solomode games

Board game content with a focus on the solo mode.

Archive for Mike DiLisio

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SoloMode Video #51 - Wingspan

Mike DiLisio
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The first time I saw the box cover for Wingspan I was immediately attracted. Then, I saw that it was a Stonemaier Games product, and I was even more intrigued as I enjoy many of their games. Then, I saw that it had an Automa Factory solo mode, and I knew I had to play it as soon as possible.

I've heard it compared to Terraforming Mars, and although I get that, it doesn't feel similar when I'm playing it. It's primarily a tableau builder, with a simple dual economy, and a light spacial element. It allows for some clever play and satisfying cascading card effects. It's also quite fun, and absolutely gorgeous, with some of the best components out there.

This video depicts my second ever play of the game, which came directly after the first game, which came directly after opening the box. I tend to avoid recording first or second plays of games, but the interest for the game is very high, so hopefully any poor play on my part is counterbalanced by the desire to get a play through out there for my solo gaming friends.

Was I able to cultivate a better aviary than the evil, evil Automa? Click below to find out!

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Thu Jan 10, 2019 5:00 pm
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Here's a 2019 resolution: Be better about maintaining this blog!

Mike DiLisio
United States
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I was doing so well. I had been pretty regularly updating this blog with a post for every Solo Mode play through video I made. Well, life got in the way along the line. Between the sale of a house, general life events, and the launch of a new podcast (It's called Sporadically Board, by the way. If you'd be interested in myself and Dan Hughes chatting at least occasionally about board games, give it a look: http://sporadicallyboard.libsyn.com/) I let things get a bit behind here at the blog.

Additionally, with all of the life events that I previously mentioned, my video production slowed down somewhat. I'm ok with that, as the pace I had initially established (approximately 2 play through videos a month, plus weekly segments for Board Game Breakfast on The Dice Tower Network) was more ambitious than I felt comfortable maintaining.

All of this is to say that I want this post to be a "catch up" mechanic to use game speak. Here, I'll post links to Solo Mode Videos #45-50. I'll try to be better about keeping my blog posts coming on a more regular basis.

Solo Mode Video #45: Black Sonata (Prototype)


Solo Mode Video #46: Maiden's Quest


Solo Mode Video #47: Paper Tales (with Beyond the Gates Expansion)


Solo Mode Video #48: Street Masters (Special Play Through with Designer Brady Sadler)


Solo Mode Video #49: Monster Lands


Solo Mode Video #50: Circadians: First Light Kickstarter Preview (Prototype Copy)
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Tue Jan 1, 2019 6:23 pm
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SoloMode Video #44: Welcome To...

Mike DiLisio
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One of the hottest trends in board gaming is the "roll and write" style of game. These style of games have been around for quite a while, but recently they've experienced an upsurge in popularity. It's not terribly surprising...they're generally quick to play, and easy to teach and learn. The general concept of a roll and write game is that every player will have a sheet of paper that acts as their personal player board, and dice are rolled that will in some fashion cause players to manipulate their player sheet by writing or drawing something on it. One of the earliest examples of a roll and write game is Yahtzee, but these games have progressed quite a bit. Welcome To... is a roll and write game without dice! How does that work? I'm glad you asked.

The dice in most roll and writes simply function as a randomizing element. In Welcome To... dice are replaced with cards. In practice, this changes nothing, it's simply exchanging one randomizing element for another one. The theme of Welcome To... is that you are trying to have the best planned neighborhood by organizing houses in a series of three streets. There are specific rules dictating how houses are placed, but generally speaking, houses must go in ascending order from left to right on each street.

In addition to placing houses, you are choosing actions that will allow you to do a number of things in the game. Some actions allow you to manipulate and mitigate the numbers of houses you place. Some actions simply are going to give you an increasing number of points at the end of the game. Some actions will act as multipliers to allow certain size estates (fenced in groups of houses) to be worth more points than others.

In addition to these actions, there are three plan cards that a player is trying to complete as soon as possible. These plan cards depict particular variations of estate sizes or other elements that players can achieve through clever use of action cards.

Welcome To... doesn't do anything particularly innovative in this genre, but what it does, it does very well. The theme and art are charming. It's very easy to teach and learn. The solo game plays very similarly to the multiplayer game, but uses a high score variant, which limits its replay value as a strictly solo game. Was I able to efficiently plan my neighborhood, and complete all three plan cards? Click the video to find out!

