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Eastbourne part two

My most fun game of the weekend was 'Moongha Invaders' - a dice festing blattathon - it's possibly the best light Wallace game I have played; a curio hybrid of chance and the distinctive action selection method that Wallace uses so well in his more serious euros. The difference between this 'entertainment' ( to borrow from the distinction Graham Greene used between his serious novels and lighter fare) and his other simpler output is that 'Moongha' has no constraint to shoe horn the design into a marketable theme and the game has playfulness and exuberance oozing out of the design , both graphic and game play wise. My own copy is sitting in shrink at home, and with the game commanding well over $200 on the secondary market, its only going to get played if everyone wears white gloves , in a a germ free bubble.

My 7th play of 'Santa cruz' convinced me that it's an also ran, a shame as I always have high hopes of the HIG Nuremburg release. As a four player family game it's passable - with less it's poor and with the minimum number it's a shocker. Traded, and Kingdom Builder appreciated that little bit more.

I played 'Dungeon Rampage' twice it has a neat core mechanic and premise that just does not seem to work though into an enjoyable game - Dungeon experiences should be tense affairs, with death lurking around each corner. In both games no one came near to death, and the winner was the best at running away.

Also played twice was 'The Manhattan Project' it is a pleasant worker placement game with nothing new to add to the cannon, there are some interesting but seen before conversions. And were it not for the contracts to deliver spices and cloth to Genoa being Nucler bombs that need 4 workers ,five uranium six money and a bomber I don't think i'd want to play it again. The worker placement and removal is the best part of the game, and I am sure the potential for some take that will add spice for some gamers.

After Moongha highlights for shorter games were a game of 'Vegas Showdown' and 'Navegador' - the more I play 'showdown' the more I like it , a perfect light medium 'entertainment'.

I have not played 'Navigador' for a year (i hotched up 10 games in six months) and loved my revisit, which turned into a ship sprint - I won with no ships but a lot of factories and churches, which I thought I wouldn't as the speed of the game meant I had to miss the Market and really on worker/prvilidge to make cash with the prvilidges grabbed as often as possible. My eleventh game felt as fresh and interesting as game number one.

The two most enjoyable gaming experiences were reserved for games released in the nineties - 'Foppen' is a 1995 trick taking card game- how this is not in print today is beyond me as its fantastic, up there with 'Bottle Imp' as trick taking game of simplicity and ingenious design.

The other experience was an eight hour game of 'Age of Renaissance' - i love having the time to play longer games and its four days since we finished I am still thinking about what I could have done better.

Eastbourne AKA BoardgameVille Sur Mer

I only attend five conventions a year (well six if you include a Saturday morning visit to Expo) and one is held in Essen and the other four in Eastbourne. I used to travel to cons in University Campuses, bypasses, the Chernobyl exclusion zone to game because that's what I was there to do to the exclusion of all else (especially excluded were sleep and vegetable consumption). Nowadays I don't want to game for more than 10 - 12 hours a day, and the other 12 -14 hours needs to be spent in some comfort and with more to look at than Nissan's whizzing past at 70 miles per Hour or at some post industrial wasteland. And how wonderful it is that Eastbourne with its Victorian gentility serves up four gaming weekends a year - two for Counter Magazine readers and writers to get together and two for London on Board members to go gaming crazy. The bi-annual events sit just in the off season in March and November in hotels that sit next to each other on the seafront. Both are intimate affairs - LOB sees 50 attend and Counter about half of that. The low number count (LOB is limited to 50 which gets booked up within days of it being announced, Counter is just not publicised) means you get to know nearly everyone over the course of a weekend, and the low numbers creates a very friendly atmosphere. There are some big differences LOB and Counter weekends - With the later dedicated to the 'cult of the new' and LOB to the 'cult of fun' - I would guess I am in the youngest 15% at Counter but in the oldest 10% at LOB. What Eastbourne (and most seaside towns) offers is a perfect gaming break ; every few hours I can walk along the front - clear my head, perhaps even sample the ice cream then head back to the table refreshed.

Through a glass darkly, or more dumb hobby predictions

My ability to see through crystal balls is not up to the most boss eyed of fairground forecasters. My predictions for awards (SDJ and IGA) are always wrong; I thought kickstarter would have died by now...I could go on. It would actually be better to discard this blog post to the trashcan – however I can’t help but make a couple of observbations/predictions.

