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A Year of Backing - Zerbique Pledges 2023

We are December 17th and it's reasonable to assume that I won't be backing any new project in the following two weeks. So I can call the 2023 crowdfunding season a wrap and make a short retrospective. I selected 10 games to showcase, but I backed 30 or so of them. It's a lot, it's too much, but it's a small decrease compared to the previous years (I bought more games in retail though so 2023 it's not a great success in the end with respect to reining down my acquisition habits).

1. First back of the year

Witchbound is an adventure game, inspired by point-and-click video games, with a system of numbers combination akin to the Adventure games series of Dunstan & Walker-Harding. I had been following this title for months before the crowdfunding proper and was extremely excited about it. Since it funded though, things have been quiet, but it doesn't slip off my mind. I really like the feel of it, and this light, casual Fantasy theme is exactly what I want in such a game.

2. Most delayed back of the year

Hellbringers. Another game that pretends to be a tabletop version of Diablo. This one has the benefit of being pretty light and mostly card-based. I had skipped this game when it went to crowdfunding (in March or February). This was probably the right decision, especially since I couldn't make sense of the rulebook. Since then, the game has apparently gone through some satisfying amount of playtesting and the latest version of the rules was an improvement. I also find it fun to back a game from a guy struggling to speak English (he's from Quebec), I can relate to that. Anyway, I think the game is a bit ugly, but rolling dice, getting loot, slaying monsters? That's my kind of fun. So, I recently upped my $1 pledge to a full back.

3. Most unexpected back of the year

I already mentioned Mayan Curse lately in the lounge, which I backed within the last twenty minutes of a campaign I had largely ignored. But if you describe Mayan Curse to me, it looks like a game I usually play and enjoy. Fatal Knockout, on the other hand, is a game that draws inspiration from arcade games I couldn't care less about, with not-so-good art, and a dubious solo mode. It is also pretty expensive for what it is. Yet I backed it without much hesitation, for reasons that remain unclear to me. I guess I found the mechanics interesting while reading the rulebook.

4. Most awaited back of the year

This looks like a game made for me. I enjoy tabletop adaptations of video games (probably because I'm nostalgic about the days I could play those) and the neon-like aesthetic of Dead Cells (one of the latest video games I played, something like five years ago). So Dead Cells: The Board Game already had an edge. I also enjoyed that they decided to remain "scarce" in terms of content, in a day when CMON campaigns have set a template for this kind of highly hyped adaptation. But if you dive into the mechanics, it's even better: I wanted a "campaign" game where you grow from game to game, but where the sessions would be short enough, and it does both. I also tried on Tabletopia a basic turn loop to see if I would enjoy it and I found the fighting puzzle delightful. I'm sure I will love it.

5. Most refunded back of the year

Having backed Gloomhaven: Buttons & Bugs makes me angry with myself. I usually resist the overall hype pretty well, but not this time. I backed, breaking my Golden Rule: always check the rulebook. We were instead offered a gameplay video by the designer, and it seemed simple enough. It turns out that the ruleset is 90% that of Gloomhaven, so this is absolutely not what I expected or wanted. And of course, they don't fit the tiny box anymore, so you would need to print them and carry them around separately. Or playing with your phone in the end, which I guess is required to take amazing pictures of the so-cute-and-tiny components to post on your BGG blog while raving about how cleverly they condensed all of Gloomhaven's complexity into such a minuscule package. I feel nauseous just thinking about it. And the worst of it is, if I had checked the Gloomholdin' rulebook, I would have run away straight and simple. So I curse myself for not sticking with my rule. Fortunately, it was easy to get my refund for it once I realized the abyssal depth of my foolishness.

6. Most satisfying back of the year

It's odd, but I feel really happy to have backed The Lands of the Mesozoic. The game was quite expensive, and the campaign felt like a zombie stuck in a swamp, but I had lots of meaningful interactions with the designer. I like that we share similar views on the topics covered by the game, which are particularly dear to me. And I just can't help but marvel at every single illustration they offered us. I need to sleeve these cards absolutely, otherwise I might just salivate on them.

7. Most classy back of the year

I'm not getting tired of contemplating Crown of Ash's perfect graphic design. It has an identity of its own and I find it stunning and beautiful. I also found the mechanics very enjoyable while reading the (very smooth and well-written) rulebook, as they seem to do a good job implementing the basic dynamics of a strategy game (think of a computer RTS, but not in real-time obviously). Now I only hope the solo mode will be up to it but it looked decent enough. It's AI-based, as it should be (it's a game about conflict), but it doesn't try to simulate an "opponent": there is a fundamental asymmetry between you and the AI, and the "script" is only there to provide movement and uncertainty.

8. Most played back of the year

I first thought it was Deep Dive, because I played it quite a few times with my son (so much that he is now referring to "diving to Level 5" as a way to express a particularly daring thing to do), but the most played is obviously Diatoms. The look and overall feel are perhaps a bit too pristine and precious for my tastes (several stretch goals were about adding gold foils on the box...), but I am mesmerized by the beauty of geometric patterns and this game offers a fun tile-laying-driven way to play with them. However, Deep Dive could still claim the title, because it's the one I physically played the most, but almost never solo.

9. Most 'on the edge' back of the year

Will I back or will I pass? Ah, the delight of crowdfunding decisions! One game that went through a particularly extensive decision process, to end up on the 'right' side of the fence in the end, is undoubtedly Mons and Mages. I found the rulebook hard to dive into, I'm not 100% fan of the art or the theme, and it's not the kind of game I usually play. It's quite a wonder that I still went with it anyway, but since I had decided to drop Dragon Eclipse at about the same time, I felt I had to restore balance in the universe in backing that one.

10. Most useless back of the year

When I look at the pictures, it's very clear to me why I backed Burning Banners. It simply looks superb. It has a classical Fantasy feel that I can't resist. But art is not everything, especially for an over-expensive board game such as this one. Alas, I may never be able to tell whether this game is any good mechanically, since it doesn't play solo. I intend to play it two-handed, but I cannot be sure whether I'm telling that myself to justify a completely foolish purchase, or if deep-down, I'm actually serious about it. That The Struggle for Zorn got released this month, a fundamentally co-operative Fantasy wargame that I immediately pre-ordered, just lowered the likelihood of the latter by a significant amount.

That's it! Lots of the other backs are expansions or small-ish games. And, no, if you wonder, I did not back Gates of Niflheim.

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