Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Solo Gaming - Spring 2020

top left: NEOM top right: Friday
bottom left: Nemo's War bottom right: Desolate
I started doing a lot of solo gaming when my oldest son (and chief gamer buddy) left for college in August. Even with him home (his university closed their dorms in mid-March), I've still been playing solo games.

I know, I know - there are plenty of board game apps on iOS and Steam... and I own many of them. But there's something really satisfying about physically playing a game: shuffling cards, moving pieces, seeing it all spread out in front of you. 

So, what follows are my thoughts on a variety of solo games I've played this spring.

An incredibly pleasant flip'n'write game that works like a charm as a solo game... and will also work well as a "over Facetime/Zoom" game if you use the solo rules for monster attacks. I'm glad it's in my collection.

A print'n'play space survival game... the files are now free from PNP Arcade. It's a lot of inkjet ink for a pretty straightforward solo game. I like it best with the two expansions thrown in - I think there's more decision-making involved and it's easier to set the difficulty level using the characters.

Dice Settlers
I bought this from a friend (hi, Janna!) primarily for solo play - and while I'm still having to fiddle a bit with the scoring numbers to make the AI competitive, it actually flows really well as a "big" solo game. I was pleasantly surprised that it works well as a 2-3 player game too. I managed to find a copy of the Western Sea expansion - which really ups the variety and makes the solo game more compelling.

Friedemann's wacky deck-builder about keeping Robinson Crusoe alive is still one of the best 1 player games out there. I can't recommend it highly enough. (It was on my Top 50 games list earlier this year.)

Marvel Champions: The Card Game
While Fantasy Flight has struggled to get the hero and villain packs out in ways that people can find them (and the current situation isn't going to make that any easier), I love the really straightforward design of the game and the way it captures the theme. I tend to play 2 heroes when playing solo - though the game is designed to play with a single hero.

For those who've played other LCGs (Living Card Games), this is less complicated than any of the others... some would say "dumbed down". (Sigh.) I find it the easiest to play and teach, due to clear card wording, distinctive superhero graphics, and card design that is relatively easy to read across the table.

Nemo's War
The other solo game that was in my Top 50 games list)... it manages to blend Euro mechanics and old-school wargame elements along with a compelling theme. On top of that, the various objectives change the game and how you play by just changing the scoring to reflect Nemo's vision of a "better" world.

I love this multi-player game that mixes city-building and 7 Wonders-ish drafting... and the solo game manages to capture most of that feeling through the clever use of "packets" of tiles. I played two games of this solo last weekend back to back.

Oh My Goods!
Solo play requires the Longsdale in Revolt expansion... but there are some clever things going on in this tricky little card game. I'm also looking forward to finding the second expansion (more scenarios for solo play) and Expedition to Newdale (the board game version of this same world which I really enjoyed playing last fall). Oh My Goods ranks up with Friday and Palm Island for the best games for solo play in small places (like hotel room desks).

Palm Island
This is a weird little deck-builder[?] that I'm not sure entirely works... you hold your entire deck in your hand (17 cards) and flip and turn cards based on resources on the cards. It's kind of fiddly and I'm not sure I know how to get a better score... yet I keep playing it.

Roll for Adventure
A recent co-op game from Kosmos with built-in expansions to increase the difficulty/change the puzzle. It's a dice-driven push-your-luck game with a fantasy theme draped over it. I typically play solo with two random characters. (BTW, solo or multi-player, I like this game much better with 2-3 players/characters than with 4... it feels like the game plays you with four players.)

Roll Player
One of two "RPG character creation" board games from last year... but with the expansion added in, Roll Player is the best choice for solo play. (In fact, I think this is one of the "required" expansions for multi-player play as well... it offers more variety and more options for players on their turn. Most importantly, it gives the game an ending via fighting the big boss that is much more satisfying than "hey, look - I built a character".)

This is THE original co-op game... it actually won a special Spiel des Jahres recognition as a cooperative game back in 1988. The problem is that I never feel like I have much control of the game.

Star Wars: Outer Rim
My oldest son and I both love playing this dive into the Star Wars universe - it's a pick up & deliver game with copious thematic elements. The game comes with a solo AI card deck that works... but it isn't a particularly compelling way to play. I'm not likely to solo this one again - but it will hit the table as a multi-player.

Super-Skill Pinball
I blogged about this last week at the Opinionated Gamers site... this is a really great roll'n'write design that was very enjoyable solo and multi-player. See my blog post for information on how to get the preview pinball table right now!

