5×5 Solo Game Challenge Completed


(You can listen to me read this blog post on YouTube here

Last week I completed my 5×5 solo game challenge! This was inspired by the yearly Board Game Geek 10×10 challenge in which BGGers try to play 10 different games 10 times within a calendar year. I’ve successfully done that challenge the last two years and I’m over halfway done with my 10×10 for 2018.

I added a solo challenge this year because I love playing solo board games. I’m glad that publishers have been including more solo rules in their games lately, but I still get funny looks when I tell people I love playing solo games.

Some people ask why, as if there’s something wrong enjoying a board game by yourself. I get it, though; they want the thrill of competition or the camaraderie that comes with sitting at a table with others.

Years ago my wife and I would occasionally spend an evening working on a jigsaw puzzle. In fact, it was with her that I actually completed my first 1,000-piece puzzle. It was something I’d never tried to do or thought would interest me, but it was a totally satisfying experience. We wouldn’t complete the whole thing in a night, but we’d work on it throughout the week, sometimes separately whenever we had a spare moment. Once it was done, we’d start a new one.

In a sense solo board games are like jigsaw puzzles for me. It’s just me trying to figure out a way to win or score the most points. There’s no pressure to act quickly or watch what others are doing. And if I want to leave midway through a game, that’s perfectly fine. I can finish the game the next day or the next week or whenever I feel like it.

Other friends who aren’t into solo games always mention that they’d rather play video games by themselves instead of a board game. I always respond the same way: “Great!” If that’s your form of entertainment, more power to you. Personally, since I’m on the computer and/or checking my phone most of the day, the last thing I want to do to relax is something that requires electronics.

No, I prefer analog entertainment to wind down the day. Give me good ol’ cardboard, dice, chits, cards, pawns, etc., and I’ll enjoy an hour or two at the tabletop.


Here’s a quick look at the five games I solo-ed five times (or more) this year:

1. Cat Rescue. I liked Ta-Te Wu’s cute cat-themed game that he successfully Kickstarted this year. It was this neat little puzzle that only required 15 minutes to play. Funny, AEG came out with Cat Lady a few months later that reminded me of his game.

2. Dice Stars. Thanks to my Board Game Twitter buddy Odin Phong I was able to score a copy of this Bruno Cathala dice game. I can knock out a solo game in under 10 minutes and I love how tough it is; I’ve only won 4 times out of the 13 games I’ve solo-ed.

3. Imperial Settlers. I joined my first online solo league and it was a blast! A bunch of us BGGers signed up for the four different base game factions and we battled it out for a few weeks until one faction was standing. I joined the Egyptians since that was the faction I had the least amount of experience with and even though we were the first to be eliminated, I learned a lot.

4. NMBR 9. I borrowed my friend’s copy for a week and my wife and I enjoyed this game a lot. It reminded me of those jigsaw puzzles we’d work on together all those years ago. It’s more dynamic than a standard puzzle, though; the tiles are randomly drawn every game, creating a new challenge every time. When my wife and I weren’t playing, I’d sneak in solo games that could be finished in about five minutes.

5. Sagrada. Until Azul came along, Sagrada was the puzzle-style game that everybody was talking about. It’s funny how the Cult of the New works; sometimes if seems like games have a shelf life of a week before something else is all the rage for the next week. While Sagrada did get a lot of love when it first came out, it seemed to lose some of its luster when Azul showed up. I still find this dice-roller to be a lot of fun at any player count and the solo game is hard. I only won once in eight tries for this challenge so it looks like I’ll be dusting off Sagrada soon to redeem myself.

7 Wonders Revisited & Two Must-Have Apps


7 Wonders

It’d been awhile since I last played 7 Wonders and I was thrilled when it hit the table today. It’s now considered a classic gateway game, but its scoring (especially the science structures) can seem like too much for new gamers.

In 7 Wonders you and your opponents are building your empires over three ages (rounds). Of course, no empire is complete without an architectural wonder to attest to its greatness and each player has an individual board representing the one that they’re building (The Statue of Zeus in Olympia, the Pyramids of Giza, etc.).

If I was teaching this game to new players, I’d teach Sushi Go! first to get them familiar with the card-drafting mechanism. It makes for the perfect segue, since you’ll be drafting cards throughout 7 Wonders.

Everybody starts with seven cards, then chooses one and places it face down. All cards are revealed simultaneously, then you either build the structure, discard it for money, or use it to build one stage of your wonder.

