Board Gaming · One-Player Only · Review for One · Solo Gaming · Solo Month · Uncategorized

Review for One (& two) – Circuit Breaker

Thank you for checking review #56 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 prototype of the game was sent for review purposes. Opinions remain our own.

An Overview of Circuit Breaker

Circuit Breaker is a game designed by Peter Mariutto and was published by Freshwater Game Company. The box states that it can play 1-3 players and has a 30-45 minute play time.

Circuit Breaker is a casual strategy game that can be played solo or with up to two other friends. All players attempt to successfully re-wire their own houses in time for a hastily scheduled house party, and will score points by connecting a variety of quirky electrical doodads to their home circuits. Resource management and a crafty rodent will be put to use in a fun and cheeky race to be the most ‘happening’ place on the block.

—description from the publisher

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

Lay out the party favor tiles and place the corresponding cubes on those tiles. Shuffle the Wire stack and place it face-down, and lay out two cards from the top of it next to that stack. Shuffle the Appliance stack and place if face-down beside the Wire stack. Place a breaker box in front of you. Stack the round tokens in ascending order. Deal yourself a secret objective card, 2 Appliance tiles, and a Wire tile. Take a mouse and 8 dice, and setup is complete.

The object is to score as many points as you can before the end of the 4th round. You’ll roll all 8 dice and then start taking one of four actions:

Buy a tile or Party Favor – spend 1 or more dice to take one of the 3 available Wire tiles or a Party Favor, matching the value spent exactly.

Trade for Appliance – Discard an Appliance card from your hand to take the top card off the Appliance stack into your hand. Or you can trade 4 value in Party Favors to look at the top 3 Appliance cards and keep one, putting the other two on the bottom of the stack.

Place up to 2 Tiles – Put 1-2 tiles from your hand out onto your network, making sure everything connects properly (1-wire to 1-wire, 3-wire to 3-wire, etc.)

Move the Mouse – Subtract 2 from an active die to move the mouse. The die must be used for a purchase on the same turn and must happen before movement. Then, the tile that the mouse was on is taken back into the player’s hand. That appliance cannot go back in its old spot on the next action.

Play continues until all 8 dice have been spent, at which point the round ends. Reroll all dice, draw an appliance card, and remove a round counter.

At the end of the game you score 1 point per single appliance not on your objective card, 3 points for each non-objective pair of appliances, 3 points for a single appliance on your objective card, and 9 points for a pair of appliances on your objective card. You also score points for the value of your remaining party favors, divided in half and rounded down (ex. 15 points in favors, divided by 2 = 7)

Changes for a 2-3 player game

Each player gets 6 dice. On a player’s turn they may complete each of the four actions once (so they take 1-4 actions). There is a mousetrap token that can be moved in the same manner as the mouse.

Placing the mouse on another player’s tile will allow you, when you move the mouse again, to bring that tile into your hand. Placing it on their breaker box will allow you, when you move the mouse again, to steal a tile from their hand. Moving the mousetrap onto a mouse will send it back to the appliance stack without losing your tile.

As soon as a player cannot make at least two actions the round ends and progresses in the same manner as above.

My Thoughts

 This game shines with another player at the table. The push-pull with the mouse is what really makes this game come alive. It becomes a fun exercise of trying to decide when to place those key appliances and how early to put out a pair or anything else that might become a target. Using the mouse trap is a great defensive addition, and this interaction here is what is really lacking in a solo game of Circuit Breaker. But I wanted to emphasize that there is a significant difference between the solo game and the 2-player game.

 I like the requirement to move the mouse being to not only reduce a die by 2, but to also immediately make a purchase using that die. The mouse can play a small part in opening up spaces on the board in a solo game, but it becomes a critical element in the 2-3 player game experience. The cost to move it presents some interesting decisions along the way, which is something that is otherwise limited throughout the game.

 There are only three ways to get those critical appliance cards: discard an appliance from your hand to draw a new one, or discard 4 value of Party Favors to draw 3 and keep 1, and you draw one at the end of each round. Well, apart from the mouse being on the top of the Appliance stack, too, which will get you a card once it is moved off there, so technically there are four ways. But for the majority of the game, it is only two. One is simple and costs you little but it is slow. The other costs you something you have to purchase with those dice, which is your finite resource to gain wires in order to expand your network.

 You can’t do the same action twice in a row, which prevents you from endlessly digging for those appliance cards. That means you either need to play cards or spend dice in between that desperate search. And in order to play cards, you’ll need to buy those wires, which cost dice to gain (up to 8 value!) and can bring the round to an end even faster. I like that the game requires you to change things up each turn, which will eventually bring that round to an end no matter how much you might wish otherwise.

 Scoring is relatively simple and straight-forward, rewarding you for placing pairs of appliances and for placing the appliances on your objective card. You also score for those leftover Party Favors, which is a nice touch and allows you to spend those “garbage” dice on something meaningful toward the end of the game if you don’t need wires to place appliances.

 I find the theme and the art to be really fun in this one. Honestly, that is what hooked me when they reached out to me. I think some people might be turned off by the theme, but they shouldn’t be. Unique ideas to a game’s theme, and some fun and vibrant art like the art in this game, should be rewarded and encouraged.

 That appliance deck can really suck. Like, brutally suck. There is a pretty thick stack of appliances and you’re looking for 4 specific appliances. There are a total of 8 cards in there you need because each appliance appears twice. Good luck trying to get that appliance you desperately need, because the odds are against you. And since a non-objective appliance is only worth 1 point (unless you get them both out), the game seems to encourage you to toss cards over and over until you dig up what you needed all along. I like that it is costly in resources to cycle that faster, but every game I’ve played started to feel like a challenge to see how fast I can get lucky and draw that card I needed.

 Dice. I didn’t even try to teach this to my wife after my first two solo plays of this one because I just knew. If the dice in Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia and in Ars Alchimia bother her, there is no way she’ll like them in this one. Yes, if you are really unlucky and roll a lot of the same number the rules allow you to reroll. But there is no manipulation of those dice once they are rolled. If I roll a combination that is almost all 1-3 and you roll almost all 4-6, I’m way behind. My buying power is effectively half, at best, what yours is for the round so you’ll be able to get those wires (especially if they are all 7-8 cost) and party favors you need for “cheap” whereas it’ll cost me more dice to get the same things. No die roll is wasted, as you can buy party favors, but with no way to increase those dice you’ve very much at the mercy of the random roll.

