Expansion Review · Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One – Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant

Thank you for checking review #100 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: A review copy of the solo variant expansion was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant

Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant is an expansion for Raiders of the North Sea, designed by Shem Phillips that is published by Garphill Games. The rules state it plays 1 player.

This is a solo variant for Raiders of the North Sea. It is also compatible with Hall of Heroes, Fields of Fame and all promo materials. This variant includes 23 scheme cards which drive the decision making process of the AI opponent.

You will always take your turn first, followed by your opponent. Your turns function just as they would in the standard game (with the exception of 1 Village location being blocked each turn). Your opponent’s turns operate differently. On their turn, reveal the top Scheme Card from the Schemes Draw Pile and follow its instructions. Your opponent will always attempt to Raid if they can. Otherwise, they will Work.

My Thoughts

 Raiders of the North Sea has been one of my favorite games since it entered my collection. It is relatively thematic, has great art, and I love the Viking theme of the game. I enjoy the innovative worker placement mechanic. Yet like any game, it is restricted on how many times it hits the table based upon the number of players required. That is why, when I heard a solo expansion was coming, I got excited. Very, very excited. A new player count to play with means this game is going to hit the table more often, which is definitely a positive in this solo gamer’s books.

 The solo AI is relatively easy to pilot, as it involves flipping a card and either having it raid the space shown if it has the resources, or have it gain the resources shown instead. Like a player, it spends resources every time it raids which, unfortunately, means you need to track some of what it gains. But ultimately it is a simple process, most of which is done on the three tracks marked on the board and the other being via provisions. If you know how to play the base game, you can learn to use the solo variant in under five minutes.

 The solo AI is not a “beat your own high score” sort of solo variant for the game! It pushes me to play better and plan better, churning out parties as quickly as I can to raid the spaces I need before they are gone. It takes a strong enough balance of all things that it scores pretty well and, so far, I’ve been lucky in some late game situations where it would miss opportunities to raid by a single resource and then spend the next few drawing Harbor spaces that were long empty. But other times it swoops in and takes spaces that I can’t touch yet, raking in points at a good clip. All in all, it forces me to play better, which is what you want from a solo system.

 Not only does this deck give the solo AI some actions to execute, it also blocks a space for the player turn. Sometimes that blocked space is perfectly acceptable, something that leaves you to your plans. Other times it’ll take the exact space you need, preventing you from getting provisions or crew members when you need them for that next raid. The best (and worst) is when it delays you that one turn and the next card has it scoop up the space you were hoping to raid yourself. That perfection doesn’t happen often against you, but it certainly makes it feel like that deck is totally playing against you.

 Okay, I understand the “optimal” idea of putting the rules on the actual tuckbox that the variant comes in. I’m all for being creative and saving on costs and whatnot. But what happens when that tuckbox rips? As a gamer who doesn’t usually hang onto boxes for expansions unless they are needed for storage (which is rare), this makes the solo variant an anomaly in my collection. It isn’t a bad thing, but at the same time a small rulebook to flip through rather than box folds to move around would have been nice.

 This game is only available through Garphill Games’ website that I am aware of. And while this is 110% worth it, I’m not so blind as to believe it won’t deter some from picking it up. For what its worth, if you already enjoy Raiders then I’d just commit to picking up the solo variant, the 5-Year Anniversary Promo Pack, the Jarl Promo Pack, the Mico Promo Pack, and probably even the Raiders Collector’s Box and just go all-in. At the very least, snagging the promos (especially the 5-year promo pack) to make the shipping costs seem a little more worthwhile.

Final Thoughts

There is not much to say other than this little box of cards took one of my favorite worker placement games and added in a solo mode that is smooth and exciting. That elevates the game higher in my collection, as now it can hit the table even when I do not have someone willing and able to play against. It can be a challenge to get a good solo system integrated into a game after it has already been published, but I found that Shem did an excellent job here of designing a seamless deck of cards.

The solo system could have been far simpler here, blocking X spaces each turn and generating pure VP regardless. But I really like the system here, even though it requires giving it provisions, moving it along several tracks, and spending provisions as necessary. Some might deem it fiddly to do that bit of bookkeeping, but I never found it to be cumbersome. The AI turns are relatively quick, allowing you to see how it impacts the board, its score, and then get things back to the next player turn.

