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

Review for One and Two – Shadowrift

Thank you for checking review #80 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 provided for what had been planned as a deckbuilding month. With the medical time spent on my daughter since September, than plan went by the wayside.

***Second Note: I didn’t know there was an upcoming Kickstarter for an expansion, but once I became aware of it, I played the game a few extra times in order to get this review up during the campaign. You can find the Kickstarter link here, and at the bottom of this review: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadowrift/shadowrift-b…

An overview of Shadowrift

Shadowrift is a board game designed by Jeremy Anderson that was published in 2012 by Game Night Productions and later rereleased with a 2nd Edition by Game Salute (this review is based on the 2nd Edition). The box states it plays 1-6 players in 45-120 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 2.69.

Haven Town is facing total annihilation at the hands (and teeth) of a horde of monsters from beyond the Shadowrift.

You, the heroes, must band together to drive them back. To do this, you will need powerful spells, skills, attacks and loot. When the game begins, you are a basic hero; you can explore and fight. Luckily for you, Shadowrift is a deck-building game! You can buy new cards to add to your deck, cards that will define you as an adventurer and complement the strengths of your fellow heroes. Unlike other deck-builders, there is constant interaction with your fellow players as you figure out who will gain which benefit from the limited supply of townsfolk, offer their coin to help construct walls, and seek healing from anyone who’s learned such magic.

Shadowrift also features monsters that don’t merely sit waiting to be slain; if you leave them alone, they will rip Haven Town asunder. They’ll kill people, break walls, and kick your heroes in the face. Combat with them is intuitive (though frequently painful). For defeating a monster, heroes gain Heroism, a simple, consistent boost to their power that makes them better at anything they undertake. Since the monsters won’t stop coming until the last Shadowrift is sealed or the town has been built into a mighty fortress, you’ll need every boost you can take.

The second edition of Shadowrift features many improved mechanisms, including a revised system for how monsters choose who to attack (based on types of villagers, instead of specific people) and a new system for monster powers (making them much more dangerous). It also has a revised card layout and a great deal of new and improved artwork.

Differences for 1-2 players

For one player: Assuming one-handed play for solo, you have 8 Heroism rather than 1 per player, and during the Monsters Gain Power round they gain 3 rather than 1 per player. Additionally, the player gets two full turns after each Monster turn; however, the Town and Traveller lineups do change after each player turn. 2 Shadowrifts are added to the deck rather than 1 per player as well.

For two players: Monsters gain 2 power per round, 2 Shadowrifts are added to the monster deck, and 10 Heroism cards are used. Really, these are just based on # of players and in no way changes the rules of the game.

My Thoughts

This game was a novel approach to the deckbuilding genre long before it rose to extreme popularity. To put it into perspective, Dominion came out in 2008. This came out in 2012. It came out after Ascension (2010), Arctic Scavengers (2009), Eminent Domain (2011) and Thunderstone (2009), the same year as Legendary (2012), Fantastiqa (2012) and DC Comics Deck Building Game (2012), and before both Star Realms (2014) and Aeon’s End (2016). Compare it to the ones out before, and around the same time, and this one stands pretty tall in its uniqueness. Maybe only Fantastiqa can really compete in that sense. Shadowrift still provides a very unique deckbuilding game that can stand alongside those other names because there isn’t one of them that does the same thing as Shadowrift.

At first this game appears to be about fighting off hordes of monsters. Then it appears to be a town defense game. Yet it is both of those things while at the same time being neither of those things. Some games, when they try to be clever and incorporate too much, lose some polish in the final product. And maybe the 1st edition had some of that. But the 2nd edition of Shadowrift juggles the deckbuilding genre, multiple types of currency, hordes of monsters, and town defense in a way that I’ve never seen before. For an older game (relatively speaking), it is surprising to get such a breath of fresh air from this game’s approach.