 The solo game is just not interesting enough as the prototype stands. The mechanics of it are fine, but there is just something lacking from the experience. Yes, there is a scoring system (identical to with more players) and you can try and beat your own high score. But I don’t like these types of solo games that only have that. I need a win/lose requirement in there or some sort of AI or other system that competes against me. Fire in the Library does this well by having the AI score points and burn more of the Library with the cards that are already in the standard deck. Imperial Settlers does this well by having an “opponent” that gains cards and can steal your buildings with a simple set of cards. They both simulate something that can happen in a multiplayer game, and I really think that Circuit Breaker needs something like that to take it to that next level. It has that great mouse mechanic already in there. Now it just needs a way to simulate player interaction points in order to provide both an obstacle to the player and a point threshold for the player to surpass. If they can add something like that into the solo experience of the game, it would help that to be a great solo addition to pull out when you don’t have 1-2 other players to game with.

Final Thoughts

This game was an interesting one to get, and one I hadn’t really planned to review as a solo experience. It simply worked out that I ended up with an empty spot in the month late-in-the-game and I had played this a few times. My first play solo fell flat, but it was definitely on me rather than the game. I played it a little wrong, and that was the difference. It felt way too long and free-flowing. The next play, with the right understanding of the rules, was way tighter and ended up over 10 points lower for a score. It went from feeling sandbox-y to feeling tight with what I could accomplish.

At both player counts my one gripe remains the same: the game feels a little too driven by chance. There is a large stack of appliances, and it is difficult to dig through there without spending dice, which in turn will reduce the wires you can buy (that is one thing I do love). But there are so many different appliances in there. Each appliance has a single pair in that deck. Getting a pair of appliances can cost you a ton of actions. Digging for the ones on your card can cost you the game. If one person gets those cards early and the other one gets non-matching and non-objective appliances for most of the game then it can feel like it snowballs in a bad way. Same with the rolling of dice: if I roll higher than you, I will be able to buy more over the course of the game.

In the solo game, this becomes a chore of trying to dig until you find pairs and/or objective appliances. And it can be really flat when you have to dig for a long time.

In a 2-player game, this aspect can shine. Your opponent draws that appliance you need? There’s the mouse to pull that into your hand. That push-pull system is so much better with a higher player count, which is something I had been told to expect when they sent me the game. And I agree – 2 players is probably the perfect player count on this one. I imagine the 3-player game can be interesting, but could have a small chance of kingmaking or runaway leader. The solo game is a puzzle without any real win/lose conditions (something that, maybe, could be tweaked before the game is published? I’ll be asking for that!)

Overall, if you like a strategic game that does have some above-average dependence upon dice then this is a good one. Its length is a little longer than I’d like for a game with that much luck, especially solo, but the interactions can make this one fun enough to forgive that randomness. Plus my wife and I are pretty averse to random elements as a whole, so we’re not necessarily the target audience here. If you enjoy dice-rolling, interesting decisions, player interaction, and a fun and unique theme, then you should definitely check this out when it hits Kickstarter.

***

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Circuit Breaker. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

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Board Gaming · One-Player Only · Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review for One – Black Sonata

Thank you for checking review #55 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.

An Overview of Black Sonata

Black Sonata is a game designed by John Kean and was published by Side Room Games. The box states that it can play 1 player and has a 15-30 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 2.0.

For more than four centuries scholars have argued over the identity of the mysterious Dark Lady of William Shakespeare’s sonnets. According to the sonnets, the Dark Lady seduced the poet and held him in an agonised thrall while also conducting an affair with the Fair Youth who Shakespeare also loved.

In Black Sonata you will find yourself in Shakespeare’s London, circa 1600, in pursuit of the shadowy Lady. A specially ordered deck of cards determines her hidden movements from place to place. You must deduce her location and then intercept her to catch a glimpse and gain a clue to her identity. You will need several clues to deduce her identity, but with each clue gained the Lady becomes harder to track. Black Sonata combines hidden movement and logical deduction into a unique solitaire steeped in literary history.

Can you finally solve English literature’s greatest mystery? Or will the Dark Lady elude you, melting from your grasp like a curl of smoke and promises?

***

For this review I am doing something a little different: videos! Check them out to see my progression of thoughts on this fun little game.

Unboxing

First Impressions

Runthrough

Final Thoughts

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Hopefully you found these videos to be a useful look at Black Sonata. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming · Solo Month · Uncategorized

Review for One – Sprawlopolis

Thank you for checking review #54 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.

An Overview of Sprawlopolis

Sprawlopolis is a game designed by Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, and Paul Kluka and iss published by Button Shy Games. The listing on BGG states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 15-20 minute play time.

Jackhammers chattering, trucks beeping, engines roaring, the sounds of construction are everywhere. Sprawlopolis is growing and YOU are in charge of it all. The last team of planners couldn’t cut it, so the city turned to your team, the best of the best. If anyone can turn this tiny town into a thriving civic center it’s you.

In Sprawlopolis, 1-4 players work together to build a new city from the ground up. Using only 18 cards and a variable scoring system, the game is never the same twice. Each turn, players will play 1 card from their hand to the growing city, trying to score as many points as possible. Players will have to communicate and plan without revealing their own cards in order to most efficiently develop large areas in each of the 4 zone types. Watch out though, the city hates paying for road maintenance so each road will cost you points in the end. When all cards have been placed, the game ends and player see if they have met dynamically generated minimum score for their game. Can you meet the demands of the officials, work with your fellow planners and build the ultimate urban wonder? It’s time to find out!

-description from publisher

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

The game is hilariously simple in both aspects, yet mind-numbingly hard to win. If that appeals to you, read on!

Shuffle the 18 cards and randomly draw 3 to put face-up on their scoring objective. These are the unique ways you can score points (in addition to the standard ones, outlined later). Deal yourself 3 cards to form your hand and then place the top card from the deck in the center of the table to form the beginning of your city.

On your turn you place a card and then draw a card. This pattern is repeated until all cards have been drawn and played (essentially, you play 14 cards). The card can only be placed horizontally, so you can’t turn it sideways. A card can either be placed so that at least one zone is orthogonally adjacent to an existing card , or it can be placed with at least one zone covering an existing card’s zone. You cannot tuck a card, nor place it so that it is only diagonally adjacent to another card.

