Monday, January 1, 2018

The Games of 2017

I started logging my board game plays on Board Game Geek in 2016, and I wrote about that experience on my blog a year and a day ago. I continued the practice this year and will share a few numbers and highlights in today's post—the first post of the new year.

Let's start with summary data on my board game activity for 2017:
  • I logged 505 board game plays over 114 different games.
  • My h-index for the year was 11.
  • My overall h-index is now 15.
My overall h-index of 15 means that there are 15 games that I have played at least 15 times. At the end of 2016, with just one year of logging plays, my h-index was 12. This metric is borrowed from assessment of scholarship, and as with scholarship, it is more difficult to raise that number over time. Incidentally, Google Scholar currently reports my academic h-index as 12, meaning that I have a dozen articles that have been cited a dozen times each. Hence, 2017 was the year that my games h-index overtook my academic one; I don't expect them to change places again!

My h-index for the year was 11, and here are the games I played 11 or more times this year:
Animal Upon Animal31
4 First Games18
Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure18
Terror in Meeple City18
Rhino Hero Super Battle16
Massive Darkness13
Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition)11
Star Wars: Imperial Assault11

The reason those first two are so high is that this is the year my youngest son started playing board games with me. He's two years old, and we first introduced him to "bird game" within 4 First Games. It's a simple, noncompetitive, color-matching, turn-taking, roll-and-move game, and he loved being able to play with me, my wife, and his brothers. It teaches the basic structure of games but is not very interesting beyond that. Looking for something a bit more engaging to play with him, I introduced him to Animal Upon Animal, a simple dexterity game of stacking wooden animals. I was a little surprised at how quickly he took to it, and it became his favorite. He still gets a little mixed up about the die results sometimes, but he loves helping to set up, making sure each player gets one of each of the seven animals. We just introduced him to Camel Up a few days ago and that may have unseated Animal Upon Animal as his favorite game. The other day I hollered out to the family, "Who wants to play Camel Up?" and he turned, pointed to himself, and said so sweetly, "Me play Camel Up?" He ran to the game table beaming when I told him he was welcome to join us.

Something I had not tracked last year was my player h-index, which is currently also 15. That is, there are fifteen people with whom I have played 15 games. Since I started logging my plays, I have played most often with my oldest son, my wife, and then my second and third sons. The next player down is my game-loving brother, although it's a big step from my household to him; I suspect if he lived a few hundred miles closer, our numbers would be substantially higher together. Just after my brother is my youngest son, who I suspect will rocket up the charts in 2018.

I was a bit surprised to see that I had played so many more different games in 2017 than in 2016: 114 vs. 85. I think a big part of that must be that I had several opportunities to visit my brother during the year, and he always introduces me to interesting new games. I went to very few game nights with friends in 2017 and hosted fewer than I would have liked.

My second son graduated to deck-building games this year. We started with Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, but this was a bit too complex for him to manage. Also, I had forgotten how much I do not like the graphic design of the game: tiny text placed over busy backgrounds. We pulled out Dominion and played that several times, then returned to Legendary, and he had a better grasp of the common systems by then. Somewhere in there, I acquired Clank! after playing it with my brother. I could tell it would be something my two older boys would enjoy playing with me. The younger one rarely wins, but he has been doing better and better. I also taught him how to play Flash Duel, and that's one that we regularly turn to when we're looking for a two-player game. His skill with the game, and his understanding of how the powers interact, has demonstrably improved over the year.

Terror in Meeple City was a family game gift for Christmas 2016, and it's one we regularly return to. I bought Rhino Hero: Super Battle for my third son for his fifth birthday, after hearing a glowing pre-review on the Shut Up & Sit Down podcast. We have slowed down on playing Terror in Meeple City since getting Rhino Hero in part because the latter is such a breeze to set up and tear down. Terror in Meeple City is fun, but it is fiddly and needs a lot of space; we can play Rhino Hero: Super Battle on the ottoman in the living room with no trouble. Playing on a lower surface also makes the board and towers reachable to smaller children.

