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.

Send in the Clones

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Regrettably, this is no tie-in to the derided Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Up the Long Ladder.” Rather, the first weekly one-shot of Sentinels of the Multiverse post Vengeance release features the team villain mode, in which Baron Blades brings some allies, Proletariat and Fright Train, to help take down America’s Youngest Legacy, the Southwest Sentinels and Setback.

All three hero decks in this one-shot feature HP recovery, often as a rider on dealing some damage or some other useful feature, which is often helpful, especially for the Sentinels, since they’re a team of lower HP heroes.

The advice going into this one was to focus on hitting Fright Train first. Proletariat injures himself depending on the number of clones in play, so he did more to remove himself from the game than anyone else, though the Idealist lent some psychic damage to speed things along. Destroying Genetically Fused Physique with Setback’s “Whoops! Sorry!” means Blade starts injuring himself as well, and no one’s doing very large instances of damage, so Superhuman Durability seemed like a decent candidate to sacrifice.

Unlocking Dark Watch: Setback

The variant identity Dark Watch Setback has been unlocked!

The Dark Watch: Setback variant identity in Sentinels of the Multiverse has one of the more challenging unlock conditions: defeat the Chairman in Rook City with Setback and the rest of the Dark Watch team as their variant selves: Nightmist, Mister Fixer and Expatriette. This is a challenging setup, top to bottom.[1][2] Thus, I turned to cheese.

This is a challenging setup, top to bottom. Thus, I turned to cheese.

Now in fairness, I slogged through a lot of total failures before turning to cheese. Most of the initial batch of games, both the Chairman and his flunky, the Operative, stayed at or had been restored to full health. I think I now hate the Fence more than I do any other of the Chairman’s underbosses. But after the unmitigated suffering of a team line-up where the heavy hitter keeps destroying the equipment and ongoings that makes the other heroes effective, I turned to the internet and came upon the Friendly Fire/Dual Crowbars combo.

In short, Friendly Fire allows Setback to be dealt 2 damage anytime a hero target would deal damage. Mister Fixer’s Dual Crowbars allow him to damage a second target any time he would deal damage. So Mister Fixer hits a target, Friendly Fire allows him to hit Setback, Dual Crowbars allows a new instance of damage to split off Fixer hitting Setback, then Friendly Fire allows Fixer to hit Setback again because he just dealt damage to a target, and so on and so on until Setback is incapacitated from getting whacked on the head with a crowbar.

In the context of this particular match-up, you are essentially sacrificing Setback to take the Operative out of the game in the first turn. And that is an excellent trade. Taking out the Operative means that underbosses enter play more slowly and destroying villain targets doesn’t incur retributive damage. And incapacitated Setback gives you half a regular hero turn with a card play or power use by someone who is, frankly, probably going to be more useful than he was, so . . .

So I shifted gears from “let’s fail fast repeatedly and figure out what worked at all” to restarting the game repeatedly until Setback and Fixer had the two key cards in hand. Aside from the amount of clicking between viable setups, I made more progress than before, but it still needed tweaking. Setback should lead the team, for instance, to allow Fixer to destroy the Operative on the first round. Others have suggested Fixer should go last, to increase the chances of playing a piece of fodder for his Bitter Strike from Nightmist or Expatriette.

It can all still come down to the flop, though. The final run through led off with the Contract coming out and an unbelievable string of Falling Statuary. Once the Operative was removed, there were, amazingly, some do-nothing turns waiting for the Chairman to flip as underbosses trickled into play and were sent to the trash. Several Perfect Human Specimen plays while the Chairman was at full HP didn’t bother me at all.

Once the Chairman flipped, his retaliatory damage took out Mister Fixer in a couple hits. I lucked out with Nightmist[3] and got an Amulet of the Elder Gods out just in time for the Chairman to hit her, which she redirected to him with the amulet, causing the Chairman to hit himself in response to hitting himself. That was pretty gratifying. Expatriette did the final bit of damage on Setback’s turn, so everyone got to get their licks in by the end.


[1] Note that the weekly one-shot Ridiculous Challenge Time, which wrecked a number of mint streaks, pitted Dark Watch Fixer, Nightmist and Expatriette against the Chairman.

[2] And why I put this one off, much like Price of Freedom of Wraith and Ra, Horus of Two Horizons. The second being one achievement I still have to earn.

[3] I lucked out twice, in fact, because an early Mists of Time/Mist-Fueled Recovery one-two put Nightmist back at full health and ready to take the “highest HP” punches while everyone else hovered at the brink of single digits.

