Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One – Zephyr: Winds of Change

Thank you for checking review #105 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 Zephyr: Winds of Change

Zephyr: Winds of Change is a board game designed by Aaron Kluck and Jon Mietling that is published by Portal Dragon. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 20-270 minutes.

Soar above the clouds in an array of airships. Defend innocent outposts from enemy vessels. Skirmish against droves of vicious attackers. Scavenge resources, complete assignments, and earn rewards, to upgrade your craft. Hire crew and join with your allies to achieve victory against overwhelming odds.

Zephyr: Winds of Change is a cooperative modular tabletop adventure for one to four players. Each player takes on the role of an airship captain. As a recent recruit to the band of vigilantes called Zephyr, each player must outfit their own vessel and work together defend the last remaining shred of civilization from malevolent marauders and unrelenting warlords.

Throughout the game, players upgrade their ship and hire crew members. Each of these brings unique abilities and can help you customize your ship and fill a unique role on your team. Each game you select a mission which shapes its overall structure, length, and difficulty. Join us, a vessel in Zephyr awaits its captain.

Game Details:

This is a 1 to 4 player cooperative modular adventure with rogue-like elements set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk environment. Players pick their ship and can spend their starting resource to add tokens to their ship and cards to their deck. They can also hire crew which are a modular component that comes by combining two cards, which each give unique abilities, and adding them to your ship. Players choose a mission which each has a different lengths and difficulty which maps out starting supplies, the win event and the structure between. Players travel on their selected mission through a series of regions. Each of these has a unique global effect for the area. Each turn, or day as we call it, each player draws an exploration card which causes them to make decisions, deal with random events or fight in battles. Battles are a large portion of the game since you will deal with them on the way to and during a warlord battle or most end events. During battles, players draw a hand and decide what cards to play based on what their ship and crew enable them to play. They roll for the actions of their enemy and resolve the damage. This process repeats until one side or the other has been destroyed. When you win a battle you take the due rewards which can be used to trade for additional ship upgrades or crew members. These augmentations help to prepare your ship for the end conflict and ultimately win the game.

My Thoughts

 There is a ton of variety contained in this box. You’d think that the ships would be just different in appearance, but every one of them is drastically different in approach, its strengths/weaknesses, etc. There are tons of cards for your travel decks, a large number of assignments you can complete, and a decent number of scenarios to challenge. Mechanically the game plays the same, but your approach can vary wildly from game to game.

 The different ships are just fantastic. I love the dual-layer boards where the tokens slot into the ship. I like the place for ally cards at the bottom of the ship. And I really like that the are DIFFERENT from each other in more than appearance. Their deck of cards is unique, they have a different ability, and the way in which they can draw more cards is different from ship to ship. Every one presents a new puzzle toward how to effectively approach your scenario, and I love it.

 It’s no secret that I love the transparent cards, being a huge fan of Mystic Vale. I wish they sleeved together to form a card, but as it is this is a clever way to form crew members that have two different one-time-per-trip abilities you can trigger to overcome your obstacles. Not only that, but adding crew members lets you play more cards than the standard 1 card.

 Most games would tell you how to equip yourself at the beginning and let you refine from there. But not here. Most missions will give you a single upgrade, usually to your hull, and then a good handful of scrap you can use to purchase other upgrades or crew members before flying off on your first assignment. This allows you the freedom to experiment and to determine where you want your emphasis to be placed on your ship.

 The game looks downright good on the table. My wife expressed an interest in the game just from seeing it set up, and that is a strong endorsement right there. The quality of what comes in the box was surprisingly good, and full of a lot of stuff. The artwork on the ships is great, although there is pretty minimal artwork beyond that and the region cards and the crew members.

 Combat in the game is relatively simple, and I like that you aren’t leaving your portion up to random die rolls. You draw a certain number of cards from your deck each round and then choose cards to play. The number of cards, and type of cards, are dictated by the slots you have crew members assigned to – they let you play a card of the type associated with the space – plus one of any type for the captain (you). So while it might be tempting to stack your ship full of nothing but weaponry to blow the other ships up, drawing a hand of just attack cards is wasteful because you’re probably only going to be able to play 1-2 of them. This makes balancing your ship purchases, and by extension the deck construction, one of the most important – and interesting – aspects of the game.

 The learn-to-play guide technically does its job in walking you through a little of the game. But the examples it provides are with theoretical cards that you can’t pull out to look at and is a scenario that just ends. It would be far more effective to do the starting few turns of a real scenario, using real cards that a player pulls out, and then let the player finish the scenario from that point – much like a tutorial in most board game app implementations do on their tutorial plays.

 The challenge level seemed questionably low at best…until I finally tried my hand at a scenario with a Warlord. There is a spread of difficulties in the game, and I think that is a strong benefit there. Sometimes the card draws and dice rolls will go your way and you’ll coast to the end. Other times you’ll be threatened every step of the way. But man, those warlords feel impossible for a single ship to challenge. Let’s just say I was destroyed in the very first attack – something that proved to be a very anticlimactic attempt at clearing the final challenge of the scenario.

 The rules are a disaster. Yes, they teach you to play the game. But they are not laid out in a way that is good to reference during gameplay. Even worse are key concepts in there about really important ideas but are difficult to find, such as the fact that you should use a cube to track progress along the mission card (and that it should usually advance a space at the start of each new day), or the difference between the two hull upgrades (it took searching to learn that the shield replenishes each day – but I still don’t know how that works on enemy ships since a battle doesn’t span multiple days). You should shuffle your action deck when obtaining a new card upgrade, but it doesn’t clarify if you shuffle the discards in too or just shuffle it into what you haven’t drawn. When making purchases from the supplies, do you take a random card or choose which one you want to purchase? If you complete the key parts of your mission but have spaces left before the end event (such as a Warlord) do you play through all of those extra days, or do you go straight to confronting the Warlord? These are just some of the things that are either not covered, or barely mentioned in passing in one spot in the book and trying to find it can be a massive challenge. This one needs an overhaul to make it more user-friendly and a good reference guide for players mid-game.

