Board Gaming · First Impressions · Solo Gaming

First Video + Questions for Solo Gamers/Game Developers

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

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

“Why do you play solo board games?”


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

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

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


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

Board 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 Game Lists · Board Gaming · Solo Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 10 Solo Games – 2017

I had posed a few ideas for a Top __ List to cover this month and the overwhelming majority were interested in a solo list. This is, by no means, a definitive list. I finally played Friday for the first time a few weeks ago and my only Onirim experiences have been via the app. I’ve played Mage Knight a grand total of two times, which is the same number as my Terraforming Mars solo plays and one more time than my Scythe plays. Like any list, these are pretty much capable of being in flux at any point in time.

#10 – Chrononauts – This one is going to be one of the bigger surprises on the list. Believe me, I didn’t expect to like this one as much as a solo game. Friday is threatening to knock it out of the Top 10 for me, as I really love a deckbuilder game, but at least for this year I will keep this where I originally planned to place the game. It provides a fun and challenging puzzle, given you have to align the timeline for eight different travelers in the time it takes to go through the deck once. I’ve gotten to 7 of them one time, and most times end with 5-6 getting aligned. This is a hard, fast, rewarding solo experience. I wish it was a little more Doctor Who-ish in feel, which is why I can’t wait to finally get around to the Doctor Who 2nd Edition Solo Game…

#9 – Terraforming Mars – I had my doubts about this as a solo game, but my first two plays have dispelled those doubts. This is a solid game, and one that has a ton of potential for replay. It will feel repetitive to some players because, in essence, you are trying to accomplish the same exact objective every play. The trick comes in how to maximize the usefulness of those cards you get, which is less than half the deck on both of the plays I’ve done. You could probably do a back-to-back session using the rest of the deck for the second game for an interesting and challenging experience. This will likely rise by the end of 2018 once I log more plays.

#8 – Sherwood’s Legacy – I really need to break this one back out to determine where this really sits on the list. It was a really fun game in a tower defense style. I played with the easy rules of ignoring the Wanted system and barely managed to pull it off. It is probably the easiest and least luck-dependent of the three Legacy games from Lynnvander so far, making it a perfect puzzle to play through. I’ve been really pleased with all three of those Legacy games, and this is the game for those who want to be able to plan out their turns in advance to maximize their efficiency.

#7 – Scythe – I really, really love the Automa system that has been implemented in a handful of titles. This one has a fairly steep learning curve for the movement, but I think I got it down and played it right. I squeaked out a win by a single point thanks to an extra turn I hadn’t expected to get – this one will provide a great challenge and variety thanks to the various factions in the base game. I can only imagine how that will increase with the Wind Gambit expansion coming in December. I need to make a point of getting this one back on the table soon because this was a great experience and probably a game that will move up further once I play it some more.

#6 – Yeomen: The 9 Card Agincourt Game – This is a gem of a game that every solo gamer should print out and play. It is fast, challenging, and a lot of fun. There aren’t a lot of things to print and cut, making it a fast thing to get ready for the table. The rules might be a bit of a challenge for the first play, but after a while it really starts to click. This is a fantastic solo game that can be knocked out, every time, in under 15 minutes once you get the game’s rules down. I can’t recommend this one enough – unfortunately, this is probably going to drop hard once Scythe, Terraforming Mars, and others get some more plays at the table.

#5 – Mage Knight Board Game – This is the solo game to end all solo games, or so I have heard. And with two plays logged, I can see the great appeal here. The biggest detractor to this game is the time it takes to setup, play, and tear down the game. There is one other game on this list that comes close to the time, and it has a little easier ruleset and a more appealing overall theme for me. I really love the progression of the character, though, making this my one and only “dungeon crawl” style of game on the list. The former RPG-lover in me craves that kind of experience at times and this one certainly delivers.

#4 – Viticulture: Essential Edition – If you read my review of this one solo, this placement won’t come as any surprise. Actually, it might be a little undervalued. This one was one of two games to really catch me off-guard this year in terms of how much I enjoyed the solo experience (with the other being Chrononauts). Worker placement is really my wife’s mechanic, although I do enjoy playing them. So when this one hooked me completely for play after play, I had to pay attention. Easily the best game to pick up if you want a game that plays well for 1-6 players, and I’ve heard the expansion makes the game experience even better.

