Review for One · Solo Gaming · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One: Pigment

Thank you for checking review #108 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 copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Pigment

Pigment is a board game designed by Michael Epstein that is published by Copper Frog Games. The box state it plays 1-3 players and has a playtime of 15-20 minutes.

You are Master Painters of the Renaissance! …Or you would be, if you had some paints!

Send your two Apprentices to gather and trade Pigments in the crowded and ever-evolving Bazaar for your works. Each Bazaar Card has two useful effects to choose from, but each Apprentice can only use one each turn.

Fetch Subjects to paint with your Pigments, and receive powerful Premier Piece Effects from the completed works.

Fill your gallery first to win!

~

Pigment is a fast, minimalist worker placement game for 1-3 players from Copper Frog Games LLC.

My Thoughts

 There simply aren’t many worker placement games out there with such a small footprint, portable design, and fast gameplay. This checks three very important boxes that helps the game to stand out in a crowded game, and worker placement, market today. Add in some quality components and delightful artwork, and this is a game that is always pleasant to pull out for a quick game or two.

 The solo opponent for the game is easy to navigate, as you simply move the worker one painting over, pull three cubes from the bag, and then check if he can paint that current painting he is on. It is a really simple and streamlined process (although not without questions, as highlighted in a later point).

 Pigment succeeds at what it sets out to accomplish: distill a 60-90 minute worker placement game down into a 10-15 minute game. There are different action spaces (with a conveyor belt shifting of spaces!), resources to generate and turn in for points, and special powers to be gained from your paintings. If you’ve ever wanted to grab _____ worker placement game off the shelf to play but didn’t have the time, this game deserves to be in your collection because it emulates a much larger experience, although distilled down a little bit due to size/component limitations.

 I wish there was more variety in the game. I love the action spaces changing as the game progresses, but the paintings themselves never change. Sure, the order in which they appear will change, but you’re ultimately gaining three types of resources to turn in for paintings and the first to obtain five paintings will win. Give my asymmetric player powers that let you break the game’s rules once per game. Give me more painting cards so I can’t know that eventually I’ll see a RRYY painting to purchase and thus keep those components set aside. Give me secret scoring objectives, such as 1 point for every 2 Red cubes in my supply at the end of the game.The base game is a solid game as it is, but it’ll get repetitive quickly because it never has variation beyond the order in which things appear.

 There is a little room for uncertainty in how the solo opponent operates. Namely, what happens when a painting is bought. Does the new painting just replace it where it was at? Or do all paintings shift? Can you buy the painting they are on? If the paintings shift, does the AI worker move with that painting or stay on the “position” they are at? Are cubes spent returned to the bag? If so, when? I’ve always played that the paintings stay where they are, and that I refill the cubes in the bag before the AI turn – but the game could be a little different if either of those are changed.

 The game’s solo system is extremely random. I’m all for some randomness in a game this short, but it never feels like I’m playing against an opponent in Pigment. Sure, it avoids the “beat your own high score” pitfall, but there is no real way to plan for the opponent nor does it interfere in any way with your own turns. And that is truly unfortunate, because even in a game like Pigment there is opportunity to have a blocking worker or two placed down on the board. A simple deck of 10-15 cards, each one depicting two space numbers on it (i.e. Position #1 and Position #4) would work. You flip the card, put a neutral worker on the first space listed on that card, take your first turn, flip the second card and place a neutral worker on the first space listed without a worker (or in the occasional case, both spaces may be occupied in which case the worker is not placed), and then place your second worker. It could maintain everything else it currently does and just this addition would make the solo experience more interesting because then you cannot count on an ideal turn every turn based on the 5 available spaces and 3 paintings shown. Or it could eliminate the moving worker on the paintings altogether and have some of those cards show a painting position at the top and the first thing you check is if they have the cubes to paint said painting and, if so, they go to that space instead. Or eliminate resource gain from the AI and seed a few paint painting cards in there and, when those appear, they just get said painting. Put five of those into the deck, having one shuffled in as one of the bottom three cards of the deck so you’ll always know when the end is near for the AI but never 100% certain when it could end while preventing the random chance of all five being near the top of the deck. There is potential here for an excellent solo system. Maybe I should design it, since i have these ideas fluttering in my mind. But as it stands, this is far too random to feel like a satisfying solo experience overall. Enjoyable? Sure. But not satisfying in the same way that triumphing over an opponent would be.

Final Thoughts

Pigment first caught my eye last year at Gen Con as I was wandering through the hordes of booths in my first ever convention. It was priced reasonably, worker placement, and boasted a small play time. At the time I wasn’t ready to make my select few purchases of the convention, and by the time I made said purchases I had forgotten about Pigment. Yet it resurfaced onto my radar as I was preparing for my Spring of Solitaire extravaganza.