All cards are structures and produce either resources or victory points. In the first age you’ll be able to build some structures for free, but most of the time the structures cost either money or resource(s) to build. If your empire is producing those resource(s), then you can build the structure for free. If not, you can buy the resources from your neighbors on either side of you. Some of the structures in the early ages allow you to build others for free later in the game.

That’s the basic gist of the game. Play ends after the third age and victory points are awarded for each type of structure you build. The trickiest to score are the scientific structures, but it’s basically set collection and a multiplier.

The word elegant is used to death in board game reviews and sometimes my brain is too tired to think of a better way to describe a game. Elegant, though, is how I’d describe 7 Wonders. You have cards, you choose one to play, then you play it and pass the rest to your opponent. Simple, effective, and silky smooth.

Where 7 Wonders gets its depth is from its multiple paths of victory. You can go heavy on the military, pummeling your opponents for VPs after each age. Or you can build up your science structures, hoping to complete sets of three different symbols to score the most points.

There’s a decent amount of interaction, too. Obviously, you’re passing cards around every turn, but if you’re paying attention to your opponents, then you can draft the cards that they need. Or you can choose to build resources that you know they’ll need to buy from you. Or you can simply discard the cards you know they’re waiting for.

Best of all, the game plays quickly, no matter the player count. It’s easy to play simultaneously, as long as you keep track of money and who’s paying whom for what.

For those thinking about getting the game or teaching it to new gamers, I highly recommend downloading these two apps:

Augmented 7 Wonders (free on Android and iOS). An amazing and simple-to-use app that uses augmented reality to explain each card and player board.

For example, if you need help remembering what the Vineyard did, simply open the app and point your phone’s camera on the card. A text explanation hovers over it. Awesome!


And it works on your player board, too!


7 Wonders Score Sheet (free on Android; there are some paid options for iOS). There’s a score pad included in 7 Wonders, but this app does all of the math for you, including figuring out those pesky science structure scores and converting your money into points. Just punch in the numbers and the app does the rest, including applying any tiebreakers. The app supports all of the expansions as well.


With these two apps you can easily teach new players or get your regular gaming buddies to revisit this classic game. I’m glad I did!

Update 6-27-18: You can listen to me read this post on YouTube.



Humans of the Tabletop: June 4, 2018

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with.


“Now that we’re both basically retired, it’s good to get out of the house to meet people and play games. It’s nice to keep your mind active and enjoy the puzzly nature of games. Gaming has always excited us with its friendly competition. Win or lose, you still have friends.”

Isla Vista

The photo above is the Pacific Ocean as seen from Isla Vista, the tiny beach town that’s synonymous with my alma mater, UC Santa Barbara.

On May 23, 2014, my stepdaughter was a student at UCSB when six of our fellow Gauchos were murdered in Isla Vista.

My wife and I were horrified by the news. Thankfully, our daughter had come home early for the weekend. She and her friends still on campus were safe, but my heart ached for the families and friends of those who lost their lives. We knew it could’ve been us that got the phone call no parent ever wants to receive.

A day after the shootings I pinned the photo to my Twitter profile. It was my way of remembering the Isla Vista of my undergraduate days. It meant my stepdaughter was safe.

It became a silly superstition for me: I wouldn’t unpin the photo until she’d graduated.

Tonight I talked to my stepdaughter about what happened on that day. We’ve talked about it in the past and I know we’ll talk about it in the future.

I remember being proud of how the student and Santa Barbara communities rallied around the university. I remember the chants of “Not one more.” I remember thinking about how we honor the memories of the deceased not by reliving the past, but learning from it in order to make a better present and future.

I unpinned the photo today.

As I see my stepdaughter make her way in the world — having graduated, having worked an internship in the Philippines, and having gotten into graduate school — I remember the students whose lives were cut short, whose dreams were extinguished before they could be realized, and whose family and friends must carry the memories of their unrealized potential.

I remember that as terrible as that day was, there were — and are — plenty of awe-inspiring days, too.

I remember that the evil in this world will always be eclipsed by the good.

I remember:

Weihan Wang
Cheng Yuan Hong
George Chen
Katherine Cooper
Veronika Weiss
Christopher Michaels-Martinez

Most importantly, I remember.

Update 6-4-18: You can listen to me read this post on YouTube.

Humans of the Tabletop: April 23, 2018

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with.


“During elementary school sometimes when it rained we’d have indoor recess and play board games or draw, but I would read books. One rainy season I got into reading series of books like The Woodlanders. And once I got into Harry Potter, my love of reading exploded.”