Solo PnP Games I have played
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This is a list of all the solo "Print and Play" (PnP) games I have played.

Game entries are ranked by the order in which I created the entries, with the newest games at the top. When I play the game again, I move it back to the top.

Any suggestions for what to play next are always welcome!

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1. Board Game: 30 Rails [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:4154]
Board Game: 30 Rails
30 Rails, designed by Julian Anstey (j409603), has perhaps attained the status of being a PnP classic. Its popularity is likely in large part due to its simplicity: not only are the rules simple, but you also need nothing more than a printed sheet, a pencil, 2 different coloured dice, and maybe 15-20 minutes of your time.

This is a roll-and-write game from 2016. It is played on a 6x6 grid, where the columns and rows are numbered 1-6 (corresponding to the faces of a six-sided die). At the start of the game you select one space on each edge of the grid to represent a "station" which you will try to connect during the course of the game in order to score points.

During setup, you also roll a single die up to 6 times and draw a mountain on the board in any space in either a row or column with that number until you have 5 mountains. Besides any single mountain, you then also draw a mine; connecting a station to the mine will score additional points at the end of the game. The remaining 30 spaces will gradually be filled with rail tracks (hence the name of the game).

Each turn you roll the two dice. One represents the column or rows on the board, the other represents the six different types of rail tracks that are given below the board. After rolling you draw the selected rail track in any empty space in either the row or column indicated by the second die. (If there is no free space in either the row or column of that number you can instead draw it in any space of your choice.)

The game ends when all spaces are filled, at which point you calculate your score. You gain points for connecting each station with another station, and gain more points for the number of squares the connecting tracks traverse, and 2 bonus points for each of those tracks that passes through a "bonus" square you selected at the start of the game (any space on the board). Finally, you also gain points for each station that is connected to the mine.

Board Game: 30 Rails

(image of a completed game, by bothaf01)


The game is quite simple, but seems also a bit random, because it is entirely determined by the dice rolls. Twice during the game you can override the die results (once for column/row die and once for the tracks die), but apart from that you have little control over what tracks you can draw where.

I have found the game to be (image of a completed game, by bothaf01)much less random than I expected, however (in many ways much less random than Raging Bulls, which works with a similar 6x6 grid). There is a strong element of luck, no doubt, but there is also a lot flexibility that lets you mitigate the luck a little, because until late in the game you have quite a bit of choice as to where to put the tracks you roll, and you have even more control over where you put the stations, mountains, and mine at the start of the game.

There is an "advanced game" as well, which I have not played, which adds another element to the game that seems to make it both less random and add more decisions. Instead of overriding a die result, you can "buy shares": you write the highest of the two dice rolled into the "shares" column on the scoring sheet (while crossing out a square on the board, which will never have any tracks), and at the end of the game you will only score the lowest value of that row on the score sheet (i.e. either the share value or the value accumulated by the tracks, whichever is lower).

I can see the appeal of the game, especially with the advanced rules (and perhaps some of the additional variants that exist), but while I do not think this is a bad game by any means, I've not enjoyed the game as much as I expected. I've only played it about 8 times, but it has taken me a very long time to get to that number. I printed this out over a year ago, and played it occasionally, but then forgot about it again. Recently, I played a few games in a row to determine whether I'd keep this or not, but it still did not grab my attention, and I'm not very likely to play it again. Roll-and-writes are not my favourite genre of games, but if you do love those type of games, 30 Rails seems like a good candidate to try out.

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Total plays: about 8
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2. Board Game: War of Dice [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Board Game: War of Dice
War of Dice, designed by Adamo Bencardino (Bencad), is one of the very few solo true abstract games that I've found.

The theme of the game is very thin: "you have to face an enemy contingent, who came to conquer the world", the rules explain, and those troops are represented by dice. Hence the name of the game. But this doesn't quite capture the nature of the game, since you are facing these enemy dice one by one, and are both moving through "rooms" on the game board. If it has a theme at all, it therefore seems more like a dungeon crawling gladiatorial game, in which you are trying to outsmart your opponents.

Board Game: War of Dice

(image by the designer)


At the start of the game, you roll 5 enemy dice, reroll any 1s, and rank them lowest to highest on the left side of the board. On the enemy's turn, one of these dice will move through the arena, or, if there is no enemy die in the arena, move into it. At the start of the game, you have only a single die, on the right side of the board. You never roll your own dice: they come into play with a value of 1, which can be increased with actions you can take in some rooms.

Each turn, you can take two actions, and have a choice between moving to an adjacent room, using the action of a room you occupy, or attacking an enemy die (you cannot perform the same action twice in a turn with the same die). Room actions can increase the value of your die by 1 or 2, or let you move an additional time, or bring another die into play, or give you a shield that prevents any damage.

After you have moved your die, the enemy takes a turn, and will similarly perform two actions: it will first move, and then either attack you (if it is now adjacent to you) or take the action in the room (if it isn't adjacent to you). If the enemy die is already adjacent to you at the start of the enemy turn, it will attack first (inflicting +1 damage) and then activate the room it is in.

Combat is identical for both sides: if you attack, you suffer 1 damage while your opponent suffers 2. If a die reaches 0 it is removed from the game. The goal of the game is to defeat all 5 enemy dice. You lose the game when you have no dice left on the board.

War of Dice is abstract in the "purist" sense of that term: this is a game with no randomness or hidden information and that is entirely deterministic. After the initial roll of the enemy dice, there is no randomness, and you could, in theory, calculate at the start of the game, every single move you will need to make to win.

What makes the game good is not the simple rules, but the game board itself. The rooms on the board are connected with numbered corridors, and when the enemy moves, it will move closest to you using the lowest numbered corridor. It won't take long before you realise that this means it will most likely move to rooms you don't want it to move! I don't know how much testing went into the layout of the board, but it is really clever, and makes for a tense game that can easily be lost.

Of course, the purely deterministic nature of the game also means that it the more you play it, the easier it becomes, but, for me, part of what makes this game fun to play, is to discover those strategies that work well.

Even after you have mastered the strategy, however, there is still some incentive to continue playing, if you like games in which you aim not just to win but also to improve your score. The rules provide a simple scoring system: add together the values of all the enemy dice at the start of the game, and multiply that by the value of the dice you still have on the board at the end of the game. I have not aimed for this, and so my score has been low. I generally ended the game with a single die with a value of 1, and so my scores have been mostly lower than 20. But I can see that improving this score--and trying to improve this exponentially--could be quite a fun challenge.

Finally, because the enemy dice are rolled at the start of the game, the difficulty of the game can vary quite greatly. If the enemy dice all have a value of 2 the game will be much easier than if they all have a value of 6. This hasn't really bothered me much, since most of the time the total value of the dice more or less equals out somewhere between 15-20.

If you are a fan of abstract games, I highly recommend this one. It took me a few plays to see the game's strength, and while it may have some diminishing returns (unless I try to improve my score), that hasn't lessened my enjoyment of the game. And given that you only need to print out a single sheet (the board) and supply some regular (d6) dice, the barrier for entry is very low indeed.


95
Total plays: 7

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3. Board Game: Temple Island Chess [Average Rating:9.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Temple Island Chess
Temple Island Chess, designed by Karen Deal Robinson (KarenSDR), is not really a chess variant, as the name may suggest, but a solitaire game that uses chess pieces. It is played on a custom board (pictured to the left) and while those pieces use most of the standard chess moves, it actually bears little resemblance to chess.

At the start of the game, all the white pieces are on the land tiles in the four corners of the game, whereas the black pieces are on the central island, surrounding the "Temple of the Sun", the four golden squares in the centre of the board. The goal of the game is to move all the white pieces onto the island--each pawn on a space orthogonally adjacent to the Temple, and the other pieces on the spaces besides them--and to have moved all the black pieces into the ocean.

Each turn you move a white piece and then move a corresponding black piece (its "shadow"). In the Temple of the Sun is a token that is moved clockwise each turn, and that indicates the direction the shadow will have to move, thus restricting the possibilities of what white piece you can move to some degree.

There are a few additional restrictions regarding movement. The white pawns are pilgrims; the remaining white pieces are guardians. A pilgrim (pawn) cannot be on an ocean tile unless it is adjacent (orthogonally or diagonally) to a guardian piece. In addition, a pilgrim can never be adjacent to any black piece.

Board Game: Temple Island Chess

(image of a game in progress by the designer)


This is a game that straddles the sometimes thin line between games and puzzles. It is not a difficult puzzle, because I don't think it is possible to end up in a situation where you can no longer make any moves. It is, in that sense, not a very difficult game, although it is a game that does require concentration, and that I've found strangely absorbing. Since you can't lose, you don't really play to win, which makes it quite a relaxing but focused experience. I enjoy figuring out optimal moves--always taking into account where the shadow pieces will end up--and I like thinking several turns ahead to get everyone to the island with as few moves as possible.

This is not a game I'd want to play everyday, but I can see myself playing this again in the future, when I want something calming but engaging. If you like solitaire puzzles, this is worth looking into. You'll need to print the board (it is bigger than a standard chess board) as well as chess set, but the rules are fairly simple and so it doesn't take much to get started.

94
Total plays: 4
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4. Board Game: Aether Captains: Clockwork Cabal [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:12737]
Board Game: Aether Captains: Clockwork Cabal
Aether Captains: Clockwork Cabal seems to be the most popular of Todd Sanders' Aether Captains games, judging not by rating, but by the frequency with which it is mentioned around BGG.

I know little about the world of Aether Captains, but appreciate that there is one. Thematically, you are a captain searching the city of Val Justinia for the 6 parts of the Antikythera, a mythical navigation device, in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of the sinister Clockwork Cabal.

Mechanically, this is a exploration card game that involves some dice rolling, and managing resources (health, strength, knowledge, and time).

You start the game on the Society Hall card. Each city sector card has one or more arrows that point on its sides, that indicate in what direction you can move and explore. At the start of each round, you pick a direction, move to the adjacent card on that side or draw a new one from deck if there isn't one, and then advance the time track. If you run out of time, you lose the game, but since the time track starts at 60, you don't have to worry too much about that.

Some city sectors have a special icon. If you end the turn on one of those cards, you need to also draw a card from the location deck. These cards represent various things that might be found in the city sector you just moved into, and you need to resolve their effects instantly. Some location cards rearrange or shift the parts of the city you have already explored, some let you exchange resources, some force you to perform a certain test against the Cabal and cause you to lose resources if you fail or gain them if you win. Such tests are resolved by rolling a d12 for you and one for the Cabal, and spending strength or knowledge to try and beat their score.

Most importantly, the location cards also contain the 6 parts of the Antikythera you are looking for. Each part has a different cost. Most of these require you to pay some resources, but one requires you to roll a certain value on a d12.

You lose the game when you run out of time or when your health is reduced to 0. You win when you have found all 6 parts of the Antikythera before this happens.

Board Game: Aether Captains: Clockwork Cabal

(image by gertbert)


To be honest, I've not enjoyed this game much. While managing your resources is the main aspect of the game, I found this hard to do because the game is quite random and you have little control over what happens to you. This is the case with the exploration of the city sectors, as well as with the location cards that you encounter. I lost two games not because I ran out of time or health, but because I ended up in a cul-de-sac and had no way of retreating. Finding the 6 Antikythera cards in a deck of 29 location cards isn't too difficult, but you have no control over when those 6 cards will show up, and when they do, gaining them is either not particularly difficult, or is entirely random (as with part 6, which requires you to roll a 6, 9, or 12 on a d12). For me, the limited agency you have takes away the excitement of exploration, as well as the sense of danger whenever you encounter the Cabal.

