Continuing the count-down of the Box of Delights Top 100 solo games and it’s time to round out the first half of the list. You’ll find some real beauties here, though there were still a few very tough choices. There was an unpublished game here, but I decided to kick it out to make way for something you can go and buy. I need to save something for next year, right ?! Everything on the list from hereon in is a published game.
Here are the final choices for #60-51….
BOX OF DELIGHTS TOP 100 SOLO BOARD GAMES
60. Warfighter: The Tactical Special Forces Card Game (DVG)
Warfighter is a modern war game, though it’s not really a “wargame”. It’s a card game. A solo or co-operative card-game. DVG are renowned for giving us soloable games, even hex-and-counter wargames, without the need to “play both sides”. Warfighter delivers us what is better described as a dice-roller, since that is where most of the action is, but a large part of the fun is the meta-game of building your platoon, skilling them up and equipping them, with heaps of soldier, weapons, skills and equipment cards. It involves quite a bit of adding up your loadout cost as well as your resources cost, but it’s a very neat system. “Resources” is effectively how much money you have to spend, and “loadout” is how much you can physically carry. A mission through thick jungle might reduce your loadout, but a big burley soldier might be able to carry a large pack anyway, even if it does slow him down. I can spend as much time figuring out who and what I’m taking into the mission, as I do playing through the mission, and this meta game can be done away from the table. With a wealth of expansions, adding new units, new supporting equipment, as well as extending the out of the box Jungle and Middle East missions, you’ll find plenty to keep you playing and developing your team. I was a bit apprehensive about the theme, because it is still now and still raw, but this is just made-up game stuff, not reality. No theme is for everyone, right? It’s detailed in its coverage of modern units and equipment, but very simple to play and lots of fun!
59. Castles of Mad King Ludwig (Bézier Games)
What a surprise this game was! I was not a big fan of Suburbia solo (also designed by Ted Alspach) to which this game inevitable gets compared, but Castles is a whole lot of fun solo. Suburbia did not deliver enough to me in terms of reward for the amount of ‘work’ I had to do to play. Castles, on the other hand, isn’t so demanding, but instead lets you explore the tile laying puzzle and castle building aspect of the game, unburdened. This, it delivers, in a very playable, and relatively short amount of time. Forget comparing it to the multi-player game; it’s a different game. Play it for the solo game and you’ll have something that stands out, amongst this list of 100, as something unique in its mechanisms, and delightful in the end result that you see laying out before you after 25 mins of castle building. There are plenty of decisions to make, and you’ll get out of it what you put in. It’s a keeper for me!
58. Forbidden Desert (Gamewright)
Two games, now, from Matt Leacock, and the first on my list is the ‘sequel’. The choice of which ranks more highly is likely to divide many gamers. Certainly the mechanisms in Forbidden Desert (2013) can boast more originality, but when Forbidden Island was first published five years ago, it went on to become a 2011 Spiel des Jahres nominee, and it was
57. Forbidden Island (Gamewright)
in a field where co-operative Pandemic (2007) clones had not quite yet exploded (but were about to!) At the time it did feel packed with originality. Desert has a terrific modular board of shifting sands that, in waves, bury and reveal your objectives, blocking paths through the desert whilst opening up new ones. It turns the theme of Island on its head (in Island we must navigate a land that is slowly sinking into the sea), though the core feel of the game remains consistent. But, for me, Desert evokes a little bit more frustration, reminiscent of the cloggy-nightmareish dream when your legs just won’t move and you find yourself sinking into quicksand. It works beautifully, but Island just pips Desert in its more relaxed feel, its simplicity, and playability. The balance of effort versus reward on the Island is spot on. Forbidden Island did it first, and it has a special place on my shelf.
56. Descent: Journeys in the Dark – 2nd Edition (Fantasy Flight Games)
Yes, you can play Descent solitaire! Since its release in 2012, a number of expansions have added solo scenarios that control the otherwise asymmetric role of the treacherous Overlord, in this semi-coop modern-day classic. It would be placed higher, but the limitation of only 3 scenarios (though of course you can replay them) keeps it from the top half of our list. Forgotten Souls, Nature’s Ire and Dark Elements are your choices, making the most of the game-play available to the ‘good guys’. These scenarios will each leave a lot of the core game in the box, though, as only a small subset of the dungeon tiles and monsters will hit the table. But enjoy it, because these expansions will give you the Descent experience, when you feel like a solo dungeon crawl, with the most wonderful of components.
55. Galaxy Defenders (ARES & Gremlin Project)
Galaxy Defenders offers something a bit different to the soloist, since you are buying into this big box for its campaign play. This is all about developing your character(s), from mission to mission, as you progress through the scenario book. There are a lot of rules to get right, and a lot of rules to get wrong (!) But, if you want campaign solo or co-op play, with a dungeon-crawl feel but a sci-fi space theme, with lots of weapon upgrades and an AI that successfully sets the enemies at you, then you may just need one game, and this is it. Although you can play each scenario standalone, this still isn’t quite enough for me to get it to the table more often. Footprint and setup time (though there is a free app that solves the proplem of recording progress of your characters between scenarios) mean it rarely gets a play, despite the richness of gameplay it tempts you with.
54. Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game (Plaid Hat Games)
Dead of Winter is one of those games that only just squeezed through the selection criteria. It has hidden information, and it has a traitor element, and is usually played competitively or semi-cooperatively by groups. The traitor element is optional, so that’s no problem for the soloist, but there are also story decision points (‘Crossroads’ cards) that remain hidden from all but one player (a different player each turn), who has the task of triggering that action should it occur. But check the Box of Delights play-through and you’ll see how simple it is to work around and play solitaire (basically you can plan your turn before revealing the trigger event, or JUST reveal the trigger event without understanding its consequences). Meanwhile, there is now a companion app (despite my aversion to digital interventions) that helps you overcome this problem by shuffling and presenting the Crossroads cards, asking you to tap to show the trigger for the event, and only later showing you the consequences. Neat huh? So what makes this one worth the extra effort? The story is wonderfully crafted, the artwork beautifully captures the cold and dreaded atmosphere, and the gameplay is very fluid. It can be tough, but it is exciting…!
53. Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game (Fantasy Flight Games)
This will be a very popular choice. This came in at number 5 on the BGG 2014 People’s Choice Top 100 Solo Games list. So why not so high on my list? Let’s start with the theme. The theme is great. I don’t really know the Warhammer universe, but those aliens look mean, and the heros look meaner. The design is very neat, and unique, it’s a small box that gives a very big experience. So, let’s look at those mechanisms. The use of cards is ingenious. The corridor of cards is supplemented with doors and vents, and control panels, and aliens bursting in on you from each side. But the corridor is narrow (or our space-suits are very wide), because as the aliens zip around us, tongues lashing and claws scratching, our heros are forced to shuffle past each other with a polite “excuse me”, “sorry to be a bother”, and as we try to turn around to face the enemies behind us our strappings get caught in the air conditioning and we trip over our own boots, and we look a sorry sight trying to do a 180, like a string of line-dancing hippos. Yes, okay, my imagination has wandered, but it’s okay, that all works just fine as it goes. The real setback is those die-rolls. It feels like they are so much more significant than they should be. You struggle to reorganise your men, you pick the right abilities, you strategise with deft card-play and work things out in all your cleverness, and then you roll…. and it misses… and it happens again, and again, and you run out of options and you sink quickly into… well, I’m not sure where Warhammer space hulk people go to die. I presume an elephant graveyard. But that’s all it is, a small niggle. It’s a lovely design. I enjoy playing it, but I feel the need for a house-rule to stop those dice being so significant. Gosh, I just made myself want to play it again!
52. Runebound – 2nd Edition (Fantasy Flight Games)
Wow, this game is 10 years old now, and I fear its life is about to end with a 3rd Edition on its way. So not “ended”, but “reborn”. There have been some significant rule changes in 3rd Edition, but we’ll save that for 2016’s list! For now, Runebound 2nd Edition remains a brilliant game and one the soloist can get much joy from. It does work better as a 2 or 3 player game I think, but there are plenty of fan-made solo variants (possibly because the out-of-the-box rules, played solo, don’t quite hit the sweet spot). If you can get hold of them, the mini-deck expansions add a tonne of variety, and that’s what this game is all about. There are so many adversaries to face, so many weapons, spells, and artefacts to find. It truly is a romping adventure. With a neat little mechanic for moving (the handful of dice have terrain icons on each face, you roll, and spend those dice to move across the various terrains you see on the board). You will love roaming, open-world style, from town to town, across hills and streams, along roads and mountain passes. You will encounter strangers and allies, and game-changing events, as you level-up to a climactic game-ending battle. As a traditional fantasy solo adventure there is little that can beat Runebound. It doesn’t have great depth of play, but that’s not what it’s about. The fun is in all the ‘stuff’ that will have you racing across the map to trade for, and the delight you’ll get from unleashing your ever more powerful equipment on the army of enemies you’ll find scattered across the land.
51. Friday (Rio Grande Games)
I can’t believe there hasn’t been a play-through of this on Box of Delights! Friday should be a staple in any soloist’s collection. Once you start playing, you’ll be playing game after game after game…. Designed by the fella with green hair, Friedemann Friese, a designer who likes to use F words in his titles (not that one, potty mouth!) Yes, even Power Grid was Funkenschlag in his native tongue. Friday has a design that designers like to call “elegant”. It’s fun, it’s adorable, it’s a challenging puzzle, it plays quickly, and it has a player-count of ONE. I can find no fault in it. It’s wonderful! The only problem, if there is one, is there isn’t more of it. Where’s the expansion?! Love, love, loved it! But I’ve stopped playing Friday now. I played it to death. It’s not so high on the 2015 list because everything above it gets played more. It’s been overtaken because I’m looking for more depth now we’re approaching the top 50. If you haven’t played, then I’m envious, because you still have the novelty to enjoy. I need that neuralyzer thingy that blats my memory. As it stands, though, no game higher on the list is easier, and that’s where Friday will sit, capping off the games that went before, as we start to find ourselves more challenged….