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Journey Through the CCG Graveyard #3: More Impressions

Welcome to the third installment of Journey Through the CCG Graveyard! Earlier this year I started out by recapping my CCG plays from September, and then I followed that with a detailed review of the Tomb Raider CCG. And today is going to be another recapping post, talking about first impressions of the games I’ve played since that first post.

In the past few months I have played six different CCGs, five of which were new-to-me dead CCGs: Anachronism, Harry Potter TCG, MegaMan NT Warrior, Mythos, Tomb Raider (which I have reviewed, but will still discuss briefly here!), and Vs System. Because of the lengthy list of games to cover this time, I will cut to the chase and dive right into my impressions based upon the plays I will opt to take the approach of discussing them in alphabetical order:

Anachronism

The first game discussed is also the one I’ve played most recently. I picked up a trio of starters on eBay at an incredible bargain, including the starter I was most excited to try: William Wallace vs. Joan of Arc. That was the starter my friend and I used during a trio of games this month to close out an evening of playing games. Between the small decks, the brief overhead of rules, and the quick gameplay we were able to get in more plays than expected. He chose Joan of Arc, leaving me with my preferred choice (thank you, Braveheart, for making me excited to play as William Wallace!) It quickly became apparent that this game will typically have two qualities in most games: you cannot count on the game lasting long enough to utilize all four cards, and the order in which you play said cards can make a world of difference.

Yes, dice play a big factor in the game. Rolling doubles can bring about a swift change in the momentum of the game. However, the fast pace of the game is actually somewhat of a strength for Anachronism. Like some of the other non-CCGs I have played and enjoyed this year, it provides a nice blend of tactical elements with one heavy strategic area (the order to place the cards) where you need to figure out not just what you want to accomplish, but also how to potentially counter your opponents’ decisions (assuming you can learn what they do which, by the 2nd game, we were trying to think one step ahead in that clever mind-game). Going first in the opening round feels like a very strong disadvantage, as most of the actions are spent on positioning rather than attacking. The biggest issue I have with the game doesn’t involve the randomness, but rather having a player take all of their actions and then the other person takes all of their actions. Surviving 3 consecutive attacks, even from half health, is never a guarantee based on die rolls. Nothing is worse than knowing you might not survive to take out that last point of health they had left, and there isn’t a thing you can do to change that apart from roll high on your defense. Our final game came down to my holding a 4-1 advantage on health, surviving his attack only to whiff on all three of my attacks and watch him get to go first in the final round based on having the higher Experience, finishing me off when I had him beat. Still, this is a game we’re pulling back out next week when we meet again, this time with other decks (I’m itching to play as Beowulf!) and to do some of the easy deck construction with the small pool of cards I have. There’s a really high chance this will see a review before the month closes out if we get those games in next week.

Harry Potter TCG

This game returned to the table after picking up a decent handful of cards for deck construction purposes. I threw together two new decks, one with Nearly Headless Nick and the other with Minvera McGonagall, and put them to the test with my wife. Well, let’s just say the first game went quite poorly as my wife’s McGonagall deck drew a few useless cards I put in there by mistake. About halfway through my wife stopped the game and told me to fix the decks before she would play it again. Fixing required a quick change of lessons, making the Nick deck a Potions-Transfiguration deck and the McGonagall a Charms-Magical Creatures deck. After that swap, there were only two cards that needed to be replaced in total, and those were adjusted. A few days later we had a rematch, and her deck completely trampled me. I couldn’t draw direct damage spells or healing items to save myself from her growing onslaught of creatures on the board. Every time I took damage, the discard was inevitably one of the needed cards. A last-ditch effort turn allowed me to drop her down under 10 cards in her deck, but it was still too little too late. Her deck was able to frustrate me at every turn, although I imagine a rematch might not play out quite the same for her. Writing about this has reminded me that we’re a little overdue for that rematch, too, and this is the other potential review that could turn up in the very near future now that I’ve had some dabbling in deck construction.

I still really enjoy this game. The Adventures add a lot of extra take-that interaction in there to slow the opponent down, something that worked brilliantly against me as I had to discard my precious item cards early in the game and never did get them back. I still need more Witch and Wizards to build around, as the only other non-starter we have is Madame Pomfrey, who I don’t think we can effectively build around with the card pool in our collection. It also seems like there is a distinct disadvantage to not include Care for Magical Creatures in a deck, as the consistent damage they provide appears to be a lot more dependable than hoping to draw into bursts of damaging spells. The creatures also present the conundrum of where to use said spell cards. Without those to absorb some damage, it all piles on even faster to where that deck depletes quickly even with only 1-2 damage coming per turn on a consistent basis. However, the forced inclusion of those Magical Creature cards and Lessons would severely hamper the construction of innovative decks because it would consume at least 15-20 card slots in a 50-card deck in most cases to be consistent enough to matter. Hopefully expanding the card pool will present more paths to consistent decks than just dumping out creatures!

MegaMan NT Warrior

This little gem of a game was bumped higher on my radar thanks to the eagerness of the admin on the game’s Facebook page. He was trying very hard to build a little community around this game, and I used to play Mega Man games on the NES growing up so I was already curious about the game. When they announced a tournament on Tabletop Simulator, I decided to jump in and give it a shot since it would be just using Starter Decks. Over the course of six weeks I played a grand total of four games. Some weeks I had to forfeit due to a hectic schedule, and other weeks my opponent forfeited on their end. I went 2-2 in my games played, and had a ton of fun when I did get to play. Having a NetNavi with a 2-2-2 statline was pretty helpful, as it provided a balanced character to learn the game around. Some games I found myself envying the stronger stat on an opponent’s character, but after reflection this was a nice way to learn. Every match came down to the wire, and by the final game I was picking up on important nuances of timing for my cards, when to hold things, when to maybe wait a turn or two instead of Blasting immediately when I could, and more. Like Anachronism and Harry Potter, this game has a relatively simple system to learn in order to get going on the game. Like Harry Potter, the objective is to deplete your opponent’s deck first, and any damage dropped causes them to discard the top card of the deck per point of damage.

And I really like the ebb and flow of this game. It has a fine nuance of timing, where you build up as best you can for a powerful turn – or hold onto things in preparation of trying to thwart an opponent’s big turn. It feels really good to drop 8-10 damage in one massive blow, and the decks are large enough that you’re going to have several opportunities for those splashes of spike damage. Since all I have played with, and all I own right now, are starters I can’t speak to the deck construction yet but I am excited to get some cards in the future in order to modify my MegaMan and Torchman decks and try them out here locally with some friends. Heck, I’d love to be at Gen Con to participate in some of the events being planned for the game. This one is high on the fun meter so far, and with the cards being relatively affordable for the game that should make this an easy one to at least try out some more in the future. Also, my hope is to get my series of videos created on this one by the end of the weekend, so check out my YouTube Channel for a teaching and a gameplay video on the MegaMan NT Warrior TCG!

Mythos

This game came to me as part of a bundle from Card Game Geek and his eBay store. I was interested mostly in the Spellfire and Tomb Raider cards and this was thrown in along with some X-Files cards. Since this had a solitaire mode written into the rules, I decided to give it a go one evening when my wife was in bed. There seemed to be some incomplete explanations in the rules for some areas of the gameplay, or at least things open to interpretation to where I’m not 100% certain that I played it correctly (part of why I am working to make videos to teach some of these CCGs!) I tackled a lengthy adventure, pulling cards from both decks in the starter to make sure I had all of the necessary keywords to discover. And sure enough, the first play that was finishable (I restarted about halfway through to adjust the deck once I had a clearer idea of what I was trying to do and how to accomplish it) ended with a run of lucky draws to bring out all of the keywords necessary after about half the deck.

