Continuing the run-down of the Box of Delights top 100 solo games, let’s look at #90-81 ….
BOX OF DELIGHTS TOP 100 SOLO BOARD GAMES
90. Valley of the Kings (Alderac Entertainment Group)
Valley of the Kings is a wonderful little deck-builder. It’s a tough genre to compete in these days, but AEG have done something really neat by giving us a little card game, in a small box, with a small footprint. The best part is the layer of depth, more typical of a strategic euro, added by the pyramid. A deck-builder will always have an offer of cards available to the players with which they can upgrade their deck. In VotK, the pyramid of cards sees players taking from the bottom with cards cascading down to take their place. Coupled with this is that this is a set-collection game, which is a bit out of left-field for a deck-builder. Both these elements give a pleasant strategic depth to an otherwise run of the mill “cards equal purchase power and/or playable effect”, of deciding where to pull the card from in order to have the cards cascade to your advantage. AEG have recognised the market for a solo variant, and what was an unofficial variant is now a set of solitaire rules promoted by their website and boxed in their follow-up expansion. The game is repetitive, and maybe could do with being a little shorter, but the theme is great, the footprint is a great selling point, and the ease of play and combination of mechanics make this one a winner!
89. The Game: Spiel…so lange du kannst! (Nurnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag)
Spiel…so lange du kannst! is a radical twist on the klondike solitaire. The numbers go up, the numbers go down, you know it’s very simple. But is it? You get rid of all your cards by following the simple rules and you win. This game makes it feel like you SHOULD be winning every time, and it’s only because you’re rubbish, and your memory is failing, and you should have played that card, not that one… it has you bang to rights. And that’s hard to do in a design, especially when it’s just a deck of cards numbered 1-99 shuffled randomly. It’s simple, it’s addictive and it will keep you reaching for one more try…
88. Circus Train – 2nd Edition (Victory Point Games)
Circus Train plays really well solo, with a built-in variant included in 2nd Edition. The game can turn into a bit of a mathematical entanglement, and you may do quite a bit of number gymnastic trying to beat your best score. The game plays quickly and scales up to 5 players. The artwork is wonderful, and it’ll have you humming a circus tune as you navigate your train from town to town picking up new acts and finding the best place to put on a show. The theme is quite detached from game, though, with the artwork doing all the work to immerse you in its world. But as a solitaire game that has you trying to optimise your plays more than many on this list, it’s a well rated title, and the second on the list designed by Tom Decker (alongside AD30). Play with the advanced rules for more variability, since you do lose a little from the multi-player game, and you’ll get a fair amount of play from Circus Train. Highlights are the way the game seeds the board, keeping the game ticking along at a nice pace.
87. Serpent’s Tongue (UnBound Games)
Serpent’s Tongue promised so much, and it has earned its place on the list because of the ambition and originality of its design. The publishers have hit some financial difficulties, which has been a real shame for them and the game, because it begs to be played. The rules have undergone some work following its initial Kickstarter release, though the components remain unaltered and of a superbly luxurious quality. For example, the original rules had Magi voicing the spells through a learned language, but this is now optional. The solo rules have you taking on Encounters in a duel of magic casting from a spellbook you create from your archive of cards. A solo campaign, Out of Eden, has yet to emerge, but the fan-made Encounters that support the ones in the box are enough to keep the soloist busy. There is a whole world of language and lore surrounding the game, which those so inclined can get immersed in, but even though this is not for me, the bottom line is that there is some real meaty gameplay at the root of this game. Clear away the fluff and there is still a lot going on in the sequence of play, managing your cards and resources, as well as being able to pull off some elaborate card combinations. I’m hoping the publishers can find the strength to continue to make their entire vision for the game a reality, because for something very ambitious, and possibly appearing too niche, there is the core of a game there that could reach and be enjoyed by a wider market.
86. Les Poilus (Sweet November)
Les Poilus (aka The Grizzled) is a co-operative game for 2-5 set in the trenches of World War I. But this is no war game. You don’t get to battle anybody. Instead you battle to survive the traumas of war. The sentiment surrounding this game is one of protest against war. You play Les Poilus, an endearing nickname for the bearded and bushy haired infantryman of France, who were thrown into an unwelcoming environment, trying to hold out against a barrage of bombs, bad weather and fear. The game is recognised for the artwork alone, penned by cartoonist Bernard Verlhac (otherwise known as Tignous), killed in 2015 in the Charlie Hebdo shootings. The comic artwork and endearing title levitate the game from being too sombre, to something quite jolly, with cups of coffee [tokens] passed between comrades as they try to help eachother maintain a laissez-faire attitude to the bombs flying overhead. The game can be played solo, with the operation of two players and a single dummy player, to give a satisfying puzzle as you try to manage your cards and the threats being presented. The logically minded will love the challenge, whereas those who prefer to throw dice and bash heads may wonder what the point is. Experiencing the game is what it is about. It’s a gift.