The first is that the market for vanilla ‘build a deck’ games has peaked and is in decline. The evidence for this is both personal and business, on a personal level it’s that I decided not to open a copy of the last Dominion and Thunderstone expansions – on a business level it’s because I had a lot less orders for both Hinterlands and Heart of Doom than previous expansions. The evidence is pretty clear on Boardgamegeek as well – ‘Hinterlands’ has 800 or so listed owners , about half as many as second least owned Dominion expansion (Cornucopia) and its not caused by the quality – by most account it adds a lot to the game.

So why didn’t I open a copy? Simple really – the expansions have come out so quickly I have not had time to catch up with the old ones, I like Dominion but I think you really have to love it and play it most weeks if you are going to get your money’s worth out of the expansions. With Thunderstone it’s been even worse with expansions seeming to come out every other week, again I am a fan but am at least two expansions behind so have passed on the last two and won’t be opening Thunderstone Advance when it arrives on Tuesday. Ascension and Nightfall seem to be following a similar pattern sales wise as the Big Two and woe betide any new deck builders that come to market –Rune Age , for example ,seems to have stopped selling entirely.

It is s a difficult choice for Publishers – do you cash in and flood the market with as many expansions as possible whilst the game is hot? Or do you spread it out so that fans don’t reach saturation point? They have, sensibly gone for the cash in.

Two ‘deck builders’ that have bucked the trend and sold by the truck load in 2011 are of the new breed – hybrid deck builder/boardgames. Trust Wallace and Chavtil (the two most innovative board gamers designers operating today IMHO) to be the deck building mechanic innovators. And if these two almost simultaneously came up with the next stage of deck building evolution then it’s quite likely there are other hybrids games in the pipeline. If not the trend of 2012 it could be 2013.

The second trend is a Malthusian prediction – gaming is growing as a hobby by, I’m guessing, single digit year on year percent, games being released is increasing by a bigger number – accoriding to Counter magazine there were 550 new boardgames released in 2011. Now the Malthusian comparison is a little ropey already, he saw incremental changes in food production and exponential population growth, but missed the exponential advances in farming production as I may have underestimated gamer’s wealth and willingness to purchase games. So, and you saw this coming, my prediction that we are in for a bit of a crash in games output might be flawed. But bare with me – a lot of the increase in games sales and the ability of the market to stand the amount of releases was because of middle aged affluent gamers (mea culpa)who spent the last twenty years increasing their collections into the hundreds, if not thousands of games. A lot of new gamers are younger and if not income challenged certainly don’t have the space to house 200+ game collections. My perception is that a lot of younger gamers are running smaller collections and are being quite choosy about what they buy – and rightly so. In London a 400 games collection might cost £10,000 to purchase, but needs a room to house it which won’t have a lot else in it – the true cost of maintaining a large gaming establishment is many times the cost of the games.

And of cause there is the starving elephant in the room – the economy. A lot of gamers have less to spend on games, in previous decades the hobby rode out recessions but the hobbyist of old did not have a fifty game a year habit – in 1981 kicking back from the 10 essential game purchases was a impossible for a gamer, in 2011 it’s not too much sweat kicking down to the 10 essential purchase from the 50 in 2010. I think this might be the killer of games on the margin. What puts a game on the wrong side of the margin? It’s not going to be a bad game – its just going to be no more than good, even very good. I own a lot of games that I have played 3 times, that if they were in a collection of 10 would have been happy to play 50 times, prime examples that spring to mind are Assyria and Lords of Vegas – they might be better than good, but get pushed to the side of the shelf in the search for the new or the need to play an old great. This is very much a personal perspective (though a few friends share this view) – looking at 2011 games I have opened a lot less than in 2010 and 2009 and 2011 is the best year of the three. Moreover, I am quite relaxed about the prospect of not playing a lot of the games on the margin; Salty Ocean, Quebec, Strasbourg for example than I would have been in previous years.

Please take this all with a liberal dosing of salt, I am in danger of extrapolating my changing game ownership pattern to the market and, from a business perspective drawing conclusions on insufficient evidence – however I feel a change coming on and its be fascinating to see how the hobby develops over the next couple of years