Posted in Enthusiast Games, Short length, Solo play review

The Isle of Cats — solo play review

Functional “Cat Setup” included.

“Quite simply the new polyomino game standard bearer for the solo player.”

Summary:

The Isle of Cats is an Enthusiast level game of Short length.  The base game is playable by 1 to 4 players.

Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length.

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

The Isle of Cats has a built-in solo mode.

The best bits of this game are:

1. the marriage of simple gameplay rules with complex gameplay decisions

2. the solo game, while maintaining core gameplay elements, pushes beyond the multiplayer game to become the best iteration of The Isle of Cats

The worst bit of The Isle of Cats is the unavoidable problem when the player is subject to the mercy of random draw, particularly regarding rescuable cats.

Review:

Frank West and The Isle of Cats are certainly having their moment. And I can say it’s well-deserved as The Isle of Cats is quite simply the new polyomino game standard bearer for the solo player. It shows the potential of the genre that goes beyond “gateway” tile placement.

At its core, The Isle of Cats is a polyomino tile placement game that utilizes a round-renewing economy and a card draft system. Victory points are primarily based on placement, covering or filling different areas on the player board, as well as fulfilling optional and variable scoring objectives. The rules are straightforward and the individual player boards contain the essential information of round structure and scoring framework.

It is important to not confuse “easy to play” with “easy.” The players’ objective is much more complex than simply covering a boat with cats. There are several decision points including drafting useful cards, deciding whether to pay for them, determining initiative, and pursuing both private and public scoring objectives through tile placement.

Drafted lesson cards in a solo game.

The one minor drawback of the game is that there are times where the player is at the mercy of the dreaded draw. Whether referring to card draw or tile draw, options may be, at times, limited through no fault or choice of the player. Sometimes, the right color cat is just not available. Or the player receives a lesson card that is impossible to fulfill, especially when it comes late in the game.

The game utilizes an AI opponent, “Sister.” Like the game itself, she is elegantly designed to create a formidable foe with minimal rules overhead. She scores points based on types (color) of cats as well as her own solo-specific lessons. The twist? Both conditions are based on the player’s own tile placement.

Sister earns points for each randomly selected color of cat played (5 points for Blue, 4 for Orange, etc. revealed prior to the start of each round) and lesson cards (known from the get-go).

The solo game shines because it adds a layer of complexity that does not exist in the multiplayer game. Where the typical solo player is more likely to play a game missing an element from a multiplayer game (neighbourhood bonus in Clans of Caledonia, e.g.), The Isle of Cats adds a layer of strategy to the multiplayer game and does so in a meaningful way.

Every cat that is placed on the player’s boat simultaneously scores points for the player and the AI opponent. Many times, the placement will work toward (or against) multiple scoring objectives. Imagine: every move is a combination of both working toward one’s own objective while preventing or at least limiting the AI’s progress. I talk to myself a lot playing The Isle of Cats because there is a lot of information to process.

The core of the solo gameplay, however, largely coincides with the multiplayer mechanics. The solo game simulates the card draft, (the player will not see cards return, but she must evaluate the cards that will help best) and provides a means to compete against the AI for initiative as well as selection of cats and treasures. While not a perfect analog to multiplayer play, the limitations presented by AI interference will feel much the same for the player.

The Isle of Cats excels as a gaming puzzle beyond mere “Tetris-ing” pieces together. In its solo game iteration, The Isle of Cats requires constant evaluation of multiple scoring conditions in a satisfying mental exercise.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.31 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review), though that rating doesn’t distinguish between solo and multiplayer games and so is not adjusted to reflect the changes involved in solo play.

Availability

The Isle of Cats is available directly from the publisher, The City of Games, for £45. The Kickstarter edition is currently on sale for £65 and includes, among other things, wooden fish pieces, additional lesson card modules, and a variety of additional tiles. I have not seen The Isle of Cats at retail though I would expect one will be able to find it at outlets that carried Mr. West’s The City of Kings.

Cats have it all: admiration, an endless sleep and company only when they want it.

— Rod McKuen

Posted in Family games, Filler length, Solo play review

Blitzkrieg! — solo play review

“[B]ecause the game plays as quickly as it does, I find myself playing multiple times in a session, happy to accept the luck, or lack thereof, in my efforts to defeat the AI bot.”

Summary:

Blitzkrieg! is a Family level game of Filler length. It is playable by 1 to 2 players.

Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length.

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

Blitzkrieg! has a built-in solo mode designed by David Turczi. The mode employs an AI bot that stands in for the Axis player using a selection procedure and “stratagem” tokens to make decisions.

The best bits of this game are the weighty decisions that are ever-present, in part due to the short nature of the game.

The worst bit of Blitzkrieg! is the learning curve of manipulating the AI bot. The curve is not steep, but it does require the solo player to interpret the procedure.

Review:

Paolo Mori’s Blitzkrieg! is self-described as “World War Two in 20 Minutes.” The game distills the essence of an epic event into a filler game that has become a go-to when I want a quick, but satisfying game to play.

Blitzkrieg! uses a tug-of-war mechanic with players randomly pulling unit tokens from a bag. The tokens have varying levels of strength and represent ground, naval, and air capabilities. Placement of the tokens result in gaining advantage in specific campaigns and theatres of operation as well as access to special effects.

The game is tense, even against the AI bot, because placement options are limited. I constantly evaluate what I want versus what I leave behind, especially knowing where the AI bot will prioritize placement.

Interestingly, two-player begins more or less even. The Axis player will always begin play, but the Allied player will always have the final turn and wins on a tied score. In solo, you will always play in pursuit. On Medium difficulty, the AI bot gets +6 spaces on the theatres of operation tracks when you start and based on the selection procedure, will often times be +10 to +12 before your first move.

The game is challenging. And there needs to be a willingness to accept the randomness of pulling unit tokens from a bag. But because the game plays as quickly as it does, I find myself playing multiple times in a session, happy to accept the luck, or lack thereof, in my efforts to defeat the AI bot.

I have minimal exposure to David Turczi solo modes (Teotibot in Teotihuacan: City of Gods), but I will say I have become a fan and will become interested in any project of which he is a part. AI bot offers an at-times predictable, but always challenging, opponent. Though the 2-player experience is naturally different, a victory over AI bot feels like an accomplishment.

My biggest complaint regarding the solo mode is that the AI bot relies quite heavily on a human player to make selections. The player must filter and execute the AI bot priorities. On any given turn, you must determine the theatre of operations, the campaign position (i.e., triggering special placement effects), and the individual unit choice.

My first game took nearly an hour to complete. Within a half dozen games, however, I was able to reduce game length to 20-30 minutes.

The instructions are concise, but a single-page player aid would be nice. I made a quick cut-and-paste sheet such that I use the procedure listed on the back of the solo rules together with 1) stratagem token descriptions, 2) “greatest change” breakdown, and 3) summary of AI performance of special placement effects.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 1.73 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review), though that rating doesn’t distinguish between solo and multiplayer games and so is not adjusted to reflect the changes involved in solo play.

Availability

I picked this title up in December from Cool Stuff Inc. for $25 USD. It appears to be out of stock in many places, and even Amazon only lists third party sellers. There is a Blitzkrieg! Nippon expansion ($15 USD) that I have yet to play, but it appears equally difficult to find as of February 2020.

It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.

— Rainer Maria Rilke