Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Bad Draws & Wrapping Paper (Classic)

Pretty much everyone who reads this blog on a regular basis is aware that I like board games. (Quit snickering... "like" is just a nice way to avoid the phrase "am obsessed about board games".) Anyone unclear on the concept should have picked up on it back in 2013 when I managed to relate dice-rolling & probability to some important spiritual truths.

Part of my enjoyment of gaming is my part in the online community of board gamers - I participate in a number of mailing lists, read a bunch of blogs, and even listen to a few podcasts. In addition, I write for the Opinionated Gamers and appear as a guest on gaming podcasts. (OK, maybe you were right to snicker at the last paragraph.)

So it's no real surprise that all that conversation about gaming sometimes ends up bleeding into my thoughts about life & God & important stuff. Which is what happened when Christopher Dearlove (a gamer in the U.K.) posted this little blurb as he was writing about a new game:
I've played enough games to know bad draws stick in the mind more than good ones, so I suspect it wasn't as bad as I felt it to be...
And that got me thinking... if that's true of games (I can give you story after story about drawing the wrong card at the wrong time, or how I lost a game of Catan due to one bad die roll on my last turn), it is probably true in my life as well.

So if I'm going to really "give thanks in all circumstances" (1st Thessalonians 5), then part of my job is to remember all of my life - the "good draws" as well as the bad. When Braeden wakes up at 3 am with a nightmare, that isn't the whole story of his life - it doesn't take into account the miracle of his birth (after 3 years of trying & multiple miscarriages) or the wonder of his healing from Kawasaki syndrome in 2005.

God made sure the Israelites had this hardwired into the lives - festivals like Passover & Hanukah were not simply excuses for getting together & eating until you had to loosen your belt... they were reminders of places & times when God has moved in amazing ways to take care of His people.

In Christian tradition, that's what Advent is all about - remembering the birth of Jesus Christ with more than just a one-day orgy of ripped wrapping paper & too much eggnog. By setting aside the 24 days leading up to Christmas to ponder on the mystery of the Incarnation (big fancy theological word meaning "God becoming man"), we take time to remember that in a world full of "bad draws", we were given a very good draw when Jesus was born.

There's a lot of different ways to celebrate Advent - but however you choose to do it, I want to encourage you to spend less time & energy on shopping for the perfect gift or decorating your home so that the photographer from Better Homes & Gardens can come in & do a layout... and instead spend more time enjoying your relationship with Jesus Christ - whose birth we are celebrating.
This is Christmas: not the tinsel, not the giving & receiving, not even the carols, but the humble heart that receives anew the wondrous gift, the Christ.  
Frank McKibben

"Making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it..."

"They’re destroying the blood of our country... They're ruining our country. And it's true they’re destroying the blood of our country. That's what they're doing. They're destroying our country."

"They don't like it when I said that -- and I never read ‘Mein Kampf.’ They said, ‘Oh, Hitler said that’ - in a much different way. No, they're coming from all over the world. People all over the world,” 

“They could bring in disease that's going to catch on in our country, but they do bring in crime. … They're destroying the blood of our country. They're destroying the fabric of our country."

Donald Trump (December 20, 2023)
I wish to note at this point that I have not read Mein Kampf... but I can recognize "blood & soil" rhetoric when I see or hear it. 

I'll also note that the former president's argumentation - that Hitler said that "but in a much different way" - suggests some familiarity on the part of Mr. Trump.

Finally, this kind of language is reminiscent of the eugenics movement and the "one-drop" rule... abhorrent pieces of our American heritage.
We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. 

President Andrew Shepherd (from the film 'The American President")
As evangelical followers of Christ, we don't have to live this way. Historically, we have.
“Whenever there is a threat to that Christian nation – whether it be immigration, Catholics coming in in the 19th century, or slave revolts overturning the white social order – it’s the evangelical Christians who are leading the charge against that social and demographic change.”

The phrase of “evangelical fear” should be oxymoronic. The Bible offers the command to “fear not” or similar ideas extremely frequently. A belief in the God of the Bible should be coupled with a freedom from anxiety.

“It’s very strange and somewhat ironic that anyone who reads the Bible will find a lot of exhortations against fear,” says Fea. “Fear represents a kind of lack of faith in God’s sovereignty or God’s will to work out his purposes. I love the quote from Marylinne Robinson: ‘Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.’ Fear is a product of the broken world that we live in, but fear is not a place where one can dwell and still claim to be an evangelical Christian. It produces negative consequences.

“What’s striking here is that evangelicals have in almost every circumstance where there’s some kind of change in the culture, have not responded with hospitality to the stranger, with grace, with hope, with the idea that people who are different from them have been created in the image of God and have that dignity and worth. Instead they have built their walls and protected themselves against people they fear Fear. [It’s] an inherent contradiction for anyone who takes the Bible seriously. That’s what I’m trying to call people to think about in this book. Why are we so afraid? We love to claim a big God who controls everything and will work out his purposes for good as it says in Romans. Their politics is driven by fear much more than any kind hope.”

interview with evangelical historian John Fea
Let's remember how the story ends... and not fall prey to those who would stoke our fears for their personal gain.
When this was done I looked again, and before my eyes appeared a vast crowd beyond man’s power to number. They came from every nation and tribe and people and language, and they stood before the throne of the Lamb, dressed in white robes with palm-branches in their hands. With a great voice they shouted these words: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9 PHILLIPS

Monday, December 04, 2023

Legacy of Yu: Solo Review

Let’s start with a trio of caveats and a bold summary statement:

Caveat #1: The good folks at Garphill Games describe Legacy of Yu as a “solo-only, fully-resettable, nonlinear campaign game in which you step into the role of the legendary hero of the Xia Dynasty, Yu the Great.” I’m hard-pressed to do a better job of summing up the nature or design of the game… but I’m certainly going to give it a try!

Caveat #2: I am not a scholar of Chinese history – so I’m not going to comment at any length on the debates about the historicity of the accounts of Yu the Great… though if you’re interested, they make for some fascinating reading.

Caveat #3: My fearless leader at the Opinionated Gamers site (Dale Yu) has not yet required any of us to call him “Yu the Great” – but it may just be a matter of time. His legacy, however, is secure – he not only created the Opinionated Gamers website, but was also a key developer on Dominion, Suburbia, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and the Agricola solo mode (to name a few).

Bold Summary Statement: Legacy of Yu is a well-designed and well-produced solo-only, fully resettable, nonlinear campaign game that I’m enjoying immensely.