The solitaire mode in this game is pretty high in randomness. You can see the pattern in which the AI player will be moving and what paints they will need to make said painting on their turn, but you have no real way of stopping them from making that painting. And that is unfortunate, because everything else about this little game is enjoyable as a solo experience. But to be able to go from losing with just reaching my 3rd painting in one game (they kept pulling the cubes they needed) to winning by a very comfortable margin in the next game (they didn’t pull the cubes they needed) isn’t a reflection of any increased skill on my end. But the fact that he does not interfere with my play in any way, apart from possibly taking a painting. A more dynamic and interactive solo opponent would make this game far more likely to see repeat plays.

Outside of that, I really like everything else in this game. It is a small worker placement game with a tiny footprint, it has a changing set of worker placement spaces, your most recent painting provides beneficial powers (in a 2-3 player game), it has nice little meeples and great artwork, and a clever little system. It’ll never replace the bigger box worker placement games, but having a 10-15 minute game in that arena is a niche that is hard to find. And while I would love for the game to have more options in there, whether a greater variety of paintings or added scoring conditions, this still is one I’m happy to keep in my collection and pull out when I just need a small worker placement game that I can take along with me.

Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One – Feudum: The Queen’s Army

Thank you for checking review #107 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 copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Feudum: The Queen’s Army

Feudum: The Queen’s Army is a board game expansion designed by Mark K. Swanson, JR Honeycutt, and Brian Neff that is published by Odd Bird Games. The box state it plays 1 players and has a playtime of 80 minutes.

Description from the publisher:

Oh Bullocks! The Queen’s tyranny is spreading into every corner of the kingdom. Her foot soldiers scour the countryside to hunt the behemoth—the bewitched king that was once her husband! Your small band of rebels will need sharp wits and a bit of luck to save the king and reclaim the land’s virtue, as well as your own.

The Queen’s Army is a solo variant expansion to Feudum. The game pits you against Queen Ann in an epic battle to score the most veneration points over 5 epochs.

First, her Majesty will ruthlessly target the bewitched King (The
Behemoth) in effort to diminish your fame. After the King is dead (or by the dawn of third epoch), she will mount her black horse to pursue your band of rebels with a vengeance.

The Queen plays the game with unlimited resources and no movement restrictions. Any actual resources she acquires along the way count as veneration points!

Can you thwart her quest for the King’s demise, while securing your own prestige? By the Sword of Leinad, you shall prevail!

Development Notes:

The elegantly crafted automa deck was developed in collaboration with J.R. Honeycutt (developer for Tesla vs Edison: Powering Up!) and Brian Neff. The expansion features an elegantly designed A.I. player that cleverly reacts to game conditions as well as keeping you guessing with unpredictable maneuvering.

Rounds are played just like the base game with alternating turns, round by round until each epoch is triggered. However, the Queen is less restrained by resource or route requirements making her a powerful force to reckon with!

My Thoughts

 The action selection aspect of this game is nice, and I love the added benefit of being able to have the actions be stronger under the right conditions. This makes planning ahead very important, and choosing the right actions for the round (and the order in which you execute them) matters even in a solo game (I assume it is just as critical with multiplayer experiences). Added into these layers are the ability to plan to take an action twice (using the proper card), taking 5 actions in the turn instead of 4 (by paying the right resource at the start of the round), or being able to take two actions in a row (again, by paying the right resource).

 Most of the actions in this game are relatively straight-forward to understand (with one glaring exception…and even that is simple in concept). Most of your time spent planning for your turn will be figuring out what to play to accomplish what you need to on your turn rather than trying to figure out what the card allows you to do.

 The same holds true with the AI decks. While I don’t necessarily see the need for five separate decks (yes, sometimes it allows them to do a fifth action but I would have preferred to see a single deck instead of five smaller ones), none of the actions they take – apart from guild – are hard to follow after a few times seeing them come up. I know Solosaurus bemoaned the “flowchart” of actions if they can’t do an action but, honestly, it is a negligible aspect of the gameplay experience.

 This is a game that rewards creating combos with your 4-5 actions in a turn. I imagine they are far more difficult to set up and execute in a game with more players, but the potential is still there. Being able to have a turn where your first action opens up the chance to score on your next action, which then enables you to do something on your third action which in turn allows you to score points on the fourth action – those are the kinds of turns I really enjoy. And, unfortunately, those are absolutely necessary to keep pace with the scoring machine that is the solo AI. But it sure does feel satisfying when a turn not only goes exactly as planned, but the execution of those works even better than expected.

