Here it is then folks, my number 1 solitaire game in the list of 100. Let me tell you where I started in gaming. I mean serious gaming, not Monopoly, or Ludo, not Snakes & Ladders or Sorry! I started real gaming when I was about 9 years old, and that was with Chess. Chess obsessed me for quite a few years. I found a book in the school library called Chess for Young Beginners (Collins, 1975).
It was full of colourful pictures of knights on horseback, with speach-bubbles shouting out the important rules and tactics. For the first time, an abstract game was something with a meaning, something with a theme. Those weren’t just pieces on a board, they were brave infantrymen and gallant knights, a proud king, and a fearless queen. They could be cunning, they could lay traps, they could use forked attacks and they could tempt their enemy with sacrifices before striking with an unseen blow.
Not until now has a game captured my imagination in the same way, and delivered that same level of abstract tactical play that had me puzzling over a board for hours on end as a child.
I have fond memories of the games of chess I played as a child with my Grandfather, so much more satisfying than with the kids at school or in tournaments. We enjoyed each other’s company, we bonded, and we both looked forward with anticipation to when we might play again. Whilst the mothers were gossiping over cups of tea, we were unleashing armies and out-thinking each other with cunning and guile. Now I’m a father myself, with a busy job and with a lot of time away from home, time out with friends to play games is a very rare opportunity. This is why my “Top 100 solitaire games” exists, and why the game that’s sitting in the number 1 spot has taken a special place on my table. I discuss the growing passion for solo gaming here, so I shalln’t dwell on it any longer. Suffice to say, my number 1 game gives me the same challenge, the same hunger, the same enthusiasm I had as a child with Chess. At its heart it’s an abstract positional game, but each piece has its own stats, its own abilities, its own health and its own place on the battlefield. This time, though, the battlefield is an arena, and the game is Hoplomachus…
1. Hoplomachus (Chip Theory Games)
Hoplomachus is a squad tactics game of arena champions and gladiators competing for glory in the ancient civilisations of Rome, Pompeii, Atlantis, Xanadu, El Dorado, and most recently against the Carthagians and the Huns.
If you ask why I play board games over video games, the answer is not just because I prefer the pace of board games, but I absolutely love the tactile experience of a physical board game. And my favourite board game is the most tactile of all, with very little cardboard in sight. Its stacks of weighty plastic chips, neoprene gaming mats and collection of custom dice, all go to make this one of the most sensory experiences in gaming. The clacking of the chips, the tumbling of the dice, and their saltation as chips and dice come together on the bounciness of the mat, punctuate a game that gives you the depth of an abstract with the drama of a thematic.
“Adam and I invest as much time in the visual and touch aspects of our games, as we do into gameplay and strategy.” [Josh Carlson, Chip Theory Games]
The game asks the soloist to take on arena beasts, criminals, bosses, titans, and the champions of Rome. In battle re-enactments you’ll face Hannibal Barca and Attila the Hun. You’ll be fighting for the honour of your royal house, for the favour of the crowd, and you’ll be fighting for your reputation. Oh yes, in PvP play you will be awarded House Rep, that you will carry with you from game to game like a Chess Grandmaster carries his or her Elo.
Hoplomachus is actually now a series of games. There are three large boxed games. The first was The Lost Cities, featuring the Pozzouili arena, where gladiators can combat each other for glory in the 2-player game, or you can re-enact the venationes by taking on the arena beasts solitaire or co-operatively, with up to 3 players.
A ‘solo bundle’ adds to this arena, offering up the elephants of Hannibal or the Huns of Attila as your rivals. This sits alongside further mini-expansions Legends of the Sand, Blades Edge, and my personal favourite Beast and Master, which sees your gladiators supported by trained beasts such as the Emerald Falcon and the mighty Slateback Gorilla.
Next was Rise of Rome, which took us to the Colosseum and introduced the Titans, each driven by its own unique AI, giving the soloist a completely new experience with the game, with increasingly challenging opponents more sensitive to the game state.
Most recently, introducing a series of 20 solo trials where you must face the champions of Rome in a series of smaller, more intimate arenas, is Origins. This latest set builds on the idea of controlling opponents with an AI script, and once more these opponents become more sophisticated in the way they compete with you to complete the arena challenges or else drench it in your blood.
“Adam’s ingenious unit rating system allowed us to toy with health, move range, attack dice, even skills, and instantly come away with a pretty good idea of how that unit stacked up to its comrades.” [Josh Carlson, Chip Theory Games]
Rise of Rome and Origins, with their devotion to solitaire play, are what took this game to the top spot on my list. From the drafting of units, to the abstract tactics that will have you mulling over the table, trying different moves and continuations, as you seek the plays that will trap your opponent or mitigate the risks he/she imposes. Finally, with a throw of the dice, the drama unfolds and your analysis of the possible outcomes, and the risks you were prepared to take, will either reward you or punish you. Those moments of high drama are what keep gaming exciting. This game is not a complex brain-burning exercise like Chess, and its not an inconseqential random experience like Snakes & Ladders. It’s a dream to play, a pleasure to own, and a luxury every time its gets to the table.
“The Hoplo series offers many modes of play with dedication and intentional effort given to each.” [Josh Carlson, Chip Theory Games]
At the moment you can only purchase this game via the Chip Theory Games website, having funded and delivered all games to date via Kickstarter. But they have ambitions of distribution worldwide, so hold on tight…
“It’s amazing and quite humbling to look back and see where we started and where we have grown to in just a few years! We didn’t do this on our own! It was because of all the support and trust others gave us that we even exist today! Thanks to those people, we have established ourselves as Chip Theory Games LLC. We look forward to growing the recognition of our name in the industry as a company that prides itself on quality, innovation, depth, visual asthetics and of course; FUN!” [Josh Carlson, Chip Theory Games]
Find out more about Chip Theory Games here.