With those out of the way, let’s get to the meat of my review!

In Legacy of Yu, the player is in Yu’s shoes (the rhyme, I assure you, was unintentional), working to stop the horrendous flooding of the Yellow River while fending off barbarian attacks. You must produce the necessary resources, make wise trades with those around you, convince local townspeople to join the work, erect important buildings, and create the canals that will divert the water before it overwhelms the countryside.

And you have to do it seven times to win.

Yes, that’s right – winning an individual game of Legacy of Yu is not enough. Winning the campaign requires that you record seven wins before you reach seven losses.

Since each game takes 30-45 minutes (unless you make a fatal error early on), that’s a pretty substantial time commitment: approximately 4.5-5 hours if you run the table (don’t count on it) or 8-9 hours if you end up playing out all the possible games (13) in a campaign.

Just so you know, I have not been playing Legacy of Yu back-to-back… one of the classy design features of the game is the excellent box insert, which makes set-up and tear-down of the game breathtakingly simple. This means I can play a game when I have a spare 45 minutes, then put it away and return to it another day.

How It Works

Play begins with your barge on the first canal space and the flood marker on the space behind it. As well, there are 3 farms, 4 outposts, and 4 village huts placed on the board for you to build, as well as 6 canal cards that show the benefits and cost of building their particular section of the canal.

You have 10 townsfolk cards in your Ready pile (meaning, they are working for you) with another six arrayed along the top of the board, waiting to be recruited. There is also the first (of many) barbarians waiting in the seventh space above the board.

The Story Card deck remains in the box, waiting to dripped into the game by reading from the Story Book. (Those are triggered by various cards when they are resolved.)

Each round, five phases happen:
  1. Harvest
  2. Take Actions
  3. Return Barge (if used)
  4. Suffer Attacks
  5. Refresh the Card Row

This is your “income” phase – you not only draw a new hand of townsfolk from your ready pile, but you also receive cowrie shells (currency), provisions, and worker pawns (including those who were assigned to huts on the previous round).

You are limited by the physical components in the game – but there are ways to trade items (marked clearly on the game board) in order maximize your intake.

As the game progresses, townsfolk cards assigned to huts will also produce resources and workers.

Take Actions

At this point, you will combine a series of actions in your attempts to build canals and defeat the barbarians – and, most importantly, use all of the townsfolk cards in your hand (none can be save for later rounds).

Townsfolk can be used in a variety of ways:
  • played to your exhausted pile to gain the item(s) shown in the top left corner (brown) area
  • discarded to the townsfolk discard pile (which means they will not return to help you) to gain the items shown in both the brown and red areas of the top left corner of their card
  • tucked beneath the board to improve your harvest in subsequent rounds – one per built Hut space
  • used for their food icon (which is explained as the story unfolds)
Workers and resources are spent to accomplish a number of different actions
  • Building the Canal – once per round, you can spend the appropriate amount of workers and cowrie shells to dredge the next section of the canal. (To indicate that you’ve done it this round, you have to remove your barge from the board.) There is usually a reward in resources plus a cost in townsfolk discarded from the top of your Ready deck. It’s also possible that the card you resolve will lead you to the Story Book and see changes to the game.
  • Attacking Barbarians – spend provisions and workers to eliminate the barbarians and gain rewards.
  • Recruit or Dismiss Townsfolk – pay provisions to add townsfolk cards to your exhausted pile or dismiss them to the discard pile to obtain the reward in the brown area of their card.
  • Construct Farms, Outposts, and Huts – spend the required workers, clay, and wood in order to move the building to an open build site.
    • Farms – provide you with additional workers or provisions each harvest
    • Outposts – give you additional cowrie shells each harvest and allow workers to “cross-train” and be spent as different color types.
    • Huts – provide new spaces for worker placement and tucking townsfolk cards.
  • Trading – as mentioned before, you can use any trade marked on the board and exposed at any time during the game
  • Using Huts – you can place workers on hut spaces to activate them
Combining these actions into some sort of coherent order/plan is the heart of the game… how can I best use the resources I have to both accomplish my immediate needs and plan for the future?

Return Barge

If you used the barge to dredge, it is now returned to the leftmost canal card – ready to work again once you can pay the cost.

Suffer Attacks

Each remaining Barbarian card above the board requires you to either pay a bribe (to keep them from attacking) or suffer damage (discard townsfolk cards from your Ready pile to the discard pile).

Refresh the Card Row

Add the appropriate number of Barbarian cards to the row above the board… filling the remaining spots with new townsfolk cards. The rate of barbarian entry rises as you build more and more canals.

At this point, if the top row is nothing but barbarians, you lose.

The End Is Coming

Like most solo/cooperative games, there is one way to win (finish building six canal sections and survive to the end of the current round) and many ways to lose:

  • due to the flood reaching an unbuilt section of the canal – or even off the edge of the board in a final turn of the game
    • Yes, I’ve lost this way.
  • due to the barbarians overwhelming you and completing occupying all seven spaces at the top of the board
    • And this way.
  • due to losing more townspeople than you have remaining in your townspeople deck (taking damage)
    • And, no surprise, this way as well.

Thankfully, I’ve also won… and it’s an exhilarating feeling dredge the last canal card and knock off enough barbarians to keep yourself in contention for the win.

Win or lose, you take the appropriate victory or defeat card from the respective set – which will offer new difficulties to deal with (if you won) or assist you with your work (if you lost.)

Final Thoughts

I’ve got eight games of Legacy of Yu under my belt… three learning games followed by a complete reset – then five games (2 wins, 3 losses) into a full campaign. I’m a little intimidated by what I’ll be facing in my next game – but that won’t stop me from playing it.

Legacy of Yu does a number of things right:
  • Clear rulebook with helpful examples
  • Well-written story book that uses different text treatments so you can skip color commentary if you’re one of those “just the facts” kind of players
  • Consistent iconography (and a guide to all of it on the back of the rulebook)
  • Splendid game insert design
  • Compelling gameplay with enough variety due to the campaign/story cards to keep it fresh
  • Easy to rest and replay (in other words, has the legacy game “feel” without any of the legacy game permanence)
So far, my only gripe is that I wish they’d had little 3D cowrie shells and provision to match the quality of the rest of the components… which is, as board game gripes go, pretty weak sauce.