The Pursuit of Happiness
I continue to adore this gamer-friendly version of The Game of Life... and the newest expansion arriving required me to pull it out and play both multi-player and solo. The solo mode is well-thought-out.. players must beat a particular long-term happiness score as well as complete 3 life goals - which can be challenging. (The new expansion and the various Kickstarter extras just continue to add content and variety to this robust system... the delight of creating a life story is a lot of fun.) You can read my original review here.

Not related in any way to the excellent WWII biography... this fantasy survival game has nice production (for a solo game) and is in the same vein game-wise as the aforementioned Desolate: make decisions on what to face, press your luck, and try not to run out of supplies. It works... but I wonder if I'll be played out on it after 5+ plays.


Thinking about buying and/or trading for some new games based on my post (and how long you're likely to be practicing physical distancing)?

If you're new to solo gaming, I'd suggest Cartographers and Friday. For those with a more gaming under their belts, I'd go with Nemo's War, Expedition to Newdale (board game version of Oh My Goods), and NEOM.

And all of us will have to wait for fall 2020 for the full version of Super-Skill Pinball. (sad face)

On My List To Play Solo Soon
  • Dungeon Alliance with the second Adventure Pack
  • Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy
  • Agricola with Farmers of the Moor
  • Hotshots
  • Space Cadets: Away Missions
  • The Colonists

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Some Thoughts on Dragons

Brooks Hanes (and his family) were a part of tc@hh (the church @ hickory hollow)... and when he posted this over the weekend, I asked his permission to re-post it on my blog.

Nowadays, dragons are fun, cuddly beasts. I suppose they have been made nice by our culture. I sense we may be wrong.

Back in the days of Middle Earth there was a different and more natural kind of dragon.

There is a scene in Tolkien’s The Hobbit where the nefarious Smaug is living on, dwelling in, and successfully guarding, what would seem the entire wealth of gold stolen from all of Middle Earth.

Then it hit me like a gold brick in the forehead: I realized dragons have no use for gold. There is nothing to gain from it, nothing to trade, no market of other dragons who can even redeem it for dragon coffee beans.

But there is one thing a dragon can get from it: the foulest and most entertaining pleasure of knowing no one else can have it.

In so many ways, in family, money, power, control, in events, even church, I see that indeed I am like this dragon. I want just so others cannot have.

Praise to God that He saves even the worst of dragons.

First, wow. "I want just so other cannot have." While I have personally managed to hide that sentiment from others, it still can chew away the superstructure of my walk with God... even if nobody else sees it.

Second, I was reminded of another dragon... in another fantasy world - Narnia. 
Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C.S. Lewis)
And I found a wonderful meditation on that chapter from Voyage of the Dawn Treader - one of my favorite passages in the Chronicles - written by Jennifer Nyhart - The Undragoning of Eustace.

Picture is "Smaug's Treasure" by the Brothers Hildebrandt.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Return to Bloodsworn Arena

Nearly four years ago, my two sons & I created a variant for the cooperative superhero card game Sentinels of the Multiverse... which, frankly, is a family favorite. We own all of the physical expansions and we have the full digital version on our iPad. Son the Younger even has a plushy Mr. Chomps (see above).

Yes, it's a sickness. Let's not dwell on that.

When we (and when I say "we", I actually mean "I" - but it sounds better when I included my sons) pledged for the Season 2 Kickstarter of the digital version of Sentinels, one of the things we were most excited about was a Bloodsworn Arena mode. (What follows is the description from the Kickstarter page...)
How many villains can you defeat in a row with the ultimate hero team? Make your own storyline with this randomized campaign mode and last as long as you can. Fans of the game have made several versions of this idea on the tabletop.
If we can reach this goal, Handelabra Games will create an “Arena Mode” for the video game. The details and options of the new mode will be worked out when we get to the design and development stage, and we’ll be getting your input at that time. Some ideas and options include a single fixed hero team with no HP recovery; a drafting mechanic where fallen heroes are replaced; ramping up difficulty with advanced and challenge modes; and more! No matter what, this new mode will keep you on your toes.
Sadly, while the Season 2 Kickstarter was successful, it wasn't successful enough to reach this particular stretch goal.