At the end of the game you get 1 point for each square of zone in the largest grouping for all 4 zone types. You lose 1 point for each new road. And then you score based on the 3 special scoring conditions. If your score is higher than the sum of the 3 scoring objective numbers (they range 1-18) then you win!

My Thoughts

 Variability is king in this game. You wouldn’t think that a 10-15 minute game with only 18 cards total could be so variable, but there are literally hundreds of variations on what three scoring factors you will use in the game (816, according to the Kickstarter). That is an amazing number to consider, and that means you could play this game twice a day, using a different combination, every day for a year and still not play each possible combination. Mind. Blown.

 Those ******* roads. I don’t normally curse, but nearly every game I find myself losing 6-8 points from the ineffective way I built my city. While I hate them in the moment, I absolutely love that you lose points for them and, therefore, need to find a way to juggle making longer roads and large zones and the three scoring objectives. It is nice when said objectives work well with those aspects, but they don’t always.

 The rules on this game are simple and straight-forward. One quick skim through the book was all it took for me to be off and running. As much as I don’t mind slogging through a 15-20 page rulebook to learn a game, sometimes it is nice to be able to open and start playing a game within 10 minutes of getting it.

 You have meaningful decisions along the way thanks to the hand size of 3. Decisions would be agonizing if you could play any remaining card at any time. Decisions would seem pointless, at times, if you only had 1 card in your hand to play. Even when your cards don’t align with your long-term goals, it never feels as though you’re restricted by the gameplay. It helps being able to play over parts of existing cards, allowing you to set up for a future play.

 This is a “beat your own high score” done right. That is normally a solo game experience I dislike, as I prefer competition against something. And it gives you something: a number to beat. It could be as low as 6 or as high as 51. I saw someone mention they beat the game using the highest three numbers and then lost against the lowest three. That shouldn’t even be possible. This is a unique solo puzzle, and for that it merits a place in any collection for a solo gamer.

 This is a player issue, not a game issue, but it can be easy to be blinded in this game. I do the same thing in Kingdom Builder sometimes: you have 3 objectives that score points at the end and they change every game. I pour 100% into one, about 40% into a second one, and usually the third one I remember with about a turn to go. I am horrible at both games, no surprise there, yet I really enjoy them both a lot as well. If you tend to get caught up in progressing one area to the detriment of others, you might experience this as well.

 Functional is the best way to describe this game. There is variety in the scoring, sure. And each card is unique…sort of. They all have each of the four zones. They all have roads running through the cards. There are no special ones that are longer zones, or even interesting problems to work around with the roads (there is some variety in having curves, but nothing especially tricky in there). There is a lot of repetition in here that causes them all to blend together after a while, which is a shame because the initial reaction is that this is a great-looking set of cards.

 I know this is a microgame. It is designed to use as few things as possible. And yes, there are a ton of scoring conditions that change from game to game. Yet, at the end of the day, there is a lot of repetitive sameness in the game itself. If you like pursuing new strategies or competing against a friend, you’re out of luck here. This game excels at what it tries to do, but there is a limit to what it accomplishes because of the microgame format.

Final Thoughts

Let’s not mince words here: this game is a frustratingly fun and elegant design. It reminds me of playing SimCity on the PC, a game I was never very good at but also enjoyed playing. The same could be said right now for Sprawlopolis: I enjoy the game in spite of my terrible skill level. I’m pretty sure I am the worst Spawlopolis player on the planet, having managed only a single victory in all of my plays. Yet there has never been a time when I wasn’t having fun during the process of building my little 15-card city.

The variety in this game is mind-blowing, and I love the variance in both scoring and objectives that comes with every play of the game. They are both the best and worst part of the game: the best because every session feels different, and the worst because they can easily detract you from the static scoring conditions. My personal Achilles heel is trying to form blocks of 4 (in a square) of the same type of zone. I have had this appear, shockingly, on 50% of my plays. I’m yet to come close to winning any of them when this is in the mix.

As a solo gamer, I’m not usually one for games that task you with just trying to achieve a high score. However, this game does things in such an interesting way that I can’t see that ever getting old. Your score threshold to even win is going to change with every game, moving every time you get a new set of objectives to chase after. The bar is always shifting, making you try different approaches to building your little city with every play. Even after playing several times in a row, this game doesn’t wear out its welcome as a solo game. It is incredibly fast to setup or reset that busting out a few games is easy to do in an evening or even as a before-bed routine.

This won’t go down as the best microgame I’ve ever played, but it is definitely high up there. This was my first exposure to a Button Shy game, but it definitely won’t be the last. In terms of value for the price you pay compared to the experience you get, this game is off the charts. The gameplay in this package is worth many times more than the cost to purchase this game, making it a no-brainer to pick up for a solo gamer. If you enjoy cooperative games, this should also hit all of the right spots for you and your play group. If Circle the Wagons is even half as good as Sprawlopolis, then the picking these two games up will be the best $20 you can spend on board games. Period.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Sprawlopolis. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming · Solo Month

Mini-Reviews for Mini Rogue, Endless Nightmare, Constantinope, and Agent Decker

In a deviance from my normal, long-winded review style here are overviews and, essentially, my “final thoughts” section on four Print & Play games:

Mini Rogue

Mini Rogue is a 9-card game in which a single player delves into a deep dungeon to get the famous ruby called The Og’s Blood on the bottom floor.

The player must choose how to spend their resources in order to be powerful enough to confront ever difficult monsters. Random events and encounters make every play-through a unique experience.

Final Thoughts

I probably love this game a little more than it deserves. It gives you decision points every single round, even though some of them are simple and obvious decisions. The management of several stats/resources, and the leveling up of your Rogue, makes this feel enough like a dungeon crawl game contained in a very small package. I wish there was more variety in the game, so as to add to its replay value, but this game still is one that I enjoy pulling out every time.

The “bursting” dice mechanic is always one that I enjoy seeing, as it can lead to memorable moments in a game. Even when losing, you can look fondly back on the time you dropped 30+ damage in one turn due to a ton of 6’s being rolled. Or, on the other side of things, you can look back and be sad that you rolled that burst because it turned into a 1, which made it a miss instead. Oh boy, does that really sink the morale when it happens twice in a battle!

There are just enough decisions, and enough dice mitigation, to make you feel like you’re playing the game instead of the other way around. It is definitely worth the sheet of cards to print in order to play this one, and is one of my absolute favorite 9-card games I’ve ever found. Fans of fantasy dungeon crawls should definitely give this one a try.

