What is this game about?
Cartographers, designed by Jordy Adan and published by Thunderworks Games, is a roll and write set in the Roll Player universe. In Cartographers, you are trying to earn a good reputation and win the respect of Queen Gimnax by mapping territory... and finding specific terrain types and layouts that are of interest to her. Each player gets a blank map, and all players share the same information: four "decree cards" that clarify what the Queen's priorities are, plus shared exploration cards that give players shapes and terrain types (forest, water, farmland, etc.) to place on their maps.
In Cartographers, you can place your land anywhere on the map and in any orientation... but if you aren't careful, you can end up stuck later in the game. Rather than have dead turns, however, players who are unable to place terrain may instead draw in a 1x1 square of any terrain type. Some cards also allow you choose between differing terrain shapes and to potentially earn coins. Coins contribute to your reputation, and play a bigger role in the Cartographers mini-expansion, which allows you to spend coins to take special in-game actions.
To add spice to the game, the criteria that are scored at the end of each turn rotate with the seasons, which means that player priorities will shift throughout the game. So while decree cards A and B are important in the Spring, C and D are scored in the Fall—part of the game is balancing your current opportunities while also thinking ahead about future scoring rounds.
The last fun twist in Cartographers is addition of ambush cards. Every round, an ambush card is shuffled into the deck, and when you draw one, players pass their maps to their neighbors. Then your opponents get to choose the placement of the ambush—brutal. Not only can ambushes mess up your plans, but empty spaces adjacent to monsters in each scoring round will cost you points.
How does it play solo?
Cartographers is mostly a non-interactive game, so solo is played and scored in essentially the same way as the multiplayer game. The only major exception is the placement of monsters when drawing ambush cards. Each ambush card will indicate a corner of your map, and in solo play, you begin in that corner and move around the edge of your map until you find a legal placement for the monster terrain.
The other fun touch for solo play is that while in the multiplayer game players choose their own names and titles, in solo, the Queen will assign you a title at the end of the game—and it gets more insulting when you do a bad job! On the bottom right of each decree card is a number. At the end of the game, you calculate your total number of reputation stars, then tally up the numbers on the decree cards and subtract the total from your score. The difference between the numbers is your rating, and your rating will determine your title. I particularly like this touch, as some scoring conditions are more challenging than others and this method provides a way to see how well you actually did, especially when scoring conditions can differ drastically. When playing against others, you just compete against each other, but in solo it is very nice to have a way to gauge your play without that feedback.
I really like Cartographers, and it is definitely one of my top five roll and write games at this point. It's puzzly, engaging, and different enough between plays to keep things interesting. I appreciate that there are no dead turns (you can always place a 1x1 square), and I also like that in solo there is a way to determine how well you did even when scoring conditions vary so much from game to game. Cartographers is well thought out, and it plays smoothly. After several games, I am still happy to take it off the shelf. In fact, although I have an advance prototype now, just pre-ordered a "real" copy—and I plan to laminate some of the sheets, because this game is going to hit the table.
I do have very minor quibbles with the ambush cards in solo, just because the AI can't be as mean to you as your friends will be. However, it works, and monsters are still a huge pain in the rear. Also, like all roll and writes, Cartographers is luck driven—so if that's not your thing, consider yourself warned that sometimes you just won't get the cards you need when you need them.
Do I recommend it?
Yes. If you like roll and write games, Cartographers is a must-try. It's thematically interesting, puzzly, and challenging in all the right ways. Its solo mode is also satisfying, especially because it gives you actual feedback on how well you did!
Overall Rating: 4.5 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.
Let's give a warm welcome to Albin/Crazed Survivor/Razoupaf, a dedicated solo gamer and BGG aficionado who knows his way around solo games and the people who play them. He's put together an exciting post for us spotlighting some awesome members of the solo gaming community. I'm going to release it in installments. This week, he'll be featuring Athena Ex! Take it away, Raz...
The 1 Player Guild (1PG), initiated by user Fractaloon, is a nice place where solitary player can engage with other members and share their experiences with solitaire games, solitaire rules for games they enjoy but have to, or choose to play alone, share news and informations about new or upcoming games that can be played alone, or simply share their love, and their love for gaming. And music. And literature too.
Well at any rate, it's one cozy place on the Internet, because "together, we game alone".
With eleven thousand members and going, and currently being the second strongest guild on Board Game Geek after the Dice Tower, it shouldn't come as a surprise that formidable and hard-working personalities are found there and are very active.
Yet not all of them are praised as much as we think they deserve.
In the first volume of what I hope will become a series, I propose to highlight the contributions of Unsung Heroes of the 1 Player Guild, by introducing a small number of them, and then let them talk about themselves in light of their contributions to the community.
As you might have guessed, this series does not strive for exhaustivity, and just because I have selected a handful of members, doesn't mean that those that do not appear do not have anything worthy to contribute, by any means. Hence the idea of turning into a series, possibly by different writers.