Prime Wardens Are Go

A collage of the achievement screens for unlocking the five Prime Warden variants in Sentinels of the Multiverse.Thanks to the industrious players over on the Sentinels of the Multiverse video game forum, the unlock conditions for the Prime Warden identities were all figured out over the last couple weeks. After an extended hiatus from the digital version of Sentinels — Steam had me down as last playing in September — I decided to see how many of the Prime Wardens I could unlock over the weekend. I have a certain affection for this team, because they were the first set of promo cards that I got directly on my own, as part of preordering Wrath of the Cosmos. I’ve never known how to use them because I don’t get to play in reality as often as I might like, but I feel an attachment to the team as the promo cards that I didn’t proxy.

Argent Adept was, weirdly, the trickiest for me to unlock. I had a couple false starts as I bounced among devices and had to ensure multiple times that I had met both halves of the unlock. As the Adept is well-suited to making this happen on his own, the second half came down to remembering whether I had indeed played all the instruments. Captain Cosmic’s Dynamic Siphons are always helpful to the Adept using powers off-turn.

Captain Cosmic and Tempest unlocked in the same session in Dok’Thorath. Prime Warden Argent Adept and America’s Greatest Legacy put their powers towards helping Cosmic dig through his deck for Energy Bracers, and have the cards to pay for redirecting damage from Abject Refugees. The Visionary came along to sift the environment for the refugees themselves and ablate the less ignorable cards.

By the time Captain Cosmic’s variant was unlocked, we were well into the game and Tempest had inadvertently set up most of what he needed for his own unlock. Adept and Legacy assisted in fishing out the remainder of his unlock setup and the game ended with Tempest administering the coup de grace on Argent Adept’s turn.

Fanatic versus Apostate went quietly. Argent Adept and America’s Greatest Legacy led the team again, to help Fanatic dig for cards, since the Redeemer variant doesn’t start with a damaging ability. Dark Visionary minded the top of Apostate’s deck, getting the demons in play that Fanatic needed to clean up for her unlock condition.

For Haka, I played cautiously, because I don’t relish deliberately incapacitating heroes. Once Savage Mana was out, I made sure all of Ambuscade’s devices were stashed there before eliminating the other heroes. Captain Cosmic and the Wraith’s big finishing moves took out two heroes in one turn, and then Haka was able to polish off the rest, before restoring himself to full health and then closing out the game with his own big finisher to clean Ambuscade’s 1 HP clock.

Turning of the Seasons

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, my major stumbling block in this one-shot against Progeny, “Turning of the Seasons,” was failing to take into account the scions that Progeny had in play. Once I finally trained myself to check whether Scion of Frost was in play — and thus would negate or worse the damage a hero was about to deal — we were in the second Steam game.

Playing more conservatively helped as well on the second outing. Putting Captain Cosmic’s Vitality Conduits early, and then flicking their ears with Guise’s Tough Choices helped keep hero HPs above 0. I still lost Cosmic himself in this round, but he’d helped Skyscraper and Guise keep back incapacitation long enough, and then Skyscraper’s Thorathian Monoliths, with some Rest and Recovery action in between, kept the damage at bay, and then Compulsion Canisters got most of the work done. As it was, it was the Freedom Fighters that took Progeny down completely, because it turns out that if Guise is immune to damage, he doesn’t have the opportunity to redirect it with Total Beefcake.

A Simple Plan

Mint victory against Citizen Dawn with Fanatic, Absolute Zero, Ra: Horus of Two Horizons and Tempest.

Citizen Dawn has a rightful reputation as a difficult villain if you aren’t specifically arming against her with techniques to take citizens out of her trash or mitigating her one-shot surprises. With the line-up offered in A Simple Plan, those tactics aren’t really options.

I’ve been practicing against one-shots on iOS and then taking what I’ve learned there to go for mint on Steam. In this game’s case, it took me five or six plays before I even beat Dawn at all. Some of the strategies I tried included:

  • Using Wrathful Retribution on turn one to get Citizen Anvil’s blanket damage reduction off the board.
  • Allowing multiple copies of Return with the Dawn to keep citizens out of the trash — worked okay, but wound up flooding the board with more villain damage than I could handle.
  • Directing Citizen Hammer’s first damage instance to Absolute Zero, who reacts with Isothermic Transducer and saves everyone else from getting toasted.
  • Banking on Citizens Summer and Hammer recurring and then using Flesh of the Sun Good to prevent their fire damage, thus allowing heroes to focus their damage where it was most pressing.
  • Getting rid of Dawn’s ongoings as soon as Absolute Zero could play Fueled Freeze. Several games, I ignored them to capitalize on Drawn on the Flame, but her cranking out minions was more trouble than 4-5 points of damage to non-hero targets was worth.