Final Thoughts

Zephyr: Winds of Change is one of those games that genuinely surprise you about how much fun is crammed into that box. For one thing, this is a very full box with great components and lots of variety even from one ship to the next one. There are a good handful of missions, and the Assignment deck and the Navigation decks are pretty good in size. No two plays will be the same in this game, and I can see where even having more players could make this an interesting and exciting experience. But as a solitaire experience it stands up as being fast, fun, and just enough press-your-luck in the mix to keep you on your toes.

While I’ve really enjoyed this game, it isn’t without its flaws. The biggest sin comes from the rulebook, which is a disaster based upon the sin of omission. There are so many areas I tried to consult in the book but simply couldn’t find an answer – or, if I did, it was so difficult to find and was more of an “in passing” mention. The learn to play guide isn’t much use, either, because it doesn’t have the players actually do anything. There are no cards to match the examples, and so you can’t even recreate the experience if you wanted to. I would have greatly preferred it to walk you through 1-2 rounds of the easiest mission in the deck (which, for the record, isn’t printed with Easy on the difficulty) and have the players take over from that point to close out the mission.

However, if you can get past the rulebook and dive into the game, it provides a very exciting and replayable experience that is relatively unique compared with a lot of the games on the market. My wife complains about the fact that it is a cooperative game – it looks really cool and she knows she won’t try it because of the co-op factor – and it really does have a neat table presence. This game definitely exceeded my expectations and, while it won’t be my favorite solitaire game to pull out, it definitely has earned more plays going forward on my table.

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One-Player Only · Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One: D100 Dungeon

Thank you for checking review #102 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of D100 Dungeon

D100 Dungeon is a board game designed by Martin Knight that is self-published. The rules state it plays 1 players and has a playtime of 5-90 minutes.

Just a pencil, a few sheets of paper, 2 d10’s, a d6 and the manual are all you need to take a character on Dungeon Delving Adventure. Create a Characters and you are ready to start a new journey.

The game uses a series of tables and harks back to a cross over of a RPG and a choose your own adventure book. With quests and character development. You can pick this up and play as and when you have the free time.

Each quest is a trip to the dungeon, where you will have a specific goal. Whether you win or fail the quest your character is constantly developing and looting better equipment and more gold. AS you progress through the dungeon you map your progress and make notes so you can easily return back to a quest you have started next time you have some free time. This an ideal lunch break, train journey, flight filler that can help with any gamers withdraw.

Version 3 has updated rules and extra content, and you can find out how its changed here – http://martinknight39.wixsite.com/mk-games/d100dungeon and order here – https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/244214/D100-Dungeon

Version 1 and 2 are free to try out and can be downloaded from BGG here – https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/153784/d100-dungeon-game

—description from the designer

My Thoughts

 There is something deeply satisfying about taking a pencil to paper and mapping out the rooms as your adventure through a quest. I’m no great artist and never will be, but the rooms are easy enough to duplicate (closely enough). Fitting the information needed onto the map might be a challenge for those with large handwriting but I never found it to be a detraction to my experience. Being able to literally see the map grow as you explore reminds me of playing a game like the original Legend of Zelda where the screen shifts with each movement to a new area.

 Three dice are all you need beyond the book and a pencil. Well, mostly. Unless you plan to erase maps and character information constantly you will probably also want extra copies of those sheets as well. But the bottom line is there is so little that goes into playing the game to make it portable, fast to pull out, and easy to put away when you are done. This could easily be played on just about any hard surface, making even an airplane tray a possibility for playing D100 Dungeon.

 Within a few rounds of the game – definitely by the end of the first training quest – how a turn works, an encounter works, and what to reference when should all fall into place. There is a ton of information in the book, but most of it applies to providing an overview of the system, explaining special instances, etc. The vast majority of what you need is found on the helpful tables and references in the back of the book. I found myself having to dig for information a lot less the more I played the game, allowing me to settle into a comfortable groove that only would slow down if an exception popped up – or when an encounter lasted too long.

 There is a TON of variety in the book because there are 50 different quests of varying difficulty. Which means even if you wanted to play everything in the book once it would take quite some time to accomplish everything. Some of the quests are the standard kill monsters or loot X item, but there is still an interesting variety to be found inside the book. The game is obviously limited to what it can do by the content in the book and, yes, some of the quests might get a little same-y after a while. But for the pricepoint on this, you’ll get plenty of fun before it hits that point.

 Combat is relatively simple and straight-forward. One roll is made to see if you hit. If successful, a second roll is made to determine the hit location and damage. I love the use of location for the hit, as some areas reward with bonus damage and others suffer reduced damage. When the monster attacks they do the same pattern, and if they hit you then you can have equipment in the hit area absorb some of the damage – often at the cost of its durability. I really enjoy combat, even if it can draw out depending on dice rolls.

 I really like the system for the equipment, how you use them, and their durability. It makes so much more sense than an overall boost to your natural defense, because if I go in wearing a helmet then it shouldn’t help me if I’m being hit on my legs, etc. And while it can be a bummer to see the enemy roll time and again on a slot where you have no armor (and thus no decision on absorbing some damage), that just means you should try and pick that area of armor upin the market…if you’re lucky.

 Character creation and progression are some of the highlights of the game. You get to allocate stats and then, based on race and class, get boosts and penalties. There are ancillary skills that get boosts as well, which can help you succeed. Rolling a 10 or lower on a skill check lets you gain experience, working to boost that skill in the future. And as you get proficient, you’ll get to shade the star which essentially doubles your gains in that area going forward. All of this is outstanding and fun to do.