There are a lot of combinations in the box. Yes, astronomical computations could be made. But essentially you get six monster factions to fight against using a set of 8 market cards of your choosing. Most people will probably play a monster faction a handful of times, realistically, before wanting to either move on or expand the game. But even there you have roughly 20-25 plays just in the base game alone. The nice thing with these market and monster-driven games is that they are easy enough to integrate expansions into without needing to really change any core rules.

There are three currencies in the game, and you start with just the most basic of them in your deck. You can spend 2 to buy coins, which are one-time use and can be spent in a variety of ways. The most difficult to obtain would be the magic symbols, which often appear on spells but then you get the decision, when it is in your hand, on whether to use it for the spell or for the magic symbol. This factors into what I’ll be alluding to shortly regarding the absence of deck thinning, making it essential to decide early how to fill your deck with cards. Nothing is more frustrating than always drawing the Seal you need to clear a Shadowrift and never having a Magic symbol to use its ability.

Another neat deckbuilding decision comes from the Epic symbols on some market cards. On a player round (players take turns simultaneously, meaning the order in which you play cards as a team can matter and so communicating as a team is essential to be as effective as possible) you cannot play more Epic cards than there are players. So in a solo game (one handed, of course) you can play only one. Draw a hand of 3 of them? Too bad (unless a specific villager is in the Town to let you play an extra one). These are often the most powerful effects, usually based around combat in some fashion. You definitely want them in your deck. But you don’t want JUST them in your deck. They add interesting decisions along the way as you play the game, something you’re going to hear me say more and more about Shadowrift.

The Town and the Travelers are what really gives this game flavor and makes it shine when compared to some of the other staples in the genre. At the start you have 10 villagers in the Town deck, each of which have some sort of effect when in the Town or an Aid ability the players can use (once) on their turn. There is also a slightly thicker Traveler deck, which will flip over two cards every round. Some of the cards are people you can buy into the town deck, usually costing Coins and/or Prowess (the generic resource). However, there are some red Infiltrator cards that, when flipped into the face-up Traveler spots, immediately go into the Town discard pile. Which means they get shuffled in the next time you need to shuffle the Town cards to refill those five cards (which happens every round). If you ever have 5 corpses and/or Infiltrator cards into the Town display at the start of the Heroes’ turn, you lose. This deck refills before the monsters go, who then go before the Heroes. Which means even getting out 3 of those red cards can signal danger if there are some monsters about to act and Kill some villagers. Lucky for you, most Infiltators have a cost you can pay to put them back on the bottom of the Traveler deck (which is also where dead townspeople go). It is a simple pair of mechanisms at work here, but they add such intriguing decisions: do you spend resources to buy cards for your deck, or do you add travelers to the Town, or do you try and remove those Infiltrators?

The monsters follow a very simple sequence once they enter play. Every town they advance one space and do what is printed for that space# on their card. Many times it is to Kill some symbol of villager in the Town display, which not only removed that Villager from the deck (it goes to the bottom of the Traveler deck), but it also adds a Corpse card in their place. Which not only thins out the useful cards in that Town deck, it also advances the odds of losing. Because you can see what monsters will do on the next space, you can plan ahead on which ones you NEED to focus on taking out. However, with just 2 attack in your starting 10 cards, you’ll need to “level up” your hero some before taking down the biggest of baddies…

We come now to the elephant in the room that I can already hear people begrudging this game over: there is no deck thinning mechanism. Yep, you read that right. There are ways to remove wounds and afflictions, both cards that enter your deck via monsters, but once you buy a card it is in there forever. Same with your starting ten cards. Bold move? Perhaps, and something no deckbuilder today would dream of doing. Yet it is slightly balanced from the Heroism cards you get from killing monsters, which not only counts as any 1 of the 3 resources, but also lets you draw a card immediately when you draw the card into your hand. There’s also some Might cards that are the cheap currency which allow you to draw a card, but remove themselves when used for anything but a keep-in-play trigger on an action card. Rather than begrude the game for what it lacks, this should be embraced as an interesting puzzle each round. Every card you buy makes it less likely you’ll draw every card in that deck, meaning it needs to carry its weight. Is that generic 1 melee damage worth adding to your deck, or should you just buy a coin instead for a future turn? This is one of the things that makes this game so darn interesting to puzzle out right now, because most deckbuilders you can take thinning for granted and race to remove those starter cards.