#3 – Race for the Galaxy – I think nostalgia for my early years of playing this game solo has it holding on to a higher spot than it deserves; however, it could equally be argued to hold this spot because it is always a fun and challenging experience. This was the game that led me down the path of solo gaming, eventually leading to my decision to get rid of my video gaming systems. In the past year or so since that decision, I’ve found so many great games. Yet I always know that I can grab this one, set it up, and that dreaded robot will force me to fight for every point needed to defeat it. On easy…

#2 – Albion’s Legacy – I will admit that the theme of the game appeals to me far more than it might for others, boosting this game up at least a few slots higher than it might deserve on merit alone. Yet at its core this is still a solid exploration/questing game that provides crushingly difficult challenges every step of the way. It takes some time to set up, but nothing quite as extreme as Mage Knight. This one has a play time of around two or three hours to run through a quest, even though it has a time limit of ten rounds. There is so much Arthurian lore interwoven through this game that it makes me giddy inside every time I play it. Only one theme could excite me more, which leads me to…

#1 – Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Boom! That is the sound of this list exploding in the past month. I had owned and played this game in the summer of 2016 and eventually parted with it rather than purchase expansion content for it. After all, the Core Set can only be played so many times before it grows stale and begs to be expanded. I reclaimed the game and, since I got it back, I have logged 18 solo plays, taught a friend who then purchased a core set, starting writing a strategy series about the core set, built and rebuilt half a dozen decks, signed up for the 2017 Fellowship Event in December, and agreed to quest regularly in the game with the friend who I taught the game to. I’ve played it five times this weekend and I’m itching to reset and play a sixth time. And I still haven’t expanded the game beyond the core…something that will be changing in the next few days. If I had found the Black Riders deluxe expansion local (or online) then I would have already picked that up because this game is consuming my solo play time in a good way. It is only fitting, after all, that my favorite solo game is a Lord of the Rings themed game. My favorite 2-player game (and by extension overall favorite) is a Lord of the Rings game as well, and I don’t see either of them losing their thrones any time soon. Yes, the Core Set alone has its limits and its flaws. But if there is one game I will gladly dive into for the long haul, it is this one.

A Few Speculations on Games that Could Appear Here in 2018

Arkham Horror: The Card Game would be a very likely candidate to make this list if I picked it up. I imagine it would have the same note as the Lord of the Rings game, in that it needs to be expanded to keep it fresh and interesting. The game takes a different approach than Lord of the Rings while keeping some familiar mechanics and does some great things. It is probably, mechanically, a better game. But theme is king when comparing the two and I just love Lord of the Rings a ton more than the Lovecraftian mythos. But this would very likely be a top five, if not top three game if I picked it up for solo play.

Nations is a game that caught my attention when I played it with two others, and I’ve heard it has a really solid solo play. There are times when you just want to sit down and do some civilization building, and this would be one that I could see contending if I picked it up. The problem is that price tag is too high for the game. If it came with the game and the expansion for $100, I might be convinced.

Lisboa is a game I really loved my first play of. I know nothing about its solo version of the game, but I am nevertheless excited to test it out if/when the game enters my collection. It is a game I was excited about picking up eventually, and knowing that others are enjoying the solo play makes me have high hopes for this one.

Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain is a game I have been super-excited for. Being a COIN game, it has a solid system behind it. I haven’t tried a COIN game yet. Not many of them interest me with their theme. However, I have decided that will not prevent me from wanting to pick this up to play alone and with others. Will running three factions via their flowcharts make the experience clunky, or will it provide the fascinating and challenging gameplay that I am hoping for? I hope to find out in 2018, which is when I will realistically be looking to finally snag a copy of this one before it goes out of print.

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.

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

Review for One: Yeomen: The 9 Card Agincourt Game

Thank you for checking out my ninth 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.

Because this is a print & play game that is not formally published, I’ll briefly cover more of the rules than I typically do in my reviews.

An Overview of Yeomen: The 9 Card Agincourt Game


Yeomen: The 9 Card Agincourt Game is a game designed by Chris Hansen and is web published, meaning it is a free print and play game. The game is designed to play 1 player and has a 15-20 minute play time.

