I apologize to my readers for a vacation-fueled absence, but as the saying goes, "Hey, Ken's back!" This week I'm doing the first part of my 2012 Year in Review, with some of my thoughts on the trends of 2012 and my biggest gaming disappointment of the year. Don't make me use this mustache...join us, won't you?
2012 is in the books (those who are looking at their calendar and seeing "late March 2013" are saying...no shit, Sherlock!) and here are my dominant thoughts on...THE YEAR THAT WAS.
2012 Was the Year of the Reprint
Truly it seems that in 2012, the old addage "there is nothing new under the sun" held true. It was pretty funny, because I was sitting around thinking of how inferior 2012 was in relation to 2011, until I started thinking about the reprints and 2nd editions we had. It's also true this isn't new, but instead of seeing old classics reprinted, we've started back devouring our own tail from 2003 onward, with reprints or 2nd editions of Game of Thrones, Descent, and War of the Ring, among others. I am of course all in favor of having these excellent games in print in some form and availalbe. It's just weird to realize that we've reached the point were we're reprinting what essentially are "new classics."
Is this good or bad? Depends on who you ask, and more often at what point they entered the hobby. I'd be sad if new gamers couldn't get their hands on Game of Thrones. Tight knife-fight in a phonebooth gameplay with backstabbing aplenty, it's a game that simply needs to be in print. Did it need a second edition, though? The jury's still out on the tweaks they put in. I didn't get a chance to play 2nd edition as I'm not really motivated to upgrade mine (though I did finally get a copy of Storm of Swords in trade--BOOYAH!). But either way, whether you think they should've just kept the original in print or that a 2nd edition was needed, I am grateful it's available, in any form.
It's bad though if changes alienate fans or if they feel like a 2nd edition wasn't necessary. Descent players in particular had a sizable group that rejected 2nd edition's streamlined gameplay and non-compatability with what came before. I'm kinda like, "dudes, there is already a mountain of 1st edition stuff out there, have you truly played and used it all?!?" Fact still stands though that a core part of the audience for a 2nd edition can be alienated with changes small and large.
But then you've got cases where Sentinels of the Multiverse Enhanced Edition took an excellent game, eliminated every complaint you could have had (not scalable, bad storage solution) and just freaking nailed it. I'm happy now that when I recommend the game I'm not pointing them to the too-tiny box but the awesomely produced new edition with the thick sturdy box and plenty of storage.
As long as it keeps good games in print, I'm happy for the most part. I just don't want it eating into new titles, that's all. Let's hope there's a nice balance going forward.
2012 Was the Year of the Expansion
Another trend this year was the staggering number of expansions. If a game wasn't being reprinted, it was being expanded out the ying-yang.
I don't know if the video game analogy holds true, where each year there seem to be more sequels and fewer original titles, but it seems release schedules are filling up with more franchise titles and sequels than truly innovative games. Also like video games we see more and more licensed titles, as companies struggle to find that one thing that will lure the gamers in.
I like expansions, but generally only when they're done well, and most importantly when they feel like they add something necessary. I think we hit the apex of expansion madness with Arkham Horror's expansion of expansions. Thankfully though we had many expansions this year, none were quite as ridiculous as that.
FFG's Cosmic Encounter has been pretty brilliant in pacing of expansions. Other games though, particularly the popular deckbuilders, are starting to swim in a sea of "too much, too soon." Dominion I have completely lost my place. Nightfall, a game I really love, in my brain something clicked with the latest expansion and I almost had a moment of, "there's just too much stuff here." Maybe that's why the next expansion hasn't been announced yet, who knows.
There were good new games though, and that's the important thing. Else, where will the expansions of 2013 come from?
2012 Was the Year of Precious Little Evolution in Deckbuilders
Speaking of deckbuilders, I may be the sole remaining fan of many of them on this site, and for that I apologize to you in advance for talking about them just a little more here.
In 2011, I was truly excited for the direction that deckbuilders were taking. No longer just content to ape Dominion or its children, we saw a lot of games take deckbuilding and infuse it to part of larger wholes. A Few Acres of Snow put it into the engine of a light wargame. Eminent Domain? Deckbuilding and role selection. Nightfall? Magic the Gathering-style combat and an innovative chaining system that kept everyone involved, every turn. Core Worlds? Brilliant management of military and resources, all while dancing on the edge of energy and available actions. Even Eaten By Zombies borrowed a little something older from Star Wars CCG and Battletech CCG in the form of your deck as your life resource, giving that game its own feel.