Shem Phillips (the designer) and has done a wonderful job of designing a captivating solo game – and then giving it a production quality to match. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys solo gaming with a solid bit of crunchy tactical play and sense of narrative. (Note: I did not receive a review copy of this game… bought it with my own hard-earned gaming budget. It was worth it.)

A version of this review appeared on the Opinionated Gamers site.

Friday, December 01, 2023

A Holiday to Remember

If this ad didn't gut punch you by surprise during the Thanksgiving weekend football games, chances are decent that someone you know has posted it to their social media feed. It is, as intended, heartwarming and emotional... and in many ways, an accurate depiction of the effect of Alzheimer's on someone. (Chevy worked with the Alzheimer's Association on the ad.)

I find myself with really mixed feelings about it... well, not as mixed as I would like. I saw parts of it once over the Thanksgiving weekend and had to fight back a reaction. Then, watching the full five-minute version today, I sat in front of my computer as tears rolled down my face.

When I'm talking about mixed feelings, I'm not talking about the effectiveness of the ad - it's an impressive piece of filmmaking and a brilliant use of John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulders" as the soundtrack. The ad has a happy ending - Grammy's memory is sparked by the field trip with her granddaughter and she's able to connect in a meaningful way with family. 

But the ad stops before what happens to many families in this situation - when the person suffering from dementia lapses back into a thousand yard stare or confusion or becomes stuck on a mixture of memories and fiction like a record skipping across a deep scratch.

I say that because we chose to move my almost 85 year old mother into a memory care facility the week before Thanksgiving. And while there are moments when Mom peeks through the haze, those are getting fewer and farther between. 

I don't really have a point - and I'm not interested in debating the choices we as a family have made. I just felt the need to share my reaction to the video... and that I love and miss my mom.

Convention Report: Gulf Games 50

I was there at the (nearly) beginning… my wife & I were one of nine families who made up the attendees of Gulf Games 2. For the next 4 years, I was a pretty regular fixture – then we moved across the country and I only managed to make two Gulf Games events between 2004 and 2014. Beginning in 2015, I began bringing my sons (first the oldest, then both of them) to enjoy one of my favorite family-friendly gaming events.

This summer was the fiftieth Gulf Games… and my younger son & I attended for 5 days (Wednesday – Sunday). What follows is my quick recap of my weekend of gaming (and a bit of his) – and it doesn’t begin to cover the entire event and the joy of gaming with folks I’ve known for years.


Greeneville, SC, is a fair piece down the road from Nashville, TN – so we took off early in the morning and arrived mid-afternoon… in time to both play some games and be able to attend the Welcome Party (a tradition that started after I headed west… and that I managed to miss multiple times due to schedule vagaries and missed flights).

Heat: Pedal to the Metal

I taught and/or played Heat five different times (with 22 different players) during the convention… which isn’t really a sacrifice as I enjoy the game immensely. It may well be my favorite auto racing game. (That’s not to downgrade Downforce… which is still splendid – but it doesn’t actually put you in the driver’s seat like Heat.)

I won one game outright… and another game I managed to finish 2nd to the Legend car (bot). But the best game we played was Sunday morning, when we added in the weather and car customization “advanced” rules – they take a solid game and make it even more enjoyable.

I’ve now played Heat: Pedal to the Metal 26 times … it holds up to repeated play very well and is easy to grasp for most (but not all) players. I’m waiting somewhat patiently for the good folks at Days of Wonder to announce the expansion (since there’s already room for two more cars in the game insert!).

Ready Set Bet

This was a fast-moving and delightful betting game… made even better by the use of the app to run the races for us. It’s real-time – something I try to avoid as my brain and reflexes slow down with age – but it works really well here. I don’t own a copy, but I’d be happy to have it in my collection.

Splendor Duel

Here’s the deal… I play Splendor (the original game or the Marvel re-theme) because other people like it. There’s nothing wrong with it… but it’s just not something I love.

So I was pleasantly surprised by how well Splendor Duel works – the addition of multiple victory paths and the tricky decisions about which line of pieces to grab and/or whether to hand over an advantage to the other player raise the level of the game system nicely. (I won – but just barely.)


I’m on the record as having a miserable first playing experience with this the first time I played it… but was coaxed by David Sidore into trying it again. And, with his suggestion of certain conventions for bidding and a couple of strategy hints, I can see what other see in the game. Our experience was tense but enjoyable… and we lost (but it was close).

I’m still not convinced, though – I think the game is fragile and really needs a gamer crew plus some discussion of conventions to work… which just isn’t enough for me.

Wild Tiled West

Another game I was looking forward to – I’m a big fan of Paul Dennen’s designs for Dune: Imperium and the Clank! family of games. The production is top-notch: multi-layered game board that holds all the tiles that you draft and clear art design & iconography.

I appreciate Kevin & Rhonda Bender teaching us the game… but I think it runs a bit long with four players. Despite the whimsical art style, there are some real decisions to be made and the playing time of 90 minutes felt too much. I’d like to try it again with two or three players.



Mark Smith is an able partner, but I am not a particularly skilled OR lucky Crokinole player. Ted & Toni Alspach let us hang in for a couple of rounds then put us out of our misery.

Imperium: Classics

I wrote an extensive review of my love for Imperium: Classics and Legends… so it was a joy to get it to the table with two folks (Mark & Toni) who wanted to play a second time to make sure they grokked it. It was a tight game, with Mark’s Romans edging out Toni’s Macedonians & my Persians (64-61-61).

I’ll say it again – this is an amazing card game that works well with 1-4 players. Please give it a try!

Archeos Society

This is a re-imagining of Ethnos… but since I’ve never played Ethnos, I’m unable to compare the two. On its own merits, this is a relatively straightforward drafting/hand management, where scoring depends on working the tracks as well as collecting larger sets. The wise use of the various special powers is key.

Again, the Benders welcomed me to the table and taught me the game (along with their friend Lee, who you can see in the picture at the top of this post.

Mosaic: A Story of Civilization

One of my top ten new (to me) games from last year… and this play with George, Greg Hoch, and Floyd was no exception. Clocking in at just over 2 hours for four players (two of them new to the game), it’s quickly becoming my favorite “civilization” game. (And, yes, part of that is the cool bits of the Colossal Edition.)

I managed second place in spite of avoiding building any military – while Greg’s belligerent empire took the win.