This one is a game I’m not completely sold on yet. The artwork isn’t my favorite, the mechanics feel a little on the clunky side compared with something like Middle-earth (another CCG where you are exploring various locations) and I’m not exactly thrilled about the “find the keywords before you go insane” concept of the gameplay. It might be more interesting with an opponent on the other side of the table, where someone intelligent can play cards to try and thwart my attempts rather than random chance for the card flip, and I do have a friend that enjoys the Lovecraftian setting. I fear this will be an inferior game compared to another Lovecraftian CCG out there (which later became an LCG), but I’m willing to give it another attempt or two before making a video to showcase how the game works. I genuinely hope the multiplayer version of this elevates the experience.

Tomb Raider

There isn’t much to state here that I haven’t already said in my review of the game, so this will be brief. Tomb Raider is a fun CCG with a unique approach toward things with the exploration of a map made from cards. My biggest disappointments remain with the near-impossibility of losing and with the inconsistent way in which trap or monster cards are going to enter play to interfere with the solo player – playing with another person (like Mythos) would likely improve that a little bit. For more thoughts on this one, check out that recent review here.

Vs System

It was a perfect opportunity to try the game with a friend. We had Marvel Champions on deck to play that afternoon, but he was open to begin with something different. So I pulled out my Batman vs. Joker starter decks and he took Batman, leaving me with the clown. Overall, the rules for this one seemed pretty simple and straight-forward on the surface, although he had some excellent questions prior to jumping into the game. Once the game got underway, it became quite apparent that things were going to be interesting yet oddly balanced. Each round we would likely increase the number of resources available by 1, allowing us to either play more cards or stronger cards, so the game would follow a relatively straight path toward more powerful cards. And ultimately it felt just like that, with slight bumps in power from turn-to-turn until it peaked around Turn 6. Neither of us could maintain a strong advantage for long, although his healing ability when drawing definitely helped him keep the advantage enough to secure a closer-than-I-expected victory.

This game does some clever things, such as letting you play a card face-down as a resource and having two types of cards that want to be used as resources in order to be played later. The almost guaranteed increase in spending power each round helps to reduce the chance of getting screwed by not drawing the right resource cards a la land cards in Magic, and I really enjoyed that. Being able to deploy characters in a front or back row, with the front-line being your primary attack/defense units is really cool. And I love the concept of Stunning characters combined with the loss of Reputation (i.e. the player’s “health”) based on their cost as they get stunned. It felt, at times, like a clever chess match because it was difficult to maintain an advantage. Which might have been a fault of starter decks as much as anything…although these starters were really quite solid overall. This is one I really want to explore further, and my friend is now curious in the relaunch of the game. I am too, to be perfectly honest, as I’ve seen the market price on some of the cards for the game. For the cost of some of those sets of 4 cards I could probably get most of the 2PCG version that has been released. Regardless, I’ll be tinkering with this one and playing it some more with what I have and, perhaps, if I do get to try the 2PCG version in the future I can make a post with some comparisons between the games.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this. I know I am loving this so far, and it feels good to have time to invest again in focusing on some of these games. In addition to this post series, I’ve made a series of videos on Spellfire and the Final Fantasy TCG over on my YouTube channel to teach the game – find me as Cardboard Clash on YouTube and subscribe! And I’m already jumping in on the next set of videos covering the MegaMan NT Warrior TCG. And so tell me, are there specific CCGs you’d love to read or watch more about?

Notes on the Journey
Total plays (plays since last report).

Tomb Raider = 4
MegaMan NT Warrior = 4
Harry Potter = 4 (+1)
Anachronism = 3 (+3)
Final Fantasy = 2
Spellfire = 2
Mythos = 1 (+1)
Vs System = 1 (+1)

Ranking based on preference so far:

Anachronism
Harry Potter
Final Fantasy
Tomb Raider
MegaMan NT Warrior
Vs System
Spellfire
Mythos

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Targi

Thank you for checking review #120 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Targi

Targi is a board game designed by Andreas Steiger that is published by Kosmos Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 60 minutes.

Theme and overview:

Unlike in other cultures, the desert Tuareg men, known as Targi, cover their faces whereas women of the tribe do not wear veils. They run the household and they have the last word at home in the tents. Different families are divided into tribes, headed by the ‘Imascheren’ (or nobles). As leader of a Tuareg tribe, players trade goods from near (such as dates and salt) and far (like pepper), in order to obtain gold and other benefits, and enlarge their family. In each round their new offerings are made. Cards are a means to an end, in order to obtain the popular tribe cards.

Gameplay:

The board consists of a 5×5 grid: a border of 16 squares with printed action symbols and then 9 blank squares in the centre onto which cards are dealt. Meeples are placed one at a time on the spaces at the edges of the board (not including corner squares). You cannot place a meeple on a square the opponent has a meeple on already, nor on a square facing opponent’s meeple. Once all meeples are placed, players then execute the actions on the border squares the meeples are on and also take the cards from the centre that match the row and column of the border meeples.

The game is predominantly scored and won by playing tribal cards to your display. These give advantages during the game and victory points at the end. Usually cards are played (or discarded) immediately once drawn. A single card can be kept in hand but then requires a special action to play it (or to discard it to free the hand spot for another card). Each card has a cost in goods to play. Goods are obtained either from border spaces or from goods cards.

The display (for scoring) consists of 3 rows of 4 cards that are filled from left to right and cannot be moved once placed (barring some special cards). There is also a balance to be found between the victory point score on the cards themselves (1-3 VP per tribal card) and in the combinations per row (a full row of 4 identical card types gets you an additional 4 VP, and a full row of 4 distinct card types gets you 2 VP).

The winner at the end of the game is the player with the most victory points.

My Thoughts

 This game provides incredible brain burn. It won’t seem like it at first, but there is more to this game than the average game because there is a huge spatial aspect to the game. Your workers are placed along the borders, and the points where your workers “intersect” in the center of the grid of cards will give you 1-2 additional actions to execute that round. That in itself is really clever. However, the ruthlessness of being unable to place a worker across from your opponents’ workers means the grid of cards shrinks quickly. Which means your first placement isn’t necessarily on a card you want the action for, but rather to hopefully lock down the center card you are banking on this turn. But, oh no, your opponent unwittingly (maybe) just put their worker on the other card you needed to make that perfect intersection, so now you’re trying to figure out how to salvage the rest of this turn without ruining your attempt to get that card next round instead. This is the brilliance of Targi.

 The set collection aspect of the game adds a great layer of decisions into what you are choosing for actions. You are strongly incentivized to fill a row with 4 cards of the same type, as that is an extra 4 points. However, failing that you want to get a row of 4 unique card types for 2 points. Anything else is a wasted opportunity for bonus end-game points in a game that is often tight enough to where even 2 points can make all the difference. Neither of those sets are easy to collect, and there will be times when you seriously consider whether or not to take that card which will ruin said collection you are working toward, since you only have 3 rows to work with.

 There are three great spots on the outer board that are worth mentioning, because they open up flexibility and, at times, some push-your-luck. First, there is an action space which will let you move one of your central cylinders to an open central card that round, meaning it is a valuable place to go when your opponent blocks you out of a row or column you really wanted – assuming they don’t mark that very card you wanted. Second, there is a space which allows you to take the top Goods card off the deck. This is a strong risk-reward play, but it can provide a great feeling when it gives you a coin for the gamble. Last is the space which lets you take the top Tribes card and either buy it immediately, add it to your hand, or discard it. However, there are several reasons this can be risky because…

 You have a hand size of 1 for the Tribes cards. If you have one in hand, you need to use the space on the board which allows you to play or discard that hand card, otherwise you’re going to have to buy or discard any Tribes cards gained until that card is gone from your hand. And with only one space to play/discard that card, it is entirely possible your opponent may block you out from using that spot on the turn when you wanted to play the card, forcing you to pivot your entire plan. Anyone claiming worker placement games have no interaction has clearly never played Targi, because there is constant interference in this one with such a tight board and limited actions per round.

