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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Good Riddance 2016; Hello 2017: The Year in Gaming

Every year I try to write an article that summarizes the passing year and share what I am most excited about for the upcoming one. Let’s be honest here, 2016 was a crazy year! A year ago did anyone think that we would end up with Trump for president? Or have the Cubs win the World Series? Would I after a 16 month hiatus resume paining again? Despite the turbulent year, it was yet another great year for the gaming community and 2017 looks to continue that trend. Over the last few years the gaming industry has a seen a boom as far as leveraging multiple platforms, broadening its appeal by expanding the span of topics in which we could play, and the explosion of card based games; all of these factors really point to the fact that we are in the “golden age of gaming”.

The Industry
In 2016 the value of the video games market alone is $99 Billion dollars worldwide with it expected to grow to about $130 Billion by 2019. This boom can be attributed to the growth of app based games.  Who didn’t almost run someone over while playing Pokémon Go this year? The popularity of board games has also dramatically risen  over the last few years and as more interesting titles hit the shelves this will continue to grow. Card based games such as Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Pokémon are attracting many young players to gaming and we can see the effect when 30-50 tweens jam into our local gaming stores and prevent us from getting a table. Historical based gamers have also seen a boom, this year Bolt Action came out with a second version, Battlefront’s Team-Yankee grew and has attracted many new players to the hobby. Of course the games tied to movies did well, Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars X-Wing had many new releases that were tied to the very popular Force Awakens movie.

It is not really hard to see why the industry is booming; technology to create video games, build game parts, and market games via social media means that we are never surprised to find a new game on the shelf of a local game store. Instead of going to a store to see what is new, we now go to pick up games on the day they release. Another factor to examine is how games in general got better in the last few years. Great game ideas that often used homemade rules and pieces where only a few people would ever play are now global and small companies can produce some great new titles that would never have seen the light of day 10 years ago.
One of the biggest changes is how developers can now crowd source start-up capital for a game or a new addition to a game. This idea was not new, the board wargame industry has used a P-500 system for years, where they hold off producing a game until they get enough pre-orders to start production. Kickstarter is full of games that get a lot of buzz, and more importantly funding that reduces the risk a game company would take in developing a new game. This year I got into the Kickstarter for Devil Pig Games tactical based card game which capitalizes on their very successful Heroes of Normandie franchise. It was great to see all of the stretch goals met by the time the funding period ended. I think that the crowd sourcing of games will continue to grow and we have only seen the very beginnings of its effect on the industry.

I still wonder why games are more popular now than ever before. Geek chic started many years ago with the Revenge of the Nerds movie in 1984, however has it really taken 32 years for it to take hold in the gaming community? I am sure social scientists have many theories, however I think it’s the popularity of comic book, fantasy, and sci-fi based movies, and the games they inspire which are major contributing factors in the growth of the gaming industry. Add to this that many games can be played on multiple platforms means that they can appeal to more people than ever before.
Despite this boom I do have one concern and that is for the health of the local gaming store. It is more than just a place of commerce, it is also a venue where gamers congregate and play their favorite games. Over the last year I have seen one gaming store close and another announcing its closing early in 2017. I cannot stress how important the LGS is to us, it gives us a community that if closed would lessen the opportunities for us to play our favorite games as well as shut us out from trying out new and interesting games. I make it a point to make a purchase, no matter if I need it or not, each time I play at a LGS.
For me, 2016 was an interesting year. About last year at this time I thought I would not be playing many new games in 2016 and stick with what I was playing in 2015. I think this changed with my exposure to so many new and great games and because what I was playing in 2015 had gotten a little stale.

Star Wars: X-Wing and Armada
That changed right away when I played the Star Wars: X-Wing’s Heroes of the Aturi Cluster at the 2015 Fall-In convention. That experience helped grow my 6 ship collection into well over 50 ships. I realized it was a great game and I was lucky to have an LGS that hosted a tournament every Tuesday night. I liked X-Wing before 2016, however now I love the game and I wish I could play it more often. Going into 2016 I will admit I favored Fantasy Flight's other Star Wars based game Armada more, however I was not able to play a single game of it in 2016, and now with the drastic meta changes in the last two releases I feel the game would take forever to re-learn and play competitively. Even with X-Wing, I have the purchases from the latest wave still in their plastic boxes. In some ways this is problematic, as gamers we seldom play just one game and there is only so much free time to play. As companies like Fantasy Flight push new game changing products out, I wonder if they realize that for each new gamer they attract they lose a few because of time or expense?