Getting the rifts closed is important in the game. With 1 or 2 players, you’re looking for two rifts that are added to a 20 card deck – one in the top 10 and one in the bottom 10. Another element of randomness, you see. However, you have a card in your starting deck that can place the top Monster card from the deck onto the bottom of that deck – and you can always see what the next card is coming off the deck (it is face-up) so you won’t accidentally throw that Shadowrift to the bottom. There are a few other cards that can help cycle those cards, too, letting you dig a little faster. I’ve seen both Shadowrifts only once, but I’m not a great player yet. It stinks that your rifts could be cards 1 and 22 off the deck, but it is great that you can help speed it along.

My first plays of the game felt like I was losing to the luck of random draw. And yes, that will always be a possibility. If you get a strong reaction toward knowing your game could end due to a bad draw, this one might leave a sour taste for you. However, the redeeming quality in here is that you can do things to give that Town deck better odds by buying new Travelers, eliminating Infiltrators as soon as you can, or preventing the monsters from Killing townsfolk. It is a lot to juggle, especially solo. I’ve heard the game is far easier at higher player counts, simply because you have more hands on deck to specialize and deal with the unique areas of the game. When playing solo, those resources are scarce enough that it makes every decision matter. And even when you are playing well, it still could end with 4 of the 5 cards flipping out red and the one monster that just got added happens to Kill the exact symbol that isn’t red. It can happen even if you only have 4 red cards in that deck. Early in the game, this doesn’t sting so bad. But if it happens when you’re nearing the end of a grueling, long fight…that could become table-flipping territory for some players.

Final Thoughts

When I looked at this game, my immediate thought was Aeon’s End plus Marvel Legendary. While it has some thematic and mechanical similarities to both, this game is nothing like either of those games, but is more like Legendary than it is like Aeon’s End.

What if I told you this game originally came out before either of those games?

Some older games do not age well. Others just take longer to gain popularity and hit their prime. I’m convinced that Shadowrift still has not “arrived” yet in terms of making waves, but it definitely should not be overlooked. This game provides a far more thematic approach to defending the town than you had in Aeon’s End. This game gives a greater challenge, and requires far less setup/teardown time than Marvel Legendary.

And boy, is this game a challenge. Not necessarily because of any heightened difficulty built into the game, but rather because you are trying to balance several things effectively. The obvious threat comes from the monster deck and the interactions brought about by the monsters traveling across the play area. Fighting them is essential, yet clogs the deck through wounds (usually) gained from battle. But if you overlook the travellers coming to town, you could find yourself filled with infiltrators and corpses and bring a premature end to your efforts, no matter how successful you are at fighting back the monstrous horde.

My first loss in the game was bitter. Not only was I doing a poor job at killing dragons, I was poorly managing the cards clogging up my hand and completely ignored the Town deck. It got overrun with bad cards, which meant sooner or later I’d see 5 dealt out to give me the loss. I felt like the game was impossibly hard and lacked good decisions. I tried it again against the same match, with the same market, and had much of the same results. Turns out the recommended starting game wasn’t a great starting one for winning solo.

But as I kept returning to the game and playing further, I started to get better at tracking my deck of cards and keeping an eye toward the Town deck. Have I perfected that balance? Hardly. In fact, I’d argue that I am quite a ways away from hitting that efficient stride after 6 plays of the game.

Which is something I really like about this game, because it makes you think in ways that other games in this genre don’t. Not only are there three resource types in the game, there are also two methods of attack. Resources can be spent to improve your deck, or to improve the Town deck, and sometimes to help cycle the monster deck. The game is more than just get buying power early to get attack power and then stop buying cards while you smack enemies around. The game is more than culling cards ruthlessly until you can play your entire hand for super turns every round.