 There is a neutral piece that moves around the outside perimeter, advancing 1 space each round. This is great for two reasons: it is the timer for the game (although players CAN trigger it early), and it blocks one space from placement each round. In addition, the four corners contain Raid spaces where players immediately lose either goods or points and then the piece advances to the next space. So while there are 16 cards making up the border, it’ll really be a 12-round game at most with up to 4 penalties paid – which can be a lot less forgiving than you’d think. This game can be TIGHT.

 A “board” made of cards where the center 9 cards are constantly changing definitely creates a dynamic game experience. However, it also creates the issue of needing to remove and replace cards constantly, alternating which type of cards goes into that spot (i.e. if the card used/removed is a Goods card, a Tribes card replaces it). These cards are initially placed face-down as the actions are resolved for both players, and then flipped to end the round. Okay, fine. Except that’s a lot of placing and flipping over the course of the game, and if you have even the slightest ounce of perfectionism in your body you will get a nervous tic every time a card slides askew from the others. A small board or playmat to place the cards on might be a nice way to “deluxify” the game experience and help provide a small amount of control to the layout of cards. I learned the hard way in our first play, when I had the cards tight together. Ever since there has been a nice cushioned gap in every direction.

Final Thoughts

Targi is one of those games I always hoped to try because it was a 2-player worker placement game – something I know is up my wife’s alley for gaming. I expected a game that was extremely overhyped, because I’ve heard numerous times just how excellent Targi is as a game. No game, especially one so small in size, could be that good, right? Let’s just get this out of the way now: Targi doesn’t hit the expectations from word of mouth. It exceeds them. This little game is, somehow, even more impressive than I had been led to believe.

At its heart, Targi is just like most worker placement games: you put out workers each round to gain resources which you then convert into points. It adds set collection, which also isn’t that uncommon to worker placement games. It doesn’t allow you to place a worker where your opponents are, just like many other worker placement games. So what is it about Targi that sets it apart from so many other games?

This game provides incredible brain burn. It won’t seem like it at first, but there is more to this game than the average game because there is a huge spatial aspect to the game. Your workers are placed along the borders, and the cards in the center where they intersect will provide 1-2 more actions to execute for 4-5 total per round. Clever, but still not special. However, the restriction to prevent you from placing directly across from an opponent is what elevates this from small worker placement game to mind-melting puzzle. This is the brilliance of Targi. This is what sets it apart from most vanilla worker placement games, and what makes it an incredible experience that sets it up as one of the absolute best games to play with 2 players.

When I get the itch for a worker placement game (which isn’t often, since they almost always end in defeat against my genius wife), this is one of the first games that will come to mind going forward. It is quick to set up, plays in well under an hour, provides incredibly crunchy decisions, and has a fast teardown time. Even more importantly, it has a moderate table presence, meaning it isn’t a game that needs a ton of real estate to play. It probably isn’t the best coffee shop game to take along, although the small box is nice, but it does work fine on almost any sized table.

All in all, Targi is easily one of the best new-to-me games I have played this year. And I’ve played some really amazing gems, even in the 2-player only market with hits like Bushido, Skulk Hollow, and Exceed Street Fighter making it to my table this year. Don’t make me have to choose which one is best – I’ll be struggling with that come June when I refresh my Top 100 (where I expect Targi to easily place on there somewhere). If you haven’t tried Targi and you like thinky 2-player games, this is definitely one of the more unique and worthwhile titles to add to your collection.

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The People’s Choice 2019 Top 200 Solo Games List Made Me Want To Try This List

Every year for the past 6 years, solo gamers of all sorts take time to vote on their top solitaire games and send those lists in to form the People’s Choice list for solo gaming. If you want to see this list in all of its glory, this is the Geeklist – and every year there is a companion Geeklist where solo gamers blame this list for new acquisitions prompted by their appearance on this People’s Choice list. Thus the clunky, uninspired title here.

Now that the list is completely unveiled and hordes of Mage Knight fans are weeping, I thought I would take a moment to look at the list as a whole and find targets for the remainder of 2019 and into 2020. I own 31 of the Top 200 solo games, and have played a good number of other titles solitaire, but that leaves roughly 75% of the list I haven’t ever played solo, and most I haven’t played period.

So here is a list of the 69 games I haven’t tried yet as solo experiences (and do not own, as there are a few titles like Paper Tales which I own but haven’t done solo yet) that made the list. The past few weeks has also seen me knock off three games that would have otherwise been on this list (Renegade, The 7th Continent, Too Many Bones. Pretty sure two of those will be going to my wish list, and still have to play out more of my first curse to get a final verdict on 7th Continent).

I’ll be doing a similar post about a month from now, once I finish unveiling a similar People’s Choice Top 100 list for Games With Two. I’m still collecting votes on that, so if you want to participate send me a message with up to your Top 20 games, ranked 1-20. I’m up to 50 entries so far, and would love to see that double by the time we close down the votes and begin unveiling on 12/14.

So without more ado, here are the games I plan to try out in the coming 13 months for solo play. Realistically, I probably won’t get to try most of these without generous local gamers who are willing to let me borrow the game for a week or two to give it a try. But hey, what is life without goals, right? This gives me something to shoot for!

And my plan, hopefully, will be to do a gameplay walkthrough video of each entry on the list which hits my table, both ones owned and the ones I try to play for the first time. Search for Cardboard Clash on YouTube and subscribe to follow along as those get created!

The Solo List Made Me Want To Try This List

**Entries are in reverse-numerical order from their ranking in the Top 200.

Marvel Champions: The Card Game [196]
Roads & Boats [191]
Trickerion: Legends of Illusion [190]
CO2 [186]
Fields of Green [185]
First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet [182]
The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game [180]
Tramways [178]
Nations: The Dice Game [170]
Paladins of the West Kingdom [169]
Fleet: The Dice Game [165]
Zulus on the Rampart [156]
Merchants & Marauders [155]
Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden [153]
Nautilion [151]
The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game [150]
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale [149]
Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game [148]
Le Havre [147]
Blackout: Hong Kong [146]
Legacy of Dragonholt [145]
Tiny Towns [144]
Heroes of Terrinoth [140]
Limes [139]
Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North [136]
The Gallerist [131]
Sylvion [123]
Middara: Unintentional Malum – Act 1 [118]
Orleans [115]
Helionix: The Last Sunset [114]
Coffee Roaster [113]
Lewis & Clark [112]
HEXplore It: The Valley of the Dead King [107]
Pax Pamir (Second Edition) [104]
Mistfall [100]
Darkest Night (Second Edition) [98]
Apex Theropod Deck-Building Game [97]
Space Empires: 4X [96]
Xia: Legends of a Drift System [91]
Dungeon Alliance [88]
SpaceCorp [86]
Aerion [85]
Star Wars: Outer Rim [81]
Tapestry [76]
Sword & Sorcery [71]
Burgle Bros [68]
Street Masters [67]
Zombicide: Black Plague [65]
Cloudspire [64]
Leaving Earth [56]
Ganz Schon Clever [54]
Hostage Negotiator [53]
Runebound (Third Edition) [52]
Nusfjord [51]
Underwater Cities [50]
Baseball Highlights: 2045 [49]
Architects of the West Kingdom [48]
Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth [43]
Teotihuacan: City of Gods [39]
Shadowrun: Crossfire [38]
Fields of Arle [35]
Onirim [33]
Snowdonia [30]
Dawn of the Zeds (Third Edition) [26]
Anachrony [23]
Nemo’s War (Second Edition) [15]
Gaia Project [13]
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island [8]
Gloomhaven [6]

And for those who are curious, these are the ones which are most likely to see a video made in the next 13 months, because they are currently in my collection:

