for what must have been ten or eleven hours. Not all in one game, but two with other players. I am deeply impressed by their commitment to fostering uncertainty, mistrust and paranoia.

In short, it was a huge day of gaming with people playing their brains out. I don’t know if the lousy morning weather worked for us — making people stircrazy and antsy to play games or against us — by penning them in their homes — but overall Winter Weirdness was an absolute success. And I think we found a great venue in the Church of the Good Shepherd’s basement. It’s cozy, has an very well equipped kitchen, a secondary space upstairs that’s idea for quieter role-playing games and is in easy walking distance to plenty of places to eat. Plus Barre is marginally central to three population centers: Burlington, the capitol district and the Upper Valley; sadly, when it comes to the Northeast Kingdom and southwestern Vermont, there’s still no way to get ther from here. Regardless, I think Green Mountain Gamers has found a second home in Barre.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] Card Game Medley

For the first Tuesday board game night of 2011, I led off with two rounds of Betrayal at House on the Hill — still waiting on those replacement tiles, Wizards of the Coast. The first game went much too quickly and swung straight to the traitor’s favor. The second was much longer, during both the exploration and haunt phases, eventually being won by the heroes. As a general rule of thumb, the longer the exploration phase takes, the more likely it is the heroes-to-be will find the items and rooms they need to defeat the traitor. In that second game, two of the three heroes also had the advantage of being able to hide in the basement from a pack of demons for a while, building up stats and gear.

After that, Shelley produced a series of card games from her bag: Mow, Aquarius and You Robot, the first two of which came fresh out of the wrapper, so those were a learning experience for all of us.

“‘Mow’ is French for ‘Moo,’ I Guess”

Mow is a sort of bidding game, for lack of a better description. There’s a deck of cards, each of which has a cow on it worth so many points. Some — most — cow cards also have a number of flies on them, which are worth negative points. The first player chooses a card from their hand with a numerical value higher or lower than the one on the table, placing it to the right or left, depending on whether the value is higher or lower. The next player does the same. A line, or herd, of cows slowly forms in this way. Every card played has to go at one or the other end of the line, so it becomes increasingly unlikely a player won’t have a sufficiently high or low value card to add to the herd. When someone can’t play a card, they take the whole herd into their score pile. Once the deck of cards runs out, the game’s over and all card values are added up. I think the cards in hand don’t count for negative fly points. There are also some acrobatic cows, which can insert themselves in the middle of the herd or play on top of cows of the same value.

The two strategies that leaped out at me during play were to either play conservatively, putting down cards that were close in value to those already in the herd, or aggressively, playing high value cards, making it less likely the next player would have something suitable to play. The downside of the aggressive choice is herds turn out smaller and less likely to have an abundance of flies to drag one’s score down.

I Will Not Make a Joke About Dawning Ages

Aquarius is a Looney Labs game, with Andy Looney’s trademark graphic style all over it. It’s a pattern matching game, in which players connect cards showing a mixture of panels of elements — fire, water, earth, air and space — together. There are several layouts of cards, such that one might be divided into four panels, each one with a different element, one larger panel with one element, and anywhere in between, as well. Whenever a card is played, an edge of an element has to touch the edge of a like element; fire to fire, water to water and so on. The goal of the game is for a player to link seven panels of the element whose goal card they currently hold in secret.

Yes, the goal they currently hold. This is an Andy Looney game, after all. In addition to the element cards, there are also cards that cause two people to trade goals, make everyone pass their goal around the table, trade hands and other fun stuff like that. It can also make the game time-consuming, as not only do players block elemental chains, but they slowly figure out who’s holding which goals as they shift around the table, as well as from who’s adding to which chains of elements. I liked Aquarius, but by the time someone finally won, we were pretty much done with it, given the mental rewards of playing the game versus time invested.

Hello, Computer

Finally, we tried You Robot, which Shelley likened to charades. And it is, a bit. In reverse. Played in teams, one teammate is a mad scientist who has built a robot. The other teammate is the robot. The mad scientist has a limited number of instructions it can give the robot. These instructions are in the form of six pictures: the robot itself, the robot’s head, the robot’s arm, the robot’s hand holding a rod, an arrow and a pair of circular arrows pointing at each other. Using only these cards plus the word “stop,” the scientists try to instruct their robots to take a particular position: sitting in a chair, kneeling in a praying position, making glasses out of their eyes, and so on.

This is bound to be a fun party game, with or without the lubrication of alcohol. As it was in the setting of Quarterstaff Games’ play area, a good bit of my enjoyment came from being the table of people getting up and moving around in funny ways while everyone else played more conventional board games.

Elsewhere that evening, there was a marathon series of Small World games, one single mind-blowing struggle after Hastur in Arkham Horror and a merry-go-round of Dominion, 7 Wonders and Fantasy Flight’s new version of Civilization.