So, after fruitlessly searching the InterWebs (Homer Simpson: "Oh, they have the internet on computers now!") for some home-brewed Arena rules, we made our own. We offer them here for you as an early Thanksgiving gift. (Homer Simpson: "And Lord, we are especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest, safest energy source there is—except for solar, which is just a pipe dream. Anyway, we’d like to thank you for the occasional moments of peace and love our family has experienced. Well, not today, but you saw what happened! Oh, Lord, be honest! Are we the most pathetic family in the universe or what?!")


The Arena Rules
  • We selected a number of the weaker villains
  • After choosing our team and environment, we shuffled the villains and put the first one into play.
  • We played a normal game of SotM... and when we defeated the first villain, the following things happened:
    • The current hero finished their turn.
    • All defeated Villain cards were removed from the game.
    • All Hero and Environment ongoing cards stayed in place.
    • Heroes retained their current card hand & discard pile.
    • Heroes do not refresh hit points.
    • A new Villain was taken from the stack and set up as usual.
  • The new Villain went first... skipping any Hero turns and/or Environment turns.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat... until the team goes down in a blaze of glory.
How We Did
  • The first time we played, we managed to take out four villains while trapped in Madame Mittermeier’s Fantastical Festival of Conundrums & Curiosities. Things went MUCH better this time.
  • Our team (in player order):
    • Akash'thriya
    • The Hunted Naturalist
    • Unity
  • The environment:
    • the Maerynian Refuge
      • we were working to protect them from an onslaught of villains, right?
  • The villains we defeated (in order):
    • Ambuscade
    • Baron Blade
    • Chokepoint 
    • Deadline 
    • Gloomweaver
    • Kismet
    • Grand Warlord Voss
    • Spite
    • The Ennead
    • Omnitron
    • Iron Legacy
    • Omnitron II
    • Mad Bomber Baron Blade
    • Progeny
    • Skinwalker Gloomweaver
  • The villain who took us out:
    • none of them, though Spite got closer than anyone - we called it good when we defeated the mad god version of Skinwalker Gloomweaver at just over four (4!) hours of playing team
  • Most impressive attack:
    • Unity's team of robots managed to inflict over 100 points of damage in one turn - thanks to be the full mechanical golem team being in play
Yep... four hours. But the fun we had was epic.

Some thoughts:
  • The combination of the Refuge environment and the Naturalist was strong - but adding in Akash'thryia's primordial seeds meant it was never an issue.
  • We did choose villains in sets of four - then randomized them. Progeny & Skinwalker Gloomweaver were specific choices to see if we could survie.
  • Iron Legacy was a cakewalk when we were fully outfitted - he is normally a buzzsaw.
  • We laughed - three different villains "returned" in new forms... and we beat them again.
  • Here's the link to the original Bloodsworn Arena post from November 2016.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Life Verse

Many years ago, I participated in a discipleship weekend with Milt Hughes... many of the habits and organizational tips & tricks that he shared with us have faded... but one particular element of that weekend has hung on. Milt encouraged us to choose a "life verse" - a place in Scripture that spoke deeply to us. 

A year or two before (it really was a long time ago), I had seen Twenty-One Hundred Productions' multimedia* show about the book of Habakkuk. (This link will take you to the soundtrack - please note, though the content of the teaching is still excellent, the musical soundtrack is very much a product of the early 80s.) I found myself absolutely floored by the applicability of an Old Testament minor prophet to my biggest questions about evil and injustice. 

So, the verse I chose - fresh off an extraordinarily unhealthy dating relationship, scared about my future as a youth pastor - has continued echo throughout my life. Through church conflict, miscarriages, economic worries, planting (and closing) a church, Kawasaki syndrome, leaving ministry, Habakkuk's conclusion has been my conclusion. The fact that I can't see how God is working in the world does not mean God has stopped working in our lives.
Though the fig tree does not blossom
And there is no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive fails
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock is cut off from the fold
And there are no cattle in the stalls, 
Yet I will [choose to] rejoice in the Lord;
I will [choose to] shout in exultation in the [victorious] God of my salvation!
The Lord God is my strength [my source of courage, my invincible army]; 
He has made my feet [steady and sure] like hinds’ feet
And makes me walk [forward with spiritual confidence] on my high places [of challenge and responsibility]. 
Habakkuk 3:17-19 Amplified
Today, I'm once again reminded as we self-quarantine that those same words are still true. 

And true for me.

* Note: "multimedia" in this case meant a tiny bit of film and a truckload of slide projectors synchronized to the soundtrack... looking back, it was an amazing piece of work with the technology that was available. Sadly, the entire presentation is no longer available.