 There are a lot of tables to reference in the game, and you’ll constantly be flipping to one of them as you go through the game. Moving to a new room requires a roll for the next room, which you refer to a table to draw the correct room. Depending on the type rolled, you may then either need to roll for an encounter or for a geographical event. Once in the room, you can search it to see if you find anything of interest. If you are successful at that, you may be rolling on yet another table, such as to find which weapon was present. It is all an elaborate yet simple process, but it does require a lot of flipping pages in the book.

 Depending on the quest you are on, there may be a +/- to encounter rolls. Which is great in that it helps you to get level-appropriate encounters most of the time. However, when you need to Loot 3 Weapons, for instance, and those HAVE to come from killing monsters, then rolling at a -30 to your encounter kinda sucks. Why? Because the lowest encounters, which you will get the most often with that -30 penalty, do not have any chance at giving a weapon when you kill them. All this does is greatly increase the odds of rolling into an encounter that does nothing to assist your progress on the quest.

 You get a single character sheet in the book, along with one encounters sheet and a double-sided map to draw on. Obviously the intent would be to make copies of your own from this, but it would have been nice to have a few dozen blank ones to pull out of the book for those getting started. The good news is that even if you don’t have a copier, you can print these out on BGG. Which you will need to do if you want to play this game more than once session (or erase things a LOT).

 Let’s be honest: luck is a pretty big factor in the game. Everything is done with die rolls, and you as the player are trying to make the best decisions you can based upon the situation. Boosting stats can certainly help a lot toward getting more successes, but it isn’t a foolproof method. I’ve suffered tons of damage from low-level enemies that kept rolling 5-6 on their damage while I couldn’t get above a 2. Those things can and will happen. And they’ll suck. I still enjoy the experience, but there is a chance that a session will go south just from sheer random chance. They do sell some decks to replace dice rolls, emulating more of a board game feel, and that might make things feel a little better. But know that things can and will be swingy at times.

Final Thoughts

My first impression, upon receiving the D100 books and flipping through them, was that I was in for an experience that was going to be challenging to keep track of as I went. It looked like a ton of things to remember as you go in there, not to mention tables upon tables to reference. It honestly intimidated me for far too long, being something I’d look at and say “some day I’ll try that one”. Then my printer was out of ink, and so I used that as a reason to not try it because I couldn’t print out pages to use for the character sheet and map, etc. Finally I just sucked it up and tried it during an evening where I had plenty of time to give it my full attention, and instantly regretted my hesitation.

Yes, there is a lot of information in the book, but most of it is used in small chunks and it is laid out well enough to be able to reference what you need. And the game is relatively simple in its progression of turns. In spite of the constant flipping through the book to reference various charts (something you could just print out to have loose if desired), it was really fun and had me hooked. Enough so that I stayed up far too late the first night playing it, and then had to do the next training mission on the following morning. It is easy to pull out and start playing, and functions well even if you play in 10-15 minute blocks of time. Because it has almost no table presence, it is the perfect “grab and play” style of game for when you don’t have the time (or motivation) to go through setting up and tearing down a game.

The starter quests are fun enough, and I understand the importance of taking a character through them when you first begin because they do help you learn the ropes of the game with a slow ramp in difficulty. However, the requirement to loot a specific treasure type off enemies means you not only need to find said enemies, but that they also need to be ones that drop the loot type you need. And if you are taking -30 off your roll for encounters, and everything dropping a Weapon is 30+ on the Encounter table, that means you need to roll 60+ in order to avoid an energy-sapping battle against a weakling enemy that will likely only give you something worth a handful of Gold. Sure, it progresses you along the experience track – and I’d rather kill a horde of weaklings to boost my character than to face down the tougher battles – but ultimately having 5-6 encounters in a row that are not helping you finish the quest can suck.

Ultimately, if it was mandatory to do those five quests every time you needed to roll up a new character – whether from death, retirement, or to try something new, this would be a game that would get played frequently when I had a character beyond those quests but might sit for months if I needed to churn through the intro-level quests again. However, there is a viable solution in the Player’s Handbook that you can purchase (which I will review separately at some point, when I’ve had time to explore that portion in more depth) because it has a method of creating a character who has already completed those quests. Now that I’ve been through those first five, I don’t intend to run that gauntlet unless the quest is rolled for selection. With 50 different quests out there (45 of the non-introductory type) in the base book, this game has some pretty nice replay value. The maps will generate differently each time, and even when you repeat a room you may discover something completely different in there. The game has a solid system that is easy to use and, in spite of navigating dozens of tables, it never feels overwhelming because you usually flip to 1-2 at any given time during the play. Even the encounters are done well enough, with the I-go, you-go approach to combat and the chance the monster could flee. Sometimes it is fun pushing around cardboard, but taking a pencil to the paper provides something completely different for an experience, and I never knew how much I enjoyed drawing out a map until I started exploring the D100 Dungeon…a place where I’ll be returning many times in the future because this is going to be a staple in my collection for a long time.

Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One: Gloom of Kilforth

Thank you for checking review #101 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Gloom of Kilforth

Gloom of Kilforth is a board game designed by Tristan hall that is published by Hall or Nothing Productions. The rules state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 60-180 minutes.