After a game of Heat (see comments above), four of us jumped into a long-time Klaus Teuber favorite of mine – Gnadenlos! This bidding game of provisioning Old West characters doesn’t overstay its welcome – and offers enough randomness to encourage unwise usage of promissory notes. In the end, Ed defeated us. (It’s OOP – but worth tracking down a copy if you like 3-4 player games that play in 35-45 minutes.)

Thunder Road: Vendetta

The first of three plays of what will surely be on my top ten list for 2023… this re-imagining and chroming of the late 80s mass market classic is a joy to play. Kim – who’s not normally a love of chaotic shoot-em-up’s, noted later that she enjoyed it a lot more than she thought she would.

My son, Collin, took the win… this time.


We finished the night out with an oldie (10 years?!) but a goodie – the very random but ridiculously fun Kalimambo. Best as a late night closer with 5+ players, this game of “I don’t have to outrun the rhino, I just have to outrun you” generated a lot of laughs as Sharon Madden emerged with the victory – while Warren Madden managed to win the award for “Most Likely to Be a Hood Ornament for Mambo the Rhinoceros”.


In the Footsteps of Darwin

The first of three plays of what Ted Alspach declared was “an incredibly pleasant game” – he’s not wrong. This is a beautifully produced tile-drafting game with a variety of scoring options… and a pretty consistent playing time of 5-8 minutes per player. Ted edged me out in a two player game… but I’d do better at it later in the day with a larger group.

Gipsy King

Weird little placement game from Cwali that uses a random board to force players into tricky decisions… I’ve enjoyed it both times I’ve played it… but I don’t think I’ve ever really been in contention of winning. (Congrats to Bob Trezise, mi compadre, for the win.)


In my convention report from Gulf Games 49, I mentioned loving a prototype from Bezier Games, but not being able to talk about it. Well, it’s here! (It lands at GenCon next month.) Scram! is my favorite of the Silver/Cabo family – probably because the partnership element allows for some really clever “bump-set-spike” kind of plays. Thomas & I beat Ted and Bob… I’m 2-0 at this game… another reason to like it! :-)

We followed that with another playtest of an unpublished prototype. My lips are sealed.

Team Play

It was a morning of card games as Bob & I joined our esteemed founder (Greg Schloesser) and Gail for another partnership game I enjoy – Team Play! (Note: I like the original German edition much better than the U.S. edition – easier to read across the table.) Either way, Bob & Gail beat Greg and I.

Cape May

Anye & George joined John & I for a game of Cape May – and while I had enjoyed my first try of it solo, my first four player game was even better. Not only does it look nice on the table as the city grows, there’s a really solid game under there about balancing income and development of points. I’m glad I own a copy!

George managed the win – even if it delayed his brew pub tour by a few minutes!

Kabuto Sumo

Following another game of Heat (at the request of Chip, who won!), Collin & I talked Anye & Dallas into Kabuto Sumo… which Collin describes as a “coin-pushing” wrestling game. He’s not wrong… and went on to prove his prowess by beating all three of us. (It’s not really a dexterity game – I’d call it a physics game with a wry sense of humor.)

Thunder Road: Vendetta

Two games back to back – including Tyler rolling 6 on 4d6 two rounds in a in a row and a Dan Calhoun win, followed by my large vehicle being chased by a plethora of choppers as I sped ahead to leave everyone else in the dust. The final game was played with the Choppe Shoppe expansion in – which I highly recommend for gamer-y types.

Man, I love this game.

Minigolf Designer

Ed & finished up the night with the excellent Minigolf Designer… it was close – my slightly more difficult property card was the main difference. (Short description: imaginge crossing Kingdomino and Carcassonne to build a minigolf course.)


Anno 1701: Das Brettspiel

Another sadly under-appreciated Klaus Teuber design – Earl & Michelle joined Bob & I as we tried to please the Queen and explore the islands of, well, Catan (or something Catan-like). I think this is the best mixture of Catan resourcing and Entdecker-ish exploration in the Teuber catalog.

Bob had feelings about the Happy Colonist icon (see the picture here) – I will admit that the happy colonists do bear a striking resemblance to someone being electrocuted while wearing a tri-corner hat.

While Michelle got left behind, it was a tight finish between Earl, Bob, and I – and Bob took the win.

Liar’s Dice

The Liar’s Dice tournament is a Gulf Games tradition… as is me getting knocked out in the first round. I do take pride in the fact that I was the last person knocked out at my table (and by the eventual tournament winner, Ken Girton!)


While there are couple of odd graphic choices (why not put the bonus for the player each action on the VERY large action spaces?), this re-think of The King of Frontier was fun to play… even if the Soylent Green/Logan’s Run-ish nature of some of the thematic elements was strange. It was also really good to play with Frank Branham for the first time in a a number of years…. and I won!

Memoir ’44: Overlord

Since 2016, I’ve been hosting an Overlord game at the winter Gulf Games event… this summer, I hosted two!

The first battle was Encirclement at Khalkin-Gol… with Soviet and Japanese forces (including cavalry units on both sides!) engaging in a pitched battle in 1939. The Japanese side (commanded by Sheldon Smith) began to collapse the middle of the Soviet forces (commanded by me)… but Field General Rozmiarek fought back valiantly. The battle see-sawed back and forth as we fought over two ridges on the left and center sections… with the Japanese finally prevailing 18-16. (Eight player Overlord is so much fun – even when I lose.)

The second battle was Operation Lightfoot – with British tanks trying to plow through German minefields in North Africa in 1942. This time, I was the British commander (ably assisted by Ian Moore) while Charlie Davis (and TJ Bailey) led the German forces… Despite our best attempts, the Germans held us back and captured the win 15-12.

Take It Easy

160 people (or more) all playing one game of Take It Easy – yet another Gulf Games tradition. My score was decent but not spectacular. (If you’ve never played Take It Easy, it’s math-y gamer Bingo. For less math-y gamer Bingo, try Rise of Augustus.)

Rolling Heights

I’m really conflicted about Rolling Heights – I tend to like John D. Clair’s designs (Dead Reckoning and Ready Set Bet, for example) and the underlying game system here is solid. But the graphic and component choices for this game are, well, not solid.

Bob played with Kevin & Ed & I – and Bob’s colorblindness was challenged by the meeple colors. All of us struggled with the tiny print… and the fact that building structures often obscure the information you need to read.

In addition, the buildings are made with stacks of pieces – which, granted, looks very cool. Unfortunately, they are not Lego pieces that click together – instead, they are simply stacked and can be knocked over by, well, me. At least five times I brushed the top of a tall building and sent it crashing to the table. (In discussing the game online the next day, I described myself at the Destructor – and Bob published the following picture.)

