Board Gaming · Review for One · Review for Two · Solo Gaming

Review for One & Two: Fire in the Library

Thank you for checking review #47 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.

The Kickstarter is still live for a few more hours!

An Overview of Fire in the Library


Fire in the Library is a game designed by Tony Miller & John Prather and was published by Weird Giraffe Games. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 15-30 minute play time.

Fire in the Library is a press-your-luck game in which players must try their best to rescue books and accumulate knowledge. The game is played in rounds with a variable turn order in which earlier players have more risk but a higher possible reward. Everyone starts with tools to help mitigate their luck or change the probabilities for their opponents! Gain more tools when your luck runs out or if you take the safe route and exit the library before things get too risky. Hurry, as the game ends immediately when any one wing of the library completely burns.

Take your chances, be the bravest, and save books in Fire in the Library!

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

Recommended play has an “AI” player, so take the first three turn order cards and put the others in the box. Seed the bag with 7 red cubes and all white/black/yellow/purple cubes. Set the 10 remaining red cubes aside. “Build” the library by making the stacks of book cards in descending order, so the smallest value of each color is on top. Place your meeples, and the AI meeple, by the score track. Shuffle the tool cards and deal two to each human player and flip the top three to form the “market” of cards. Setup is now complete!


There are four phases to the game. In the first phase, going in order of lowest score to highest, each player selects a turn order card. This will determine both what order a player takes their turn, but also how safe or risky their turn will be. The AI player will always select the highest-available turn order card when it is their turn to select.

The next phase is the saving books phase, where the player pulls a cube at a time from the bag, placing those cubes on the left-most empty space of their player card. A player can stop saving books at any time and move to scoring books, or they can press their luck and try to save more books. If the player either places their second red fire cube on the card or has to place a fire cube on a risky space, their time saving books is at an end and they skip the scoring books phase and go into the fire spreading phase.

If a player voluntarily stops saving books before placing any books on a risky space, they will score points for each book saved (the values shown on the top-most card of that book’s color) and will get to take a tool from the market.

If a player stops saving books after placing one or more books onto risky spaces, they score points for each book saved PLUS the points on the turn order card printed beneath the last risky space with a book on it (ranges from 2-8).

If a player goes into the fire spreading phase, then sections of the library burn. The top-most card is removed for each section matching books they have on the turn order card. If a player pulled only red cubes, then the card with the lowest burn value is removed.

When it is the AI player’s turn, flip the top-most card of the tool deck. The banners at the top indicate which sections burn, causing you to discard the top card of those decks. Then, there are small circles located next to the tool’s name. Those are the color of books the AI saved this turn. They will score points for each color of book shown, plus any bonus points from a risky space (i.e. if they saved purple, yellow, and white and had the 1st Turn Order Card, it would be as though cubes were on the first three spaces and thus they’d score the 4 bonus points under the 3rd space).

At the end of the round, the card with the lowest burn value is removed. Play continues until one section of the library is completely burned (no cards left in that pile).

Changes for 1 Player

Instead of a Turn Order card per player, use all six. At the start of each round, select a card that has not already been used. Take your turn as normal. The AI goes after you and will operate similar to the AI in a 2-player game, except it scores 2 bravery points for every book beyond the first saved on its card. At the end of the round, set aside the Turn Order card used. You can’t use it again until all 6 have been used.

My Thoughts

The artwork. Oh my, I love Beth Sobel’s artwork so much! She first hooked me with Herbaceous, and I’ve been pleased ever since. I’m 99% certain she’s my favorite board game artist, and I always enjoy looking at her art. They also happen to make fantastic photographs to share on Instagram. And the art is just going to get even better, as the Kickstarter has unlocked unique art on a lot of the library cards. That means the flames grow as those card decks deplete, something I think is really cool!


The turn order cards are great because they give you different incentives. If you get the 1st player card, then you’ll want to press your luck over and over to try and maximize your points. The 5th player card, on the other hand, is relatively safe and rewards you with a guaranteed tool whether you fill the card, stop early, or draw two red cubes. They also become really important near the end of the game, as the game will end immediately when one of the library piles are emptied. The simplest phase of the game can have a big impact on how you play your turn, and can help to offer ways of catching up to the rest of the players.

Tool cards are what make this game a great press-your-luck game. They are a reward, depending on your turn order card, for ending your turn early. They are also a consolation prize for pressing too far and losing your chance to score points. These cards range from ways to stop burning (and go back to collecting books), placing cubes on each turn order card before selecting them, to saving books to score again at the end of the game. There are a lot of great reasons to like these tool cards, and the effective use of these cards can help players leap back into the midst of the scoring action.

The AI system for the game is simple, yet vital. It serves two very real purposes: setting the bar for points scored and speeding along the end-game trigger. Sure, you could reduce the number of library cards instead based on player count to emulate one of those two factors. But you wouldn’t prevent the “I’ll play it safe and keep this one book for 3 points” tactic. Suddenly that AI is scoring 12-20 points on some turns and puts the pressure on to press-your-luck to keep up. After all, this is a press-your-luck game. There isn’t much difference between the AI used in a 1-player and the 2-player game, and both are extremely easy to operate. Which is exactly what you want when operating a non-player portion of a game. The best thing it can do is be user-friendly and fast.

The rulebook is easy to understand. I’ve started to watch this more frequently, as I have spent a little time helping to proofread rulebooks. Therefore I greatly appreciate a rulebook that I can read through a single time and walk away without any questions about how to play.

While it has no real relevance on the gameplay itself, I do really love the theme for this one. I envision being back with the Library of Alexandria, and all those books. Of course we need to save them! Historians would love to have a chance to go back in time and save those scrolls and books.

The points go up as the game progresses, but so does the chance of pulling red cubes. You’ll never add more book cubes into that bag, although there are some tools that could remove a few of them until the end of the game. But over the course of playing, you’ll add in 10 more red cubes. Which suddenly makes it a lot closer to a 50/50 chance of pulling a red cube during your turn. Thankfully, the cubes you pull do go back into the bag at the end of your turn. I couldn’t imagine going 6th and seeing a whole lot of books on everyone else’s cards.


There is a catchup mechanism in here, at least kind of. Points increase. If you’re not scoring well, you are likely collecting tools. That means you can get to where a turn could net up to 50 points and average around 25-30. So even if you’re falling behind, you can leap back into the midst of the scoring race. Unless you play against someone with ridiculously good luck, like one of my local gamers. He tends to win about 85% of the games he plays, no matter who he plays with and how unfamiliar he might be with a game. A guy like that will probably never draw a red cube, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do to keep up with something like that.

The game does automatically progress, and the AI really helps that with 1-2 players. It is worth noting that with 3+ players there is a chance it could run really long if people are never burning. This is a filler press-your-luck game and it has a certain amount of time it should take on the table. Once you creep over that 30 minute mark, it starts to overstay its welcome. It won’t happen all the time. It might not even happen often. But this game could feasibly last close to 20 rounds if no one burns.