The land of Kilforth is a perilous domain filled with nefarious monsters, mysterious Strangers and treacherous Locations, and dominated at its centre by The Sprawl, a huge city where intrepid Heroes begin their journey to fame and fortune. Throughout the land various factions vie for power over each other, such as the supposedly noble Order of the Rose or the terrifying Doom Guard. And presiding over the world outside Kilforth is the ever-present Overlord, Masklaw. Over the coming month, a deadly Gloom will descend upon Kilforth,which the Heroes must Battle through to prove their worth, defeat an Ancient evil, and save the land from darkness.
Gloom of Kilforth is a card game of high fantasy with a Gothic edge, playable in 1-3 hours, where 1-4 players, working individually or together, must take their humble adventurers on a journey through a dark world of magic and peril. They will visit strange places, stranger people and overcome powerful enemies in their mission to discover mysterious artefacts and mystical Spells. Players follow their Hero’s tale from modest beginnings through an epic story to an exciting climactic battle for the fate of the world. Gloom of Kilforth takes about 45 minutes per player to play.

My Thoughts

 A world map made out of cards is a pretty interesting idea. This not only allows you to have a different layout of locations every time you play, but it also enables something like their Gloom mechanic in this game. We’ll talk about that shortly, but I do appreciate – mostly – the board being like this. My only nitpick comes from the randomness which has, sadly, seen the “travel between” locations end up at most 2 spaces apart from each other. I’m yet to luck into being able to zoom across the board, although there are other ways which can help with movement in the game.

 The night phase is an interesting idea, because it adds some additional effect – an event, an enemy/place/stranger to add onto a location, or even weather conditions that are in effect for a certain amount of time (often until the next weather effect) – and sometimes those are things you need to react to or alter your plans around. In addition, there are Plot cards that trigger when a certain type of land falls into Gloom. And finally, those card locations flip over to “Fall into Gloom”, meaning you lose 1 HP if you end your turn on that location. This part of the game provides a good kind of randomness, in the form of something you need to deal with on future turns rather than something to wreck your chance of winning.

 I like that your successes on a test remain and you can use several actions to clear an obstacle/place/stranger as you move around. Yes, more actions mean it takes more time to pass through, but this helps offset the randomness of the die rolls. Somewhat. The catch is that if Night comes before you clear it, all those successes get wiped. Sometimes it is worth trying if you have 1-2 actions left for the day. Othertimes those become wasted actions if you fail.

 There is ample variety in the box without any need for expansions or adders for the game. With the choice of a class and race combination (and plenty of each to choose from) and eight Story cards to progress through, this has the content to keep me coming back and playing through it time and again without repeating the same adventure.

 The artwork, as expected, is incredible. The soundtrack, while entirely too short, is delightful to play while grinding through some encounters in Gloom of Kilforth. I talked about the sensory experience in 1066, Tears to Many Mothers and the same is true here. These are added bonuses to a game that don’t necessarily make a game worse if they are lacking, but they can enhance the experience to a new level when they are properly present.

 I enjoy the rewards from clearing a card, although I do wish there was some sort of XP gain for that. First comes the choice between gold or a token from the bag. I’ve had games where those tokens all seem to contain either 1 Gold or Nothing as a reward. I’lve had games where they’ve boosted the number of dice rolled when attacking, reduced damage taken in combat, regained HP, and more. But the best tokens are those which let you move to any location of a type on the map. But since you need 5 Gold to progress along the Story with each step, many times you’re taking that Gold. Then you have a choice of taking that card into your hand, which gives you keywords to discard later or to take a card from the reward deck specified. Maybe that Ally you take will have a keyword you need, too, or will boost a key stat. Sometimes either way you choose is wrong (or right). But I do like having choices.

 Those rewards you gain have specific locations you need to be at in order to put them in play. And when it seems like every reward is on the other side of the map – that really slows your progression of power to a crawl (more on this later). If movement across the board was a little faster this wouldn’t hurt so much. And sometimes there are still good things to do along the way. But it can really hinder you to cross a lot of terrain (and potentially run into a few entanglements along the way).

 Progressing in the Story requires collecting keywords. Sometimes the keywords are easy, such as Forest. Other times you might be spending 4-5 rounds just trying to find an encounter card that contains the desired Keyword. In a game with a 25-round timer where the map feels so much smaller with each passing round – thanks to the spreading of Gloom – so many of my plays thus far have seen enough stalling out on trying to progress to where I’m scrambling to make enough progress to reach the end.

 Maybe I’ve been using poor combinations, but only one play has led to me feeling enough progression of abilities to feel like I scale with the growing threat. There is a lot of ramping up from the game, but the only way you get to improve is by progressing along the Story. In an unlucky streak, you may complete 4-6 different encounters (whether quests, strangers, or enemies) before getting the desired keywords to power up. And it simply lets you gain one more max HP and a new ability. I’ve hit the highest tier only once, and it definitely was a game changer. Yet I wonder, looking back, if that was simply a really lucky play (I didn’t draw into a single enemy from any location deck, which undoubtedly is an unusual thing. Had I drawn enemies, my 2-dice attack rolls would likely have led to that being a quick losing game rather than allowing me to get leveled enough to use my Sneak for Attack on the final boss…)

 The game is brutal and punishing and feels downright impossible when combined with the other two points above. I’m all for a challenge. I’m all for trying to learn to overcome the odds and do better the next time. But when so much hinges upon randomness to where you can play perfectly and still lose horribly – that ruins the fun. Case in point, my very last play had a really lucky sequence (drawing no enemies, and the one time I needed an enemy there was one from the Night deck adjacent to me who happened to be a Demonic Enemy and I had a card to let me auto-win that encounter.) and a really bad luck sequence (facing the Archfiend at the end, his 12 health to my 8 health…but I was rolling 8 dice per attack versus his 5 per attack. I dealt 6 damage before he finished me off…) and while those might seem to balance out over the course of a game, losing to a string of poor luck is definitely worse than winning because of unusual luck.

Final Thoughts

Gloom of Kilforth is a game this ticks many boxes in the fantasy adventure genre that I generally enjoy. It has some character growth and progression. It has a sense of exploration as you move around the map. It has a limitation of the number of actions you can complete in a round. Multiple ways to approach problems. Relatively high difficulty level in a solitaire experience. All topped off by some of the most incredible artwork on the market.

