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Solo Review — House of Danger: Choose Your Own Adventure

Liz D
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Georgia
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To see a fully-formatted review of this game, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-choose-your-...

To see all of my solo reviews and videos, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/solo-reviews.html

What is this game about?

House of Danger is a choose your own adventure game, based on a CYOA book with the same name. In this gamified implementation of the book, you and your fellow players will read story cards, make decisions about what to do next, collect items and clues, and try to survive to the end of the tale. (Don't worry though—if you die, you're just sent back to the previous card with some minor consequences, and you can take a different path forward.) You'll need to manage your level of psychic sensitivity, which can help you find extra clues, as well as the "danger level" in the game, which affects the difficulty of the die rolls you'll need in order to pass in-game challenges. The cards themselves direct you very smoothly from one card to the next, so you won't find yourself "lost" in the game at any point. The story contains five chapters, each of which comes with its own story and clue decks. Some items, however, can carry over from earlier chapters to later ones.

How does it play solo?

This game may be at its best when played solo—it's a lot of text, and it really does navigate like a board game version of a CYOA book. It is also fun with two people, but I'm not sure it would be enjoyable with more, since the experience is closer to reading a book than it is to playing a full-on board game.

Overall Thoughts

House of Danger is the type of game you play when you just want to relax. It's very light, with the emphasis placed squarely on enjoying the story cards and having a good time. While losing certain challenges can cause you to miss out on important items in the game, there are plenty of ways forward, and no particularly brutal consequences for mistakes. Instead, you should just go with the flow and reach one of the several possible endings. (Then, if you like, you can play again to see if you get a different result.)

If you enjoy books from the Choose Your Own Adventure series, this game will be a fun and nostalgic adventure for you. If you are looking for an intense gaming experience, look elsewhere. The story is fun, but random, and it's not one of those tales where you can win by making logical choices. Sometimes, bad stuff will just happen, and all you can do is laugh it off and try again.

Overall, House of Danger isn't particularly deep or memorable, but it's fun while you have it. If you take it for what it is, you'll have a great time.

Do I recommend it?

If you are looking for a fun, light, story-driven gaming experience, then go for it!

Overall Rating: 3 stars

5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.

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Tue Feb 26, 2019 2:03 pm
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Solo Review: Pocket Mars

Liz D
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Georgia
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To see a fully formatted version of this review, click here:
[url]http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-pocket-mars
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To see all of my solo reviews and videos, click here: [url]http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/solo-reviews.html
[/url]

What is this game about?

Pocket Mars is a small-box game that aims to be a filler with some teeth. It's a card-based race to be the first player to get seven colonists to Mars. Colonists can be moved between Earth, your spaceship, and a set of buildings on Mars. To relocate your colonists efficiently, you need to make the right choices about how to play your cards. Depending on whether you keep them in your hand or put them in your "prep module" (i.e. facedown in front of you), you can take different actions and trigger different building events. You can even play cards from another player's "prep module" to perform actions associated with the buildings on Mars.

The end of the game arrives when the first player puts all seven of his or her colonists on Mars, but victory is determined by the number of victory points. Some locations on Mars are worth more VP than others, so in addition to moving colonists around, you also have to make sure that they end up in the right place.

How does it play solo?

Pocket Mars has an official set of solo rules, but they are online. You can find them here. [NOTE: Apparently some copies do have solo rules in-box.] In the solo mode, you are still going for victory points, but you are competing against a simulated opponent—a rival company called DA. DA is surprisingly tough, not only because it will get a lot of actions (although you can sometimes block them) but also because the draw deck in this variant acts as a strict timer. You need to act fast to stand a chance.

Overall Thoughts

Pocket Mars is an inexpensive and functional solo game. It won't blow your mind, but it's fun to mess around with different card actions and try to gain advantages against DA. The game doesn't, however, entirely hit the spot for me. The card actions are interesting, but what you do in Pocket Mars doesn't particularly fit the theme—your actions often feel so abstract that they don't make much sense outside of the straight-up puzzle of the game. I struggled to get down the rules at first because none of them felt particularly intuitive. Also, for as many fun card actions as there were, it was rarely possible to set up satisfying card combos. I like to feel like my choices get me a bit further when I'm making tough ones.