This was a totally new game for me in 2016 and how I got into it was how many of us get into a game, by recommendation. I will admit that Malifaux is not my thing as far as genre, I tend to go more historical, however my Podcasting buddy Throck sung its praises and after looking at the rules I decided to invest $300 in a force for the game. This investment was helped along by the fact that Throck who is a master painter promised to paint by models. I was able to play this game once, but I loved its mechanics and how it flowed and of course the low model count. I did watch folks playing it at the NOVA Open in September and planned to join them for 2017; well that is if Throck can finish my models.

I will admit when I am wrong and here it goes. While I felt the rules were tight and fun, anyone who read my coverage of Battlefront’s Team-Yankee roll out last December would tell you that I was passing on this game. I cannot give a definite reason why I wasn’t into the game; I did not think the period would be fun, I didn’t want to invest in a game/period that no one else would play, I thought the scale was too big for modern combat. I realize now these are subconscious defensive maneuvers we all have to resist embracing something new. So what changed? Well simply I played the game. I realized how much fun it is and how it just worked at 15mm, and I was surprised on how popular it became. In 2016 the two new lines from Battlefront was Team Yankee and the Pacific. I thought after so many forum posts about the Pacific theater we would see whole tournaments dedicated to the new line. I even made sure to upgrade my Early War Japanese force with some of the new weapons and tanks so I would be able to play Pacific themed games. For some reason this did not materialize, and I have yet to play a game based on the two Pacific books. I really thought the appeal was there for the Pacific to become the new black and based on the reaction many had to Team Yankee I thought it would flop. I was so wrong, in fact according to our interview with Pete Simunovich from Battlefront he stated that the idea was that 70% of the FoW crowd would pick up TY while it would attract 30% new players. Pete even said he was surprised that the opposite was true and it picked up almost a whole new crowed. Ever the analyst I investigated this claim lurked on dozens of gaming forums. I found that people were making posts to TY twice as fast as they were for other games and that many of the posts were from people who either never posted before or never posted in a FoW forum before. With the West German’s and British added in 2016, Team Yankee “blew up”.

Board or “Bored” Games
One of my resolutions for 2016 was to really get into Advanced Squad Leader. I played the initial version, Squad Leader in my youth and I have always loved this game. I was able to dip my toe in the water and picked up all 3 starter kits offered by Multiman Publishing as well as the historical themed Decision at Elst. Sadly I was not able to play it very often in 2016 and I have the same resolution for 2017. For those who love squad based games and are scared off by the size of the rules, I can say that while it is wordy, the rules are simple enough to understand. Get with an ASL “Mentor” and prepared to learn and have fun.

The one game I was excited for this year was Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal from Academy Games. I loved the PC version of the Eastern front themed game before and I felt that a game using the same mechanics for Guadalcanal would make it a great game. I was right on that, it is a great game, the map is beautiful and the counters are huge, so no more fumbling around knocking over stacks of counters. Throck and I played it after it came out and I have gotten in a few more games since then and I love this game and I recommend it for anyone who likes squad based or Pacific theater based combat.

Tablet Games
My first foray into writing for WWPD was to promote the Ipad games I worked on for Shenandoah Studios a few years ago. I have always felt that tablets would change the community and I cannot say I was wrong about that claim. This year I really got into Twilight Struggle, which was a port from the very popular board game. I love the Cold War theme of this game which is exciting and very well done. I even bought the board version of this game and I hope we see more faithful ports of some great games on tablet. Mark my words here; in the near future we will see miniature games that have a huge tie to a tablet. Imagine for those heavy stat tracking or planning games, using a tablet to plan, plot and track? Take it a step further, imagine playing a tablet based game whose outcome leads to the terrain, scenario, and forces you play against a live opponent in a miniatures game?

Onto 2017
So what am I looking forward to in 2017? I think that is easy to guess. Flames of War V4, due out in the spring is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated release in 2017. By the time this article hits the page many of you will know that not only have I seen the late and early war but I have actually play tested it. I love the new rules and I am excited to play it on a regular basis. I have looked on many of the forums and seen the comments and I am a bit surprised about how many rumors about V4 are accepted as the truth and how our community focuses on the small details while the big picture escapes them. I did not mean this to offend anyone, but many of the comments remind me of folks fixing the deck chairs on the Titanic. My advice, let V4 come out, play it and then pass judgment.

The one game I may get into next year is Dropfleet Commander, which is based on the very popular Dropzone Commander Series. This time, I plan to play the game a few times before I commit and Throck and I are heading to Adepticon in a few months so I can try it out. Some of the models for this game are interesting and the rules seem tight. I love ships so you know I will check this out.
So as we look to put 2016 behind us, I want to wish you a happy new year and I hope to see you across from me on a table in 2017.
Twitter @MitchWWPD

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