85. 12 Realms (MAGE Company)
Ever wanted to take on the fairytale villains as Little Red Riding Hood, Sinbad, Robin Hood or Snow White? Ever wondered what would happen if all those familiar characters were thrown together in a world where the Fairy Forest sits alongside the Nile Valley alongside the Cherry Blossom Realm? That’s 12 Realms! This game is everything you’d expect from a thematic co-operative adventure game: card-play, dice-rolling, combat with spawning enemies, treasures to find. There are more adventure games like this on the list, as these types of games play so well solo, but these others deliver more advanced, deeper, gameplay. 12 Realms is more family friendly, with well crafted miniatures and colourful artwork. There are lots of expansions and lots of fun to be had from each of them, as they introduce new ideas to the game, new scenarios to play through, and added layers of complexity. I might have said it was kind of your ‘vanilla’ adventure game, in that it offers a comprehensive collection of mechanics from these types of games at their most familiar and basic level. But perhaps it is a little more than that: vanilla with sprinkles and a great dollop of strawberry topping!
84. Merchant of Venus – 2nd Edition (Fantasy Flight Games)
I can only describe Merchant of Venus as ‘Elite as a board game’. It’s a wonderful thing. You pilot your trade ship around the galaxy, from planet to planet, buying low and selling high, or taxiing wealthy passengers from place to place. You will meet asteroids and pirates along the way, and you can upgrade your ship, improving its weapons, its shields, its speed, or skilling up your pilotship. What’s more, the 2nd edition has a new solo game, with missions to complete instead of simply making more profit than your competitors. It is a lot of fun to play, and a great way to get the game to the table. But the only thing holding it back is the limited play you’ll get from the solo challenges. For me, one of the beauties of MoV is the profiteering and the freedom to roam from planet to planet. The solo variant takes this away, because it is so demanding on your time that you don’t have room for exploring and freewheeling. You can play without the solo challenges, and just explore the game, which can be satisfying, but it still loses a few points for what it takes away from the multi-player experience, possibly more than any other game on this list. It’s a beautifully crafted game, and the solo variant is greatly appreciated and well executed. Give it a go, but you WILL want to play multi-player!
83. The Witches: A Discworld Game (Treefrog Games)
I don’t know Terry Pratchett’s Discworld story or its universe, and I imagine I lose a little from the experience as a consequence, but playing this game does have a sentimental feel, like I’m playing a game that is well loved. Once more this is a co-op that can be solo’ed, and once more it is family friendly and relatively simple to play. It’s a Martin Wallace design, all of which I have enjoyed to date, and one that still sits under the banner of Treefrog Games (look out for Ships, which may well be the final game from the Treefrog shed). Cackling witches, in-between drinking cups of tea and casting spells, will be trying to solve challenge after challenge in an adventure game that relies heavily on its background story – it is, after all, Terry Pratchett’s name that earns the headline box-front credit. It fits well on the list because it is a lovely gateway game of this type for the family, as well as a no-nonsense solo romp. The rules are well streamlined, well delivered, and unfaulting in their mechanics. It loses a few points for its repetitiveness, but gains on production value and playability, earning it a well respectful spot at 83.
82. Tales of the Arabian Nights (Z-Man Games)
What a game TotAN is! Multi-player this game is going to be rated very highly. It’s a competitive game, but solitaire you can simply take the game for a ride on an extended solo-adventure. The game is much more about the unfolding story than your traditional ‘play to win’. If you’ve not seen it (you must!) it uses a story book, coupled with randomly generated encounters, to tell its tale. Your character will develop its own personality, with the storybook inviting you to roleplay your character to fit his or her personality traits. The story is goal-driven, as you track your way across the globe in search of lost treasures, secret knowledge, or peoples lost to their pursuers. The stories that can be told feel endless, and it does become a bit of a challenge wielding the heavy storybook on your own rather than shared amongst companions. There is certainly joy in recounting the stories amongst those sharing the game with you, but if you have the right kind of imagination, and are happy just to see where the game takes you, then this game can be very rewarding solitaire. When a textbook is too heavy going and a novel too predictable, or you just want to throw some dice to the wind, then put down your book and pick up Tales of the Arabian Nights instead.
81. Level 7 [Escape] (Privateer Press)
L7 [Escape] got quite a hard time from reviewers when it came out. To be fair, it came out at a time when its cardboard-standees were getting swept away by the wave of kickstarted miniatures games. But it also suffered because of its not so well structrured rulebook (yes, some important rules were hidden away in its poorly flowing text). But the game is actually deeply atmospheric and delivers a pretty good adventure game (which is quite a consistent theme amongst this list from 90-81). This time our heros are trapped in a space station invaded by aliens, trying to escape, with meagre equipment and surviving on fear and adrenalin. And, almost ahead of its time, the game uses a co-op mechanism that has players able to distract enemies, via the enemy AI, by making one player or another the biggest threat to the aliens. Players will need to control their adrenalin level, balancing their fight-or-flight instincts against a cool-headed composure. As in all good adventure games, the heros can equip themselves with better gear, and will use abilities on cards to mitigate the dangers they face as they complete each scenario. Once you’ve spent some time getting familiar with the rules, and you don’t mind a bit of horror with your cup of cocoa, then you’ll find Level 7 [Escape] a rewarding solo adventure, in an environment that seeks to scare you, with your own heartbeat rising to that of the heros you’re playing.