Paper Tales [200]
Firefly: The Game [194]
Shadowrift [192]
Hero Realms [187]
Maquis [184]
Azul [183]
Mint Works [158]
Caverna: The Cave Farmers [152]
Unbroken [143]
Orchard: A 9 Card Solitaire Game [130]
Nations [126]
Great Western Trail [116]
Lisboa [102]
Obsession [93]
Oh My Goods! [92]
Star Realms [75]
Everdell [74]
Raiders of the North Sea [73]
Patchwork [66]
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game [62]
The City of Kings [60]
Glass Road [41]
Sentinels of the Multiverse [36]
Sprawlopolis [31]
Hoplomachus [28]
Roll Player [24]
Friday [20]
At the Gates of Loyang [16]
A Feast for Odin [14]
The 7th Continent [11]
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game [9]

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Imhotep: The Duel

A quick note: I am collected data from folks on their top games to play with 2-players. Not necessarily 2-player only games! Essentially, send me a message with up to your Top 20 games, ranked in order, and I’ll enter them into my spreadsheet. I am collecting data on this until 12/14/2019, and shortly after that I will begin unveiling the results. Currently I have nearly 50 lists, and the more we can collect the more accurate we can represent the People’s Choice Top 100 Games for Two. You can find more details here: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/33412597

Thank you for checking review #119 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Imhotep: The Duel

Imhotep: The Duel is a board game designed by Phil Walker-Harding that is published by Kosmos Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 30 minutes.

The competition of the builders continues in Imhotep: The Duel!

In this game, players take on the roles of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, one of Egypt’s most famous royal couples. Game pieces must be cleverly placed so that players can unload the most valuable tiles from the six boats. While this is happening, each player builds their own four monuments in order to gain as many fame points as possible.

My Thoughts

 The 3×3 grid may be reminiscent of tic-tac-toe, but it is used in such a clever way that I think 3×3 turns out to be the perfect size for what they are trying to accomplish here. Because you each have four workers, it will never be completely full. And most of the time you won’t even have all four workers out at once, since there is a constant ebb and flow of people on the board (more on that next). I like a nice, tight space where you can continuously have your best plans thwarted in clever ways by your opponent.

 The game is simple, since you can either place a worker onto a space, or unload a boat (technically the blue action tokens provide a third option, usually some enhanced version of the two core actions). And each space on the grid connects with two of the six boats out there, meaning your worker is never fully locked in on which boat they help unload – only which tile position on said boats. Unloading is restricted only by the need for at least two workers to be in that row/column for the boat – but you also don’t need any of the workers to be yours in order to trigger said unload action. So this opens up the tricky play opportunities to try and slow down, or deny, your opponent the tiles they are working hard to set themselves up to gain. Since those workers will come off the board and need to be replaced, any time you force them into the unload they don’t want to take, you are slowing them down. And if you have at least one worker out in that area, you’re gaining something in return each time. Will they likely replace the key worker on the spot they really need for their next turn? Probably. But it might open up one of the spaces you needed also, making it totally worth doing.

 The blue action tiles are the only tiles which do not go onto one of your four boards. However, they are arguably the most important tiles to target because they allow you to either break the rules (such as unloading a tile off any boat, or swapping the position of two tiles on a boat) or to take more efficient actions (such as placing two workers in one action, or unloading two different boats). Depending on when these tiles come out, they can either be used tactically to gain a strong advantage during a key sequence of turns, or they can be stockpiled for a point each at the end of the game.

 Apart from those action tiles, there are four other types of tiles that all are sought after for different scoring aspects. Not only do they differ by type, but the side of each board you use changes how they are scored. Because there are a limited number of each of these tiles, and for the most part they are open information on what a player has gained, you can get a sense of what you and your opponent really needs and plan accordingly. This allows you to not only optimize taking what you need, but also potentially taking tiles you don’t need in order to deny them to your opponent – or making sure a boat unloads to discard a tile they need.

 If you are against games with negative player interaction, this game might have enough potential take-that opportunities to sour the experience for you. Granted, every step of it is based on choices you are making, but if one player is being cutthroat in their play it can feel bad for the other player. However, that is a player choice, not the fault of the game. It allows you to be as gentle, or as ruthless, as you would like. Which means this game should cater strongly to most gaming pairs. Just know what to expect based on the player sitting across from you.

 I do wish that some of the tiles were removed at random (apart from the three placed on the dock space, which may or may not come out). Some players prefer perfect information, knowing that X number of Y tiles will come out over the course of the game and can plan accordingly with their strategy. I, on the other hand, like when at least a small amount of information is imperfect (such as in Hanamikoji) and you must carefully try to adapt your plans as things are revealed. Personal preference here, and it doesn’t stop me from absolutely loving this game when it hits the table.

Final Thoughts

Imhotep: The Duel may or may not be like its predecessor – I cannot tell you how closely the two games align with each other. However, I can speak about the experience that came from this 2-player game and, quite frankly, it is really fun. I wasn’t sold, when reading the instructions, about the 3×3 grid for worker placement and everything but it all turns out to be a fine-tuned system with far more player interaction opportunities than I would have believed. With some clever timing, you can very much interfere with an opponents’ plans before they come to fruition, setting them back a turn or two on something they were working toward. Of course, it isn’t a forced thing and you can play and enjoy this completely as a pair of carebears, but for those who like a little meanness and the ability to interfere with an opponents’ plan…this will be a pleasant surprise.

The game moves along at a quick pace. With a small supply of workers and two primary choices of actions, it is bound to be a punchy pacing for the game. Yet within the simple mechanical confines there are riches of decisions to be made. Like the aforementioned aspect where you can play mean or nice, you can also base your decisions around what your own plans are, or play based upon what you see your opponent doing and try to capitalize on their action selections. After all, any time they can select an unload action where you have at least one worker, you put yourself a little further “ahead” – which might only be the appearance of advancement, but it is still a rewarding feeling to get something from their turns.

The real star of the show comes from the multiple tile types and how they are all used in different ways along your “player board” area. With four different sets to collect, each interacting in different ways, makes this a really interesting puzzle of figuring out how to value the tiles available – and how to value what your opponent is trying to gain. And with an A side and a B side to each of the four boards, there is a really drastic change in approach on some of these when you change sides. Suddenly what you used as a strategy in the first game might be a suboptimal approach in the second game because it scores very differently now. And I absolutely love that aspect.

This game is exactly what I look for in a dedicated 2-player title: quick setup/teardown, high replay value, “thinky filler” status, and a playtime that clocks in at around 30-40 minutes which enables multiple plays in one evening if desired. Imhotep: The Duel is an excellent game when considered on its own merits. You might be intrigued because of the experiences you’ve had with regular Imhotep and, again, I cannot tell you how it compares to that (yet). But don’t hesitate to pick up this game, because it is an above-average 2-player game that will be a welcome visitor onto my table any time someone requests to play it with me.

What's In Your Wallet?

What’s in Your Wallet #2: Button Shy Holiday Shopping Recommendations

One of my favorite publishers is Button Shy Games. Being 18-card wallet games, all of their titles are compact, affordable, and perfect for most gaming situations. Because they churn out a new game almost every month, it can be daunting to look at their catalog and determine what games to buy. Not to mention, some titles are out of stock right now, making it a challenge to pick them up.

So I wanted to get a holiday guide up, since I can never have too many of these wallet games. I’ve broken them down into categories, making up to 3 unique suggestions in each to try and help make sure you hit the free shipping amount ($25 in the US). Many of them also can add on expansions in the drop-down menu on their store (https://buttonshygames.com/collections/wallet-games-1)

And so, without further ado, here are my buying guide recommendations based solely on in-stock titles.