Endless Nightmare

You’re caught in an endless, ever shifting nightmare hunted by The Shadow – an ominous all devouring presence. You try to outrun it and avoid going insane from the horrors of the nightmare, but it’s just a matter of time until you succumb.

Mechanically Endless Nightmare is a simple push your luck, risk management where the player must strike a balance between spending actions on the threats and resources of the game while trying to run as long as possible before the inevitable defeat.

There are two modes of play: Basic and Active. The Basic Version is a normal board game while the Active version requires real life skills, such as being required to hold your breath while playing through a Nightmare about drowning. The Basic version provides 12 different nightmare scenes each with their own simple special rule based on the theme of the scene. Most plays will take the player through one to five of these scenes. The Active version replaces or changes 8 of the scenes for a total of 20 different nightmare scenes.

Final Thoughts

The most interesting aspect of this game is in the fact that a player cannot win. Period. I absolutely love the concept of that, and it is executed well in here. You’re trying to press your luck, moving deeper and deeper into the sequence of nightmares as you overcome each one.

Dice and I have a love-hate relationship. I used to not mind them, but I think my wife’s aversion to them has rubbed off on me. Yet this is a game where I don’t mind as much because it is designed to be a simple, fast, die-rolling game. The Basic game is a lot of fun, but that Active version is an experience not to be missed by any gamer. Since all it takes is one sheet and some tokens and dice, there is little reason to pass over this one.

Constantinople

Victory Point Games States of Siege Series style solitaire wargame covering the millennium-long history of the Byzantine empire, from the foundation of Constantinople in AD330 until its fall in AD1453. The player uses military might as well as diplomacy and outright bribery to keep the many opposing forces at bay for as long as possible. Can you outlive the historic Byzantine empire, or will your efforts be relegated to an obscure footnote in the history books?

Final Thoughts

I haven’t played any of the Victory Point Games titles in the States of Siege series, but I have played two print & play games inspired by that system and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them both. This one is an interesting design with the 30 cards you have to progress through and the multiple tracks to keep from running out. My first play of this annihilated me but left me hungry for more. It wasn’t the game I intended to play on the next night, but I absolutely had to revisit the game. I did way better at managing the tracks. Except when I let two of my tracks get down to 1 in order to keep away some invaders. I lost without having been sieged, due to drawing a card that forced me to lose 1 on my choice of those 2 tracks I was down to 1 on.

And those are the moments that make this game and, I assume, this system as a whole, fantastic for the solo gamer. There is a lot of dice rolling, but there is enough mitigation you can do (through spending those vital resources) to make it not feel like luck won or lost the day. Many of the rolls have to just be higher than a 2 or 3, which lets you feel like the odds are in your favor. Having a track that is pure VP for the end of the game, but is far easier to gain at the beginning, is brilliant.

The historical flavor, combined with the solid and interesting mechanics, make this a solo experience I’ve really enjoyed. If I ever had to cull my Print & Play binders down, this is one that would easily survive the cut. You don’t have to be a wargamer to enjoy the experience that this solo wargame can provide. A short book of rules, combined with a relatively small amount of cards to print, make this a title I can easily recommend.

Agent Decker

Agent Decker is a mission-based deck-building game for one player in which you acquire gear and skills by facing obstacles. The alarm raises every turn, so you must pick who you take out. Do you go for the cool weapon, or take out the security camera?

Each mission takes about 20 minutes, and the game consists of five missions that are meant to be played in sequence. There’s also a high score system, so you can try to beat your own best runs or compare your score against other players!

Final Thoughts

Solitaire. Story-driven. Deckbuilder. Three words that hit all of the right notes for me, even though the theme itself didn’t excite me. And there are some things this does really well, such as the mission progression and a conveyor belt of threats to deal with. The hand size of 4 is a unique choice, and that places a greater value on adding cards to draw more cards into your hand or to trash those low-value cards.

The mission deck always seems to empty faster than I want it to, and I wish the first two missions weren’t dependent upon hitting 6 value of a trait in your hand. With 4 cards to draw, it feels improbable most of the time. Drawing 5 on that first hand after reshuffling makes me feel sick, knowing I’ve got 2-3 turns of “treading water”, so to speak, before I can have a shot of passing the mission.

But where this really shines is the growing threat, which increases every time a card is removed from that line of cards. And one will go off every turn, even if you take the last card on the line. Unless you just knock it out, which flips the card upside-down. That decision is so brilliant, forcing you to choose between getting that card to add into your deck and make it better, or just flip said card to slow down the growing threat and the progression of the mission deck.

I don’t think this will be my favorite deckbuilding game, but there are a lot of great things executed here. Enough so that I am convinced that Blight Chronicles: Agent Decker will be a game to check out to see how they took and adapted this system. If you like deckbuilders, this is definitely one you don’t want to miss out on.

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming · Solo Month

Review for One – Assembly

Thank you for checking review #53 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.

An Overview of Assembly

Complete Game_preview

Assembly is a game designed by Janice and Stu Turner and was published by Wren Games. The box states that it can play 1-2 players and has a 10-20 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 1.00.

Description from the designer:

Assembly is a quick, 2-player cooperative or solo, puzzle card game that fits in your pocket.

Using the Command Cards in your hand Draw, Swap, and Rotate Room Modules around the ship until they sit on their matching Blueprint where you can lock them into place to build a ship and escape.

No two games will ever be the same because of a variable setup, several role cards and the optional use of malfunctions activating on locking that force you to change your strategy. Also, 2-player games add limited communication into the mix and the optional use of sign language instead of verbal communication.

The Story:

You are on an orbital platform that assembles luxury spaceships. After a recent micrometeorite impact, a deadly virus has emerged and wiped out the entire staff. Luckily, you seem to have natural immunity and now you must escape to help create a vaccine before the virus spreads to Earth.

In an attempt to quarantine the virus, the computer locked down all systems, undocked all the spaceships and is currently venting the oxygen to prevent you from ever leaving. Fortunately, it has missed one. Unfortunately, it’s still on the assembly line and only partially complete. You must finish building it to escape.

Against all odds, you have outwitted the computer and are now in the control room of one of the spaceship assembly lines where the incomplete ship lies in front of you. On the screen above your head, you can see the required layout in blueprint form and on the assembly line you can see the completed Room Modules hanging around the edges ready for placement in the bays corresponding to the instructions overhead.