 I enjoy the Epoch aspect of the game, with six different stacks of tiles. I like that one for sure is removed at the end of each round, although I wish it wasn’t randomly selected. It is a good design choice to allow only the current or previous Epoch marker that can be removed, and that a certain number of tiles must be depleted from that Epoch before the next one is triggered. And at first you might look at this and think you’re getting a minimum of 15 rounds, but there are other ways that those tiles get removed so really you’re going to be lucky to hit 10 rounds (and I have found 7 to be a fairly consistent number in solo play…that AI seems to pull tiles off there a LOT more than I can ever do).

 Which means you have about 28-40 actions to score as many points as you can. It sounds like a lot, but then you realize most actions which score require at least 1-2 actions to get into position to score those well. That aspect is one of the things I love about a Vital Lacerda design: your objectives to score are clear but require several scoreless steps to set them up effectively. And so of course I also enjoy that part of Feudum.

 The artwork and quality on the components in the game are excellent. This is a well-produced game, and you can tell a lot of love was poured into the little details on this game. I do wish the cubes were just a tad larger, but overall this game looks impressive on the table.

 The more I played the game the less I liked the long and skinny board. It eats up my entire table, which is a long table, and makes it so I can’t leave this one set up AND be able to play a game on the other half of the table with my wife. So that means I either need to be able to dedicate an entire block of time to playing Feudum from start to finish, or I need to sacrifice potentially playing games with my wife (at least on that table) until this game is completed. And for a game that regularly clocks in at about 150+ minutes for me so far, that makes it a real struggle to get back to the table often (and thus the delayed review). Give me a board that is double the width and things would be far better. Or make the guilds at each end their own board so I can set them up however is most convenient for my gaming situation. There is no way I could see this being played on a small, or even moderately-sized table.

 More on this to come throughout the final thoughts, but the Guilds in this game are that opaque mechanic which will present a hurdle to new gamers. I imagine this is not only the case for solo gamers – but it is something that any solo gamer will need to be able to overcome. That might be to resort to watching playthrough videos to see how the interactions work to get it all to sink in, or to internalize each of the three interactions that each of the six guilds can provide. On paper it all sounds simple, yet in the midst of the game this is where things slow down to a crawl at times. Especially when the AI is taking a guild action, because you need to look up what guild action she’s going to take and what in there she will do, and then see if that can be done, and the manipulate the things to execute the guild action. When people talk about fiddliness in games, I imagine this is what they mean: manipulating bits on a board for an effect. It is fun and exciting when you can pull something clever off on your turn, but it becomes a chore on their turn. And, well, I’ll just lead into these thoughts…

Final Thoughts

When I read the rules for Feudum, I found myself thinking it didn’t seem too bad. And as I started playing the game, most of the action cards and interactions were relatively straight-forward. By the end of that first play, I was echoing the sentiment that Edward from Heavy Cardboard expressed: I don’t want to have to teach this to a group of new players. 90% of what is going on in this game is relatively simple and approachable, but it is that final 10% – the guilds (both how they function and how to determine control) where this game becomes bogged down.

Feudum is an ambitious game project from a first-time designer. There are a ton of levers to pull for interactions within the guilds, and I have no doubt this is the brilliance in the game experience for most players. Unfortunately, when playing the game solitaire this never felt like the impressive push-pull system of vying for control that it should provide. And part of that, I feel, is probably because I haven’t seen this system function in its ideal situation: with a group of experienced players who know what they are doing and how to effectively position for its control. So far my only experiences have been in isolation as a solo gamer, and the guild system has failed to impress every time.

And it is unfortunate, because I think once I truly get that area of the game mastered on my end, this will turn into a far better solo experience. One that might still last too long and take up far too much table space, but one that does still provide a fun and engaging solitaire experience. And so far it still succeeds at delivering those things, but it falls into the faceless “game in a pile of games” category right now as a solo experience. I’ve never regretted playing the game, because I’ve had fun plays, but it has always dragged on longer than I wanted – and part of that is the fault of those guilds. Because every time I still need to reference exactly what happens in the guilds and what my options are. I’ve got the action selection down just fine, but nothing is worse than stopped because I need to consult the rulebook on how Guild X operates. Or worse yet, to figure out what the AI opponent is going to do within the guild…which almost always is bad news for me as a player but it takes time to unfold.