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Mon Jul 2, 2018 11:22 pm
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SoloMode Videos #42 & 43: Herbaceous Sprouts (Kickstarter Preview) and Nusfjord

Mike DiLisio
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Hello all! Well, my memory got the better of me. I forgot to write a blog post for my Kickstarter preview video for the wonderful dice game, Herbaceous Sprouts. I only realized this when the time came to write a blog post for my newest solo play through, Nusfjord. Therefore, my negligence leads to twice the fun! Here then, are my blog posts for the two most recent SoloMode Games videos. I hope you enjoy.



Herbaceous Sprouts is a dice version of a slightly older card game called Herbaceous. In most cases, when you have a game that's been adapted into a dice game, the dice version is a shorter, simpler, lighter version of the original. This game bucks that trend. The original card game was a beautiful, very quick, very light, but still lovely game. The dice game, while still light, adds quite a bit more to the original core mechanic of set collection found in Herbaceous. It's slightly longer, slightly heavier, and gives the player slightly more to think about on each turn.

While the same gorgeous art and the core set collection mechanic remains in this dice game, there are additional powers that get introduced with the tool cards. There is also a nice push your luck element that gets emphasized as all players are competing to contribute the most to a shared community garden.

How is this push your luck element handled in the solo game, you may ask. In the solo game, you include a rival player that will also be placing into the community garden through the use of simple AI cards. This solo system has everything I tend to look for: It's easy to manage, mimics the actions of another player, and allows for a clear win/loss condition.

The components used in this video are of prototype quality, so the retail release will look slightly different. You can still see the beautiful art, and lovely aesthetic throughout, however. Was I able to use my gardening tools more efficiently than my rival, and in so doing contribute the most to the community garden? Click below to find out!





The designer of Nusfjord, Uwe Rosenberg, is commonly known as a master of the worker placement genre of board games. Probably his most famous design, Agricola, has spawned a number of games that adapt and evolve the core mechanics it introduced. Mr. Rosenberg himself seems to have somewhat of an iterative design process, in that you can often see similarities or variations on previous themes in his games. Most of his worker placement games, Nusfjord included, have elements that might remind players of previous games he's designed. So what sets Nusfjord apart? A fair amount, in my opinion.

First, Nusfjord is a quick game. Most of Rosenberg's worker placement games take a moderate amount of time to play. Some of his more recent designs such as Fields of Arle or A Feast for Odin are large, sprawling epics that can appear quite overwhelming at first. While visually, Nusfjord might appear to be a more complex game than it is, in practice it is a very streamlined game that encourages quick turns. A solo game can commonly be played in 30 minutes.

Second, Nusfjord utilizes multiple economies. This isn't unique to this game, but it somehow feels like it is. The main resource is fish, and they power many of the actions you need to take to be successful in the game, however there is also wood, which is used to build ships and buildings, and money which is also used to build some ships and build some buildings.

Finally, Nusfjord institutes a system of shares. Now, this isn't necessarily a stock market mechanic by any means, but it's an interesting mechanic that at least in the multiplayer game can introduce an element of interactivity that is often lacking in Euro Games.

The solo game plays very similarly to the multiplayer game, in that spots get blocked through the use of two player colors. You use each color on alternating rounds, and can't place a current worker on a space that was used in a previous round, so this replicates the tension you typically find in worker placement games where you are finding yourself blocked out of spaces you want to use. This system was used in Fields of Arle and A Feast for Odin, and it's a simple yet clever way to present a solo worker placement game. This is a beat your high score variant, which is typically not my favorite way to play solo, but there is also a way to play the game in a campaign style which I think counteracts that disappointment.

Was I able to recruit enough Elders, build enough buildings, and catch enough fish to make the Norwegian village of Nusfjord proud? Click below to find out!

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Mon Jun 4, 2018 9:37 pm
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solomode Video #41: SteamRollers

Mike DiLisio
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Train games. They're not usually my first choice of game to play. Often, they're quite heavy and mathy, and I rarely feel like I'm playing them well. Granted, I haven't played a whole lot of train games, but of the ones I have played, while I have generally appreciated the designs, and understand the appeal to some gamers, they have largely left me cold. They also never seem to play solo, which makes them harder for me to get to the table as well.