Yeomen: The 9 Card Agincourt Game is a solitaire micro card driven game. In the game, you control the French forces and must try to defeat the invading English forces in the Battle of Agincourt, which was fought on October 25, 1415. Your forces are represented by cubes and strength dice. You must move your cubes along a simple point-to-point map, but your movement will be hindered ever step of the way by English arrow fire. Your goal is to move two of your cubes into the English line, which will disrupt it and allow you to capture Henry V.

Setup and gameplay for 1 Player

The setup is simple: take the map card and place one red cube on each of the edge boxes in the second row up. The other boxes on the second row gets blue cubes. The bottom row gets one yellow cube, placed on either edge, and a pair of blue cubes goes in the remaining boxes in the bottom row. Pull out a blue die and a red die and set them both on ‘4’, and then grab a differently-colored pair of dice. Shuffle the 8 cards and draw three, leaving the remaining cards face-down as a draw pile.

The game plays over three rounds, and in each round there are three total turns. Each turn has four phases. So you get a grand total of twelve turns to accomplish victory. During your turn you play a card from your hand. This either can be played for the effect mentioned at the top of the card, or else for the number shown in the top corner. If you chose the latter, you get either 2 or 3 movement points (whichever value is depicted) and may attempt to move your units up the tracks. After the card is resolved, either through the completion of its event or through the use of all movement points, the English Archers fire. With the first two cards of each round, they fire twice: once at cavalry and once at infantry. After the third card, they also conduct a Hammer & Axe attack if there is at least one unit in the combat area. After the archers attack, it moves to the combat phase if you have at least one unit in the combat area. After combat, you check to see if you have won, and then the next turn or round begins.

Correction by Chris Hansen: One correction here is that the Hammer and Axe attacks don’t begin until the third turn of the game. So you’ll play through the first two turns with only Infantry and Cavalry attacks for each card. Then, on the third turn, you’re subject to Hammer and Axe attacks for each card played (assuming a unit is in the Combat Area).

Movement is accomplished by choosing the unit you want to move (left cavalry, right cavalry, all front infantry, or all rear infantry) and then drawing the top card of the deck, resolving its middle text effect. After that, you roll 1d6 and add that to the number shown on the corresponding colored die. If that value is greater than 7, the unit(s) successfully move forward. If not, nothing happens.

The strength of your units can never be lower than 2 nor higher than 5. The strength can increase through the effect of some cards, and a successful rear infantry move increases the infantry strength. Cards can lower the strength of a unit, as can rolling doubles during the English archer phase or a successful English Hammer & Axe attack or a collision during a unit retreat. In general, the strength will drop far more often than it will increase.

The English Archers have two dice rolled during their attacks, and depending on the results shown either hit or miss. If doubles are rolled, the targeted units lose 1 strength in addition to a retreat. As an example, when firing at the Cavalry if both dice show a 1, 2, or a 3 then the left cavalry is hit and must retreat one space. If both have a 4, 5, or a 6 then the right cavalry retreats. But if the dice showed a 3 and a 4, it would be a miss.

Combat is the most complex of the phases because of a few modifiers. First you flip the top card and apply the bottom effect listed if possible. Then you roll 1d6 and add that to the strength of all units in the combat area. Depending on the makeup of your units in the combat area, you may have a modifier to your roll so having both types of units (cavalry and infantry) is the ideal goal. If your total result is under 9, you lose 1 strength on your unit which has the highest strength (so long as at least 1 of those units is in the combat area. Cavalry lose a strength in a tie). If your result is 15 or higher, one of your units breaks through the line (infantry is used if possible). If you manage to get two units to break through before the end, you win the game.

My Thoughts

This game is hard. So very hard. I still haven’t beat the game, although I have always managed to get one unit to break through the line. Sometimes that happens on the final turn. Once it happened at the end of the second round and it still didn’t matter. The dice can hurt you, and the cards almost certainly will. So if you enjoy a game experience where you are not guaranteed victory, this will be a game you will like. I get the same feeling while playing this as I do when playing Space Hulk: Death Angel. I am not necessarily expecting to win, but to have fun getting as close to that victory as I possibly can.


Nine cards, a few cubes, and some dice. That is all you need to have a full, fun experience with this game. It was my second ever print & play, and it was fun enough for me to go buy cardstock to reprint this, along with his new 9 card came: 9 Card Siege. It is a game with a small footprint and almost no work to go from print to play, which makes this a perfect game to add to a collection.

