Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 gaming year in retrospect

Marengo scenario setup from Napoleon's War Volume II: The Gates of Moscow, one of my 2011 purchases.

2011 is almost over and what an unusual gaming year it was for me. The biggest development of the year was being laid off from my job. While having a considerable negative effect on my finances, perversely it was a boon gaming wise.

Nothing like having an awful of of time on your hands to inspire a lot of game-buying, and as near as I can tell I acquired about three dozen new games over the twelve months, about half new 2011 titles and the rest from previous years. In addition, I picked up expansions and bought a couple of cases worth of War at Sea naval miniatures as well. My back of the envelope calculations indicate this probably cost me somewhere around $1,800. Mitigating this shocking expense, however, was a very active year on eBay which grossed me around $1,900 from game and miniatures sales. After taking into account shipping costs and fees, the total out-of-pocket impact on my budget was just a few hundred dollars. More than half of the eBay income came from selling off two major collections (My TCS series games and my Lord of the Rings Tradeable Miniatures) which were painstakingly assembled over long periods of time and unlikely to be repeatable in 2012. As a result I'm going to have to severely curtail new game purchases -- at least until I find a job!

On the other hand, this was an exceptionally good playing year. This, again, was part of the fallout from losing my job. My biggest gaming constraint for years was the mismatch between my schedule and most potential opponents because I worked an evening shift. While I had most weekends off, they were so crowded with other life activities that my gaming opportunities were limited. Being laid off sure freed up my time! Also helping was getting involved in several local Meetup groups, being able to attend the Central Connecticut wargamers occasionally and a lot of activity at the local game shop Arkham Asyklum. All-in-all I played quite a few face-to-face games this year -- perhaps the most in decades.

As far as those acquisitions went, quite a few were continuations, expansions and sequels to various series I've enjoyed, such as Napoleon's War, Fluxx, Munchkin, Small World and Commands & Colors. There were also a fair number of notable new game such as Star Trek: Fleet Captains, Conquest of Nerath and Test of Fire.

Personally, my newest enthusiasm was for cooperative style games (and their semi-cooperative kin) represented by the Fly Frog Productions line of games such as Last Night on Earth and Fortune and Glory and similar tiles such as the Dungeons & Dragons adventuring games, Star Trek: Expeditions and Forbidden Island.

This also continued a trend towards lighter fare among my purchases. While I did pick up some hard-core simulations such as Persian Incursion and Lock n Load: Day of Heroes, the vast majority of the year's acquisitions were more along the lines of Test of Fire, Shenandoah and Napoleon's War -- definitely wargames, but not really simulations.

It's not hard to trace the origin of this trend -- it's just hard to get simulation games on the table. Opponents are scarce and time is precious these days for that sort of game, which tends to be time consuming -- and not just in table time. To get the most out of a good simulation game it really helps if both players are reasonably familiar with the game rules beforehand, which adds to the imnvestment in time compared to euro games and other lighter genres.

I've pretty much given up on worrying about it. While I occasionally break down and pick up an old school wargame such as Four Roads to Moscow, Falklands Showdown or Marengo: Morning Defeat, Afternoon Victory, I usually take a pass these days no matter how tempted I am. Every time I feel the urge I just ask myself the question: And just WHEN will that get played? Unless I can justify it despite the likely answer of "Never," I probably won't buy it.

Also helping me exercise some future purchasing discipline is the likely end of the line for my only active collectible game: Axis & Allies: War at Sea. While there's some slight glimmer of hope that another set may appear, it probably won't be in 2012. In any case, I won't start another collectible game. While I don't have the same heartburn many do about the limitations of the format, there is the serious problem of what happens when the game gets canceled. Experience has shown that even a very good game such as Dreamblade or Navia Dratp becomes almost impossible to get on the table once official support dries up. The Axis & Allies Miniatures (both land and sea) and the D&D miniatures lines have some utility outside of the official game rules, but the basic problem remains that the collectible format really relies on a stream of new material to work. Once the stream dries up the lake will inevitably dry up and vanish.

While I did acquire around three dozen games, which is a lot, the good news is that I had a very successful time getting the new games on the table -- playing at least 21 of them at least once. This is important because my experience has been that if I don't get a game played within the first year of owning it, there's a very good chance I'll never play it. Several of the not-played yet were late 2011 acquisitions such as Sheandoah, Merchants & Marauders and Julius Caesar which I fully expect to get played soon. Some others were solitaire or solitaire-capable games such as Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations and the D&D adventures games that I can always get around to playing someday. There's just a handful of games like When Lions Sailed and Four Roads to Moscow that have dubious prospects for future table time.

Job prospects for the coming year are hard to predict, but it seems very unlikely I'll ever work at a newspaper again, with the evening hours that usually requires, so I expect that I'll continue to see a fair opportunity for game playing in 2012. I expect game purchases to slow down a lot, though. I've already cut down on my pre-orders (just Commands & Colors titles and Wizard Kings expansions currently) and, as I said, I am done with collectible games. Or so I say. Time will tell!

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