That feeling when all you seem to pull is red. Oh man, it really stinks. This isn’t the game’s fault. It rewards you with tools that should, in theory, help you do better on future turns. But nothing is worse than Red Cube -> Red Cube -> Use the Bucket, return to saving books -> Red Cube -> Use the Slingshot, return to saving books -> Red Cube. There goes all of your hard-earned tools, back to square one with nothing to show. And then the next player pulls nothing but books. A few of those turns in a row for you can really suck the fun out of the game.

Final Thoughts

I first came across Weird Giraffe Games on Twitter back when Stellar Leap was being designed. It stole my attention as I watched Carla post pictures of the game and talked about her design process. I knew it was a game I’d enjoy, and I was so thankful to play a small part in testing the solo system for that game via print & play. But libraries, well, those are really my thing. I am an author and I’ll always want to save books. Fire in the Library intrigued me from the start because of the theme, but I tempered my expectations. I’ve never been a big fan of press-your-luck games and knew my wife felt the same (but more extreme – she hates dice, after all). But then I saw the Beth Sobel artwork (she’s my favorite artist, I think!) and that sucked me in more. Reviewers I follow started to get copies of the game and the raving impressions poured out on social media. Suddenly I knew I had to at least try this one out, and was only too happy to say “yes” when Carla asked if I wanted to get my hands on a prototype for a review.

I am rarely the type of player who favors the aggressive playstyle needed for a game like this one. I am more of a defensive-minded person, and it showed the other night when playing a round against my wife. Her and the AI were rows ahead of me in points, partially from unusually bad luck at draws and partially from stopping early to get some tools. Yet even I felt a thrill when I filled the 1st Player card up and leapt ahead of them both in one perfect turn. The lead didn’t last long – I ended in last place – but that one turn was demonstrative of why this game is successful. No matter how bad your early turns are, there is still hope because those books increase in value and those tools can help you to claw back into the race. For a press-your-luck game, it excels at making a player remain invested regardless of score.

I could sit here and wish for less randomness, but that would make this game lose its identity. Taking the right tools, when you can, will help to mitigate some of that randomness. You can score when other players burn. You can slingshot a fire cube to another player’s card. Pressing your luck too well will keep you from getting those valuable cards, allowing those playing it safer, or getting burned by the cube draws, to have a chance to claw back in.

The artwork in here is fantastic. The gameplay is perfect for the timeframe of this game. The AI is smooth and easy to pilot much like the Automa from Viticulture. My wife hates using automated players but, even though she’d prefer to play without it, didn’t have much to complain about at the end of our games using it. It definitely has a place in here, forcing the players to keep up with a pace while also helping to cycle through those library cards. And involved about 12 seconds of work to operate that AI player’s turn each round, which is perfect for solo players.

At the price point they are listing this at on their Kickstarter, Fire in the Library is a downright steal. My wife and I are definitely not the usual intended audience for a game like this, yet we found ourselves enjoying this one. It is a game I wouldn’t mind having in our collection as an option for those times when we want a 15-20 minute game. And it is the perfect starter/finisher/filler during a game night, as it plays fast and doesn’t take long to setup or tear down.

They are down to less than 48 hours left on the Kickstarter for this game, and you don’t want to be kicking yourself later for missing this one. If you aren’t one of the 2,059 backers (at the time of this writing) who are currently backing this game, then what are you waiting for? This undoubtedly plays well at all player counts, as I’ve played 1-3 and see no reason why it wouldn’t also excel with a larger group. Even if this isn’t your type of game, it offers enough to make this a press-your-luck game worth owning.

The Kickstarter is still live for a few more hours!


Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Fire in the Library. 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:

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

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review of Terraforming Mars on the Board Boys Podcast

Last week I was the featured guest on the Board Boys Podcast. They invited me over to play and discuss Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games.

Download episode #10 on your favorite podcast platform and listen to us discuss this excellent game, including some of my thoughts on the solo experience in Terraforming Mars. You can get some initial impressions now, at least a month in advance of my full written review of the solo play for Terraforming Mars.

Be sure to check these guys out by subscribing to their podcast, Follow them on Twitter (@TheBoardBoysPod), stalk them on Instagram, and Like them on Facebook.

Board Gaming · Review for One

Review for One – Viticulture: Essential Edition

Thank you for checking review #34 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 Viticulture: Essential Edition

Viticulture: Essential Edition is a game designed by Jamey Stegmaier, Morten Monrad Pederson, and Alan Stone and is published by Stonemaier Games. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 45-90 minute play time.

In Viticulture, the players find themselves in the roles of people in rustic, pre-modern Tuscany who have inherited meager vineyards. They have a few plots of land, an old crushpad, a tiny cellar, and three workers. They each have a dream of being the first to call their winery a true success.

The players are in the position of determining how they want to allocate their workers throughout the year. Every season is different on a vineyard, so the workers have different tasks they can take care of in the summer and winter. There’s competition over those tasks, and often the first worker to get to the job has an advantage over subsequent workers.

Fortunately for the players, people love to visit wineries, and it just so happens that many of those visitors are willing to help out around the vineyard when they visit as long as you assign a worker to take care of them. Their visits (in the form of cards) are brief but can be very helpful.

Using those workers and visitors, players can expand their vineyards by building structures, planting vines (vine cards), and filling wine orders (wine order cards). Players work towards the goal of running the most successful winery in Tuscany.

Viticulture – Essential Edition comes with components for Viticulture, but adds some of the expansions from Tuscany, including 36 Mama & Papa cards, Field cards (previously known as “Properties”), expanded/revised Visitors, and 24 Automa cards (solo variant), along with a couple of minor rule changes.

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

A standard solo play has the board set up mostly like in a game with two players. There are three exceptions: the Automa deck is shuffled and placed by the board, a clear token is placed on each of the seven wake-up slots on the board, and a neutral color’s cork token is placed on the 20 spot of the scoreboard.

If you are playing through the campaign mode (listed in the rule book), then your scenario might dictate some additional changes to the setup such as placing your score marker on -5. I won’t go into the details on all of these.

At the start of the Summer and Winter seasons you will draw the top card from the Automa deck and place a neutral worker on each space for the current season that is listed on the card. This could be anywhere from 0-3 spaces, as there are some Tuscany-only spaces (all of these have notation showing they belong to Tuscany). The spaces listed in the opposite season are ignored. A variant to increase difficulty would be to keep drawing more cards until at least two spaces in the current season have a neutral worker.

Your turns in the game will play just like the game with more players, with one key exception: you can only choose each wake-up position once. At the end of the seventh year (meaning you’ve selected all seven wake-up positions), the game will be over. When you select a wake-up position, you take the token for that spot in addition to the bonus typically provided by that wake-up spot. This token can be used at any time during the game to take the bonus middle action on the board when you place a worker (such as gaining +1 VP when filling an order).

Just like the 2-player game, you use only the left-hand spot on each space which means that a neutral worker will prevent you from using that space unless you send your Grande Worker to the space.

At the end of seven years, you compare your score with the neutral player’s score. They will always be at 20. If your score is below 20, you lose. If your score is exactly 20, you lose. Anything higher than 20 is a win.