There are so many other great things going on in this game that I can forgive Feudum for this obstacle. I’m determined to master it, even if it means dedicating myself to just spending a few hours watching a playthrough or two to see it all in action. And maybe this aspect isn’t an issue for you – maybe it’ll click faster or, ideally, you’ve played it multiplayer and want to see how it all plays solitaire with the Queen’s Army expansion added into the mix. And ultimately, that is probably the best situation: play it with others a few times first and then dive into it solo. Then maybe your first few plays won’t be spent trying to muddle out exactly how everything interacts, what moves are worth vying for, and how to keep up with the AI as they run rampant and gain control (and by extension a boatload of VP) of the majority of the guilds on the board.

Every time I’ve played I have found myself far behind by the end of the 2nd Epoch, and never able to quite catch up before the end. Which is encouraging, if there are ways to catch up and I simply haven’t found an effective strategy yet (which I am sure I have not, because every game I’ve felt like a bull in a china shop in terms of my approach to gaining points). And every play has gotten a little shorter, although it still gets slowed as I reference the guild section (maybe I need a really good player aid…), meaning that hopefully I won’t always need 2-3 hours to play a solo experience in Feudum. 90 minutes would be that sweet spot I want to hit with a game like this, and I hope to get it there…eventually. This one won’t be a regular on my table due to the size and length, but when I want a longer, more involved game to play when I have a few hours to myself – this is definitely one I’ll keep around to pull off the shelf. But if you are looking to buy this ONLY to play it solo, I can’t say I’d recommend it just for that unless you have already played the game and know you enjoy it. But for those who might already own Feudum and are considering trying it solo, that little expansion adds in an AI opponent that is relatively easy to navigate most of the time and that will provide a good challenge.

Review for One · Solo Gaming · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One – Hoplomachus: Origins

Thank you for checking review #106 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 Hoplomachus: Origins

Hoplomachus: Origins is a board game designed by Josh J. Carlson and Adam Carlson that is published by Chip Theory Games. The box state it plays 1-2 players and has a playtime of 15-30 minutes.

Hoplomachus: Origins takes you back to where the story begins, within the small battle arenas of 3 unique civilizations. You will represent one of the warrior houses found in these cities and will be battling for the right to represent your entire civilization in Rome. Quick fights, 3 exotic arenas, and competitive drafting of unique warriors, are what set Origins apart from our other 2 games in the series. Of course, it wouldn’t be Hoplo if you weren’t playing with premium 11.5 gram chips, neoprene mats, and custom dice!

My Thoughts

 One of the coolest things about this game are the components in here. The chips are wonderful in quality and have a nice weight. I wish the health chips were a little thicker and harder, but the presence of having 3-5 chips stacked beneath the character’s chip is pretty darn cool. It has some nice custom dice, and it comes with three box-sized playmats to present three different arenas for combat in the game. What comes in the box is a really good quality.

 I like the different factions within the box for units and how you can mix-and-match to form your own unique teams. I love a good deck construction game, and this lets you prepare your teams for the trials ahead of you. And with what you’ll encounter, sometimes a change is necessary in order to overcome a specific challenge.

 The game is extremely simple in rules and execution. This is something you can teach in a few minutes and allow people to have fun chucking dice and deploying units on the mat. Combine that with the production value and table presence and, well, this is a game I want to show off. That means photos when playing solo, and I can only imagine how it could grab crowds at a convention or game day.

 Setup, teardown, and playtime are all extremely quick in Hoplomachus – even when choosing a new team it can go at a relatively fast clip. This means the game is easy to pull out on any given night, even on an impulse, because there is no consideration about if there will still be enough time to play the game. The only question you’ll be asking yourself is how many times will you play it before putting the game away for the night. Resetting things for a rematch, or to move to the next task, are relatively simple as well which helps encourage it getting to the table often and staying there for multiple plays in one session/

 I love how this box comes with three playmats, and each of them operates in a different way. Two of them have a pair of victory conditions, and the other is a kill-the-leader approach to the gameplay. This means you aren’t necessarily forced into just wiping out the enemy forces – in fact it can often be advantageous to pursue the other victory condition instead.This also means that in a given night I can play three matches and have them all feel very different if they each use a different map. They would have been cool as just aesthetic differences, but the fact that they play uniquely is incredible.

 The solo mode in this game is interesting because it provides twenty trials to accomplish, and you move up the “ladder” so to speak as you complete each trial in order. They get a lot harder, and less straight-forward, as you go along and provide some interesting challenges along the way. Perhaps even more interesting is that losing once costs you nothing, but if you lose it a second time you drop down to the previous trial and must complete that one all over again. It feels like you are a gladiator team clawing your way up through the crowd’s favor.