Do I recommend it?


If you're looking for a cheap, small solo game, Pocket Mars might be worth a shot. It's not my favorite small footprint solo game—I'd prefer Friday or Mint Works for pocket-sized play. I am glad I tried it, but it's not going to stay part of my collection.

Overall Rating: 2.5 stars

5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh. ​
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Sat Feb 23, 2019 1:38 pm
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Solo Review — Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game

Liz D
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To read a fully formatted version of this review, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-detective-a-...

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What is this game about?

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is exactly what it sounds like—it's a game in which you (and some friends, if you so choose) work together to solve mysteries. The game consists of five interconnected cases, with a sixth case available as a mini expansion. The way this game is set up is interesting. You have a limited amount of time and resources: Each case has a strict time limit, and your detective team will also have a limited pool of tokens that can be used to push for more information. So you start each case with a deck of 35 cards, but you cannot realistically expect to get through them all. Instead, you'll just have to do your best and work with what you've uncovered by the time the clock runs out. Also interesting is that the clues are partially printed on cards, but you'll also be working with an online database that serves as a companion to each case. The Antares database includes files on various people you encounter, records of interrogations, and—my favorite—DNA and fingerprint matching capabilities so that you can track who touched what, who bled where, etc.

Once you run out of time on a case, it's time to fill out the "final report," which is essentially a multiple choice quiz. You'll get a score based on how many correct answers you can produce, minus the number of "stress tokens" you used when you pushed yourself a little too far during the game.

How does it play solo?

I personally prefer this game solo, although I can see how others might prefer to work with others. There is definitely enough going on for multiple people to have something to do—take notes, sort clue cards, check the computer. But the bookkeeping was in no way too complicated for me to handle myself. I did the first case with a group and then again solo, and I caught so much more information the second time. I played through the following four cases solo and enjoyed them.

Overall Thoughts

Detective is not a perfect board game, but it's a really fun one. The flavor text on the cards is cheesy as hell (how many sludgy coffees can a detective consume while sitting in uncomfortable metal chairs?) but I got a real kick out of it. And the overall storyline of the case was really interesting, so much so that I played the whole game out over the course of one long Saturday. I just couldn't help myself! I loved using the Antares database online, especially when I was able to do fingerprint and DNA matches. It made me feel just a little bit like a real cop. Portal Games makes a big deal out of board games that tell stories, and Detective certainly is one.

That said, there were times when Detective was just a little too "gamey" for me. I often chafed against the restrictions of the investigation tokens, which often felt unfairly limited to me. I mostly enjoyed trying to stay within the time limits, but I would have preferred not to worry about them. And in Case 5, there was an extra mechanic that I won't discuss too much here (I don't want to spoil anything for you!), but I didn't really enjoy dealing with it while I played. Of course, my opinion is definitely connected to my personal feelings about how mystery games should be played. I never bother with the technical rules in Sherlock Homes: Consulting Detective, because I'd much rather "wander around" in the game world and read all of the flavor text. You can't get away with that in Detective so much, because of the way the cases are set up, especially in the later installments.

I should warn you that, while the "Final Report" will make you feel like you should have definitive answers, you will often find yourself going with your gut. Don't let it freak you out—just go with your best guesses. Probably the least satisfying aspect of Detective was the scoring system, since you could guess a lot of right answers but still feel uncertain about the case or be upset about events that occurred during the investigation (I won't spoil the story by elaborating). I also wasn't entirely convinced that the final case truly tied the plot together. Not everything seemed to make perfect sense in the end. But the ride was exhilarating, and I would definitely play a game like Detective again.

Do I recommend it?

If you like trying to solve mysteries and can handle the fact that you'll have to go with your gut a lot, then yes. Detective is highly entertaining and well worth the time it takes to play through it.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

5 stars — I love it.
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
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Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:17 pm
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Solo Review: Direwild

Liz D
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Georgia
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To see a fully formatted version of this review, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-direwild

To see all of my solo reviews and videos, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/solo-reviews.html


Full Disclosure: Iron Horde Games provided me with a review copy of Direwild.

What is this game about?

