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, Short length, Solo play review

The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire – solo play review

highly competitive worker placement / area control plus car bombs, extortion and general mayhem

Summary:

The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire is a Family¹ + level game of Short + length.  It is playable by 1 to 5 players.

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire has a fan-made solo mode designed by Martin G which is available at BoardGameGeek.  Martin has designed the solo mode with 3 distinct ‘personalities’ of the AI player available – Don Vito, Michael and Sonny and has even gone to the trouble of making printable cards for each.  I’ve played with Vito alone and with Vito and Michael (solo vs. 2 AI players) – this is quite manageable, shows off the different ‘personalities’ of the opponent and is a rewarding solo play experience.

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

The best bits of this game are the quality of the worker placement / area control decisions within the gameplay – this is a quality, thought-filled game.  The excellent miniatures, suitcases for your ill-gotten gains, and board, and the strong theme which carries through all aspects of the game also greatly enhance the play experience.

The worst bit of The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire is hard to identify, actually – this is a solid, under-rated game.  Some people may dislike the theme, but it’s everything you’d expect from the game title and movie folklore.

Review:

This game oozes theme.  The box is slightly menacing.  The miniatures are detailed and look outright dangerous.

img_8899There are two types of workers – family members and thugs, and each has different action spaces.  You’ll get access to extra family members through the four Acts (rounds) of the game, and you may get more quasi-members and quasi-thugs (Allies) through . . . . bribery and corruption, of course!

Placing a worker gets you an immediate benefit, but also factors into area control for the next Act, which might get you extra benefits (depending on what your opponent does in future) – and also factors into end-game area control and scoring.  So, there are short, medium and long-term consequences of each action you take and the game deals with these elegantly.

Another great part of this game is that it’s not enough to earn your ill-gotten gains – you also need to launder the money and tuck it away in your family suitcase.

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Martin’s decision to include three distinct personalities for the AI player adds to the replayability of the solo game. ² The game is already quite diverse because it has 18 Ally cards, and you won’t use more than 6 of them in any solo game (9 if you play against two opponents). A different mix of new businesses each game also adds to replayability.

Every time I have played this game multiplayer, everyone’s had a blast ³ and that fun continues into this solo mode.

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.60 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.  I think this reflects the game’s decision complexity well – but, it remains easy to teach and quick to play.

Availability

Used to be fairly easy to find, but a bit scarcer now – try Gamerholic.

Footnotes

¹ it’s a Family ‘level’ game in complexity, because that’s one of our four categories.  You could debate whether a game themed around extortion, illegal goods and the occasional murder or two could ever be considered a ‘family game’…. your family may vary 🙂

² I haven’t tested the “Sonny” AI player.

³ Yes, that’s a car-bomb pun 😉

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. Franz Kafka

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 Enthusiast Games, Short length, Solo play review

At the Gates of Loyang – Solo play review

It’s a Rosenberg game, so expect vegetables – and you won’t be disappointed!

Summary:

At the Gates of Loyang is an Enthusiast level board game of Short length, playable by 1 to 4 players.

This review focuses on the solo play experience.

Gates of Loyang has a built-in solo mode, based on a ‘score achievement’ model – but don’t be put off by that if you prefer a different type of solo challenge – Loyang is a genuinely challenging and enjoyable solo experience.  A score of 15 or 16 is effectively a ‘fail’, 17 is a ‘win’ and 18 or 19 is . . . not achievable for me yet.

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

The best bits of this game are the balance between Regular customers (who have to be served almost every round) and Casual customers (who are served once, when you choose to serve them) – this tightrope act is the essential challenge of the game. Regular customers are the backbone of your economic engine, but you can’t win without satisfying some casuals also.

The worst bit of Loyang is that you’re always one or two coins short of what you really want to do on your turn :).

Review:

As with many Rosenberg games, there is a simple and elegant setup for the solo ‘opponent’ and mode – here it is, laid out before play:

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The solo mode Courtyard (4 rows of 3 cards) presents options for you to buy from, transitioning between rounds.  Two Markets, Casual customers and Regular customers at right simulate a human opponent to interact with.