My Thoughts

This game is very thematic. For a euro-style game, that isn’t a common thing to encounter. You choose when to wake up, determining the order in which you’ll take your actions (not relevant in the solo game, but still worth mentioning). You plant grapes in the fields. You have to harvest those grapes. You have to crush the grapes to make them into wine. You can then sell the wine for money. You can give tours of your winery. Hiring more workers allows you to get more accomplished. Various people can visit your winery, providing a wide range of benefits. When you sell orders of wine, it provides repeat income each year. Your grapes and wines age each year, increasing their value. The tasks you can do each season are varied and fitting for each season. A ton of thought and effort went into this game, and this is about as close as you can get to bringing about a thematic experience in a worker placement game.

If I’ve mentioned this once, I’ve mentioned it half a dozen times. When it comes to solo gaming, setup and teardown time is an important factor. While I love some solo games that take time to prepare, there is a premium to be placed on ones that can get to the table and get started quickly. I was surprised at how fast this game turned out to be for setup and teardown. Pleasantly surprised. I can pull this game out, set it up, play it, and put it away in roughly 45 minutes. I can finish a game and reset it to start a new one in under 5 minutes. Both of these things are great benefits to the solo gaming experience.

The Automa is a fantastic system. It requires minimal work/effort from the player to operate. It really is as simple as flipping a card and placing a few wooden pieces on the board. Done. Now you can move back to what you really care about: planning and playing your turn. There is nothing fancy or complicated about the Automa system, which really shines in this game. Scythe steps it up a few notches in complexity, but if you tried that and didn’t enjoy it then you might find the ease of Viticulture to be more to your liking.

I was intimidated during my first play of this solo, wondering how it was even possible to score 21 points in seven rounds. After all, it usually takes 3-4 years before the semblance of an engine is even in place to start scoring points from filling orders. It takes a measure of luck in drawing the right cards at the right time, but also some effective and efficient planning around what you are dealt and draw early in the game and managing your resources well. You have to make sure to avoid wasting actions, as the difference between winning and losing often comes down to 1-2 moves on the final year. All of this provides a thrilling and fulfilling experience.

The game, when playing it, still feels exactly like playing Viticulture. I don’t find myself playing an inferior version of the game, which is something I always appreciate. Not only does the game function in a very similar manner, I also have an objective to accomplish even without using the campaign or variants included in the book. It is a straight-forward, but a challenging, task that is set before you. You have to get at least 21 point. Anything less than that and you lose. It isn’t a “you scored X last game, now try to beat that this time” sort of game. And that is something I really like.

I was skeptical about the campaign system. A worker placement game where you play a series of solo games in sequence? Let me tell you, this is where the solo play really shines. Each of the eight objectives provide their own challenge. I felt great after the first one. I felt robbed when I lost on the second and quickly turned it around and won. I squeaked by the third one. I’m 0/3 on the fourth one. Yes, they have a way to make it easier by giving yourself an added boost with each loss on a scenario, but I refuse to use that. I can win without it. I’m even stubborn enough to use the same exact Mama and Papa cards three times in a row, coming so close in the last one that I would have won if it didn’t use two spots in the last Winter. And guess what…those were the exact two on the card. I’m only halfway through, but I can already affirm that this solo campaign is legit in its challenge and a lot of fun to challenge.

As great as the Automa system is, this doesn’t always provide a perfect simulation of playing against an opponent. First off, there isn’t a you-go, I-go system to it. You know all of the spaces they will be occupying for the season so there is perfect information to plan around. There are times when they’ll take spaces you almost never touch and that will make you happy. There are also times, though, when they’ll take the exact spaces you needed and leave you taking an inferior turn to what you would have preferred. Playing with the variant requiring them to be on 2+ spaces each season helps make it feel tighter and more restrictive, but it still isn’t quite the same as playing an opponent who might be able to block your first move, but you can swoop in and do the other one you need before they take that from you. You don’t get that chance against the Automa. You just have to sit on your Grande worker, using it for the one action you definitely need to perform this year.

There will be games when the randomness seems stacked against you. For instance, you might be drawing all white grapes to plant and all orders needing red grapes. That Automa might decide to pull, round after round, the cards that place them exactly on the spaces you need to get things moving forward with what you have. That can be really disappointing. Any game with drawing cards has that random factor in it, but like most card games you’ll find the majority of the plays will come down to how well you can maneuver and adapt to the cards you are given. There are paths to score points apart from filling orders. With a time crunch in effect, you can’t sit back and draw cards every turn until you get what you want. You have to find out how to make what is in your hand become the cards you need. Which is what I love about the game – in spite of those occasions where it all feels like you lost due to random chance.

Final Verdict

This game really surprised me. I knew it was a highly-rated game and that a ton of players have heralded it as being a great game. I knew that, being a worker placement game, there was a really high chance that my wife would enjoy the game. I had hoped that the theme might even be something to draw in non-gamer in-laws. We still haven’t tried that out, but I still am clinging to the hope that this might be the sort of game I could use to broaden the hobby.

What I had not hoped, nor expected, was just how much I would come to enjoy the solo play of this game. The solo system is seamless without a ton of rules overhead and without making the player choose from a list of options. The Automa’s turn, quite literally, is done in under a minute. This allows the game to get out of the player’s way and allow them to get back to their next turn where they try to strategize and plan around what the Automa has placed. What seemed remarkably simple and uninteresting has become my favorite method of playing a solitaire game because it simulates possible decisions from another player.

Even better is when you embark onto the campaign, playing through a series of eight challenges where you have different conditions that you need to overcome while working your way to 21 or more points as a final score. In seven rounds. Add in the variable starting with the Mama and Papa cards. And, if that isn’t enough for you, there are ways to make it harder such as drawing Automa cards until at least two spaces in the season are blocked, or by setting point requirements you need to reach by the end of each year or else you lose. And this is all available without forking out extra to pick up the Tuscany Essential Edition expansion, which I understand makes this game have an even longer replay value for gaming solo and in a group.

To put things in perspective, I find that every time I consider playing a solo game this is one that pulls my attention. I always want to play it again. I can usually set up, play, and tear down in around 45 minutes which is a perfect length for a solo game. It resets quickly, making it easy to string together 2-3 plays in a row. And every game turns out differently based on the Automa, the cards drawn, and the Mama/Papa cards you begin with. It provides a challenging and enjoyable experience every time I play it, and I still have many more plays to go. I will probably only log around 100 solo plays in 2017, and it is very likely that this game will be at least 10% of those plays.

In 2018, that will probably continue to be a trend as I will hope to find a copy of Tuscany under the tree.

If all this isn’t clear enough, I will end with this: if I could recommend only one solo game to a gamer without knowing anything about their taste/experience/preference in gaming, this would be the game I would recommend. It gives clear objectives to complete, a simple-to-navigate solo system, and a challenging puzzle to complete every time you play the game. This may not be my favorite solo game, nor the best solo game out there, but it is definitely high up there. It is the type of solo game everyone can enjoy and should try, and belongs in every solo gamer’s collection.

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

Board Gaming · Review for One

Review for One – Chrononauts

Thank you for checking review #32 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.

**Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this game in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Chrononauts

Chrononauts is a game designed by Andrew Looney and is published by Looney Labs. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 30 minute play time.

