One-Player Only · Review for One · Wargame Garrison

Review for One: Field Commander: Alexander

Thank you for checking review #128 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 this game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Field Commander: Alexander

Field Commander: Alexander is a wargame designed by Dan Verssen that is published by Dan Verssen Games (DVG). The box states it plays 1 player and has a playtime of 90 minutes with a weight rating of 2.31.

Description from the publisher:

You take on the role of Alexander the Great in his world-conquering quest to extend the Macedonian empire and achieve personal glory.

When playing the game, you are placed in Alexander’s footsteps when he comes of age in 338 BC, just before the battle of Chaeronea. From that point on, you get to decide where to travel, when to battle, when to negotiate, and when to seek out divine prophesies to guide your actions.

You are supplied with soldiers and advisers to help you navigate the dangers of the battlefield and the negotiating table. These include Infantry, Archers, Phalanxes, Cavalry, Advisers, Scholars, Courtesans, and Spies. You will craftily combine these resources with your own plans to achieve victory, and glorification. And if you do well, you will be remembered as one of the greatest leaders ever to walk the earth.

The life of Alexander is divided into several campaigns, each spanning several years. During each campaign, you are given goals, but how you achieve those goals is up to you. Do you enter into battle? Or negotiate? How strong are you? How strong are they? What can you gain? These are all decisions you get to make, and must make well, if you are to live up to the immortal standards set before you.

The campaigns can either be played stand alone, or linked to play through his entire life. When played as one on-going life, the outcome of one campaign affects your starting situation in the next campaign.

My Thoughts

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 I love the idea of having a string of battlefields to play through, each representing a different timeline in the career of a historical figure. The sheer number of brilliant field commanders in history opens this system up to be able to deal with a broad range of history, and you can see this already with the release of a game in Ancient battle (Alexander), Napoleonics (Napoleon), and WWII (Rommel). Having a different map for each battle within the box, each containing its own quite unique setup, win condition, and obstacles to overcome means you can have a lot of variety across several games, and that is definitely the case here with Field Commander: Alexander.

 I am always a fan of player aids, and I like the combination of having the relevant information present on both the map (unique setup instructions along with the turn structure) and the score sheet (which doubles as the place for your army, battles to occur, and more). The less I need to open the rulebook, the better the game experience. I wish the prophecy info wasn’t something I need to cross-check in the rulebook, but since you are looking at only 1-2 of them per map they aren’t that terrible to deal with.

 Speaking of the rulebook, it was done really well. It has good visual examples and a nice layout. It is presented in a way that makes it great for those not as accustomed to wargaming, as I was able to dive in and grasp the game with minimal issue. The visuals, especially, are helpful here in getting a new player up and playing in a short amount of time. The most confusing thing comes with the Cavalry units, as the have the same battle value printed on them twice (representing if they hit, it is always dealing 2 hits instead of 1) and it isn’t explained as well in the rules for them, but there’s enough to make the correct connection.

 While I wish they offered a little more, the battle system here is extremely simple to grasp and flows well. There are a few nuances to remember, such as cavalry only attacking every-other turn and Phalanx units getting to attack multiple times if they hit, but for the most part you can line up the units and start rolling. As the player, it makes you feel in power to be able to allocate hits on both sides of the battle as you see fit. Faster units attack first, and same speed units attack at the same time, meaning you can make decisions that impact units still to attack for the round. A better field deployment, where formation mattered, would have been nice but this method keeps the game system approachable for new players and interesting enough for seasoned veterans.

 Going with the above, I enjoy that the unit types are different enough to provide strong merit to considering them each individually, as they provide a benefit “unique” to them. Archers and Light Cavalry are fast to act, but have a lower hit ratio (33%). Heavy Cavalry have a better hit ratio (50%) but cavalry units (Light or Heavy) only attack every-other round which offsets their stronger 2-hit attacks when they do connect. Infantry are unremarkable in speed and strength, but can take more hits than the Archer or Peltist (the latter of which is the one unit I find least useful). The Phalanx unit is really slow, but has a strong hit chance and can do multiple attacks in a round if they continue to hit. The variety of units are great and let you customize your team.

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 Let’s talk about the glorification system for Alexander. Essentially he starts off as a really, really weak unit in your army. With every completed prophecy along the way, he gains Glorification, which can let him “level up” to the next higher version of his unit (I think there are 8) which is going to increase his speed, his base attack, or his double-hit chance. And that aspect I really like. What I dislike is the battle where an opposing leader is involved. Alexander can either attack the regular army units, or he can attack their leader. If he attacks the army, their leader also attacks your army. As soon as Alexander attacks the leader, from that point on those two leaders only attack each other. Kill the leader and you auto-win the battle. But every time Alexander gets hit, he drops 2 Glorficiation levels. That is a HUGE penalty, meaning there’s rarely a strong incentive to choose to attack the leader – especially in battles where they have the Battle Plan that ignores the first hit on the leader – making it so you can’t even gamble to try and one-shot the leader (and later maps make it so that Battle Plan is always present in the leader battles). If it was a little easier to gain those levels, or if you lost fewer per hit, the motivation might be there to attack that leader and hope to end things early.

 The most “interesting” battle in terms of potential also turned out to be a dud in my playthrough of it. The siege of Tyr is full of historical flavor, and is unique because you can pay to manipulate several tracks to try and control the enemy resources, increase your own resources, and try to destroy the walls enough to break in and conquer the city. Unfortunately, what this amounts to is 6-8 rounds of standing in the same location on the map, making decisions on how to spend your gained gold this time and hoping the dice don’t move you too far backward on your progress at the beginning of the next round. It never really felt like a dynamic siege, but rather a waiting game to see what would break first.

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 The difficulty is something I want to discuss in brief here (as I go on more about it in the Final Thoughts). The first two maps felt extremely easy, lacking challenge as I powered through the countryside and took down the opposition with minimal loss to my own forces. The third map came into play and, rather than providing a challenge, simply forced me to sit and wait longer amounts of time to make forward progress – but it was never challenging, either. The last map…let’s just say it is extremely unfair, although it has forced me to evaluate the value in retreating from battle, purchasing Insights with my Glory, and more. The one thing preventing this from being a  point is that every map has optional changes to increase the challenge at the reward for more VP awarded at the end. And the more I think about it, the more I like that approach because you can have the game “grow” with your skill.

 I’m not a fan of roll-and-move games, and I am less of a fan of the roll-to-move concept. You roll and compare the result with the size of your army. If you roll lower, you have to pay gold equal to the difference in order to move. If you roll higher, you take hits on your army equal to the difference. If you roll exact, you can move with no downside. That means there is a 16.6% chance of moving without penalty. Yes, you can voluntarily lose units after the roll to decrease the cost in gold to move, but most units will cost more than 1 Gold to recruit back into your army. And taking hits are worse, as it costs 2 gold to get a unit back to full health. The only saving grace here is that you can choose, after seeing the roll, to not move and end that portion of your turn. This is the engine that determines how far and fast you can conquer the map and, tied in with that, how many points you earn at the end of the map. My 2-turn victory conquest on the 2nd map? Almost every move roll was perfect, and the ones that weren’t were under by a single pip. My miserable experience on the 4th map? See more about that below…

 This is another thing covered more down below, but the game is extremely linear in progression. The location of enemy forces never changes, nor does your objective (conquer all key areas) change – and that’s fine. But so many other aspects of the game either felt like there was no need to change my approach (why fix what isn’t broken and already feels like the best choice to make?) or that it would all come down to sheer luck of a d6 roll. Maybe I was just spoiled early from two other brilliant solitaire wargames (Agricola, Master of Britain and Charlemagne, Master of Europe), but so much of the game feels like it is on autopilot and I’m just along to decide how to allocate damage in battle.

Final Thoughts

This review was ready to look quite different after playing the first three scenarios of the campaign. I was ready to join others in proclaiming this game far too easy, at least without the addition of extra challenges unique to each map, as every game played proved to be minimal in challenge. I had come off the second campaign map with a strong victory in two rounds of play, and the third required a lot of just idling in Old Tyre until that nut could be cracked and then breaking through afterwards. The lack of challenge had been a little frustrating – I always prefer a challenging solitaire game experience over a cakewalk. But I couldn’t stop without seeing the final series of battles for the end of the campaign.

And boy, what a kick in the pants that map turned out to be.