So what is it about Gloom of Kilforth that hasn’t won me over to its side? I’ve given a lot of thought about this question because it has been nagging me. There is a lot about it that I should like and enjoy. And I think I’ve narrowed it down to three things that have worked together to prevent me from loving this game:

Progressing in the Story requires collecting keywords.
There are inadequate rewards for completing encounters – they don’t make you stronger unless you’re collecting the right keywords.
The game is brutal and punishing and feels downright impossible when combined with the other two points above.

This game wants to be played more, and with more plays I might discover some emergent strategies and tactics that can work to overcome those more often than not. So far I haven’t found them and, short of looking through each deck to see the distribution of keywords (so I can know where to “focus” if looking for a specific keyword), I don’t see much hope of reducing that random element. However, I can hopefully find ways to improve my play style and become effective enough to overcome that random element and the digging process when things go slowly. Learning what reward types to take, and when to choose gold or a draw from the bag, and those finer points will all help me to get better at playing. And my hope remains that, with time and more plays, some of these sticking points will fade away and allow me to love this game like it deserves. Because I can see the great fun to be had in this game – I just haven’t arrived at the point where its strengths outweigh these initial problem areas.

Expansion Review · Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

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

Thank you for checking review #100 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the solo variant expansion was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One: Tussie Mussie

Thank you for checking review #99 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 prototype of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Tussie Mussie

Tussie Mussie is a card game designed by Elizabeth Hargrave that is published by Button Shy Games. The rules state it plays 1-4 players.

Co-Winner of the GenCan’t Design Contest

Tussie-Mussie is based on Victorian fad that assigned meanings to the flowers that friends and lovers exchanged.

Featuring an I-Divide-You-Choose drafting, this Microgame of 18 cards is played over 3 Rounds and each Round has each player score the effects and hearts of their 4 cards.

Players look at the top two cards, submitting one face-up and another facedown. The next player takes one, with the player receiving the other.

—description from the designer

My Thoughts

 The I cut, you choose mechanic is definitely among my favorite mechanics in a board game. It presents really interesting and challenging decisions for both players, and this one has the nice twist of one card being presented face-down so the choosing player has imperfect information to make their decision. This allows for all kinds of mind games to be played with your opponent, providing an experience that Vizzini from The Princess Bride would be proud of in a multiplayer experience.

 But since we’re talking the solo version of the game (primarily), you should be happy to hear that the same tough decisions are present in the solitaire mode of the game. It is changed from the main game, of course, but in mostly good ways. One of the things that I like is that there is a deck of cards and the card you flip determines how the cards are presented to you, the player, each turn. Many of them have it one face-up and one face-down, but sometimes they are both going to be face-up. Regardless, there are some excellent decision points here because (usually) you get to choose not only which card you take for yourself, but you also usually get to choose whether it goes into your Bouquet or your Keepsakes – regardless of how the card was presented.

 The decision of Bouquet or Keepsakes is part of what makes this solo mode shine for me. It usually has some caveat along the lines of you either place the card face-up in your Bouquet and the opponent’s card face-down into their Keepsakes, or vice versa. So that face-up card you select might be able to go into your area face-down instead and, as a result, flip that face-down card you didn’t choose and put it face-up in their area. Which, as long as that works with your strategy for cards, can give you better information.

 The solo opponent ramps in difficulty as the rounds progress. This may seem like a small detail, but it adds a lot to the game. After the first round, they randomly keep one of the four cards they gained and begin with it as a Bouquet card – which means they’ll have five cards to score at the end of Round 2. The process is repeated, this time giving them two cards to start their Bouquet for Round 3. You know how many points can be earned from six cards in a Round? Far too many to make any lead you have feel comfortable enough to secure a victory.

 As it should be, scoring is slightly changed for the solo opponent, too. These changes are easy to follow, which is why this is a good thing. It also makes it more challenging to make decisions. Cards which have an effect to manipulate a player’s final cards before scoring have no effect. This means they cannot alter the cards given to them to their advantage, but it also means that 2-heart Marigold card that makes you discard a card before scoring is simply a 2-point card for them with no downside. The other change is that any card with a “may” effect – which usually do not score many points on their own – will score the opponent 2 points. This prevents you from just dumping “useless” cards to them as 2 points per card as an average is not a bad score.

 It doesn’t change the game in any way, but the artwork is as outstanding as always from Beth Sobel. As an added bonus, the cards themselves have nice “flavor” on them with the meaning assigned to that flower being mentioned at the bottom of the card. This allows you to learn the language of flowers – the point of a Tussie Mussie – and as an added bonus you can have fun with declarations of the flower meanings when playing with others.

 Don’t play poorly like me. I fell into a trap – which is easy to do when you get a card early that lends itself toward a particular strategy. Turn 1 there was a +1 point for each card in your Bouquet bonus, and for the Round the cards had to remain as they were presented when taken, so I auto-selected every face-up card for the rest of the round. Needless to say, I was taking suboptimal cards because they were guaranteed to net a minimum of 1 point (in most cases, at least another point or two), only to find that the opponent had landed the +1 point for every Keepsakes card on the same turn. Guess which set of cards scored twice as many points? Yep, that was a pretty crushing lesson learned: no matter how it looks on the surface, falling into a specific pattern based on one card is not a guaranteed recipe for success…especially if it keeps information hidden for the round.

 For a game that is scored for 3 different Rounds, it would benefit from having some method of tracking the scores. My guess is that pen/paper will be required to be from the players, but an official scorepad would be an amazing addition to a great little pocket game.