In Chrononauts, each player becomes a time traveler, with a unique identity and a secret mission. During the game, players travel backwards and forwards through history, doing all those things people have always dreamed of using a time machine to do: Visiting the great moments of the past, peeking into the future, collecting up impossible artifacts and priceless works of art (at the moment just before history records their destruction), coming to grips with the paradoxes of time travel, and of course, changing pivotal events and altering the course of history itself. How would the timeline be different if Lincoln and JFK had not been assassinated? And is that the version of reality that you came from originally… the one you must return to in order to win? It’s all packed into a fast and easy Fluxx-style card game that will take you to the beginning of time and back again.

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

The game’s TimeLine remains the same, with four rows of eight cards being dealt out into chronological order. The big change is that you do not use any Artifacts, Gadgets, Actions, Timewarps, or Missions in the solo game. That equates to about half of the cards in the box being unused. Shuffle the ID cards and deal out eight of them – these form your objective in trying to get all eight of the travelers to their home. Shuffle the remaining cards to form your play deck, which will be Patches and Inverters. The Inverters are used to change history by flipping one of the 13 “Linchpin” events to its alternate side. This will cause a ripple effect, having 1-5 other cards in the timeline potentially flip to their other side as well. When those are flipped, they form Paradoxes, which need to be Patched into an alternate history.

Each traveler has three years shown on their timeline: one being black (indicating that year needs to be unflipped) and two red (indicating those years need to first be flipped to their Paradox side and then Patched over with the appropriate Patch). There are going to be IDs that share some of these years, you’ll find Patches not needed on any of your cards, and there may also be the unfortunate situation where you have a card needing a specific year to be black and another to be red…meaning you’ll either need to get the one in black completed first or else you’ll have to find a way to reverse history back on the red after that one is completed.

The game ends when you either get all eight travelers home or when you are out of cards that can be played. You get one run through the deck, which means you’ll see every Patch you need at some point but you may not see them when you need them.

My Thoughts

 The time it takes to set this up, play it, and tear it back down is relatively small. I can usually do that all in under half an hour, especially since I already have the cards pre-sorted in the box. The cards used for the solo game fit perfectly in one half of the box. When considering solo games, time is often an obstacle that can prevent a game from hitting the table. That isn’t the case with this one.

 What seems like a simple game is really a challenge. Even when you feel like you’re doing really well and setting it all up perfectly, that deck runs out several rounds before you want it to. That one patch you need is too far down, or the Inverter you have to have isn’t coming up. The game forces you to make and act upon decisions without perfect information, but you are still the one making those decisions. Every once in a while it’ll make that decision for you, as some of those Inverters are very specific in usage, but most of the time you’ll feel like you are in control.

 Tying in with that above point, this game never feels like you lose because of luck. Yes, it is involved like any game where you draw from a shuffled deck of cards. And yes, there are times where a really bad hand early could compound into a bad situation. But most of the time you are able to make decisions based on what you’ve seen and what you need to accomplish. You won’t know what is coming out next, but you can set yourself up or, at the least, make moves that will interfere the least with what you need to accomplish. Every time I’ve gotten into that no-win situation, I’ve been able to reflect on a card usage a few turns back and see how a different choice there could have enabled me to take advantage of the current situation.

 The Travelers are all unique and contain a fun “backstory” on each card. This is fun to read and helps them to all feel different as well as provide explanations as to why their timeline requires the sequence of events listed on their card. This is a small and unnecessary touch, but an important once that is fun at least the first time you encounter each card.

 Seeing some of the events that happen as the result of a changed Linchpin is another fun thing. This game is not only educational in seeing the standard timeline and learning when those events happened, but it could provide some interesting contemplation on whether or not a change in event X would realistically have lead to Y happening.

 The cards themselves are really uninteresting visually. Yes, there are small graphics on there and the colors to help indicate things, but this won’t wow anyone while it is on the table. The good thing, though, is that the coloring of things does make sense and help you to see what you need. But man, this one won’t win any contests for prettiest game.

 I’m not going to call this a fiddly game by any means, but there is a lot of flipping and unflipping of cards as you play. If this is something that bothers you, then buyer beware. The worst is when you get that card that just won’t detach itself from the table no matter how hard you try. Yeah, it’ll probably happen at some point with as much flipping as you’ll be doing.

 I really like the solo game as it stands. I’m not saying anything about it needs to change. But there is a part of me that is sad using just half of what comes in that box for the solo play. It is like I’m only playing half a game, which I suppose is true in a sense. The multiplayer game is similar in some ways, but wildly different in other ways compared to the solo game.

 This isn’t a critique of the game itself, but a personal preference. I think American history is dull. I have no interest in it, which is why I never could be a serious wargamer. I’d have no interest in 90% of the products out there. There is so much material out there that Looney Labs could tap into. I know I wouldn’t be the only one signing up for a European history version. Or even by eras, like Ancient history and a Medieval history. There is so much out there, I’d love to see them explore something different.

Final Verdict 

The solo version of this game is the least Fluxx-like experience I have ever had from a Looney Labs game, and that is a positive endorsement. Fluxx has one of those divisive reputations in the hobby, much like Munchkin, where some gamers really hate the game while others enjoy it either with the right group or the right circumstances. I tend to enjoy the occasional Fluxx game, but it certainly isn’t a game I’d want to go to a game day to play.

The solo game, instead, offers a tricky puzzle. You get one run through the deck and you don’t know what cards will appear at which points in time. Yet there will come a time when you need to start making decisions because you’ve got Patches but none of them enough to get a Traveler home by themselves. Don’t be like me and have a hand of five Patches you need to win the game and have to discard one because you can’t play any cards. I’ve gotten as few as four and as many as seven Travelers home, but the victory has so far eluded me. Which is something I really respect about the game – it presents a great challenge without feeling swingy and luck-driven like a Fluxx game. Even when you get into that situation where you have to toss a card you need, you can trace your steps back a few turns and realize what you could have done to prevent that situation. Usually because you were either playing too conservative and holding those cards, or being aggressive and trying to set up for a different Traveler without leaving any method to reverse things back.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into my first game of Chrononauts, but I had heard it was a worthwhile solo game. It took about half of that first game to really grasp how the mechanics all worked together, but once that happened the game appealed to me. It has stood up over multiple attempts and left me wanting to reset and try again every time.

I don’t know if they plan to do anything more with this game system, but I would love to see them explore further back in the world history. A medieval-centered version would be an insta-buy for me if it maintained the solo play. I wanted this game to feel like Doctor Who, and it does accomplish that to an extent. With their upcoming Doctor Who Fluxx, maybe they can get a chance to revisit this and bring Doctor Who Chrononauts to us all. That would be the other insta-buy for me.

But as it stands, if you are looking for a small, portable, card-driven solo game that will offer a fast puzzle without an insane amount of shuffling, this one will deliver. You need some table space for the TimeLine, but barring that one factor this would be a great on-the-go solo game. It would also be great to have for when you only have 20-30 minutes and want to get a solo game in. If you are a solo gamer, I would definitely recommend this one. It isn’t my favorite solo game, but it is strong enough to earn a spot in my collection even if it never gets played at a higher player count.

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

Board Gaming · Review for One · Review for Two

Review for One AND Two – Albion’s Legacy

Thank you for checking review #29 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.

**Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this game in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Albion’s Legacy

Albion’s Legacy is a game designed by Thomas Gofton, Aron Murch, and Cameron Parkinson and is published by Jasco Games and Lynnvander Productions. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 90 minute play time.

Albion’s Legacy is a cooperative, modular-adventure board game for 1-4 players, expandable to 6.

The game allows players to participate as one of their favourite Arthurian characters ranging from the legendary wizard Merlin, the famous Lady of the Lake, the brave Sir Lancelot, and the great King Arthur himself. These heroes will champion all that is good in 90 minutes as the players travel across the realm of Albion and face dangerous roaming threats, mythical beasts and deadly encounters.

Collect lore-enriched relics, artifacts, weapons and special awards under a heated deadline while solving some of the most famous historical and mythical chronicles of the Arthurian legend.

This game will challenge you, excite you, educate you and if you’re not careful it will take you down (your character that is…) Everything you need is provided at the gaming table, just bring your friends, your love of Arthurian lore (knowledge of Arthurian lore optional) and your thirst for adventure! Onward! The Kingdom needs YOU!

Setup and gameplay for 1 and 2 Players

The setup is very similar regardless of the number of players. When playing this game solo, you control three characters. Playing with two players, each player controls two characters. So at all player counts there will be at least 3 characters maneuvering around the board, which is an essential thing.

The Virtue tile stack requires 6 tiles plus one per player. This is the one area where it could be interpreted as either one per character or one per player. Going with the former would give an easier experience than the latter, although in some games it may not become a relevant factor. If that pile is emptied, you lose the game.

The other key difference is the number of Quest Coins needed to win the game. This one is clearly mentioned as needing 3 coins per character (not player), so depending on your player count you need to obtain either 9 or 12 of these in addition to the Story Card’s objective in order to win the game.

The game plays simply: each character gets an activation where they can move up to 4 spaces (this can be increased once Mounts are unlocked), often exploring new tiles. Many of the tiles will have threat icons on them, triggering the spawning of various creature tokens that you’ll need to defeat in order to earn a Quest Coin. These encounters alternate between spawning generic non-named enemies and spawning a named threat. The latter are sometimes accompanied by non-named enemies, are harder to kill (requiring 4 hits instead of 3), and usually have nasty effects either when you move onto their space or at the end of a round if they are still alive.

After a character’s turn is done, play shifts clockwise to the next character. Once it gets back around to the “starting” character of the round, that character gets one more activation and then the key-turn triggers. This is where the enemies move, where the named enemies’ effects happen, and a Beacon of Hope is extinguished. If all ten Beacons of Hope are extinguished, the game ends and the players lose.

My Thoughts

Let’s start with the obvious: I am a HUUUUUGE Arthurian fan. I love to read the old stories from de Troyes, Malory, Tennyson, and others. I enjoy watching movies, no matter how bad, about Arthur and his knights. In my heart, I desire to be a knight of the Round Table and go forth on quests. And I can honestly attest that this game has a ton of Arthurian lore woven throughout. It is on the tiles, in the characters, the cards, the encounters, the threats, and the quests. Everything within this box evokes the theme, making this a must-buy for any Arthurian fan for this reason alone. Even if you don’t feel like a knight going on a quest, you will be able to find and appreciate so many subtle ties to Arthurian lore that it will leave you amazed.

My wife and I aren’t huge fans of cooperative games. However, I am far more likely to enjoy the game if it presents a challenge. Yes, I enjoy winning as much as the next person, but when you are collectively working as a team you want to go into the game with a high level of uncertainty. And this game delivers: it is hard. Soul-crushingly difficult at times. Those who dislike losing will want to steer clear of this game, but for those of us who want to be challenged every time we set up the game, this one will deliver. Even our last play, where all five locations we needed came out early, ended in a loss because we ended up losing a total of 3 turns via the Encounter deck (we actually lost 4, but were able to earn one back). I’ve had games where we’ve come close to winning. To where one more round could have been enough to seal a victory. But I’ve also had ones where we didn’t even come close. I’ve taken those as lessons learned: you have to be efficient and focused on what needs to be accomplished. Find ways to do things better. Winning has eluded me still with this game, and that is something I feel obliged to praise about Albion’s Legacy. This game defeats me as often as my wife does in competitive games.

Each character in the game is a little different than the others. Gawain can take an extra wound. Lancelot gets more Destiny tokens (usually used for rerolls). Guenievere can heal another character’s wound. King Arthur can take a wound in place of someone else. Merlin can draw two threat cards and choose which one goes into play. And they all have varying strengths and weaknesses with the symbols they can roll. Lancelot has very high Prowess, but his Loyalty trait is poor. They also have favored enemies, granting them an extra die when facing one of the two types of enemies they are favored against. So while they all operate in similar ways, each character does feel different. You’ll want to have certain characters keep back and let someone else clear out those witches or druids, whereas Lancelot should always ride into battle against dragons or knights.

There isn’t a ton of artwork outside of the characters, but I love the artwork on the characters. It evokes traits of those characters from the Arthurian legends. Those eight character cards stand out to me, and the standees still look good as they move around the board. I do wish those standees had been just a little bigger so that the artwork would stand out more during the game.

This game is great at all player counts. I’ve played with 1, 2, and 3 players and would imagine 4 to be just as good. You’re going to have either 3 or 4 characters during the game, and you’ll get a few more activations with 4 characters but also will need to gain more Quest Coins. The balance feels great at both character counts and, by extension, all player counts. The lack of player elimination also helps this one out a lot.

This is a game that rewards trying different strategies. What seems like a game where all you need to do is move around and explore, fighting baddies along the way, will surprise you along the way. Yes, those are still the basic mechanics. But there are ways to set yourself up to greater success. The Item deck seems like a useless deck until you start getting them and realize there are cards in here that can transport you to certain tiles and ones to search the terrain stack for a specific tile. Movement seems to be slow until you realize the importance of those Mounts that get unlocked as the game progresses. Relics and the Armory are clearly vital from the start, and even moreso once you find Relics that can gain you a turn back or restore Destiny tokens. Certain baddies seem like an immediate threat and turn out to be decoys, distracting you from your objective. There is a lot of stuff in here, and it will take many plays to be familiar with what you can find and where you should focus your efforts.

The death of a character is not quite as punishing as it could have been. The character is out of the game, you discard the top Virtue Plaque, and on that player’s next turn a new character begins at the Round Table. This is great, as it prevents player elimination. It moves one defeat trigger closer to the end, but that is often less punishing than if you lost a full game round. Defeated enemy tokens are also kept, which helps to alleviate the blow of losing any equipment, etc. that character may have accumulated.

Combat involves rolling dice. The number rolled is based on your character’s trait, and you can usually use one of two against an enemy type. The dice have five symbols on there, plus a “wild” burst symbol that always counts as 2 hits. You get a 33% chance of hitting the enemy with a die roll, yet sometimes it feels far lower. There are ways to mitigate: Destiny tokens allow you to reroll a single die and breaking equipment can prevent taking a wound. The problem comes, not only through the random dice roll, but that there is no way to retreat. When things go wrong, and in this game they can and will, there is no way to avoid that certain defeat. Edit: As it turns out, you CAN retreat from a challenge, but you must discard an unbroken inventory item.

