First Impressions · Solo Gaming · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Solo First Impressions: 1066 Tears to Many Mothers, ELO Darkness, Maquis, Mint Works, Palm Island

With it being the Spring of Solitaire, there are a ton of games I am getting to the table for the first time. Since it may be weeks, or even a month or two before formal reviews are all completed, here’s my impression on some of these games after the first solo play or two:

1066, Tears to Many Mothers

coffee This is the tactical card-based wargame experience I have been waiting to find. Asymmetric sides, the ability to move and destroy enemy units, objectives to destroy, and a solitaire AI that ramps nicely over time.
coffee The artwork is beyond incredible for this game.
coffee Not included with the game, but the playmat is equally gorgeous and works quite well with the game. I only wish it wasn’t too long for the typical playmat tubes I purchase.
coffee There’s a massive deck of cards, and some of your gameplay experience will be limited by what you draw and when.
coffee It seems like the Norman side will have the easier time plowing through their objectives, since most require strength rather than Will.
coffee The AI functions in a simple, yet effective, manner to create a little tension throughout the game.
coffee The AI round tracker information is on the back of the solo rules booklet, which is fine except when you need to flip through said booklet to clarify things. An additional card, or a separate sheet of paper to track the AI’s resources for the round would have been really helpful.

ELO Darkness

tobacco There are a ton of characters to choose from for deck construction.
tobacco The artwork is nice and the game presence on the table is pretty impressive.
tobacco Gameplay and the AI turns are relatively straightforward and simple to follow. Playing the game against a friend first really helped propel my understanding against the AI.
tobacco There are cards and characters who cannot be used in a solo game.
tobacco Each character has five cards, which are broken into 3 of one card and 2 of another. Personally, I wish there had been a little more variety within each character.
tobacco The items are a neat addition to the game and add some interesting decisions, both during deck construction and gameplay.
tobacco The AI ramps WAY hard in Turn 4 out of 10. I went from the cusp of victory to a brutal defeat by the end of Turn 5.


indigo Solitaire worker placement that isn’t a beat-your-high-score? That is a refreshing change.
indigo The you-place, Militia-place alternating progression is a great aspect that can force you to adapt your plans based on how the Militia appear on the board for the round.
indigo Some resources are scarce in the game, meaning you’ll benefit from building new rooms. But those are costly early in terms of actions, resources, and morale.
indigo A unique set of missions, of which you only use 2 per game, provides some pretty solid replay value.
indigo I wish the Patrol deck was a little bigger, as it seems to cycle about every 3rd turn. Even duplicating each card might be a way to slow down those who memorize the cards and know what is coming next.
indigo It takes one really bad turn to end a game. Between permanent loss of workers if captured and a drop in morale, this game can end abruptly even if everything seems to be going in your favor.
indigo Not sure if it is good or bad, but there is a resource you can only generate through a built room – and both games so far have needed that for my missions. It is an interesting decision to have such a scarce resource, and definitely drove my plans for both games.

Mint Works

sugar Small, portable, and quick setup/teardown time. Those are excellent qualities for this game.
sugar The AI in this that I played was simple to navigate and provided a surprisingly good challenge.
sugar With the Promo Pack getting this game to 6 different AI opponents, this game should have some nice replay value if all of them are as challenging as Rachel.
sugar The rules were easy to understand and I was able to go from opening the tin to playing in under 10 minutes, including reading the rules.
sugar Moving those mint workers will start to feel fiddly, especially when moving small stacks of 3-4 in one move.
sugar With the AI following a predetermined sequence, the player can know how to prioritize their own actions to either slow down the AI, or to lock in what they need before it is taken.

Palm Island

corn Playable in the palm of your hand makes this fill a very unique role.
corn This is a euro game without a board or tokens. You are gaining resources to upgrade actions in order to gain better resource efficiency in order to upgrade buildings for VP.
corn Cards remain in relatively the same grouping over the course of an entire play. There is a little movement possible, but rarely radical movement. This allows for long-term planning from round to round – but also makes a bad stretch likely to remain a bad stretch.
corn Early decisions to spend resources in a round can haunt you later if you fail to plan for what needs upgraded later in the deck.
corn Iconography and gameplay are intuitive and allows the game to flow quickly.
corn It can be challenging to hold 3-4 sideways cards in their same position, staggered out, while also holding the main deck and looking at the top 2 cards of the deck. Smaller hands will really struggle.
corn The plastic cards in the older edition are really slick, compounding the above issue. I’ve been told the revamped version, which is what will be available going forward, should have this issue resolved. But it is worth noting, if you get the original Palm Island with plastic cards you will probably encounter this issue.

First Impressions · Solo Gaming · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Solo First Impressions: At the Gates of Loyang, Chain Mail, The City of Kings, Forge War, Roll Player

Spring is officially here and thus begins the kick-off of the Spring of Solitaire 2019. Thankfully, I’ve had time to get a few of the games that I am covering to the table already this month, and so I thought it would be fitting to provide some first impressions for an initial wave of five games. These are quick takes on them all, but they should provide some indication of how well, or poorly, they are being received after the first play(s).

At the Gates of Loyang

coffee The ease and difficulty of moving along the scoring path is fascinating.
coffee Purchasing from the market of cards provides tense and interesting decisions between using money you need to move on the path vs. getting cards to build an engine for later turns.
coffee A farming game with a twist, providing the most enjoyable solitaire Rosenberg game so far for me.
coffee Loans cannot be paid back, but rather cause you to move back a space on the scoring track at the end of the game. Such a clever decision!
coffee Two styles of customers to serve encourage careful planning of what is planted and which ones to take and when to maximize your earning potential.
coffee A single reshuffle in the solitaire game means you cannot plan on reusing the same cards again and again like you might in a multiplayer game.
coffee Different size fields, with restrictions on the crops to plant in each size, provides more tough and interesting decisions every round.