And that is a breath of fresh air in a genre that, at times, can feel repetitive and stale. There’s a reason why Mystic Vale is my favorite deckbuilder: it takes the genre and does something fresh with it. Aeon’s End did the same thing with the breaches and not shuffling. But this game takes the deckbuilder concept and really makes you have to consider, every single turn, how your decisions will impact your long-term goals.

As a solo/co-op gamer, I hate high win percentages (looking at you, Sentinels of the Multiverse). My favorite game is sitting firmly at a 31% win rate after over a hundred plays, and that feels perfect. The wins in Shadowrift are coming for me eventually. And until then, I’ll enjoy having this hit the table as part of a rotation of games I definitely want to make sure I play every month.

As a reminder, the newest expansion is on Kickstarter right now. And yes, I am a backer. That should confirm things: I enjoy this game and it is in my collection to stay. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadowrift/shadowrift-b…

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

Review for One – Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar

Thank you for checking review #76 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

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

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


An Overview of Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for One · Uncategorized

Review for One – Maiden’s Quest

Thank you for checking review #73 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 Maiden’s Quest

Maiden’s Quest is a game designed by Kenneth C. Shannon III and was published by Wiz Kids in 2018. The box states that it can play 1-2 players and has a 10-30 minute play time.

In Maiden’s Quest, a maiden — tired of waiting to be rescued — takes it upon herself to fight her enemies and escape.

Maidens use cards from their hands to attempt to defeat an enemy or obstacle. As you play, the game’s difficulty grows as enemies of increasing ferocity become active! An innovative turn-and-flip mechanism allows each card to represent up to four items, encounters, or allies.

This fun and easy-to-learn game takes 10–30 minutes if you play non-stop. However, since each encounter is resolved separately, you can stop and stow away the deck at any time, returning to play when and where you left off at a later time! Since no surface is required, you can play while standing in line to get your morning coffee, while you wait for an appointment, or while sitting on the couch at home! Contents include enough for true solo play, co-op, or competitive two-player games, and, with multiple copies, more players can join in!

description from the publisher

Gameplay differences for 1 Player
No changes, really, as I would say this is designed first and foremost to be a solo experience. Adding in more players has the players going through the first levels like a solo game, and being able to help each other in encounters after that (which sounds really cool, by the way).

My Thoughts

The game is relatively unique in being one that requires zero table space to play. In theory you could even set up without a table, although that tends to be handy. This is the kind of game you can take with you to play while waiting in lines, going on a walk (I still recommend paying attention to your surroundings!), sitting in a waiting room, and more. This allows the game to fill a niche in every collection.

The game has several difficulty levels you can play on, and each captor has varying difficulty. While I wish there was an official rating guide on difficulty, you at least know the two easiest from the rulebook. In my opinion, Hard is the only mode for me because you have a defined number of plays through the deck. However, the randomness also makes it so it would be possible to never encounter your captor. So I at least play until I’ve faced them at least once.

The replay value in the box is incredible, with 80 combinations just from maiden and captor pairings (8 Maidens x 10 Captors). That doesn’t include all the other cards going into each deck, all of which are different (usually only an item and up to 2 health cards are dictated specifically by a maiden, everything else is randomly added from that set of cards). This is the area where Maiden’s Quest crushes its “competition” in Palm Island and a huge reason I prefer this over Palm Island.

The cards are shuffled every time you pass through the deck. Some might dislike this, but I think it is actually a benefit of the game. Yes, you can’t “know” what cards are coming next through memorization. But if you just played the same sequence of cards 7-8 times in a row, you might never be able to pass certain obstacles and thus get into unwinnable situations. You can know what is in your deck and the odds of beating something without needing to know the exact cards coming next. The press your luck component is executed nicely.