The game does boil down to exploring and then either do X on these locations or deliver Y to these locations. Each of the three Story Cards are different, yet very much the same. But so many games can be reduced down to simple, boring mechanics. It is the total package which should be evaluated, and this one delivers. My only nitpick is that I wish at least one Story Card felt different. I want to go and find the Holy Grail, to embark on some sort of grand adventure. Not to try and find these locations and do something on them to win.

There is no getting around the fact: this game is fiddly. There are a ton of tokens and tiny cards, and you’ll be flipping and moving and adding and removing them all the time. You’ll be seeking out specific named tokens with every other threat tile. You’ll be slowly building the map with individual terrain tiles that sometimes don’t line up and are prone to shifting if bumped. Moving enemy tokens from one tile to the next can also cause headaches with shifting tiles. This is one game that desperately needs organization solutions, and even then it can feel like there is just so much stuff to manipulate. The game needs these things, and uses them well. But if you hate that sort of thing, you won’t enjoy doing that with this game.

whistle There are a ton of expansions for this game, adding characters and enemies and story cards and much, much more. The problem? Only available during the Legacy game kickstarters, and only available as a complete package for over $100. Worth the purchase? I’m inclined to believe so because I really enjoy the base game and am dying to see what else it adds. But its lack of availability, and the high price since it is only sold as a full bundle, is something that makes me sad. This isn’t a negative against

Final Verdict

There was never a doubt in my Arthurian-loving heart that I would enjoy this game. It is not a perfect game by any means, much as I might like it to be, yet this is a game that gives an experience greater than the sum of its parts. For many potential negatives, there are offsetting methods for them. While rolling dice is a random element, there are Destiny Tokens for rerolls and the ability to break equipment to avoid taking wounds. Exploring through the stack of tiles is a random element, but there are items which can help you to find what you’re seeking faster. Travel can take a long time, but there are mounts and “connected” tiles that can come out to make travel a little faster.

The one thing that simply cannot be offset is the fiddliness of the game. There are tons of tiny tokens, and you’ll be putting them on the board often. The named ones, which appear with every other threat, are especially troublesome since you need that specific character. The map tiles are prone to being bumped and shifting, and don’t always perfectly line up after long paths explored. Almost everything you do involves you adding, or moving, tokens or coins or the tiny cards.

Yet in spite of all of these things, it remains a game near and dear to me as a gamer. Even without the Arthurian lore woven throughout the game (and this game does it better than any other I’ve encountered), the challenges and experiences of this game make it worth playing. I’ve lamented before the ranking of this game on BGG, and will continue to do so. This is easily the best cooperative game I’ve ever played for the pure fact that it is hard. Not just a “you’re going to feel like you are doing poorly, but will manage to pull ahead late in the game” experience that would present the illusion of challenge. I’ve played enough of those. This game will beat you down until your armor has so many dings and dents that it has become useless. It will evoke anger, frustration, and despair. It will also evoke excitement, tension, hope, and the thrill of putting yourself to the test.

This is not a game for those who cannot handle defeat. The game has beaten me every time I’ve played it and left me thirsting for more punishment. Even when all goes well, and sometimes it does, the game magically finds a way to remind you that you are in its domain. Regardless of player count, this is a game I would always be willing to play. It provides a fantastic challenge for solo gamers and for couples alike. Just don’t expect to find a happy ending at the resolution of the quest. Because despair will overtake the land more often than naught, and that is one of the best things about this game.

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

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review for One – Stellar Leap

Thank you for checking review #27 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.

**Disclaimer: I was provided the print and play files to help playtest the solo version of this game. Photos used were provided by the publisher, Weird Giraffe Games, and any components and/or gameplay items contained in this review may be different when the final game is released in 2018.

This game launched on Kickstarter on 9/18/2017. You can find a link to it here and at the bottom of this review:

There was no compensation provided in exchange for the playtesting or for the honest review.

An Overview of Stellar Leap


Stellar Leap is a game designed by Carla Kopp and is published by Weird Giraffe Games. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 40-80 minute play time.

Explore the galaxy in Stellar Leap! Take on the role of an alien species as you discover new planets and complete missions in this family-friendly space exploration game. Become the most prestigious alien species in the galaxy by completing missions, discovering new planets, increasing population, and fulfilling your hidden trait’s objective.

Be the player with the most prestige at the end of the game.
During your turn perform two High Command actions such as increasing your population, taxing for more resources, discovering a planet, or attacking your opponents. You also have the following Division Actions at your disposal that can be activated once per turn: Labor, Intelligence, and Mining.

These Actions may be taken in any order you choose.
Variable Player Powers mean that you can manipulate the planets that generate resources each turn in different ways than your opponent can, which leads to different strategies for each power. Are you going to team up with your opponents so that everyone gets resources on your turn or will you attack them and cause them to scatter to other parts of the galaxy?

Game altering events are triggered by player actions and can have minor or lasting effects, usually being better for the player that triggered the event.

Game End
The game ends after the sixth event and the round is completed.
The player with the most total prestige is declared the winner!

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player


(For more on the setup and gameplay for 2+ players, check out Eric’s excellent preview:

All of the setup for the solo game is the same as you’d do for a 2-player game, except you add in a player board and instructions for one or more AI opponents. You’ll get to place your home world first, which can go under the numbers 1-6, and then the AI will take the first open spot to the right. So it will select 6, unless you took that number in which case it selects the 5.

Like the standard game, Stellar Leap in played over the course of a series of rounds until six events have been triggered and resolved. Both you and the AI will complete an equal number of turns and then it will move into the final scoring.

Gameplay is simple. For your own turns, the game proceeds with no changes from the standard game. You will take two High Command actions, as well as up to three division actions. You may also complete the Move action any number of times, provided you have the necessary resources. After your turn ends, the play shifts to the AI and here’s where I’ll go into a little more detail:

At the start of the AI’s turn, you roll the dice for resource generation. Since there is no die manipulation on their turn, the roll is what it is. You also reduce the highest-valued Asteroid by 1, and then you move on to the AI’s actions for the turn. Each of the three AI that I playtested followed a similar formula: complete X number of actions, following an order of importance. You simply go down the list and take the first action whose requirements are met, then mark its action space to show it was taken. Repeat the process until you’ve completed all of the AI’s actions. Each AI had its own unique objectives they focused on: one was trying to generate and spread its population, one tried to be an aggressor and attack every chance it could, and the last one tried to end the game as quickly as possible.

Playing the AI’s turn is easy and becomes intuitive. At the end of the game each AI will score bonuses based on their player board (for population, discoveries, and attacks) as well as their own special scoring conditions. After your score and the AI’s scores are tallied, the higher score wins.

My Thoughts

One of the most important things about a solo game is to consider how much work you are required to do during the AI’s turn. This game nails that aspect, providing a simple and easy-to-complete list of possibilities to happen during the AI’s turn. While this does allow you to know and plan around the AI during your turns, it also makes it so you aren’t dedicating a lot of time and thought to how the AI will act. This will allow you to enjoy the experience of playing your turns while providing the challenge of figuring out how to outmaneuver what the opponent will do next.