As I mentioned, I like that the world in which this game is set exists, and is (as with most of Todd Sanders' games) hinted at in the cards of the location deck. Perhaps this game works best as a storytelling game, in which you let the cards and the dice helps your imagination to build a story. For me, though, the cards provide not enough prompts to let the my imagination create a narrative of its own. Shadows Upon Lassadar: Revenge of the Raven Consort (which I wrote about here) was much better at this.


93
Total plays: 4
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From gallery of Stormtower
Nano Cyber Rogue, designed by Sturv Tafvherd (Stormtower), was an entry in the 2016 9-card Nanogame PnP Design Contest. I've known about this game for a while, and have been intrigued by it, because it is, very loosely and only thematically, inspired by Netrunner.

You play as a hacker trying to infiltrate a network in order to find a particular server, while dodging the ICE countermeasures that guard the network.

The game is played on 9 cards, which collectively form the network. Each card has several paths you traverse to get to the card's nodes. At the start of the game, you only have a single card in play; you will discover the rest of the network as you explore it.

At the start of each turn you roll four dice, and will then be able to spend those dice to move along those paths. If you reach a node at the edge of a card, you immediately draw the next.

When it comes to movement, the value of the dice that are spent is entirely ignored. You'll only be able to move one space per die spent, whether that die has a value of 6 or 1. The value of the dice is important, however, because in order to enter some nodes you need to spend one or more dice of a specific value. You can modify the value of a die by spending a die to increase the value of another die by one, or by spending a "wild" tokens which lets you change a die to any value you like. You can gain these in some nodes but can also start the game with. You can also chose to spend fewer dice on a turn, and save one or more of the unspent dice for the next turn. This allows you to plan ahead, and minimise the randomness of the dice rolls to some extent.

The value of the dice also matters for the ICE, the network's defences, you may encounter. Some cards have nodes that contain ICE, represented by a token. At the start of the turn, after you have rolled your dice, all ICE in play may move towards you, if you rolled the value shown on the card with the ICE node. There are four such ICE cards, one each with a value of 3, 4, 5, and 6. Thus, if all four are in play, for each 3, 4, 5, and 6 you roll, all ICE will move one space towards you. What makes this more difficult is that many of the nodes require one of those four dice values to enter them, so you need to have dice with such values, while staying ahead of the attacking ICE.

When ICE reaches your node, you lose 1 strength (of a maximum of 3) and the ICE respawns at the closest ICE node. You do not lose the game if you have no remaining strength: you just respawn on the start node.

You do lose the game when you run out of resources. You start the game with 15 resources, and will have to spend 1 resource at the end of each turn. You start the game with no "wild" tokens and no strength, but can buy these at the start of the game for 1 resource each (both to a maximum of 3). This is an interesting choice: if you spend more resources on those, you'll have a better chance of surviving, but you'll also have much less time.

You win the game when you reach the "End" node (which is on one of the final 4 cards). In order to get there, though, you'll need to pass through two nodes that require three specific dice values (1, 2, and 3 for the first one; and three 4s for the second), so even when you have found that end space, you'll need to have planned appropriately (or be very lucky) to win.

From gallery of Stormtower

(image by the designer)


The game plays very quickly, in about 10 minutes. I found it to strike a good balance between of luck and planning. At first it seems the die rolls determine most of it, but manipulating the dice ahead of time, and placing the drawn network cards strategically is perhaps more important to win.

I thought the game was a little easy, but on reflection I might be wrong in that. So far, I've lost half the games I've played, which feels about right. It is a light game, though, but one that does provide interesting decisions. I'm not very fond of the rule that moves you back to start when you've lost all strength, since that probably means, in most cases, an inevitable loss, but it does also provide a good incentive to prevent that from happening by playing more cautiously.

92
Total plays: 4
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6. Board Game: Evolution Island [Average Rating:6.90 Unranked]
Board Game: Evolution Island
Evolution Island, designed by Aleksandar Saranac (saranac), is a simple abstract tile laying game. Thematically, you are creating an island with the tiles and trying to "help evolution rise one dominant animal species and one dominant land type on the island". But like with many tile-laying games, the theme is there merely to give a bit of colour to the game mechanics, rather than to shape your experience while playing the game.

Each tile in the game has two elements on it: one of four different animals, and one of four different land types. You start the game with four starting tiles in play, containing one of each animal and one of each land type. You have four tiles in hand, and four action cards ("Change cards").

Each turn you place a tile from your hand adjacent to one of the already placed tiles and then play a card to perform its actions. The cards make you either shift the newly placed tile and all connected tiles in its column (or row) up or down (or left or right), or swap the newly placed tile with a tile to its left or right or above or below. You then discard a tile and a card, draw two new tiles and two new cards, and begin the next round. The game ends when there are no more tiles to draw, after 15 turns.

Connecting tiles of the same land type form a habitat. Connecting tiles of the same animal form a herd. You win the game if you managed to connect one herd of 8 tiles and one habitat of 8 tiles.

The game has thus a clear victory condition, but also has a scoring element. When the game ends, you examine the sizes of your herds and habitats and will gain points for each. The bigger the herd or habitat, the more you will score (1 point for a group of 3, but 28 points for a group of 9). Any herds or habitats that are smaller than 3 tiles will deduct points from your final score (-5 for each tile that is not part of a group of at least 3, possibly counted in both the herd and habitat tally!).

Board Game: Evolution Island

(image by the designer)


I've enjoyed this game, but I'm a little ambivalent about the victory conditions. You need to form a herd and a habitat of at least 8 tiles in order to win the game. This is very hard, because there are only 9 tiles of each type. In other words, when you discard two tiles of any group, you will not be able to build a big enough habitat or herd of that type.

This means you have to decide almost from the outset what herd and habitat you will develop, and hope that you'll have access to the right cards when you have the right tiles in hand. But since you never know what two tiles you will be drawing next, late in the game you could end up with 4 tiles in hand that are all required for your planned herd and habitat, so that when at the end of the turn you are forced to discard a tile, you may already have lost the game. There is an added difficulty to this: the game ends when you can no longer draw any new tiles, which means that two tiles will never be played. If you end late in the game with more tiles of a type needed to win in hand than you are able to play, there is nothing you can do. Add to this that mistakes are very hard to correct, because you always have to use a card to move the newly placed tile, which makes it hard to reposition tiles you played much earlier in the game. For this reason, the game may seem to work better with a goal of scoring as many points as you can.

But I am ambivalent about this victory condition, because it also elevates the game. To form a herd and a habit of 8 tiles each is very difficult, and it is because it is so difficult that each move you make becomes so important. You do not know what cards and tiles lie immediately ahead, and as the game progresses you agonise more and more over each tile you place, each tile you discard, each card you play, and each card you discard. That tension would not arise if you are just trying to score as highly as possible, because the difficulty lies precisely in forming 2 groups of 8 tiles.

As I mentioned, even when you win the game, you still calculate your score. The rule book states that a 'good island' should score you around 50 points. In the games that I've won, I've only reached that once (54); my other victories have scored far less: 38, 25, 13...

It is actually easier to score higher without the two 8-tile groups. The games I've lost scored often much higher (often over 40, and once even 52), because in the attempt to form two 8-tile groups, you easily end up with 'unconnected' groups, which are groups of less than 3 tiles. Such unconnected groups costs you dearly: you lose 5 points for each unconnected tile, and you calculate this separately for both herds and habitats. In one particularly bad game -- which I did win, by the way -- I suffered -50 points because of such tiles (having 4 unconnected herd tiles, and 6 unconnected habitat tiles), but even in better games I generally lose somewhere between 10 and 30 points.

So, not all victories are equal. When I do win but with a poor score like 13, it doesn't quite feel like a loss, but it makes me rethink my strategies and

I had thought this would be a relaxing game. It isn't. It is a game that does not have much tolerance for mistakes, and that requires a lot of focus. You consider each possible combination of tile and card, and then reconsider it, all the time keeping an eye on what tiles have been discarded so you have some sense of what lies ahead.

It is a wonderfully tense game, that I'm sure I'll play again.


1 October 2020: This is a game that, I believe, has not received as much attention as it deserves. It is very good: very simple rules, but very tough decisions each turn.

I'm enjoying this much more than I had thought I would when I was crafting the tiles and cards. As the game progresses, each choice of tile to placement and/or card to use becomes more and more difficult. I've won nearly all of the five games I've recently been playing, but not casually: each move was carefully considered in the light of what moves I might be able to make next. The difficulty really comes from being so restricted in moving tiles placed on a previous turn: once two tiles are adjacent to each other, it is very difficult to separate them without disrupting the rest of the board you've been so carefully building up.

I haven't scored what the designer considered "good" (50 points), but came very close once: 47 (the other scores of winning games were 18, 27, and 39).


E 15 March 2021: Some games have diminishing returns: familiarity leads to mechanical play or, worse, to boredom. But with some games your enjoyment increases as you become familiar with the game's system. This game is certainly one of the latter, for me. The more I play Evolution Island, the more I like it.

Now that I have a better grasp of the game, I'm finally reaching the "good score" threshold (50 points). I've played 7 more games in recent weeks, and now that I understand better how to not just win but also score well, I've enjoyed the game even more.

My scores: 10 points, 49, lost, 52, 54, 43, and 51.


Total plays: 25 plays.
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7. Board Game: A Rusty Throne [Average Rating:7.23 Unranked]
Board Game: A Rusty Throne
In A Rusty Throne, a card-driven wargame designed by Barny Skinner (Zombocom), you play the role of a warlord who tries to usurp the throne of a despotic king. You do this by raising your own army, and taking over the strongholds of the king and his allies, before they sack yours.

The game is played on a map, divided into 9 numbered regions, but the heart of the game is a small deck of cards. At the start of the game, you have two forces of your own (represented by small tokens) in the northermost territory (region 1), and the king and his allies have two forces in each of the other regions with a castle (regions 3, 7, and 9). You win the game when you control all these latter three castle regions; you lose the game when you lose control of your starting region. You control a region when are the only force in that region, and you lose control of it when your forces move out of it, either because you chose to leave that region or because the king's forces force you out of it.

Since you start with only two forces, and at least one of those has to stay in the starting region at all times, you'll have to increase your army, and since you can only control a region when it contains no enemy forces, you'll also have to drive them out. All of this is done with the deck of cards.

The cards are what makes the game so good. They are used for everything that you or the king does in the game: they resolve battles, they determine what the king does each turn, where the king may move, and how much you can do each turn.

You start the game with a hand of five cards, and managing these cards--deciding when to play what card--will determine your success or failure.

Each turn has two phases. In the first phase you play a card from your hand, which will determine what the king will do that phase and how much you will be able to do after the king has acted. In the second phase, a single card will determine the same two things, but this time you draw it from the top of the deck, so you have no idea what the king will do or what you'll be able to do.

The king's actions are determined by the icons in the centre of the card: his forces will either rally more forces (he can have up to 10 on the board), or he will move to a castle (yours or his), to a field (which you want to control, since the number of fields you control determine how many forces you can have in a single region), or to your forces. Some cards have more than one action, and some cards are unpredictable and make you draw a new card to determine what the king will do that phase.