You have discovered a rather limited set of commands to complete the ship but for some reason the controls keep glitching. Does the computer know what you are trying to do? You must work together and use your commands wisely to assemble the ship and make your escape.

Can you complete the ship and escape before you perish?

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

Shuffle and give yourself a Role Card that is placed face-up in front of you. This provides you a one-time power to use during the game. Shuffle the Room Modules (the round discs) and place them in a stack in the center of the play area. Set up the Bay Number cards for a 12, 3, 6, and a 9 and orient them like the face of a clock, and then shuffle and deal out the Bay cards onto the board, starting with the 12 and going clockwise. Roll a d12 and place a single Room Module face-up on the corresponding room. Set aside an Any Rotate and a Wild Command card, as these will help track the game’s timer. For a solo game, also put a Draw/Lock, a Swap, a Clockwise Rotate, and a Counterclockwise Rotate Command card back in the box. Shuffle the remaining Command cards and deal yourself 3 of them.

On your turn you simply play a Command card and carry out its action. They actions are:

Draw/Lock: Either draw 1 new Room Module and roll the d12 to place it out on a Bay card, OR lock 1-2 Room Modules in place if they are on the correct Bay card.

Rotate: Rotate all unlocked Room Modules 1-2 spaces in the direction shown on the card. Locked bays are skipped over as part of movement.

Swap: Change the position of any two Room Modules.

OR you can discard all 3 Command Cards to treat it as though you played a Wild Card.

Yep, it is that simple. Your goal is to try and get all 12 Room Modules locked onto the correct Bays before you empty the deck of Command Cards a 3rd time.

However…

There may be malfunctions present on slots 12, 3, 6, and 9 that can help or hinder your progress when the Room Module locks onto that Bay.

AND…

When you need to draw a card from a depleted Command Deck, you will add either the Rotate Any card into the deck and shuffle it the first time, and then the set-aside Wild card in the 2nd time. In addition, all unlocked Bay cards will be shuffled and redistributed, starting from the 12 and going clockwise. The Room Modules remain in the numberical orientation they were at, meaning that the Bay it was on could be on a completely different part of the orbital platform.

My Thoughts

 The first thing that reeled me in was a combination of the theme and how it was expressed in the rules. There was a witty humor laced throughout those rules and it made me want to try this game. The gameplay itself sounded interesting, sure, but it was that first impression during the rules that made me want to try and review this game.

 This game has surprisingly rich decisions to make. You have three cards in your hand, so deciding which one to play can be important. Knowing when to add more tokens into play and when to lock the tokens you have in place can be critical. Especially deciding when/if to use that card even though you can only lock one room with it (making it less effective) so that the token you’ve worked hard to get in place doesn’t move any more. I enjoy feeling like the decisions I make matter, and this does a good job with that.

Assembly Layout A_preview

 The best thing in the game itself is what happens when the draw pile is empty: all of the unlocked rooms shift! That token you had oh-so-close to locking down? Its room might be clear on the opposite side of the circle. You know when it is coming. You can plan accordingly. And it adds such an interesting wrench into the puzzle that I absolutely love it.

 I love that the game has a built-in way of tracking the rounds with the two set-aside cards. It makes it easier to know what round you’re on with the deck, especially good when playing the game several times in a single sitting. And while it’d sure be nice to have that Wild in at the start, but it does make it far more challenging to make the best progress you can with the cards in your hand.

 Discard three cards to use them as a wild. What a horribly inefficient play that is! Not only do you toss extra cards, but you also cycle the deck faster. I could see this being beneficial only at the end of a deck cycle, knowing that all of those cards will shuffle and possibly get you a better hand. Or, like I did, at the very end of the game to get that move you needed to win as the deck runs out.

 Don’t play without malfunctions! They aren’t that complicated, and they add some more interesting decisions to the game. I played the first one without them and found myself regretting that decision. It doesn’t take that long to learn the mechanics of the game, and those four positions don’t ramp up the complexity. However, I do wish that they could be modular rather than tied to the 12, 3, 6, and 9 spots. I understand the necessity for it, but imagine if they moved, too, to random locations!

 For using smaller-than-standard cards, this thing still takes up a fair amount of table space. Don’t expect to play this at a restaurant while you are expecting the meal to come, although it would probably be fine for before/after when the table is relatively clear. It isn’t a massive hog, but that circle of 12 cards will take up room no matter how close you inch those rooms together.

 This is 100% a me thing and only applies to the print & play. Don’t print this on regular paper. Or, if you do, find a way to attach it to something sturdier. You have to fold some of the cards, which meant I either had to deal with that or glue them shut. And I chose Elmer’s glue. Yep, my copy isn’t very good any more. Also, if you print the low ink version, some of the symbols on the cards can be faint. I have to look closely at a few to see the matching symbol.

Final Thoughts

Command Cards_preview

This was a game I went into with, honestly, really low expectations. It was an early reply to my call for Solo Month and the theme sounded fun enough, and the print was simple enough, that I was willing to give it a try. Had this come later in the process, as I was getting flooded with contacts, I don’t know that it would have passed the test and become an “Yeah, I’ll review that” answer. It was cooperative. It sounded really simple.

And yes, I am very glad it was an early contact because I truly have enjoyed my plays of Assembly.

It won’t be a contender for #1 solo game, but it doesn’t need to be. It provides a great little puzzle contained with a handful of components. There is enough randomization to make it really replayable while also not having too much randomization to ruin the experience. This is the ideal version of a “puzzle” game because it offers a win/lose condition to fulfill before you even get to see how you scored. And even though I’ve found success in winning the game, it has never been with much in the way of scores. So there is a ton of room to improve while still testing out the dynamics of each variable set of malfunctions.

One of the best things about this game remains that rulebook and the clever, witty humor that drew me to the game in the first place. The game is good fun. I could see someone who love cooperative games really enjoying the 2-player version of this game. As a solo game it is well-designed and enjoyable every time it hits the table. It remains a game that isn’t in my wheelhouse, per say, but one I’m glad I played and will continue to pull out on occasion because it succeeds at being a fun and fast solo game, and sometimes that is exactly what you need for a gaming session.

I look forward to seeing what else the husband & wife duo at Wren Games puts out in the future!

Check out the launch of their game, Assembly, on Kickstarter the 24th of May. This link will take you right to it: www.ks.wrengames.co.uk 

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Assembly. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming · Solo Month · Uncategorized

Review for One – Scythe

Thank you for checking review #52 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.