The upgrading of your deck over the course of a play is really fun and interesting. It presents really strong decisions, and sometimes you find that downgrading a card is the best option (at the moment) for that card. Seriously, some are better on the flip side even though there is usually the cost of an extra hit while in your fan (if you fail) to add a nice risk-reward into the mix. This gives a strong sense of progression that plays out through all four levels. I wish it could carry on beyond that, but a small game like this can only have so much you expect from it…

Let’s talk theme for a moment. Not only is this a kickass theme about the maiden rescuing herself from the tower, but the cards in here are dripping with theme. Seriously, take the time to look at the card names, the symbols on them, and how that item changes with each upgrade/downgrade. Lots of careful consideration went into this delightful game beyond the simple mechanics. Do I notice the theme often while playing? No, but I don’t have to. I enjoy those things between games, and have those wonderful moments when I see that a Hooded Cloak downgrades to a No Snag Cape and then to a Towel. Or that a Belt can downgrade into a Really Long String. Or that a Candlestick can upgrade to Flame Dagger…or downgrade to my personal favorite: A Ham Sandwich. Did I mention they all have a small snippet of flavor text, too?

There is a ton of iconography and sometimes it can feel like a lot in those first plays. It took a long time for me to realize the value in Haste, which has become my Dark Horse to want in a fan. It is nice that the game comes with reference cards, and this would definitely be a negative without that. However, the rulebook is such an organizational mess that trying to find the full ruling on a keyword can be an effort in frustration. That is its greatest downfall, being a poor reference tool because things are referred to in several places but each time discusses a little different aspect. So you might need to look in three places in there to finally find what you were looking for.

I want to emphasize this, because it has been mentioned in other reviews as a total negative thing. The rules themselves are not bad. Could it be clearer in parts? Yes. Could it be organized better? Very much so. But I had no trouble playing the game after a single pass through the rulebook, only needing to refer back to it for specific situations. And guess what? The answer I needed was always in there. It isn’t a perfect rulebook by any means, but it is definitely going to do its job of teaching you the game effectively. And, spoiler alert, there may be a revised version in the works. I may have helped look it over.

The learn to play guide is fine. Much better than Root’s experience with it. However, it is short (two encounters) and really lacks the gusto that would help reward a new player. It was a nice starting point to run through the mechanics before diving into the rulebook, but I was in no way equipped to continue from that point without reading the rulebook. A longer guide would be a nice addition. Don’t be surprised, with how much I love this game, if a video tutorial appears on my YouTube in the near future…

The treasure cards are great, but there are only a few of them. Everything else has a strong variety, but these are really lacking. A fun mini-pack to add would be a “Treasure Trove” or something, adding some extra choices to flesh this out. After all, I can only flip the same treasure card so many times. Variety would strengthen this a lot.