My wife, my eldest son, and I started a campaign of Descent using the Road to Legend app. I wrote about painting the miniatures this year—Villains, Heroes, and Visions of Dawn monsters and heroes. I'm not sure how far we are into the campaign, but we stalled several months ago due to more family changes: we advanced my second son's bedtime, which meant that the two-hour block in which we older three could play a board game got cut down to an hour. It has significantly changed the dynamic of what games I have played. The positive side is that I've been able to play more games with my second son; the negative side is that these are falling back to simpler games, so I am not getting the crunchiness I like from games like Mage Knight.

Over the summer, I picked up the Twin Shadows expansion to Star Wars: Imperial Assault, painted the minis, and played the mini-campaign with my two older sons. They caught right on to it and we had a great time. In fact, they beat me on every mission, but not because I was holding back! My oldest son played Jynn Odan, who is the fastest hero with a lot of movement-related: when she had two activations per turn, she could cover huge portions of the map in almost no time. A few weeks ago, I was excited to get news of the Imperial Assault companion app's release, and now my sons and I are eager to head into the final mission of that short campaign. I'm looking forward to FFG's updating the app to contain more missions and expansion content beyond heroes and items.

Clearly, Massive Darkness has been a hit with my boys. I wrote a little bit about it in my posts about painting the base set heroes and the ones I got as a Kickstarter backer. The game is a bit inelegant and fiddly, and yet we have a great time playing it. It has the feel of a Diablo-style ARPG: a swing of the axe fells multiple goblins, you pick up mountains of treasure, and sacrifice the weak treasure in hopes of getting something better.

Comparing this year's stats to last year's, I was at first astonished to see that I had more plays in 2017 than in 2016: 505 vs. 441. One explanation for this is that so many of this year's plays were lighter games with younger kids: three rounds of Animal Upon Animal still doesn't come close to a good game of Archipelago in terms of time or gamer satisfaction, but it counts three times as many for counting plays—and it brings great joy to my younger boys. Looking at all the games I played this year, and even last year, I see a few things in my collection that have never hit the table. Games like Mysterium and Telestrations are ones I purchased after learning about them or trying them, thinking they would be great light games for family and friends. However, when I'm picking games to play, there are other games I'd pick over these, like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Pictomania, and Wits & Wagers. My brother and I were just talking the other day about how it's relatively easy to get rid of games you don't really like. This might be the year that I need to think about getting rid of games I do like, but that I don't like as well as some other games. There's little reason to fill up the game cabinet with things that don't get played, after all. It's the playing and the painting that I prefer, not merely the collecting.

Last year I wrote about how I was hoping to increase the number of tabletop RPGs that I played during the year, but that was only hope, not real planning. I played one game of The Princes' Kingdom with my two older sons; we had a great time, but as any gamesmaster knows, it takes a lot of time to set up and execute a good session. I wrote about the afternoon my boys and I spent playing Index Card RPG shortly after that game was released. That was an enjoyable session, but I ended up not returning to it, neither with my family nor my students. For Christmas 2017, I bought FFG's new release, Legacy of Dragonholt, which I was a little surprised to see that BGG lists as an RPG rather than a board game. (Why would Legacy of Dragonholt be an RPG while Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and Tales of the Arabian Nights are board games?) It has only hit the table twice so far, but my two older boys and I are enjoying. My only substantial criticism so far is that the game invites you to make interesting, deep characters, but then of course the prose is not about them: the prose is all about the supporting characters. How could the game know anything about the characters you've just made? It's as if the game needs improvisational cues rather than prose—rather than say "You pull a rune from your pocket and use it to blow up the cliff side, slowing the approaching bandits" something more like "Improvise a scene in which [acting character] uses their skills or items to slow down the approaching bandits." That would be an RPG—Dragonholt is a board game.

I think it's interesting to compare my 2017 plays with my overall plays, so I'll close by sharing my list of games I've played most over the past two years of data collection. Some of them surprised me!

Animal Upon Animal46
Terror in Meeple City26
Dumpster Diver22
4 First Games21
Runebound (Third Edition)20
Camel Up19
Samurai Spirit19
Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure18
Flash Duel18
Dungeon Fighter16
Rhino Hero: Super Battle16

The last game of 2017 was my third play of Patchwork with my wife, and it was also her first win against me. It was a fine ending to a great year of gaming. Thanks for reading, and have a happy 2018!

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