This is why when I saw SteamRollers on Kickstarter I was so intrigued. A train game that is a quick, light, roll-and write game? And it has a solo mode out of the box? Color me interested. This is a game that is exactly as advertised. While it contains many of the hallmarks of a train game (route building, delivering goods, engine upgrades), it does so in a very simple, quick way.

Roll and write games are all the rage lately, and this game is a worthy addition to the family. There are simple actions based around the rolling of dice, and using those dice to either build track, deliver goods, upgrade engines, or activate special abilities (often revolving around dice manipulation/mitigation). It fits a really unique niche in my collection...a slightly more complex roll and write, and a much lighter than typical train game.

The solo game has many of the things I typically look for. It plays very similarly to the multiplayer game. There are clear win/loss conditions. It is remarkably simple to administer the AI turns. It has very quick set-up and teardown.

Was I able to more successfully build my railroad network and in so doing deliver the goods needed to defeat Olive, the AI opponent? Click below to find out!

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Wed May 16, 2018 11:55 pm
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solomode Video #40: Blight Chronicles: Agent Decker solo session (Kickstarter Preview)

Mike DiLisio
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Blight Chronicles: Agent Decker is a unique, story-driven, solitaire only game with a deck building foundation at its core. This Kickstarter preview play through uses prototype components, but the art direction and style can be clearly seen throughout. While this video shows a complete round, it is only the tip of the iceberg of what the released game will contain. The game will contain multiple missions, and each mission is broken up into rounds.

One of the most intriguing elements of the game is that each round is a mini-game of sorts with a clear win/loss condition. If you successfully complete a round, you will be carrying both benefits (in the form of new, upgraded cards), and dangers (in the form of suspicion) into later rounds. After each round, you will be introduced to more of the story of the overarching scenario. After some rounds you may be given multiple options on how to proceed. These branching paths lead to a non-linear story telling experience.

The deck building core of the game is rock solid, with some familiar elements along with some unique twists. One of those twists is choosing how to manipulate obstacles in the card line. In most cases you may choose to eliminate the obstacle, thereby putting the card in your discard pile for possible use later (a common element in deck builders), or you may knock it out, which flips the card over and makes all of the effects nullified. There are also multiple card effects which add unique abilities and keep the game feeling fresh even to the most seasoned of deck building fans.

It's rare for games to be designed for a strictly solo audience. It's even more rare for such games to be a large, extensive experience like this. Blight Chronicles: Agent Decker is a game that any solo gamer should pay attention to. It's another example of solo gaming becoming a more prominent part of the board gaming hobby. To see how I fared in the first level of the introductory mission, click below!

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Mon Apr 30, 2018 9:47 pm
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solomode Video #39: Unbroken solo session (Kickstarter preview)

Mike DiLisio
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It's still relatively rare to come across games that are designed specifically as a solo experience. Usually, solo games are variations of multiplayer games that allow you to play the game as a solitaire experience. As such, many times the experience of the game is somewhat different in the solitaire mode as compared to the multiplayer experience. This special Kickstarter preview is for a game that has been designed exclusively as a solo game.

Unbroken is a dungeon crawl experience with a bit of a twist. Instead of the typical dungeon crawl experience of, "get in, get loot, kill stuff, get out", in Unbroken the story starts off after your adventurer has already gone through a dungeon, and things haven't gone very well. You are the sole survivor of a failed party, and as such, you are weak and wounded as the game begins. Your sole purpose is to make it out of the dungeon alive. Of course, being an adventurer, if you see anything of interest, you have to consider picking that up as well.

The game is played over a series of rounds where you will eventually face four progressively more difficult monsters on your way out of the dungeon. You do this primarily through a resource conversion/management mechanic that revolves around a constant series of cost/benefit decisions. You may think you really need that wood to craft a better weapon, but perhaps that wood might be later used as part of an elaborate trap to trick an upcoming monster so that you don't have to fight them. You know you'll need food after facing a monster, but do you save the food for later, or use it now to gain some benefit or perk? These are the types of decisions that you will be constantly faced with in Unbroken.