Final Thoughts

This game isn’t one I am reviewing out of obligation because of getting a review copy, in spite of my best efforts to get one. I was rejected by Wiz Kids, even though the designer threw his support behind my request. I sought a copy out during my last day at Gen Con but was unable to get it while I was there (but did end up with the Unicorn Savior promo from a magazine!) I jumped on a chance to get one when the designer was offering copies, but it hasn’t arrived. None of that matters. I’m reviewing this game because it is one I really, truly believe in. That makes this one of those reviews I’m genuinely happy to write.
The game is not without its flaws. I am sure a left-handed person would dislike how things are organized on the cards and the fanning mechanic. A game can be lost due to luck, since you have no real control over what the next 5 cards will be when you start an encounter. It is portable to play, but doesn’t have any way to take it with you (such as a small wallet that those nice Button Shy games come in), and it can be a real challenge to shuffle while standing. More than once I’ve dropped a number of cards while attempting this and had to try and get them back in the proper orientation. The rulebook is a mess organizationally, even though the gameplay itself isn’t too complex and I had no issues with playing the game after a single pass through the rulebook (but was frustrated several times trying to find where a specific rule or clarification was located while playing those first games).
Warts and all, though, this is a game I really love. It is no secret that I love a story about a strong female protagonist, having written a fantasy novel featuring a strong female protagonist. I’d love to see Ava appear in this game, along with her trusty sword, Seraphina, and Edgar as a Savior card, and a maybe even a monster or two from the book pop into the game. (Let’s talk promos, Ken!) This was the game I needed because it has been perfect for my situation at the NICU visiting my daughter. Time and space to play games has been at a premium, and this game has delivered fun over the course of over a dozen plays so far.
There are two things I really love about this game, moreso than anything else. First of all is the replay value in this box, because there are a ton of maidens and captors and so you can mix & match for almost endless variety. You’ll never use all the treasures, items, health cards, dresses, saviors, or obstacles on any given playthrough so that varies a lot as well. Even when replaying the same exact setup, the order in which things are encountered can drastically alter the course of your play. This game, without any additional content, can provide hundreds of plays.
The other thing I really love is the sense of leveling up throughout the gameplay. You’re upgrading (and sometimes downgrading) cards as you complete encounters (even if you run away, it downgrades something in the fan). You gain that sense of becoming stronger and wiser as you play onto later levels because you have a better sense of what is in your deck. Not only does that apply from game to game, but across plays you get better at knowing what decisions to make and how to effectively upgrade cards and what symbols matter the most.
This is a game I could play all the time and enjoy. I have had fun with every success and every failure (I play on hard mode only, with the caveat of I’ll play Level 4 until I at least encounter the captor, which may take more than one run through if it pops into a fan). I’ve lost more games than I’ve won, something I wasn’t sure would happen when I won my first three games. There are great decisions and some excellent design and gameplay in this box. This is a must-have game for me as a solo gamer, and even if it didn’t have the benefit of being a portable, play-on-the-go style of niche game, it would earn a spot in that collection on merit of gameplay and replay alone. If you haven’t checked it out yet, be sure to take a look at this one. It is fantastic fun, and a game I can 100% recommend.

***

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

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for One

Review for One – Sentinels of the Multiverse

Thank you for checking review #67 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 Sentinels of the Multiverse

 

 

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a game designed by Christopher Badell and Adam Rebottaro and was published by Greater Than Games in 2011. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 30-60 minute play time and a BGG Weight Rating of 2.50.

A mad scientist holds the world hostage with his terrifying inventions. An alien warlord from a far away galaxy brings his limitless army of bizarre minions to conquer the planet. A giant rampaging robot cuts a swath of destruction across the coast, destroying major population centers. And who will stand in their way? A team of heroes, all with impressive powers and abilities stand between the world and the forces of evil. Will you help them? Answer the call to protect the multiverse!

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a cooperative, fixed-deck card game with a comic book flavor. Each player plays as one of ten heroes, against one of four villains, and the battle takes place in one of four different dynamic environments.

Each player, after selecting one of the heroes, plays a deck of 40 cards against the villain and environment decks, which “play themselves”, requiring the players to put the top card of the appropriate deck into play on the villain and environment turns. On each player’s turn, they may play a card from their hand, use a power printed on one of their cards in play, and draw a card from their deck. Each round starts with the villain turn, continues clockwise around the table, then concludes with the environment turn. Each villain has various advantages, such as starting with certain cards in play, as specified by the villain character card. Play continues until the heroes reduce the villain to 0 or fewer HP, or until the villain defeats the heroes, either via a win condition or by reducing all the heroes to 0 or fewer HP.

Gameplay differences for 1 Player

Technically, even when playing solo there should be a team of 3-5 heroes facing the villain. So the real difference here is how many hero decks you are willing to control during the game. I find 3 to be a nice number for making a balanced team, although I’ve gone as high as 5 in the digital version of the game (review on that coming soon…). By controlling all of the heroes yourself, there are some serious benefits and detriments that pop up.

The benefit comes from an ease of coordinating a strategy among the team of heroes. This allows you to tackle some mighty challenges that could otherwise get thrown off with imperfect information and imperfect coordination. It also allows you to make that perfect pairing without personal preference for heroes getting in the way of the ideal match-up.

The drawback is keeping tabs on what you have in each hand as you go. Some characters can end up drawing a ton of cards, forcing you to try and remember everything you’ve seen so far.