Direwild from Iron Horde Games is a cooperative deck builder, but it's also a dungeon crawler that requires tactical movement. In this game, you (and your fellow players, if you choose to accept them) are an animist with the ability to summon animals to do your bidding. One of your fellow animists, Karn, has become corrupt and power hungry, and it's up to you and your growing band of creatures to defeat him and his minions. To do so, you summon creatures, charm new ones (and add them to your deck), then combine the creatures you summoned into powerful megacreatures that can do battle with Karn and his minions. The order in which you play your cards, and the ways in which you choose to combine them, require some thought and planning. You'll also need to be aware of where your animists and their enemies are on the game board, because tactical position matters. The game takes place across three chapters, and can even be saved between chapters if you want a break. If you can use your animal card powers, magical abilities, and tactical skills to their greatest effect, you may be able to take Karn down. But this game, while beatable, is no cakewalk. You can expect to lose pretty frequently, especially while you are still learning about your powers and card synergies.

How does it play solo?

Direwild is officially a cooperative game for 2–4 players, but it is definitely solo-able as long as you don't mind playing two-handed. There is no hidden information or any other game element that would hinder two-handed solo play.

Overall Thoughts


Direwild does a lot of things that I like. I first want to give a shout out to its setup structure and rulebooks, which are extremely clear and helpful. Direwild comes with two rulebooks. The first is for setup, which is useful both when first setting up the box and when trying to save or set up new terrain during a campaign. The second is for gameplay, and it is structured in an interesting way: The rules are explained in tremendous detail on the main part of the page, but there are also margins with summary notes for people who are skimming or who just need a refresher. I really liked that, and would love to see more rulebooks follow suit.

As a deck builder, Direwild also introduces some interesting elements, especially when it comes to spending "charm," the in-game currency that is used to add creatures from the market row to your deck. Unlike other deck builders, in which leftover currency frequently goes unspent, Direwild allows you to make the most of your charm by using the leftovers for a number of purposes, such as putting a new card on top of your deck instead of in discard, eliminating a creature from the market row, or using charm to clear out "locks" that can be removed to give access to the advanced creatures deck, as well as powerups that come in handy later in the game. I liked that all of my charm felt useful, even if I couldn't make the exact purchases I was hoping for.

However, Direwild is not quite a perfect game. It has some pacing issues that reveal themselves after multiple plays—even with the option to save between rounds, a full game feels a little bit long. And within individual rounds, it can be very difficult to build your deck as quickly and efficiently as you need to. If you get unlucky and keep drawing low-charm cards, you can really miss out, especially on advanced creatures. And because combat is all-or-nothing—you either win and deal damage or lose and take some—you can have frustrating and wasted turns if you need to fight but don't draw the right hand. To compound these issues, there also aren't enough options available to trim your deck, especially if the right cards don't appear on the market. That means your deck stays clogged with more weak cards than it ought to, particularly in the later stages of the game. There is a certain tightness that Direwild is lacking, for all of its good ideas, and that prevents it from fully taking flight. It is, however, Iron Horde's first game, and I will be very interested in whatever they do next.

Do I recommend it?

I recommend trying it, but not necessarily buying it. If you really love deck builders and the theme is a strong draw for you, odds are you will have a good time with Direwild.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars


Rating Scale:
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh. ​

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Tue Feb 19, 2019 3:34 am
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Solo Review: Champions of Hara

Liz D
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Georgia
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To see a fully-formatted version of this review, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-champions-of...

To see all of my solo reviews and videos, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/solo-reviews.html

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Champions of Hara from Greenbrier Games.

What is this game about?

Champions of Hara, developed by Leaf Pile Games and published by Greenbrier Games, is set in another world where people have tremendous power over their own destinies— so much so that their wishes can have consequences for everyone else. The corruption that you spawn in the world turns into monsters that you have to fight, rifts that you have to close, and events that you have to resolve. And the way that you do this is so much fun. Each of the characters in the game has a unique deck of cards that are used to move, fight, and heal. You begin with your starter cards, but can add in upgrades throughout the course of the game. Your cards are dual-sided and have an interesting life cycle. When a card is in hand, you can play it for one action. But once you've played that card from your hand, you leave it "on board" and can play it for a different action—after which a card returns to your hand. Figuring out the timing of actions and making the most of your cards is where Champions of Hara truly shines. The overarching game also has a rhythm, as you take turns across days in Hara and spawn new cards at Dawn and Dusk. At the end of each day, you also draw a world shift card that usually causes your in-game map to change.