As is, it’s not a game I’ll purchase, even though I love the theme and the way it looks on the table. I’d love to see an online version on BGA.


Jump Drive

I talked Bob into a quick game using the new Terminal Velocity expansion cards… and my experience carried the day.

Trails of Tucana

Another quick flip’n’write game against Bob in which my experience proved worthless.

After a final game of Heat with the advanced content (weather/car mods – the best way to play, btw!), we headed home.

Final Thoughts

Gulf Games is always wonderful – both due to the gaming AND (more importantly) the people who make up the GGs family. Thank you again to Greg & Ted & Ty for starting this thing so many years ago.

The picture below is from a wall display in the game room… and yes, I’m thinner and without gray hair.

This convention report originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers site.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Safe and Unsound

There is not, despite some folks telling you otherwise, a single "correct" Christian position on gun ownership/control. Or immigration. Or a myriad of other contentious political issues. 

That is not, however, permission to choose whatever position makes you the most comfortable or fits best with the views of the political party or candidate you support. The fact that people of faith disagree on the best way forward in difficult issues does not give you carte blanche to weave a cocoon of partisan policies and hot takes to keep your sheltered life safe.

Safe? you ask. Safe from what?

Well, safe from the implications and downstream effects of your beliefs and policy positions.

Every position we take leads inexorably to questions about implementation, enforcement, knock-on effects, unintended consequences, and the (sometimes) vast differences between perceived and actual outcomes. All of those are colored by the governmental system we live under and the explicit and implicit rights we have as citizens under that government.

Simplistic slogans - "Build the wall!", "Defund the police!" - have an appealing sound when they line up with your particular viewpoint... but they are fundamentally unsound as they neglect the real and important difficulties in crafting policies that effectively deal with the issue being debated.

Chances are excellent that your primary sources of news about policies & laws are giving you less than the full story - as each side wants to highlight the beneficial aspects of their cherished proposal and downplay the consequences. One of our responsibilities as citizens is to be well-informed not only of the viewpoints and arguments that we agree with but also those we disagree with... and to be humble enough to learn, grow, and even change our position in light of new information and deeper understanding of the problem.

And, for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, there are the examples and precepts from Scripture - which strongly suggest that there are both individual and communal implications of what we believe and how we behave. We cannot disregard portions of the Bible simply because we don't like the way it calls into question our political allies or our pet policy positions.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Classic: Hard To Get

This post was written nearly 10 years ago... but it still rings true.

The week before he died in a car accident (in September of 1997), Rich Mullins sat down in an abandoned church with a cassette recorder to make a demo of the nine songs that would eventually become The Jesus Record. The recording below is the scratchy unpolished demo of "Hard to Get"... a song that seems especially appropriate in the moment.

I have always appreciated Rich's honesty and faith, his humor mixed with seriousness. This is the guy who walked into the Christian bookstore I worked at looking for Frederick Buechner books... and then told me that he "punished" bad audiences by refusing to play my favorite song of his, "Elijah".

Anyway, this is my song for today - an echo of my heart.

You who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt

Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did You forget about us after You had flown away
Well I memorized every word You said

Still I'm so scared, I'm holding my breath
While You're up there just playing hard to get

You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that's not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then

Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don't see the blood that's running in Your sweat

Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You're up there just playing hard to get?

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained

And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can't see what's ahead
And we can not get free of what we've left behind
I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret

I can't see how You're leading me unless You've led me here
Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led
And so You've been here all along I guess
It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

Monday, August 07, 2023

Reconstructing My Faith: Worst. Church Service. Ever.

Carlos A. Rodriguez asked a simple question on Twitter (yes, I know, "X" - sheesh):

The responses are a chronicle of jaw-droppingly thoughtless decisions on the part of pastors and church leadership from churches across the conservative and liberal spectrum. I'll share a few highlights just to give you the flavor:
  • Christmas Eve. A cathedral. The associate priest preached the sermon which consisted of standing in the pulpit with two sock puppets and having them sing Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” to one another. 
  • Recalculating the rapture date (after a previous sermon apparently proved incorrect) like live, on stage. 
  • That Sunday the prescribed Gospel reading was when Jesus turned water into wine. And the priest made that the whole point of the homily. But to the extent of saying that Jesus was a drunkard. A friendly one. And that that part of the Gospel he loved most.
  • Once we visited a new church on Cinco de mayo and they had people get up on stage to get blindfolded and hit piñatas while Mariachi music played. The winner got a $50 gift card.
  • I had a pastor preach from the pulpit in front of the entire church but directly at me because I asked a question about free will vs predestination that he didn't like.
I have my own list of highly questionable church services:
  • the youth evangelist who decided to pound the heck out of the assembled teenagers about the Bema Seat judgement and how few of them were going to make it
    • note: preacher friends, scaring the hell out of people is a good way to get responses and a bad way to elicit actual meaningful spiritual decisions
  • the SBC pastor who decided that the best celebrity example of bad sexual decisions was Kobe Bryant when preaching to a church that was 99% white
    • cynical note: it's awfully easy to preach against sin when nobody in your congregation can identify themselves with a super-wealthy athlete of another color who lives half the country away from you
  • the minister preaching a funeral who admitted that (a) he didn't really know the deceased all that well, and (b) he was just going to let the Spirit lead... so he yammered on for 45+ minutes, mixing in 3-4 different "standard' sermon outlines into a meaningless ramble
    • note: preacher friends, "I'm just letting the Spirit lead" is spiritualized code for "I was lazy and didn't actually prepare for this opportunity to share grace, truth, and hope"
  • And, though not a worship service but a Christian concert, the one where the guest speaker in front of a ex-hippie Jesus People band told us about how he drove out into the desert and took off all his clothes in order to get closer to God
    • cynical note: I'd be concerned about sunburn and getting dirt/sand in problematic places, which would likely reduce my ability to feel close to God
Thankfully, those are the exception rather than the rule in my life. As I noted in an earlier Reconstructing post, my own church experiences were (mostly) healthy... which meant I wasn't shaken when I ran into craziness like ex-hippie or the guy jumpin' up & down (metaphorically) on the Bema Seat.

What breaks my heart is how these kind of experiences seem designed to alienate people from the community of faith. 