This game plays really close to that 15 minute advertised window. I didn’t believe that after my first play, but that was partially because I was logging each step of the play for a Sessions report and partially because I needed to stop and look back in the rulebook to try and play accurately. Each play gets a little faster and there is a great 2-card reference that can be printed as well. That doesn’t have everything I’ve needed, but it contains the major things. I plan to write anything it is missing that I need to look up on the back of those.

This game, somehow, evokes a very strong theme. Not due to any artwork, but rather through the historical flavor on the cards and how incredibly difficult it is to overcome those Archers. There is a reason why those archers were feared by the French, and this game helps to demonstrate why in a very short, tight experience.

The cards all have four (technically five) uses: discard for movement points, use the event ability, movement draw, combat draw, and you *can* discard a card during combat for an added +1 to your combat strength. This is how the game can be a 9-card game, and it works really well. A wise, experienced player can know before a flip what cards they will not encounter based on their hand and/or what has already been seen so far and can use that to their advantage. Odds are, it still won’t help but at least you’ll feel like you can play the game rather than have it play you!


Did I mention this game is hard? The game rewards you for moving both cavalry and infantry into the combat zone, yet accomplishing that isn’t easy. The rows bottleneck toward the top, meaning that cavalry either blocks the infantry or the infantry blocks the cavalry. And you don’t want to have the units collide. Nor do you want to end a turn with only one unit in the combat area because it would be very likely they will not hit 9+ for the combat roll. You almost need a perfect series of events to occur to set you up for your units to rush into the combat area. This is both great and frustrating at the same time.

This is a solo experience that every solo gamer, and every wargamer, should experience at least once. There are so many moments where your best-formed plans blow up in your face and it is still fun to play. Cards that seem like they help you can serve to cause you more harm than you expect. I play the game, lose, and immediately want to set it up and play again. Or, if I can’t do that, I spend time wondering how I could approach things differently. For a game with such few pieces, on a small footprint, and with a short play time, that is incredible. Don’t have cubes? Print some and cut them out! The investment, if you leave the rules unprinted, is 1-3 pages. You could even print it all in black & white to save colored ink and take a crayon to the cubes. You can read the rules, print & cut the game, and play it all in under an hour. This game is worth at least an hour of your time, and arguably you will end up giving it much more than that over multiple plays.

I know a fan made the reference cards, but I really would have liked the last page in the rulebook to have a sort of summary of those key rules. It would have saved a ton of time, and there is plenty of space for a single sheet of paper to be out next to this game. Hopefully this is something that might appear in a revised version of the rulebook, or at the very least something to make its way into the 9 Card Siege rulebook as that develops.

The artwork isn’t bad, but it isn’t memorable. I now have the backs printed on my cards, but they don’t really add much. I am not complaining, as it isn’t important to me, but some people may find it hard to get past the art in this game. We’re too spoiled by modern board games and want to have things pretty and elegant and with miniatures, which is no fault of the designer’s in this case. So if you need a pretty game with pretty pieces, you’ll be disappointed. Which is really a sad thing, because this game is a fun experience.

My biggest complaint? I still haven’t figured out what use the crossbowman serves. I understand it can shoot into the English line for a combat bonus. I just can’t seem to ever get it close enough to accomplish this! It also isn’t completely clear at first how it moves. The assumption is with rear infantry and, after several times looking, I believe I’m playing that correctly. Like the historical battle, I just don’t have the ability to gain any benefit from its presence.

Final Verdict

There is a lot more I could say about this game. It is wonderful fun, and was a perfect print & play experience that has left me very eager to find more print & play solo games for future plays and reviews. It made me a fan of this designer, and he deserved the awards this game won from the 2016 nanogame print & play design contest:

Best Thematic Game – 1st Place
Best Wargame – 1st Place
Best Written Rules – 2nd Place
Most Innovative Mechanic – 2nd Place
Best Solitaire Game – 1st Place
Best Overall Game – 1st Place

It is worthy of every one of those awards. This game deserves to be played. It deserves to be talked about and reviewed. It scratches every solo itch I could ask and delivers a great historical theme in the process. The rulebook has several pages just dedicated to historical background about the battle of Agincourt, which is outstanding and wasn’t necessary.

Seriously, stop reading this and go print it out right now. You can come back and thank me later. I am confident you won’t regret it if you enjoy challenging solo games and/or wargames.

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