Friday, March 06, 2020

#1: Memoir '44 (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

Memoir '44
  • rank: 106
  • rating: 7.5
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • The best (and best supported!) of the Command & Colors games... it combines a wonderous toy factor (plastic army men & tanks!) along with remarkably evocative recreations of WW2 battles. This is the perfect collision of all the eras of my gaming life: it's got enough warfare &; tactics for the chit-pusher in me, the gorgeous plastic bits remind me of the day we cracked open Axis & Allies for the first time, and the speedy gameplay fits my current lifestyle. The plethora (si, Jeffe) of scenarios is a definite point in favor of Memoir '44, as well as one of the cleverest 'fog of war' mechanisms ever - the command deck.
Tips & Tricks:
  • Memoir '44 is splendid right out of the box... though the first couple of scenarios are probably the weakest and don't show off the game as well as they could. (They do a good job of getting players used to how the game works.) Don't give up on it until you've played some of the later scenarios.
  • There are a LOT of expansions... and I personally own at least one or two of each of them. (Point of fact: my Memoir '44 collection weighs over 30 pounds now.) There are no duds in the set... though probably the least valuable to a casual player is the Terrain Pack.
  • There's a desktop program for playing Memoir '44 online that is very good... I just don't get to play it as much as I'd like.
  • My favorite way to play is 2 player Breakthrough (using the Breakthrough deck included in the Winter Wars expansion). Close behind that is playing in Overlord (multi-player team) mode or playing a campaign (using one of the Campaign Books).

Thursday, March 05, 2020

#2: Race for the Galaxy (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

Race for the Galaxy
  • rank: 50
  • rating: 7.76
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • After you climb the iconography mountain to figure out the game, Race for the Galaxy is an amazing adventure in hand management & reading your opponents' mind - made even better by clever card design & interaction as well as great sci-fi art.
Tips & Tricks:
  • Learning Race for the Galaxy can be a bit of a chore - of course, since I've ranked it #2 on my list, you know I think it's worth it - but there are some things you can do to make it easier.
    • First, don't add any of the expansions.
    • Second, the first time you play, play two games in a row.
      • The first game should be open-handed & use the preset hands from the base game.
      • The second game can be "normal".
    • Third, don't get obsessed about winning your first few games. Use them (they're short!) to explore the gamespace & see how cards can work together.
  • There are five expansion sets available for Race for the Galaxy, all of which add numerous cards to the deck:
    • The Gathering Storm (which adds a fifth player, goals & a robust solitaire system)
    • Rebel vs. Imperium (which builds on the previous expansion, adding a sixth player & rules for takeovers)
    • The Brink of War (which builds on the previous two expansions, adding prestige & the prestige/search action)
    • Alien Artifacts (Alien Artifacts does NOT build on the previous expansions but instead is meant to be combined solely with the base game. It adds a fifth player & a new mode of play in which you explore the Alien Orb.)
    • Xeno Invasion (the newest expansion - again, a stand-alone addition to the base game that adds the potential for a non-player adversary attacking all players.)
  • Between the iOS app powered by Keldon's AI and the version of Keldon's AI online, I'm comfortable estimating that I've played Race against an AI over 2k-3k times.
  • My favorite way to play is 2 player advanced with goals & prestige... and no takeovers.
  • I'm surprised how little I've written about Race for the Galaxy - evidently, I've been too busy actually playing the game to blog about it!
  • This is the fifth of five Tom Lehmann games on my top 50 countdown!

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

#3: Clash of Cultures (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

Clash of Cultures 
  • rank: 254
  • rating: 7.64
Print Status
  • out of print (but about to be reprinted with the nearly impossible to find expansion)
Why It's On The List
  • My favorite civilization-building game... the free-wheeling tech-tree and relatively simple mechanics make for an excellent play experience with 2, 3 or 4 players.
Tips & Tricks:
  • I've been involved in an online game of the Tresham version of Civilization... and it makes me like Clash of Cultures even more. The tech tree decisions are more interesting, the random events aren't earth-shattering, and the gameplay has more variety. I'm pretty much done with classic Civ.
  • There are multiple ways to win Clash of Cultures - we've had games that focused on military build-up and games where trade was king. The direction of the game is often affected by the layout of the board.
  • The expansion is highly recommended - it not only adds cavalry & elephants & extra buildings, it adds historically based civilizations to the game.
  • I have not written a lot about Clash of Cultures... I need to fix that!