It's difficult not to encounter Athena when browsing the 1PG, because of her threads about upcoming Kickstarter and direct-to-retail games. Which are an invaluable source of knowledge and joyful discussions (and totally sidetracking too).
Because of this Athena is probably responsible for your wallet not being as full as it could or should be. Athena curates those lists and keeps them updated, surfing the web to find hidden gems and paying close attention to the other posters' information. Truly a gigantic amount of work if you've ever tried to stay up to date with the gaming world, and soloing now taking a bigger part of it each day. In fact it is becoming more and more common to have solitaire rules in games, be it as stretch-goals during Kickstarter campaigns, or directly in the box, and publishers and designers tend to have solitaire rules designed by exterior designers, or designer congregations, such as the Automa Factory.
But all those solitaire rules are not necessarily good ones and some are there just to lure the solitaire player in. That's where Athena's threads come in handy, as players who have had an opportunity to experience the games are able to share their thoughts on it and, sometimes, warn potential buyers. She's also begun a list of print and play games in which she shares, in a condensed yet highly informative way, her thoughts about the solitaire games she's crafted and played, and why she thinks you should play them too. Or maybe you shouldn't.
Raz - Athena, I have selected you for your work on isolating the solo playable games hitting Kickstarter and going directly to retail. Can you tell us a little more about you?
Athena - Thank you very much for the honour, Raz. I am an art historian, about to finish my PhD. I wasn't a solo gamer when I first joined BGG, but became one out of necessity. Now I'm a die-hard fan of playing solo, I think it is often better than multiplayer.
R - What prompted you to start making and curating these lists in the first place ?
A - As soon as I began to follow Kickstarter, I realized that keeping track of new releases would require taking notes on a calendar. When I did that in a Word document for my own use, I figured that others might need some sort of tracking tool as well.
The 1PG already had a KS list (maintained by Andi), but that one listed the games which were on KS at the time. Even though that was important of course, what I personally needed was to know what to anticipate, what to expect in the near future, so as to plan where to invest my budget.
As I was browsing the list of Prelaunched KS projects on BGG, it dawned on me to 'sift' it, and separate the solo playable ones. This gave birth to my own list which I try to update daily.
Seeing that people responded positively, and knowing that not everyone is a fan of Kickstarter, I was encouraged to make a similar list with the solo games that go straight to retail.
R - I am impressed by the amount of work you put into these, browsing the web for actual launches but also information about future ones. Would you tell us how you proceed ?
A - I am blessed/cursed to have sufficient spare time to dedicate to the hobby these days. As a proper newshound, I browse BGG, Facebook and sometimes online board game magazines. Most games companies announce their plans on Facebook, so I get most of my information from there.
R - Among the thousands you're making your fellow solitary gamers spend on new games, how many games do you actually get from what you're perusing and what are your preferences?
A - Even though it may seem that my lists tempt people to spend more, I doubt that this is the case. Those with big budgets just program their purchases, and those with smaller budgets still resist bulk buying.
I belong to the latter category. I have both a limited budget and limited shelf space. It also pains me to have a pile of unplayed games, so I don't go overboard. Plus, I'm not the easiest customer in terms of preferences.
I mostly enjoy games 'dripping with theme' but I'm not entirely Ameritrashy. I like card-driven gameplay and deck building, and also some historical games and light wargames.
R - I was glad to see you start something new with the PnP Buffet list, which packs a lot of comprehensive info in a short amount of words. What makes you settle on a particular game to assemble and play, what are you criterias? And do you intend to take on bigger games?
A - Unlike other pnp enthusiasts, I'm not so interested in the crafting part. I lack the necessary equipment to make professional-looking copies, most of my builds are simply paper cards tucked into premium sleeves. So I won't make any bigger games, no.
What drew me into this activity is that it gives me numerous new games to play as long as I have inks in the printer. Even though I'm not a big fan of filler games and I rarely buy them, trying a small pnp gives me joy. Theme is what lures me in when choosing what to print, and also good looks.
I chose to present the list in this compact way so as not to bore people with long, detailed descriptions. When I am looking for new games, I first want to know what they are about and if they might be worth my time. So this is the information I'm offering. If someone wants to talk about a game in length, I'm always available for further comments.
Full disclosure: Pencil First Games provided me with a prototype copy of this game.
The Kickstarter campaign can be found here.
What is The One Hundred Torii about?
The One Hundred Torii is a tile laying game about walking through a beautiful garden that you (and your fellow players, if you choose to accept them) create together as you place tiles and create pathways. The goal of the game is to score the most points, and you do so by strategically connecting landmarks to each other, then scoring points earned along the shortest path between landmarks of the same type. You receive a landmark token for connecting two landmarks, but you also score points for passing through red and blue torii—gates that allow you to pick up additional scoring tokens. You can also score by consulting friends who give you additional gameplay bonuses, by creating enclosures (closed-off sections of the garden), and by being the first to reach certain scoring thresholds.