My Thoughts

 This is the superhero game I wanted when I first discovered Marvel Legendary a few years ago. As a fan of the superhero genre, this delivers the experience I would want and more. The base game provides ten unique heroes, each feeling different to play as than the other ones in the set. It provides four villain battles that can, and most of them frequently will, push your team to the limit. Each villain operates differently as they work toward their own dastardly plan. The only tragedy is that there aren’t real comics featuring these characters, bringing their stories to life.

 

 However, there is the next best thing (apart from this game, of course): The Letters Page, a podcast where the creators talk about an aspect from their created game and dive deep into their background, the major events in their story arcs, and answer questions from players of their game. There is such a rich and deep history, and the storyteller in me can’t get enough of these.

 I want to emphasize here: every single character, villain, and environment deck in the game feels unique. As you branch out into expansions you’ll get some with similar strengths (i.e. several characters who are really good at hitting things hard) but how they accomplish that can vary wildly. Even in the base game, there are a lot of character combinations that you can run against each villain and environment pairing to get a different challenge each time.

 The gameplay on this is simple in structure: Play a card, use a power, draw a card. I love the simplicity of the game, and how MOST turns are that straightforward. Certain heroes can break that mold, but rarely in a way that really bogs down and ruins the flow of the game. Even the environment and villain turns are pretty easy to navigate, as they involve resolving start of turn effects, playing the top card of the deck, and resolving any end of turn effects.

 The game scales well based on Hero count, which is a great strength and also why it wouldn’t be ideal to play with fewer than 3 heroes (damage that is H-2 becomes 0, for instance, which is not the intent. The baddie should almost always hit when the card intends for it to hit). When playing solo, any combination of 3-5 heroes will play well for you because the enemies scale in power with the number of heroes.

 Even when a hero is knocked out of the fight, they aren’t completely out. I love the idea that they still can help support with their reverse side. Is it as interesting as playing cards from your deck? No. But this solves the problem of player elimination in a game that will frequently exceed the advertised 30-60 minute time printed on the box.

 I am putting this as a strength here, but some might view it as a negative (my wife might be one of those…) – every card in every deck will tell you what it does. Some are simple in the effect, while others have a fair amount of text. Everything you need to know is self-contained on the card, but you’ll have to do a lot of reading of the cards. Not just your own, but the villain and environment cards as they surface, too. And the villain card itself. There is a lot to track, which excites me as a player as it adds layers to the gameplay. But there will definitely be those who see this and run far away in the other direction.

 Until you know the decks and how they operate, you can get stuck in some bad situations. The game doesn’t tell you not to bring a team of The Visionary, Tachyon, and Absolute Zero against Citizen Dawn for your first game. You’ll likely get crushed, as The Visionary and Tachyon aren’t known for dropping a lot of damage (they have some ways, but that isn’t their focus) and Absolute Zero is an absolute beast to effectively play (which is why I have a strategy guide for him!) and Citizen Dawn is arguably the most difficult villain in this box to face. One really bad first play could ruin the experience enough that it never sees the light of day again. Thankfully, many decks are fairly intuitive and can find some ways to work together with whatever other heroes they pair up with so the horrible situations are few and far between, but there is definitely going to be a learning curve on how to best use any of the heroes and to know what cards are in their decks.

 While there is a lot of replay value in the box, it is limited at the same time because this game benefits from variety. There is a ton of expansion content you can pick up to expand the game, and you’re going to want to eventually pick them up. If you’re looking for a one-time purchase that you can be happy with for a hundred plays, you can certainly find that with this game. But odds are you are going to want to expand after a dozen or two plays, especially playing solo and controlling 3-5 characters. You’ll get the hero experiences a lot faster than if you always play this with others.