If the king's forces move into one of your regions, a battle will ensue. To resolve the battle, you play a card from your hand, and then draw the top card of the deck for the king's forces. The top of these cards may have up to three different symbols: swords, which determine how many rival forces will be destroyed; shields, which block rival swords; and, my favourite part, bugles, which will determine who wins. At the end of the battle, after the destroyed forces have been removed, you count the number of remaining forces of both sides and add the number of bugles their card has: the highest number is the victor; the loser retreats to a neighbouring region that is not controlled by the opposing force (or, is destroyed if they can't do that).

The game continues until you conquer the three castles or yours is conquered. When you've played your last card, you just draw 5 new ones from the deck. If the deck is ever depleted, you just shuffle the discard pile into the new draw deck.

Board Game: A Rusty Throne

(image by chalimac)


It is not an easy game. Managing the king's movement is not that difficult (the rules that determine what the king does where are very good and easy to implement). But the cards give you difficult choices: often you want to play a card that makes the king move exactly where you want him to be, but that card would give you very few command points--too few to do what you want to do. The battles can be very unpredictable, which can work in your favour but also in the king's. You sometimes might have to play a suboptimal card in the first phase just so you can hold on to a card that could help you win a battle.

I have only two very minor complaints about the game. I wish region 1 had one shield icon (like all the other strongholds have), to give you just a little more chance to survive battles there. Also, it is very difficult to keep track of which phase you are in: did I just play this card or did I draw it from the deck? I ended up using a die to mark which phase I was in, which worked well, but it would have been nice to have a phase marker on the board.

I've played 10 games so far, and I have won only 2. I've come very close to a victory a few times, but lost in the final hour due to unexpected outcomes of battles in my home region. I've greatly enjoyed it, though in my experience it generally runs longer than the advertised 30 minutes, and can sometimes drag on a bit too long. I expect to play this game again. It is good and a very clever design, though you need to be able to cope with unlucky draws and sudden reversals of fortune.

91

Total plays: 10
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8. Board Game: Maquis [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:1390]
Board Game: Maquis
This is a very engaging solo worker-placement game, and one of the best PnP games I have played so far.

The artwork is great. Though I printed the pictured artwork (since the contrasts worked better with my printer), I love the original artwork more, because it is so evocatively French.

Overall a solid game, that is easy to build, not very difficult to learn, and quick to play. Recommended!


18 January 2018: I've reprinted this now, and played about half a dozen more games of this. The rules are really simple, and the game plays so well. It is still one of my favourite PnPs, I think.


12 April 2018: I played two more games of Maquis, and lost both of them. The first I probably could have won if I played the first few rounds more carefully, but the second was atrociously bad--I ended with 1 remaining runner and neither of the two missions anywhere near completion. I need to spend a bit more time with this game again. It is such an elegant game!


22 April 2018: 2 more games, both wins. The first game I had drawn two easy missions (Sabotage and Liberate the Town), and won without much a of challenge. The second game I had Destroy the Train and Liberate the Town. Destroy the Train is a tough one, since you need to build the chemist's lab, which requires 2 money (from airdrops or the black market), and then requires you to get medicine to convert them to explosives, and this mission requires you to have done this before the end of turn 9. I'd never been able to accomplish it before, but now that the other mission was easy, I focussed on it and managed to get everything ready just in time. It was wonderfully tense, in contrast to the rest of the game, when I had little to do but wait and increase morale a little to win.


30 August 2018: I recently played 2 more games of this. For the first game I drew the missions Liberate the Town and Underground Newspaper. By turn 10 it was obvious I would not win this game. I had lost two resistance fighters already, and knew I would not be able to complete both missions in time with the 3 remaining people. For the second game I drew Sabotage and Aid the Spy, two missions I have been able to complete in the past. I played more cautiously, and won in the penultimate turn.

There are few games that I would call "elegant". This certainly is one of them. The rules are so simple that I don't need to revisit the rule book ever, but to win I need to pay attention to the patrol deck and know your odds of success. There is both just enough luck and just enough predictability in the game to make it really engaging. Each time I lost a resistance fighter I was either careless or ready to make that sacrifice if I knew the odds were not in my favour. Though I don't play it all that often, this is still one of my favourite games. Every time I play it I am impressed with it.


8 September 2018: Two more games. For the first one I drew the missions Underground Newspaper and Destroy the Train. Not surprisingly, I lost... I gave up in turn 8 when I realised I wouldn't be able to accomplish the train mission in time (turn 6-9). This is undoubtedly the most difficult mission in the deck!

The second game I had the missions Sabotage (which is relatively easy) and Assassination (which is considerably harder). The Sabotage mission I accomplished without much difficulty; by turn 7 I had finished that, while also gathered a few weapons through airdrops. By turn 12 it was obvious to me I would not be able to complete the Assassination mission (which requires you to eliminate enough police to have only soldiers patrolling the town). I had managed to eliminate 4 policemen, but since morale was at 1, I had five patrols (4 soldiers and 1 police), and I couldn't think of a way to eliminate the last police patrol while not losing all morale and thereby losing the game. But then I realised all I had to do was increase morale, so that there would only be 4 patrols on the street! A quick stop by the doctor and grocer, and then the next turn give some charity in the poor district. Morale was raised, the lone policeman left, and I won the game! That might be the first time I was able to complete that mission.


29 October 2018: I played two games, trying out the "new" missions (mentioned below in the comments). For the first game I selected Coded Message and drew Aid the Spy. This was probably an easy combination, since both missions require relatively simple items and don't require you to go to the mission card often. It was an interesting change to lose a worker for five turns, but it would be more challenging when coupled with a more difficult mission. I kept morale high by going regularly to the Poor District and won on the final turn.

For the second game I chose the Infiltration mission and drew the Underground Newspaper. Infiltration has a similar mechanism as Coded Message, in that you also lose a worker temporarily, but I wasn't able to find out how the bonus you get from this (look at the top patrol card each turn) would affect the game: I lost before I could accomplish either missions. I was playing a bit too recklessly and got everyone arrested!

Next I'd like to try the Take out the Bridges mission, which seems the most interesting of them all.


13 January 2019: Four more games. For the first, I randomly drew the missions Sabotage and Blow up the Train. The second one is somewhat difficult because you have to complete this mission relatively early, but combined with Sabotage, which also requires explosives, it isn't too hard. Once you have set up the Chemist's Lab next to the grocer, it isn't too difficult to get everything you need in order. It was therefore a relatively easy win, though I did lose 2 of my men to arrests in the penultimate turn. With only two workers left, and a single turn to complete the objectives, and facing 4 policemen, I took a wild risk and sent one of my workers off with the dynamite to the factory, and had the other one hold Pont Leveque, which--to my great surprise--worked!

For the second game I drew the missions Underground Newspaper and Take out the Bridges. I had never played this last mission before, which is a fan-made mission, and was really curious how difficult it would be.

I lost, or rather gave up, on turn 5, when 3 of my men got arrested (and a fourth had been arrested two terms earlier). With only one worker left, chances of success were very slim!

Luckily, it doesn't take much to reset the game, so I tried again. I got a little further in the third game, using the same missions, but got all men arrested by turn 7 (four in one go!). I tried again, and had everyone but one arrested by turn 10. I think this is a first for me! I rarely have this many men arrested. What is going on? Either I played extremely recklessly--which I do not think I did--or the police really do not like having those bridges blown up! I do look forward to trying this mission again. It is a nice change to the standard game.


9 September 2019: Two losses. I haven't played this in too long and forgot how to play this well. The first game I had the missions Railway Sabotage (which is my favourite one) and Liberate Town; the second I had to Aid the Spy and set up an Underground Newspaper. In both games I accomplished the first, but either got everyone arrested or ran out of time before I could finish the second.


E 28 February 2021: Three more games. Three disastrous losses. This is one of the PnP games that has been longest in my rotation, and although I do not play it very often now, it always feels nice coming back to it, even if I have forgotten how to play this well.

Total plays: 36 times
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9. Board Game: Abstract Network [Average Rating:6.76 Unranked]
Board Game: Abstract Network
What instantly drew me to this abstract card game is the artwork of the 12 cards that comprise the game. Look at this abstract beauty:

Board Game: Abstract Network

(image by agent385)


I love abstract games, but there are very few good solo abstract games (for good reasons, too, I think). Since this one requires just 12 cards, it didn't take me long to get this to the table.

Abstract Network is a game designed by Jonas Lidström Isegrim (Quadrante) for the 2017 Two-Player Print and Play Game Design Contest, in which it won "Best Game".

The goal of the game is to form either circles, squares, or diamonds (you decide at the beginning of the game) with the lines on the cards. Each turn you and your opponent place cards from your hand or move or rotate cards that are already on the table (in a 4x3 grid) until either of you have achieved the required number of shapes of your choice (3 for an easy game, 5 for a hard game).

The game also has two different solo variants (which can be combined with a few other variants given in the extended rule book). In the first, you try to create either circles or squares, while avoiding diamonds--if you ever form 3 or more diamonds, you automatically lose the game. In the second solitaire variant, there is an "AI" which performs one of six different actions, in order (so you always know what will happen).

The solo game is a puzzle, and a difficult one too. In both solo variants you have fewer possible actions than you have in the 2-player game (for example, you can't swap 2 cards). Even when playing without the "AI" it is very easy to inadvertently form a diamond while you are trying to create a circle or square.

I have also played this as a 2-player game (twice), and, to be honest, it is much better with an opponent. As a solo game it is a clever puzzle, but one that also doesn't always feel solvable (when you play with a variant in which you start the game with all the cards on the table). Of the two solo variants, I preferred the simpler one, where there is no simulated opponent. Given my lack of enthusiasm lately for AIs/bots/automas this is perhaps no surprise. Most of the AI's actions change the state of the "board" very dramatically (four of its six actions move three or four cards in one go), making it very difficult to plan your moves, and most of the times its actions don't make much sense, since they don't actually help the AI. The simpler solo variant is, in my opinion, more interesting, and has a few variants I have not tried yet (such as starting with all cards face-down on the table).

As a 2-player game, I see myself pulling this one out from time to time. It is a quick (10-15 minutes) abstract puzzle game that isn't difficult to teach and not difficult to play. As a solo game, I'm not sure how often I'll revisit this.


24 March 2019: To my surprise, I played this game 10 more times solo in the last couple of days. Abstract Network plays very quickly: each game lasts just a few minutes, so this hasn't been a huge investment of my time. But I do like it, more now than I did at first, I think. I play it by placing cards one by one (without the option to rotate them until all cards have been placed); the variant where you start with the cards on the table I find less enjoyable, and seems to lead to games that are unsolvable. I then try to form 3 circles or squares, following the standard solo rules. Having accomplished that, I sometimes go on to try to form 3 of the other shape.

I've tried to form four shapes, but have (so far) found that impossible, at least with the limited actions you have in the solo game. Five seems highly improbable, because the cards can at most form only five, and then only if they are placed in one specific way; the odds of that happening in a solo game are very, very unlikely.