We have to remember that the people in the pews (or, in the case of the church I attend, the beat-up couches & upholstered chairs) walk in the door with real hurts and a desperate need for real community. They don't need their prejudices reinforced, their intelligence insulted, or to simply act as an audience for a communicator enamored with the power of a pulpit.

For me - in my very occasional opportunities to preach/teach - it's a reminder that I need to put in the work of study & preparation & prayer. I need to wisely consider who will be listening and how best to communicate Biblical truth in culturally relevant ways - relevant not only to me (at age 59, my go-to illustrations are likely to be a bit dated) but also to them. 

And, simply as a follower of Jesus, I need to be someone whose spiritual life is more than church attendance and talking about Jesus. I want to be more like Jesus - more loving, more peaceful, more patient, more self-controlled. Moreover, I want to want to be more like Jesus.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Solo Gaming 2023: The First Four Months

This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website in May 2023... but, what with a major WDW trip, trips out of town in June, getting my younger son ready for his freshman year at UT Chattanooga, and buying a house, I didn't post it here on my personal blog until (checks calendar) early August. This does not preclude me writing my "eight month solo post" here in just a few weeks - you have been warned.

I started doing a lot of solo gaming when my oldest son (and chief gamer buddy) left for college in August 2019. Even with him home during the extended time of quarantine (March-August 2020), I continued playing solo games… and that kept going when he returned to campus. (He’s about to graduate this summer… yes, I’m getting old. Older. Ah, what the heck, ancient.)

Solo gaming is now a decent-sized chunk of my gaming experiences – while I am back out playing games with friends and family, 22% of my gaming so far in 2023 was solo. For comparison, the yearly total for 2022 was 22%, 2021 was 33%, 2020 was 19%, and 2019 was 6%. (A bit of perspective: I had 947 plays of 333 different games in 2022.)

So, this is the fourth year I’ve been writing these extensive posts every four months to detail my solo gaming. I’ll repeat my same caveat as each previous report:
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. 
I’d also add that board game apps must – for perfectly understandable reasons – hide portions of the game from you. One of the delights of a physical game is that the whole thing is spread out across the table where you can soak in whatever details you need. This is true, BTW, for solo or multi-player play.

So, what follows are my thoughts on the twenty-five (25!) different solo games I played in the first four months of 2023 – ordered by number of times I’ve played them. (Note: this is not necessarily how much I like a particular game for solo play – for example, I think Xia: Legends of a Drift System is an excellent solo game design but I haven’t got it to the table as a solo game yet this year.)


Legacy of Yu (5 plays – approx. playing time: 35 minutes)

Legacy of Yu is solo-only resource management game where you, as the titular character, are working to build canals and fend off the barbarians as you wisely use the villagers to accomplish these tasks. Moreover, Legacy of Yu is a campaign game that uses a drip of story cards and a paragraph book to tell a compelling story – and where your actions can have effects that last multiple games.

So far, I limped through three “learning” games (being defeated each time) and decided to re-start the campaign with those lessons under my belt. Two games into a “real” campaign, I’ve had one win and one very close loss, so I think I better understand how to analyze the peril that I am in at any particular time in the game.

The production is very nice – including an excellent box insert that stores the game between plays of a campaign. I look forward to writing a more extensive review here on the site once I’ve fought my way deeper into the campaign.

Mosaic: A Story of Civilization (5 plays – approx. playing time: 100 minutes)

My copy of the Colossal Edition just arrived right after Christmas – and I’ve immensely enjoyed both my multiplayer and my solo plays of this 90-120 minute civilization building game. There isn’t a combat system – as your primary objective is influence across the various countries of the Mediterranean.

The solo bot (by noted solo mode designer, David Turczi) can be adjusted for difficulty and for “personality” – which means I’ve won some of my games and lost others… but I’ve always had a wonderful time.

Three Is A Magic Number

Clank! Catacombs (3 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

The newest entry in the very successful Clank-i-verse involves a modular board, a totally new deck of cards, and some interesting twists (freeing prisoners, using lockpicks, etc.). It’s been a wild success with my sons and with other folks as a new take on “standard” Clank!… and I appreciate that the rules even include ways to integrate the Adventuring Party expansion into the game.

As usual, Dire Wolf has done a splendid job of supporting the game with a well-written app-driven solo game… and I’ve managed to get that to the table multiple times in the last couple of months.

Dice Realms (3 plays – approx. playing time: 20 minutes)

One of my favorite new games from 2022 actually has a solo version created by the designer (Tom Lehmann)… and it gives me even more opportunities to play a game I adore. If you want to try it out, here’s the link to his solo/cooperative ruleset.

Dice Realms, by the way, is a splendid use of the customizable dice mechanic first seen in Rattlebones.

Dune: Imperium (3 plays – approx. playing time: 70 minutes)

I’m not really a Dune fan – oh, yeah, I read the first three novels back in high school (late 70s/early 80s) like every well-behaved sci-fi/fantasy nerd – but it was never a world or story that captured my imagination. And, yes, since I’ve been a gamer for a very long time, I actually owned the AH version of Dune (aka “Cosmic Encounter meets the Spice Worm”).

Fast forward to 2020/21 and all the hype about the upcoming Dune film… and just enough people said nice things about Dune: Imperium to get me to take a chance on it. 

And – wow! – it was worth it. Much like Lost Ruins of Arnak, Dune: Imperium blends deck-building and worker placement to evoke the feel of the novels/film in an incredibly playable format. Particularly for solo players, the solo deck works like a charm – and Dire Wolf also posted a free app to automate the solo process.

The addition last year of the Rise of Ix expansion just added to the fun – I like the new variety of cards and technologies… and it feels like the AI is even stronger with this mix of choices. The new Immortality expansion added some interesting quirks to the game along with (you guessed it) buffing the AI even more.

Eleven: Football Manager Board Game (3 plays – approx. playing time: 90 minutes)

While there are some tricky parts (understanding how/when to flip jerseys, for example), the game itself works like a charm and is great fun to play, especially if you are (like myself) a fan of Premier League soccer. Match play is important – but the game is much bigger than winning matches… it’s actually an economic/management game.

I’ve played through some of the included solo scenarios and look forward to making my way through the solo campaign this summer. Since the game this re-design was based on (Club Stories) was a solo game, it is not a surprise that this works splendidly for a single player.

It Takes Two (To Make A Thing Go Right)

Ark Nova (2 plays – approx. playing time: 90 minutes)

There’s a reason so many people are nuts about this zoo-building game – it’s really that good. And, as you can probably guess by my number of solo plays over the last 12 months, it’s an excellent solo game.