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But there’s still an issue here. The difficulty spike was more from the increasing mass of an army placed in your path at the start. Even with the -3 Enemy Orders from my advisor, they still drew EIGHT orders. My army of six was outnumbered 2:1 and I did a soft reset on the battle three times before finally weathering the obscene number of die rolls enough to take a few of the enemies out and retreat from the battle, allowing me to replenish and finally break through the enemy force. Prior to that last attempt, every single battle ended Round 1 with just a reduced Alexander remaining, and with only a single loss on the enemy side. The dice were NOT my friend that morning. I figured from here it would be smooth sailing, as I would be able to sweep up north and take down a few strongholds to replenish the coffers but, alas, another string of terrible luck left me bereft of gold two spaces from any battle spot. Several straight rolls of 1-2 and I did another soft reset to the end of the battle, keeping the needed Raze intact (because the funds were needed to recover) but also reserving what I hoped was enough to travel through the desert. No luck, I got stopped at the same exact point without funds and with the same ridiculous run of low rolls – to be honest, I rolled that die another half dozen times in frustration and never saw anything higher than a 3. So I “allowed” myself a free move each turn rather than a reset again to simply move. And, well, money remained an issue. I was locked into a cycle of frustration, because it felt like random factors, sheer numbers in the opposing forces, and diminished return on money were grinding the game to a halt rather than poor play on my end. It stopped being fun in any sense of the word. It wasn’t a challenge. I wasn’t being expected to discover some clever way to circumvent things and find success, but rather battle against improbable odds.

And yes, history. I get that and I don’t hold a grudge against the game for trying to make it a tough map to overcome. But at the same time I want to feel like there’s a way I can do better, apart from “roll better”, and I couldn’t see it as possible, unless I knew to spend my Glory and Gold better at the end of the previous scenario in the campaign and, well, how could I know that going in the first time? The next campaign, perhaps, I could make different decisions leading into that game but not this time.

I know it sounds like I am venting out frustration here, and maybe part of me is doing just that. But I also want to make sure it comes across clearly: the game goes from super easy in the first two maps, to being a “battle of attrition” in the third map as you stall for turn after turn waiting to break the walls, to being a completely hopeless affair in the final act. And, ultimately, my biggest disappointment in the game overall is that it feels mostly like it is “on rails”. The map has set army sizes that appear in set locations, and your goal is to conquer all of those locations as quickly as possible (and then depending on die rolls, your location, and Operation draws they might get bigger). Battles are “line up” both sides by speed and like speeds attack simultaneously. But my Archer way over here in the line can hit, or be hit by, anyone else in the line on the opposing side. Sure, I get to at least determine who takes hits (both enemy and friendly units), but I don’t have to agonize over how to deploy my units to minimize risk. Even the Battle Tactics I employ feel like there’s little choice required: regaining a force after battle is essential to save Gold, canceling a hit is equally essential, and assuming I have Cavalry the tactic allowing them to not wait to attack again (up to 6 times) is the other must-use to make the battles go well. The maps were relatively linear, with a clear progression from the start to the end. Even my force never really seemed to need to change often: a Siege Engine to minimize Wall frustration once those became a factor, an Archer to fire early, a Light Cavalry to strike early as well, a Heavy Cavalry to deal big damage, Alexander, and a Phalanx for the multi-hit opportunity. Advisors? The one who reduces Battle Plans for the enemy by 3 and the one who allows you to do multiple purchases at the end of a Round to get both a City and units back into your force.

There are decisions in the game but, looking back, it felt like there were rarely good reasons to do something different. The good news is that, for three of the plays, I didn’t notice and greatly enjoyed the gameplay in spite of its linear path – enough that I plan to revisit the campaign with a difficulty+ attempt through the first three maps and to work to set myself up better for the fourth map (which will NOT get any added benefit). The fact that I am wanting to revisit it again is a testament to how much I did enjoy the game until that final play, where I even texted a friend of mine with a knee jerk reaction that was extremely negative reflecting my bitterness over that final map. But I like challenges and I enjoyed this game more than the level of frustration experienced at the end, and so it’ll remain a staple to revisit when I am ready to string together another four plays – ideally across an entire afternoon – and see what else this game might have to offer.

And so while Field Commander: Alexander isn’t my favorite solitaire wargame to pull out and play, it definitely was worth exploring and is one I intend to revisit again when I’ve had time to let the scars heal from that last beatdown. And if DVG releases another Field Commander title in the Ancient, Medieval, or Renaissance timeframe you bet I’ll be lining up to check it out because, in spite of my aggravation with parts of the game system, I did enjoy the experience as a whole enough to want to try more.

One-Player Only · Review for One · Solo Gaming · Wargame Garrison

Review for One: Charlemagne, Master of Europe

Thank you for checking review #127 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 this game was provided AGES ago in exchange for an honest review. More on the delay can be found in the Final Thoughts section.

An Overview of Charlemagne, Master of Europe

Charlemagne, Master of Europe is a board game designed by Tom Russell that is published by Hollandspiele. The box states it plays 1 player and has a playtime of 180 minutes.

Description from the publisher:

At the age of twenty-nine, Charles I became sole ruler of the Frankish Empire. What he did with that power over the course of the next forty-plus years is the stuff of legend. His unparalleled achievements in warfare, diplomacy, administration, and culture led to the sobriquet Carolus Magnus: Charles the Great: Charlemagne, King of the Franks and of the Lombards, and Emperor of the Romans.

In this solitaire strategy game, you assume the Frankish throne, and seek to duplicate – or exceed – Charlemagne’s singular genius, while hopefully avoiding some of his mistakes, such as the famous defeat at Roncevaux (immortalized in the Song of Roland). As you conquer new territory and incorporate it into your empire, you’ll need to contend with rebels and palace intriguers. Building public works and patronizing the Carolingian Renaissance will increase your prestige and wealth. Along the way you’ll need to win the support of the papacy, buy off Viking marauders, convert the pagans in Saxony, contend with incursions from Al-Andalus, build a powerful army, and maintain detente with the Byzantine Empire.

Gamers who are familiar with the game Agricola, Master of Britain will find many similarities between it and Charlemagne: Master of Europe, though this is a longer and more complex game, with its own nuances. The core mechanism of cup adjustments is of course alive and well. Chits representing enemy units reside in one of three cups representing how they feel about your rule: Friendly, Unfriendly, or Hostile. Chits are drawn from the hostile cup and placed on the map, manifesting themselves as overt challenges to your rule. Every action you take will subtly change their stance, blindly moving chits from one cup to another.

My Thoughts

 This game is epic. I mean massively huge in feel. Four times the size map from Agricola, Master of Britain, and so many other things to balance apart from controlling the spread of forces which, as you might imagine, is a bit more difficult with the larger map. Thankfully you get Marquis folks, who can help stamp out the tribes with less effectiveness and who can someday aspire to have roads built through their part of the map. There are so many little levers to see in action here, and it makes the game feel massive, impressive, and wonderful. And, well, potentially overwhelming. But believe me, friends, when I tell you it is absolutely worth blundering through.

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 Just like in Agricola, Master of Britain, this one has a nice ramping up of things to teach you some of the things to watch for: army strength, VP total, money, etc. Each round you need a little more, meaning you need to continually be making forward progress. And paying attention to the things that increase your wealth-making and VP-making potential. And keep an eye on how many forces you are actually losing, because at some point in time you’re going to need to be buying more replacement troops and promoting troops beyond the 1 per round if you want to keep up.

 Which is where the best part about this game comes in: there is only one way to win, but half a dozen ways to lose the game. This will probably drive as many people away as it draws in, but I am well documented as a person who really loves a solo game with a challenging experience. I don’t usually enjoy the easy win games that are “for the experience” – there are exceptions, but in general I want to feel like I earned it. The downside here? You could literally lose at the end of the 10th round unexpectedly through a chain of events unraveling your cushion. More on that later. And those 10 Rounds? Yeah, it took several hours to get there…but it was 100% enjoyable the entire way, even in the bitterness of defeat.

 While everything else got bigger and more inflated, the combat system here got simplified to smaller battles that follow the same flow, just fewer units overall but at the same time more tactical decisions, such as two wings of combat and how your Scara have a strong advantage during the first round of attacking. Even after the battle, deciding which unit on each half should get promoted, keeping in mind that you’ll get a VP but also lose that strong Level 4 unit if you make that final bump…so much to enjoy here.

 I absolutely love the chit pull system employed, and how every action you take leads to reactions in the cups and the deployment of more forces. Most of the time you feel like you are treading water, trying to keep one or two areas under control and then swooping up to deal with the heathen armies as they get out of control or, more likely, when you want some cash for churches and roads. I never feel like I am fully in control of the board state in the game, and only rarely do I feel like things are spiraling out of control. Do I sometimes suffer from a terrible pull or two in a row? Sure, that can and will happen. But it isn’t the norm.

 Knowing that a single round can be the difference between winning and losing provides an insane amount of tension for the player in the game. The closest I came has been losing via VP in Turn 10. That game I had a good cushion all game on VP, even racked up 5 EVP early on. Turn 9 I lost points due to Army Strength, which that was as much on me as the bad losses I took in battles that round. Next round? Three actions, four Byzantine pulls costing me 6, 7, 8, and then 9 VP. Next action? End of round. Oof. Even with the EVP paid out, I was 2 points short of the threshold when I had been at the 11th round goal before that army strength loss. I couldn’t have prevented it. The turn ended by the time I got to where I could start clearing off leaders. Yet earlier in the game, I had a fun round of tension where I was trying to weigh between waiting in Rome to get crowned or going to deal with the Moor threat. And boy, was it nerve-wracking pulling Hostile Reactions knowing that one more Moor would end it…

 This game goes from feeling like you have all the time in the world to scrambling to keep up. The first four rounds, before a 3rd End Turn chit is added to the cup, can literally take until the entire Hostile cup is empty. In my experience, at least one of those turns will come close to that point, and it can seem like you are floundering about, trying to come up with meaningful things to do that aren’t moving you backwards (like losing forces in battle). Once you finish the 8th turn, now there are four of those chits in there and getting two pulled can happen WAY sooner than you want. Again, speaking from experience here. I enjoy the fluid turn lengths, but man it can bite you sometimes.

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 I hate the condition for building the roads: completed church, Marquis present, no enemy units or Vikings. That last one, that’s the rub. You want to know how many turns in a row that was foiled by a late pull of a single unit to the area, several spaces from the Marquis of the area, that was followed very soon after by the 2nd Turn End chit drawn? And I need to do this THREE different times? In my best showing, this was what I was convinced would cause me to lose because I needed 2 more and there was just no way it was coming together in time.

 I know it is the Hollandspiele standard, but I am pretty sure my map will never, ever be remotely flat when on the table. I’ve stacked books for several nights, and no success. I’ll either have to luck into a rare mounted version of the map some day, put it in a frame of some sort on my wall myself, or just accept that there will be parts of the “board” that the chits just won’t like to stack well.

My biggest nitpick on this? There’s a wonderful player aid, four pages long. And I can deal with the inside being flipped upside down from the outside. But honestly, what is the reason to not include how many Hostile Reactions come from each different action? Everything else about your actions are listed, and yet the most important one is not mentioned! I had to tarnish my player aid by marking it up with a pen to correct this mistake, as it had to be a printing error… Note: It turns out mine must, indeed, be a fluke of a player aid. I gave photographic evidence that what came in my box was an anomaly. So rest assured, your player aid SHOULD have those Hostile Reactions, and the inside shouldn’t be flipped upside down.

Final Thoughts

This game has been my source of shame as a reviewer for a year. Typically I aim to turn a review around in a few months, and I was successful in doing that for Agricola, Master of Britain which they also sent at the same time. Agricola hit my Top 20 countdown, in fact, because I was absolutely in love with the game and it gave me hope that I could find solitaire wargames to enjoy. And then I tried playing this, which was Agricola+ – taking the system and expanding everything for a more epic, grand scale. And boy, was it ever larger. So much so that I positively failed to get any kind of traction on wrapping my head around the game. I got it to the table two different times and had to put it away mid-2nd turn because it just wasn’t clicking for me. And so onto my shelf it went, taunting me every time I looked at that bright orange box and making me also keep away from Agricola, Master of Britain for a whole year because, well, why should I play the smaller game when the larger one still very much needed played and reviewed.

Enter 2020. A friend of mine convinced me to play 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis with him in January. Which led to Twilight Struggle. Which led to Watergate. Which led to Sekigahara, Meltwater, Commands & Colors: Ancients, Nevsky…and down the wargaming rabbit hole we both fell. So the next time Charlemagne looked at me, I stared right back and swallowed my pride, pulling it off the shelf and setting it up and revisiting the rulebook.

That next play? It went so well in terms of flow and understanding. I was FINALLY ready to graduate up to a bigger wargaming experience, and for that I apologize wholeheartedly to Tom and Mary, because it should never take a full year to get around to reviewing a game. However, had I forced myself to suffer through more plays last year, I am convinced that my review would have been a gross disservice to the game, the designer, and the publisher because it just wasn’t the right fit for me at the time.

The good news is that now IS the right time for me as a gamer to return to this one. And whoa, what a game this is. Once it all fell into place for how it all connects, this is an epic, incredible game experience that progresses at a slow burn, but once things start to boil then it really takes off in a way that blew me away, even above and beyond what I enjoyed from Agricola, Master of Britain. Both games will place really high on my Top 100, I believe, and I had to play Agricola again after some plays of Charlemagne to make sure I knew which I loved more. However, there’s room for both, because Charlemagne is definitely not a game you can finish in a single sitting unless you get unlucky and lose early…or have a really long, uninterrupted sitting.

There are SO MANY things going on in here, and they help to highlight the best of the chit-pull system for this solo game. Places where you have control can rise back up in rebellion and need stamped out. Every action you do has a reaction, usually greater in number than what it is you did, meaning you’re never going to feel like things are under control. And even when you manage things well, the unpredictable nature of pulling the Turn End chits, as well as the wild card units of the Vikings, Moors, and Byzantium mean there are more wrinkles that can make your best-laid plans unfurl (I’m looking at you, Byzantium!). It all comes together in a beautiful, glorious mess of a masterpiece that I probably will never play as often as I want, but like my perennial favorite, War of the Ring, I will make a conscious effort to get it played a few times each year going forward.

I’m glad I didn’t give up on this game. I wish I had been able to enjoy it properly a year ago, but some games just need to come along at the right time in order to get a better appreciation. And with more time at home right now, there is no solo game on my shelf that I have enjoyed playing more this year than Charlemagne, Master of Europe outside of the Lord of the Rings LCG, which speaks a lot to where this game can ultimately fall for me, both on my solo list of top games and for my overall.

At least until the next game in the series, Aurelian, Restorer of the World comes out. In case you didn’t guess, that will be an instant buy for me, although I am guessing it will be coming out AFTER my birthday in June. If it is half the game that Charlemagne, Master of Europe turned out to be, it’ll easily earn its home in my collection.

If you are newer to wargaming, start with Agricola, Master of Britain. However, if you are an old hat to wargames or have some experience under your belt and are looking for a satisfying, lengthy solo game to play there is no game I can recommend more strongly than this one. It’ll be the best $50 you could spend on a game, in my opinion.

Review for One · Wargame Garrison

Review for One – Vikings: Scourge of the North

Thank you for checking review #126 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 Vikings: Scourge of the North

Vikings: Scourge of the North is a board game designed by Christopher Cummins and Joseph Miranda that is published by Decision Games. The “box” states it plays 1 player and has a playtime of 60-90 minutes.

Vikings: Scourge of the North. Europe in the last centuries of the Dark Age was beset by Scandinavian raiders. Their longships sailed the high seas, reaching lands as far as the Volga and North America. While mainly known for their pillaging, the Vikings were also explorers, traders, and colonists.

This is a solitaire game. You lead a band of warriors with their ships and weapons. Units represent historical Viking leaders such as Leif Erikson and Harald Hardrada. You can recruit elite huskarls and fanatic berserkers, and build more longships. You are in pursuit of gold, glory, and new lands to settle on a map running from Russia to Vinland, from Scandinavia to the fabled lands of the Byzantine Empire.

Saga cards send you on four different voyages of discovery and quest fulfillment. Voyage cards bring in special actions such as forming a shield wall in combat and ending the game with a Viking funeral.

—description from the publisher

My Thoughts

 This game has a quick playtime once you get into the flow of the game and its nuances. More on that later. But as a whole, this one plays quick which is exactly what you would want and expect from a Mini Folio game. If you are seeking lengthy gameplay and strong replay value, you might find just one of those here. To give you an idea, I played through all four games of the campaign in under 2 hours, which includes both setting up initially and doing the cleanup between each sequential game.

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 Everything in the game flows so well because of the overall simplicity of the game system. Once the rules are out of the way (again, more on that later), this has a nice rhythm to it. Turns are usually spent making a move, drawing a card and resolving it, and then doing stuff related to your new space if desired or mandatory. Battles are easy to resolve as well, especially if you have the Jarl who gives you the initiative in battle automatically. While you might sometimes stop to puzzle out the best path to take, most of the time you have clear ideas what the likely destinations are (based on the Saga card in play and the location of the Quests, usually). This means most of your time spent in the game is engaged time, which is valuable to have in a game like this.

 The map is done really well, and has some excellent reference tables on there to assist you during the game on what certain things mean, the impact of various colors of spaces, and more. Beyond that, everything else in this package might not be top-tier quality (as you would expect in a game of this size and price) but it is all really solid. I have no complaints at all about anything that came with this one, and it does look pretty good while on the table.

 The campaign is designed well enough to provide an engaging multi-play scenario in the game. The order of the first three Saga cards is random, and you’ll always play the same card as the last one. Once I got to that card, I understood why. While there is one part of that final Saga card I have an issue with (you need 5 Edda? Really? Come on, be real!) the rest of it flowed really well and I felt the pressure to preserve my Jarl, conserve Gold, and to gain Edda as much as possible. As a whole, the campaign provided a nice, decent-length set of games to play in one sitting.

 Berserkers are fantastic. They can ignore the first hit during a battle, meaning they are likely to survive longer. The real tough decision is whether to put them on the front of your queue or to put them 1-2 spots back. Because inevitably, when I put him on the front I get back-to-back damage to destroy him. And when he is back a space, I take only one hit which kills off my Huscurl instead. It feels like a lose-lose sometimes, but having the decision space (and where to put units like the ship and your Jarl) in the order makes a difference – sometimes.

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 A lot is going to depend upon the location of the Quest markers, which is variable from game-to-game and they get placed based on rolling 2d6 and consulting a chart on the map. When you are lucky, there will be 2-3 of them within a space or two of a homeland. When unlucky, you might need to spend 4-6 turns sailing/trekking inland to get to where you need to go. Luckly, most quests only require completing a few of these, but they all require you to complete some of them. The other downside is moving into a Quest space provokes a battle guaranteed, and depending on the Journey card flipped, you might be doing a back-to-back battle.

 I understand a need for “increasing difficulty” in the campaign, but as a whole it never really feels like you get stronger. Yes, you can keep some settlements on the map (which can help or hinder your next quest, potentially) and the money you have. But if you have a near-wipe of your warriors to end the previous Saga, you will potentially have no funds to replenish your force apart from the 1 Gold per settlement you ended with. Hopefully it’ll be at least 3, to get a new ship if needed. And then, to boot, your battles pull an extra chit to face per Saga you’ve completed which means your force, which may or may not be weak (I couldn’t afford more than 4 total units until almost onto the 4th Saga), is facing a larger army that can be stacked with big hitters or lucky weaklings, setting you back more. It works, sure, but it never felt like my side was getting stronger – I was just facing more enemies and having fewer total resources to overcome the obstacles presented.

 My initial impressions were that this game was pretty luck-heavy as the die is rolled with high frequency. And that didn’t really change over the course of additional plays of the game. However, when I realized that I was able to get 4 plays in of this in 2 hours, it wasn’t as big of a sticking point. I’ll play and enjoy a game with some interesting decisions that uses randomness if it hits that timeframe for a single play of the game. So while it is random-heavy at times, it still provides a fun experience with good decisions along the way to where I enjoy it in spite of that randomness. And depending on your Jarl, you’ll have a chance to impact at least some of that randomness in the game.

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 Let’s not mince words here, the rulebook is not good. The majority of its errors can be forgiven, as the player can still make intuitive connections about what is intended. Unfortunately, the biggest issue comes in the form of omissions. For instance, never tells you what your starting Edda value is for the game, campaign or otherwise. It also doesn’t do a good job at telling you the full steps to follow for setting up a consecutive game in the campaign. Do your troops remain on the map where they are located at the conclusion of the previous Saga, or do they depart once more from one of the Viking homelands? These ambiguities tell me that it probably didn’t go through much blind playtesting, as these are questions that were obvious from the start of setup, and from the beginning of the 2nd Saga card in the campaign. There is no answer in the rulebook – so the assumption was made that you start with 0 Edda and that you always depart from a Viking Homeland at the start of a Saga.

Final Thoughts

It might seem like I was pretty harsh on the game and thus didn’t like it. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth: I genuinely enjoyed the game in spite of its flaws. And while I wish some things were different – the sea movement not being dice-dependent, the feasibility to mustering and voyaging with multiple forces, a more immersive campaign with a sense of progression – this game delivers a really fun experience in a small and inexpensive package. At least once you get past the rules.

That opinion of it being a fun experience is quite the turnaround from the end of my second play of the game, at which point I assumed it would be voyaging out of my collection as soon as I got enough plays to review the game. Like most games, first and second impressions may not be able to provide an accurate representation of the long-term impact of a game which is why I never believe in doing a review after just that first play and have made careful steps to clearly identify my wargame impressions posts as first impressions rather than reviews. This game here is a case study in why.

It has good decisions, although your objective tends to give you a clear idea of what to do there are multiple ways to get there. With four different Jarls and four different Sagas to play, there is enough variety in here for a small game like this. It isn’t a perfect game, and it isn’t setting out to be your favorite game of all time. Yet this one is fun, fast, and will be sticking around in my collection and, soon, getting some other Decision Games titles to join it on the shelf based upon the merits of this first experience into their catalog of games.

Review for One · Review for Two

Review for One and Two: Everdell

Thank you for checking review #123 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: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

**Second Note: I lost a LOT of photos that have been taken in the past few months. So I have only a few on here, but I will be editing in more soon!

An overview of Everdell

Everdell is a board game designed by James A. Wilson that is published by Starling Games. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 40-80 minutes.

Within the charming valley of Everdell, beneath the boughs of towering trees, among meandering streams and mossy hollows, a civilization of forest critters is thriving and expanding. From Everfrost to Bellsong, many a year have come and gone, but the time has come for new territories to be settled and new cities established. You will be the leader of a group of critters intent on just such a task. There are buildings to construct, lively characters to meet, events to host—you have a busy year ahead of yourself. Will the sun shine brightest on your city before the winter moon rises?

Everdell is a game of dynamic tableau building and worker placement.

On their turn a player can take one of three actions:

a) Place a Worker: Each player has a collection of Worker pieces. These are placed on the board locations, events, and on Destination cards. Workers perform various actions to further the development of a player’s tableau: gathering resources, drawing cards, and taking other special actions.

b) Play a Card: Each player is building and populating a city; a tableau of up to 15 Construction and Critter cards. There are five types of cards: Travelers, Production, Destination, Governance, and Prosperity. Cards generate resources (twigs, resin, pebbles, and berries), grant abilities, and ultimately score points. The interactions of the cards reveal numerous strategies and a near infinite variety of working cities.

c) Prepare for the next Season: Workers are returned to the players supply and new workers are added. The game is played from Winter through to the onset of the following winter, at which point the player with the city with the most points wins.

My Thoughts

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 I enjoy a good worker placement game. This one is pretty solid overall in design, with the ramp up in workers gradually across all seasons of the game. I like that there are spaces that are closed, supporting only one worker at a time, and ones that are open which can hold any number of workers. Depending on the cards, there are spaces that randomly come into play to add either 3 or 4 more action spaces (and at 4 players, each has 2 spots to place on). And certain cards, when placed into a player’s tableau, have action spaces. You go from hoping to get to do more than 2 things in the first season to having a ton of options and extra “actions” via cards later in the game and it provides a very satisfying progression.

 The other half of this game mechanics come from tableau building via cards, and here is where the real spotlight shines for me (because I’m that kind of player). You get to hold up to 15 cards which, again, at the very beginning feels impossible to accomplish since you might get 1-2 cards if you are lucky in that first season. Part of this comes from the clever design where getting the appropriate Structure into play can allow you to bring its paired Creature into play for free on a later turn. That makes it fun to seek out pairs, and to hold Structures in your hand to drop down if/when its partnered card appears in your hand or the Meadow. Perhaps more important are the effects of the cards, with a good number having an effect that triggers when played and, after the first and third seasons, will all trigger again automatically thus encouraging an early focus on those types of cards. Yet others will give you benefits any time you build a certain type of card, and some will score extra end-game points based on types of cards. Some cards open new action spaces to use, some of which can be used by your opponents at a cost. And other cards will allow you to build other cards at a discount later in the game. Very few games have a constant feeling of increasing power. Everdell nails it perfectly.

 Resources seem abundant and scarce at the same time. There are ample places to get resources, and tons of cards that will help you get more resources into your pool. Yet you will often find yourself needing to spend several actions to get what you need to play a card, or get creative with discarding a load of cards. This is great because it never feels like you can just buy any card you need, yet it also never feels like a card is completely out of reach. Even if the single printed space for pebbles is taken, there is a way around that restriction without needing to wait for them to vacate the space. The push-pull for resources is harsh very early, feels like it opens up mid-game, and then feels difficult to accomplish again in the final season as you are pushing to score as many points as possible while trying to find a way to play this card you just drew that could be worth a lot if you get it out.

 The fluid flow of the game is one I wasn’t so sure about going into the game, but I find I really like it. What happens here is that a season doesn’t end at the same time for everyone. It is an action you take on your turn to Prepare for Season, which is when you get more workers, retrieve the ones you already placed, and more. Which means that it is entirely possible to never have it line up to where you have a worker ready to claim a key 1-worker space unless you try to time your seasons around the blocking opponent, adding an extra layer of interesting intrigue into the gameplay. Not only that, it means the game might end for me far sooner than it ends for you. This was what I was concerned with, but since the turns are fast and most players end up finishing in a close timeframe, it has proven to be negligible – especially in a 2-player game. We haven’t had a game yet where it has been more than 5 minutes to wait while the other person finishes out their final plays.

 The game has a hard limit of 8 cards in your hand. This seems odd at first, and it really is unusual. The rules don’t allow you to draw that 9th card, even if you are supposed to. You can’t draw it and discard down to 8. You can’t discard ahead of time as part of that preceding action. You must already have enough room in your hand to accept all of the cards you are about to draw, otherwise you stop completely once the 8th is in your hand. While this makes it incredibly difficult to dig through the deck for more cards, there are still ways to make use of those extra cards you don’t want or need. The most obvious choice is to discard them at a 2-cards for 1-resource ratio using one of your workers. It isn’t a bad trade-off, although I never like spending said worker to accomplish this as there is always something else I need done that requires the worker. And in the final Season, there are spaces where you can discard cards for points, with the highest point spaces able to contain only one worker so first-come, first-serve.

 The offset the hard limit of cards is the presence of the Meadow. This has 8 face-up cards at all times, and anyone can freely pay to play a card from there on their turn. Also, as your second Prepare for Season action, you’ll get to take 2 of the Meadow cards into your hand (assuming you aren’t maxed out in your hand…). This Meadow of cards is great, except when you buy a card only to see the card you wanted flip up and your opponent immediately plays it (or draws it, if they hit that prepare action) leaving you hoping to draw into a much harder-to-find copy of the card deeper in the deck. No, that hasn’t ever happened to me. Why would you think that?

 The game plays fast at 1-3, and is easy to get to the table. I love it at 2, and I hope that comes through here. However, I do want to briefly touch on the solo play of the game. It is HARD. Why? Because the opponent blocks off spaces on the board, spaces on the cards, and blocks increasingly-more cards in the Meadow. That is dynamic enough. But they also gain a card at random from the Meadow (d8 roll) whenever you play a card. Those cards are worth 2-3 points per card, AND when things go wrong it’ll also help them score some of those Basic Events if you haven’t claimed it already when you do a Prepare for Season action. The AI is simple to pilot, the hallmark of a good solo system, and provides a strong challenge. You’ll hear a gripe here shortly about the solo experience, but as a whole I appreciate the game’s deliverance of a challenging opponent in a meaty experience that only takes about 45 minutes to set up and play.

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 I am not necessarily against extraneous components, but I am also a firm believer that components are merely chrome. Some of them can be more functional with improvements, but I have never been one to seek after deluxified games and pimped-out table presence. Shoot, half the time I can’t even be bothered to use a playmat with a card game or even to sleeve all my beloved cards. So take it with a grain of salt here when I say this game is unnecessarily overproduced. Not to the point where it gets a ridiculous MSRP based on what comes in the box – that I have no issue with at all. I do have the deluxe version of the game, and I don’t deny the feel of metal coins and wooden discs is good. The bits (which are the same in the retail version) are really good in quality. But that forsaken tree. Yes, it is cardboard. But it adds nothing other than a “wow” factor designed to make players ask what the game is. And I get that, kudos for those involved with finding a cost-effective 3D structure to “integrate” into the game. But my biggest issue, apart from the annoyance of everyone oohing and aahing over the tree to interrupt gameplay in public, is that it moves a pretty important piece of the game onto an elevated, flat surface to where it is not as easy to reference. Those Special Events, which you’ll see soon how much I love, become either forgotten or force players to stand to remember what on earth the cards they need to find actually are.

 Which brings us to the only real negative I have with the game: the Special Events and the impossibility of accomplishing them. I’ve played a reasonable sample size of the game with 6 plays under my belt, and I have seen exactly one fulfilled. That amounts to 1/24 achieved. The problem? The deck of cards is too thick and the likelihood of seeing the two cards you need, much less obtaining them both, is far slimmer than you would expect. At least it has been the case so far. Combine this with the limitation on drawing that I praised earlier, and you have a formula for disaster in trying to accomplish these Special Events. Also keep in mind you need to place a worker there after getting the cards, too, in order to claim the event. It is an exercise in futility that shouldn’t be a factor. And in a multiplayer game, it is fine. I have no issue in us all failing spectacularly – although if one person accomplishes a Special Event it can be a huge boost for them. The issue shifts when we get to the solo experience, where Rugwort scores all of the ones you didn’t accomplish. They might as well gift-wrap him those precious points.

Final Thoughts

Everdell had a bad first impression for me. It was a sour taste that I simply couldn’t get out of my mouth: that tree was clearly 100% visual gimmick. Even worse, it made those Special Events difficult to reference during the game because they were on an elevated plane. It was around midnight after a long day at a convention, and I grew tired of everyone stopping as they walked by to comment about the dang tree. It was not the most conducive way to play the game for the first time, and all of us were learning the game. Yet it was enough to make me interested in playing the game again, in spite of reservations about the scarcity of pebbles.

The tree remains a gimmick, and most of the time pebbles are still a commodity that is difficult to obtain in quantities high enough to buy all of the constructions you are wanting. However, my irritation overall faded into the distance as the game itself became the focal point for my attention. You go from feeling like you can do nothing in the first season of the game to having a maxed-out tableau of cards which, hopefully, have at least a few synergistic triggers that maximize your final turns of the game without needing to do as many placements of your workers. Everdell is a hybrid of a game between a classic worker placement, such as Agricola, and a tableau/engine builder, such as Race for the Galaxy. And while it isn’t as good at either of those areas as the big-hitters mentioned, the merger between the two gives Everdell something of a unique, refreshing offering as a game experience.

And that combination makes this game darn-near perfect as a fit for our personal collection, because it takes her absolute favorite mechanism (worker placement) and combines it with one of my favorites (engine/tableau building). This is a really fun game that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed and will continue to explore (I’ve even heard that the Pearlbrook expansion helps…) but it isn’t our primary go-to gaming experience. At least not yet, although I could definitely see it becoming a staple in our rotation as we dive deeper into the game.

The biggest offender comes in the form of those Special Events. You would think they shouldn’t be that difficult to achieve at least one in a game, yet I’ve seen it happen exactly once. Part of that is because of a misprinted card which, had I known at the time, I could have accomplished a Special Event but chose to toss the needed card because I didn’t know it was the needed card. Anyway, the big issue here is that the stack of cards to draw from is so freaking massive. Not even kidding. Yes, most of the cards have 2-3 copies in there that you can draw. Statistically speaking, you should see most of the 8 required cards for the Special Events during the course of gameplay regardless of the player count. But it just doesn’t play out that way, and trying to dig for a specific card isn’t entirely possible because you have a hard cap at 8 cards in your hand. Already have 8 when you need to draw a card? Tough luck, you don’t even get to draw that card. It is a clever twist, sure, but frustrating because you have to first spend an action to discard cards in order to draw cards to search for the item you need.

All in all, Everdell is a delight to play in spite of the frustration of those Special Event cards…unless you are playing the game solo. After all, in a multiplayer game you are all on the same footing if those cards never do come out for someone to lock in the combo, and even if you do get lucky enough to pull it off you have to spend one of your worker placements to claim the space. But in the solo game against Rugwort the Rat, he scores points for every one of them you do not accomplish. I suppose it is probably designed that way to give him that small boost to his score to make things competitive, but that still makes it feel bad when you finish a solo game and not a single pair appeared all game. As impossible as it sounds, my solo play didn’t even see both the Husband and Wife come out, just several Husbands and Farms. You are going through about the same amount of deck, thanks to Rugwort’s gaining a card anytime you do, and he punishes shenanigans like the Crane because he ultimately gains 2 cards while you sacrifice the Crane to gain into the 1 card. That changes the way in which you value certain actions, and creatures like the 0-point Postal Pigeon suddenly becomes a high risk-reward play.

As a while, Everdell is a game we’re going to keep in our collection for a long time. It offers a fast gameplay experience with a moderate amount of setup and teardown time, but is easily one of those games that can be pulled out on a worknight and enjoyed. Its table presence delights my toddler son, and I have a feeling one of our cats is responsible for a missing Red Squirrel meeple that I hope we’ll find in the next few months as we move into a new home (I am about 60% sure it was there when I unpacked everything and set out the colors for my wife to choose when we got around to playing it…) – if not, I guess we still have 4 playable colors and we rarely need even that many player accommodations. The game has beautiful production, exciting gameplay, and really simple rules that allow you to just dig into exploring new strategies and combinations during gameplay. That is the hallmark of a great game, and one I’m extremely glad to have in our collection.

Review for One

Review for One: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set

Thank you for checking review #122 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: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set is a board game designed by Chad Brown, Keith Richmond, Aviva Schecterson, Mike Selinker, and Liz Spain that is published by Paizo Publishing. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 90 minutes.

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Your Adventure Begins Here!

Belhaim’s tower has just collapsed, its wizard is missing, and local kobolds are whispering the name of a long dead draconic nemesis. And that’s just your first day in town…

This complete cooperative strategy game pits 1 to 4 players against monsters, perils, and traps as you become the heroes of Belhaim. As the town’s new champions, an unending world of adventure awaits. Choose your character’s class; build a deck of equipment, magic, and allies; and explore lethal locations as you journey through an exciting fantasy tale. As your adventures continue, your characters add remarkable gear and breathtaking magic to their decks as they gain incredible powers, all of which they’ll need to challenge more and more powerful threats.

This set includes the storybook and cards for The Dragon’s Demand Adventure Path as well as a modular core for infinite scenarios that allows you to control the difficulty and speed of play.

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set includes:

440 cards featuring a wide array of powerful weapons, magical spells, protective armors, versatile items, helpful allies, and divine blessings to help you face a host of vicious monsters, dangerous barriers, vile scourges, and perilous wildcards
12 character pawns representing Pathfinder’s iconic character classes from the classic human cleric Kyra to the new goblin alchemist Fumbus
A complete set of 5 polyhedral dice
63 colorful tokens for tracking scourges and secondary objectives
1 4-page quick-start guide
1 32-page rulebook
1 24-page storybook featuring The Dragon’s Demand Adventure Path

My Thoughts

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 The overhaul of the game, from the card design to the mechanics to the player experience, is all apparent in this box. I wanted to start here, not because it is relevant to new players to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game but rather because I can attest to the entire package being reconsidered by Paizo. I’ve played several of the other entries (more on that expanded upon in the Final Thoughts) and there are similarities here to make it feel like the same familiar game, yet so much has been tweaked in positive ways to make this an impressive, new entry into the game system. Whether you enjoyed it or not, if you’ve played the game in the past then you should check out the new one (unless you absolutely hated the original, as it is still the same at the heart).

 Two small, but impactful, changes to the game are the inclusion of standees for your character (replacing a card that would go by the location) and the inclusion of effect cards with tokens. Each player has a colored set of tokens, and if you are suffering an effect such as Frightened or Dazed, you place your token on that card until it is resolved. This allows you to easily see what your effect is and who has been impacted by it, and that adds a nice little touch.

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 More improvements to discuss here! First, I love the dividers that come to help organize the cards. This system works far better than what they had for the original game (which, admittedly, did functionally work) to keep things organized between games and to grab what you need as you need to draw certain card types. Second is the mechanic where some cards have an Ambush keyword, forcing you to encounter the card if you come across it while looking at the stack of cards in the location. This makes items and abilities to look ahead a little riskier, as you could end up with an encounter you aren’t prepared to face.

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 As always, this game scales really well at all player counts (I haven’t played at 4 yet, but I can’t imagine it being any different). More players mean more locations to cover, and fewer actions per player to defeat the task. But it also means you can divide and conquer really effectively and cover ground quickly. Yet even with one character, trying to get through and close 3 locations is doable and enjoyable. There is enough time to proceed with some level of caution, but not enough time to be lax in exploring through things.

 I love a feeling of character progression, and this game retains a system of growth for characters. After each scenario you’ll get to modify your deck with cards gained throughout the scenario, making your deck a fluid set of cards that conforms to a specific allocation of cards. And being able to earn points to upgrade your character’s stats or abilities is really fun, and a great way to encourage using the same character over the course of a narrative – until they die, at least. Because death is permanent, especially as a solo game, meaning there is always some level of risk-reward as you tackle challenges.

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 This game is the perfect solo game on nights where I am craving something with meaningful decisions and fun adventure but don’t want to dedicate an entire night toward the game. The game plays quickly, and honestly the setup is a little longer than I’d usually prefer (I ditched Legendary years ago for that very reason: the setup didn’t align with the gameplay experience). Yet this game possesses the adventure, a linear progression of story, and character growth to make me want to come back for more. The box claims a 90 minute play time. I can set up, play, and tear down in around 45-60 when going solo. Sometimes even shorter, depending on the run of luck (in either direction).

 The one thing that has always been a sticking point for the game has been the dependency on die rolls. Yes, there are ample ways to modify these…provided you have the right cards. But my most recent game is an example of how things can snowball out of control. The early game had one really bad roll that moved me to a random location and left me with a debilitating condition that couldn’t be cleared until I closed the current location I was parked at. Every time I encountered a Monster I had to roll 1d4-1 and take that much damage prior to the encounter, with no chance for reduction. Let’s just say the first three encounters all made me discard 3 cards out of a hand of 4, dropping me to a very dangerous level of “health”. The second-to-last card in the deck was the Henchmen, allowing me to finally close the location and carry on with almost no room to take damage or really to spend blessings or allies for extra explorations. Luckily, the rolls went my way from that point and I narrowly escaped with a victory, but it definitely showed how swingy and luck-dependent this game can be at times – especially in the early adventures as your deck and character remain close to their starting state.

 It isn’t the game’s fault, but this one almost demands to be sleeved. Not just because it is heavily card-based, but because you are making decks of cards that are only about 10-20 cards large. There are times where you will need to shuffle and reshuffle mid-game. And I find that sleeved cards work the best for shuffling small quantities like this. Something to keep in mind, regardless of whether you are a compulsive sleever or not – you may find this game benefits from it either way, meaning you’ve got an investment in 500 or so sleeves on top of the price of the game.

 I get it, most people have hordes of polyhedral dice in their collection. Technically all they need to supply is a single set of dice for the game, as you can simply reroll dice and add together. Except then you need to perfectly remember those values, as you are adding them all up at the end. The best solution overall would be for four sets of dice to be in the box: one per potential player. It isn’t like these are premium dice, after all.

Final Thoughts

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I’ve had a long history with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and much of it has followed an on-again, off-again trajectory. It was a game that struck many of the right notes for me, dating back to when I discovered it through the app on a tablet. What followed from there was obsessively playing the app for a while, then not installing it on my new device later (due to space concerns at the time), playing the physical game (dabbling through early scenarios in the first three sets, playing anywhere from 1-3 players), getting the app back (and finding much of it was now closed behind a paywall), obtaining the entire Wrath of the Righteous set and then parting with it…and so it goes on. It was a game I wanted to love. So much of it paired well with what I enjoy in solo games.

And then the new Core Set came out for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. I was cautiously optimistic, because it sounded like a pretty heavy revamp of the game system and updated appearance to the cards. And yes, many of the core mechanics are kept in-tact for the updated version of the game. It still feels like the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Yet at the same time, it feels remarkably fresh and innovative comparatively. I’m not even sure that I can accurately convey how that contradiction is possible, but it is definitely an improvement over the original. Almost like how the Original Star Wars trilogy was improved initially when George Lucas made some slight modifications, adding in a few deleted scenes and touching up some of the visuals with the better effects available in the 90’s.

Perhaps my favorite change to the game comes from the story book for your adventures. It seems like such a small, silly thing. You were probably expecting me to mention the standees for the characters, or the organizer cards, or even the condition tokens. But no, it is all about the story for me. This elevates the game experience to another notch. It isn’t the only great improvement here. The cards themselves are well-designed, things feel like they have been strongly considered and the game is down to a solid, core experience that is welcome for both newer players and returning veterans (I probably fall between those areas, since I’ve played a decent amount of the older game but never came close to finishing any single adventure cycle).

If you have always wanted to try this game, there is no better entry point for your money than this new core set. It has everything you’ll need to get started, and ample space to expand your collection as its gameplay hooks you. And if you are like me and enjoyed the original sets, even in a limited exposure, but never fully plunged in than this is the set to try out. It takes the things they learned across four cycles and implements things in a way that removes a lot of rough edges while maintaining a great core experience.

Review for One

Review for One: Run Fight or Die: Reloaded

Thank you for checking review #121 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: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Run Fight or Die: Reloaded

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Run Fight or Die: Reloaded is a board game designed by Richard Launius that is published by Grey Fox Games. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 20-40 minutes.

Back from the dead and better than ever! Run Fight or Die: Reloaded is a revamped and refreshed edition of the Richard Launius game Run Fight or Die.

In the game, you play a hero trying to survive wave after wave of zombies coming straight for you! You play as a unique character with your own character traits including a minor, major and super combo. You’ll need them to fight off the zombies move closer to you every round. You run from location to location, searching for weapons and survivors in a desperate attempt to stay alive. Survivors may bring new skills to help you in your desperate fight for survival, or in some cases, new challenges to overcome. You’ll also need them along if you want to win as every survivor provides you victory points.

This streamlined version removes several decks from the original game, including the Fleeing deck and Event deck. Players rolls six dice instead of five and there are now different combos to mitigate against tough zombie-filled rolls. Additionally, players can now use followers to soak damage coming in from zombies.

The game ends either when one player dies, the Town Line comes out of the locations deck, or when the Mutant Zombie has been put down once and for all. Whoever has the most leadership points among surviving players wins.

Run, Fight, or Die: Reloaded is a frantic first person experience for 1 to 4 players (will play up to 6 with the 5/6 player expansion).

My Thoughts

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 I love that this game presents more difficult decisions than you would expect from a dice chucking, yatzee-style mechanic. There are always zombies appearing and advancing, so you need to balance between advancing through locations, finding new items/followers to handle the threats better, and clearing the zombies that are at the front of the line. Every round has some risk of danger for taking damage, so it is rare to have a round where you can completely ignore the zombies. And every Zombie die face rolled gives you one fewer die to make a dent in the oncoming threat. For sure quick turns, there is plenty of room to make meaningful decisions – even when they are partially dictated by random die rolls.

 The game’s rules are simple and explained really well in the rulebook. This is one easy to pick up, set up, and play all in one quick sitting – something that is rare to find sometimes in this hobby, even when considering small-box games. If this is something that appeals to you (and let’s face it, the biggest barrier to a game being played is often the rulebook), be reassured that this is done quite well. I never encountered anything during gameplay that wasn’t clearly answered.

 Even though the solo experience is a beat-your-own-score type (unless you play the solo campaign…more on that below), since there is a loss condition that could end your game prematurely this game is of the good type of beat-your-own-score games. I always appreciate something more added in than a “do better” style of condition. Having an early losing condition isn’t quite as good as objective-based solo play, but it does make it a little better.

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 As a whole, the game does a good job of evoking a sense of impending threat. The hordes of zombies will never stop, and rarely slow down. Which means most turns you’ll be looking at least 2-3 zombies to kill or take wounds from. And wounds are a fast track to instant death on this game, although getting some followers can certainly help. Yet even there comes some risk, as a fair number of followers do bad things if they take wounds or die. Fans of shows like The Walking Dead, where you watch characters trying to scrape by with what they can for as long as they can, will feel that sense of desperation at finding a way to survive one more round. Unfortunately…

 That sense of desperation doesn’t come around often enough. At least in my plays so far, it has been my experience that most rounds are spent doing a little of everything and keeping the worst of things at bay. Yes, there are occasional rounds where I’ve got 9 zombies to deal with somehow this turn, but those are the extreme exception. Even the mutant zombie, when he appears, turned out to be an annoyance to juggle rather than a “I need to deal with him now or I’m going to lose” situation. There is tension in the game. Unfortunately, it isn’t as prevalent as I had hoped and, sometimes, that tension only comes from being on the wrong side of random chance via dice rolls.

 Let’s talk about the elephant in the room on this game: the solo campaign. If you backed the game on Kickstarter, you already have everything you need to play the campaign. However, if you pick this up via retail, half the rulebook is dedicated to an aspect of the game you cannot experience unless you go spend another $9.99 on their website to get the components (of which, only two decks of 15 cards are really essential) needed to play the solitaire campaign. Is it worth that price? I can’t weigh in on that. Yes, it makes the solo experience much better overall. And yes, bringing it to a total of $60 MSRP isn’t a dealbreaker on the game. Yet I know I was miffed about the necessity, and stubbornly tried to refuse to do it. However, I do have a solution to propose! I think they should reach out to the PNP Arcade to make available the solo campaign items as a PNP file for a small fee. I’d rather drop $3 and print the stuff out and try it tonight than spend $10 plus shipping and wait for it to arrive. Odds are, if you like it you’ll later

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splurge to get the high quality components anyway. Without the campaign, this game is fine for the solo gamer. But with the campaign, it gets elevated to a higher level because it adds something extra to the experience that makes it unique from a multiplayer experience.

 The insert in the box is so-so. It has a ton of space for zombie minis (far more space than needed). It has spots to hold cards, which I appreciate. But it won’t hold the sleeved cards, which I know some gamers will really hate. The mini cards, when sleeved, won’t fit back into the card slot so they are bagged instead. There is enough space in here that they could have made it hold sleeved cards, and had trays in there to hold the individual types of tokens. The insert isn’t bad enough to auto-trash, but there are definitely ways it could be improved to make it more useful.

Final Thoughts

Run Fight or Die: Reloaded is, at its heart, a fun romp through wave after wave after wave of zombies as you roll yatzee style with dice. If you enjoy games like King of Tokyo, Elder Sign, Dice Throne, etc. then this game is definitely going to be up your alley as well. What it sets out to do, it accomplishes well. There are plenty of things the game provides to make it a fun experience for the gamer, even if in essence it becomes quite repetitive. Getting the risk/reward factor with visiting new locations and with finding new followers is always a fun, yet sometime heartbreaking, experience. Getting that follower to allow a re-roll of a Zombie die each turn is a huge boost, while getting an Infected follower can increase the challenge provided by the game. Being able to adapt on the fly, and to make solid decisions about which dice to keep from your initial roll, makes this game exciting.

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If it feels like I’m talking in circles a bit, I probably am guilty of that. This game isn’t really my cup of tea most of the time, although there are a few exceptions (I like Dice Throne a fair amount, but none of the others from the above list). I’ve genuinely enjoyed my plays of this game, but it hasn’t really done enough to stand out in a way to make me love the game. Kind of that space where I don’t love it – the game is fun and enjoyable but I simply don’t feel a need to own it. I’d gladly play it if the game was on the table and they needed another player, but I wouldn’t actively seek out a play of the game, either.

I had hoped the solo campaign would push the game experience over the edge. And yes, I do like that they added in here. It is half the rulebook and spans four “scenarios”, all of which can easily be played in a single session. And it involves moving across the “map” 4 times, each time facing a different challenge while trying to avoid being killed or having the map get overrun with zombies. It adds some interesting things such as Trauma cards, which limit what you can do in some way until you find certain things in the game. Yet even that boils down to random luck (as does much of the game). I appreciate the removal of scoring points/beat-your-own-score system for solitaire play, making it most likely that I would replay that solo campaign if I wanted to play this one again. It is done well, fitting the game that exists rather than reinventing something completely new. And for that, I applaud the folks that worked on it.

Yet overall, this game is average – maybe just above average – which is unfortunate considering how many games are out there and how many new games are being released each year. A game really needs to stand out, especially as I look to maintain a smaller collection in 2020 and beyond. I’ve enjoyed the game, and am very glad I was given a chance to play and review the game, but it isn’t a game I would purchase because it simply isn’t the style of game I’m looking for on my shelf.

Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review for One: Dragon Keepers

Thank you for checking review #118 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: The publisher provided a copy of the game at the cost of shipping in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Dragon Keepers

Dragon Keepers is a board game designed by Catalina Lacerda and Vital Lacerda that is published by Knight Works LLC. The box state it plays 1-6 players and has a playtime of 10-40 minutes.

In this fantasy universe, each player is the chief of a tribe of dragon keepers, defending the dragons from attacks by the evil hunter. The hunter wants to see those cute dragons dead, but must get past the dragon keepers. The keepers belong to different tribes but together they have the common goal of protecting the dragons. The keepers use magic in their duels with the evil hunter.

Dragon Keepers was designed by Vital Lacerda and his youngest daughter, Catarina. Says Vital, “She is the one who knows a lot about dragons and I could have never been able to do this design without her.” Dragon Keepers has two different games in the box:

KEEPER GAME: 3–6 players | 10–15 minutes | ages 6+
In this competitive mode, the hunter rolls dice to attack the dragons and the players choose which of the attacked dragons they want to defend. The game ends when one player manages to heroically defend three different dragons or if one dragon gets three hits. The winner is the player with more successful defenses.

DRAGON GAME: 2–4 players | 20–40 minutes | ages 9+
In this cooperative mode, the keepers work together to defend and train the dragons so that they attack the hunter. Players can take four different actions: Defend, Cure, Train and Attack. Those actions are limited and they need to cooperate and organized as a group to manage to stop the hunter’s attacks during the game. The players lose if a dragon is killed by the hunter, or if the battle event deck runs out. The players win if X dragons (where X is determined by the difficulty level) manage to successfully attack the hunter.

My Thoughts

 For a game that I expected to be a light dice-chucker…there are a serious number of thoughtful decision points in here. True, every round will involve rolling 1-6 dice for the Hunter. But that is the first thing that happens, and it tells you which of your six dragons are being targeted for the round, and you get two actions to try and minimize the harm to your dragons and try and make progress toward having all six dragons trained & successfully attack the Hunter. It is a challenge, especially since your pool of action tokens is limited, you have two of each color dragon card (in a solo game) to choose from before resting – meaning you can’t just repeatedly use the same dragon, and you can’t train a damaged, or targeted, dragon.

 The spell cards are a great addition to the game, oftentimes providing useful and essential abilities to help swing things in your favor, such as training damaged dragons, removing damage, or allowing rerolls of attacks. You can play one per dragon card/action token you put out, meaning you can use up to 2 per turn. Two of your four actions will give you new spell cards, taking one from the discard pile or from the top of the deck (both of which are face-up). However, that deck is also your game timer! Which means you’re punishing yourself by avoiding the draw from the discard pile. And since taking a spell card doesn’t read as being an optional reward, you might even be forced to speed up the game timer if you choose the wrong combination of actions. It allows some really tense decisions.

 There are a ton of ways to make the game more, or less, challenging. I find the “minimum” difficulty for solo mode (I believe it is Hard) to be a very strong challenge. It requires you to train and successfully attack with all 6 dragons, skipping over the easier versions where you only need to accomplish this with 4 or 5 dragons. How does it get harder? Making weak fireball die results count as misses, and making it so you need more hits on the Hunter. Also…

 The Shadow Hunter variant is brutal. Basically there are four different Hunter cards that are shuffled into the spell deck (Pandemic style, putting one in each quarter of the small deck). In the normal game, when they appear they are discarded and a die is permanently added to the Hunter’s die pool, meaning he’s going to be doing more from that round onward. That’s a challenge in itself. The variant makes it so each Hunter card does an additional effect as it comes out, which cranks the challenge up by a lot. I want to use this variant more, but I need to actually win a game first…

 The artwork is a huge win on this game. I absolutely love it. It can certainly be a subjective thing, of course, but this is the sort of game that I would see and immediately want to know more about.

 I like that there is incentive to deal damage to the Hunter as quickly as possible, because for every 3 Fireballs you hit him with, you can remove a die from his pool. This helps to offset the gradual ramp in difficulty, making it more likely the dragon you need to use is able to be selected. Because, again, if they are damaged or targeted by the Hunter they cannot be trained. Which means sometimes what you need to do gets trumped by figuring out what you can do instead.

 Let’s circle back to planning in the game. Not only do you need to manage your choice of when to use certain actions and activate/protect certain dragons, but you also need to keep in mind when to take your Rest round. Because you are forced to do it if you’ve played 6 cards (you play 2 per round, so every fourth turn is potentially a forced rest) where the Hunter rolls his dice but all you do is take all of your cards and tokens back into your hand/pool. Because the Hunter’s roll happens first in the round, you can see what is incoming and try to decide whether to play cards or to take the rest. I absolutely love that degree of planning. So why the half star? Because luck. I’ve had rounds where I felt like the right move was to press the advantage and take the forced rest. My dragons would be in good shape at the end of the current round, and barring a roll of X, I won’t lose. And then I flip a spell card and it triggers a hunter. And the next card is a hunter. And now they are rolling 2 more dice than I expected and, sure enough, three of those roll the same color dragon to make me lose even when I shouldn’t have been in a losing position. It doesn’t always happen. Nor does it happen often. But it can and will eventually happen that the 1-in-X chance of a perfect storm causing you to lose will come around

 The dragons each have their own special power, which is fantastic. However, it can be a challenge to remember which powers they have. It isn’t indicated on their untrained side, and even on the trained side it is iconography. To find out what they do you need to refer to the back page of the rulebook, where it provides better details. I would have liked 6 cards, one for each dragon, that I could place next to each dragon in the circle. Or 1-2 cards to have as a reference in front of me, outlining what each dragon’s special ability would be. Because it can be a challenge to remember. The same goes with the Shadow Hunter variant, where you need to open the rulebook to see what they do. Printing it on the cards, or having a separate 4 Hunters with that text on them, would have been a helpful addition. Neither are bad, but missed opportunities. No one wants to pull out the rulebook mid-game when it can be avoided..

Final Thoughts

Dragon Keepers is a light game on the surface but it contains a surprising number of decisions that run far deeper than expected from the box. I should, of course, not be surprised at this because it is a game co-designed by Vital Lacerda. Even a game like this is rich with decision points that have little to do with the randomness of the dice that are rolled. In fact, I would argue that the dice are (most turns) a non-factor overall in terms of their randomness because you get to see what the Hunter rolls prior to selecting your actions for the turn. Thus when you are making decisions, there is no randomness involved until you go to have your dragon attack the Hunter, and even then most dragons are rolling multiple dice and there are spell cards to help mitigate the random factor.

Did I mention that this game is far more difficult than anticipated? I am currently winless still in the game after a half dozen attempts, although I’ve had two games that were oh-so-close. One, the timer ran out on me by one turn. The other, I just needed a successful recovery round to close things out on the following turn (hopefully) and the Hunter capitalized. In none of my plays have I felt as though everything was hopeless, or even that random chance ruined me. Even the loss to the Hunter’s good roll, I could have rested the round before when I saw that the Hunter’s roll was a “safe” one for me to rest during.

And that is what I really love about this game. In spite of dice being rolled every turn, I always have control of my fate in the game. A bad decision is always what I can point back to, whether it is not Training quickly enough for all six dragons, or not taking the right token as a reward for Training, or taking a Spell card off the main deck instead of the discard pile, accelerating the game timer, or delaying a rest that I know I’ll need to take to try and maximize the plays from my hand (but then leaving me in a very prone position). It all falls back on me, and my need to play better.

You might wonder, since I’m heaping such strong praise on Dragon Keepers, why it is missing from my Top 20 Solo Games that was just posted. What a keen, observant reader you are! Yes, it isn’t in that top 15% of the solo games I’ve played, but it just narrowly missed that cut. Had the list been a Top 25, you would have found Dragon Keepers right where it belongs, as a really strong and not-at-all-light solitaire experience. It makes me think in all the right ways, yet is short enough that I can sit down and knock out three losses in about an hour. And eventually that Hunter will fall to all six of my dragon attacks, and I will be victorious until we have The Hunter Strikes Back to the tune of upping the difficulty. Or adding in the Shadow Hunters variant which gives the four Hunter cards in the deck a special ability when they appear rather than just adding to the Hunter’s die pool. And then the losing can commence once more.

And I will enjoy every minute of it.