If you could only buy three: All other categories aside, these are the three “best” games in their lineup if I were asked to make a broad, general recommendation without any knowledge of the person looking to pick up some games. There is a good variety in here, with two of them having nice solo options (Circle the Wagons requires the Lone Cowboy expansion for that), two of them being for 2-players, and one being a cooperative game that goes up to 4.
Liberation – Hands down this is the best game in the Button Shy lineup for me. It contains so much tension packed into a 30-minute package, and with asymmetrical sides you’ll always want to play it twice to switch sides. It does a great job at replicating the cat-and-mouse hidden base aspect made popular in Star Wars: Rebellion.

Circle the Wagons – This is easily our most played game from Button Shy, and at a 10-15 minute play time it is easy to see why. This game has an interesting way of choosing cards, variable scoring conditions, and some card-laying to build your own little areas for scoring. A perfect game to always have present, as it is quick enough to play almost any time.

Sprawlopolis – Arguably best as a solo game, this delightful puzzle can crush up to four players with its challenging scoring conditions. If you like a game to play on your own, or are looking for something to play cooperatively with others, this one is one of the best-regarded titles. It has variable scoring conditions, the combination of which determines your win condition and don’t let the low numbers deceive you…those cards are among the most difficult to overcome.

For the Solo Gamer: While not an exhaustive list (Circle the Wagons & Sprawlopolis would be on here for sure. As would Antinomy, featured later) of the solo games worth picking up, these are three solo-only games that are enjoyable and provide three very different experiences.

SpaceShipped – If you like picking up and delivering goods – well, this might scratch some of that itch for you. You’ll be playing as a smuggler, like Han Solo, trying to buy and sell resources to collect gems. But watch out for marauders and untimely events that’ll get in your way and mess up your plans.

Banned Books – Even if you aren’t literary inclined, you will enjoy the simple mechanics and challenging task set forth in this game. The cycling of actions is a clever mechanism in this game, making it a very delightful solo experience as you push forward and try to avoid having your book banned from the shelves forever.

Twin Stars: Adventure Series II – If you like dice rolling, scenario-based gameplay, and endless variety then you want to check out the Twin Stars line of games. It integrates seamlessly with Adventure Series I (which is out of stock at the moment), so even if you begin with Series II you aren’t going to be missing anything critical.

For the significant other: Not limited to a spouse, but a category of 2-player games that are wonderful. Again, other titles like Circle the Wagons, Liberation, and others would fit here as well.

Seasons of Rice – A game that hit our table frequently when we tried the print & play during its Kickstarter campaign, it reminded us of Carcassonne with variable player powers and personal area-construction. Plus card drafting in two different ways, which presents plenty of interesting decisions to consider with every turn. This should be shipping next month, meaning it is likely to arrive in time!

Penny Rails – I’m not a train gamer by any means, but Penny Rails is a sheer delight. If you like perfectly-aligned maps then this game might trigger your OCD, but if you can think outside of that there are so many clever ways to interfere with your opponents’ route building while trying to enhance your own. With two different ways to score the game – offering drastically different experiences – this game has enough steam to power many plays in a collection.

Antinomy – A game that looks and sounds so abstract shouldn’t hurt the brain this much, but Antinomy does just that. It puts the Thinky into Thinky Filler, as cards have a color, a number, and an icon. You’re trying to move along a line of 9 cards to collect sets of 3 for Paradoxes, but moving forward can only be done using the numbers on cards from your hand and moving backward only to a matching color or icon. With a rotating tracker to mark an off-limit color for your Paradox, this game has so much brain-burn that it provides a delightful experience with some sharp elbows via Clashing.

For the group gamer: These are the games to look at if you consistently play with 3+ players, as they go up to 4, 5, or 6 players.

Handsome – Even if you never liked games such as Scrabble, there is a chance you will really enjoy the experience of Handsome. PLayable from 2-6 players, this word game is more about set collection and clever play rather than who can make the most impressive words. With a common pool of shared cards and cards in hand to make the word, and the cards being only consonants, there is a lot of open flexibility for wordsmiths and those who don’t enjoy words to equally enjoy the game.

Tussie Mussie – From the hit designer of Wingspan comes a game about using the language of flowers. Playable from 1-4, this one really shines at the full player count with a variation of the “I cut, you choose” mechanic combined with hidden information to create a quick and enjoyable experience that is perfect to break out during a game day.

Universal Rule: Second Wave – Another standalone game where the first entry is out-of-stock, but if you like 4X games this is a 3-5 player 4X game with 18 cards. Exploit, expand, explore, and exterminate your way to dominance against your foes by gaining Victory Points.

For the children: All 2-player games that are perfectly suited to play with children, or have them play with each other.

Why I Otter – A fun little game with otters of various shapes and sizes with art that little kids will love and cleverness that older ones should enjoy. Winning a hand will let you get more cards, but losing allows you to choose the scoring conditions so there is a nice layer of decision-making to be found in this small package.

Wonder Tales – A puzzly, tile-laying game about fairy tale creatures which children will delight to recognize. The cards are double-sided with the same character on each side, but different colored highlights. Players try to position the grid so that the right combinations of characters/colors are adjacent to their cards to gain the most points.

Potions Class – A game of set collection and press-your-luck, players will take turns putting three cards out: one in their potion, one in their reserve, and one in their opponent’s reserve. The twist, similar to Herbaceous, is that you see the cards one-at-a-time and must decide as you see them where to place the cards as you try to craft your own potions for points while trying not to help your opponent make their own.

For the Unique Experiences: Two games that don’t necessarily fit neatly into their own category, but are worth looking into if you want something that might stand out. If you can get your hands on a copy of Mint Julep (out of stock on their website), it would be a great choice for this category as well.

That Snow Moon – A dexterity game? Yep, and I have personally witnessed how much fun this game can be with the right pair of people. If you can set aside the frustration of cards not doing what you want them to, this will provide a unique experience set in the same Sci-Fi universe as many of the other Button Shy games.

Kintsugi – A very abstract theme with tile-laying aspects at unusual angles makes this one stand out as a unique game. With two different paths to victory, and a lowest-score victory condition this game for 2-3 players will be a standout game in your collection for how refreshingly different it is.

On the top of my wish list this season: I have a fair number of the above games (and there isn’t a single game listed above that I wouldn’t want to obtain!), but these three are the ones I’d be most likely to order for myself if I placed an order today.

HeroTec – It is a game with superheroes and it plays well (I’ve heard) solitaire as well as with others. Featuring card drafting and multi-use cards, this game speaks my language in all the right ways.

SuperTall – My wife will probably never try Sprawlopolis with me (cooperative games aren’t her favorite thing) so I need to turn to the competitive Supertall for city construction in our Button Shy collection. It sounds like a complete blast, especially since you can pass the card you draw to your rival – especially if you know that card is going to be worthless that round.

Seasons of Rice – For the reasons outlined above. I missed the Kickstarter, but I need to get this into my collection because I know we’ll play it a lot.

Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review for One: Dragon Keepers

Thank you for checking review #118 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the game at the cost of shipping in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Dragon Keepers

Dragon Keepers is a board game designed by Catalina Lacerda and Vital Lacerda that is published by Knight Works LLC. The box state it plays 1-6 players and has a playtime of 10-40 minutes.

In this fantasy universe, each player is the chief of a tribe of dragon keepers, defending the dragons from attacks by the evil hunter. The hunter wants to see those cute dragons dead, but must get past the dragon keepers. The keepers belong to different tribes but together they have the common goal of protecting the dragons. The keepers use magic in their duels with the evil hunter.

Dragon Keepers was designed by Vital Lacerda and his youngest daughter, Catarina. Says Vital, “She is the one who knows a lot about dragons and I could have never been able to do this design without her.” Dragon Keepers has two different games in the box:

KEEPER GAME: 3–6 players | 10–15 minutes | ages 6+
In this competitive mode, the hunter rolls dice to attack the dragons and the players choose which of the attacked dragons they want to defend. The game ends when one player manages to heroically defend three different dragons or if one dragon gets three hits. The winner is the player with more successful defenses.