In the solo variant of The One Hundred Torii, you pit yourself against Onatsu the Pilgrim, an AI opponent who has no mercy whatsoever. She has her own scoring board, so you build your own garden while she aggressively accumulates resources—and occasionally takes resources away from you! You'll need to use your friends' special powers to block her as much as you can, and choose tiles wisely. In single player mode, you draw three tiles, and choose only one. The other two go to Onatsu.
Things I like about The One Hundred Torii
I think that this game has a lot of promise. It is beautiful, and just looking at it is calming. The rules follow a fairly simple sequence, which makes the game easy to learn. But while it may be easy to learn, it is harder to master—learning how to set yourself up for the best plays and use special abilities to maximum effect gives the game some bite and makes for a truly interesting gameplay experience. When playing solo, Onatsu is a merciless opponent who accumulates points very quickly, which means that you'll have to race up that learning curve if you want to beat her. This game has definitely grown on me as I've continued to play it, and I can see it being a go-to solo experience on a night when I want to play a beautiful puzzle game.
Possible concerns about The One Hundred Torii
There are beginner and expert modes in the solo variant of this game, but either way, Onatsu is a brutal opponent. If you are easily discouraged when your automated antagonist opens up a huge lead in the first couple turns of this game, The One Hundred Torii might frustrate you. Sometimes you'll have lucky draws and be able to block Onatsu pretty effectively. But other times, she will stomp you and take your tokens at the worst possible moment.
Should I back it?
If you're looking an aesthetically pleasing and relaxing game, then The One Hundred Torii is a good choice. So far it seems to be striking a good balance between being a chill game and having enough bite to keep things interesting.
What is this game about?
Black Sonata is a solo hidden movement and deduction game designed by John Kean and published by Side Room Games. In the game, your goal is to unmask Shakespeare's "Dark Lady," a mysterious woman who appears in several of his sonnets. In order to discover the Lady, you'll need to chase her around a map of Elizabethan London, trying to track her movements and maneuver yourself so that you and she share a location. If you think you've got her cornered, you can take a search action to see if you're right. If you are, congratulations! You get to draw a card that provides a clue to her identity. If you're not, you've wasted one of your precious search attempts—you only get ten in the entire game. The Dark Lady also becomes more difficult to track down as you discover more clues, because she can move more spaces away from you after each time you catch her. The Dark Lady's movements are managed by an ingenious deck ordering system that allows you to "move" her without actually seeing where on the map she has gone—only symbols that denote potential locations for her. This deck can be reordered in several different ways and even cut several times to vary the game up a bit.
To win Black Sonata, you have to do a bit more than just corner the Dark Lady enough times. You also have to piece together the clues to her identity that you collect during gameplay. The clue cards in Black Sonata are the cards of ladies who aren't the Dark Lady for this particular game. Each "Dark Lady" card has a set of symbols on it, some of which she shares with other potential Ladies. It's up to you to reason out the clues you've drawn and to determine which symbols must be on the real Dark Lady's card. The final time you catch her, you must declare the symbols that you believe you will match her identity. If you're right, you win! If you're wrong... time to reset the game and try again!
How does it play solo?
Black Sonata is a solo-only game, and is perfect for solo play.
Black Sonata is the only solitaire hidden movement game I have ever encountered, and it's brilliant. The way the Dark Lady moves around the board is ingenious, and the way you find her is more ingenious still. When you search for her, you place the card from her movement deck on top of the card from her suspected location. You then flip the cards over and peek through a hole in the location card. If you have successfully found her, you will see her silhouette through the hole! It's such a fun touch, and it really never gets old. The way the clues work is also clever, as you use process of elimination to determine which symbols must be on the Dark Lady card—and thus determine the Dark Lady's identity. Black Sonata is truly one of the most exciting and innovative solo games I have seen to date, and it has a permanent spot in my collection. I also just love playing it. I loved the prototype copy I played before it went on Kickstarter, and I love the published copy I have now.
That said, Black Sonata is the kind of game I will take out, play obsessively, and then put away for a while. While you still have to find the Dark Lady and collect clues about her to legitimately win the game, if I play too many times in a row I start to know who the Dark Lady is well before I can prove it. At that point, the game is less about discovery and more about confirming information you already know, and that is less exciting. The game remains a good logic puzzle even if you do get to this point, especially because you can set the Dark Lady along different paths, including some that make it harder to catch her. But you'll need to let it cool off if you want to recapture that initial excitement.
Do I recommend it?
For sure. Black Sonata is one of the coolest solitaire experiences on the market, especially if you are a history and literature nerd. Even if you're not, if you enjoy deduction games, you'll love this one.
Overall Rating: 4 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.