An Overview of Scythe

Scythe is a game designed by Jamey Stegmaier and was published by Stonemaier Games. The box states that it can play 1-5 players and has a 90-115 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 3.36.

It is a time of unrest in 1920s Europa. The ashes from the first great war still darken the snow. The capitalistic city-state known simply as “The Factory”, which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries.

Scythe is an engine-building game set in an alternate-history 1920s period. It is a time of farming and war, broken hearts and rusted gears, innovation and valor. In Scythe, each player represents a character from one of five factions of Eastern Europe who are attempting to earn their fortune and claim their faction’s stake in the land around the mysterious Factory. Players conquer territory, enlist new recruits, reap resources, gain villagers, build structures, and activate monstrous mechs.

Each player begins the game with different resources (power, coins, combat acumen, and popularity), a different starting location, and a hidden goal. Starting positions are specially calibrated to contribute to each faction’s uniqueness and the asymmetrical nature of the game (each faction always starts in the same place).

Scythe gives players almost complete control over their fate. Other than each player’s individual hidden objective card, the only elements of luck or variability are “encounter” cards that players will draw as they interact with the citizens of newly explored lands. Each encounter card provides the player with several options, allowing them to mitigate the luck of the draw through their selection. Combat is also driven by choices, not luck or randomness.

Scythe uses a streamlined action-selection mechanism (no rounds or phases) to keep gameplay moving at a brisk pace and reduce downtime between turns. While there is plenty of direct conflict for players who seek it, there is no player elimination.

Every part of Scythe has an aspect of engine-building to it. Players can upgrade actions to become more efficient, build structures that improve their position on the map, enlist new recruits to enhance character abilities, activate mechs to deter opponents from invading, and expand their borders to reap greater types and quantities of resources. These engine-building aspects create a sense of momentum and progress throughout the game. The order in which players improve their engine adds to the unique feel of each game, even when playing one faction multiple times.

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

Because this is a super-popular game, I won’t go into a ton of details here about anything except the Automa system for the game. Others have likely done a far better job at providing rules explanations and/or overviews of this game.

The Automa player uses the character, mechs, and workers of the chosen faction (as well as the military and population trackers and star tokens). There is a deck of cards that get shuffled and used that are double-sided, with the first side being used until the Automa places its first star. Then the deck reshuffles and flips, granting the Automa (generally)  stronger and more aggressive actions.

Possible actions from the Automa include moving a worker, moving a mech (either non-aggressive or aggressive), moving the character (usually to try and get to the factory). The movement style initially sounds intimidating, but really it is a smooth system with only a few parameters. They units/workers essentially “teleport” to a spot adjacent to at least one of their other units. For workers, it is usually the space closest to the most allied units. For mechs and the character, it is to either be adjacent to your units or closer to the factory. They also will often gain resources of some sort, whether in the form of more units or in coins. And they will almost always advance the cube one space on their difficulty card.

That difficulty card will tell you once the Automa has riverwalk and can cross outside of their territory. And it will identify the turns in which the Automa will earn a star. The Automa’s popularity is static, remaining at 10 for the entire game, but its power level can increase and is used during combat just like a player. In addition to the auto-triggered stars, the Automa can earn stars for winning combat and for maxing out their power.

Like the multiplayer game, the game will end when one player places their 6th star.

My Thoughts

 The more Automa systems I play, the more I like them as a solo gamer. This one intimidated me. It had a rulebook just for the Automa, after all. And not a small one. I had heard it was a challenge to operate. Well, it turned out that the Automa wasn’t bad to navigate after all. Much of that rulebook was giving demonstrations of movement, which is the key to the Automa. It wasn’t that thick, either, when I started getting into there. And wow, this Automa packs a punch in terms of challenge. After being confident from a Game 1 victory over Autometta, I went on quite a losing streak on the Automa difficulty. It is easy to navigate (usually) and provides a challenge. What more could a solo gamer ask for?

 Have you played Scythe with 2-players and wished for a little more combat/interaction? The Automa will deliver that in spades. Some would argue this is better solo than as a 2-player game and, depending on play styles and your expectations of the game, you might be right. This Automa will never turtle. It also is rarely predictable, since you don’t know which of X movement options will be drawn. You have an idea of what they might do. You can plan accordingly. But you’ll still always need to adapt and react at points when it does exactly what you didn’t want it to.

 As alluded to already, this game really feels like you’re playing against an active set of decisions rather than an arbitrary card draw. The deck of actions, and the operation of the Automa, hit upon the key decision points in the game. It isn’t about building stuff, or moving cubes on a player board. They key interactions happen on that map, using power to drive your opponents back or to keep control over the factory location. The Automa will never get into the 3rd tier of multiplier, the one good thing about it because it will dominate that map if you don’t do something about it. It is not uncommon for an unchecked Automa to control 11-15 territories. That’s a lot of points, plus it gains a coin or two in a good number of rounds. You need to be aggressive in order to stand a chance against the higher difficulties.

 Player aids. I cannot emphasize enough how important these are from taking a good game and making it a great experience. Not just the first play, but for every play. It helps keep things fresh in your mind as to what you can do, or what is necessary to execute. The player aids here come in the form of cards for the Automa, describing how to do each of the possible actions. Without these cards, there would inevitably be a lot of flipping through the Automa rulebook. Which would make this experience be far worse and less likely to hit the table. The Automa is very fun to play against. Those cards, though, are what makes this a perfect package for the solo gamer.

 The nice thing about playing solo is you can hand-pick both factions. Want a tight board? Make sure you and the Automa start as neighbors and they will be in your face early. Want a little time to get that engine started? Make sure you’re on opposite ends of the board. This is a best-case scenario as their faction powers don’t really impact the game (apart from a few cards that give added bonus to a specific faction).

 Multiple difficulties allow you to scale the game for your skill level. Even better is the ability to have several Automa factions in play. I don’t know that anyone would ever want to, but in theory you could have a way to play solo against all of the other factions. Because it isn’t a “beat your high score” system, that adds so much replay value to a great game. When you get to a point where you’re consistently winning, you can move on to the next challenge.