And a lot of it was just luck. Return with the Dawn could be kind or cruel, depending on whether it resurrected someone like Anvil, who’s just doing damage, or Truth, who’s stopping you from dealing your team’s own damage where it really matters. Citizen Dawn may go nova and stay that way for turns on end while you have to suffer the slings and arrows of a trickle of citizens, or immediately flip back on the very same turn because there were enough citizens in play and in the trash to satisfy both conditions. I’d like to say I plan things like that out, but it really is just luck.

Nightmare Walking

Defeating Gloomweaver, Skin-Walker in Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Video Game

After a test run of this week’s Sentinels of the Multiverse one-shot on iOS, I thought my “for reals” playthrough on Steam was going to be relatively straightforward. I forgot, though, that my first play ended in a mint thanks to a great deal of luck, climaxing in an Inventory Barrage that did just enough damage to Gloomweaver to end the game.

For the Steam playthrough, I lost the first attempt and squeaked by on the second, resulting in a near mint issue. From my recollection, the main differences in the Steam games were not spamming Stun Bolts as heavily against Gloomweaver, never making use of Thorathian Monolith and shifting from using Super Scientific Tachyon’s Experiment to the more safe Research Grant.

For a villain that never destroys hero ongoings or equipment, this felt weirdly like an instance of having a hard time gaining traction. Once Skinwalker Gloomweaver flips, he’s gaining HP back every time a target is destroyed and playing a card when cultists are destroyed. There was plenty of damage options among the heroes in play — except when fricking Profane Zealot pops out yet again — but it’s hard to feel like one’s making progress when Gloomweaver’s playing yet more cards and healing up past where he was when the attack began.

In that regard, the Skinwalker variant is a nice upgrade from the original Gloomweaver, who’s kind of a cakewalk. This one keeps churning out minions, and some of his cultists are true pains in the ass, like the aforementioned Profane Zealot, as well as Cursed Acolyte.

And interestingly, last week’s Harbinger of Melancholy pairs with this week’s one-shot to mimic a challenge mode, in which the group plays against Spite, Agent of Gloom and, on victory, immediately plays against Skinwalker Gloomweaver with their present card set-ups and HP values. Fun, right? Personally, I’m a little nervous of when Handelabra implements challenge mode. Is that the future of weekly one-shots?

Harbinger of Melancholy

The victory screen against Spite, Agent of Gloom, showing a tombstone, cracked vertically.

This week’s one-shot against the variant Spite villain, Agent of Gloom, felt like a slog in the making. I took advice from the forums and used Wraith’s Infrared Eyepiece and Dark Visionary’s Turmoil to put victims on the bottom of Spite’s deck, and then used Super Scientific Tachyon’s Experiment power to put those victims into play. Within two turns, Spite had flipped to his Broken Vessel side, with a single drug up, which reduced the first instance of damage done to him on a turn by -2.

After the first few turns of Spite dealing damage, it became excitement by repetition. Spite’s damage was reduced by Stun Bolts and Twist the Ether, or blocked entirely with Hypersonic Assault and Throat Jab. Sky-Scraper dealt irreducible damage with Catch a Ride or Compulsion Canister — and then recycled Compulsion Canister. And the environment of Omnitron IV was a non-issue thanks to Visionary spamming Mass Levitation, along with Wraith’s Mega-Computer.

If you want to see this one played out, see LewdDolphin21’s playthrough on YouTube.

Ghosts of Gift-Mas Past

Victory screen of Sentinels of the Multiverse: Gloomweaver defeated by Argent Adept, America's Greatest Legacy and Guise.

Going into this one-shot, the accounts were it was a long slog due to no high damage dealers on the team, so I opted against recording it. As it happened, the game went on for so long that I paused it overnight and came back to finish during lunch the next day.

Too much of the early game was spent playing defensively. I had the Adept using Counterpoint Bulwark repeatedly to make everyone resistant to zombies, or having Legacy double-tap Next Evolution to ward off the most common forms of villain damage, cycling among melee, toxic and infernal.

Guise was doing most of the damage, largely the plinky sort. Somewhere I got off track from defending effectively and things spiraled downward for Guise after that. Once the team was down to the Adept and Legacy, I spent a lot of time turtling by letting the Adept take the hits and heal back up with Inspiring Supertonic, or getting Backfist Strikes back from the trash.

My big takeaway from this game is having experimented with bouncing power uses between America’s Greatest Legacy and the Adept effectively. Send a power use over to Legacy with the Supertonic and have him send it right back with Gung Ho for a free hit point. Also, have Legacy use Gung Ho on himself when he’s low on health, too!

This was probably the first game I used Cedistic Dissonant repeatedly. With Instrumental Conjurations to burn, it hurt a lot less to give up an instrument, especially when the reward is removing any destructible card from play, such as Anubis or any number of environmental annoyances pouring out from the god’s tomb.