I like how it blocks a space from being used each turn, although I sometimes forget and have to backtrack my turn when I go to flip the next card. It is a small thing, one I have always caught after the fact, but easy to overlook during the gameplay since it does not have you place a worker out there to block it like you would in a game like Viticulture. I love how it opens up the possibility of a Valkyrie end game trigger, depending on how those get distributed, since the AI is likely to clean up all of the Harbor spaces by the end of the game. It still feels like the AI has to ramp up in order to get their own engine churning, needing enough provisions and Armor in order to raid those more valuable locations. But every time it does manage to break up there sooner than I can, motivating me to stop building an engine and to start raiding more seriously. Which emulates the same pressure I would get from a multiplayer game.

In short, my thoughts on Raiders of the North Sea are still as strong and positive as they were when I reviewed the game. You should definitely check out my review if you want to hear more about the game experience itself. The solo expansion adds nothing to the game outside of the solo AI deck, but it made a great game into a permanent part of my collection because it offers such a fun and challenging solitaire mode into the game. It avoids the “beat your own high score” trap of most worker placement solo modes, and it provides a dynamic opponent whose scoring will fluctuate and who will actively remove resources from the board as the game progresses. That makes this stand out as a very unique solo experience among other games of its type.

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Board Gaming · Expansion Review · Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review for One – Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar

Thank you for checking review #76 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.

*A review copy of this expansion was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Be sure to check out the Kickstarter for the new campaign and other content: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1172937197/hero-realms-…


An Overview of Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar

Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar is an expansion for Hero Realms and was designed by Robert Dougherty, Ben Chichoski, Daniel Mandel, and Darwin Kastle, and was published by White Wizard Games in 2017. The box states that it can play 1-5 players and has a 90 minute play time.

Choose your character, team up with your friends, and start your adventure! Gain experience points on each mission. Spend your experience points between missions to improve your character with awesome new skill and gear cards.

The 144-card The Ruin of Thandar Campaign Deck contains:

E Rules for solo and cooperative Campaign play
E Three different missions, each designed to be more challenging than the last!
E Skill and gear cards to improve and customize your character

My Thoughts

 There is a well-considered progression you can develop your characters on throughout this, and the sequential, campaigns. This one box has every character path and upgrade you’ll need for the five initial character classes you can use, allowing you to decide early on how you want to proceed and chart out where your character will ultimately end up. While this takes up a lot of the content in the box, this is also a nice benefit because it allows you to plan from the beginning for your progression.

 It is a small detail, but I like the decision to use oversized cards for the villains in the campaign. It helps the players to differentiate at a quick glance between the main target and the ancillary cards interfering with their objectives. Much like the oversized cards I use for Sentinels of the Multiverse, this simply adds a nice element that gives it better table presence and makes the ultimate target feel like a big deal.

 It goes without saying, but I appreciated this opening up solo play in a great way for Hero Realms. While I enjoyed a few matches of Star Realms against those little boss cards, this campaign provides a much meatier and more enjoyable experience for the solo gamer. This feels very much like a dungeon crawl-inspired implementation of a deck builder, coupled with some elements from games like Sentinels of the Multiverse. Does it do each aspect better than game X that specializes in that area? No, but by merging all three of those into one game it delivers a fun, fast package that is unique in itself and can satisfy a lot of what I want out of a gaming session.

 This campaign plays out almost like a choose-your-own-adventure book, which is really fun. What I mean by that is you still need to successfully defeat the first boss battle, but once you do there is a snippet or two to read in the book that lays out what happens next, and at the end of that you are faced with two choices on what to do next. Depending on which you choose you progress down a slightly different story arc and encounter a different boss battle as a result. And the third encounter simply blew my mind with the approach taken here. I now understand how there are 8 different oversized cards for 3 encounters.

 The rules of the bosses are relatively simple, using their constructed mini deck and consulting their card based on the colored symbol shown for activation abilities (in addition to whatever the card is). At least with a solo game, this keeps the pace of the game moving forward and makes the focus more on how I act and react to the boss rather than going through a convoluted system to operate them. It takes the bookkeeping and simplifies things in all the right ways.