Each game of Hara will, however, be a bit different. There is a starter scenario that is competitive, but the rest of the game involves playing through a mixture of competitive and cooperative scenarios that focus on the stories of each of the game's characters. The game will be a bit different based on which scenario you play, although the basic cardplay and turn structure will remain the same.

How does it play solo?

Each character in Champions of Hara has his or her own solo scenario. Additionally, you can easily play the cooperative scenarios on your own by controlling multiple characters. The competitive scenarios cannot be played solo unless you want to control both sides and play against yourself (but go for it if you want to!).

Overall Thoughts

There is a lot to love about Champions of Hara. The world itself is incredibly compelling. Each character in the game is interesting and has a cool backstory. The art is fantastic. And the cardplay is so, so fun. Each character has a truly unique deck and set of interesting abilities, which makes it worthwhile to get to know each of them. I also love card-driven games in general, and figuring out how to set up the best possible combos is my favorite part of Champions of Hara. The movement and combat systems are satisfying, and the way that you can gain energy and power up characters gives you a sense of progression throughout the game.

I am not, however, sure that Champions of Hara uses its colorful world and fun gaming system to best effect. Aside from the introductory competitive game, you can't just open the box, pick a character, pick an enemy, and go to town. Instead, you need to go through the scenario book, choose a particular character's scenario, and set it up according to special rules. In fact, there are so many different scenarios with different special rules that things can get a little bit confusing. Being confined to the scenarios, even though there are several of them, also feels like it leaves you with fewer choices. There is only one solo mode for each of the game's characters, which means that the gameplay is somewhat limited—especially if there are some solo scenarios that you don't enjoy (they all have different goals). I might have liked to see some more straightforward solo challenges against the Corrupted characters, which are already controlled by AI. The cardplay in this game is so fun that I would like to see more opportunities to just crack open the box, grab some characters, and scrap it out.

Do I recommend It?

Champions of Hara is seriously fun to play, and I do not regret any of the time I have spent with it. However, if you want to just break the game out and play, rather than set up a bunch of unique scenarios, then Hara will frustrate you.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.

To see a brief tutorial for Champions of Hara, check out my YouTube video:
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Mon Feb 18, 2019 1:58 am
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Solo Review: Pavlov's House

Liz D
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Georgia
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To see a fully-formatted version of this review, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-pavlovs-hous...

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Full disclosure: DVG sent me a review copy of Pavlov's House​.

What is this game about?

Pavlov's House is a game of survival under brutal circumstances during the Battle of Stalingrad. The real Pavlov's House was a strategically-located apartment building that Russian soldiers—including the eponymous Pavlov—held for nearly two months against a relentless Nazi onslaught. In the game, you win by surviving all the way to the end of the German assault deck. But you can lose in a number of ways. You can be straight-up destroyed by German tanks, Nazi soldiers can reach Pavlov's House, you can lose all of your support from the army outside, or you can fail to feed your men and thus cause the death by starvation of all who live inside the apartment building.

And even if you win, there is a pretty brutal victory point calculation to help you decide how well you won. Typically, you won't get a big win... if you win at all.

Mechanically, Pavlov's House is very interesting. The game comes with a tripartite board, representing different levels of the conflict as the battle progresses. As the player, you'll control both the left and right sides of the board—Pavlov's House itself, and the Soviet 62nd Army outside that is trying to support it. The area in the middle of the board represents Nazi encroachment, and it's where you add enemy soldiers and tanks.

As the Soviet 62nd Army, you'll be drawing cards and choosing how best to support Pavlov's House. You can work on gathering supplies, recruiting more soldiers, installing anti-aircraft guns, and more. Within Pavlov's House, you'll be using limited movements and activations to arrange soldiers inside the house and fight back the approaching Germans. When you get better at the basic game (haha good luck), you can add in tactics cards to make the Nazis more brutal, as well as operational support cards to give yourself extra challenges as the Russian army.