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

#4: Zooloretto (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)


  • rank: 691
  • rating: 6.85
Print Status
  • in print (again... thanks to Z-Man Games)
Why It's On The List
  • Michael Schacht takes the central game mechanic from his card game Coloretto & develops it into a full-fledged board game with delightful artwork & theme. And then, if that wasn't enough, he keeps expanding that world (thanks to the SdJ win) in some very intriguing ways.
Tips & Tricks:
  • I didn't like Zooloretto particularly the first time I played it... that, as you can see, has changed. (The theme drew me back in, btw.)
  • Lots of people like Coloretto better than Zooloretto - they're wrong, of course, but I think that's more a function of "liking a clever mechanic" versus "liking a clever mechanic in the midst of a thematic & enjoyable game".
  • Zooloretto spawned Aquaretto - which I've included in the family for purposes of this list. Aquaretto is the more gamer-friendly of the two - there's more potential for a new player to mess themselves over with bad tile placement.
  • The plethora of large & small expansions can be confusing - but I like how you can tailor the game to your personal tastes.
  • The game is best with 3 or 4 players... 5 has a little too much downtime (if you're using any expansions) and 2 is bland. 
  • If you're going to play Zooloretto & Aquaretto together, you should only play with 3 players... or with Michael's 6-player partnership variant.
  • I wrote an extensive post about Zooloretto & the various expansions entitled Renovating Your Zoo(loretto) for this blog.
  • I translated the Big Boss variant from Michael Schacht's site - it's used w/the Zooloretto: Boss expansion.
  • One of the proudest moments of my life - my son, Braeden (who was 7 at the time), created a really great variant idea for Aquaretto - and Michael Schacht published it on his website! Check out the Touch Pool...
  • This is my second of two games designed by Michael Schacht.

Monday, March 02, 2020

#5: Heroscape (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

  • rank: 310
  • rating: 7.43
Print Status
  • out of print... which is so very, very sad
Why It's On The List
  • Heroscape is the ultimate blending of board game & miniatures game... and, in a slick move that allowed them to make lots of cool figures, a great blending of genres, as all the characters are warriors sucked through time & space into the world of Heroscape. So, you've got Matrix guys & Braveheart & dragons & robots & kung fu monks & gorillas with guns... yep, it's the ultimate boy game. (And while kids can start with this one at 7-8 years old, there's enough going on that you keep playing it well into your adult years - in my case, age 55 & counting!)
Tips & Tricks:
  • While I have a complete set of figures (including many double & triple sets of squads) as well as two of each terrain expansion, I'm a relative lightweight in the realm of serious Heroscape players.
  • A tough side effect of our huge life change back in 2013 (three states/two moves/most of our stuff still in storage) has been the boxing away of the Heroscape armies... which was finally solved by three rolling carts and a set of shelves in our TV/game room. (Yes, we are playing again!)
  • If you get a chance, find someone and play this. (Alternately, watch garage sales & the BGG Marketplace and start your own collection!)

Sunday, March 01, 2020

#6: 7 Wonders (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

7 Wonders

  • rank: 49
  • rating: 7.77
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • Card drafting meets civilization building... and it's playable with 3-7 players in a pretty consistent 45 minutes. No "wonder" it got all those awards... 
Tips & Tricks:
  • I'm a big enough fan to picked up all of the available expansions - LeadersCitiesWonder Pack, Babel, Anniversary Leader & Cities cards, the Catan wonder, and Armada. And with experienced players, I like playing with all of them, though it is a bit overwhelming.
  • Cities is the easiest expansion to add to the game - and it contains the rules for team play, which is actually pretty cool.
  • Armada is quite enjoyable - and adds some nice twists to the game that require players to pay attention to more than their neighbors.
  • The laws portion of Babel and Leaders are the two most difficult expansions to add - they have lots of new symbols that can confuse players.
  • You don't have to jump on the science train to score big points - but you do need to burn up science cards for cash or wonder building to prevent others from doing it.
  • Military still doesn't make sense to me - the worst point loss you can take is -6... and it can be less than that if you can talk your neighbor(s) into a truce.
  • Here's my first look at the Cities expansion after I played the prototype.
  • I wrote a preview of the Babel expansion back in 2014 as well.
  • This is the second of two games on my list designed by Antoine Bauza.