 This game’s greatest strength can also be considered its greatest weakness: everything is unique. Playing as Legacy a few times does not prepare you to play The Visionary’s deck. Fighting against Baron Blade does not prepare you to fight against Omnitron. There is a steep learning curve on how to effectively pilot each character’s deck, as well as how to fight against each villain and how every environment deck interacts with said villain. It will take many, many plays to get to a point where you can intuitively construct a strong, well-rounded team to handle the exact challenges that said villain and environment pairing can throw at you.

 If there was one complaint that I would wager on hearing, it would be that this game is “fiddly”. I don’t find that to be the case, but I know enough about the term to understand that a player who dislikes having to do upkeep, move cardboard pieces around, and remember to trigger beginning of turn and end of turn effects might find this game to be an unfavorable experience. I have never found the task to be too challenging, and the game includes some excellent cardboard reminders you can place on cards for effects that they have triggered. Also, d10 are a godsend for tracking HP values on cards, as they allow you to see quickly who has the lowest/highest HP. They don’t come in the game, but are the one investment that will definitely help with some of the upkeep on the game.

Final Thoughts

This is one of those weird games to define for me, personally. I love this game and the superhero theme that it perfectly executes. This is everything I could ever want from this type of game, and one I will always enjoy playing. But I doubt it will ever be among my absolute favorite games (read: Top 5), even though I really, really enjoy the game. And I can’t really put my finger on the reason why. Maybe I haven’t experienced it enough yet, having only about a dozen non-digital plays (and another 6-7 digital). I don’t have all of the characters and combinations available, nor have I mastered every character I do own right now.

This is a game I’ll pull off and teach to any who are interested and willing. I have a friend who I regularly watch the Marvel films with, and he’s the first on my list of friends to teach this game to. It is a game I know my wife will never love, despite her willingness to watch superhero movies, due to its cooperative nature and the amount of text reading this requires in a hero deck. And I’m okay with that – thus why the review is from the solo perspective rather than 2+. But I have played it with more, and it provides a fun and interesting experience at all player counts. I prefer 1-3 as the range for players, as the rounds move faster. I would be hard-pressed to play at 5, unless they are all experienced, just because of how bogged down it can become.

Yet this is a game I really enjoy having in my collection, as I love throwing together a few heroes and clashing against a massive villain. I doubt I will ever find a character I love to play more than Fanatic in this game, but I have not met a hero deck I couldn’t at least appreciate playing (even if there are some I definitely do NOT play well…I’m looking at you, Tachyon). The lore behind this game is mind-blowing, and I want to jump out there and start writing short stories about some of these events (or side events that never “appear” in the card game) that are talked about on The Letters Page podcast. With the release of Oblivaeon into the hands of players, the card game has reached its conclusion in terms of content so now is a great time to dive in – you can pick up the box that appeals most to you in terms of the heroes you want to play.

So while this may never be a Top 5 game overall for me, it definitely has earned a place as a Top 5 solo game for me and is one I enjoy just as much when playing with other people. Almost every battle feels epic in a good way, especially after that first round or two where your team of heroes has already lost half of their health and you see no possible way of winning. Until you begin to chain together some impressive cards onto the table, gaining power to hit back hard and take those threats down.

My biggest gripe with it, as a solo game, is that I win too often. Yet it does a great job of making every victory (well, almost every victory) feel like a hard-fought and hard-earned victory. And while I know my wife will never become a convert to the great experience of Sentinels of the Multiverse, I look forward to the day when my children are old enough to play this (with some help reading, perhaps) with me and we can bond as superheroes taking down Baron Blade before he can pull the moon into the earth. And then make our own stories about our favorite heroes and heroines from the game…

***

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

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

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

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

Review for One (& two) – Circuit Breaker

Thank you for checking review #56 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**A prototype of the game was sent for review purposes. Opinions remain our own.

An Overview of Circuit Breaker

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

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

—description from the publisher

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changes for a 2-3 player game

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Review for One – Black Sonata

Thank you for checking review #55 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Black Sonata

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

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

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

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

***

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

Unboxing

First Impressions

Runthrough

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Review for One – Sprawlopolis

Thank you for checking review #54 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Sprawlopolis

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

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

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

-description from publisher

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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