 To prevent dumping of massive damage while ignoring everything else, the Master’s deck can drop champions into your play area or into its play area (elites go to its area, all others to the player’s area). If it has ANY champion in your play area, Guarded keyword or not, you cannot attack or target the Master or its champions in its area. Which really stinks when it drops a 9 Health enemy there early on in the game, but also makes for great interactions. And the clever ideas only get better as you advance in the campaign.

 While I like the character progression and how scarce the upgrade points are, there is one thing I am disappointed with: you can’t go outside of your class for upgrades. There aren’t generic ones to choose from or anything, they are all specific to that class and essentially replace the starting abilities with stronger versions that become slightly specialized. By choosing Cleric, I’ll never be able to upgrade into dealing damage even if I wanted to for those slots. It makes sense, of course, but I’ve found that some of the choices to upgrade toward are not really as suited for solo play and therefore making the decisions easier on which path to take.

 I’ve said it before about Sentinels and I’ll say it as well on this game: the boss battles feel too easy at times. I went 3/3 on my campaign as a cleric, and while I had fun there was never a point where I was almost dead. The final encounter had about 2 turns where I was getting hit hard but then my deck’s engine finally was set and I took about 5 points of damage for the rest of the fight while dropping it by over 50 in those turns.

 Tied with the above, the flipping mechanic is clever but it only happened on the 3rd encounter. Getting some deck control on the Master via the Discard ability felt overly powerful, allowing me to cycle the Mastery cards to the bottom. In the solo match, the decks never depleted and so I was always able to delay the inevitable. That changed in the 3rd one, but by the time the final battle flipped, I was gearing up to be in control.

Final Thoughts

This version of Hero Realms is exactly what I want out of the game. For a base game with such a small buy-in, this experience takes that initial package and enhances it in clever ways. Sadly, I don’t think my wife will ever want to experience it (she hates co-op games) but the nice thing is that there’s still the regular Hero Realms I can enjoy with her. But this is the essential expansion for anyone who wants solo play, or who enjoys the feeling of character progression and big boss battles.

The story is simply told, and unravels in expected but exciting ways. There aren’t really any curveballs, although the added story when a card flipped out in the 3rd encounter was pretty cool. It came too late to really make an impact on the game, but it was a neat touch. But I still like the linear story with the small branches of possibilities. The boss fights all felt unique, and I have only faced half the cards in that box.

I’m a fan of being able to have the full information of how each class can upgrade in the overall campaign, yet it feels wasteful since the majority of this box is the cards used to upgrade the five decks. The encounter cards are a small fraction of what is in the box, and in a solo game you only use 1 of the 13 “starter” cards when constructing those decks.

In spite of this, I definitely feel like this is a great expansion experience for an already enjoyable game. There is plenty of replay value in here, plus the challenge of completing it with all five different classes in existence. Even if White Wizard Games never released a 2nd Campaign box, there would still be enough in here to make it worth the price to pick up this box unless you hate cooperative games AND never play solo games.

However, this little box helped make Hero Realms one of my Top 10 solo games this year and I look forward to seeing the story continue in the upcoming The Lost Village box (something I still wish had been available at Gen Con, as I purchased a ticket to play it but the event was cancelled prior to Gen Con)

Be sure to check out the campaign running on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1172937197/hero-realms-…

Board Gaming · Expansion Review

Review – Mystic Vale: Vale of Magic

I’m setting a personal goal to try and get to more expansion reviews, as there are some excellent expansions out there that add some wonderful content to a base game. I’m hoping to hit on a few to close out the month, covering a little bit about what comes in the box, how they impact the game, and my overall thoughts on the expansion and what it provides.

Mystic Vale: Vale of Magic is the 1st expansion for Mystic Vale. The expansion was released in 2016 by AEG, and has a MSRP of around $29.99.