Unbroken has many things that I appreciate in solo games. It has a quick set up and tear down. This makes the game more likely to get multiple plays. It presents a real challenge without feeling unfair or arbitrary. It rewards experimentation and efficiency. It allows you to take calculated risks that may or may not pay off. It presents a true dungeon crawl experience in a relatively short period of time, and that's something that will help it stand out in a sea of solo dungeon crawlers.

Finally, please note that the components used in this Kickstarter preview solo session are print and play prototype quality materials. So, let's begin our story in the depths of a dungeon with very little health, and even less hope of escape. Can I use my cunning, wiles, last remaining strength, and will to survive four monsters and find my freedom? Click below to find out!

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Thu Mar 29, 2018 3:09 pm
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solomode Video #38: Raiders of the North Sea Solo with Both Expansions

Mike DiLisio
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Raiders of the North Sea is one of my favorite games, and I knew that the first time I played it. The combination of worker placement with a unique twist, quick turns, terrific theming, and amazing art and graphic design made this an instant winner in my book. The only problem I had with it was that I couldn't play it as often as I would like to since I needed to get other people to play with me. The game didn't come with a solo variant. Thankfully, that has changed. Designer Shem Phillips has developed a terrific solo variant that has everything I love in a solo mode: a challenging AI opponent with a definite win/loss condition, and an easy to administer system that allows me to focus on my turns rather than the AI's.

In addition, this soon to be released (at the time of publication) solo variant is fully compatible with both of the newly released Raiders expansions, Hall of Heroes and Raiders of the North Sea: Fields of Fame. These expansions are absolutely fantastic, and enrich the core game in a number of ways. What I particularly enjoy about these expansions is that they add a lot of variety without a lot of rules overhead. The reason for this is that the new mechanics are variations on pre-existing mechanics within the game. I appreciate that approach to expansions, because it allows the player to have a new, expanded experience without a tremendous amount of rules overload. It also still feels like fundamentally the same game, just bigger and better. Some expansions change the game so much it's almost unrecognizable from the core experience.

The AI opponent in Raiders will always attempt to Raid first (it is a Viking, after all), and there is a very simple check to determine whether that Raid is possible. If possible, it will loot all of the plunder at the location, and if there are any Jarls (if playing with that expansion) or Valkyries those will get evaluated with a simple system. If the AI cannot meet the requirements of the Raid, they will Work. This generally consists of gathering provisions and armor which makes them more likely to be successful on the next potential raid. Whether they Raid or Work, they will also render one spot on the board closed to the player for the next turn, simulating a blocking mechanism that is key to tension in worker placement games.

The AI turns are remarkably quick, leading to an experience where you have to be acutely aware of what the AI is doing (are they taking a lot of offerings? are they moving rapidly up the Valkyrie or Fame tracks?) but you are not getting bogged down by AI administration to do so.

So, come along with me on this journey won't you? There promises to be much mead, much looting, much sailing, and plenty of glorious ascents into Valhalla. Let's go Raid the North Sea!

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Sat Mar 24, 2018 2:25 pm
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solomode Video #37: One Deck Dungeon: Forest of Shadows

Mike DiLisio
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One Deck Dungeon: Forest of Shadows is a perfect example of truth in advertising. This game is truly a dungeon crawl game that is contained within a single deck of cards. Granted, there are some small tokens to keep track of some resources, but generally speaking everything that is needed to play a multi-level dungeon crawl is found in that deck of cards.

This is done primarily through a really clever system of multi-use cards. Depending on the particular context, or based on choices the player may make, a single card might represent a monster, or a treasure, or a skill, or a potion, or experience points. The fact that this is done in a way that doesn't entail convoluted iconography or massive amounts of text is a testament to the graphic design.

In One Deck Dungeon: Forest of Shadows, you choose a particular character that has unique stats and potential abilities and attempt to travel through three levels of a dungeon to face a boss monster. Along the way, you will face many other monsters and perils (mostly in the form of traps) that could potentially end your journey long before you ever meet that boss monster. You defeat these monsters and survive these perils through a clever dice rolling mechanic, where each skill your character has corresponds to a particular color of dice. Depending on your character's abilities, you will roll either more or less dice in an attempt to complete challenges. These abilities (and the corresponding dice) can be increased by gaining boons from successful encounters. Additionally, you can choose other boons in the form of potions that can heal you or manipulate dice or experience points that can level up your character and make them more powerful in other ways.