Final Thoughts

Don’t let the name fool you, there is some serious gaming to be found inside this little wallet of a game. As someone who discovered Button Shy nearly a year ago at Gen Con, I’ve purchased and played a fair sample size of their games and can say this about nearly all of them: the games they produce may be small in size and components, but they are often enjoyable to play with some strong replay value. And the same is certainly true here for Tussie Mussie. While the 2-player experience is likely not the ideal player count, as I suspect it shines even more with 3-4, it still provides a fun and enjoyable game to pass the time with a spouse at a dinner table. Perhaps better yet, over a cup of tea.

What surprised me the most, though, was the solid experience that stems from the solitaire expansion of the game. I was expecting an experience on par of an Herbaceous there and ended up getting something both really fun and really challenging. Yes, challenging. I own up to my losing record in the solo expansion of the game, something I’m not sure will change with more plays going forward. And if you know me as a solo gamer, you know I enjoy solo games that are going to provide a losing record. Those are the ones I pull back out for repeated plays, because I know I can (and need to) play better in order to win.

I’m not sure what I expected going into Tussie Mussie. I had a feeling it was going to be an enjoyable game experience based upon Button Shy publishing the game. I knew the designer was good based upon the wild success of Wingspan. I was probably thinking the game would end up being Herbaceous in fewer cards – and the artwork is definitely on par with the beauty of Herbaceous (both games illustrated by the wonderful Beth Sobel). What I got instead was closer to a Hanamikoji with the beloved I cut, you choose mechanic with a Victorian theme that the Literature major in me delights in.

Tussie Mussie may never claim the throne of being my favorite Button Shy Games (That belongs to Liberation, followed by Circle the Wagons and Penny Rails for those looking to start their Button Shy Collection), but it definitely is one of my favorites so far. It is a game that will have a permanent place in the game bag I take with me to game days, and is one of the games that will always be slipped into my pocket when going out on a date with my wife.

One-Player Only · Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019 · Wargame Garrison

Review for One: Agricola, Master of Britain

Thank you for checking review #98 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Agricola, Master of Britain

Agricola, Master of Britain is a board game designed by Tom Russell that is published by Hollandspiele. The box states it plays 1 player in 90 minutes.

It is the year of Vespasian and Titus – the sixth such ordinary consulship that Titus shared with his Imperial father. The civil war of a decade ago is but a memory, and the Flavians have restored peace and order to all corners of the empire, save one. The people of Brittania remain fiercely resistant to the will of their Roman masters, and the emperor has charged YOU with the seemingly impossible task of bringing them to heel.

Agricola, Master of Britain is a solitaire game of governance and conquest. To master the delicate political situation, you will need the right blend of military force, administration, bribery, and diplomacy. Every action you take matters, changing how the native populace feels about you and your rule. But you’ll never know exactly who’s with you or against you, because the game tracks this “under the hood”, or, more precisely, “in the cup”.

Three chit-pull cups (Friendly, Unfriendly, and Hostile) represent the allegiances of the units contained within those cups. After each action you take, one or more of these units are blindly moved from one cup to another. You’ll have a general idea of “I’m really cheesing them off” or “I should have a lot of friendlies available for recruitment”, but until you pull a chit, you won’t know who your friends really are, or where the next rebellion will spring up. This isn’t totally random: certain tribes naturally skew more in one direction or the other, and taking actions to stabilize a region after it’s been pacified will diminish the chances of revolt there.

Building the right armies, and taking the right actions at the right time is key to your success. But the Flavians – and particularly the hated Domitian – expect greater and greater results with each campaign season. You’ll need to meet and exceed them if you want to duplicate Agricola’s achievement.

My Thoughts

 I’ve always wanted to be a wargamer, but I’ve struggled to find a wargame system that is engaging enough to merit more plays. Something about “just play both sides” doesn’t appeal to me in a way to motivate it to hit the table beyond a first play. That is why I was always hesitant to pick up Agricola, Master of Britain because my history with solitaire wargaming has been less than stellar so far. Well, safe to say this shattered every expectation, not only being an enjoyable experience with every play (even those ending in an early loss), but providing an interesting game to play. It is wargaming that doesn’t make me try and outplay myself, and I cannot express enough how great that feels.

 The cup system on this game feels really innovative, and is far more interesting than rolling a die and consulting a table. It allows you to understand how your actions, as the Roman forces, are impacting the population’s feelings toward the Roman rule. Almost everything you do is going to send those chits conveying down toward the Hostile cup, and most of the game will be spent with a fairly sizable grouping in the Unfriendly cup and with almost nothing going into the Friendly cup. Apart from the mechanical enjoyment of the system here, which I did enjoy greatly, this also does a good job of representing (abstractly) the impact that certain decisions might have had upon the local population.

 While I absolutely hated it during moments of the gameplay, the fact that you can’t choose to “just move” means you need to really plan out your course of actions in order to reach the areas of the map you are trying to reach. In some instances you’ll be able to interact with the tribes on the map and at least try for something meaningful as you move through the map. Other times you’ll get the desirable Peacekeeping movement, which has a rare effect of moving chits out of the Hostile cup and into the Unfriendly cup. And if you really fail to plan – well, your movement might be accomplished only by passing for the turn and forfeiting the rest of your actions on the round. At least you get 1VP per action skipped, right? #planbetter

 Let’s talk about losing conditions in a solitaire game for a moment. This game can – and sometimes will – end long before the typical endgame trigger occurs. For example, in this you have 8 rounds to play and every round has a minimum VP threshold to meet in order to not lose the game. You must also balance the loss of troops, meaning you cannot blindly commit to battles without considering your odds of victory, and the use of your treasury which, if undefended, could get raided and if that raid brings it to 0, you lose. All of these are excellent ways of providing tension to the player, as you have variable things to juggle and make sure to meet minimums on throughout the game. You can’t simply ignore parts of the game and limp along to win. I love it so much, because it adds pressure and tension and gives me objectives to shoot for every round.