There is resource generation via die rolls, much like Catan, but the system here is considerably better. It is typically a system I dislike because it leaves you feeling like too much is left to chance. A few things contribute to this being a good system: Planets generate resources for the columns based on the individual numbers rolled AND the sum which means that low and high rolls are great for the 5-6 slots, there is a community die power that can be used by everyone to manipulate the dice on their roll, and each player has a unique die power to further manipulate the dice on their turn. Not only that, but one of your High Command actions is to gain 2 resources of your choice, meaning you can always use that to get what you really need.

The missions require a decent number of resources, but always pay back a smaller number of resources in addition to VP. This is helpful because it means you aren’t losing all of those hard-earned resources, but rather converting some of them into a different resource. This can help open the path for selecting one mission in order to get the resources needed to complete another mission on your next turn. Another nice thing with the missions is they ramp up nicely in point value without feeling like they give too many points. Some may feel overcosted in Tier 3, but they should be hard to purchase.

This game feels like a light 4X game, which is a very desirable trait. Those are among my favorite types of games, and to have another nice, quick, soloable 4X game option is a great benefit. If you like 4X games, or want to explore your first title in that category, this one would serve as a nice entry point or an excellent addition. Outside of dungeon crawlers, there aren’t enough soloable 4X games out there.

I really enjoy the action selection choices. You can choose two High Command actions, which allow you to grow population, gain resources of your choice, attack, and discover new planets. You can even use the same one twice. You also can use any or all of the three Divisions on your turn, allowing you to complete a mission, mine an asteroid, and exhaust a population for resources. So you get up to five actions, although three of them cannot be repeated. All of this provides valuable decisions while preventing someone from being able to overuse certain actions. Careful planning, and a willingness to adapt, are important.


Speaking of action selection, the player boards are fantastic and I have no doubt the final cards for the AI will be equally great. You can see and track everything you need to know right in front of you. Some might call it fiddly, and I could see that, but overall this is a great addition for this game.

The events are fun and have a nice mix of benefits and bad things. They can elevate you for a late push, or they can set you back. Since the AI doesn’t use resources, sometimes the event drawn will only affect you. This is arguably the biggest element of randomness in the game, but it is also fun seeing what will come about as a result.

The names on some of the mission cards make me smile. I always think of Wash from Firefly when I see the Leaf on the Wind card, and that is a good thing. It doesn’t affect the gameplay, but it makes the geek in me happy.


There were certain traits that, if you used them against the right AI, felt extremely overpowered. In particular, there was one which scored 5 VP for every mission you completed. That made the cheap missions, worth 2 VP, more worthwhile and the Tier 3 missions ultimately worth 10-11 VP rather than the 5-6. Almost every turn I was able to complete a mission during each solo play which meant I was scoring at least 7 points every turn from the start. The obvious decision, after learning which trait is powerful against which AI, would be to choose the other trait when this one is dealt to you (since you get 2 and choose 1 at the beginning of the game).

One of my biggest issues is that the game against the AI can drag on for too long. There is no incentive to take more than a single Tier 1 mission, and once the Tier 3 get out there is no incentive to finish out the Tier 2 missions. The planet decks have yet to deplete, and sometimes asteroids are few and far between. Which means many games see events triggered by just population growth and the completion of solar systems. By that point, my own engine is built so well that I can take a Tier 3 mission every turn, allowing me to outpace the AI. The Game Ender AI fixed that issue, and is the one I enjoyed playing against the most. Without using this one, it can feel like you get too much time to make sure you’ve secured a victory.


Attacking in a solo game has minimal value. Unless you want it for the points, or just have an overabundance of fuel and oxygen, the cost to attack is never worthwhile. Some of the AI get to spread back out onto planets without using one of their actions, completely rendering your attack useless apart from the minimal VP gain. This is still a fun and enjoyable solo experience without the use of attacking, but I’d like to see it become a viable tool in solo play. Right now, attacking would set the player back more than it does the AI. There is more benefit to using those High Commands to explore or grow your population. Adding in more AI will increase that action’s value, but a standard solo game with one AI will rarely see a good time to attack.

Final Verdict

As a solo game, this is a fantastic experience. It can be set up, played, and torn down in under an hour for sure and usually closer to 30-40 minutes. It offers some meaningful decisions, and it has several difficulties to adjust your preferences. Had it been just the three AI challenges themselves, it might have been a pass on getting this as a game only to be played solo. But the ability to play against more than one in a single session makes this into a really challenging puzzle that is definitely worth the price tag. Even moreso if you plan to play it with other player counts.

There are some traits that are clearly more powerful against certain AI than others, but I have no knowledge if they end up being better-balanced with more players. But because you get dealt two of them, you can choose the less-powerful option in order to increase your challenge. That allows you to adjust the difficulty even within the game itself.

My respect for Carla is really high, given that she specifically sought out blind testers for the solo play and responded really well to feedback along the way. Some of the tweaks made certainly helped to benefit the solo experience, taking it from fun yet unremarkable and turning it into an excellent game experience. It reminds me, in a good way, of Race for the Galaxy and that solo gameplay which hooked me onto solo gaming. While the easier AI in Steller Leap isn’t quite as brutal as RftG’s Easy Robot, the ability to add extra challenge while operating the same basic system makes this a game anyone could try solo. There are no complex rules or changes, no lengthy system of charts or puzzles to solve when taking the AI’s turn. You know what it can do and the order it is likely to do those things in. That makes it so you can plan your own turns accordingly, feeling at the end of the day like your victory or defeat was due to your own skill at playing rather than the unfortunate swings of chance.

I very much recommend this one as a solo game, and have full confidence that it will be just as fun at higher player counts. Be sure to check it out on Kickstarter, starting on 9/18/2017.

Be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign. I’d be more than willing to answer any questions you might have before you decide to back, based upon my experience with the game:

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

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review for One – Freedom: The Underground Railroad

Thank you for checking out my fifteenth review. 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.

As a note, we were provided a copy of this game in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Academy Games for the chance to play this game!

An Overview of Freedom: The Underground Railroad


Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a game designed by Brian Mayer and is published by Academy Games. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 60-120 minute play time on the box.

In Freedom: The Underground Railroad, players are working to build up the strength of the Abolitionist movement through the use of notable figures and pivotal events. By raising support for the cause and moving slaves to freedom in Canada, the minds of Americans can be changed and the institution of slavery can be brought down.

Freedom is a card-driven, cooperative game for one to four players in which the group is working for the abolitionist movement to help bring an end to slavery in the United States. The players use a combination of cards, which feature figures and events spanning from Early Independence until the Civil War, along with action tokens and the benefits of their role to impact the game.

Players need to strike the right balance between freeing slaves from plantations in the south and raising funds which are desperately needed to allow the group to continue their abolitionist activities as well as strengthen the cause.

The goal is not easy and in addition to people and events that can have a negative impact on the group’s progress, there are also slave catchers roaming the board, reacting to the movements of the slaves on the board and hoping to catch the runaway slaves and send them back to the plantations.

Through careful planning and working together, the group might see an end to slavery in their time.