 The biggest deterrent to the game being played, as a solo gamer, comes in the setup. It isn’t the game’s fault. At a higher player count, the setup is exactly what you want for what you get out of the game. As a solo game, it is a little longer than I’d like. But there really isn’t any changing that. Streamlining organization, such as with a Meeple Realty insert, would help. But right now it is all in baggies, which is a clean organization system but it takes time to set up. Too often I’ve shoved Scythe off the list of games to play for an evening because I have X other games that I could be mid-game in by the time I’d be ready to start a round of Scythe.

 Scythe is a game that can feel notoriously long. Not so much in a solo game, unless you’re having to constantly look up how to make the Automa work. There is a cap on the number of turns you’ll get (seen on the Automa’s particular difficulty card) so you can get an idea exactly how many moves you’ll make. The problem with solo Scythe, and this ties into the above, is that it ends too fast. For the time it takes to setup and play the game, I want it to last a little longer in order to make that prep time feel worthwhile. This regularly clocks in under an hour, which is a perfect length for a solo game on a planned solo night.

 This is me complaining, but I wish that the factions did play differently for the Automa. That they had a card (at least one) that took advantage of a unique power or ability to set them apart like they are in a multiplayer game. Something to provide an X factor that needs to be planned for in case the deck happens to hate you and have it appear when you least want that to appear. I know, it would complicate an already seamless system. But for the base game factions at least (I think the Invaders from Afar factions do have some unique flare) they are just too samey when played by the Automa.

Final Thoughts

This is a game that provides a very satisfying solo experience whenever it hits the table. I have never walked away from a solo play of this feeling like I wasted my time that was spent. However, it runs into the same issue as Mage Knight: the setup and teardown prevent it from hitting the table as often. This game is nowhere near as burdensome as Mage Knight for that, but it is enough that I often think twice before grabbing the game. I prefer a game I can get into in about 5 minutes, but if I plan my session out ahead of time I can do some of that prep work earlier in the day (especially now that I have a game room!)

The best thing I can say about the solo game is that it truly feels competitive in the same way that a multiplayer game would. Yes, the Automa “cheats” with its movement method. Yes, it gets stars at predetermined times and its popularity track never moves. But it spreads throughout the board and places those stars quickly toward the end. It gets aggressive, and can use that to make a late-game push for victory. I’ve played the Automa over half-a-dozen times and I think I’ve won 2 games so far. Sadly, one of those was my first play (and I won by 1). It hands it to me in a way that I haven’t experienced as much in multiplayer games. And there are some who play against more than 1 Automa. I think they’re crazy, personally, but that is my thoughts on that option.

What seemed like a daunting Automa to pilot turned out to be really simple after a few turns. The reference cards for that Automa are really nice, and help with being able to keep things moving forward. I don’t have to memorize the movement style of each one and the different priorities. I just have to grab the corresponding reference card after flipping the Automa’s movement card. That is nice. This is definitely the most complex of the Automa systems I’ve played, but it really does a nice job of imitating player movement possibilities and does so without being overly taxing on the solo gamer.

And Scythe is one of those solo games that has provided me with those memorable situations. My most recent loss had them at 5 stars and I was at 3. It had a few more spots to get that next star, and I was going to nab one with every turn until I hit 6. It was perfect…as long as it drew anything but the Aggressive Mech card with its next action. I grabbed my star, leaving myself vulnerable for a single turn. It came at me with the mech. I played my one Combat Card, a 4, with the hope that it wouldn’t spend any of its cards or combat. I lucked out…it didn’t play cards. It just spent 5 power, enough to secure its 6th star and end my hope for a victory.

Those are the moments that stick with us as gamers. Reaching those “as long as X happens, I think I can win” moments. And then seeing how those play out from there.

This is a game that is hard to express just how satisfying the solo experience can be. Yet for the retail value of $80 MSRP, it would be difficult to recommend to someone who exclusively wanted it for solo gaming. Is it worth it? Yes, with the caveat that you play it enough times to feel it was worth that price. There are a ton of small-box solo games that could be purchased for the same amount, after all. I think it is worth it. I’d buy it again, even if I knew I would only get to play it solo.

If you’re likely to play with others, too, then it moves into a highly recommended game. The solo experience will make it a worthwhile addition on the shelf, and it is a game that I’ve enjoyed at all player counts (even 2). It provides a nice engine-building experience, and is very, very polished as a system and will be a staple in my collection for a long time.

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Scythe. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming · Solo Month · Uncategorized

Review for One – Vast: The Crystal Caverns

Thank you for checking review #53 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 was provided in exchange for an honest review. I thought to review this one from the solo aspect when I had a hard time finding anything on BGG relating to the solo experience. There are plenty of reviews praising this game at 4-5 players to where I don’t need to retread that ground. It is great at that player count and super-unique.

An Overview of Vast: The Crystal Caverns

Vast: The Crystal Caverns is a game designed by Patrick Leder and David Somerville and was published by Leder Games. The box states that it can play 1-5 players and has a 75 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 3.42.

The dragon has been asleep for many long years. In that time, the cave under which it slumbered has changed greatly…Goblins and strange monsters have filled its gloomy depths and there are whispers that the cave itself has begun thinking, shifting, and growing evermore dangerous.

Still, stories of peril rarely overshadow the rumors of riches. And riches there may be… For where a dragon slumbers, there also lies a fiercely guarded treasure. Fortunately for the slumbering beast, malevolent crystals fill the cave’s rooms with spectral light, hiding the entrance to the immeasurable treasure trove. Many have given their lives to the search and over the years the rumors have faded to legend.

But the most courageous adventurers will not be discouraged by bloodshed. On this day, a knight steps into the darkness, her gloved hand gripping the hilt of her sword. Her years of quests–all of the victories and defeats–have led to this one final adventure. Knowing the kingdom can never truly be at peace with the dragon beneath the cave, she has come to make a final stand. Little does she know that she will awake everything that slumbers in the shadows… and begin the final battle in the darkness.

Enter the world of Vast: The Crystal Caverns!

Vast takes you and your friends into the torch light of a classic cave-crawling adventure, built on the concept of total asymmetry. Gone are days of the merry band of travelers fighting off evil. In Vast, you will become part of a new legend… Any part you wish!

Play as the classic, daring Knight, the chaotic Goblin horde, the colossal, greedy Dragon, or even the Cave itself — powerful, brooding, and intent on crushing the living things that dare to disturb its gloomy depths. Each role has its own powers, pieces, and paths to victory…and there can be only one winner.