 Points are difficult to obtain in this game as a whole. The fact that you need to go from getting 3VP in the first round to getting 20VP in the final round shows that there are ways, as you get an “engine” going, to obtain that VP in bigger chunks. Because that VP is a losing condition, you can’t just focus on slaughtering the biggest threat because that may not be the best choice. You also can’t just sweep through with your strongest army, as promoting your troops is a key path to gaining consistent VP each turn. I love trying to puzzle out how to get a few more VP, and it is especially good when you finally get enough VP surplus to take advantage of purchasing new Legion units. Which…

 Those Legionary units are HARD to obtain because you need to spend VP to buy them. And you need to spend that VP prior to checking if you win or lose for the round, meaning you can only spend a surplus of points. Not only do they cost VP, but you need to have a Legion on one of the three starting camp spaces – something not necessarily easy to do late in the game – and no one Legion can have triple the number of Legionary units of any other Legion. Did I mention that you need to spend Legionary units to form Garrisons, which are essential to gaining VP and increasing your Income because they allow you to build Settlements? Oh, and if a Legion is ever without a Legionary unit in there, you automatically lose – so you can’t just dump all of your best troops into one Legion at the end to sweep through the far north where the Tribes are more challenging. If it sounds like I’m gushing over the brilliant struggle here, you’d be right: I absolutely love this challenge.

 Every action has an opposite reaction – apart from the free actions that Agricola can trigger. If you do Peacekeeping, chits move from cup-to-cup and then you pull chits from the Hostile cup to add to the map. Battle? Same thing. Passing? Yep, same thing. Which means every thing you do will inevitably lead to something on the map changing (unless you get lucky, because there ARE ways to prevent the chits drawn from getting added to the map. Usually via Legion/Garrison/Settlement presence on that specific location), This ensures a dynamic landscape to play in, as well as it provides a degree of risk. You can’t bank on X remaining static unless you know there are none of that particular chit in the Hostile cup.

 Agricola feels like an important part of the game because he has a set of actions he can do, and his presence “boosts” the action you take. He isn’t tied to a specific Legion, which is nice, but you’ll want to be using his Legion more often than the others just because he makes everything you do more powerful. Because the game responds to every action you take, you’ll want every small advantage you can get.

 The game is still going to have a decent amount of luck. Sometimes it swings in your way. Sometimes it swings against you. That 1/8 chance of failure will happen. Sometimes it might happen several times in a row, completely obliterating you against all odds. Such is the way things go in war. If this would cause you to flip the table or walk away in frustration to never want to play the game again – this probably isn’t the game for you. Chit pulls are random, and sometimes those will completely go against your plans. Die rolls, being d8 help some but they can still cause those wild swings. Randomness happens. Consider yourself warned.

 So far the game takes longer than it should for me. A complete game of 8 turns runs close to 2 hours still, and part of that is because I need to reference the rulebook for the number of Tribal Reactions for each action. The back of the rulebook has a handy reference on the cup changes for the actions, but surprisingly leaves this aspect off the quick reference. Realizing this now after typing it out…I’m going to mark those on that back myself to see if that makes it faster. While I’ve always enjoyed the game and it never felt like it went too long, I’m still nowhere close to the marketed 60-90 minute time on there unless I lose early.

 If you are spoiled by the high production quality featured on Stonemaier Games products or the latest Kickstarter funding projects, then your expectations are going to be disappointed when you receive this game. Understandably so, as Hollandspiele is a small company run by a husband and wife and their focus is on making great games, not great components in games. There is a half sheet of chits, a rulebook, a d8, and two paper maps in the box. It isn’t going to scream production quality when you get the game (although if you can snag a rare mounted copy of the boards, that’d be a great steal for you!). However, as you’ll see here shortly…the quality of the gameplay MORE than compensates for the price of this one.

Final Thoughts

My biggest regret about Agricola, Master of Britain is that I didn’t pick it up sooner. I’ve wanted to. I have literally been on the Hollandspiele website with it in my cart, and decided to hold off. All because my relationship with wargames as a solo experience had never lived up to my hopes. But I shouldn’t have compared this to those other experiences, because this game was designed to be a solitaire experience. I don’t have to play both sides, trying to make optimal decisions on each side and being conflicted about which side to root for. The game’s system plays against me in a masterful way for a solitaire experience.

There is luck and randomness, as you would expect in any wargame, and it hasn’t really bothered me. Most of the time the odds level out over time, and rarely has a string of bad luck completely bombed the game for me. Better play will triumph over time. And that is exactly what I want out of a game like this. The cup system is brilliant and exciting, and the Tribal Reactions are enough to both keep me on my toes and to make me strongly consider certain actions, knowing how many cup changes and then reactions will happen as a result.

While the game runs longer than it should based on the printed playtime, it has never overstayed its welcome. The host of losing conditions, and the real possibility of losing in an early round, are both enjoyable qualities for the game. And an early loss only motivates me to reset and try again. The setup and teardown for this game are relatively quick and easy once you get things organized which will only help it hit the table more often.

There are so many excellent decisions to make throughout the game, and every action feels important. And every action has a reaction, making them even more vital. This was my first Hollandspiele title to hit my collection and my table, and I can say with absolute certainty that it will not be the last. It is worth every penny for this game, as the gameplay more than compensates for any perceived lack of production quality. This game is brilliant and satisfying and will be a game I delightfully return to time and again going forward. Charlemagne, Master of Europe will be hitting the table in the near future for a review, and I expect that to be at least as enjoyable as this one – only bigger and longer and likely more epic. With several more solitaire wargame titles already in the Hollandspiele catalog, and a host of interesting multiplayer games to choose from as well, I will definitely be expanding my collection of their titles going forward.

Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One: Mint Works

Thank you for checking review #97 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Mint Works

Mint Works is a board game designed by Justin Blaske that is published by Five24 Labs. The tin states it plays 1-4 players in 10-20 minutes.

Mint Works is a light and straightforward worker placement game. Its compact size makes it easy to put in your pocket and take it anywhere. Its simple rules make it easy to introduce new players to the genre of worker placement.

During the game each player will have a limited amount of Mint Tokens, which represent their workers. Players will use these mint tokens to earn more tokens, take first player or buy and build plans. Plans are how players earn points. Some plans will give only points, others will give extra powers to the owner.

Once any player has at least 7 points earned (or if there are not enough plans to refill the stock) the end of the game is triggered. The game will then be over at the end of the current round.

Whoever has the most points provided by plans they have built wins!

My Thoughts

 This is a game that scores high on portability, setup, teardown, and gameplay time. All of those things are essential qualities for a solitaire gaming experience, apart from the portability factor, as having a good setup/teardown time and a quick gameplay will make it easier to grab and get on the table during those times when time is a commodity. Which in today’s world is fairly often, because there are never enough hours in the day. This game is perfect as a wind-down game at the end of a long day or, as I did last night, as a “one last game” to play before bed.

 The solo AI in this is surprisingly intuitive to navigate, and provides an interesting mix of challenges. Each one of them plays a little differently from the others, and might even bring about alternate losing conditions for the player. I have felt adequately challenged in all but one of my plays so far in this one, and some of them have forced me to adopt strategies and planning that I otherwise wouldn’t consider in a multiplayer game. You have relatively perfect information as the player, since you know where and how they should place, as well as which plan they would prioritize taking from what is offered.

 Going further here, I am quite impressed as to how different each of the AI opponents have felt so far, and how their strengths/patterns have forced me to reconsider my own approach to the game. While I am sure there will come a point where I learn to “use X strategy against Y opponent”, it will take several plays against that AI to get there – and even then, the Plan deck may not allow that exact strategy to be executed. I really enjoy this aspect of the solo game, as I don’t want a vanilla emulation of a standard 2-player game. And this delivers something that departs from the normal 2-player experience.

 As alluded to already, there are enough cards in the Plan deck that is unlikely you will see the same combinations of cards with every play in a solitaire (or even a 2-player) game of Mint Works. The winning strategy may not always be the same from play-to-play, even without considering the AI opponent. I like the need to pivot based upon what is available, rather than banking on taking X to start your scoring engine.

 The rules are simple and straight-forward. You could literally sit down and learn this in a matter of minutes and start playing the game, which is always nice. There is a nice, big section on the solitaire rules as well, which is nice to see included. However – although I understand the reasoning behind it – I dislike that the rules are a fold-out massive sheet of paper. It saves space and likely is cheaper than making mini-booklets, but I have never been a fan of those fold-out rulebooks. Even if this one is laid out well.

 I wish the layout for the “board” was randomized rather than in a set pattern. I understand the need for consistency of the AI operation, but it does make the games a tiny bit same-y in that respect. The only change-up comes from the final action space, randomly chosen to go at the bottom of the pile. And that one on its own can radically alter how the game flows, as well as the presence of the deeds to flip those spaces over for use. But many turns are placing a worker to collect 2 workers, buying a Plan, and deciding whether to take the first player marker or build said Plan.Even with the varied AI opponents, the mechanics of this game will get repetitive enough that I won’t want to reach for it more than a few times at a time. It may then sit on the shelf for a month or three before I pull it out again for another few plays. Which, based on the cost and the small size of the game, is perfectly acceptable for this game.

Final Thoughts

Mint Works was a game that I had mixed expectations for going into the game. I had played it with my wife once at a friend’s game day, and it seemed a little on the simple side (as you would expect from a game that fits in a tin) and I remember questioning its replay value for the long term. And yes, if you played the game every day for a few weeks it might grow repetitive and you’d need to put it back on your shelf for a while. The beauty of this game isn’t in the brilliance of the gameplay, but in its portability and length. This game is a perfect filler game with a respectable gameplay experience to satisfy the gaming needs – particularly for gaming on the go. That is by far its best strength – being a game you can take along to a restaurant or another situation where you might be stuck waiting 15-30 minutes with a small table that can be used. It’ll never become my go-to worker placement game in my collection, but it doesn’t aim to be that. It excels in a niche, much like Palm Island (reviewed a few weeks ago) or the host of Button Shy wallet line of games.

Portability itself wouldn’t be enough, though, to keep the game in the collection if it didn’t have some solid gameplay. And while I haven’t revisited it yet with my wife, I have been pleasantly surprised by the solitaire AI in the game (4 different personas come in the tin, and the promo pack adds 2 more). It is easy to navigate, and forces the player to consider what they need to accomplish during their turn and the order in which you need to take your actions. What I like the most is that they play differently enough, not just in their priorities when taking a card but in their overarching objectives. That was a refreshing realization, and something that solidified its presence in my collection because it’ll be a solo game I can return to on occasion and enjoy when it does hit the table.

While my clumsy fingers wish the mint workers were a little bigger, “thematically” they are perfect and make sense. It would be nice if the layout of the action cards changed from game-to-game, but it does make sense as to why you would want that specific order of execution. It also makes consideration for taking that First Player token something worth doing, in order to have a shot at gaining more workers each turn. In an era where every game released seems to have a dozen expansions waiting in the wings for release, it is nice to have a portable game that is completely self-contained in the experience. No expansion is needed, and even the Promo Pack isn’t essential unless you want cooperative play or more options in solo opponents. And for the cost of the game, which is cheaper than going to see a movie in the theater, the experience in this tin is perfect for what it sets out to accomplish.