How does it play solo?


Technically, you could play Pavlov's House with one, two, or three players. But it's definitely strongest with one—the AI is sufficiently brutal but also sufficiently low-upkeep, while controlling both Russian sides of the board gives you the correct amount of "things to do" for a satisfying gameplay experience.

Overall Thoughts

​Pavlov's House is excellent. There are so many tense decisions to make, and you'll always be left wondering if you've made the right ones. What forms of outside support will you prioritize? Will you focus on getting food into Pavlov's House? Will you bulk up your communication channels to try to get extra actions on the next turn? Will you put all of your energy into anti-aircraft tokens? (I highly recommend heavy investment in anti-aircraft tokens.) And within Pavlov's House itself, you have to decide how you'll use limited movements and activations. Which enemies will you try to take out? What weapons will you use? Will you bring in additional soldiers, even without the guarantee that you can feed them all? Meanwhile, the Nazi approach is relentless. Stukas will blow up all of your outside support spaces (especially the ones you had especially big plans for), while tanks, riflemen, and scouts will creep up on all sides of your building and work to lower its defenses. When I play this game, I really do feel like I'm trapped in an apartment building and fighting for my life.

While Pavlov's House is a thrilling and intense gaming experience, you should be aware that you may not enjoy it much if you hate having your fate decided by die rolls. You will roll dice constantly, both to represent Nazi attacks on your own forces and to determine whether your attempts to suppress German encroachment have been successful. Get ready to plan a strong defense and spend all of your anti-aircraft tokens, only to roll low and get bombed anyway. For me this generally just adds to the drama of the proceedings, but if that doesn't sound like your thing, think twice about this one. You'll also get the occasional draggy turn where you draw no interesting cards for the 62nd Army and/or have to spend your turn in Pavlov's House refreshing everyone rather than making progress.

But for me, Pavlov's House is a current favorite that I expect will still be hitting my table a year from now and beyond. The gameplay is simple but tense, and it's riveting to watch the story of each game unfold. I backed the next game in this series, Castle Itter, on the strength of Pavlov's House, and I am excited about that one, too.

Do I recommend it?


Unless you are allergic to dice, I absolutely recommend Pavlov's House. It's brutal, historical, and engrossing. I am so glad I have a copy of this game.

Overall Rating: 4.5 stars

Rating scale:
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
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Thu Feb 14, 2019 4:00 pm
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Solo Review: Dawn of Peacemakers

Liz D
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Georgia
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To see a fully-formatted version of this review, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-dawn-of-peac...

To see all of my solo reviews and videos, click here:
http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/solo-reviews.html

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Dawn of Peacemakers from Snowdale Design.

What is this game about?


Dawn of Peacemakers, designed by Sami Laakso, is one of the most interesting games I have encountered in a long time. While most board games focus on fighting and winning battles, Dawn of Peacemakers is about deescalating armed conflict between opposing sides and bringing the hostilities to a halt. This game is a "green legacy" campaign with twelve different scenarios, and in most cases the main win condition is for both sides to mutually withdraw from the fight. In other words, your goal is to prevent both sides from winning, and to lead them to a frustrated stalemate.

The opposing Macaw and Ocelot armies (with some later surprises!) are not, however, going to sit and listen to you. They have their own marching orders and will be controlled by AI decks that you cannot always influence. You can, however, play your own cards to the best possible effect. Each card in the game can be used for multiple purposes, so you can either take the action on the card or spend it for movement, fortification of locations on the map, or—most importantly—on influence. As you spend influence, you are able to peek at and reorder cards in enemy decks, which allows you to manipulate upcoming AI turns as effectively as possible.

As the game progresses, new rules, terrain, goals, enemy units, and outcomes reveal themselves. This game definitely has some fun surprises in store!

How does it play solo?

Dawn of Peacemakers is a cooperative game that can also be played solo, i.e. with a single character and hand of cards. It works well either one- or two-handed. I personally prefer one-handed play so I can draw a bunch of cards and have one big hand of them to work with!