You develop your own farm based on the customers who you plan to serve, and play across 9 rounds.  Your farm develops each round – here is mine, after thefirst round:

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I’ve begun planting with wheat and radish (purchased from the store), made some minor progress on the “Path to Prosperity” (score 2), and have a Market and a Helper for future rounds

Each round will see you striving to advance on the Path to Prosperity – you must advance as you go, or it becomes nigh-impossible in later rounds. ¹ But you’ll need to spend coins on some cards from the courtyard, new types of vegetables (unless you can trade for them in the market; but anything you trade you cannot plant), extra fields if you can get them, and powerful ‘Two-packs’².

Speaking of planting, you must plant new vegetables, preferably of different types to satisfy a variety of customers, but you can only plant certain types in certain fields – and, of course, the most valuable ones go in the smallest fields.  Did I mention that you won’t know exactly when new prime fields will arrive, to be available for planting?

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Late game: biodiversity!

 

Regular customers are demanding and they won’t pay a premium, but they will pay round after round.  As mentioned above, balancing their needs with those of casual customers is the trick – fill the casual orders at the right time, and you could get a sweet bonus.

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Just how will you get that blessed / blasted beetroot when you need it?  Well, I have a spare wheat and few coins – can I buy a pumpkin (4 coins), trade it and the wheat in the market for a beetroot, and then fill a Casual order for 11 coins? Or would it be better to hire the Maid from the bottom row of the courtyard (2 coins), so that I can do a direct wheat-for-beet swap? If this sort of puzzle appeals to you, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy Gates of Loyang, as I do.

A tip: you get a new field every turn.  It’s nearly always a mistake not to plant it . . except when planting it would be the wrong thing to do, because you need those extra coins to hire that crucial helper for next turn’s regular customer demands; and you need to step forwards on the Path this turn . . . I suspect you will have gleaned the joys and tiny horrors of this game, by now!

The variety and interaction of the cards, the varying order in which your fields arrive, and the sheer challenge of getting past 17 or 18 on the Path of Prosperity make this a rewarding solo experience which you’ll want to replay.  Go on, you can knock off another solo game in 45 to 60 minutes now – sleep is for the weak! 😉

You can probably tell that At the Gates of Loyang is one of my favourite solo games.  The ‘solo mode’ is low maintenance and elegant and is not difficult to learn³. It’s also excellent as a multiplayer game, and though complex, it’s fairly easy to teach.  I rate it five beetroot / four broad beans!  I’d love a ‘carrots and kale’ expansion, but it seems unlikely…

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 3.14 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

Loyang was published in 2009 and can be tough to get – I picked my copy up secondhand.  Amazon is by far the best price available in Australia – about $75 – and OzGameShop is the only other option at present (about $110).

Footnotes:

¹ The first step forwards each round costs 1 coin, then additional steps cost the value of the space.  So, from 9 to 11 costs 12 coins (1+11) and from 11 to 13 the next turn will cost 14 coins (1 + 13) for 26 coins total across two turns – but if you try to go one step (9 to 10) in a turn, and then from 10 to 13 the next turn, it gets more expensive (1 + 1 + 12 + 13 = 27 coins).  This may seem a small difference, but every coin is crucial in Loyang! 

Achieving three steps in one round is tough.

² Two-packs are so (potentially) powerful that you’re limited to buying them once a round. But the cost might sink you.  Aaaaarrgghh!!

³ … once you get past a clumsy section at page 9 in the rulebook.  Clarification: There is no “Distribution round” in the solo game – the only cards potentially available to you are in the ‘Courtyard’ – you can buy 0, 1 or 2 and that’s it each round.

“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Posted in Enthusiast Games, Full length, Short length

Paladins of the West Kingdom – review

The Paladins look seriously mean, and choosing the right one at the right time is the key to a good game

Summary:

Paladins of the West Kingdom is an Enthusiast level game of Short + or Full – length for 1 to 4 players.

Paladins includes a native solo mode with an AI opponent on a specially printed gameboard – I haven’t tried it yet and it’s not part of this review¹.

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 Paladins, hands down.  It’s a simple idea – you draw 3 of your 12 paladin cards and choose one to be your ‘champion’ for this round.  He will assist you with one type of action (see picture below).