All of this is done in a single deck of cards, and this is the game's greatest strength in my opinion. The fact that you can have a true dungeon crawl experience in such a small package, and in a relatively short period of time is truly impressive. Add in the fact that the box contains multiple boss monsters, multiple dungeons, and multiple unique characters, and you have a big experience in a small package. Additionally, you can play games as single experiences, or use the included sheets to play in a Campaign Mode.

One Deck Dungeon: Forest of Shadows is actually a stand alone sequel to One Deck Dungeon. This can be played independently, or added to ODD as an integrated experience. I played and owned the original One Deck Dungeon, and while I enjoyed it, I ended up trading it away, as there were some ambiguities in the rules that I felt hindered the experience. ODD:FOS adds two things that make it a better package for me. First, while the games are essentially the same, Forest of Shadows adds a Poison mechanic that increases the feeling of danger throughout the game, and forces the player to consider another potential threat at all times. The Poison mechanic is also one that has a small push your luck element, and I absolutely love that in games. Secondly, FOS includes an updated and much clearer rulebook. I don't know that I realized how important that was until I played the game using that new rulebook. The ambiguities were largely gone, and I was able to focus solely on the game. This led to such an improved experience, that I played it 3 times in a row...something that I never did with the first game.

Was I able to successfully plumb through three levels of increasingly difficult dungeon and defeat the nasty boss monster protecting it? Take a look and find out!

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Sun Mar 18, 2018 3:52 pm
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solomode Video #36: Architects of the West Kingdom solo session - Kickstarter Preview

Mike DiLisio
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Architects of the West Kingdom is the first in a new trilogy of games from co-designers Shem Phillips and S J Macdonald. This follows The North Sea Trilogy of games that have been warmly received, with Raiders of the North Sea being nominated for a Kennerspiel des Jahres award in 2017. In the North Sea games, you are playing Vikings with all of the corresponding looting, pillaging, and raiding you would expect. In the West Kingdom, you are playing architects, so it's all about building.

Architects of the West Kingdom utilizes a worker placement mechanism with a twist that the designer calls, "Worker Investment". The general idea is that with every worker you place at a particular spot, the accompanying action becomes more powerful. You may only place one worker per turn, so that growth is incremental. However, while that might entice a player to place a lot of workers in one or two spots, the reality is that such a strategy is not only likely too narrow, it's also potentially dangerous. That danger comes from the potential of your opponents to capture your workers. Those workers may get tied up on their player boards, or they may get sent to prison on the main board at a later time. Either way, you can retrieve those workers, but that will at the very least take up one of your turns, and can also potentially involve spending silver.

While building is the primary way to score points (and also is the way the end game is triggered), this is a game that allows for multiple paths to victory. Perhaps you will take a virtuous route, and try to improve your standing on the Virtue track which can award end game points. Maybe you'll attempt to work on the common Cathedral building project rather than focusing on your personal buildings. Such variety of game strategies ensures a high replay value.

The solo mode is controlled by what the designer calls the "Scheme Deck". The game is played as a 2-player game with an AI opponent with 2 difficulty settings. After your turn, you turn over the top card of the Scheme Deck, and place a worker on the spot denoted by the card. Additionally, you will activate a corresponding action that is slightly different for the AI opponent. This action is clearly described on the card. Unlike some other AI decks, this is not merely a blocking mechanism. Most times, you aren't getting blocked since many of the spaces on the board accommodate multiple workers, however you have to adjust your play style to what the AI is doing. Are they raising their Virtue so much that you have to account for that? Are they building aggressively in the cathedral? Are they actively capturing your workers and sending them to prison? Are they conducting dirty deals at the Black Market, and causing havoc as a result? All of these potential actions can be taken by the AI, and it's done in such a simple to administer manner that you can really focus on how to counter their movements.

I feel that Architects of the West Kingdom is a step up in complexity from the North Sea Games, but thankfully that complexity doesn't come at the cost of accessibility since the same great iconography and thematically integrated actions found in the earlier trilogy are found here. The Kickstarter campaign for Architects of the West Kingdom launches on March 13, 2018. All components used in the solo play through are prototypes, so keep that in mind as you watch.

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Tue Feb 27, 2018 2:53 pm
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