The solo game feels a little easier than the two-player game, since you don't have anyone competing with you, and you can therefore take as much time and as many actions as you want. It makes it an interesting puzzle that is both relaxing and challenging enough to remain fun for me. And I like the way it visually: the lines of the cards at first appear very busy and chaotic, but once you start focusing on squares, they stand out and you filter out all the rest. In the games where I would then switch the game around and try to form 3 circles, you suddenly see the cards in a very different light and the only thing you still notice are circles and potential circles, as well as the dreaded diamonds. It is a simple thing, but I quite like that


18 June 2019: I've been longing for solo abstract games and pulled this one out again. I played 4 more games, and really enjoyed every moment of them. I play with these rules:

Quote:

1 Play each card one by one face up on the 3x4 grid.

2 Try to form either three circles or three squares.

3 Once you have accomplished this, form three of the other shape (squares or circles).

4 To accomplish this, you can shift rows and columns, and rotate cards.

5 If you ever form three diamonds, you lose.
It is a simple puzzle that does not take too long to play, but is quite challenging (especially step 3). A keeper, at least for now.


1 July 2019: Three more games, following my simple solo variant. I finally was able to form four circles!


25 August 2019: This game has kept me interested far longer than I initially thought it would! In the last couple of days I played it three more times (2 losses, 1 win), and I'm sure I'll play it again in the future. A nice, short, simple, but engaging puzzle.


E 27 February 2021: Four more games, over several weeks. This is not a game I play often, nor want to play often, but each time I do play it solo I do enjoy it. It is a simple but calming puzzle, and I always love that moment when I've completed three circles and have only seen the lines that form those (and the diamonds) adn then begin to form the three squares, all the non-square lines immediately fade to the background and you suddenly face an entirely different puzzle.


Total plays: 31 (only solo plays counted)
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10. Board Game: Raging Bulls [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:5309]
Board Game: Raging Bulls
Raging Bulls, designed by Mark Tuck (tucky60) in 2017, has long been a favourite in the 1 Player Guild. It is a roll-and-write game that has, characteristic of a Mark Tuck game, rules so simple that it is hard to summarize them without saying more than is in the very brief rule book (or, rather, rule sheet).

The game is played on a 6x6 grid, representing a field. The edges of the fields are numbered 1-6, and contain a dot: these are the fence posts. At the start of the game you roll two dice and mark the corresponding spot with a small circle or dot on the field: this represents a raging bull. The number of bulls you draw depends on the field you are playing: a full game consists of four fields, each with one more bull than the last one (ranging from 3 to 6 bulls).

Once the required number of bulls are in the field, you roll 3 dice. You select two dice values, and draw a straight line between two fence posts with those numbers: that line represents a fence. The goal of the game is to enclose as many bulls in the field with fences and to fence them in so that they do not share a space with another bull. If a bull is enclosed alone, it is isolated.

After completing the four fields, you calculate your score. You gain points for each isolated bull, and for each unused fence post, gaining more points per isolated bull for the fields with more bulls.

Board Game: Raging Bulls

(image by chansen2794)


I've played 6 games, or 24 fields (I rarely played four fields in one sitting, so it feels like a lot more than 6 games). I can see the appeal of the game. It is simple, and quite relaxing, and because the bulls are in a new position in each game, there is some variety as well.

But the game is also hugely determined by luck. The difficulty of a field can vary greatly depending on where the bulls are positioned. Bulls positioned on the 1 or 6 lines are much harder to isolate than bulls placed in the centre of the field. And, for some reason, I rolled more 1s and 6s while placing bulls than any other number (of the 106 bulls I placed in the 6 games, 50 of them were on a 1 or 6 line! In one 6-bull field, all but one bull were on a 1 or 6 line.) Because you have no way of modifying the dice rolls for the fences, there too you can perform badly merely due to unlucky rolls.

You can always 'pass' and leave a field incomplete. When you do this you sacrifice one of three 'mallets' and will score only for each isolated bull but not for each unused fence post. If you cannot connect fence posts of the values rolled (because they have already been connected), you also have to sacrifice a mallet. Once all three mallets have been used, the game ends. At first this feels like a buffer against bad luck, but it really isn't: it just limits your luck.

That said, the game is not especially difficult: in most games, I was able to complete each field except the final one (with six bulls), where one bull was generally still roaming free at the end of the game.

I didn't mind the amount of luck in the game too much, but it does make the scoring feel rather pointless, because it does not really represent how well you played, just how well you rolled. I do not mind games in which you merely try to improve your score, but here I never felt encouraged to try again and improve my score.

I enjoyed the game, but after a while, I realised it was something I'd play to pass the time, rather than to engage my mind, and because of that, I doubt I'll be revisiting this.


Total plays: 6 (scores 104, 105, 116, 106, 103--all 'Admira-bull'--and 83--'Commenda-bull'; the first few scores should be some points lower because I did not use the mallets properly.)
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11. Board Game: Delve: The Dice Game [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:5153]
Board Game: Delve: The Dice Game
Delve: The Dice Game, designed by Drew Chamberlain (MaytagMan) in 2009, is often mentioned in PnP lists. It requires just a single printed page, 6 dice, and a pencil to play, and plays in less than 20 minutes. I decided to give it a try, suspecting that this wasn't the sort of game I'd like.

Each turn you roll six dice, and can reroll any up to three times. The different characters in your party--a cleric, a wizard, a rogue, a fighter--activate their abilities on specific results: a full house lets the rogue inflict a crippling strike, have 4 of a kind and the wizard launches a fireball, have a straight and the cleric will heal.

You move through different rooms, trying to defeat different monsters (each of which have a unique ability) before they defeat you. After you've rolled, you roll for the monsters a number of dice equal to their remaining health. They inflict damage for each 4 and/or 5 and/or 6 rolled (depending on the monster). If you survive the final room, where you face a dragon, you win the game. If your party is wiped out, you lose.

Board Game: Delve: The Dice Game

(image of the game sheet by matildadad)


This is essentially Yahtzee: The Dungeon Crawler. And I'm not very fond of Yahtzee.

It is a very light game, that might appeal if all you want to do is roll some dice. It takes almost no time to learn the game, and almost no time to craft. There are also quite a few additional modules you can play, that offer different characters and different rooms, should you desire more variety.

I played this twice. I lost the first game, but won the second. After the first game I played I realised this wasn't something I'd enjoy playing again, but I picked it up again one evening when I was tired and wanted something to distract me. It was good for that, but I don't see myself playing it again.


Total plays: 2
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12. Board Game: Enki-Des: The Soul Gates [Average Rating:6.08 Unranked]
Board Game: Enki-Des:  The Soul Gates
In Enki-Des: The Soul Gates, a game designed by E. Nate Kurth (kurthl33t), you play as a slain Ukri warrior who has to pass through seven gates--the Enki-Des--by defeating its seven guardians, to reach paradise, while also proving that they are worthy of that destination by finding an Enki-ori, or essence pearl.

Your character has three different abilities: Lore, which is your knowledge of the Enki-Des, which helps you to find your Enki-ori (which you need to pass the final gate); Creativity, which is your ability to adapt, which helps you to heal but can also help in finding your Enki-ori; and Training, which is your skill in combat, which you will need to fight the guardians.

Board Game: Enki-Des:  The Soul Gates

(image by Annowme)


You start the game at the first gate, where you have to face the Mirror Man. Each turn, you roll three dice, select two and take the corresponding action from the 6x6 action chart. Then the guardian attacks you, inflicting a fixed amount of damage (2 damage at Gate 1, for example; 3 damage at Gate 2; or an amount of damage equal to the guardian's health at Gate 4).

If the guardian is defeated, you may become stronger in one of your three abilities and move to the next gate. If you defeat Todolan-Shri, the guardian of Gate 6, you win the game. If your Life value ever reaches 0, you lose the game (it starts at 24).

Somewhat to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the handful of games I played of this. This is a print-and-play game with a very low threshold: you need only print two sheets (I used Todd Sanders' redesign, pictured above), and supply three dice and a few tokens. Mechanically, it may seem simplistic, but I found each game I played to be an immersive experience and sometimes even quite tense, and while I won almost all of the games I played, victory did now always feel assured.

With dice rolls comes randomness, but the game never felt unfair, because the three dice you roll each turn generally give you three choices of actions. And if none of those actions seems beneficial at the time, you can also 'lock' one of the rolled dice so you can use that value next turn, when you'd only roll two dice and use the locked value of the third.

What I particularly liked is the way the designer developed the world of this game. It is not quite clear what sort of fantasy culture the Ukri (your character) has, and so your own imagination can fill that in freely. (Todd Sanders' redesign gives it an eastern flavour, which didn't quite fit, in my mind, though the redesign is lovely.) But for each gate there is a brief paragraph or two that describes what your character encounters at each gate, which really helped in making each gate feel unique. Each guardian too has its own character. At Gate 1, for example, you encounter Shikri, Mirror Man: when you deal him damage, he deals the same amount of damage back, mirroring your actions. At Gate 4 you encounter Ininokra, a large Hoard of Brutes, who will deal you damage equal to its health: the more members of the hoard you defeat, the fewer remain to attack you. Or at Gate 5 you encounter Enkili-Monu, the Soul Eater, who does not damage your health, but deals damage to your attributes.

This is not a game I'll play regularly, and I'm not even sure I'll play this again. But I have greatly enjoyed it, and recommend it as a lighter dice game that can stimulate your imagination. It seems this was a more popular game some years ago, but like many older print-and-plays it has perhaps fallen a bit into obscurity, which is a pity.

Total plays: 4
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13. Board Game: Deity [Average Rating:7.75 Unranked]
Board Game: Deity
Deity was designed by Geoffrey Greer (designer78) (who designed the more popular solo game Sans Alliés). As he himself states, he desired to create a civilisation game that, mechanically, felt a bit like playing Patience, but that description really does not capture the feel of this card game.

In Deity, you play as a god or goddess who is guiding five human nations to ever greater technological heights, but also to greater religious awareness, by helping them build "monuments" to you. (In my mind the 'monuments' were great artistic achievements: I was Apollo.)

Mechanically, the game borrows some elements from Patience, as the designer claims, but I found these, thankfully, fairly superficial. You start the game with five nation cards on the table, and will stack cards under these nation cards each turn, as you would in Patience. But that is where the similarities end, mostly. Each card has a combination of six icons (representing food, population, technology, militarism, resources, and disease) and you'll be moving these cards from pile to pile to form or avoid forming sets--a set being either three consecutive cards with the same symbol, or four symbols in a nation's stack. The goal is to create "monuments" and to advance the technological level of each nation. The first is achieved by having a set of both population and resources; the second by creating a set of technology icons. The other icons are there to support this in some way or to work against it: a food set lets you double any icon in the nation's stack; militarism determines how many cards you may 'raid' from a neighbouring nation and add to that nation's stack; and a set of disease icons wipes all cards from a nation's stack.

Game play is quite smooth, once you know the rules. Each turn you play one or more cards to each nation (the number depending on the technological advancement of the nation), and then have a limited number of actions to move cards from stack to stack (the number depends on the age you are in; it decreases as the game progresses). You can move cards from one nation to another in two ways: by trade or raid.

To trade you move one or more cards from the bottom of one stack to the bottom of a neighbouring stack. You can trade more than one card from the bottom of a stack, as long as they form a 'chain', i.e. they have a series of icons in common. However, when trading, you may never break a chain of disease or technology icons: if you were to trade and the bottom 3 cards of the nation's stack contains disease or technology icons, you'd have to trade all of those.