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Each paladin only gets one round (out of seven) to help you, so choose carefully.  But, here’s the neat ‘hand management’ bit which works so well – choose one of the other two to add to the bottom of your draw pile – you won’t see him again (or at least not until much later in the game – and choose one to add to the top, so that he’s available again as one of your options next round.  This simple approach blends variety with planning for future rounds – it’s very neat.  More on the paladin cards, below.

The worst bits of Paladins are:

  1. the rulebook – you have to jump back and forth to find some bits of the info you need, and this created some challenges in my game group;
  2. the player interaction can be punishing: for example, if someone attacks (or converts) an Outsider who you really want before you get a chance, then you can really take a hit – because they’re not replaced until end of round, and the different types of worker meeples have different strengths, so it can be tough to redeploy them effectively.  This is slightly mitigated by the ability to carry up to 3 workers over to the next round.

Review:

You own medieval town is in front of you. You’ve chosen your champion paladin for the current round – he may encourage hunting for provisions, for example –  so you will probably use one or two of those workers to hunt.  Include a green (Scout) worker if you want good results!  If you chose the optimal paladin, then he will also have come with a Scout worker or two, whether or not you could hire one from the Tavern.

Your opponent might have missed out on the Cleric they wanted from the Tavern at the start of the round – perhaps they got stuck with Labourers and Fighters.  Fortunately, any Labourer (or other worker) can conspire to be a Criminal – those purple workers can do it all!  You might even pilfer some coins from the taxman along the way – but you’re under Suspicion now – watch out for the Inquisition, when it arrives!

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Developing my ‘Convert’ option helped sway a whole host of Outsiders to join Team Stephen

This game is about choosing workers and gaining resources to take the actions which suit what you want to do – there are lots of options, and you definitely won’t have time in 7 rounds to do them all.  Do you want a great big wall around your town (for rewards and points)? – then, Fortify.  Keen on being a renowned warrior? – then, Attack the Outsiders (for rewards and perhaps points).  Feeling pious?  Convert the Outsiders, or Commission Monks (for rewards, points or more workers).  Back to those paladin cards we discussed earlier – each one buffs two of your three attributes for the round – so, the attacker makes you better at Attacking and rewards you with extra benefits for doing so.  Paladins of the West Kingdom really feels like you’re developing your town as you ‘engine build’ through your ‘tableau’ of  cards and wooden buildings.

The art by Mihajlo Dimitrievski is bold and cartoonish in the consistent style of Garphill Games’ recent North Sea amd West Kingdom series. The wooden workers and buildings are OK – typical for the series.  There is A LOT of game in this small box.

If you like any of the other recent Garphill Games (which I do), then you’re bound to like this one too – playing it is very satisfying and there are several different strategies available.  Paladins seems very nicely balanced and each game I have played has been close.  The player interaction is limited but it’s there (through competition for initial workers from the Tavern, the central Townsfolk and Outsider cards and the central rewards) and is occasionally punishing.

The paladin cards really help with enjoyment of the game, in my opinion, because they give new players a clue about what they might want to do in any particular round – this makes learning the game less intimidating.  The game moves quickly for us, and 7 rounds feels almost a touch too short to achieve your plans when playing – in my experience this game is a bit quicker to play than the box suggests. Definitely recommended as worth playing!

The variable “Kings Favour” cards encourage you to try different strategies for points.  In my first game I ‘Absolved’ my way to a win and in the second I ‘Converted’ up a big team of Outsider recruits.

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My menacing army of approximately willing converts

I’m convinced that concentrating on Fortifying a massive wall, Commissioning monks or creating Garrisons, or on other strategies, would also be viable.  There is an adequate amount of variability and content in the game to allow for reasonable replayability .

BoardGameGeek rates this game as 3.57 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review).  I don’t think it’s quite that heavy but ‘comparisons are odorous‘ by nature.

Availability

Paladins of the West Kingdom is widely available. Best current price I can find is $70 at Amazon US, or from $76 to $85 at a variety of other retailers.

I love the metal coins which are not in the standard retail game but are available here.

These are, of course, our opinions only.

Footnotes:

¹ I definitely enjoy the solo mode in Raiders of the North Sea, another Garphill Games design and expect to enjoy this one too, but it deserves its own review.

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.