Overall Thoughts


Thematically, Dawn of Peacemakers is one of the most interesting games I have seen in a while. You are attempting to make peace, but even peacemaking is dirty work. In order to deescalate the conflict in each scenario, you need to decrease the motivation of each army—meaning that units have to die (well, technically, be "defeated," but this is a war we're talking about). They just have to die in ways that are most advantageous to you. Many of your own actions are pretty sneaky. You can weaken units you are staying with by poisoning their food, you are manipulating the orders of commanding officers, and you can literally move units into the line of fire so that they will die in the service of your ultimate goal. There is a lot of moral weight to this game, if you really think about it. Are your machinations right, even if they are in service of the greater good? Also, haven't your "friends" on both sides of the conflict realized that things seem to go haywire whenever you and your adventurer pals are around?

This game is also mechanically fascinating. You have limited actions and resources, and you're doing your best to control the aggression of opposing armies who have their own ideas. It's a fascinating and frustrating experience.

That said, get ready for a little bit of luckiness—sometimes you will not be able to get the right cards to come up in your favor, and you will lose a scenario. (The game accounts for this in various ways, so you can keep going, although with some penalties.) Alternatively, you can have occasional pacing issues when you need a specific card to appear in the AI deck, but have to wait a frustratingly long time for it to appear. The game also gets a bit finicky in later stages of the campaign, when there are almost too many new rules and mechanisms in play.

None of those criticisms, however, make Dawn of Peacemakers less worthy of your time. If you want to play a game that is truly thought-provoking, as well as mechanically unlike games you have played before, then Dawn of Peacemakers might be for you. It is clear that a lot of love went into this game, as well, and the art and flavor text are engrossing.

Do I recommend it?

Yes. Dawn of Peacemakers doesn't offer the smoothest or snappiest gameplay of all time, but it's an engaging and unique experience. You shouldn't miss it if you are interested in board games that push the thematic envelope.

Overall Rating: 4 stars


5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
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Mon Feb 4, 2019 2:12 am
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Solo Review: Wars of Marcus Aurelius

Liz D
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To see a fully formatted version of this review, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-the-wars-of-...

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What is this game about?

Wars of Marcus Aurelius
, designed by Robert DeLeskie and published by Hollandspiele, is a light war game that simulates the Marcomannic Wars, which Marcus Aurelius waged for roughly the last 14 years of his life. Your job is to push three barbarian tribes—the Marcomanni, the Quadi, and the Iazyges—back to their home territory, and then defeat them on their own turf. If all three tribes are subdued at the beginning of an in-game year, then you win. However, if the Marcomanni reach Rome, you automatically lose. You can also lose the game by running out of "Imperium Points," in which case you are usurped because your own people think you are doing a bad job. And if the game draws out too long, you can lose by running out of time—the game begins in 170 CE and ends in 180, the year Marcus Aurelius died. If you haven't taken care of the barbarians by then, you don't win.

The game itself is a fun mixture of risk taking and hand management. Each year, you will draw cards (fewer and fewer each season) that can be played for the events on them, or to execute certain in-game actions such as battling, building forts, or rearranging your legions. The barbarians will play cards of their own, which will either help them to advance across the Danube or force you to deal with problems such as plague, scandal at home (oh, Faustina!), and even conflicts on other fronts in the Empire. Battles are decided by a roll of the dice, and while you can prepare yourself strategically, only rarely can you guarantee victory.

How does it play solo?

Wars of Marcus Aurelius is a solitaire-only game. Enjoy being catered to!

Overall Thoughts

I truly enjoy Wars of Marcus Aurelius. As a Roman history enthusiast, I found a lot of little references in this game that made it extra fun. There are cards about Empress Faustina's scandals, about Marcus Aurelius's embarrassing obsession with Alexander of Abonoteichus, and about other historical figures and conflicts that were fun to see outside of the pages of a history book. This game's theme and its mechanics match up beautifully—you really do feel the frustration of making progress against the barbarians, only to have them regroup and return year after year.