DRAGON GAME: 2–4 players | 20–40 minutes | ages 9+
In this cooperative mode, the keepers work together to defend and train the dragons so that they attack the hunter. Players can take four different actions: Defend, Cure, Train and Attack. Those actions are limited and they need to cooperate and organized as a group to manage to stop the hunter’s attacks during the game. The players lose if a dragon is killed by the hunter, or if the battle event deck runs out. The players win if X dragons (where X is determined by the difficulty level) manage to successfully attack the hunter.

My Thoughts

 For a game that I expected to be a light dice-chucker…there are a serious number of thoughtful decision points in here. True, every round will involve rolling 1-6 dice for the Hunter. But that is the first thing that happens, and it tells you which of your six dragons are being targeted for the round, and you get two actions to try and minimize the harm to your dragons and try and make progress toward having all six dragons trained & successfully attack the Hunter. It is a challenge, especially since your pool of action tokens is limited, you have two of each color dragon card (in a solo game) to choose from before resting – meaning you can’t just repeatedly use the same dragon, and you can’t train a damaged, or targeted, dragon.

 The spell cards are a great addition to the game, oftentimes providing useful and essential abilities to help swing things in your favor, such as training damaged dragons, removing damage, or allowing rerolls of attacks. You can play one per dragon card/action token you put out, meaning you can use up to 2 per turn. Two of your four actions will give you new spell cards, taking one from the discard pile or from the top of the deck (both of which are face-up). However, that deck is also your game timer! Which means you’re punishing yourself by avoiding the draw from the discard pile. And since taking a spell card doesn’t read as being an optional reward, you might even be forced to speed up the game timer if you choose the wrong combination of actions. It allows some really tense decisions.

 There are a ton of ways to make the game more, or less, challenging. I find the “minimum” difficulty for solo mode (I believe it is Hard) to be a very strong challenge. It requires you to train and successfully attack with all 6 dragons, skipping over the easier versions where you only need to accomplish this with 4 or 5 dragons. How does it get harder? Making weak fireball die results count as misses, and making it so you need more hits on the Hunter. Also…

 The Shadow Hunter variant is brutal. Basically there are four different Hunter cards that are shuffled into the spell deck (Pandemic style, putting one in each quarter of the small deck). In the normal game, when they appear they are discarded and a die is permanently added to the Hunter’s die pool, meaning he’s going to be doing more from that round onward. That’s a challenge in itself. The variant makes it so each Hunter card does an additional effect as it comes out, which cranks the challenge up by a lot. I want to use this variant more, but I need to actually win a game first…

 The artwork is a huge win on this game. I absolutely love it. It can certainly be a subjective thing, of course, but this is the sort of game that I would see and immediately want to know more about.

 I like that there is incentive to deal damage to the Hunter as quickly as possible, because for every 3 Fireballs you hit him with, you can remove a die from his pool. This helps to offset the gradual ramp in difficulty, making it more likely the dragon you need to use is able to be selected. Because, again, if they are damaged or targeted by the Hunter they cannot be trained. Which means sometimes what you need to do gets trumped by figuring out what you can do instead.

 Let’s circle back to planning in the game. Not only do you need to manage your choice of when to use certain actions and activate/protect certain dragons, but you also need to keep in mind when to take your Rest round. Because you are forced to do it if you’ve played 6 cards (you play 2 per round, so every fourth turn is potentially a forced rest) where the Hunter rolls his dice but all you do is take all of your cards and tokens back into your hand/pool. Because the Hunter’s roll happens first in the round, you can see what is incoming and try to decide whether to play cards or to take the rest. I absolutely love that degree of planning. So why the half star? Because luck. I’ve had rounds where I felt like the right move was to press the advantage and take the forced rest. My dragons would be in good shape at the end of the current round, and barring a roll of X, I won’t lose. And then I flip a spell card and it triggers a hunter. And the next card is a hunter. And now they are rolling 2 more dice than I expected and, sure enough, three of those roll the same color dragon to make me lose even when I shouldn’t have been in a losing position. It doesn’t always happen. Nor does it happen often. But it can and will eventually happen that the 1-in-X chance of a perfect storm causing you to lose will come around

 The dragons each have their own special power, which is fantastic. However, it can be a challenge to remember which powers they have. It isn’t indicated on their untrained side, and even on the trained side it is iconography. To find out what they do you need to refer to the back page of the rulebook, where it provides better details. I would have liked 6 cards, one for each dragon, that I could place next to each dragon in the circle. Or 1-2 cards to have as a reference in front of me, outlining what each dragon’s special ability would be. Because it can be a challenge to remember. The same goes with the Shadow Hunter variant, where you need to open the rulebook to see what they do. Printing it on the cards, or having a separate 4 Hunters with that text on them, would have been a helpful addition. Neither are bad, but missed opportunities. No one wants to pull out the rulebook mid-game when it can be avoided..

Final Thoughts

Dragon Keepers is a light game on the surface but it contains a surprising number of decisions that run far deeper than expected from the box. I should, of course, not be surprised at this because it is a game co-designed by Vital Lacerda. Even a game like this is rich with decision points that have little to do with the randomness of the dice that are rolled. In fact, I would argue that the dice are (most turns) a non-factor overall in terms of their randomness because you get to see what the Hunter rolls prior to selecting your actions for the turn. Thus when you are making decisions, there is no randomness involved until you go to have your dragon attack the Hunter, and even then most dragons are rolling multiple dice and there are spell cards to help mitigate the random factor.

Did I mention that this game is far more difficult than anticipated? I am currently winless still in the game after a half dozen attempts, although I’ve had two games that were oh-so-close. One, the timer ran out on me by one turn. The other, I just needed a successful recovery round to close things out on the following turn (hopefully) and the Hunter capitalized. In none of my plays have I felt as though everything was hopeless, or even that random chance ruined me. Even the loss to the Hunter’s good roll, I could have rested the round before when I saw that the Hunter’s roll was a “safe” one for me to rest during.

And that is what I really love about this game. In spite of dice being rolled every turn, I always have control of my fate in the game. A bad decision is always what I can point back to, whether it is not Training quickly enough for all six dragons, or not taking the right token as a reward for Training, or taking a Spell card off the main deck instead of the discard pile, accelerating the game timer, or delaying a rest that I know I’ll need to take to try and maximize the plays from my hand (but then leaving me in a very prone position). It all falls back on me, and my need to play better.

You might wonder, since I’m heaping such strong praise on Dragon Keepers, why it is missing from my Top 20 Solo Games that was just posted. What a keen, observant reader you are! Yes, it isn’t in that top 15% of the solo games I’ve played, but it just narrowly missed that cut. Had the list been a Top 25, you would have found Dragon Keepers right where it belongs, as a really strong and not-at-all-light solitaire experience. It makes me think in all the right ways, yet is short enough that I can sit down and knock out three losses in about an hour. And eventually that Hunter will fall to all six of my dragon attacks, and I will be victorious until we have The Hunter Strikes Back to the tune of upping the difficulty. Or adding in the Shadow Hunters variant which gives the four Hunter cards in the deck a special ability when they appear rather than just adding to the Hunter’s die pool. And then the losing can commence once more.

And I will enjoy every minute of it.

Solo Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 20 Solo Games – 2019 Edition

Every year there is a people’s choice solo game list that gets compiled. And so every year they ask for solo gamers to share their top games, which are then weighted into a system to where games get points based on their rankings for each list. So giving a game the #10 slot on a list is worth more to it overall thank a #14 ranking, etc. It is a neat concept and I always enjoy seeing what gets released as the overall results. Since they need the final lists by November 4th, I figured I had better wrap mine up in an official way, and look for this to be a recurring post each year.

