2018 was a challenging year for many reasons, personal and professional. Nothing particularly traumatic or heart-breaking... just challenging. Kids, research, teaching, our government, the inexplicable inefficiency and incompetency of other human beings. But let's ignore all that and focus on games!
By far the biggest and most important gaming news for me this year was the development and successful Kickstarter funding of my second boardgame design, Maniacal (previously, Infamous).
The development and publication of Maniacal has been a rollercoaster ride with far too much unnecessary stress. I've worked with five (!) different "lead developers" since EGG signed it in 2016, and each time a new person took over the project, there was a loss of time, a large burden placed upon me, and substantial stress. This is a game that could easily have been ready for Kickstarter in late 2017, but instead we launched in August 2018. I wish that we could have done more promotion & playtesting at various conventions leading up to the Kickstarter. I wish that we had had a consistent art director and graphic designer on task from day one. And I wish that far more advertising and promotional work had been completed before we launched.
But on the plus side, I'm thrilled that EGG was willing and able to hire the amazing Rob Guillory to do all (!) the artwork for the game. I love how the graphic design ultimately came together. And I think we ended up shoving an extraordinary amount of good content into the game, even though I had to leave a bunch of cool ideas by the wayside (for now, at least). And finally, I'm of course thankful that we actually funded the project successfully.
On that note, the Kickstarter itself was a bit of a letdown. We never quite generated the enthusiasm and momentum that we had hoped for. I had honestly imagined that we would hit $50K easily and had the potential to reach $75K if enough people heard about the project. I believe we were adequately prepped for the KS itself (rules 100%, stretch-goals all planned, art and graphic design around 90% complete) with the exception of lining up enough previews/reviews. But there's a lot of competition nowadays, and it's hard to stand out in a crowded market. Maniacal is, at its core, a card-driven game without a lot of component flair. I'm not a well known designer, by any stretch of the imagination. So perhaps this was a project that consumers wanted to "wait & see." Fair enough. I hope that when it's released, we garner some good reviews and convince people to try it out.
The stress and inefficiency of Maniacal's development has had a couple unfortunate consequences for me, personally. I had to put a lot more of my time and energy into prepping Infamous/Maniacal than I had originally hoped, in large part because of the inconsistent leadership from EGG. This ended up stealing away time that I wanted to put into some other designs that I currently have at the prototype phase. I was hoping to show one or two of these at Origins this year, but they weren't even close to being ready. The second consequence is that I'm feeling more cynical and less motivated about boardgame design and publication now. There are too many games coming out, publishers are exploiting designers too much, games aren't going through enough development, consumers aren't spending enough time with games before judging them, and I personally have not found the process efficient or satisfying. I hope that my attitude changes once Maniacal is finally in print.
With regards to personal gaming, this was a great year. My gaming group is a solid core of four wonderful friends, and we were able to get together once or twice a month - sometimes more. We shared a ton of laughs and together came to appreciate our "collective" tastes in gaming. Generally speaking, when we play together we prefer combative strategy games, especially area control games. Blood Rage is our favorite game to play, and we probably got it to the table 10+ times this year. It's good every time. We also played a fair bit of Rising Sun, with which I have some problems. I find it overly long, tiring, and lacking in finesse.
We played Scythe 2x this year, and while I love aspects of the design, overall I found it to be a frustratingly constraining experience. I tried to get the group hooked on Civilization: a New Dawn, but only two of us liked it and one actively hated it so now it laments on my for-trade shelf. We had a fairly thrilling session of Black Orchestra, but it never hit the table again. I was happy to play Concordia at least twice this year, as it's probably my favorite Euro and I've played it enough now to actually play well. I re-discovered the joy of the "command and colors" system through Battlelore, Second Edition which I think is a thoroughly fun game. I don't play 2-player very often nowadays, but I really hope to get this one to the table more in 2019.
For solitaire play, I played a hefty amount of the LOTR LCG, which I'll always keep in my collection. Also, Nemo's War, the new Fallout boardgame, some Mage Knight, and Dungeon Alliance (which I eventually traded away). Surprisingly, I barely touched Spirit Island at all, even though I absolutely adore the design and it happily squats in my Top 10.
Excitingly, Inara (my older daughter, now 7.5) started to get more into boardgames this year. Together with my wife, Aili, we played a decent amount of King of Tokyo and Kingdomino. We even futzed around with Castle Ravenloft a bit, and next year she'll definitely be ready for the full ruleset.
I didn't play much "new" stuff this year. I have a copy of Dice Throne: Season 2 sitting on my desk which I want to play, as well as Martin Wallace's Wildlands. Overall, I was more conservative with my purchases, in part because Eric (a member of my gaming group) has been buying more and growing his collection. On Kickstarter, I supported only Tang Garden and The Ancient World (2nd edition).
Digital gaming definitely toned down this year, continuing a consistent 5-year trend. Nowadays, I eschew complex RPGs, massive open-world games, and multiplayer FPS's (which I used to adore) for more bite-sized strategic experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed completing Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, which is a fantastic real-time, squad-based stealth game. I also loved Northgard, a cool hybrid of civilization-building, RTS, and colony survival. Offworld Trading Company, Into the Breach, Tesla vs. Lovecraft, and Darkest Dungeon also got significant play-time.
I hope you had a great year gaming too. While we can sometimes feel guilty about spending time and money on something so "luxurious" and decadent as gaming, remember that play is - and always has been - a critical mediator of cognitive development and an essential component of the human experience. And playing with others is one of the great joys in life. Excelsior!