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
Posted in Enthusiast Games, Filler length, Solo play review

Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write – solo play review

captures the feeling of the Imperial Settlers card game, and Adventure mode is a challenging solo experience

Summary:

Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write is an Enthusiast¹ level game of Filler length.  It is playable by 1 to many (theoretically, up to 96) players.

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

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

IS: Roll & Write has a specialised solo ‘Adventure mode’ in the box.  This is a pad of 48 different sheets, spanning the factions and themes of the IS ‘universe’, and the key to making this a quality solo game.

The best bit of this game is that Adventure mode pad – it’s really neat and thematic.  Having 48 different sheets is really neat.

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my first 4 games – Barbarians, Common, Japanese and Atlanteans

The worst bit of Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write is that it can be a bit fiddly tracking your ‘people’ each round – since you get them all from one die.  I ended up making tally marks on the main sheet for each round, but a more elegant solution would have been nice.

Review:

I am a fan of Imperial Settlers, but Portal Games’ recent catalogue has been patchy² and I was skeptical about whether this game would be any good.  I was pleasantly surprised – it’s deeper than you’d expect and I found myself needing to stop, think and re-think decisions (and I made plenty of strategic / tactical mistakes, which is a good sign of depth) in my first few plays.

The Adventure pad drags you into the Imperial Settlers universe and you do feel like you’re helping the bumbling Barbarians or fruitful Japanese with their labours.  Part of the advanced rules involves making patterns on your playsheet to gain extra benefits and this adds a welcome layer of variability and replayability to the game.

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It’s enjoyable, thoughtful and easy to learn and play, but has depth too – give it a try!

As mentioned, your pad of 48 unique solo sheets means there’s plenty of replayability.  Also, Portal make extra sheets available to order cheaply online and has some free ‘Print & Play’ promos available online (more here also).

There’s also a typical score ranking system for solo gamers, but the real fun is in tackling the challenges of each Adventure mode sheet successfully.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 1.90 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review).  In my opinion that rating doesn’t reflect the use of the Advanced rules.

Availability

IS: Roll & Write is widely available.  I suggest the ever-reliable Guf ($38).

Footnotes

¹ I consider this an Enthusiast level game if you use the Advanced rules; or a Family level game if you play the basic game.  But play the Advanced game, it’s more fun!

² recent hits: Detective (apparently – haven’t had the chance); massive misses: First Martians (though I actually like it).

“Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.”

– Edward Gibbon

Posted in Family games, Filler length

Captain Sonar – review

boop…. boop …. boop …. Torpedo away!

Summary:

Captain Sonar is a Family level game of Filler length for 2 to 8 players¹.

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

The best bits of this game are the genuine sense of teamwork and tension in a good contest – the suspense of the hunt is real.  You ARE a submariner hunting your opposing sub and you MUST find them (or die trying)!

The worst bit of Captain Sonar is that it can be easy to make a small mistake which leaves your team or your opposition frustrated.  For example, if your team’s Radio Operator makes one single charting error, then you’re in serious trouble and probably won’t find the opposing boat – you’ve probably lost this game.  Fortunately, you can play again in about 30 – 45 minutes :).

Review:

You start with a map.  If you’re a novice, you start with a turn-by-turn map  – and I urge you to play turn-by-turn a couple of times at least if you have any new players – or they just won’t have any fun.  Once everyone is familiar with the game and the roles of Captain, Radio Operator, Engineer and First Mate, you can transition into real-time mode with its larger and more complex maps.

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Turn by turn map at the top – real time map at the bottom.  There are 5 of each in the base box.

The Captain chooses a starting position and then clearly announces the moves around the map – “North”, “West” and so on.  Islands must be avoided, and you cannot double back to cross your own track.  The opposing Radio Operator is listening in and marks that course on a clear template above an identical map.  As the course develops across several turns, the template can be slid around to assess the possible positions of the opposing sub.

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Once your course reaches this length, there are only so many places you could be! Can you locate your opponent before they find you?

Meanwhile, the First Mate is prioritising which systems will be needed.  Are Torpedos ready when needed?  Will silent running to avoid the enemy be needed? Is it time to surface to clear the buildup of malfunctions, which the Engineer has been battling to manage?

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Drones are handy to narrow down the enemy location – does the First Mate have them ready?  The Engineer may have navigation suggestions for the Captain, to keep the sub in good nick.