Before I begin, I want to kick off with five games that are high on my solo wish list to try them. Which means you will not find them included on the list:

1) Edge of Darkness
2) Street Masters
3) CO2 Second Chance
4) Marvel: Champions
5) Empyreal: Spells & Steam
Bonus: Too Many Bones, which I am borrowing as of today so it’ll be played soon. Hopefully this weekend.

***

d10-2d10-0 – Roll Player

This game is an anomaly for me, because it really shouldn’t be such a highly-regarded solo experience. It involves dice, bringing about a random element every round that can foil the best-laid plans. You can’t even control or predict when the color of dice you need will appear. You will have rounds where the market will have no cards you want, and then the next turn it will have 2-3 you need but can only choose one. And that is the crux of how it makes this list: it rarely gives you what you desire to use, but oftentimes forces you to make difficult decisions about how to utilize what is presented to you. The layers of decisions include what card to buy (if any) and how much you need said card, because the die you choose determines what chance there is of getting that card you need – the lower value die on the offer will ensure you a shot at the card but is far less useful in your character. And the die abilities you’ll trigger every round help this to not only feel more dynamic, but also helps to mitigate the randomness of dice rolls. The base game is all I have experienced, which speaks volumes to how much I actually do enjoy this game. It is a beat-your-own high score game, which I generally loathe, and the expansion of Monsters & Minions will change that and, by extension, give this game a chance to climb ever higher on the list.

d10-1d10-9 – Call to Adventure

This game fires on two cylinders for me: as a gamer and as a fantasy author. On one end, I am provided with a fairly simple set of mechanics and a core concept to try an overcome by the end of the game in order to avoid a losing condition (avoiding the dreaded beat-your-own-score symptom, which all but two of these games successfully avoid). On the other end, I have incredible artwork and a system designed for crafting tales around. And while my wife wouldn’t want to sit around and tell stories about how her character started life as a Student who Excelled in her Studies and, as a result, Uncovered Hidden Lore that allowed her to Heal the Wounded and led to her becoming an Honorable Sworn Protector, Catching a Criminal and fending off attacks from The Wolf on her path to become a Paragon of Light, and a Blessed Champion of Light to battle off her adversary, The Dark Rider. I mean, the story there practically writes itself.

d10-1d10-8 – Lisboa

This game being here should be a strong indicator that you can’t just go look at my Top 100 Games list from June and grab the 20 highest soloable games from that list. Yes, some will be on here. But some of them, like Lisboa, will end up in places you don’t expect. And it isn’t Lisboa’s fault it is this low, really. I just don’t often have the time for a big, heavy experience like this when I sit down to play a solo game. Which means it doesn’t get played often, which means that it isn’t as likely to creep high onto the list, at least not very quick. I want to explore this one more, as I get ruthlessly demolished by Vital time and time again. But I will enjoy every minute of that beatdown because this remains a wonderful game that should only move up a little as I get it back to the table a time or two in the near future.

d10-1d10-7 – Chain Mail

This is probably not on many lists, as it is very much a hidden gem and not easy to obtain for those not in the know. You see, Button Shy Games has a Board Game of the Month Club, and to join it you would need to be a Patron for at least $5/month. But in exchange, you get monthly goodies (that are admittedly oftentimes a month or two behind) from them. Every month this year has expanded the game known as Chain Mail: an RPG-like adventure with interchangable maps, character parties, enemies, treasure, and scenarios. Every month gets you a new map, enemy card, treasure card, and scenario. Many months bring a new character, too, to swap into your party of 4 characters that all interact with their cubes in very different ways to trigger unique abilities. And that is the part that really shines in Chain Mail: how different the characters play, and figuring out how to shift the cubes just right to make them play optimally.

d10-1d10-6 – Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set

My gaming history holds a rather rocky history with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. It is a game I always wanted to love but could never quite commit toward because something always just seemed a little off. Maybe it was the limitations on free-to-play scenarios on the app that started it. Or the several different sets, each of which expanded out through a variety of add-on packs. Or the host of character add-on packs. While I can’t pinpoint why I never became enamoured with the older versions of Pathfinder, I can tell you that this is the best version of it out there. It brings a variety of new twists on the core mechanics, a fresh new look, and actual storybooks with adventure playing out as you advance from quest to quest. Most of the clunkiness is gone, although setting up is never a fast task, and it scales exceptionally well even with one character (although some are going to be more difficult to truly solo than others). Ultimately I love the customization of the character across a series of adventures enough to want to get this to the table any chance I get.

d10-1d10-5 – Maquis

Few games have surprised me more in a pleasant way than Maquis. This small game packs a huge punch for the variety contained in the box, and the difficult decisions it forces you to make. With each decision you make, the path you can take shrinks a little more. Do you play it safe and snake out from your starting location each turn, or do you gamble and try to pin down the place you need to go first and hope it doesn’t cost you the game? There is so much tension in every decision being made that this game absolutely stole my heart from the first play of it. I can’t wait for my Kickstarter copy of the game to deliver, because I know this is going to be one that I break out often when I need a relatively quick, yet thinky, solitaire experience.

d10-1d10-4 – Glass Road

Rosenberg strikes on this list with a game that, ordinarily, shouldn’t make a top solitaire game for me. While it isn’t his usual worker placement game, it is definitely about resource management and conversion to earn points. But that is the beauty here, with that clever resource wheel as you manage the push-pull to get what you need. And with the promo card for solo play that allows clearing some buildings from the market, this game’s biggest flaw was removed for solo play. The way it handles the solitaire game, giving you a differing number of actions each round and making it so you cannot use the same action card in back-to-back turns provides a nice puzzle experience that I really enjoy.

d10-1d10-3 – Albion’s Legacy

When I want to lose, there are a few games I could choose from on this list (#1, 6, 12, 18) but none of them feels more punishingly brutal than this game. I love the Arthurian love letter stamped all over every piece in the game, as it makes references to both the popular and the obscure in this game. The base game has limited legs, but I’ve since picked up two expansions on the cheap to integrate in when I reacquire this solitaire experience (because let’s be honest, it would be cruel to subject others to a no-win situation) where the theme draws me in and leaves me wanting to journey to Camelot with these famous figures.

d10-1d10-2 – Friday

This is heralded as a solo classic for a very good reason, and is the best of the solitaire deckbuilders out there (Shadowrift comes close, but I haven’t revisited that in ages since I loaned it to a friend, and I anticipate the announced expansion in 2020 for Mystic Vale will get that up here once it has an official solitaire mode). The concept of the game is extremely simple, but difficult to execute well because you start with a deck packed with mostly garbage cards. Not garbage like the normal deckbuilder where it gives you +1 of something, but garbage as in either +0 or -1 of your skill. And the last thing you want is to get further from your goal by flipping a card, so you need to thin the deck over the course of the game. Which you can do, but it requires both failing a test and spending your life points to accomplish this. And so it becomes this interesting dynamic of how aggressively you try to thin that deck early, and how to manage the aging cards as they make their way into your deck, which I absolutely love even more every time it hits the table.

d10-1d10-1 – Raiders of the North Sea

Worker placement games are, as a rule, difficult to make an effective solo play mode for. Most of the time the solution they come up with is to give you a limited number of turns and tiers of scoring thresholds to determine the level of efficiency. And so when Shem designed a solo AI for a game I already enjoyed a lot, I was really pleased to find out that it played quite well. It puts pressure on the player to optimize their approach as much as possible, which isn’t going to be easy because it will block a new space every turn from the town. It clears spaces on the map with relative ease compared to a normal player, which is also good because it means you need to be clever and creative at times in how you tackle the basic strategies with the game. And even better than that is its ability to work with any of the expansions, or no expansions at all, makes this a great add-on to your Raiders collection.