Gameplay in Wars of Marcus Aurelius is excellent. Choosing how to deploy your cards is always tense, especially when you need to get a lot done but also have a hand of cards filled with juicy special actions that you could take instead. It's crucial to build up forts and keep them in supply, but you will always have more immediate concerns, such as an advancing tribe or a dip in your Imperium Points. And on top of that, there are plenty of faraway conflicts to draw off your commanders and some of your legions. Even a pacified tribe will rebel again if you don't maintain your presence in their territory, so you are never truly safe on any front!

I have minor quibbles with this game. After a few plays, I found myself following the same basic strategy every time—try to crush the Marcomanni as quickly as possible, then hold them down while cleaning up the other two tribes. A war on three fronts is just too much to sustain. There is also the occasional round that drags because you didn't pull great cards and the barbarians didn't do anything too spicy, either. But this is a war simulation, and it's not as though every season in a real war is going to be full of drama. And if you hate to be at the mercy of the dice, beware, because no matter how well you prepare, there will be situations when the dice are against you—or when you will draw the worst possible cards!

All in all, I think Wars of Marcus Aurelius is a fantastic solo game. It is always engaging, it doesn't outstay its welcome (especially if you lose early... ouch), and it's the right weight for when I want a challenge but don't want to spend my entire evening on a single board game. Playing Wars of Marcus Aurelius has also gotten me interested in playing more and heavier war games, because it has been such a pleasant excursion into the genre. If you are looking to dip your toes in with a light war game, I can wholeheartedly recommend this one.

Do I recommend it?


Absolutely. Wars of Marcus Aurelius is becoming a go-to solo game for me, and I have really been racking up the plays. The tension as you draw barbarian cards, the agony of deciding what to do with your own hand, and the challenge of distributing your legions and leaders correctly doesn't get old.

Overall rating: 4.5 (I will reassess in a year to see if this game is a true love of mine)


Rating scale:
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh. ​
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Mon Feb 4, 2019 2:06 am
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Solo Review: Loup Garou (Graphic Novel Adventures)

Liz D
United States
Georgia
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To see a fully formatted version of this review, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-loup-garou-g...

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What is this game about?

Loup Garou is a game in comic book form, one in which you are a newly-converted werewolf trying to survive and thrive in a hostile world. To navigate through the story, you choose your direction by choosing the next panel to flip to—a system that can take you to some surprising places, especially when combined with Loup Garou's combat system and branching skill tree. There are also plenty of riddles and hidden items to keep it interesting as you navigate through the game.

While I don't want to give away the storyline, I will say that Loup Garou offers a very interesting melding of "on-the-rails" storytelling and freedom to explore. The book starts off as a pretty limited survival story, but turns into a sprawling adventure that allows you to navigate through several different areas of towns, while also progressing through an interesting story that successfully hits its plot points.

How does it play solo?

Loup Garou is geared towards solo play. It's a gamebook, after all!

Overall Thoughts

There are a lot of features that I particularly liked in Loup Garou. It comes with several elements that make it a bit more complex than just a choose-your-own-adventure book, and it requires a bit of bookkeeping—you will need a character sheet and a spinner or die for combat. (I preferred to use a die.) It's definitely portable. While you could probably blast through most of this game in an afternoon, I carried this book around in my bag for a long time while I was working through it. (If you play it the way I did, I highly recommend taking some notes so you can remember what is going on from session to session.)

These minor complexities do not, however, get in the way of you diving in and starting the fun right away. Loup Garou will gradually teach you what you need to know, when you need to know it, and I really appreciated that. Although you start by just going from panel to panel, before long you are tracking gold, items, experience, and your progress on the skill tree. I was happy to see the skill tree—I love those (although I agonize over what to choose), and in this case it added some interest and replayability beyond the storyline.

Speaking of the storyline, I was also really impressed by the way that various pathways looped and led in some different directions, but still converged in ways that hit the right story beats without me feeling totally railroaded into them. There is a fine line between freedom to roam and preservation of the story in a gamebook, and I think that Loup Garou does a good job with that. I won't say too much, but things get pretty epic by the end.

There are a few irritations, however, that distracted me while playing Loup Garou. While the game informs you that it is possible to pick up items if you are watching the panels carefully and spot hidden ones, it is not always apparent which items are available to pick up and take with you. Some of the pictures are also a little bit unclear—if you find a key, is it a particular special key you were looking for? Additionally, there are a few inconsistencies in the plot of the story that made me scratch my head a bit. However, for what it is, I think Loup Garou is really impressive, and I would definitely try another experience like it.

