5×5 Solo Game Challenge Completed

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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.

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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

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-21,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

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!

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And it works on your player board, too!

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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.


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“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.”

On the Tabletop: Cobra Paw

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From the makers of Bananagrams comes Cobra Paw, a light family game of pattern recognition and real-time action. Two to six players (“ninjas”) attempt to be the first to collect six stones and win the game.

There are 21 stones that have different symbols and colors on them. The active player rolls two dice and whoever can match the symbols on the dice to its corresponding stone must grab it to add to their collection.

If the symbols match a stone in someone’s collection, they can be stolen from them. First one to have six stones (or eight stones in a two-player game) wins.

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This is a simple and fast game. The components are top-notch, featuring big, chunky dice and solid domino-like stones. The rule book is whimsical and offers a few variants to the basic game.

Cobra Paw is great if you have young ones looking to participate in game night. For more experienced gamers, this might work as a filler between heavier, more involved games.

Thanks to Bananagrams for providing a copy of Cobra Paw for review.

Now on Kickstarter: Mystery of the Temples

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In the world of modern board gaming, bigger does not mean better. From Gryphon Games’ Bookshelf games to the small-box brilliance of the Tiny Epic series, games no longer need to be in Days of Wonder-sized boxes to provide a satisfying tabletop experience.

Mystery of the Temples from Deep Water Games is the latest game to outplay its humble size. Players are adventurers exploring wilderness, gathering crystals, and trying to break the curses placed on various temples.

The game features excellent components with linen-finished mini-Euro-sized cards and tarot-sized cards, 60 crystals in five colors, four meeples, and 24 broken curse marker cubes. I was surprised by how many things were packed into the box; it was easy to find and set up everything.

The object of the game is to score the most points by breaking curses, collecting runes, and gaining end-game bonuses via area majority and set collection.

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On your turn you’ll move your meeple one to three spaces, either on the large temple cards or the smaller wilderness cards. Temple cards give you one specific crystal or you can opt to break a curse for points. Wilderness cards give you more options for gaining or exchanging crystals.

For the most part, you’ll move on the wilderness cards to collect crystals before moving onto the temple cards to break curses.

As you gather crystals, you’ll store them on your crystal grid. You’ll want to pay attention as you do this since the order in which you place them matters. Why? Because to break a temple’s curse, you must play the crystals in the exact order shown on the card. So if you want to break the yellow-yellow-blue curse for three points, those crystals must be connected to each other on your crystal grid.

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Once you break a curse you’ll score victory points and gain a rune card. These cards offer special abilities and additional crystals whenever you land on a card that has the matching rune. As the game progresses, multiple rune cards may be trigger simultaneously.

After a player breaks five curses, then the rest of the round is played. Players then check for end game bonuses. First, three of the five temples offer bonuses points based on who has the most broken curse markers on them. Next, players check their rune cards and gain points based on the number of unique runes they’ve acquired. The player with the most points wins.

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I was impressed upon seeing the quality of components inside Mystery of the Temples and was equally impressed by its game play. The turns are simple (move your meeple and either collect crystals or break a temple’s curse), but there are decisions to be made throughout the game.

Since players can’t share spaces (they leapfrog any player on a card), not everything you attempt will go according to plan. You can even block an opponent from a temple by landing on it before they do and it’s not uncommon to find another player beating you to a temple.

The crystal grid makes things interesting by forcing you to be aware of how you store your crystals. I like that you can’t just hoard crystals; you can only keep a dozen and if they’re not in the right order to break a curse, then you’ll have to spend clear crystals to re-arrange them.

I also liked the asymmetry built into the game; each player has a special ability they may use on their turn. These abilities may shape your early strategy and it’s a nice way to ensure everybody isn’t trying to land on the same cards in the opening rounds.

Don’t let the size of Mystery of the Temples fool you: the box may scream “filler,” but the game has enough meat on its bones to satisfy hobby gamers.

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Colorblind-friendly cards and crystal tokens (prototypes)

A note on color blind accessibility: if you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m an advocate for making games more accessible for color blind players. When Deep Water Games contacted me, they said they were updating the original game to be color-blind friendly, which was an absolute godsend.

The temple cards and wilderness cards have been replaced by cards with unique icons for each color. And instead of using different-colored crystals, you can use the included tokens with those same icons on them.

Kudos to Deep Water Games for making Mystery of the Temples color-blind friendly. I hope more publishers follow their lead in thinking about accessibility.

Thanks to Deep Water Games for providing a copy of Mystery of the Temples for review. Mystery of the Temples is currently funding on Kickstarter. The campaign runs until April 17th.

Now on Kickstarter: Highways & Byways

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-21,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

Highways & Byways prototype

In Highways & Byways, you and your opponents have scored your first used cars and take to the road to explore America. You each start at a home base and have a set of routes you’re trying to complete and return home. Whoever does this first, wins.

The highlight of the game is the Driving Phase, where players are allowed to move up to six times on their turn. This is more than enough to complete your routes, but thanks to the random Construction and Event cards played before each turn, you may have to do some maneuvering around blocked paths or take a different route altogether.

Along with the point-to-point movement mechanism, there’s also the hand management aspect of Event cards. Each player has a hand of five Events and one is chosen randomly before their turn. A bad Event hinders movement while a good Event can help you overcome obstacles on your route. If you’re ever short on movement, you can discard one Event card to gain one movement action; it’s also a good way to get rid of those bad Events from your hand.

Each player also has their own special ability, which can make their travels go a lot smoother by ignoring some events, drawing extra Event cards, and so forth.

Special Abilities prototypes

Special Abilities prototypes

The game bills itself as a gateway-style game and if it was merely the Driving Stage, then I’d tend to agree. Unfortunately, the Planning Stage was entirely too long for my tastes. This is done before the Driving Stage and consists of a card draft that determines your routes for the Driving Stage.

The first player draws two cards from the deck, keeps one, then passes one to the next player. That player then draws one from the deck, chooses which one to keep, then passes the other to the following player, etc. This is done a total of 12 times and while I understand that players work on their Driving Stage strategy during this stage, it felt like an interminable wait before you could select your card.

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Highways & Byways prototype

(Note: Since I was given an early prototype of the game, I shared my thoughts regarding the Driving Stage. Developer and publisher Brandon Rollins said that he may be adding a Planning Stage variant that would consist of each player drawing 14 route cards and simply discarding two of them. This is a welcome change and I hope he makes it an official variant during the Kickstarter campaign. Speaking of Rollins, he shares a lot of his game design process and thoughts on his website. If you’re an aspiring game designer, you should check out his site or follow one of his social media accounts.)

Overall, Highways & Byways offers a gateway-style experience during the Driving Stage and I’d like to see what, if any, tweaks are made to the Planning Stage to smooth out the game.

Thanks to Brandon Rollins for providing a copy of Highways & Byways for review. Highways & Byways is currently funding on Kickstarter. The campaign runs until Friday, April 20th.