As the ultimate asymmetric board game, Vast: The Crystal Caverns provides a limitless adventure, playable again and again as you and your friends explore the four different roles in different combinations. Play one-on-one in a race to the death between the Knight and the Goblins, or add in the Dragon and the Cave for deeper and more epic experiences, different every time.

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

 

Honestly, this one varies for each role and that will take far too much time to cover in this review format. Rather, here are the objectives for each role.

Knight – Find and smash crystals.

Goblins – Find and smash crystals.

Cave – Not playable in a solo game.

Dragon – Wake up and escape.

Thief – Find treasure and escape.

My Thoughts

 Each role in the game retains its unique flavor when playing as them in the solo mode. Even when objectives are the same from game-to-game, how you can get those accomplished will change drastically based on which role you’re playing as. This is that very asymmetry that provides the appeal for this game in the first place, and it was nice to find that it retains that when going into solo mode.

 If you have things organized by role in the box, setup on this can go fairly quickly. That is always an important factor for solo gaming, which helps make a game like this hit the table far more often than a game like Mage Knight (playtime differences aside – if I could set up the latter in 5 minutes it might actually get played more!). The longest part of setup is reading what the role you’re playing as can do, which should only take a lot of time the first time you use them. After that, a quick refresher by skimming the player board should get you going.

 The solo mode is an ideal place to familiarize yourself with how the role operates. You have a timer set by the cave tiles, but beyond that there is little interfering with your plans so you can test out how they function in a low-stress environment. You won’t be able to get the full grasp of their powers, as there will be cards/powers that don’t really function without another player. But half of the battle is learning how to operate the role (especially the goblins), and this is a great way to do that.

 The difficulty on this scales pretty well, as there are several difficulty cards for each role. This allows you to grow your skill level and provide a greater challenge – do more things which means you need to be faster. It isn’t necessarily the ideal way to scale a solo game, but it functions fine and it is great that you can work yourself up to a greater challenge.

 This ties into the expansion box of miniatures, but those are really awesome. They make the board presence more impressive, and are far more fun to move around than a cardboard standee or a wooden meeple version of the character. I’d hesitate to say it is a must-have addition to the game, but it really adds to the enjoyment of the game and makes for far better photography. Especially that awake dragon!

 It boils down to luck an awful lot in solo mode. You need to explore the right tile in order to find your objective, but you are limited in how many tiles you can flip before the cave begins to collapse. If you need to find, for instance, 6/9 crystal tiles then you might need a whole lot of luck. And what if three of them are on the very bottom of the tile stack? When one person does all the exploring, it can be rough. Add in the further randomized element of rolling that dragon die to reveal tiles (with some roles) and you have an even more challenging time. I lost with the goblins because I couldn’t reveal that last unflipped tile remaining as things were collapsing around the goblins. If it flipped, I won. That die roll didn’t flip it, and so I lost. Some people like that “stand up die roll” moment. Not me. Not in a solo game. If I lose, I want to feel like I could have improved and played differently. That roll just makes it feel like chance determined the game (even though there could have been moments, prior to that, where I could have improved. That isn’t the part that sticks in the crushing moments of defeat)

 While you can get a feel for each role, they are lacking in some of what makes them fun. Many of the Goblin cards were referring to other factions, none of which were in play (as an example) so they were dead cards being drawn to my hand. It lets me see what is in the deck, so there is some merit, but I couldn’t really utilize them.

 The solo system feels like there is so much potential to do more. I wrote my final thoughts first, so I came across this idea there originally, but this game feels like it needs an Automa for solo play. Imagine being able to always have five factions playing the game, regardless of player count! Suddenly those dead cards are usable. Suddenly the map might organically grow and/or be revealed to where you aren’t 100% dependent upon luck. Those crystal tiles, when revealed, might be destroyed if you aren’t quick enough to get to them. Those base game dynamics, clearly in play with 5, are able to be enjoyed regardless of player count. If there is a game that needs a good, functional Automa deck to make it shine, this would be the one.

 The rules for tile placement are clear in quantity, but there is no general rule for where to place them. This is something a player could easily manipulate to their advantage, building on continuously near their current location, making it easier to find and smash those crystals. I personally tried to spread out into a rectangular shape, giving balance to the construction of the cave. I like the growth of number of tiles coming out, but I wish it provided at least some direction as to where the tiles should be placed.

Final Thoughts

This is a difficult game to review from a solo experience. Realistically, this is a game meant to be played with 5 players and anything below that is a sub-optimal situation. And it really shows. You lose that tug-of-war appeal where every role is vying for a victory condition that depends, in some part, on at least one of the other roles on the board. When looking at this for a solo game, it doesn’t lose balance but it definitely loses some of the interesting flare that makes this so unique.

However, that isn’t to say that the solo play on Vast: The Crystal Caverns is bad. Or that it lacks excitement. It becomes a puzzle that is part luck, part optimization, part leveling-up your comfort level with a particular role. Your objective, for most of them, is to simply find and smash X crystals in order to win the game. There is nothing wrong with that, as it can be a primary focus in a game with more players. And even with the shared objectives, how each role accomplishes that is unique enough to keep plays interesting across all roles.

I do wish there was a way for the Cave to be playable, but I have no ideas on how that could be implemented. It is that role which draws players in for a larger game, but without a solo mode there is little chance to refine your skill with that role. Honestly, this game is probably the perfect sort of game for an Automa system that has a deck of cards, and each card shows what the 5 roles do (you would just skip any not in the game). Not only would this make solo play a little more interesting and challenging, it would also allow someone to get a 5-player simulated experience even with 2-3 players at the table. Designing said solo system, especially to incorporate the expansion roles, might prove too large of a task for anyone. But it is the solo experience this game needs to propel it from good to great.

As it stands, I enjoy Vast. It is the game I’ll give serious consideration to pulling out if I have 4-5 players interested in a game. The asymmetry of the game is brilliant and makes it fun, even if it isn’t the best game on my shelf. It will almost always provide a good time to the players. It is unfortunate that the solo game is just good. I like that I can get familiar with how the Goblins operate, which will allow me to play them better in a group setting. I like how it can scale in difficulty to present greater challenges. But the game is far too luck dependent as a solo game to really excel as a game that can hit the table often for the solo gamer.

If you want a game that you can play and enjoy solo but is exponentially better for every player you add, then this is definitely one to consider for your collection. But if you almost always play it with 1-2 players, I’d have a hard time recommending this one because there are far better options at those player counts.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Vast: The Crystal Caverns. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas