'Tis the season for Kickstarter, apparently. October was a wild month, and November isn't letting up on us one bit. There are several projects of possible interest to solo gamers.
1. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood of Venice
I love the Assassin's Creed video games, as well as pretty much any game with a stealth mechanic. That means I am very interested in this project. Ubisoft has partnered with Triton Noir, publisher of V-Commandos, to create an Assassin's Creed board game, and I think that's an ideal partnership. V-Commandos is a fun cooperative game set during WWII, in which you control commandos who are infiltrating Nazi bases to fulfill various objectives. It's a fun game that hasn't gotten a ton of exposure in the U.S., mostly because you can't find it at retail stores. (You have to buy it directly from Triton Noir.) Assassin's Creed will use a lot of the same mechanics, but fold them into a campaign system that will help create a larger storyline. There are also cool touches that fit with the Assassin's Creed theme, such as the ability to unlock memories or acquire special weapons. If you like V-Commandos (and I do), then Assassin's Creed is worth a look. If you aren't sure, keep an eye on this site for my review of V-Commandos—it's almost ready to go!
2. Archmage: Ascendant
I recently reviewed Archmage, and it's a game that is good for solo and really good with a group. This expansion will offer new spell cards and new options for solo/cooperative play—and at a great price ($30). The one thing that was "missing" from the base game was more spell variety, and the new gameplay options that this expansion is offering look truly exciting. Starling Games is also reprinting the Archmage base game, so this is a good time to pick it up if you're interested.
3. Perdition's Mouth: Cannibal's Howl
Perdition's Mouth keeps reprinting and releasing new material at times when I can't afford it, but it looks really good. Cannibal's Howl is a new expansion for this strategic dungeon crawl that uses an interesting rondel mechanic and requires a lot of clever planning. You can also pledge during this campaign to pick up pretty much everything else for the game, if you need to catch up. If you love fantasy dungeon crawls but want something that feels different, then I think Perdition's Mouth will have a lot to offer for you.
Holidays are a funny thing. On the one hand, we get to spend time with the people we allegedly love best. On the other... we have to spend time with the people we allegedly love best.* To help you get through these trying times, I am providing my 2018 holiday gaming guide, which includes recommendations tailored to several possible holiday scenarios. (Also, I may add to this post if anyone suggests something brilliant in the comments.)
Scenario 1: You are with your nuclear family, and you want to play a game.
I am the only hobby board gamer in my family, but I have fond memories of playing Facts in Five and Trivial Pursuit growing up. My parents also enjoy going to Vegas and can hold their own in traditional card games. If your family has a similar experience level, here are my holiday gaming recommendations:
1. Splendor: This is what I would call a "potato chip game." It's easy to get started, and once you start, it can be hard to stop. Splendor is easy to teach, and I bring it out with game club students all the time for exactly that reason. The games are also very quick and absorbing, which means that people first learning the game will often want to play it repeatedly. If there are no more than four people at your Thanksgiving gathering, this one is going to be perfect.
2. Diamonds: Even if your family isn't full of gamers, a lot of them will have played a trick taking game like Hearts or Spades. Diamonds is conceptually similar, but a little more "gamer-y." If you want to try a hobby board game that will be accessible, and there are 2–6 people in your family group, Diamonds might be a good bet.
Scenario 2: You are with your extended family, and you want to play a game.
I don't know about y'all, but while I love my extended family, I don't exactly want to risk having a conversation that touches on politics or the details of my personal life. Games are a perfect social buffer that allow you to spend quality time with everyone, while also managing not to talk about anything unpleasant. (Hopefully.) Here are a couple of games that might encourage some holiday cheer.
Pretty much any number of people can play Codenames, and it's a ridiculously fun game. Lay out some word cards, split up into two teams and have a laugh while each team's "spymaster"—the only one who knows which words are associated with which team—tries to get their teammates to guess correctly. It's creative, it's simple, and it's easy to play several times in a row.
If your family is stressed out by something like Codenames (some people hate coming up with clues), go for something lower-stress like Telestrations. You can get a party pack that accommodates up to 12 people, and the game is like a more structured version of "Telephone," complete with hilariously bad (or amazing?) drawings from your fellow players. There isn't much pressure to win, and laughs will be had all around.
Scenario 3: You are with your family, but want to make them leave you alone.
Sometimes, games bring people together. Other times, they can be used to shield you from all of those people you don't actually want to interact with.
1. Hostage Negotiator
This game is amazing, but it's a solo game. Sorry, nobody else can play! Also, there is no better game title to let your relatives know how you really feel.
2. Mage Knight
If your family isn't into games, playing Mage Knight is a great way to have a game to yourself while discouraging others from trying to play with you. Make sure you spread out all of the rulebooks to emphasize the complexity of the game. Additionally, cackle loudly to yourself about how you're going to destroy yet another monastery. Works like a charm!
And that, gamers, is my 2018 Holiday Gaming Guide. Enjoy!
*Mom, if you're reading this post, please know that it's a joke. I love you and Dad and cannot wait to see you guys at Christmas!
The October craziness is continuing into November, with plenty of interesting Kickstarter campaigns out there to tempt a solo gamer. Here are a few highlights for this week:
1) Sword & Sorcery: Ancient Chronicles
If you liked Sword & Sorcery, now there is more! It's basically a new cycle of S&S adventures, with plenty of new miniatures, characters, scenarios, and stretch goals. It is also standalone—you do not need the original core set to play and enjoy this game. You can start your S&S journey right here, if you want to. There is a big push with this campaign to get you to back the KS, and it's pretty clear that the only way to get the fanciest version of this game is to back it now. However, the base price is $120, and I personally don't have that, so I guess I'll get the plebeian edition when it eventually comes to retail.
2) Atlantis Rising
Atlantis Rising is a cooperative worker placement game with a pretty great player count range of 1–6. Atlantis is flooding, and its people are in danger. You (and potentially friends) will take charge as leaders of Atlantis, and you'll be trying to lead everyone to safety by creating a cosmic gate. This game has been out of print for some time, so I am glad to see its return. Also, it combines two elements that I normally don't see together—cooperative gaming and worker placement. I am all for it!
3) The Crusoe Crew
Van Ryder games is at it again, publishing some really interesting game books that push the boundaries of books and of gaming. In The Crusoe Crew, you'll be working through a cooperative story—in other words, we are dealing with a graphic novel adventure that can be played by more than one person. (I'm not good at sharing, but still, this is cool!) You'll be working with your crew to explore islands, solve puzzles, and collect interesting artifacts. I am extremely curious about this one, and I will probably go for it. Van Ryder has yet to let me down as a solo player. I'd also love to try this one co-op, because I think it could be a very good experience in my school's game club.
Full Disclosure: Jellybean Games sent a prototype copy of Jabberwocky so that I could write this Kickstarter preview.
The Jabberwocky campaign launches November 13 and can be found here.
What is this game about?
Jabberwocky, like its predecessor, The Lady and the Tiger, is not a single game. Instead, it is a collection of games that can all be played with the same components. Jellybean Games held a design contest to see who could come up with fun games to play, and each winner's work has become one of the games in Jabberwocky. One of those games, Bandersnatch, is a solo puzzle game.
In Bandersnatch, your goal is to score ten or more points by "broiling" various colored gems. What this means in terms of gameplay is that you manipulate cards in your play area in ways that cause gems to be added to or removed from the field of play. If you surround a card on all sides with cards that are "busy," i.e. cards that have gems on them, then that card is "captured." If there were gems on that card, the gems are "broiled" and put in your scoring area. There are three colors of gemstone, and while green and yellow gems that you broil will win you points, purple gems can lose points for you. On the flipside, green and yellow gems left on the field of play at the end of the game will cost you points, while you gain points for purple gems that are still in the play area when the game ends.
What I like about Bandersnatch
I think that Bandersnatch is a charming little puzzle game. There are plenty of decisions to keep it interesting, and a number of different strategies to try—especially in a game with so few components. The cards you put on and take off of the playing field can come back later with surprising consequences, and deciding where and when to add/remove gems makes for a fun challenge. I also love that the game has a shrinking field of play, so deciding which cards to "capture" will affect the entire rest of the game. Bandersnatch is also very small and highly portable, which gives it strong potential as an on-the-go game to keep in a backpack.
Possible concerns about Bandersnatch
Bandersnatch is an enjoyable puzzle, but it's just that—a puzzle. If you pick it up looking for theme, you will be disappointed. Additionally, I spent a lot of time referring to rule charts the first few times I played, because while the game is very simple, it's not 100% intuitive. I did not consider this to be a problem, but I also enjoy abstract puzzle games. Another thing to keep in mind is that Bandersnatch is not the whole show. Jabberwocky is a collection of games, most of which are not solo (although one other game in the box does come with a solo variant). If you are looking for a purely solo experience, I am not sure that Bandersnatch will justify the price of a whole new game. If, however, you are a gamer who sometimes plays solo but who also enjoys quick and charming games with others, then Jabberwocky looks like a good choice for you.
Should I back it?
If you are interested in the full package that Jabberwocky has to offer, then yes. The art in this game is excellent, and the possibility of getting several interesting games for the price of one is alluring. If you're strictly looking for solo, Bandersnatch might not be meaty enough to justify the purchase.
While I'm still writing about and making videos about board games, you might have noticed a slight slowdown in my online activity. There are several reasons for this, and I figured I would write about them.
It seems like every other week or so I see a post on Facebook written by someone who isn't in the mood to play games and is starting to get worried about it. Here is my response to that: You're normal. All relationships run hot and cold, especially the ones that last a long time. The passion will most likely reignite if you give yourself a little space.
So what have I been doing these days? Playing games, but a lot of other stuff, too.
1) I am busy.
I'm going out of town three times in the next month. One of those trips is to PAXU, and I'm pumped, but the other trips have to do with my professional life as a Latin teacher. I've been reworking key parts of my program, and my students have been getting most of my attention. And they should! I've also been dealing with assorted annoying stuff, like the fact that a parent backed into my car in the school lot this week. Exhaustion, thy name is calling the insurance company.
2) I have other hobbies.
Every year for the past three years, I have completed a 100-book challenge on Goodreads. I am a bit behind right now, but there is no way I am going to break my streak. I've been reading like a maniac, and I am not going to stop until I reach my goal! Also, I spend so much time playing board games that it has felt great to indulge another hobby. I tend to get into things in cycles, so I switch off between heavy reading, heavy gaming, and whatever else is temporarily striking my fancy.
3) I overcommitted myself and need to decompress.
I am finishing up a phase where I've been working through too many KS previews and review copies that need to be covered on a timeline. On the one hand, getting to check out prototypes and review copies is awesome and I realize that I'm very lucky. On the other hand, learning games—and getting good enough to film yourself playing them—is a ton of work. Games I've been dying to play are gathering dust on my shelf, and having to hold myself to tight deadlines has cooled my ardor just a bit. I need to spend some time playing the things I want to play, when I want to play them—nothing feels better than having a great time with a great game, which is why I started reviewing and filming games in the first place!
So, I'm still here, but I'm taking a little bit of a breather. And if you need one, too, I recommend you take it! We may be part of the best hobby in the world, but life is full of exciting things to do, and only so much time to do them in.
What is this game about?
The Big Score is a game about being a criminal mastermind and making off with the biggest possible pile of loot. It is separated into two acts. In Act I, you complete smaller jobs to build up some capital and get yourself set up for a bigger heist. You'll hire and assign crew members and try to collect as much cash as possible so that you have a healthy money base before taking some bigger financial risks. In the multiplayer version of the game, there are six jobs laid out on the table. Players secretly assign crew to jobs that interest them, and then, after all the cards are down, they reveal their choices to see whether the table as a whole contributed enough hired hands to manage their mischief. If a job is successful, all players reap the rewards. If it isn't, players who contributed to that job emerge from it empty-handed.
In Act II, "The Big Score," players enter into the ultimate push-your-luck challenge. Each round, everyone will reach into a (very cool looking) bank vault and draw out a token. Some of the tokens are worth pretty lame amounts of money, but others are worth a lot. Still other tokens, however, are cops—and if the cop track hits its maximum, every player who is still trying to rob the vault gets busted and loses all money accumulated during Act II. As you play, you can choose to keep grabbing tokens from the vault, or you can choose to flee. This can get pretty dramatic, because during each turn in Act II, players all draw tokens and reveal them at the same time. So each turn, you'll be looking around to see what everyone else got, and whether someone turns up an empty palm—a signal that he or she has fled.
How does it play solo?
The Big Score does have a solo mode, one that plays very differently from the multiplayer version of the game. There are several solo scenarios that offer different challenges, as well as a solo-specific rulebook to help clarify how the solo game differs from the multiplayer one.
There are still two acts to the game. In Act I, players create three equally-sized decks of crew cards, then work through one deck per round. You need to assign specific types of crew cards to complete different jobs, but there are limits on which cards you can draw and deploy on each turn. Unlike in the multiplayer game, you can spend some of your money to draw extra cards, keep cards in your hand, shuffle cards you think you'll need into the next round's deck, and more.
In fact, it's easy to keep blowing money trying to get jobs done, so much so that, if you aren't careful, you can end up spending more on a job than you earn back from it. A lot of the solo version of The Big Score is about counting cards, paying attention, and recognizing diminishing returns.
In Act II, you'll still be drawing from the vault until you either flee or bust. But you will draw multiple tokens per turn, and while you have to put the first cop you draw each turn on the cop track, you can bribe any extra ones to look the other way. This definitely adds an interesting element to the game that doesn't exist in multiplayer—and can definitely make you spend more money than you wanted to!
I am honestly surprised that the solo mode for The Big Score turned out as well as it did. At its heart, this is very much a social game about bluffing and pushing your luck. I will say up front that The Big Score is definitely better with friends. My game club students really enjoyed it, and after their first game, they immediately asked to play it again. It's a ton of fun, and I can't wait to teach it to more people.
The solo game does have some interesting elements that I enjoyed. I liked the tension of deciding whether to spend money to keep hunting through the crew deck while trying to complete one last job. Keeping track of what crew members I had already seen and assessing the value of continuing to press my luck gave the game some tension, even without other players at the table. I also enjoyed being able to bribe cops in Act II, something that is not an option in multiplayer.
That said, these same elements came with some in-game difficulties of their own. If you have a bad shuffle and just cannot draw the right crew members at the right time, you will not have a very enjoyable Act I. This becomes even more true if you have a specific in-game earning goal, as you do in the solo scenarios—especially if you have also just spent a lot of money hoping for a return on your investment. In the multiplayer game, not drawing the right crew is more bearable, because you aren't trying to reach a specific amount of money. You only have to earn more money than everyone else. Also, in multiplayer, everyone has the option of using a "jack of all trades" token once per turn to help complete a job that is missing crew members.
Choosing when to flee during Act II is also far less interesting in the solo game. Because you are trying to reach a specific profit goal, it's simply a matter of keeping track of your money in your head. Do you have the amount you need? Go ahead and flee! Are you still short? Might as well press on—if you get busted, it doesn't really matter, because you were going to lose anyway.
Do I recommend it?
I would not recommend buying The Big Score specifically to play it solo. But the solo mode is engaging. If you enjoy pushing your luck, keeping track of where your funds are at, and counting cards, then you'll have a good time. If you dislike "lucky" solo games, walk on by.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
Full disclosure: Inspiring Games provided me with a review copy of Legends Untold.
What is this game about?
Legends Untold is a card-based adventure game in which players build characters by giving them unique combinations of skills, then explore locations in an attempt to complete specific scenarios. These scenarios each come with their own setup instructions, and can be played as one-offs or as part of a larger "cinematic campaign," and different Legends Untold sets can be mixed and matched to provide variety when it comes to the enemies, traps, and obstacles that players might encounter. The primary mechanic of Legends Untold is skill checks using three d6 dice—in-game situations turn out differently depending on how you roll, and you can use a range of character skills to help increase your chances of success on a given check. The other thing you'll need to watch in Legends Untold is time. Time in the game is limited by an event deck, and you'll need to choose how to spend time—using extra to sneak or to search for loot more carefully can yield benefits, but running through the event deck causes bad things to happen to you and can eventually cause you to run out of time entirely.
Probably the coolest thing about Legends Untold is that as you explore new locations by drawing cards, you'll create your own unique dungeon each time you play by choosing different exits and drawing different combinations of location cards. Each card contains symbols that let you know whether you'll be encountering an obstacle, a foe, a barrier, or some other challenge as you explore.
How does it play solo?
Legends Untold is a cooperative game that can either be played purely solo (although you should take an extra skill to help your lone character) or multi-handed.
Legends Untold has a very promising premise—it is a card-based game that is designed to create an RPG experience with neither GM nor countless miniatures. It claims to offer both randomly generated dungeons and an exciting storyline. The flavor text on the cards is good, the art is good, and the cinematic campaign text is a fun read. It's clear that a lot of thought was put into the world of Legends Untold.
But for me, the gameplay itself didn't click. After several plays, I felt bogged down in the numerous skill checks, several of which are required every turn. You need to make a scouting check whenever you move to another location, there are various traps and barriers that require checks of their own, and even combat follows the same essential structure. Although there are tokens to help you remember what modifiers need to be applied to specific skill checks, these can change from check to check, from turn to turn. In combat, the first round has different rules from following rounds, and things like attack order can change round-to-round depending on who is making ranged attacks and who is using melee weapons. In other words, there are a lot of little rules to deal with. The rulebook for this game—a game which is relatively simple and essentially involves drawing cards and rolling dice—is huge. And although the rules make sense when you think about them, I think that Legends Untold collapses a bit under their weight. There are enough rules to interrupt smooth gameplay, enough to obscure the storyline of the game. There is excitement to be found in the world of Legends Untold, but for legends to grow, they need more breathing room.
Do I recommend it?
I really wanted to like this game, but I can't quite recommend it—there are too many little rules to keep track of, without enough payoff.
Overall Rating: 2 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
This October is an intense month for Kickstarter, especially because so many of these projects are games that I already know and love, or from designers/publishers whose work I enjoy. I hope for a quiet holiday season, since my Christmas gift budget is already in grave danger...
1. Spirit Island: Jagged Earth
I previewed Jagged Earth last week, but I want to mention it here as well--Spirit Island is one of my favorite games, and one of the few I have reviewed on this site to receive a five-star rating from me. If you already like Spirit Island, this expansion is a no-brainer, with more spirits and also cards that allow you to play old spirits in new ways. Additionally there are new island tiles, new adversaries, and new scenarios—in other words, more ways to keep spicing up an already-excellent game. Two thoughts: 1) You need to have both Spirit Island and the first expansion, Branch and Claw, to enjoy Jagged Earth. 2) If you need to wait for retail rather than back now, I think it's totally fine to do so—this is not the kind of game that won't be available on store shelves after it goes to KS backers.
2. Street Masters: Aftershock
Street Masters: Rise of the Kingdom has indeed risen into my personal Top 20 solo games. It's an arcade-style beat-'em-up with interesting levels, fighters with different playstyles, and a modular deck system influenced by another favorite game of mine, Sentinels of the Multiverse. My original review of Street Masters is here, and as you can see, I am a pretty big fan. Aftershock promises even more—more fighters, more enemies, more scenarios... I can't wait! No game is for everybody, and Street Masters gets a little cramped at higher player counts. All the same, I think every solo player should at least give this one a look.
3. The Romans: Kingdom—Republic—Empire!
The Latin teacher in me just can't resist having a look at this one. The Romans is being billed as the final game designed by the Ragnar Brothers, and it promises what looks like an especially solo-friendly experience. It's a combination of worker placement and area control, but each player has his or her own individual Roman Empire board to develop. There is also an AI system in place to simulate enemies fighting back as Rome expands. Players will need to shepherd their empires through multiple eras and developments, and increasingly powerful buildings, leaders, and abilities will become available as the game progresses. If you like games with historical themes, this one looks fun—the art is lighthearted, and who doesn't love the Romans? Also interesting is that this campaign is not offering stretch goals. The Ragnar Brothers have made the best game they can possibly make, and they stand by it as-is. I find that refreshing after so much Kickstarter craziness this month.
Full disclosure: I was sent a prototype of some aspects of the Jagged Earth expansion by Greater Than Games to try out for this preview.
The Jagged Earth campaign will run until November 16, 2018 and can be found here.
What is Jagged Earth about?
Jagged Earth is the second expansion for Spirit Island, which is one of my absolute favorite board games and which I reviewed last year. If you have not yet played Spirit Island, you should—it's a game in which you (and possibly friends) are island spirits who are helping your native people, the Dahan, fight back against European invaders who are seeking to colonize your island and plunder its natural resources.
The Jagged Earth expansion adds several new spirits to the game, as well as new aspect cards that allow you to swap out innate powers and special rules of spirits you already have from the base game, meaning you can play spirits you know and love, but with some fun strategic change-ups. You'll also receive new scenarios and new adversaries to pit yourself against, as well as enough island tiles to accommodate more players and to try new island configurations. In other words, it's a lot more Spirit Island goodness, and if that's your kind of thing, it looks like this expansion will make you very, very happy.
What I like about Jagged Earth
I love what Jagged Earth represents about Spirit Island--that such a strategically challenging game still has room to grow and ways to surprise me. Spirit Island is one of my very few five-star games on this website, and an expansion that will keep extending the fun for me is more than welcome. I particularly like that there are both new spirits altogether and new ways to play old spirits—the puzzle of figuring out how best to deploy spirit powers is what makes Spirit Island so fascinating to play.
Possible Concerns about Jagged Earth
I am a solo gamer, and one thing I like about Spirit Island is that it's possible either to play as a solo spirit or to control multiple spirits yourself. Many of the new powers, as well as the new spirits that have been sent to previewers so far, seem like they will play much better as part of a cooperative game with more than one spirit. I don't mind playing Spirit Island two-handed—in fact, I generally think it's better that way—but sometimes I only have enough brainpower to control a single spirit, and with so many cooperative powers in this new expansion, it might not become one that I pull out for pure solo play. That's not a serious problem, and it will in no way prevent me from enjoying Spirit Island and its expansions in their entirety. But if you are a "pure" solo player, what I've seen of this expansion so far may not float your boat.
Should I back it?
I intend to out of sheer love for and loyalty to Spirit Island, because it's really one of "my" games. However, if you don't have $60 this month and need to wait, I wouldn't panic. Games from Greater Than Games inevitably make it to retail, and you will eventually be able to pick this expansion up after it goes out to backers and hits wider distribution. If you love Spirit Island and aren't obsessed with promos, this expansion will almost certainly make you happy—but you can get it on your own timeline.
This month on Kickstarter is brutal. BRUTAL. Let's just say that if I had kids, their college funds would be in dire jeopardy. If you don't want to spend money this month, RUN AWAY NOW.
I am a pretty big fan of Chip Theory Games, so Cloudspire is my big expense for the month. In fact, I signed up to administer an SAT to be able to afford this thing! It's a tower defense game set in an intriguing fantasy world, in which several floating sky islands have collided and now various groups are fighting for supremacy. The art looks great, and this game is the first foray into modular neoprene that I've ever heard of. Chip Theory is known for producing games with high-quality components, and Cloudspire will be no different. This publisher also sells from its own store online, not through retail outlets, so if you want a Chip Theory game, Kickstarter is the way to go. This is when prices on this game will be best. Plus, while details about solo/co-op play are still emerging, Chip Theory has never let me down on that front. I'm all in.
2. Dreams of Tomorrow
I did a write up of this game here, as well as a playthrough here. It's truly worth a look—it's a cool little small box game with fun solo bots and a fascinating rondel mechanic that makes it something truly special.
3. Wild Assent
Wild Assent is a miniatures game that involves tactical arena combat as you travel through the wilds, hunting creatures or battling other players gladiator-style. It offers a variety of play modes, including PvP, solo, and co-op, and actually it looks like it's good fun. But my money is already tied up in Cloudspire, and I can't afford another game that has a base pledge of $99 but will really cost you $199 if you want everything. If you're rich as Croesus, however, go for it and let me know how it is!