Do I recommend it?

If you like gamebooks, yes. Loup Garou has an engaging storyline and enough "game" to it to make it feel like something more than being on the rails. It's not perfect, but it's ambitious and fun.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars

Rating Scale:
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
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Thu Dec 13, 2018 11:08 am
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Solo Review — Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr

Liz D
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To see a fully-formatted version of this review, click here: http://www.beyondsolitaire.net/blog/solo-review-holding-on-t...

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What is this game about?

Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr has an intense theme. You (along with your fellow players, should you choose to accept them) are a hospital nurse who is tasked with caring for Billy Kerr, a cantankerous man who is living out his last days, but who isn't quite ready to leave this earth without facing his life's biggest regrets. It's up to you and your medical team to provide him with the care he needs to keep him alive, as well as to gain his trust. As you gain Billy's trust, he will tell you more about his life, allowing you to reconstruct key memories and help him make contact with the people he needs to make his peace with. Eventually, his memories create five timelines comprised of images from Billy's life. The first memory cards you get are hazy, but you are able to tease out clear memories over time.

Mechanically, Holding On ​focuses on balance. As a nursing staff, will you provide Billy with the medical treatment he needs to keep his condition from deteriorating, or will you provide palliative care in an attempt to get him to confide in you? Providing too little medical care can cause you to lose the game by losing Billy, but you will also need to get the memories required by your scenario before the patient deck runs out. Your main currency in the game is care tokens, which are spent on both medical and memory-gathering tasks. Your other main resource is your staff, but be careful—if you overstress yourself, you end up losing memories, care tokens, and, in some scenarios, the game itself.
How does it play solo?

Holding On is a cooperative game, but it is not truly meant to be played solo. In fact, the "sweet spot" for it is three players, and there are special rules in the rulebook for groups playing with two or four people. However, it is entirely possible to control multiple nurse pawns and play the game on your own. There are some memories that are kept "secret" by the players who acquire them—at least until you all "talk about Billy" at the end of each day—but honestly none of the information is that big of a secret. If you feel a need to discuss Billy's life with someone as you uncover it, you might want to play with others. But I enjoy uncovering stories for myself, and I think it works just fine solo.

Overall Thoughts

There is a lot to admire about Holding On. We all talk a lot about "board games that tell stories," and I am always waiting for a game that offers a new way of doing just that. Holding On has a compelling story, and all of the flavor text about Billy is great. I found myself pushing through the scenarios to get to that next bit of flavor, and I definitely felt a little bereft at the end of the game. (It's not a spoiler to tell you that Billy is going to die.)

However, I was able to enjoy Billy's story in spite of—not because of—the gameplay. The theme is great, the concept is really cool, and theoretically this should have been a home run for me. But honestly, the "game" part of Holding On is a chore. Trying to assign nurses to cover every hospital shift and manage stress makes thematic sense, but it isn't exactly thrilling, at least not for me. Recovering Billy's memories during gameplay was often infuriating. It's not enough to provide palliative care and get partial memories—you also have to take an "inquire" action that allows you to go hunting for clear memories. But your search can be interrupted by event cards, or, worse, you can draw memory cards that don't match the partial memories you've gained. And if they don't match, the clear memory cards get shuffled back into the deck to be discovered another day. This can get very frustrating when you are on the hunt for specific memories.

Holding On is a huge creative effort. I am glad I tried it and I want to see more games that get ambitious and take risks. In the end, though, Billy's story might have been better as a graphic novel. The art that depicts his memories is great. But the game part of Holding On, while it technically works, is not actually enjoyable.

Do I recommend it?

It really depends. If you like experimenting with in-game narratives and this theme is very compelling for you, you might want to give it a shot. The story itself is good. But Holding On is not, in my opinion, entirely successful in its mission to marry a strong story arc with engaging gameplay.

Overall Rating: 2.5

Rating Scale:
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
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Mon Dec 10, 2018 7:28 pm
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