 The game is random. You’re rolling a few dice in order to try and damage the opposing side and no matter which die you roll there is a chance of failure. Sometimes you’ll be rolling four dice and need just one hit, yet get none. Sometimes you’ll need three and get three. It happens. With just a few units per side, a bad turn or two can be crippling – or a good turn can lead to a rout. This game plays so far, though, that it can be forgiven for the randomness. And between recruiting your forces and how to deploy and use them, there is plenty of room for strategy even in this small, fast experience of each game.

 There are too few units in the game to keep a player satisfied for long. Games should feel like a self-contained experience that players can add expansion content if they want more. But this almost feels too restricted in size for the number of units in the game. Considering you are drafting teams of 6 in solo play (and 8-10 in 2-player games), the unit and tactic pool shrinks really quickly and you’ll find yourself relying on the same combinations over and over again rather than trying to find what else pairs well together. Even worse are the lack of dice. Far too often you will be rolling that same die several times for one attack because you just don’t have enough in said color to execute the printed attack.

 The rulebook is functional, but definitely needs some additional refinement. The game is quite simple in execution, something that benefits the game and by extension gives the rules a pass, but there is definitely room for it to improve with a nice professional editor. The solo rules could use a little expansion as well, and there are several abilities that might benefit from a visual example (such as Throw) in order to help new players wrap their heads around how the ability works. And recommended first teams, for 2-player and for solo play, might have been helpful to get players into the game quickly – it is hard to make a team when you haven’t a clue about which units are more useful than others, etc. A pair of player aids, also, would go a long way to being useful. One side could have a quick summary of the turn flow, providing gentle reminders such as you can deploy both a Tactic and a Unit at the start of a turn. But mainly, as a place to list what each ability does in brief (with maybe expanded, with examples, versions in the rulebook).

Final Thoughts

I had heard hushed whispers of the Hoplomachus series in the past, but never paid them enough mind. Had I been a more avid follower of someone like Ricky Royal I might have given the game series a closer look, but the theme never really drew me in for some reason as a solo experience. And then a friend of mine, whose gaming tastes align pretty darn close to my own, was selling his Hoplomachus collection at a really good price. After some conversations with him, I discovered it was because the game played best 1-2 in his opinion and he just doesn’t hit that player count enough to justify the game in his collection. So I started looking into it a little more seriously, as I do whenever I hear a game is best at those player counts, and tried to get a time to have him teach me Hoplomachus before committing. My daughter unfortunately caused that evening of plans to get cancelled, and my friend sold the collection off before I could try it. But the game stuck on my radar.

As luck would have it, I was able to get a used copy of Hoplomachus: Origins at what I felt was a good bargain. It was the smallest set of the series, and provided a low-risk chance to try out the game to see if it lived up to the hype. And all of this is a roundabout way to coming to this verdict: I fell in love with the game from the first play. It is a fast and furious solitaire experience (that is equally enjoyable with another player – something I intend to review later in full) that holds a really unique approach with the Solo Trials list. I’m not very far up the list yet, but I’ve experienced enough to know this game is more than a keeper – something reflected by its high appearance on my Top 100 List.

The game is a perfect balance between strategic planning and adapting to the random results of the die rolls – something that works well here simply because a game is 5-15 minutes at most. A string of rotten rolls means set it up and try again, and a run of luck can carry you up the Trials ladder to greater challenges. Apart from the first night I played the game – learning it rather late at night – I have never played it just once when it hits the table. It is always a series of 2-4 Trials getting played which makes this a perfect solo game for any situation (except on-the-go). The game takes minimal time to set up, because there are so few units to choose from, Everything about this is quick paced – except for the Keywords on the units. I wish there was a better way than looking at the back of the rulebook, but at least it is on the back and organized well. This really only becomes an inconvenience in a 2-player game since you can’t both be looking at the keywords at once.

The game certainly isn’t without imperfections, yet it is a game I’ve come to quickly fall in love with because it is so highly replayable, each play goes by quickly, and there are so many team combinations you can try without much investment beyond this box. My biggest desire in here is that there were more units to choose from, because I’m already finding myself feeling like there just aren’t enough in there for a new player. Which is probably a good thing for Chip Theory Games, because I’m going to be picking up some new content to expand the game and, eventually, probably try to add everything Hoplomachus to my collection.

Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One – Zephyr: Winds of Change

Thank you for checking review #105 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An overview of Zephyr: Winds of Change

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

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

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

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

Game Details:

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Review for One: D100 Dungeon

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

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

An overview of D100 Dungeon

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

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

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

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

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

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

—description from the designer

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One: Gloom of Kilforth

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

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

An overview of Gloom of Kilforth

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Expansion Review · Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

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

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

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

An overview of Raiders of the North Sea: Solo Variant

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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