Chain Mail

tobacco The initial pack has limited replay, but monthly installments that can be mixed and matched provides incredible potential.
tobacco Characters are all very unique in their abilities and how they function, and each presents interesting decisions to maximize their usefulness.
tobacco Monsters behave in different ways, making it so you need to be somewhat flexible in the approach.
tobacco Unless the scenarios get longer, it looks like only 1-2 characters at most might get to level up and unlock an additional cube. This is partially disappointing, yet also makes it even more important to decide who to level up first.
tobacco Planning ahead is a really key component of the game, which is wonderfully delightful.
tobacco This is more dependent on dice rolls than it first appears, with rolls taking place to determine if you have a battle, to trigger for traps, to search for items (which the scenario may require you to roll a specific number on 2d6 to progress on your quest), to see which monster you face, to generate the monster’s attack each round, to attack with your heroes, and any time you use the Thief character.
tobacco If the word fiddly scares you away, this might not be the perfect fit for you. Lots of cube manipulation, which I don’t mind, but others may.

The City of Kings

indigo The monster generation system, while inconsistent, is as refreshing and innovative as I had hoped and will be an aspect I enjoy for many, many plays.
indigo The two-tiered character progression over the course of a session is outstanding and provides nice, solid choices.
indigo Every new encounter feels like it is about 3x stronger than you can handle – until you figure out a way of handling this new threat and coming out better than you expected.
indigo No randomness in combat makes for an exciting experience that can be considered to be part puzzle.
indigo A mix of worker placement and action selection combine together with the fantasy exploration, adventuring, and character progression to deliver a game that I can see enjoying for years as it hits the table time and time again.
indigo This game is a table hog and demands a lot of time to play, even with the one-shot scenario sessions. Story cards can take much longer. This will likely be the type of game to set up and leave out for several sessions.
indigo So much content to explore – while not a legacy game like Gloomhaven, this box will keep me busy for a long time.

Forge War

sugar I knew this game had an interesting balance of mechanisms in here, but I wasn’t anticipating the challenge the solitaire mode provides. The pressure to take a new quest each turn, and to complete every one taken by the end, provides some excellent tension.
sugar I never felt like I could accomplish everything I wanted on a turn – sometimes I had to figure out the most effective use of those limited actions and resources in order to survive the round without taking a loss. This is definitely something that was a positive.
sugar I’ve learned the importance of getting more adventurers in my pool as soon as I can – since I need to take a quest each turn it quickly reached a point where my forces were spread too thin to maintain success.
sugar This takes up more table space and required more setup time than I anticipated. However, it also provided an experience that challenged me and makes me want to revisit the game and plan better.
sugar It took a lot of referencing little rules here and there to make sure I played correctly, and I still missed little things. However, after that first failure I feel confident the next play will be faster and more effective.
sugar The mining aspect of the game never really felt like it was going to provide much of an impact. It was probably due to my inexperience that it never shone through on that first play – although I can see how it would be great with actual human opponents.

Roll Player

corn I see the comparisons on this with Sagrada, as both have dice drafting. However, this provides so much more to the game than just drafting the dice of the proper pattern.
corn I normally am not a fan of “beat your own score” solo games, but when I finished this one I immediately wanted to set it back up and play again. I also believe the expansion will help add more than just a high score to the solo game, but I’d need to research more to confirm. If so, it’ll be a must-buy to take a solid solo game already and give it a win/loss condition.
corn There is still tough decisions to make for drafting dice, courtesy of the gold die being rolled. You’ll need to weigh your decisions on whether you want the higher valued dice at the risk of losing a market card or to play it safe with the lowest die so you can get that market card you need. Or maybe you want the middle die for that extra gold, with a lower chance of losing a market card. So much cleverness here, which is a major part of the appeal for Roll player solo.
corn There are market cards that reward you for having a poor stat. Essential appearance for a dice game.
corn There is a ton of dice manipulation/mitigation in here with the abilities that trigger when you place a die in a specific stat. Yes, I’d like to flip that 1 to its opposite side and lock in that 6 instead.
corn This game has a really fast setup and teardown, which will help it get to the table often.

Board Gaming · First Impressions

First Impressions of Millennium Blades Solo

**Note: The game I played of Millennium Blades was in no way a complete experience, as I only have Set Rotation and a few mini-expansions in my collection so far. No base game was used – but, honestly, the game was able to be played in a complete enough manner to really get a taste for what it offers. I was able to sub in some tokens for the bundles of money and the sell markers and it worked effectively enough to get a taste of the game. There happen to be enough cards in the box to make a full market deck, although I suspect there are a LOT more Core Set cards in the base game that add a lot more accessories.

Magic: The Gathering was one of my first entries into modern board gaming. I had a regular group of guys in high school that I would get together with and we’d spend our weekends playing games of Magic, sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, and dump hours into games on the Playstation 2. I loved the thrill of opening packs and seeing what new powerful cards I could build decks around, I loved building new decks to test out against my group, and I loved trying to take under-valued cards and seeing if I could find combinations to make them work. But eventually high school ended, we all went our separate ways, and Magic: The Gathering left my life.

Last year I found myself immersed in Star Wars: Destiny, and it instantly rekindled both the love and hate I have for these styles of games. Love because there is a thrill in opening packs and finding a great new card to build around and to spend time dreaming up possibilities for card/deck pairings. Hate because it becomes both a time and money sink. Eventually the release cycle’s aggressiveness scared me away from the game and I moved on from Star Wars: Destiny. Early in 2018 I fell into that same dance with the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game. It was a great game, one I still really enjoy playing, but I found I just can’t justify trying to build a collection to be competitive – and the need for real opponents in order to test decks and get better made my skill progression curve quite glacial. It was hard to play more than once or twice a month, and a CCG really needs at least weekly gaming sessions to test and improve decks, and the ability to buy the latest and greatest sets of cards to keep up with what other players will be playing.

Which is why I absolutely am convinced I am going to fall hard for Millennium Blades because it eliminates virtually everything I hate about the CCG scene while embracing the best aspects of that hobby. The buy-in for everything in this game so far is quite reasonable, even at full MSRP from the publisher ($212 for the base game, Set Rotation, all the mini-expansions, and a playmat), when compared to what I heard of people spending for a single cycle of cards in Star Wars: Destiny ($400) – and there has been a cycle out about every 3-4 months since that. There’s a new expansion planned for Kickstarter in early 2019, and that’s still likely to make this cheaper than a single buy-in for one complete cycle of any CCG out there apart from maybe Dicemasters. To play solo, you really only need just over half of that ($80 base game + $40 Set Rotation expansion) – and you’ll end up with such an incredible amount of card variety that it will make your head spin just thinking about it.

But the buy-in alone isn’t the real reason to be a fan of Millennium Blades after a single play as a solo exercise. Set Rotation adds in four bosses to face, each with their own unique deck containing a deck box, 4 accessories, and 8 cards. They will use 2 of those accessories (randomly chosen) and you’ll slowly get to know what those are and can somewhat plan around their deck’s strategy. You can freely look at their 8 cards, but 2 of them won’t be played and you’ll never know what order they will come out – so you can’t completely plan for that, either. Yet had I looked just a little at the boss’s synergies during my 20 minutes of building, I would have seen that he was almost guaranteed to flip each and every card I would get into play. My initial deck plan went right out the window within 2 cards, and I was left scrambling to make lemonade from the cards I didn’t sell or Fusion during the deckbuilding phase.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because one of the real stars here is that deckbuilding phase! In a non-solo game you’ll do that full phase 3 times, but in the solo game you get just one shot at building that deck (which is broken into two 7-minute phases and a 6-minute phase). This is where you can buy cards (you start with $30, and new cards cost from $3 to $6), sell cards (you can sell at most 4 cards, which are worth from $1 to $9 that I saw, with the average being $4-6) so you can buy around 8-16 cards to add to your starter deck and the other 15 cards you get over the course of the building phases. From all of that you need to figure out what 6 cards you are likely wanting to play, plus a deck box to use and up to 2 accessories to bring, for your match against that boss.

The catch is that cards are blind buys. You know the set they belong to and how much they cost, but you have no idea what cards are underneath. Which is where the longer meta comes in through learning the cards in the sets and where combinations can come from in order to make smarter decisions – which will never come to you in the first play. It is generally a safe bet to buy cards in the same set, as there is often some overarching synergy you can find, but you can also trade 5, 7, or 9 cards of the same “rarity” for a special, powerful promo card that can bring your whole deck together or just provide something powerful to hold back for an emergency.

If this all sounds like a lot – it is. Yet that is what delights me about the game. There is a massive card pool (the base game alone apparently has over 700 cards) of which you’ll use a hefty chunk every time you set up the market. The thrill of the blind buys – and seeing how you can or cannot make that card work with what you’re aiming for – is something close to mimicing that blind buy of packs in a real CCG. The limitation on how much you can purchase, how much time you have to buy and sell, and to piece a deck together is what makes this a crisp package. From setup to teardown (if you maintain the market after the game ends) can be done in under an hour solitaire, and there are ways to string together a gauntlet of boss battles (and a mini expansion that expands those bosses) which will give strong legs to this game.

It scratched every itch I hoped for – and I’ve spent the past 12 hours (apart from when sleeping) constantly thinking back to the game, the clever cards, the decisions I could have made differently, and how to best the boss the next time I face him. The experience has stuck with me ever since the final card was played and the scores tallied, and that is what I want out of a game like this. I want to be theorycrafting card combinations and exploring strategies, finding out how to best make each starter deck work efficiently and analyzing the various sets of cards that can come out. That’s something you don’t get in modern board games very often, but is very much a part of the CCG scene. And so if I can get that CCG experience without breaking the bank account, that is an all-around win.

This might be the best game in the Level 99 Games catalog. It has a good chance of becoming my favorite game in their lineup. It won’t appeal to every gamer, and can’t possibly be recommended for every gaming group or even every solo gamer.

But for those who are seeking a blend of modern with the format of a CCG – and who want their bank account to remain in tact while doing so – this is a game that I think will have a strong appeal, and one I can’t wait to dive back into in order to see if these powerful first impressions hold up after a dozen plays.

Board Gaming · First Impressions · Gen Con 2018

Gen Con 2018 Recap – Day One

Whew, what a weekend at Gen Con. For those who don’t know, this was my first every convention. Yep, not just first Gen Con. Any convention ever. And I went in thinking I had an idea of what to expect, but there was probably nothing that could have fully prepared me for the experience that awaited me. I played only a fraction of the games I wanted to try, missed out on meeting a few of the people I really wanted to catch, and spent far more time in the evening walking around not knowing what to do once the Vendor Hall closed down. Without further ado, here is my recap for the first day, with posts on the other two days of attendance to follow.

Day Two Recap
Day Three Recap
Day One – Thursday

My day started off by driving 7 or so hours from central Iowa to Indianapolis. I wanted to be there before 2:00 to meet with some of the Level 99 Games crew, so I left long before the sun was up in the sky. After an uneventful trip, I went straight to where I parked and shuttled into the Convention Center where I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of things. After finding the Press Room to get my badge, I had about 20 minutes to make my way over to the Level 99 booth.

Chris Solis & Temporal Odyssey, Level 99 Games

First up was meeting Chris Solis, the designer of Temporal Odyssey. He turned out to be a really great guy (something that can be said of every single person to follow in this post) and was very open to playing a quick round of his latest game with me. I had played once before with a buddy of mine. so I knew the basics, but it was great to see his strategies taken and to pick his brain a few times about the importance of certain cards or decisions he made along the way. The game itself was as fun as I remembered, being a fast and furious competition between two time travelers. I pulled out some really fun cards, including a late Paladin (my favorite deck) that nearly won me the game. He managed to just barely finish me off a turn before I would have defeated him. This one is a game I am enjoying in my collection, and will be reviewing in the near future for sure. It plays out a little like a CCG duel, but with the ramp up for each side happening almost instantly. There have been times in both games I’ve played where I’ve been stunned at the sheer power of some of these cards, and that makes it fun and unpredictable as you play. There is a ton of room for this game to grow and expand, which is something I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing.

However, the best part was getting to know him a little and hearing about Terrene Odyssey (the “prequel” to this game) and how a lot of the characters and villains in that game appear on cards in Temporal Odyssey. Being a person who grew up playing JRPG games, the idea of each player forming a party of adventurers really appeals to me, and I’ll definitely be checking that one out. I made one key suggestion to Chris regarding Temporal Odyssey, and was very reassured to see him make note of the suggestion. He takes note of everything suggested by players, which is awesome to hear.

D. Brad Talton Jr., Level 99 Games

Unfortunately, my time with Brad was very short but in that span of time I got to know the man behind the mic in the Level 99 Podcast (highly recommended listening!). We talked BattleCON a little bit, as I have a fair amount of recent experience with it after reviewing Trials of the Indines and the BETA of BattleCON Online back in June. His biggest challenge, with BattleCON Online, was getting the right team in place for the project. My understanding is this is essentially 2.0 right now, as it sounds like there was previously an attempt to make it that didn’t succeed in reaching a final product. This time around has gone a lot better, and having played the online version I am very pleased with the product. There is going to be an Adventure Mode to the online game, which will enhance the experience available to players much like old fighting video games would have storyline experiences to progress through. Look for BattleCON Online to launch on August 10th (you can find it listed already on Steam!)

The final big Kickstarter for the physical game of BattleCON is coming around the end of August (tentative date of the 30th), and will have the box large enough to contain EVERYTHING for the game. Which is great, as I currently have three BattleCON boxes to fit on my shelf and I would really prefer to consolidate them into one box! One of the things I’m most excited for in the campaign will be the “social” goals, which will include things such as submitting fanart and fanfiction for the game. He confirmed it was still his intent to have that (I can’t recall all of the categories discussed a few podcast episodes ago), and I’m going to get to work on some fanfiction in the near future for this Kickstarter.

Finally we talked Exceed, and I asked him why he developed a very similar game when BattleCON already existed. He got to tell me a little about how the randomness of the deck opens the game to where it feels familiar to someone who might come into it with a CCG or LCG background, and makes it so you can have those moments where the right card comes at the right time for you. So while it may be similar in concept to BattleCON, having the players drawing from preconstructed decks of cards rather than having everything open information provides a very different experience.

Exceed Demo Game, Level 99 Games

Since they were demoing the Exceed game at the booth as well, I decided to take a swing at the game and see how it played out. I played as Lily, and was matched against the demonstrator who used Ulrik. Since I knew BattleCON, it made it fairly easy for him to explain the game and were were up and playing with very little downtime. I had to agree with Brad by the end, this game is very different from BattleCON. While the key concept is the game, its execution makes it a totally fresh gameplay experience. Not only with the drawing of cards, but how the turns play out and the ability to always be able to do a Wild Swing, allowing you to play a card from the top of your deck during a battle sequence. The EX attacks are also a nice addition, making it rewarding to play two of the same card on the same sequence for a boost.

While I didn’t end up purchasing anything Exceed for myself (yet), this is definitely one I could have in my collection even if I own everything BattleCON. I’ll be using these two demo decks to teach my friends who enjoyed the BattleCON game, and let them decide which of the two they prefer. Odds are, it will be both that remain in my collection. I’m so glad I got the chance to try the game.

Edward Uhler, Heavy Cardboard

The top of my must-meet list was Edward from Heavy Cardboard and so I sought him out as soon as I was done with my Level 99 Games time. He was demoing the new Teotihuacan: City of Gods coming from NSKN Games. I happened to catch him while the players were already going strong in the game, so he was willing to step aside for a few moments and just chat. I fanboyed a little, and picked up my Heavy Cardboard challenge coin from him in person. I love how he emphasized how important the integrity of his channel is, and how they distinguish between sponsored playthroughs (which is just that: them playing the game to show it to you) and reviews (which are never sponsored or paid for, just them giving the game its time in the spotlight).

He was personable and approachable, and commented on my HC shirt (and that of several others as they passed by the booth). He is as gracious and as humble as he always sounds on the podcast when I listen to them. I had hoped to make it back sometime to catch a demo of Teotihuacan, but never got that opportunity in the whirlwind of the convention. However, this meeting was everything I could have hoped for in a 5-minute greeting and I look forward to continuing to interact with them going forward. Seriously, check out their content. The podcast reviews are thoughtful and have convinced me to try several of my new favorites (notable: Lisboa & Ora et Labora), and their Teach & Playthroughs of games are my go-to source to learn the rules for a game.

Clay Ross, Capstone Games

I made my way to my other must-meet of the convention: Clay Ross. He’s been a huge supporter for my blog since last year, and I wanted to take the time to thank him for that and to let him know how much I appreciate the work he’s done. Honestly, I haven’t met a Capstone Games product I didn’t like, and I brought home a copy of Carthago (more on that in Day Two) to add into my collection. It was a really hard choice between that, the expansion for Haspelknecht, or Arkwright.

The latter game there was only in the debate after Clay specifically talked about that game and recommended I give it a play sometime soon. The prices at Capstone were all great, with games being individually stickered for pricing and showing the MSRP as well as the Gen Con pricing. As I found more and more booths selling their games at MSRP, I really came to appreciate his discounted pricing structure.

Unfortunately, just like Edward, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Clay as I would have liked. We got to talk about our love for Lignum and how great it is, as well as The Ruhr/The Ohio and its incredible depth. But it was great to meet him, and to mention how much I enjoy the Deep End Podcast (another must-subscribe. Don’t worry, they don’t produce shows on a regular basis. But they are always worth the wait for the discussion, the banter, and the laughter that comes from listening to an episode.

Firefly Adventures, Gale Force Nine

My first scheduled event at Gen Con at 4:00, and I was torn on whether or not to attend. Honestly, I wanted to go around the vendor hall and this was the first time I learned the hard way about booking things during the Vendor Hall hours. Still, I was excited to try this as a big Firefly fan and knowing my wife isn’t going to be interested in trying this cooperative game. We were playing with the Respectable Folk expansion, and did a scenario that I believe was the Garden Gala. The four of us were ready and eager to dive in, and the person who eventually came to help run it wasn’t the most personable guy. The rules overview was spotty, as we had a lot of questions as we went through the session.

It also didn’t help things that we discovered what we needed to with the very first investigation, which was done by the very first person to act. Then we had to spend several turns “treading water”, so to speak, while waiting for the group of people to disperse to their houses. Luckily for us, it got to a point where the guy we needed was literally the only one (besides the bartender) in the room so we were able to take him on without any complications. Mal shot him up with a shotgun, we retrieved Inara’s stolen items, and high-tailed it out of there before the other folk got to react to anything.

If that sounds like an incredibly boring sequence, you’re right. It was unexciting and left me feeling really unimpressed with the game. Granted, most of that was due to the immense luck we experienced. Another play of that same scenario might have resulted in a very different sequence that would have been more exciting. But ultimately I walked away disappointed and wishing I could regain that time spent at that table. Would I play it again? Sure. Will I buy it? Not without a much, much better experience or two with the game that can show me just how amazing the game can be.

Thunderstone Quest, Alderac Entertainment Group

Next came a long, long break to go check into my hotel, facetime my wife and son, eat, and head back to the convention center for more gaming. It was after 8 by the time I arrived, and I had previously purchased a ticket to attend the newest campaign for Hero Realms. However, that was cancelled a week before the convention so I didn’t know what to do next. I missed my chance to get in on the Stronghold Games event, and so I found myself wandering the Rio Grande room, the Czech Games room, and the Exhibit Hall and eventually sat down to watch two people playing Thunderstone Quest.

During my spectatorship, one of the volunteers came and sat next to me and started chatting. I mentioned I hadn’t played this yet, nor any of the Thunderstone line before. So I was given about a 15 minute rundown of the game and how it is played while watching these two play out the game in front of me. Needless to say, this sounds like a very unique entry into an arguably crowded deckbuilding genre. I wasn’t sure about Thunderstone Quest going into the convention, but I left this short session feeling determined to get a play in the next night if I could. Alas, it never worked out but I was able to get enough of a feel to know that this game is destined for my collection one day. The progressing through levels of the dungeon, and moving your figure from there to the market, all makes for a more hands-on visual than most deckbuilding games. It is almost like a dungeon crawl married to a deckbuilding game, which checks two pretty nice boxes for me.

More than anything, the kindness and enthusiasm of the volunteer convinced me that I wanted to give the game a serious look. Had she not sat there and interacted with me, I might have lurked for a few minutes and moved on without any impression on the game. If you’re not sure about whether or not to back it on Kickstarter, my initial reaction is that this is definitely going to be worth picking up if you like deckbuilders. I can’t promise there are no games like it out there, but it is definitely stronger in the integration than many of the staples.

Roll for the Galaxy, Rio Grande Games

Finally, after about 90 minutes of looking for an event or a game to play, I was able to gettin on Roll for the Galaxy in the Rio Grande room.

Race for the Galaxy is a Top 10 game for me. I love everything about that game, and I know some fans of Race have been converted into bigger fans of Roll. So I have always been curious, although I knew better than to buy it before playing because of the dice. And…

It was okay. I can see the differences, and the reasons why some people might come to prefer this over the card-based version. However, it failed to impress me. The cost to chance a die to what you want it to be is often too steep, and it can be really hard to build an efficient engine because you always need to generate more money to buy dice back into your cup for usage on the next turn. I’m glad I got to play it, but it cemented Race for the Galaxy into my collection. It was possibly the biggest disappointment for me at Gen Con, although Firefly Adventures is competing for that slot.

Day Two Recap
Day Three Recap

Board Gaming · First Impressions · Worker Placement Month

First Impressions: The Gallerist, Vinhos, Lisboa, and Vital Lacerda

They say there is such a thing as love at first sight, and in the gaming realm there could exist a possibility to have love at first play. I was fortunate enough, this weekend, to sit down and play my third Vital Lacerda game: The Gallerist. It reminded me, yet again, how impressive Vital’s games are to play. There are so many layers within the simplistic set of decisions placed before the players. Complexity in his games do not come from understanding the actions, but how it all intertwines with the mechanisms in order to get things humming along and churn out the objective you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve seen that struggle in action in all three of these games I’ve played and, sadly, to date I have played all three of these games exactly one time.

Trust me, it will not stay that way much longer.

I have 3 Lacerda plays, yet it is enough to cement him as a top designer for me. Perhaps even enough to lock in the #1 designer spot. In an era where we have a plethora of new games being released weekly, and kickstarters churning out almost daily for games, I am finding more and more that I want to just hunker down and replay the magnificence that is a Lacerda game time and again. The shiny and new isn’t calling to me as strong. Even the behemoth that is Gloomhaven lost its siren song this weekend, propelling Lisboa back to my #1 wish list location.

Not because it is the newest of his games available right now, but because it is arguably his best so far.

His games all contain a lot of layers to them, and they all seem to have some small aspect of worker placement in them. In some, like The Gallerist, it is a pretty big component. Even in Vinhos, the movement of your worker to select your action is a key aspect in terms of actions available and the cost to use them. And so it is only fitting to write my impressions on his games I’ve played, even though I’m stretching all the way back to November of 2017 for Lisboa. Trust me, its impression has never left.

First Impressions on The Gallerist

In terms of theme, this one didn’t really excite me going into the game. Then again, none of his games hit on my favored fantasy or Medieval themes so I know that shouldn’t affect things. But it did, and I wasn’t really excited to play this game apart from knowing it was a Lacerda game and is highly esteemed by a lot of people I know. So when a friend, who owns a ton of games I want to try, mentioned he’d be gaming Saturday, I made sure to clear time to be there at the start. I gave him the freedom to choose any game from the extensive list, and he picked The Gallerist. In spite of the theme, I was excited simply because of the designer and the experience I had with Vinhos and Lisboa. Going into the game, I watched Rodney’s wonderful video to get a handle on the rules and be ready to run away with the game.

First things first, that running away was an epic fail. 4th place out of 4, partially due to poor play early in the game and partly due to a severe lack of collector meeples for the early part of the game. Combined with a player who, even 3 hours into the game, had to ask things like what kickout actions he could take every single time it happened. He made the game drag on just a little too long, but not even that could spoil the lasting impression of the game. The game followed me long, long after I left the table. It still is stuck inside my head, beckoning me to return and play it again.

The worker placement aspect on this one is simple, as there are four spaces to move between (three you can choose on a turn) and each space contains only two actions to choose from. There are bonus kickout actions you can take when another worker goes to your spot and bumps you out. This has no impact on your placement there, as you’ve already done your action. It just provides a bonus. And there are some small actions you can do before and/or after your main action. Simple. Yet oh so complex in the execution.

I spent most of the game scraping for tickets, scraping to pull meeples into my gallery, and then scraping for money. I had value. My objectives were on track to be met. Yet everything took longer because I didn’t build an engine first. It didn’t help that every time I pulled a White collector, it got pulled right back by one of the two players who always seemed to find ways to get more tickets when they needed them. By the time the game fully clicked in how it all worked, I knew the mountain before me was impossible to scale in time. Yet that last half of the game, in spite of constantly needing to find ineffective plans to accomplish what I needed, I had a lot of fun puzzling things out and seeing where I should have focused earlier and how that would affect me now. The loss was 100% on me, and I will plan better and play better the next time.

Considering it was a game that didn’t excite me with the theme, I had way more fun than I could have expected. The strong worker placement in this one makes it likely to be the most successful game to get my wife to try. I think with 2 players it will be more interesting in some aspects, as there are fewer markets to claim tokens from and stiffer competition for points. The assistants will be even more critical to unlock, as you’ll have far more opportunities to leave one behind when moving in order to get that bonus knockout action.

My mind is spinning from the game, more than 72 hours later., and I love it. This game cemented Vital Lacerda as a top designer for me, providing those crunchy, brain-burning euro games that I long to play.

First Impressions on Vinhos (Z-Man Edition)

The one Lacerda game I own, thanks to a math trade earlier this year. The box is beat up pretty bad, but what’s inside is good enough to provide the experience I need. Early on in my game researching, I knew that this and Viticulture both existed and heard them frequently compared to each other due to the implementation of the theme. Let me tell you, that is where the comparisons should end. Yes, they are both about wine making. Yes, they are both very excellent games. But no, they do not provide the same experience. Not even close.

Whereas Viticulture is about working through the seasons to plant and harvest grapes and then make and sell wine, this one is almost more about presenting wine for the fair three times during the game. The process of getting the wine is far more streamlined here, with each round producing more wine automatically. So you don’t have to micromanage as much, but instead focus on what to do with the wine you get and gain more vineyards to get more wine production going on.

This game has a set number of rounds, which means you know exactly how long the game will last. 6 years, with 2 actions per year being taken. Yep, you read that right. Vinhos is played out over the course of 12 actions. But Vital being Vital, there are ways to do way more over the course of the game depending on how you manage what you are given. It also helps having a vineyard in place from the get go, making it so you can focus in other areas as needed.

It still boggles the mind that you get 12 actions in the game. Yet this is a heavy and satisfying puzzle that gets presented, and the actions you’ll choose are affected by the action you last used, the current round, and what your opponents have chosen. Why? Because an action is free only if it is adjacent in space to your last action and if there is no round marker or opponent on the space. You have to pay to jump your marker to a non-adjacent action, pay to place it where the round marker is at, and pay to place it where an opponent is located. And boy, is money ever tight and crucial in this. There is a bank action here which is probably the hardest space to wrap the head around, and is the one space dropped off the game in the revised Deluxe version of the game. I’m still not clear about whether I love or hate the bank space, but I’m glad it is in there for these first plays.

I love that the wine has three different uses: selling for money, exporting for victory points, or using it during the fair at the end of the third, fifth, and sixth rounds.

The fair adds in some really curious elements into the game that I appreciate. It has its own scoring track, which applies just to the fair but has its own serious value to players during the fair time. It is also the key to unlocking addition actions via the experts on the track. Having watched a video for the revised version of the game, I really like the changes made to this entire system and the use of tiles instead of that static track at the top. However, either version opens up options for additional actions gained through wine experts and some bonus scoring through them as well.

All in all, I liked Vinhos but I didn’t love it to the level I have with Lisboa or The Gallerist. I know part of it was the situation, rushing in a 2-player game at the end of the night with both of us having a rough idea on how to play. And then he stopped tallying points the second he was convinced he lost due to some crafty final turn decisions on my part…which I could tell frustrated him since he had been counting his victory for several turns. It’ll shine more in a more relaxed play session, and even moreso if I upgrade to the Deluxe version (something I now intend to do, especially if I teach it to my wife and she enjoys the game). And since it is the game currently in my collection, it is also the one most likely to see the table first.

First Impressions on Lisboa

I have to reach back to November of 2017 for this one, but that shouldn’t be as big of an issue as you’d think. That’s because this game has stuck with me ever since that play, being the game I’ve longed to own and play again. It first caught my attention via listening to Heavy Cardboard review the game. Honestly, without that I may never have tried a Vital Lacerda game (yet), so I have them to thank profusely for these impressions. I actively sought someone who would teach and play the game, and one game night I was able to set up a 3-player game.

Except the person bringing the game had played once. Months before the play. And he had never taught it. So the first hour or so was the three of us flipping through the rulebook and player aids and getting things set up and trying to understand the game. The next hour was full of some fumbling attempts at building an engine to get us to what we wanted to accomplish. And then, gloriously, it all started to click for me. Much like The Gallerist above, about halfway into the game I started to see how things were connected and the brilliance in there. Yet I had veered in some unproductive directions early that forced me to take a while to correct. But man, oh man, I was in love.

Vital says this is simply play a card, draw a card. And he isn’t wrong. But there is so much that happens between those steps as a result of the playing a card that it makes the game interesting and so very enjoyable. Since it has been too long, I can’t speak to specifics as well on this one in terms of the game’s play. And so, sadly, this is going to be the shortest of the impressions left here. I loved the game. The artwork and components were fantastic, even playing the retail version of the game. The tucking of the cards either on top or the bottom of the player board provides some really interesting decisions because a card tucked provides one benefit, but using them to visit the noble pictured (or for the decree pictured) provides a different set of actions you can accomplish. Being able to position yourself to follow another player’s action is critical, and the joint venture to clear the disaster in the city area so you can benefit more when building shops add an interesting layer of majority scoring that I’ve noticed appears in all of his games I’ve played so far.

I made the mistake of telling my wife that the VP in this game are wigs. That convinced her not to buy it for me back in December. We’ve both missed out on plenty of plays of a game that, undoubtedly, we would both enjoy having in our collection. It remains the game I want the most in my collection, and I cannot wait to play it again. I pray that comes sooner rather than later, as this one stands out in my mind as being the best overall Lacerda game with its solid integration of mechanics and theme.

Final Thoughts on Vital Lacerda

I hesitate to name a favorite overall designer, as there are a few who I am yet to be disappointed by. Yet Vital has already climbed into the ranks of those who are my must-play designers. His name would definitely be given a lot of consideration if I were to choose a designer as a favorite, and at the end of the day he might just earn that nod for a few reasons:

  • His games are mechanically simple yet have layer upon layer of complexity. There are only a few actions to be aware of, yet what you can do within them is where the games come to life and this provides a rich and rewarding experience that sticks with the player long after they leave the table.
  • Reiterating that last sentence: all three times I have played a Lacerda game, I have been left thinking about the game for weeks afterwards. Because there is so much to do, much of it in the player’s control, there are a lot of ways you can consider adjusting your approach in order to explore a new strategy and become more efficient for the next play.
  • Vital is a solo-friendly designer. While I am yet to attempt any of his games as a solo experience (since my version of Vinhos does not have it), I really appreciate this aspect and my understanding is that these games have equally satisfying solitaire experiences in the box.
  • Player interaction exists in his games through following of actions, kickout actions, penalties to go to the same place as a player, area majority scoring boards, and more in his designs. This isn’t just a “play in your own sandbox and see who does better” type of euro game. There comes motivations to pay attention to what others are doing and to vie for certain actions and areas first.

And while it doesn’t reflect on Vital’s design work directly, this is also a great notch in his favor:

  • His games have ridiculously high production quality. Eagle-Gryphon is doing right by Vital with how they manufacture the games right now, and you can be sure you are getting great value for the massive, expensive box. There is value in the box beyond just what the game experience itself provides (which, arguably, is worth the price tag on its own).

So I’m looking forward to my next Lacerda game. Maybe it will be this week/weekend at Gen Con. I sure hope so, whether it is trying a new game of his or revisiting one of these three that I’ve already experienced. Regardless, Vital Lacerda has cemented his status as a must-watch designer. Be sure to check out the campaign for his newest game, Escape Plan, which looks and sounds amazing. Plus, it gives you a chance to pick up one (or all) of these three games in their Deluxe Kickstarter version (plus expansion for The Gallerist) if you’re looking to add any of these to your collection.

Board Gaming · First Impressions · Solo Gaming

First Video + Questions for Solo Gamers/Game Developers

Calling all game designers. My blog, Cardboard Clash, is going to focus exclusively on solo gaming during the month of May. I’m looking to increase awareness to the great variety of games out there. If you have a solo game (either a game designed exclusively as a solo game, or one that has an official set of rules to play it solo) you’ve designed that is available, even as a Print & Play, please email me at Still designing that solo game? Shoot me an email, too, as I’d love to help generate some excitement for that game. At the very least I plan to do a post sharing a plethora of games out there for solo gaming. I’d also be very happy to host an interview or some other special feature post about games or designers. Let me know if you are interested!

Additionally, those of us (like me) who haven’t designed games but enjoy playing solo games, I want to feature you, too. I thought that it’d be awesome to kick off May 1 with a post where a lot of people answer these two questions:

“Why do you play solo board games?”


“What do you enjoy most about playing solo board games?”

Feel free to leave comments in here, or PM me on BGG (dtwiley), or shoot me an email at with your answer to those questions. If you have websites/social media accounts other than your BGG username you want listed, feel free to include that as well.

Hopefully in May I’ll review some games you’ve been wondering about, provide some fun interviews, and also give a shoutout to a ton of solo games out there either already available or currently in development.


Also, speaking of solo games, I played Unbroken for the first time last night (twice, actually). And rather than continue to make excuses as to why I can’t make a video yet with my iPod, I decided to go ahead and start a YouTube channel and throw up my first video where I expressed my first impressions of Unbroken. Check them out here:

Board Game Lists · Board Gaming · First Impressions

New-to-Me First Impressions 10/16/17 – 11/15/17

I began this a few months ago and really enjoyed going through and providing these impressions. The thought was to give some coverage to those games that I may not play enough times to review, or which may never quite make it to a review due to the number of games played and the time it takes to review a game. So here are some brief first impressions of games I recently got my first plays with. I’m also including a “Replay rating” for each game on a scale of 1-10. 1 would be “I’d rather sit out and watch others play games than play this again” and 10 being “Save me a seat, I’d gladly play this any time!”

A Feast for Odin – My wife is a huge Uwe Rosenberg fan, so when we had a chance to get this with the Meeple Realty insert in exchange for a few games collecting dust on our shelves, I had to jump on that opportunity. We both enjoy Patchwork. I love just about anything Viking themed. And she loves both Worker Placement and Rosenberg games. This all sounds like a recipe for success, and my first play was solo and left me wanting to pull it back out again. Then, of course, the next game on this list came along again and blew all other games off to the side, so it hasn’t hit the table again yet. But I plan to change that tonight when sitting down to a game with my wife… In terms of the game itself, I really liked the puzzle aspect of the boards and that spaces used 1-4 workers depending on which part of the board you go to. Part of me questions, with how open the game is, how much replay value there really is here but for now I am eager to dive right in some more. 7/10

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game– This isn’t new to me, per say, but it recently reentered my collection. When I first had the game, I was resistant to expand the game beyond the core set so I traded it away to a friend. Now that the game has returned, and vaulted up to be my favorite solo game in my collection (with good reason!), I have changed my tune a little on the expandable game. Instead of seeing it as an endless money grab, I see it as a way to continue to freshen the experience of a game I really, really enjoy playing. My recent shift in thinking from “play more new games!” to “replay favorites” was partially inspired by this game, along with many others. There are so many options in this game, and now that there are Saga sets out there I have a great idea where to begin expanding into this game. 10/10

Imperial Settlers – I picked this one up on a whim, passing over some games that I almost-immediately regretted not buying. I stuck it out and set this game up to try as a solo play and discovered that there was a nice, tight engine builder in this card-based game. So I set it up again and played a second time that day, having fun once more as I played through the solo mode (which will end up growing stale eventually). The good news is that I think this is my type of game with engine building via cards. 7/10

Photosynthesis – Sometimes the environment in which you game can have a real impact on the experience of the game. That was very much the case when my wife taught me this game. I know, for a fact, that my experience was impacted in a negative way that had nothing to do with the game itself, and so this is very high on my “I need to play that again” list even though my first play left me feeling “meh” about it. 5/10

Arkham Horror: The Card Game– Lord of the Rings 2.0 is what some might call this, and mechanically there are some really striking similarities. But the two games, theme not considered, are vastly different in approach. Lord of the Rings is designed mostly to be played a single scenario at a time, whereas Arkham Horror is supposed to be a campaign of X scenarios strung together. They both require deck construction, but Arkham Horror’s approach is smaller and more streamlined in a sense because you each have an unique investigator rather than fielding a trio of heroes. If you love the constructing of decks and fine-tuning them in the fires of challenge, you’ll dig Lord of the Rings. If you prefer a game where the narrative is as important as the gameplay and where the deck construction is easier and less impactful, then Arkham Horror is for you. My wife would probably prefer the design of Arkham Horror more, and honestly if there are two games that would be worth my money to expand, it would be this and Lord of the Rings because they are both soloable. If Lord of the Rings didn’t exist, this might have a shot at being at the top of my solo list if I played it solo. As it stands, I’d choose Lord of the Rings because I love the deck construction and the theme more than the fine-tuned mechanics and strong narrative. But in all honesty, I’d have a blast with either one. 9/10

Trajan – I think I am firmly on the path to becoming a Feld fan, as this is the third Feld game I have played and the third one I really enjoyed. I am pretty sure this is a game I’ll like even better than Castles of Burgundy, which is still a really fun game, but I found the decisions in this one were fantastic. I’d really love to play this one again, as I think it takes a full game to really understand and enjoy that personal mancala mechanic. 9/10

Between Two Cities– Stonemaier Games delivers yet again on a pleasant gaming experience. It won’t be the heavyweight in a collection that a Scythe or Viticulture would be in rankings, but this is one I could see being a great addition to a game collection. It has some unique takes on tile laying and end-game scoring to determine the winner. I just so happened to be in the highest scoring city overall as well as have the top 2nd-highest scoring city. We used the Capitals expansion, which I’m sure enhances the base experience but this is one I’d really love to try with 2 or playing solo before purchasing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely so onto the Christmas list it goes… 8/10

Queendomino – A part of me groaned when my wife came home with this game. I enjoy Kingdomino for what it is: a very light and fast filler game. I was expecting more of the same in this one, making it a game that I would be willing to play but never really want to play. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how much was added, mechanically, to this version of the game. It has a new terrain type. It has up to three additional optional actions that can be done on a turn. This took the predecessor and, rather than giving us more of the same, it took the game to a new level of complexity. It is still a simple enough game, but there are a lot more interesting decisions to be made over the course of the game. Which means this is a game that I am actually okay with owning and playing. 7/10

Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game – This was one I was eager to try since it was a brand new LCG and so the barrier to entry would be relatively low. A small card pool is a great time to plunge into a game like this. And yes, it was a lot of fun. I liked a lot of the things the game did mechanically. The fate, which determines how long a character is on the board, is outstanding. However, this game had two strikes against it: it didn’t blow me away quite like Netrunner did, and it is an LCG. If I’m going to collect an LCG, it makes the most sense to have it be the cooperative, soloable ones out there. Unless my wife gets hooked on one of the more competitive ones, I’ll never have a chance to hone a deck and improve my skill in an LCG like Netrunner or Legend of Five Rings. 6/10

Friday – Anyone who has paid attention to my taste in game mechanics knows by now that I am a pretty big fan of deckbuilding games. I also happen to play a reasonable amount of solo games – not usually because I prefer to solo a game but because my wife isn’t available at the time so I play a game on my own. I’ve been meaning to try this solo-only game for a while and, after a few plays, I find that this is a really solid and challenging game. There is a line between risk and reward that has to be balanced well, and it can be real easy to fall on the wrong side of that line. I don’t know if this would be a game I would want to play often, so it may not enter my collection, but it is definitely a very solid solo game with a small box. 7/10