A nation can raid a neighbouring nation if it has more militarism icons than the nation it is raiding. You can then take a number of cards equal to the difference in militarism from anywhere in that raided nation's stack and add them to the raiding nation. Raiding can break chains of disease and technology.

Board Game: Deity

(image by thevig)


After you have performed all your actions, you then check for plagues, new monuments, and technological advancement. If a nation has a set of disease icons, all its cards are discarded, and if it had any monuments, one of its monuments is destroyed. Then, if any nation has a set of both population and resources, you add a new monument token to that nation and discard all cards from its stack that do not have a technology icon. Finally, if a nation has a set of technology icons, you can advance it to a next technological level. Each technological level (there are 5) gives that nation more icons, but also more card draws at the start of the turn.

If a nation reaches a technological level that is higher than the current game age, the game progresses to the next age. This is tracked with a small deck of cards constructed at the beginning of the game: it contains six age cards, separated by technological leap cards and war cards. When a new age is reached, the technological leap and war cards that separate these age cards are shuffled into the main deck, and will thus be dealt to a nation on a future turn. When a technological leap card is dealt, the nation with the highest technological advancement advances further. When a a war card is dealt, that nation will go to war with one of its neighbours: the nation with the lowest militarism discards all its cards and loses 1 monument if it had any.

There are a few additional rules that come into effect when certain ages are reached, and there are also three 'intervention' cards you can use once each to perform a specific action (rearrange the cards in one stack; discard any card; or take an additional action), but these are the basics of the game.

When the game ends, you calculate your score. The scoring system seems, at first, far too brutal and too involved, but it is also what lifts the other elements of the game above themselves. Scoring is quite complex: First, you multiply, individually, the number of monuments a nation has built with the technology levels, but you do not do this per nation: rather you multiply the highest monument count with the lowest technology level of any nation, then the second highest monuments with the second lowest technology level, and so on. You add those values, and add 2 points for every intervention card you have not used. Then, you square, individually, each nation's age cards, add those values, and subtract that from your score.

In other words, this is not one of those games where, at the end, you can just glance at board and figure out your score. But what makes the scoring system work, in my opinion, despite seeming so convoluted is that it encourages you to aim for something that is quite difficult to achieve. It isn't difficult to reach the fifth civilisation age and trigger the end-game. Indeed, this happens far too quickly, and you'll want to slow this down as much as possible in order to get a positive score. The goal lies elsewhere. First, you want to build as many monuments as possible. That itself is not so easy, because it requires 2 different sets of icons (resources and population), which you'll need to build up over several turns while trying to not wipe them out by disease or technological advancement. Then, you'll want to make sure that all nations advance. This is difficult because the game works against you on this: each time you draw a technological leap card, the nation with the highest advancement advances further, and that nation will then also likely get the next age card (which you also want to spread across the nations, to subtract less from your score at the end).

If it wasn't for these scoring rules, the game would be mediocre: lovely artwork, yes, and interesting ideas, but just a small step up from Patience. These scoring rules make for a game that is surprisingly good: there is an element of luck, as in most card games, but there is some tactical depth too.

The rule book does not tell you what is considered a good score. In the games I've played my score has gone from -8 to 27, but mostly I scored between 8 and 15, which I'm sure is terrible. (The designer posted a picture of a 41-point game, which seems impossible to me at this stage.)

This is a game I really enjoy, and that I think would be much more popular if it was published and readily available for purchase. The artwork is simple but quite appealing, the game play is both relaxing but also tough. You quickly learn to curse the appearance of those technological leap cards (and I really wish you could discard those once in a game by using the 'Smite' intervention card, which the rules do not allow; war is preventable by sacrificing all your actions), and you are often pushing your luck, but the game never feels too determined by it. Each turn presents you with an interesting set of choices, and careful planning generally does pay off. It is a neat design that I'm sure I'll revisit.


Total plays: 10 times

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14. Board Game: Goblin Mountain [Average Rating:6.56 Unranked]
Board Game: Goblin Mountain
Goblin Mountain was designed by Roman Flückiger (trulog) for the 2018 9-Card Nanogame Contest, where it won several prizes, including second place for best game. The game caught my attention back then by its artwork and interesting use of the cards: the cards are each horizontally divided into four sections, each beautifully illustrated, which, when placed besides each other form a long cavernous passage you traverse out of the Goblin Mountain.

In the game you play as a group of adventurers who have ventured into the Goblin Mountain, looking for treasure, but having caught the attention of the Goblin King, now have run for their lives, back to the village--while still gathering as much loot and fame, as well as the occasional villager, as they possibly can.

At the start of the game, you place seven cave cards horizontally in a row, with the Goblin Warrens, home of the Goblin King on the left. This leftmost card is where your four adventurers, represented by four dice (set to the valued of 3), start the game, and, six spaces behind the adventurers, the Goblin King (represented by a pawn).

The goal is to get as many of your adventurers as you can across the caves and reach the village, at the other end of the caves. (The Village card is actually the back of the Goblin Warrens card; once the latter is empty, you flip the card and place it Village-side up at the right end of the caves. A constraint of the contest!) But you don't want to rush: there is much fame to be gained in these caves.

Each turn you move one of your dice forward to any cave location you like, as long as it is closer to the Village than the dice that is currently closest to the Village.

Each location gives you special bonus: some allow you to increase the value of the adventurer die that lands on it; some grant you fame or treasure, or contain villagers you can rescue; some give you a fate token, which you can spend to change some dice values.

Each adventurer also has a "stealth die": at the start of the game, these are all set to 1. After you move an adventurer, you roll their corresponding stealth die. Then the Goblin King moves: he will move 1 space plus the number of stealth die that show a value higher than 5, or higher than 4 if you've crossed a particular location about halfway through the caves. If the Goblin King lands on a space with an adventurer, you lower that die by 1 plus each remaining movement point it has. If an adventurer's die is ever reduced to 0, it is captured and removed from the game, along with its stealth die.

At the end of the game, when the last surviving adventurer reaches the village, you calculate your score: most important for this are the fame you have gathered throughout the game, with some bonus points for treasure collected and villagers rescued, and penalties for the number of adventurers captured. The scoring is not the icing on the cake: this is what the game really is about, because you could end the game in eight moves, while scoring almost no points. This is not a game of survival, but of gathering the most renown.

Board Game: Goblin Mountain

(a game in progress, using an fan-made Persian translation of the game, so the direction of movement is reversed! Image by tbsp)


I really like this game. Mechanically it is fairly simple, but it leads to very tense decisions. Each turn you can move as far forward as you like, and the further you move the less likely the Goblin King is to catch up and gradually wear you down until one of your party is captured. But if you move too fast, you will not score enough points.

Some locations also impose restrictions: only a die of certain colour can land here, or only a die of a certain colour and a value lower of higher than the number on that space. These are more difficult to land on, but also give greater rewards.

Because you roll the stealth die after you move and because the Goblin King moves according to the values of the stealth dice, you are also constantly pushing your luck. If you moved the blue die (a mage, according to the rule book, to add a little theme), and then rolled a six on its stealth die, the Goblin King will move an additional space this turn. It will likely take some time before you can reroll that stealth die, because you'll first want to move the dice that are further behind out of harm's way. And you want to move those as far away from the Goblin King as possible as well, but does this then mean you'll lose that extra fame or those precious fate tokens that the skipped locations might bestow?

What makes this balancing act even better is that there are a few additional things you can do. At the start of the game, you can lower the value of one die by 1 and raise the value of another by 1. This can protect the die you'll move last, but can also help you reach the rewarding locations that are only accessible to certain coloured dice of certain values. (In my first games I got this rule wrong, and thought you could do this at the start of each turn. This obviously makes the game a little easier, but I also think it makes the game much more interesting, because it opens more possibilities for maximizing your score. Although I have played most games correctly, I am considering making this a house rule, because it works better that way, in my opinion, even you'd obviously have to adjust the scoring tiers a little to compensate.)

You also start the game with a fate token and can gather more during the game, at various locations: these let you set all stealth dice to 1 (before you move, and thus before you roll the stealth die of the currently moving die), or you can spend one token to swap two dice, or set the value of one of the adventurers to 4, or add or subtract one from a die. These tokens thus help mitigate bad luck on the stealth rolls, but also let you plan the moves of your adventurers more carefully, in order to score more points.

My highest score so far is 26, "highly commendable", but mostly I scored in the "barely acceptable" range of 15-19 or the "decent, but unimpressive" range of 20-24. As you can tell, the scoring tiers are not exactly complementary: the lowest score, up to 14, is "downright shameful"!

It is a wonderful design, and the artwork is wonderfully evocative. The game is over in about 10 to 15 minutes, but each of those minutes is very tense (more so, I think, with my house rule), as you are racing through the caves to safety while pausing long enough to grab whatever you can.

(Goblin Mountain can also be played as a 2-player game, and while I have not played that yet, the rules look very interesting: it does away with the Goblin King, and you are instead racing each other. Each time a player moves a die, the value of every die that is behind the moved die's original position is lowered by 1.)


Total plays: 11 times
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15. Board Game: Micro Space Empire [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:9285]
Board Game: Micro Space Empire
Micro Space Empire is a popular PnP game designed by Robert Bartelli (barteus) to be "a short, solo, 'express' type game" that is quick to assemble and quick to play. In the game you attempt to build a space empire, by exploring near and distant star systems, developing your military strength, discovering new technologies, and resisting revolts and invasions.

You start the game with a single world in play, your home world, which you can never lose. You have no military strength, no wealth, no metal, and no technologies. Each turn, you can first explore a new world, by drawing a new card from one of the two star systems decks--from the near systems or from the distant systems deck if you have developed the appropriate technologies that can get you there. You can also attack that world in an attempt to make it part of your empire. This is done by rolling a die and adding your military strength. If the total is equal to or greater than the new world's resistance value (which ranges from 4 to 10), you have conquered and add the world to your empire. All worlds give you victory points and some also give you additional resources each turn. If, however, you fail to conquer the new world, you lower your military strength by 1, and leave the world sideways in play: it is unaligned and you do not gain any of its victory points or its resources, but you can try to add it again at a later turn.

After you have conquered, you harvest your resources--wealth and metal--and can then spend those resources to either improve your military or to develop new technologies.

Finally, at the end of the round, you draw an event card. These are varied: some give you extra resources, some prevent you from gaining resources the next turn, and others try to remove a conquered world from your empire (roll a die and add a modifier given on the event card: if the result is equal to or greater than the world's resistance, it becomes unaligned).

When the event deck is exhausted a second time (after 13 turns) the game ends. You calculate your score by adding the number of victory points you have scored (on each conquered world) to the number of technologies you have gained, with a few possibilities for additional bonus points (if you have developed every technology or conquered all worlds, for example).

Board Game: Micro Space Empire

(the end of the game; image by magic_erwt)


There are some interesting decisions to be made in the game. The distant worlds earn you the most victory points, but they require you to develop at least four different technologies. Moreover, they also cannot be explored while there is an unaligned world in play. Thus, while it is tempting to explore as many near worlds as possible to grant you more resources to develop those technologies, this is also risky if you are unable to conquer those worlds or they become unaligned. Although it is a very quick game, it thus rewards you to not explore and just gather the resources you already have each turn.