Real teamwork and co-ordination is needed to run a successful subhunt.  If the Captain can take course suggestions from the Engineer, while still implementing the overall plan and staying out of that minefield, and the First Mate can plan which systems will be needed in 2, 3 or 5 turns from now, and the Radio Operator can, basically, not screw up, then . . . the other team still might get you first.

Torpedo running…. indirect hit! We’re still alive.

There are a range of strategies which you can employ – try laying a huge minefield over several turns, then detonating them to either damage the opponent, or (perhaps even more useful) to rule out certain spaces for their location.  Or, try running silent early on to frustrate the other team’s tracking – there is more tactical depth to this game than may initially be obvious.

We have had less satisfactory experiences with this game when playing against opponents of greatly different experience, or when simple mistakes were made (for example, indirectly damaging yourself with your own mine, but failing to notice or declare it to the other team . . .oops).  Some of these potential problems are inherent in any ‘hidden movement’ game, but they can detract from the game experience and may lead to awkward post-mortems.  Again, please do take the time to learn and teach the game thoroughly (and turn-by-turn), if you want people to enjoy it.

We played 3 fabulous games in one night recently with non-gaming friends, and each game was a tight and tense affair, only decided 2 hunts to 1 (and 4 damage to 3 in the decider).

Captain Sonar is a thoroughly enjoyable team based game and I’m sure we will play it again – perhaps even real-time, when everyone gets more used to it.  Playing with a background soundtrack of quiet sonar beeps from someone’s phone is highly recommended :).

The game comes with 5 different maps in the box, and includes some scenarios (which I hve not explored yet) and has expansion maps available.  Also, changing roles amongst team members will help to keep the experience fresh – I can see us enjoying it with friends for many years to come.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.13 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review).  That rating is a bit meaningless, given the type of game which it is – it’s not really comparable to, say, 7 Wonders which has a fairly similar BGG ‘weight’ ranking.

Availability

Captain Sonar is widely available – Board Game Master (who I have ordered from previously) has it for about $60.  There are two expansions, also widely available.

These are, of course, our opinions only.

Footnotes:

¹ I consider this a Family level game rather than a Party game, because it does have a bit of a learning curve for new players.  Some roles in the submarine are easy (Captain, if the Engineer is experienced), some are slightly confusing (Engineer) and some are simple but brutally unforgiving of mistakes (Radio Operator). Also, while playable with 2 to 5, it’s hectic! 6 to 8 is ideal.

Posted in Filler length, Party games

Marrying Mr Darcy – review

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a larger board game collection.”

Summary:

Marrying Mr Darcy: The Pride and Prejudice Card Game is a Party level card game of Filler length for 2 to 6 players.

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

The best bit of this game is the way in which it genuinely evokes the feeling of the book.  You play as a female character from the book, building up your character’s traits to appeal to your preferred suitor.

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Shall I concentrate on Wit, Friendliness, Reputation or Beauty?

This might sound really lame – but actually, the balance between alternate suitors and book-based events introduces genuine tension into the gameplay.  Each time I have played this, grown adults (mainly men) really get into the spirit of the game and embrace the theme. Game discussions are carried on in a ladylike fashion!

The worst bit of Marrying Mr Darcy is the amount of randomness in the card draw – but this is forgiveable in a fairly short and simple game.

Review:

Your character will begin with slightly different traits and abilities from the other maidens, then develop (by your choices, through the game) to appeal to your preferred suitor.  Despite the traditional setting, each character does feel slightly subversive – each has some agency and power in their choices, as they work and scheme towards enticing a proposal from their preferred husband.

The role of Cunning is also important – your character might be less perfect than another potential wife, but the most cunning get the first chance to marry – and once Mr Darcy (or another) is betrothed, he’s off the market!

Some matches are preferred, while others are impossible.

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One of the things which I love about this game is that ending up as an Old Maid (without a husband) can still result in a game win – it’s a nice touch.  If you love the book, this game is a must – you’ll find yourself getting in character quickly.

I enjoy the art on the cards and the game’s design choices definitely make a strong connection to the classic book.

Playing as Charlotte Lucas feels entirely different from playing as Georgiana Darcy or Elizabeth Bennet, and this means that the appeal of the game continues through a number of plays.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 1.38 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review).  There are some valid alternate strategies to attempt – but this rating is about right in my opinion.

Availability

Marrying Mr Darcy is fairly expensive for what you get.  Try Games Empire – about $50.

These are, of course, our opinions only.