What the expansion adds

9x Level 1 Vale Cards (Aether Tree x 2, Amberwood, Direwolf Burrow, Manadew Meadow x 2, Roost x 2, Shimmercliff Rookery)

9x Level 2 Vale Cards (Fauna Hollow x 2, Earth Cradle, Sunshard Savanna, Sunwell Temple x 2, Vale of Magic, Wood Sprite Hoard x 2)

18x Level 1 Advancement Cards (Arbor Overseer x 3, Canopy Explorer x 3, Giant Toad x 3, Limbthresher x 3, Sentry x 3, Wood Sprite x 3)

21x Level 2 Advancement Cards (Goldenwing Gryphon x 3, Hatchery x 3, Heartwood Healer x 3, Ley Line Overflow x 3, Lifetap Oracle x 3, Sunshard Custodian x 3, Water Weaver x 3)

15x Level 3 Advancement Cards (Chromatic Wyvern x 3, Creeping Mold x 3, Grove Guardian x 3, Overgrowth x 3, Sporeling Reclaimer x 3)

Rule Changes

None to speak of. There are new timing abilities, such as what can be found on the Hatchery advancement, but they add no new complexity to the game. This expansion can integrate easily in with Mystic Vale, and could definitely be used without any issues when teaching new players.

Standout Cards

Amberwood, Shimmercliff Rookery, & Direwolf Burrow (Level 1 Vale Cards) – These three cards all do the same thing upon purchase: they let you flip your mana token to its active side. I like these because they allow you to regain that extra mana without a need to spoil, allowing you to be more efficient and effective with your turns. This is especially impactful early-mid game as you’re getting your engine churning to snag Level 2 & 3 advancements.

Earth Cradle (Level 2 Vale Card) – This one is powerful for those who like comboing the Vale Cards. It is definitely a viable strategy as long as the right Advancement cards show up early. This one scores you 1 VP for each Vale Card you own at the time of purchase. I’ve had games where this could have gained me 8-10 points, and that potential makes this worth mentioning. It reinforces the viability of this strategy.

Canopy Explorer (Level 1 Advancement Card) – I love the Guardian symbol synergy and this might be my new favorite in there. After you set up your field, during harvest you can add more cards from your deck (not the on-deck card) into your field. The special thing here is that those extra cards are added in the Harvest phase, which means they cannot cause you to spoil. Even adding 1 extra card into your field can be really, really strong.

Goldenwing Gryphon (Level 2 Advancement Card) – See above comments on flipping your mana token. This lets you do it every time this card is played, which is awesome. I can’t tell you how many times 1 mana could affect how a turn plays out, and being able to regain that without spoiling is huge.

Hatchery (Level 2 Advancement Card) – This is one that is easy to overlook. By itself, the card is just okay. But the potential it adds is massive. Put this with 2 really strong advancements and suddenly you’ve got a strong card that stays out for two turns. Get two cards with Hatchery out there and suddenly one of those cards will be in play for three turns in a row. Just think on that potential and you’ll see why this can easily be an MVP advancement for your deck.

Overgrowth (Level 3 Advancement Card) – Forget everything else about the card and focus on the stat here that made me do a double-take: the VP. 5 end-game VP. Say, what? For a game where the normal score falls in the 25-35 range and where end-game VP ranges from 0-2…let’s just say this stood out from the crowd when I played last. I picked up two of these cards in my last game, which was just enough to secure a win for me. Without that 10 VP on these cards (as in, if they had been 2 each), I would have lost.

Final Thoughts

This is an expansion that integrates seamlessly with the base game. If you want something that simply adds more of the same that you get in the base game, this is a perfect expansion. It adds variety to a game where, after 5-6 plays, things started to repeat often. The same cards would show up at least once per game and you could gear a strategy around that coming up. Thickening the decks makes for more variance from play to play, something I absolutely applaud.

This is the type of expansion that my wife enjoys, as it changes nothing about how the game is played. Even expansions that are heralded as must-haves (Like the Farmers of the Moor for Agricola) are ones she actively dislikes because they change X about how the game is played. Her seal of approval on this should speak volumes.

I’m also coming to realize that I would rather have 5-10 games with good cycles of expansions that expand the game rather than 100 unique base games without any expansion content. And so this is a great first step on Mystic Vale’s expansion cycle. I know that other expansions add things like Leaders, and I am eager to see what that offers to the game while also expanding the card pool.

For the $30 MSRP, I know people will refuse to get the expansion. I can’t blame you for not wanting to pay that for “more of the same” if you want something that shakes up a game. But really, this is a great expansion that rounds out the core set of cards that comes in the base game. And if you can get 20-25% off that price and pick it up for around $25 instead, you really can’t go wrong with this expansion, because it is one you can easily keep integrated with the game permanently. I’d definitely buy it again, if I had to do it all over again.