Sadly, 2012 did not continue that exciting trend. We had reboots and new editions of existing deckbuilders. We had expansion upon expansion, as I noted above. But worst of all, little to no innovation that I found. You've got Cryptozoic spitting out highly genericized deckbuilders, each with a different license but all as derivative gameplay-wise as the last.
Shadowrift for me was the one that was the closest to breaking out of the mold. As a co-op, it did some things rather well in terms of creating structure and narrative into the overall deckbuilding element of the game. It let folks to try and be "the healer", or "the tank", to fill roles in the game not based on some pre-assigned character class but by the flow and necessity of things going on in the game. It did have some clumsiness in terms of execution and rules, and it desperately needs a board to keep it organized and help the game flow better. I hope it is successful enough to earn a more deluxe second edition, because if it irons out some tiny issues here and there, I'd be happy to add it to my regular rotation. Just shy of greatness, but a fantastic effort all the same.
Maybe 2013 will see a turn-around, as development of new games takes time and what we saw in 2012 was another influx of the "me toos" and the play-it-safers. I've read that Martin Wallace will be taking another stab at AFoS-style game, so we'll see where it goes from here.
2012 Was the Year of Kickstarter Love Affair Began to End
I know some of you are groaning--"not another anti-Kickstarter rant." Hear me out, though. I'm not a Kickstarter hater. I don't use it much, for certain. I think I've kickstarted exactly two games (Eaten By Zombies and D-Day Dice.) I am however just talking about what I've observed over the course of the past year.
I think that Alien Frontiers was both the best and worst thing to happen in terms of the Kickstarter craze. Alien Frontiers is an excellent game that would not likely have gotten printed if not for Kickstarter. As word of mouth spread, people were disappointed that they'd missed out on it as it was a very difficult game to find for quite a while.
A lot of folks were scared that they'd miss "the next Alien Frontiers" so they started throwing cash and each and every project that they saw. Soon, it was obvious all that needed to be done was to hire a good artist and write up an evocative description, and the money would fall on you in giant piles.
It also created unrealistic expectations, on both sides. Backers wanted their games, sooner rather than later. Creators thought they could get them to them faster. Printing overseas and other headaches added time delays and unforseen expenses. (The bigger companies already know how to deal with this. That's why they're the bigger companies.) Delays stretched out to legendary proportions. For a laugh, go and check out the history of the Black Box edition of Glory to Rome. Those guys went from Boardgamegeek darlings to pariahs as the manufacturing process went on for 13 months and in the end the cards didn't even look like what the original mock-ups did--you know, the ones that got everyone so excited in the first place.
Then there's the whole Radiant/Valley Games Up Front business going on right now that started exploding late last year and has a LOT of Kickstarter backers nervous. I'm not touching that one with a ten-foot pole but it will be interesting to see how that eventually plays out.
Of course, where there's money, there will also be the snake oil salesmen and carnival barkers who want to wander in, sell half-baked game ideas, peddle it out quickly and make a buck. There have been several Kickstarter games to come out over the past year which have left people going, "meh." Suddenly each announced game on Kickstarter is no longer an event. It's slowly becoming a place where people with half-cocked, unplaytested ideas for games are wandering in looking for cash, because no one else will publish their uncooked mess.
And don't get me started on established name companies putting their stuff on Kickstarter. It makes you look like beggars; don't do it. You're already an existing business. You shouldn't get the luxury of putting all the risk on your customers...that's not really how this thing works.
So I've reached the point where I'm not a hater, I also kind of roll my eyes when I see ads for what appear to be half-cooked game ideas with a big "KICKSTART NOW!" badge on 'em. If they're good, I'll get them when they hit stores. I have a feeling a lot of these won't make it that far.
2012 Was the Year that Fantasy Flight Celebrated The Return of Their Mojo
I don't generally do awards for "company of the year." I used to post companies to watch, which is the closest I've ever come to that. But I wanted to take special note of FFG's turnaround this year.