d10-1d10-0 – At the Gates of Loyang

This game genuinely surprised me when I first played it, because it was my first non-worker placement Rosenberg solo experience. And boy, what a difference it made because it delivered a game experience unlike what I had anticipated. I normally don’t like the beat-your-own score systems, and this marks the highest of those on the list. But when every point is hard-earned like it is in this game, it merits placement on the list. Rosenberg is my wife’s favorite designer, not mine, so I never expected to love his games so much. But this, and Glass Road, are anomalies in the Rosenberg world of design. The card system, and scraping every point you can over the course of the game, is what really makes this game shine for me. One of these days I might even score a 20 – what a joyful day that will be.

d10-0d10-9 – BattleCON: Devastation of Indines

This game probably takes you by surprise with its inclusion on a solo list. I felt the same way when I learned that this game, which is a brain-burning 2-player dueling game, had a solo mode in one of the boxes. Learning that one of my all-time favorite games could now be enjoyed even when I don’t have a second player…that was a pure delight. I love that I can pull out a new character (because there are so many I haven’t tried still) and run them through a gauntlet of smaller battles on their way to a boss duel. And I really enjoy that you can purchase items to make your character properly “equipped” to handle the task in front of them, giving it a light RPG element that I think works well so long as you remember the presence of said purchases. This game lets you know what each monster encounter is able to do on a turn, but you’ll never quite be sure if you are safe so it is all about choosing the right attack pairs, and positioning, at the right time to try and take as little damage as possible as you clear room after room in their BattleQuest booklet. Which is something I really hope they expand upon, because I really dig the system that was introduced via BattleCON: Devastation of Indines..

d10-0d10-8 – Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale

This might be the most unique entry on the list, and one of the more recent additions. It certainly caught me off guard about how much I enjoyed this game, especially since I have never really been drawn to the roll and write fad that has taken over the hobby. But there is something about Cartographers that is just different enough that it fascinates me and makes me want to play it again and again (which means I’ll be picking this up soon so that I can, in fact, play it again and again). It has the clever use of four seasons, each of which activates 2 of your 4 scoring conditions so you’ll want to balance all four of them in some way to try and maximize your points. The Ambush cards are a good balance to foil your plans and operate relatively easily when they trigger. All in all, there isn’t much to dislike about this…apart from my strong desire to get a set of colored pencils to use for my map-making skills to make it at least a little visually appealing.

d10-0d10-7 – The City of Kings

Welcome to the big, sprawling RPG-in-a-box on the list. No Gloomhaven. No Too Many Bones. I haven’t soloed either of those (yet), so this will have to satisfy all of our tastes. What I love the most in here is the combination of that monster creation system from a bag of abilities, combined with perfect information on how your stats function and what they can do. Enemy going to one-shot your hero? Find a way to reduce their attack or cleverly maneuver yourself so that you can deal damage without taking any in return. I’ve had dire, hopeless situations that I was able to puzzle my way toward a solution – and then it is on me to execute said solution. There is a good amount of content in this box, not to the level of a Gloomhaven campaign but more than enough to keep most gamers, solo or otherwise, content for many, many plays. I love and hate the character progression system, as you have complete control to min-max your character as they gain levels but there just isn’t as much to differentiate one character from another as I’d like. But for what its worth, this game is an absolute gem that I wish I could play more often.

d10-0d10-6 – Race for the Galaxy

The game that started it all for me so many years ago. I miss this game in my collection, although it was part of what sent me to Gen Con so I can’t be too upset. Plus now that there is a 2nd edition out there, it’ll be better than before when I finally get around to picking it back up. Because this remains a wonderful solo game with a brutal solo AI system to play against that forces you to play efficiently instead of seeking those amazing combos. If you ever wondered about the value of half the cards in the deck, they take on a whole new perspective when racing against the clock of the solo AI’s engine…even on Easy in this. My win rate is embarrassingly low, and I love that fact.

d10-0d10-5 – Oh My Goods!

I delight in the engine building of this game with multi-use cards. And thanks to the scenarios via expansions, this game squeezes past the game that started my love of solo gaming using “similar” mechanics. But oh, how I truly enjoy pulling off an efficient chain of production in this game. It provides just enough limitations to force you to pursue sub-optimal strategies in order to accomplish your objectives in the time allotted to you, and has some wrinkles it’ll toss in to try and slow you down. Plus that press-your-luck mechanic is a source of incredible joy and intense despair – sometimes a turn apart – as you try and squeeze the most out of every opportunity. This was the game that put Pfister’s games on my radar, and I can’t wait to get to try some of his other titles solo in the future.

d10-0d10-4 – Agricola, Master of Britain

One of these games is not like the others, and that game is Agricola, Master of Britain. I danced around dabbling in wargames for years but never could quite find the right one for me. I think that was because I was trying to find a game where it was a “play both sides” solo experience and that just lost the “interesting” factor in the same way that playing Dungeons & Dragons as both the GM and the party would get boring. This game solved that problem with the clever cup system and pulling chits. There are so many ways to lose the game to where you always feel like you are one bad decision away from a cascading loss. I’ve played this game’s big brother, Charlemagne, but haven’t gotten enough exposure to it to know where it would fall (and thus left it off this year, even though it probably should merit a spot) or even to know if I like it more or less than Agricola. So for now I’ll heap praises on this small game with so many fun, interesting, challenging decisions that it won me back over to enjoying the occasional wargame outside of War of the Ring.

d10-0d10-3 – Millennium Blades

This game might take some people by surprise, as few folks think of this as a solo experience. The Set Rotation expansion introduced bosses to play against, which opens up the solitaire experience to players and, surprisingly, it is both fun and good. The challenge level is ridiculously high at times, as it feels like they can score buckets of points while you’re scraping combos together to try and get more than 10 points at a time (sometimes) – which is part of the beauty here: learning the boss deck’s emphasis and capabilities and trying to counter them. All four feel very different to play against, and when that becomes “easy” for you, there is a mini-expansion that cranks all four of them to the next level. I can’t wait for Collusion to deliver in 2020 so I can have more bosses to lose to. And, of course, part of the fun of Millennium Blades is recreating that old CCG experience of patching together the best deck you can with the cards you get from those packs you’ve opened. Which is what keeps me coming back to this game time and time again.

d10-0d10-2 – Hoplomachus: Origins

Oh how this game came out of nowhere for me. Honestly, I had heard word of it but felt no strong desire to try the game. And then a friend was selling his all-in collection because it played best at 1-2, which caught my attention. After all, I specialize in 1-2. Sadly, he sold it before I could even get together to try it, but that didn’t stop me from jumping on a really good price for Origins a few months later. Well, the rest is history. It is absolutely a light, tactical, dice-chucking romp. But it is so much fun, and has a decent amount of variety even in the “small” box version I own. The Trials are a fun and interesting system, so much so that I am considering doing a series of videos on my YouTube channel in the near future where I attempt each of the trials in the game. This game doesn’t need more content, but there are a lot of packs of extra combatants you can pick up from Chip Theory Games that will expand your variety to enhance a game’s replay value that already has strong replay value. Did I mention that games are often 10-15 minutes or less, making this an easy game to pull out and play on any given night?

d10-0d10-1 – The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

Speaking of endless replay value, there’s no surprise here about my #1 game. It offers so much variety once you expand beyond the core set, and even then you don’t need to own everything to have a lot of space to explore in deck construction. With over 100 quests now out there between all of the product, and nightmare modes of most of them, this game has so much endless variety that, at around 150 plays, I still have a ton of quests I need to try and deck archetypes to build that there is no shortage of opportunity to get another thousand plays out of this collection. This game is so much fun and, as a Tolkien super fan, this is the one game I would choose if I could only take one game with me to a desert island and the one game I would save if I could only retrieve one from a burning building. Yes, it requires investment to grow beyond a Core Set and investment in time to build your decks, but it is worth it. One of these days that 30-31% win ratio will hopefully creep back up to 33%, which is about where I like this game’s win/loss ratio to reside because it often pushes me, and my deck construction abilities, to the limits.