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player


Much of the game is similar regardless of the number of players involved. Here are some of the 1-player specific setup rules: You take the Victory Condition tile for the player count (in this case, 1) and place it in the top right corner of the board. This tile has two sides, and the red side would be the harder difficulty that requires more slaves freed while having fewer get captured. Take the Slave Market cards that include the 1 for player count, shuffle those and put three of them on the Slave Market spaces to begin the game. Place a slave cube on each spot in those Slave Market cards as well as on the light-colored spots in the three plantation spaces at the bottom of the map.

You’ll remove the 3&4 cards from each of the three period decks and then shuffle in 3 Opposition cards to the blue and green decks and 4 into the purple deck. One support token will be placed for each period. The first period will get 3 conductor tokens and 1 fundraising token of that color. The second period will get 2 of each conductor tokens and 2 fundraising tokens. The third period will get 1 of each conductor token and 1 fundraising token. Place the slave catcher tokens on their starting spaces and 8 coins and you’re ready to begin.

During a 1-player game you still get the same five phases of play and the same number of moves. Which equates to being able to buy 2 tokens during every planning phase, buying a card during each action phase, and playing up to two tokens during every action phase. This is where the difficult decisions come in, because you’re very limited on how much you can do every turn, and most of the time you’ll want to buy more cards or tokens, or play more tokens, than you have available.

The other major difference is that during the Lantern Phase, the two right-most cards in the market are discarded rather than just one. This is great for moving those Opposition cards through the queue, but terrible if there are several cards you want to purchase.

My Thoughts

This game is deceptively challenging, a trait I find that I prefer in both solo games and in cooperative games. My first play of the game, I thought it was going to be an easy coast to a win. And then the later rounds came and suddenly I had no space to move any cubes and I needed to open those up before the end of the round. It was absolutely impossible to win with what was available, although I did manage to almost win. The second game was a breeze, partially because the role allowed me to move two cubes one space each turn as that role’s action. So movement was never an issue, and no bad opposition cards came up. So after that I played on the hard side and, well, I never came close enough to win after that. Because everything is so limited (money, movement, cards), you have to really manage and plan things out in advance.

The slave catcher movement is an excellent system. It requires no thought on the part of the players because it follows a simple set of rules: you move a cube onto a space that is connected to the colored path, then the slave catcher moves one space in that direction along their path. This allows you to not only see what will happen as you move and plan for it, but it also creates clogs and jams that will keep some of your cubes immobile for a while. Because if the catcher lands on a cube, it gets added to the slave market. Which means more are getting added to those plantations at the bottom. Which fill up far too fast in later rounds, meaning you’re losing slaves which brings you closer to losing the game. All in all, this is a simple yet remarkably frustrating mechanic that allows the game to play itself without involving the player to do a bunch of thought or planning for the opposition. The thought comes from trying to figure out how to succeed while knowing how the opposition will interact and react.

Artwork is always subjective, and the box itself left me underwhelmed. Thankfully, the components inside are much better to look at. I enjoy the newspaper look on the left portion of the board where the cards and tokens are placed. The map is simple yet the color-coding really provides a nice visual. The cards themselves are primarily blacks and whites and grays and most contain photos relevant to the period, person, or event in question. All of those work well to enhance the experience. If the cubes had been just a little more thematic, this would have been an even better result. But I understand because wooden cubes are cost-effective, whereas 70 miniatures likely would have made the price inflate up over $100 MSRP.

The theme for this board game is very unique, and that earns it some points. I’ll talk more about this in the final thoughts, but this game’s theme brings about some unique situations. The theme won’t appeal to everyone, but it is a game that everyone should try at least once. Not only that, but the historical accuracy, and the added information within the rulebook, makes this an excellent game for classroom learning. Any classroom that intends to do a unit on this subject should seriously consider having a copy or two of this game to provide an interactive, educational experience that complements any textbooks or videos also being shown about the period.

Piggybacking on the above mention of the theme, this game gets points for really making that theme come alive. Which is surprising, given that you’re pushing around cubes on a map while trying to avoid little cardboard circles that have colored shapes on them. You get a really good feel for the struggle that the Abolitionist movement faced, and just how hard this process was.

The rules for this game are put together well. It took one read of the book to have a very clear grasp of the game and how to accomplish my objectives. There is a great reference sheet in the box that covers everything, from the actions you can take to the phases of the game to how to set it up based on player count. There are examples of games where you need to watch Rodney Smith on Watch It Played in order to even get a basic understanding of how to play a game. It is always refreshing to come across one that is not only perfectly clear in the rules, but also provides a well-designed and comprehensive aid.

The setup and teardown time of this one is a bit on the longer side of what I want from a solo game of this length. It isn’t nearly as bad as, say, Firefly: The Game but it also usually plays in less than half the amount of time. That middle category for setup/teardown/gameplay is a tough place to land because I’m more likely to pull out a smaller one I can play several times or push into a larger and longer game. With one player, the games run closer to the 45-60 minute range once you get the hang of what you can do on your turn and the five phases each round.


This game is an AP-player’s nightmare. I enjoy the puzzle-like nature of the gameplay in the later rounds and can usually see, in hindsight, how the early rounds led to those tough situations. This is a game that provides a fair amount of mental drain by the end, which is a satisfying feeling to have from a game of this weight. Yet, as mentioned above, it is a little shorter than it should be for something like this. Twice I’ve played it early enough in the evening that I could easily have reset and played a second game of it. Both times I opted to put it away because I wasn’t sure I could handle that level of taxing puzzle again.

Final Verdict

This game is a difficult game to wrap my head around. On one hand, it is a game that presents an interesting and, at times, complex puzzle as you try and balance money and movement and how those movements will affect both current and future turns. It succeeds at providing a board game challenge that is interesting and worthwhile. It is definitely a game that provides a rewarding experience for solo gamers in particular.

I do not know how this would do as a group game, though. The subject matter itself is no laughing matter, and that could easily present a somber tone to any group sitting down to play the game. You don’t want to be that person who takes things too lightly, because the subject matter is deep. Joel from Drive Thru Review has discussed that many times in his videos and, recently, in his audio podcast. The topic is as heavy as the puzzles the gameplay presents.

And yet there is incredible value in this game. It is something that allows us, in our modern day and society, to understand how incredibly difficult that period of time was. There are times where you are simply trying to select the best of the bad options left to you. You’ll agonize over the slave catchers and their ability to cut off your movement paths. You’ll gain empathy for the plight of those involved in the Abolitionist movement and for those ensnared in slavery.

This game is definitely one we should all play. It’ll open our minds to the reality of what occurred, and provide a ton of educational value. Every classroom, whether home or private or public, should have at least a copy of this game to integrate with units covering this period in American History. It will provide insights that textbooks and video clips simply cannot imitate. This is where the value provided by this game, and many other historical games by Academy Games and other great companies, really shine because they allow a group of people to share in an experience that sometimes follows the historical path (in this game, for instance, there is no guarantee that the Abolition movement gains traction and succeeds) with its outcome but always allows you to better understand some of the dynamics and decisions that came about in that situation.

If you haven’t played this game, you really ought to do so. Find someone who has a copy and get it to the table. Purchase one for yourself, especially if you have children whom you want to provide an engaging educational experience for. It’ll be worth the time and the investment.

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