Ultimately, however, those decisions are dependent on the whims of the die. If you roll badly while conquering you not just do not gain a new world, but you also weaken your military, making it less likely for you to be able to conquer it at a later turn. The revolt and invasion event cards too decide the fate of your aligned worlds with a single die roll. There are ways to mitigate it. You can develop technologies that offer some protection against revolts and invasions, and if you bid your time and build up your military before exploring, you are more likely to succeed at building and preserving your empire. But these are difficult to do, because resources are scarce.

For me, the randomness of the die rolls plays too strong a role in the game. In the final game I played, I started slowly, built up my empire and some technologies, only to see it unravel in the second half of the game purely on bad die rolls. In one other game, I tried, turn after turn to conquer a new world, but even with an improved military failed repeatedly, until about halfway through the game.

However, if you do not mind such randomness and like to push your luck, Micro Space Empires is likely of interest. It is fun to try to build towards conquering those distant worlds, and to try to score a little more than you did the last time. Unfortunately, the reliance on luck outweighed this, and so I don't think I'll continue playing this.


Total plays: 4 times
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16. Board Game: Elevenses for One [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:7015]
Board Game: Elevenses for One
Elevenses for One, designed by David Harding (huffa2), is one of the more popular PnP game among solo gamers. In it, you are playing as a maid who needs to assemble everything required for tea--cups, tea, sugar, milk (yuk), plates, sandwiches, and so on--before the clock strikes 11.

The game consists of 13 cards: 2 cards are used to track the time, minute by minute. The remaining eleven cards are numbered and represent the various items you need to gather before time runs out, but also all contain an action you can perform.

Board Game: Elevenses for One

(the start of a game; image by chansen2794)


At the start of the game you place the tea trolley (card number 1) on the table, shuffle the remaining cards and place them in a random order besides the trolley. The goal is to get all these cards onto the trolley before you run out of time, but you can only do so in ascending order. Turn you can do one of three things:

1. If the first face-up card adjacent to the trolley is one higher than the top card of the trolley pile, you can "score" it by placing it on top of the trolley pile and performing the action on that card. This costs you 1 minute.

2. You can perform the action on the card, by flipping the card face-down. This costs you 1 minute.

3. You can discard a card, by placing it aside, to be scored later (with the action on one of the cards). Only three cards can set aside at a time. This does not cost you a minute.

The game ends when you have placed all 10 cards onto the trolley (you win) or when the clock strikes 11 (you lose).

It is a simple and light puzzle. At the start of the game, it can feel like an impossible job to get these cards into the right order and score them. The clock starts at 10.45, and so you just have 15 actions you can take each game (apart from discarding cards, but there are few ways to reclaim discarded cards), so there is little room for error. At the start of the game, you are allowed to move one card to the start of the queue but this costs you one minute, but apart from that the random order of the cards creates the unique puzzle you have to solve each game.

The puzzle is quite interesting. The actions on the cards let you flip cards face down, swap cards, or move cards in the queue. You try to use those abilities to get the next numbered card to be the first face-up card after the trolley so you can score it. Since the cards are placed randomly each game, this provides a different puzzle each game (although this may also, perhaps, create a puzzle that is unsolvable with just 15 moves).

Because you only have 10 cards and their 10 actions, however, each puzzle also feels alike, after a few games. The randomised setup provides some variety, but it is fairly minimal, because you'll be performing more or less the same actions to score the same cards each game. After a few games, when I figured out how the game worked (and especially how to best score the higher numbered cards), my enthusiasm for the game lowered a bit.

But even though you can figure out the basic idea of how the game works best fairly quickly, this is not an easy game. I've won only about a third of the games I've played, although I completed the trolley a number of times at 11 (which is a loss, but it feels like a very small victory nevertheless). Winning the game is quite nice, because it can seem so unlikely at the start, and it is that hope for victory that kept me returning to the game.

I might be able to improve my success rate if I continued playing it, but I'm not sure I'll try to do so, because the game does feel a bit repetitive after you've played it about a dozen times (even if those are spread out over a few weeks). Maybe this will be more interesting when some time has passed?


Total plays: 13
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17. Board Game: Micropul [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:2961]
Board Game: Micropul
I played my first solo game of this, and while I like the idea of this game a lot, I found did find the first game particularly engaging. I can see this work better as a 2-player game, but I'll see if I can find some decent solo variants, since the rules assume you are playing a 2-player game (the + tiles are rather redundant in a solo game!).


EDIT: For solo variants, see the link Lee posted in the comments. I've added two other variant rules:

1 You can only draw a tile when you connect a micropul with a catalyst. If at any point you can't play any tile in your hand, you lose.

2 Nothing can be placed next to a blank edge of a tile. This is the edge of the "board". (In other words, either the second or the third tile from the left on the bottom row in the image to the left could not be placed, because nothing can border the bottom left blank corner of the third tile from the left) (I no longer follow this rule)


1 September 2018: I printed and cut the micropul tiles out more than a year and a half ago. I printed the original tiles (pictured to the right), because they were black and white and because I liked the simplicity of them. I played the games about 2 dozen times (mostly by playing several games after each other), and liked it. With a few variant rules, I found this to be a neat solo puzzle. But then I stopped playing it a month or so later. I had fond memories of it, but just never wanted to pull it out.

I picked it up again at the beginning of the summer and during my first game (which I had to abandon) I realised why I never played this. The abstract simplicity of these tiles was actually a deterrent for playing this. The black and white circles look nice, but I found it very difficult to see, at a glance, where the groups I created began and ended. I decided to print out one of the many coloured versions carthaginian made. I printed out the blue and green version (2.2, pictured below) on very thick cardstock (so all the tiles and the 6 tokens would fit in a mint tin), cut out the tiles, and began playing it again.


Board Game: Micropul

(image by Jy0831)


What a difference the colour and contours make! It is so much easier to identify groups now and, to me at least, a lot more enjoyable to play. I've now played 3 more games of this. I follow the official solitaire rules, and use the following variant rules:

Quote:
1 You can only draw a tile when you connect a micropul with a catalyst. If at any point you can't play any tile from your hand, the game ends.

2 A + catalyst allows you to turn over a tile from the stack.
I'm thinking too of adding a score penalty for tiles left in the stack or your hand at the end of the game, to encourage you to build as big as you can, but haven't worked out the details for that yet. (The official rules actually rewards you for having extra tiles at the end of the game.) Big micropuls are only worth 1 point, as in the standard rules.

I did not score very high in the three games I just played: 31, 36, and 57, which falls in the "beginner" range according to the scoring table. But at least it is going up! I look forward to playing this again.


2 September 2018: Did I give the impression I was getting better at this game? Two more games, scoring 41 and 60, still in the "Beginner" rank. I realise that my own variant rule (you can't draw new tiles, except because of catalysts) makes this considerably more difficult. I sometimes have to play a tile suboptimally just so I can get access to new tiles. I also have great difficulty building more than 2 groups (1 green, 1 blue) at the same time--I find it nearly impossible to concentrate on a third at the same time. In my most recent games I played I was never able to place the third token, and so only got points on the two biggest groups I have constructed.


5 September 2018: In my attempt to builder ever bigger groups, I was running into difficulties. Blue and green strings quickly sprawled across the "board", but I'd run out of tiles and would be unable to close all of them. Of the seven additional games I played since my last post, I scored abysmally twice because of this problem: in the first game I was unable to score any points, but at the end of the game I had two unclosed groups, that would have scored 37 and 34 points. In a later game, I scored only 35 points, from a single group, with 2 additional ones I was unable to close (one worth 21 points, the other 13). As a result, I've become a bit more cautious: I first focus on building two groups, and then halfway through the game focus on closing them, while I build the third.

This approach works well, and my scores have increased a little: 61, 69, 72, 70, 68. I'm no longer a beginner, but normal!

To be honest, I don't quite know how to improve further. The groups I build are generally around the 25-35 points (counting the 4-dot micropuls as 1 point), and I don't see how I could improve that since I had hardly any tiles left at the end of the game. But since I had similar thoughts when I scored about 10-15 points lower, I keep trying!

I like the idea of the variant/challenge Mo has posted, which I'll likely try soon. It shouldn't be difficult to create additional ones.

I really enjoy this game (especially with these colour tiles). It is a fun puzzle that is not too taxing, but still a challenge each time I play it.

I have added one additional rule to my games:

Quote:
3 When you activate a . or .. catalyst, you do not have to draw a tile or place a token on a group; this is optional.


(The rules do not state this is mandatory, but imply it. But since the biggest problem has been running out of tiles in my recent games, I've made that optional in the last 2 games I played. I'm not sure yet whether I'll keep this rule: it was a nice challenge to stay ahead of the dwindling tile pile, but it is nice to too to be able to build without that constraint. How do you play it?)


15 September 2018: I've been trying Mo's variant: Micropul Seven. This variant follows the standard solitaire rules of Micropul, but instead of trying to create 3 big groups, you try to create as many that are exactly 7 points as possible.

I like it. It adds some variation to a game I already like, and adds a level of difficulty to it. At the end of the game you tally your score on two aspects: the number of 7-point groups you created, and the number of tiles that are left in the pile and in your hand (the latter following the standard scoring rules: 2 points for each tile in the pile, 1 for each you have in hand).

I scored exactly the same for the first 3 games I played: 9/2 (building 9 7-point groups and ending each time with 2 tiles in hand). The fourth game I played, I scored 8/1 (1 tile in hand).

I don't know how I feel about the scoring of the standard rules, at least when you are playing solitaire. If you play it that when a . or .. catalyst is activated you have to draw extra tiles you don't have all that much control over the size of the pile, especially in this variant, since you nearly always have to play those catalysts to close a group of 7. For that reason, I have not been focussing much on the second score, and have just tried to create as many 7-point groups as I could (counting the big, 4-point tiles as a single point). 8 is a "solid" score, and 9 "excellent", so I'm not doing so bad, though the second score has been considerably lower than Mo's own.


21 September 2018: I'm really enjoying Mo's variant! It adds a very different challenge to the game. Obviously, to build as many clusters of seven as you can you have to plan very differently than if you can only build three and score as much as you can with those three, and I love this new challenge.

I've played 10 more games of this over the past week, all playing Mo's variant. I've scored pretty consistently: I can build about 9 easily, and generally end the game with only 2 or 3 tiles in hand. The highest I've scored is 10/2, which I managed twice. Now I'm trying to see if I can get 11, but this is proving a real challenge!

These have been my scores: 9/2, 8/7 (3 tiles in pile), 10/2, 8/10 (4 tiles in the pile), 9/1, 9/3, 10/2 (one tile short of creating 11...), 9/7, 9/3. I also lost one game with only 9 tiles placed since I could not draw any new ones (I follow my variant rule regarding . and .. catalysts, mentioned above).

As you can see, the second score is pretty predictable: I rarely end with many tiles in hand or in the pile. I generally don't care for this second score, but I do occasionally wonder how I could score higher on that.

17 November 2018: I still thoroughly enjoy this game, even though I don't seem to improve any further. I played three more games of Mo's variant and scored 9/3, 9/0, and 8/3. This game made my top 20.


13 January 2019: I played two games using the standard solo rules (with my own house rules). The first game I scored 67 points (having groups of 31, 27, and 9). The second game I tried to build two groups as big as I could, which was quite fun. I scored better than the first game: 70 points (one group was 38, the other 32). That still places me in the "normal" category, according to the scoring table.