The solo design forces you to win the game (get your Conservation & Appeal markers to cross) before time runs out – so you can set your difficulty by where you start your Appeal marker. 20 was too easy – 10 is a good medium range challenge, and 5 is kicking my butt (but I’m getting closer).

I’ve had great experiences playing this game solo, with 2 players, and with 3 players… and I’m very excited about the new expansion headed our way later this year.

Bad Company (2 plays – approx. playing time: 25 minutes)

This nifty game of planning heists and escaping the police with your gang of thieves & getaway drivers feels like it takes the best parts of Space Base and makes a better game of it. What surprised me is how well it works as a solo game since part of the design appeal is that it is enjoyable with up to 6 players.

Everdell (2 plays – approx. playing time: 50 minutes)

Based on the recommendations of others (esp. fellow OGer Chris Wray), I splurged on the Everdell Complete Collection without ever having played the game. There are two solo modes: Rugwort (which is mildly entertaining) and Mistwood (Nightweave & her spider crew) that really shines. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the personalities, plans, and plots available in the expansion.

BTW, Chris posted a weeks worth of Everdell reviews that are a great read if you’re interested. (These reviews pre-date the newest expansions, New Leaf & Mistwood.)

Lost Ruins of Arnak (2 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

My pick for Kennerspiel in 2021 was this fantastic multiplayer game of adventure… chock full with a myriad of pathways to win. The solo module (included in the game) works like a charm… and CGE even posted an update to that module that adds increased difficulty and challenge. For variety, you can even play on the more difficult Snake Temple side of the board.

Additionally, they released the long-promised solo campaign – a 4-game series with interesting rules twists and an online app (which I had some struggles with, so I resorted to printing out the files and building myself a paper set.) I’m currently working through it a second time and enjoying it again.

My last couple of solo plays have been using the Expedition Leaders expansion – which adds twists both to your starting deck/personal powers AND gives you alternate temples to research.

NEOM (2 plays – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

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 typically play 2-3 games of this at a shot… since once you’ve got it laid out, it’s easy to reset and try again. I’ve defaulted to play with all the tiles in, which offers more variety and some interesting decisions since you know that you can (sometimes) wait for the tile you need.

Rome & Roll (2 plays – approx. playing time: 55 minutes)

I bought Rome & Roll thinking it would be a crunchy roll’n’write that I could enjoy solo… but after two solo plays and a single play with three players, I think it actually is more enjoyable as a multi-player game. (Which, frankly, is a surprise coming from designer David Turczi.)

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (2 plays – approx. playing time: 70 minutes)

The much-discussed card game version of the board game hit Terraforming Mars – which, quite honestly, really does feel and play like you crossed Race for the Galaxy with TM. It’s a competent solo game that doesn’t take up nearly as much table space as its big brother… and I appreciate them upping the quality/consistency of the artwork. That said, I’d rather be playing the original game with my 3D pieces.

I kept waffling back & forth on this one… I considered selling/trading it, then decided to keep it. My most recent games were really enjoyable – which convinced me to wait and see if the upcoming expansion modules push the game from “like it” to “love it”… or if it ended up on the trade pile.

Well, the expansions arrived… and it’s staying. The Crisis cooperative/solo mode is excellent and so is the additional tweaks to multi-player games.

Trails of Tucana (2 plays – approx. playing time: 20 minutes)

A really lovely little flip-n-write route building game that I found courtesy of a Twitter friend (hi, Daniel!). Less rules overhead than Cartographers, but with the same “make the best of what you get” vibe. It’s become a travel staple for me – easy to play in a small space with lots of press-your-luck angst on many flips of the cards.

I have had the chance to play with the Ferry expansion maps now, and they add a couple of small twists without doing any damage to the very solid base game.

One Is the Loneliest Number

Aquamarine (1 plays – approx. playing time: 15 minutes)

The second print’n’play roll’n’write (could I possibly use more apostrophes in this sentence?!) from Postmark Games… I find it a little less brain-burning than Voyages (which is also in this list) and great fun to play. It is – to some extent – a tile-laying game as you track your dive adventure.

I laminated my copy of this game – and I carry the Aquamarine boards (plus the five Voyages boards) in my laptop case along with three d6 and a dry erase pen so I can play pretty much wherever I go.

And there are now FOUR boards to play… two of which I haven’t even got to try yet!

Castle Itter: The Strangest Battle of WWII (1 play – approx. playing time: 70 minutes)

Since I enjoyed Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms so much last year, I was a happy to pick up an excellent condition used copy of David Thompson’s next entry in his WWII solo battle series, Castle Itter. Both games have the same “tower defense” vibe – but the infusion of thoughtful historical content as well as clever gameplay elements make them both winners.

Circadians: First Light (1 play – approx. playing time: 60 minutes)

I reviewed the two Circadian games early this year… and of the two, First Light was by far my favorite. Part of that enjoyment is the well-thought-out solo system built into the game… both of my solo plays have been enjoyable and fast-moving. The AI robot – literally, they’re robots – is easy to use and makes intelligent moves to both hinder you and increase its score. My victories have been hard-worn.

This is one of those games that I find intriguing and frustrating – intriguing, because the puzzle of manipulating resources and actions is challenging & interesting; frustrating, because I think the rulebook, while complete, makes it more difficult to learn the game by the way it is structured. (I will give the good folks at Garphill Games points for including a section on first time player strategies and the Irenic Union variant.)

Speaking of the Irenic Union… the original rules require players to assign dice in order (left to right) from their garages. The variant allows flexibility… and I’m here to say it’s a much more enjoyable game with that rule in play.

First Light is, once you get your head wrapped around the rules and the various strategic/tactical elements, not really a long game – my solo games ran 50-60 minutes and our multiplayer games around 75-90 minutes. There’s enough variety in the contract cards, event cards, and leaders to keep things fresh for multiple plays.

And, yes, I backed the Kickstarted expansion… more variety coming as well as additional solo content.

Empyreal: Spells & Steam (1 play – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

Another used copy find… at half the price. So, based on some immutable law of game collecting, that should mean I like it twice as much, right?

Well, it’s actually a pretty brilliant design – my younger son & I have enjoyed a number of two player games of it. The blend of pick up & deliver and network building combined with some really wacky special powers works very well – and the very nice production makes it even more playable.

The solo mode – which I’ve only played once – works as well, but I’m more likely to use the solo bot to add an extra player to our 2 player games.