Fortress: AT had sort of a reputation apparently as an "FFG basher" (which is silly considering collectively how many FFG titles we all own...I imagine it measures in the low tons, literally.) Fact was though for a couple of years, FFG failed to inspire, and worse, their quality control had really slipped off the pace. Mansions of Madness had errata that went on for pages and pages, not to mention misprints and a few broken scenarios. Their custodianship of Battlelore hasn't been stellar. Tannhauser while neat never caught on like they probably thought it would.
In terms of their original designs, Battlestar Galactica (2008) and Chaos in the Old World (2009) were the last two games that had frequent mentions and discussions here. And while their reprints were many, it was a frustrating mix of excellent (Cosmic Encounter) and downright flawed (Dungeonquest). Then there was just a lot of stuff that was average or no one really gave a shit about (Deadwood) or things that turned out to be flops (Horus Heresy, Mutant Chronicles Miniatures).
Something changed in 2012, though. They really started nailing it out of the park. Android: Netrunner I'd say at this point is successful even beyond the wildest hopes of its original fans, and though FFG did indeed muck with the system, they did it *right*. Wiz-War too--Wiz-War, man! They actually got it reprinted, and with a slew of different options for play (including the original for the old school fans.) And they finally started making good on that small independant license they acquired...what was it? Oh yeah, STAR WARS. Star Wars: X-Wing and the Star Wars LCG were big-time wins for Star Wars fans.
And what about the classy move of working with Stronghold Games to get a joint release of Merchants of Venus out there? Who among us didn't think that FFG would swat Stronghold relentlessly with lawyers until Stephen Buonocore just backed off? Didn't play out that way at all though, and everyone ended up happy. Complete and total class all around.
Suddenly, FFG has morphed from "take us for granted" back into a company for which I'm very excited about their release schedule. I can't give them kudos enough for the year they had.
Not that they were all winners, though....
My Biggest Disappointment of 2012
A few years ago, FFG announced that they'd acquired the license to reprint Dune. DUNE! Everyone was pretty excited about seeing that old classic back in print.
Then came the rumblings they had the *engine* for Dune licensed, but not the Dune license itself. Huh? Well, turns out the Herbert estate wasn't playing nicely with the license, either due to expense or the fact that they'd rather continue to release shitty Dune novels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, who knows.
That sparked a lot of debates about the importance of theme versus gameplay. Some of those discussions died down when it was revealed that they'd be applying the Twilight Imperium universe to the game. Sure, warring factions, intrigue, vital resources, we can make this work, right? So long as they don't mess with the system itself, it's the same great game.
On that last point, we counted chickens before they hatched and all that.
I'm guessing that maybe this had been in development before FFG kicked that bug of "we can make this better." That's not really fair to say though as their tweaks to Netrunner were excellent. Maybe I should say that they figured out exactly how this was done--but not in time to save Rex, easily my biggest disappointment of the year.
What went wrong? Shortening the game sounds great until you realize it throws one of the key faction powers of of whack. Messing with move and deployment order made defense frustrating. The flowchart board replaced the awesome Arrakis map and suddenly the game didn't look visually appealing at all, and hurt the theme even more. There were so many little tweaks to the system that seem so harmless but ultimately make the game play kind of shitty. Sure, it's still good because at its core it's Dune, but there's no hiding the fact that this is a completely inferior experience.
You simply can't replace playing Paul Atreides, Chani, and Feyd-Rautha with characters with inspriring names like, uh, "Captain" and "Admiral." Yeah.
Then you've got other little annoyances like the oversized plastic fleet (representing the sandstorm) that is on brittle little stems...but doesn't fit back in the box when put together. Then there's the whole flowchart board mess trying to figure out where the "storm" moves. You've got the cool combat wheels with the cut slots for your leaders and weapons but the die cuts are so tight that you're fraying your tokens after only a few times putting them in and out (we gave up on it and just started holding them to the combat wheel with our thumbs.)
The bright side? It finally got me off my ass to go and trade for a copy of the original Dune. I had held out hope for Rex that it would be a fine substitute, but it is indeed a pale shadow, and my biggest gaming disappointment of 2012.
Alright folks, part 1 is in in the books, and although it took a more negative bent than I intended overall, next week I'll be counting down all my favorite games, expansions, and reprints of 2012. I look forward to seeing ya in seven. Thanks for reading!