I still quite enjoy this game, and its very small size (my copy, including glass beads, fits into a mint tin) means it is easy to carry with me. But I also wonder whether I can actually improve. My score hasn't improved much, despite repeated play, whether I play the standard solitaire rules or Mo's variant. This hasn't reduced my enjoyment of it yet, but I wonder whether it will.


1 July 2019: Three more games, once playing the standard game with the above mentioned solo rules (I scored just 58 points, which isn't great), and twice with Mo's variant, Micropul Seven (scoring 9/5 and 9/7).

I did not enjoy the standard solo variant all that much, to be honest, but I found Mo's variant a lot more interesting. I'm not sure how often I'll still pull this out, since I don't seem to be able to improve any further--either because I lack the skill or because, as I generally suspect, the game doesn't let you go much beyond what I score. But when I do play this again, I suspect I'll mostly be playing Mo's variant, which provides a more interesting solo experience.


5 February 2020: Six more games, all with Mo's variant. I stopped the double scoring, and now only count how many groups of 7 I can create. I scored a 10, 10, 11, 2, 9, and 10. The 2 score was because I draw very bad tiles which, no matter how I would have placed them, would have allowed me to draw more tiles (following my own variant rules, outlined above), and so I got stuck after I created two groups.

As I mentioned before, I've more or less reached the scores I'm likely to ever get, and don't seem to improve any further, possibly because that might not be possible. But whereas before I thought this would mean I'd not play this any further, I see it now quite differently. I still enjoy this game, and I now just try to score 10 points (i.e. form 10 groups of 7).


E 13 December 2020: 4 more games of Mo's variant, played over several weeks. I'm still enjoying this, especially with the Micropul Seven rules, but I've also played this so often now, that the occasional game of this here and there is more than sufficient for me now.


Total plays: 69 times (of which 29 playing Micropul Seven).
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18. Board Game: A Weaver in the Forest of Wyr [Average Rating:5.89 Unranked]
Board Game: A Weaver in the Forest of Wyr
A Weaver in the Forest of Wyr is a simple puzzle game by Todd Sanders (dumarest123) in which you place 44 cards of four different suits and 11 different numbers in a sequence during setup and then try to remove as many as you can to score points. When two cards of the same number or suit are either adjacent or separated by exactly two cards, you can remove one of them, either to the discard pile (to gain points at the end of the game) or to your "basket", to use them later to remove four special ("keiju") cards from the game. At the end of the game, you score 10 points for each keiju card you remove and 1 point for every card in the discard pile, and you suffer -10 for each keiju card that is still in play and -1 for every other card still in play.

The game can be played with a standard deck of cards (which I did), though the game's custom cards are, as always with Todd Sanders, very pretty and would add much enjoyment to the game.

I like this one. It has simple rules, you require nothing more than a simple deck of playing cards, setup is quick, and the game play is quite relaxing while still providing an interesting puzzle to solve. The rules state to place the cards in four rows of 12 cards, which requires quite a large playing area, but 6 rows of 8 cards works just as well.

I've been looking for more engaging solo games I can play with a single deck of playing cards, so that I have more choices when I travel with just a deck of cards. It isn't a game I see myself playing very regularly, but Weaver in the Forest of Wyr is ideal for this, though I would have to print out one of the rule cards that specifies what each keiju card requires, as those are not easy to remember.

Scores: 33, 64, 60, 60.


Board Game: A Weaver in the Forest of Wyr

E 12 December 2020: If I had printed the custom cards that were created for this game, I think I would play this more often. The artwork is lovely and somehow very soothing. The game itself is quite relaxing, but since I've been playing it with a plain deck of playing cards, it is basically stripped down to its bare mechanics, without the thin veneer of theme that the custom cards would add.


I've played this a few more times recently, in the evening before going to bed. I like the puzzle of trying to remove all cards, though I never think very far ahead. I just see what cards I can remove now, and what I may be able to do next, but have no grand strategy in mind. It works quite well, that way, and makes for a calming but more engaging Patience-like experience. I tend to end with still four cards in play, though I've had a few complete victories as well (I forgot to note down my scores). I've enjoyed the game, even though it takes quite a lot of space to play, but I don't see myself playing it again unless I craft the cards with the themed artwork, and I don't think I like the game enough to put that effort into it when there are plenty of other games I could play.


Total plays: 8 games
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19. Board Game: Ukiyo [Average Rating:7.73 Overall Rank:10532]
Board Game: Ukiyo
Ukiyo is a game designed by Ian Walton (Walnut Games) that was recently successfully funded on Kickstarter. The designer also released the free PnP file, and since this seemed like the sort of game I would like, I thought I'd try it out.

There are 16 cards in Ukiyo. Each has 6 symbols on them, in any combination of acorns, cherry blossom, origami crane, and a butterfly. Each card is also numbered and has a specifies a task.

In the solo game, you attempt to complete 20 challenges, which start easy but become increasingly harder. Each challenge tells you to take 3 or 4 specific numbered cards from the deck before the game starts. In order to complete the challenge, you have to achieve the tasks written on those cards. Each turn you draw a card and place it adjacent to an already placed card or partially or fully overlap an already placed card, while never creating a grid of more than 6x6 symbols large. Once all cards have been played, the game ends.

Board Game: Ukiyo

(an example of a completed game; image by EllenM)


The tasks on the cards are varied: they might ask you to form a diagonal line of four acorns, or to complete the 6x6 grid while all corners have the same symbol, or to have no more than 6 flowers visible at the end of the game, or to create a 2x3 rectangle of any symbol, and so on.

If, after you have played the final card, all tasks of the challenge are completed, you win and can move on to the next challenge.

The basic idea of Ukiyo is very simple. The first challenges are rather easy too. For the first one, for example, you need to complete the 6x6 grid, create a vertical or horizontal line of four flowers, and create a diagonal line of four acorns. But gradually the challenges become more difficult. There are 5 easy challenges, 5 medium, 5 hard, and 5 brutal ones. I am currently stuck at the challenge 15, the final hard challenge. The early ones I was able to complete on the first try. Challenge 13 (hard) has so far been the most difficult one: I attempted that 18 times before I finally won!

At these higher levels of difficulty, luck plays a stronger role than it does on the easier levels. In many of the challenges I've so far played, you win or lose mostly based on how well you play your cards. But some of these really difficult challenges are much more difficult if you do not draw the cards in the right order. For example, in challenge 13 you need accomplish three things: 1) complete the 6x6 grid and have more flowers around the perimeter than any other symbol; 2) create a vertical or horizontal line of four flowers; and 3) have no more than 6 flowers visible in total. There are three cards with 3 or more flowers on them; if you do not draw them early enough, you will lose the game, because you won't be able to cover these flowers with other cards. So far, it has not yet lowered my enjoyment of the game, though.

I've greatly enjoyed the game so far. The cards are lovely. Each game is a very quick and interesting puzzle, and each time I failed one of the harder challenges, I'd be compelled to give it just one more try.

An excellent and beautiful little solo game!


Total plays: 38 times

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20. Board Game: Land 6 [Average Rating:6.09 Overall Rank:10480]
Board Game: Land 6
A very simple game, that is incredibly easy to make and learn. All you need are 6 tiles (one sheet to print), 6 cubes, and 7 dice.

You are the "Lord of the Dice". You deploy, move, or strengthen your armies, and have to defeat the "Lord of the Cubes" whose stronghold is at the other end of the land, by moving one of your armies (dice) into his city.

Very quick to learn, very quick to play. I haven't won yet.

(There are nicer looking, colour tiles available in the Files section. I used the black and white tiles that came with the rules, pictured to the left, as they are easier/cheaper to print.)


E 8 December 2020: Land 6 was one of the first PnP games I played. Back then, I played this 9 times, and lost each game. I gave up on it, thinking the game too difficult. It seemed like a nice puzzle, but one that was just a bit too challenging.

Recently, as I was exploring games with tiles, I decided to give this one another try. I printed out the Land 6 - Catanesque Color Tiles, and remembered then that the stark black-and-white aesthetic of the tiles that come with the rules added a tiny extra obstacle back when I first played this.

I'm really glad I revisited this. I have now played this 12 more times, and really enjoyed each game.

At the start of the game you place the 6 numbered tiles on the table, which land 6 on the left and land 1 on the right and the remaining four tiles in two rows between them. On these tiles you will place dice to perform actions. You start the game with a single die in play, and each turn you will perform an action with one of your dice and then roll the enemy die to determine on which of the six tiles it will place one of its tokens. The goal of the game is to move one of your dice with a value of at least 3 to the city on tile 6, while tile 6 has no enemy token. If the enemy places all six of its tokens, you have lost the game.

Board Game: Land 6

(image by vilvoh)


Each land tile has 4 areas, one which you can place your dice and perform an action when you lower the value of its die by 1. A die on a field lets you increase the value of all other dice by 1. A die on a forest lets you fight against the enemy: you roll a die and on a 4-6 you can remove any enemy die. A die on a lake lets you reroll any die (unlike the other actions, this can be taken at any time during the game, to reroll any die, including an enemy die or a combat die). Finally, a die on a city space lets you either add a new die on an adjacent space, with a value of 6 minus the number of enemy dice in play; or you can any die to an adjacent field.

As mentioned, the enemy (the "Lord of the Cubes") tries to place new tokens at the end of each round. You roll a die, and if that numbered tile has no enemy army on it, you place a new token on it. However, if it already has a token, you need to reduce the value of all your dice on that tile by 1 or, if there are no dice on that tile, reduce a die in a city by 1. Since each action you perform also reduces the value of your dice, and since the value of newly placed dice decreases as the enemies increase, you quickly find yourself in real difficulty as your dice disappear.

The first few games I played now seemed to confirm what I thought all those years ago. This is a difficult game, and perhaps a bit too difficult. It seemed too determined by luck, especially in regards to the enemy's placement: a few unlucky rolls and you have lost the game in 6 turns.

But as I continued playing, I began to see what strategies worked and how to mitigate the game's dice rolls. Key is to keep your dice alive (a die of 1 will be removed when you use it to perform an action), and figuring out when to deploy new dice or move them. Lakes and fields are essential. As is patience.

I now win consistently, even at the highest difficulty level. I really enjoyed figuring out how to beat the game, although now that I have, there isn't much incentive to revisit the game, at least not in the immediate future. Still, I'm very glad that I gave this another try.


Total plays: 21 times.
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21. Board Game: Down [Average Rating:6.17 Unranked]
Board Game: Down
Down, designed by Douglas Rees (vialick), is "based off a traditional ladder game played in Korea". CyBadger praised the game on his list, which caught my attention. Since the game seemed original, can be played in hand, requires only nine cards, and plays in seconds, I thought I'd give it a try, even though I knew this was not the sort of game I'd love.

Eight of the nine cards have 5 straight vertical lines which are connected at various points with each other horizontally. Dotted across these lines are three different symbols: gold coins, which increase your score; blue stars, which can be spent at any time to move in any direction; green diamonds, which let you move instantly in any direction; and red hexagons, which end the game. The ninth card is used to track your score and the number of stars you have gathered.