Hadrian’s Wall (1 play – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

I wrote a positive solo review for the OG back in May 2021 of this flip’n’write game. I’m intrigued by the choices I have as a player and the myriad pathways you can attempt in your quest for accolades and glory. After the first couple of plays that ran about 60-70 minutes, I’m now knocking out games in about 35-40 minutes.

The same kinds of resource management issues that draw me into games like Terraforming Mars, Oh My Goods (and it’s cousin, Expedition to Newdale), and Empires of the North are an integral part of Hadrian’s Wall as well. (I’m not saying it’s just like those games or “if you love TM, you’ll love HW”.) These kinds of decisions make for solid solo designs – and Hadrian’s Wall has a lot of them.

In addition, the set-up/tear-down time (due to the flip-n-write design) is minimal, meaning a large chunk of your time is spent actually playing the game. And it has a relatively small table footprint, which means it will work well in my travel kit when I’m stuck in a hotel and need something to play on a less-than-roomy hotel desk.

Finally, it’s always a good sign when you’ve played a game eight times before reviewing and still get in more plays in after that.

My most recent solo play used the new expansion goodies (the Actor and the New Fate cards) – I can highly recommend both of them to those who enjoy the game.

Imperium: Classics/Legends (1 play – approx. playing time: 85 minutes)

My birthday in June 2021 was filled with goodness from Osprey Games… including my favorite new game of 2021. Want more detail? I wrote an extensive review for the OG!

One of the things that caused me to put the Imperium boxes on my birthday list was the promise of a robust solo play system – and David Turczi (who is specifically credited on the cover of the solo play rulebook) delivered.

Each civilization has its own AI set of tables. Five slots are set up and numbered (with provided cardboard counters).The die included in the game (only used for solo play) is rolled and that eliminates one of the slots (or doesn’t – sixes are not a friendly roll in solo play)… and then the remaining cards are revealed and dealt with in order. Impressively, each AI civilization retains a good bit of its character… for example, Egypt accumulates materials in the early going, uses them to attract hordes of population, and then, if conditions are right, converts those masses into Progress. 

In the meantime, the player civilization is running by the exact same rules as the multiplayer game – allowing you to learn the ins and outs of the various decks as well as consider different tactical and strategic decisions.

There is also a simple way to vary the difficulty of solo play… and even a campaign mode in the solo rulebook (which I still haven’t tried).

My only complaints about solo play? Putting the charts for resolving the AI behavior in the rulebook rather than providing them as large cards. Thankfully, a BGG user (props to DocZagreus!) has taken it upon themselves to fix this problem and posted files that do just that. The other issue is that the Qin charts needed to be changed – and the files I just linked to have the changes needed!

I was very excited to see Imperium: Classics getting the recognition it deserves… and to find out that there is another box of civilizations coming later this year!

Resist! (1 plays – approx. playing time: 35 minutes)

This solo card game about the Spanish Maquis ongoing guerilla battle against the Francoist regime is both addictive and frustrating. So far, I’ve only managed to have a minor victory in a single game. (Let’s be clear – this is what happens when you put a risk-taking maniac in charge of the resistance who sends out his Maquis one time too many… or is successful at completing missions but manages to get a bunch of civilians killed.)

I’ve played it at home and on a hotel bed while traveling for work… and even played a game of it last night while I should have been working on this blog post. While the gameplay is simple to explain (particularly with the components in front of you), the decisions can be difficult and sometimes are excruciating – do I sacrifice this fighter’s cover for one glorious attack? will using a weak hidden card with the power to reveal military cards help me or just show me the form of my destructor (to paraphrase Ghostbusters)?

It’s finally released in the U.S.… and you can read my full review of Resist! for the OG.

Skymines (1 play – approx. playing time: 90 minutes)

I know this is a re-skin (with changes) of Mombassa… but I never played Mombassa (plus, I’m a sucker for space themes). This is a pretty intense solo game – along the lines of Hallertau or Boonlake – but it works very well and offers a serious challenge. Warning: it’s got a pretty extensive setup so I’d plan on playing it a couple of times in a row.

Slappy Panda Goes to Boise (1 play – approx. playing time: 5 minutes)

OK, you got me. There isn’t a game named Slappy Panda Goes To Boise… but there should be.

The OG writers have the most interesting discussions as we’re bantering about various gaming topics – and when this name went by (in jest), I realized that I really wanted someone to design such a game.

I’m also a bit curious of who will spot this bit of meta silliness in the midst of all of my real solo gaming reports.

The Guild of Merchant Explorers (1 play – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

This extremely clever flip’n’write doesn’t actually contain any writing – instead, you place explorers (cubes) on your map and by completing regions, place village buildings. At the end of each round, all of your explorers are removed from the board, but your villages stay to give you new starting places.

There are four different maps in the original box, with 2 more maps available as an expansion from AEG. It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve taught it to… and I find it relaxing and enjoyable to play as a solo game.

Undaunted: Normandy (1 play – approx. playing time: 40 minutes)

One of the last Christmas boxes to arrive in 2021 was a copy of Undaunted: Reinforcements… the expansion that offers extra units, new scenarios, 2 vs 2 play, and – most importantly for this recap – solo play. The AI is smart and keeps me on my toes… and while it takes a minute to figure out how to set up and run, it’s worth the time. I’ve been slowly working my way through the Normandy campaign as the Americans and enjoying each time it hits the table. (One of the bonuses of the design: I can flip to the Axis side and play through the campaign again – both come in the Reinforcements box!)

The AI plays “faster” than we have normally played (in other words, it chases objectives and unit elimination pretty hard)… which has forced me to take more chances and ‘fail boldly’ against it. Makes for a very exciting game.

I want desperately to play Undaunted: Stalingrad (released last fall)… but the lack of a solo option and no consistent opponent may have that one wait a while. There is at least one more Undaunted game on the way this summer: Battle of Britain!

Warp’s Edge (1 play – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

Warp’s Edge is a bag-builder space combat game that is designed for solo play. So far, I do pretty well against the weaker motherships… but the higher rated ones turn me to space dust. I wrote a review of Warp’s Edge on the Opinionated Gamers website late last year.

Note: I received a review copy of Circadians: First Light.


Top Row – Undaunted: Normandy; Terraforming Mars: Ares Project; Circadians: First Light
Bottom Row – Empryeal: Spells & Steam: Everdell: Mistwood; Bad Company