From gallery of darkyeoman

(image from the rule book, showing a path card and the score card. The blue numbers on the sides of the path card are used to track the number of stars you have (you start with 3), by moving the path card up or down; the round numbers on the score card are used to track the number of coins you have, by moving the path card to the left or right)


You play the game by taking the eight cards in hand, placing your finger on one of the 5 vertical lines of the first card, and then moving downwards. Each time you come to a horizontal line, you have to use it to cross to the adjacent vertical line. When you reach the bottom of the card, you discard it and move onto the next card. If you ever run into a red hexagon, you have lost the game. If you reach the bottom of the eight card, you have won.

The game only really works if you move across the cards quickly, and do not give you much chance to scout ahead. (The rules state that if your finger ever stops moving, you lose a star, or a coin, or, if you have neither, the game.) The main decision you have to make is when to use a blue star so you can move in any direction of your choice, to either avoid the hexagons or to collect coins and stars.

This is obviously not a very complex game, and a game is over in seconds (the BGG page says it takes 3 to 8 minutes, which seems far too long). Tracking your score with the score card is a little fiddly, since you have to move the path cards both horizontally and vertically along that card to track the number of coins and stars you have, while also moving your finger across the path cards. But as a distillation of (what I assume is) a type of computer game, this works remarkably well.

There are few really original games, but this seems one of them. I'm glad I tried it and spent a few minutes with this game, even if this is really not my type of game.


Total plays: about 10
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22. Board Game: Ambagibus [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:12333]
Board Game: Ambagibus
Ambagibus, designed by P. D. Magnus (pmagnus), is a very straightforward tile laying game in which you are trying to complete a maze or dungeon. Each tile has one or more exists, each of which is marked with a number from 1 to 4. Each turn you must draw a new tile and then place it adjacent to one of the lowest exits of an already placed tile (i.e. if there are tiles with an exit numbered 1, you'll have to place the new tile adjacent to one of those 1 exits). When placing a tile, you cannot place it in such a way that it would block any exit with a wall.

The goal is to create a closed maze, in which there are no open exits. But this is difficult, so the real game is to aim for as few open exits as possible, and as few high-numbered exits as possible, since at the end of the game, you calculate your score by counting the values of all open exits. Or, in the advanced game, you try and create as many mazes with one set of tiles as possible: if you managed to create a closed maze before the tiles are depleted, you set all placed tiles aside and try to create another maze with the remaining tiles.

In addition to the maze tiles, there are 2 bomb tiles and 2 cave-in tiles. These can be placed on top of placed tiles. The bomb effectively neutralises the tile placed below it, and reopens all the exits that connect to it. The cave-in tiles similarly override the tile below it, but also seal all exits that connect to it. The careful placement of these special tiles is often key to completing a maze.

Board Game: Ambagibus

(image of the doodle tiles by the artist yamaraus)


Perhaps I am just a bad player and do not see the strategic depth of the game, but I think Ambagibus is a little too simple for my tastes. There is some strategic choice in placing the tiles---both in trying to create corridors that run back into themselves and in staying in control of the open exits so you have more choices to place newly drawn tiles--but I found that, ultimately, the order in which the tiles were drawn was far more influential in the outcome of the game than the choices I made. Because you have no choice in or foresight of what tile you'll have to play and are also limited as to where you can play it, when you fail to complete a maze or scored abysmally it is hard to see how you could have played better. It happened regularly that I'd have an almost complete maze, only to draw a tile with four exits late in the game, making a win almost impossible.

That said, I did play it 10 times and so returned to the game more than I would have thought. This is entirely due to the wonderful artwork of the doodle tiles, created by Marianne Waage (yamaraus) and pictured above. There is something very dreamy about building a maze with these tiles that I found quite relaxing, and playing with these bizarre maze tiles rather than the plain brick ones that come with the rules meant that at the end of the game I cared less about the points I scored because I had created a wonderfully weird maze that was its own reward.


Total plays: 10 times
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23. Board Game: Orchard: A 9 card solitaire game [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:1204]
Board Game: Orchard: A 9 card solitaire game
Since Orchard: A 9 card solitaire game--a game by Mark Tuck (tucky60) that began as an entry and then winner in the 2018 9-card PnP Contest--is probably the most popular game on this list. It was number 4 in the "top 100" games on the SGOYT aggregator for 2019, and is currently still at number 6.

(This is probably due, in large part, because of the successful Kickstarter of the game, which had nearly 2,500 backers, but I recall it being popular even before then. As far as PnP games go, with only 9 cards, this one is very easy to craft.)

What is all the fuss about? Orchard is a little abstract, tile placement game. You have nine cards, each with a combination of 6 trees of three varieties (plum, apple, pear) on them. You start the game with one card in play, and two cards in hand, and each turn play one card in such a way that at least one of its trees overlaps a tree of the same type already in play. These overlapping trees score you points at the end of the game, and this is tracked by dice: if there is only one overlapping tree of the same type, you place a die on it showing a 1; if there are two overlapping trees, you raise the die to 3; if there are three, you raise the die to 6; if there are 4 or more, you raise the die to 10 (using the 5-side of the die). Twice per game you can have one tree overlap a tree of a different type: when you do so, you place a "rotten fruit" token on the overlapping tree; this will give you -3 points at the end of the game, but also prevents you from playing another card on top of it later on.

When all 9 cards have been played, you calculate your score, by adding the values of each die in play, and subtracting any "rotten fruit" penalties.

Board Game: Orchard: A 9 card solitaire game

(image by the designer)


That is all there is to it. I've recently played 20 games of it, mostly in between other things. And it works very well. The game plays very quickly (5-10 minutes), and the decisions are interesting. It is a puzzle, but one where you are also pushing your luck, since you have no idea what cards will be coming up next. (There are 18 cards, but you play each game with a random selection of 9 of them.)

I've not been scoring very high, though: the highest I've scored is 48, but mostly I score between 33 and 40 ("Satisfac-tree" and "Remark-apple").


E 7 December 2020: 16 more games. Still enjoying this, though I do not seem to get better at this. My score still is somewhere between the low 30s and 40, with a few outliers (47 being the highest). Quick and clever little game.


Total plays: 36

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24. Board Game: Bandada [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:10450]
Board Game: Bandada
I've enjoyed Bandada, a game designed by Chase Estep (runnaman), far more than I initially thought I would. The game was designed as a two player game, in which you compete to score the most points, but also had a solo variant in which you played against a simple "AI". Later, however, the designer came up with a different way to play the game solo. How good the first solo variant is I do not know, as I've never even tried it. But the new "solo story mode" is a lot of fun.

In Bandada you are trying to capture birds and then try to feed them exactly what they like. The birds are represented by 12 cards, the food they love by 12 dice (d6, in three colours). The theme is rather abstracted, however: you won't be thinking about bird feed while playing the game.

The solo game is a clever puzzle. At the start of the game you roll all 12 dice, and then at the beginning of each round you draw 3 bird cards. You will claim one of those cards and discard the others (or, using a once-in-a-game special ability, place one of the unclaimed cards on top of the draw pile).

Board Game: Bandada

(image by the designer)


Each bird card has two aspects that come into effect when the card is claimed. The top of the card manipulates your dice: e.g., "flip 2 blue dice" or "give 1 red die +1 and split -2 between the green dice". When you claim the card, you must perform that action. The bottom of the card tells you how many points you score. At the end of each round you calculate your score for that round, using the bottom section of all the cards you have so far claimed. This score is always dependent on what value your 12 dice have. For example, one card gives you 1 point for every blue die that has a value lower than 4, or another gives you more points for each set of 3 you have in any colour. At the start of the game, you also draw 1 of 6 bonus scoring cards, which gives you additional options to score points at the end of the game.

The (new) solo variant has three scenarios in which you try to score an ever higher number of points (35, 40, and 45) but also need to claim one particular card in order to win.

Each round is a little puzzle, and that puzzle gets more difficult as the game progresses. Each turn you try and claim the card that will score you the most points with the dice you have, obviously, but you also need to keep the previously claimed cards in mind. The new card you'll claim will change your dice (you might have to flip or reroll some, or add or subtract from their values), and so possibly make your previously claimed cards harder to score--or easier, if things turn out nicely!

There is obviously a little luck in the game, since you never know what your 12 dice will be like when you start the game. But overall, I've found, choices really matter. Some strategies work well, and though simple, I enjoyed finding those and then trying to play to achieve them. For example,
Spoiler (click to reveal)
there are two cards that score a lot of points: one gives you 5 points for each "small straight" (four consecutive numbers) of a single colour, and one that gives you 5 points for any "large straight" (six consecutive numbers). You'll likely want at least one of these, and so you can look for cards that will adjust your dice in a way that they will gradually lead to this.


If you like quick but puzzly solo games and especially if you are fond of dice manipulation games, I highly recommend Bandada.


Total plays: 14 plays
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25. Board Game: Cheese Chasers [Average Rating:6.17 Overall Rank:10966]
Board Game: Cheese Chasers
Cheese Chasers, designed by Bran McMillin (bran), is a very simple tile laying game in which you try to score points by having mice tiles surround cheese tiles, while trying to avoid the cat and mousetrap tiles.

Each turn you draw a tile which you must place adjacent (orthogonally or diagonally) to the previously placed tile. There are four types of tiles: 20 mouse (half of all tiles), 9 cheese (almost a quarter of all tiles), 7 cat (), and 4 mousetrap. The goal is to surround the cheese tiles with mouse tiles. For each active mouse tile, you score 1 point at the end of the game; for each mouse orthogonally adjacent to a cheese tile, you score 1 additional point, and for each cheese tile that is orthogonally fully surrounded by mice, you gain an additional 10 points. If a group of cheese tiles is fully surrounded by mice, you get 10 points for each cheese tile and then double that score (so that 3 surrounded cheese would score you 60 points, in addition to the points you gain from the mice tiles and from being adjacent to a cheese tile).

Cats make this more difficult: any mouse that is orthogonally adjacent to a cat is rendered inactive: it will not score points, and cannot be used to surround cheese. The mousetraps similarly make the game more difficult. Unless they are surrounded by four mice, mousetraps are active, and when you have 3 active mousetraps, you automatically lose the game and score 0 points.

Board Game: Cheese Chasers

(image by chansen2794)


The difficulty of the game lies in the fact that you never know what the next tile you draw will be, and since you need to place each tile adjacent to the last played tile, it is difficult to plan ahead. You quickly learn that to play mice and cat tiles diagonally is often a safe move, since it allows you to place both cheese and mousetrap tiles more efficiently, but it is also risky. You risk not scoring many points, and also risk getting stuck when you try to score: if you ever cannot place a tile adjacent to the last one played, you lose the game and score 0 points.

Cheese Chasers is a quick, light, and simple game, that still requires some interesting decisions. But it is also very dependent on luck, and I think luck generally outweighs skill in this game. You learn quickly that playing diagonally is often the best option, but it is also not uncommon to lose quickly, when you draw 3 mousetraps early in the game with no possibility of rendering any of them inactive. Your final score can vary wildly too: one game I scored 111 points, but most other games I scored between 30 and 40 points (which isn't very good, if you consider that you gain 1 point for each of mouse tile that is not inactive). It is very satisfying when you are able to fully surround multiple cheese tiles and score high, but it is very difficult to achieve. Also, because your score can fluctuate so much, you don't feel like you are improving, just that the right tiles came out at the right time.


Total plays: 12 games
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